Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Jeffersonian Sitcom

Well, Sherman Hemsley moved up to that deluxe apartment in the sky. We'll always remember that Jefferson Cleaners had seven stores - one near you!

George Jefferson was one of the iconic television characters of all-time. A black, self-made small businessman successful enough to infiltrate an East Side Manhattan high rise. Not that Jefferson ever complained about "the man," and was never looking for a hand out (or a give out). He was surely a Republican in his time.

Much like Archie Bunker, the lead character in All In The Family, Norman Lear's creation that spawned The Jeffersons, George had some anachronistic racial prejudices. He walked black, talked black, and rhymed black, but he was ultimately about every man for himself.

Vaulting the middle-class Jeffersons from Queens into their elite surrounding is a classic fish-out-of-water TV trick. They had welcoming neighbors, like the bi-racial Willises (George called them "zebras"), and the all-too cordial next-door neighbor in Mr. Bentley, who George always shut the door on (ha-HA emphasis on the second syllable).

But since the Jefferson family became rich, the comic relief took place in the lower class. Ralph, the white doorman always had his hand out. And the breakthrough star of the show was Marla Gibbs as Florence, the smart-mouthed housekeeper. She gave as good as she got with George, constantly putting him in his place and never knowing hers.

While Louise Jefferson (Weezy) was a strong, grounded wife, and the conscience of the show, I never understood why her name - Isabel Sanford - preceded Hemsley's in the opening credits. It could have been Lear making a statement. But she was no George.

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