Saturday, February 3, 2018

Classic TV: Good Times (1974)

When is a spinoff not a true spinoff? When it is inexplicably disassociated from the parent show for no rational reason.

That, in a nutshell, describes Good Times, a branch of Norman Lear's sitcom tree that was actually broken off in order to tell a different kind of story.

Florida Evans (Esther Rolle) was introduced as a housekeeper on Maude. When it came time to spin Florida into her own series, Lear, either on his own volition or that of network suits at CBS, I don't know, decided to relocate Florida from Long Island to Chicago. Once there, the focus gradually shifted to Florida's oldest son, JJ (Jimmie Walker), who became the breakout star thanks to his catchphrase, "Dy-no-mite!". However, this created hardship between Esther Rolle and the producers, and after the 4th season, Rolle departed. Florida's husband, originally Henry, rechristened James (John Amos, ex-The Mary Tyler Moore Show), was written off early in the 4th season after Amos had been let go in a dispute with Lear over the show's direction being rebuilt around JJ.

In season 2, Johnny Brown (ex-Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) joined the show as Bookman, the building superintendant. In season 5, future pop star Janet Jackson joined the cast. In all, Good Times ran for six seasons (winter 1974-1979), ending due to the inevitable decline in ratings. Following is the intro from the final season.

Janet had previously appeared with her brothers on their short-lived variety show, also for CBS, and would later join the cast of another Norman Lear sitcom, NBC's Diff'rent Strokes, for a time as a love interest for Willis (Todd Bridges). Jimmie Walker gave drama a go in a rare Aaron Spelling crime drama failure, B. A. D. Cats. Amos moved from Good Times to Future Cop, then Roots, and found big screen success co-starring with Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and James Earl Jones in "Coming to America".

Rating: B+.

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