DVD Review: The Jeffersons (The Complete Series – The Deee-Luxe Edition)

You can get so familiar with a character that you forget that the actor might have interests that aren’t in the scripts. When Sherman Hemsley passed away in 2012, stories came out that the man best known as George Jefferson was a serious prog rock fan. This included a rumor that he had made a record with Jon Anderson of Yes. Instead of repeating the blabberblogs rumor, I wrote Jon Anderson’s official website to ask if he really made a record with Sherman. The next day, singer of “Starship Trooper” and “Roundabout” emailed me back. Jon Anderson wrote this loving tribute: “We talked we laughed, we talk we sang, we laughed….and so it goes…he was fun to be around.. but we never got any further than that…what a guy…what a face!!!” Sherman might not have made a record with Jon Anderson, but he had a deep friendship with the English singer. It’s easy to understand that there’s more to Sherman than George Jefferson. There’s also more to The Jeffersons than just a long running sitcom. This was a TV institution. The Jeffersons: The Complete Series – The Deee-luxe Edition contains 11 seasons and 253 episodes about a family that was always wanting to move on up.

TV in the mid-70s had already embraced a series about a family living high above the city streets in an apartment. However that was Good Times where the family was struggling to make ends meet as they lived in a dangerous government subsidized edifice. Producer Norman Lear had the perfect opportunity to show a different perspective of a minority family that takes the elevator up to their home. The Jeffersons were recurring characters on All in the Family. Very quickly George (Hemsley) became a fan favorite as he gave Archie Bunker the business. Archie couldn’t stand that a black guy was running a successful business. Weezie (Isabel Sanford) was a friend to Edith. Their son Lionel (Mike Evans) was tight with Gloria and Meathead (Rob Reiner). The family was launched into their own show in 1975 when they moved across the bridge from Queens into the glamour that’s Manhattan.

There’s a strange confusion as to the order of things. The Jeffersons made their big move to the city on an episode of All In the Family. The first real episode of The Jeffersons has them already living in their apartment. So if you want to watch this show properly, start with the >AITF episode on the bonus DVD. You’re not spoiling anything as you get to see the historic moment when Mr. Bentley (Sesame Street‘s Paul Benedict) first asks George to walk on his back. The first real episode of The Jeffersons deals with money, race and friendship. “A Friend in Need” starts off with Weezie having coffee with a woman she considers a friend. Turns out she’s also a maid to one of Weezie’s neighbors. The maid thinks that Weezie and George are the staff for the family living in the apartment. George explains to his wife that they are no longer the people they were. They are money now. The odd thing is that George doesn’t see his neighbors as merely a shade of green. He’s got an issue with the Willis family. Seems that Tom (Franklin Cover) and Helen (Roxie Roker) are a married couple. He’s white. She’s black. George thinks it’s wrong. He does his best to get them angry at each other. He doesn’t like that their daughter is dating Lionel. The Willis’ tolerate George because they adore Lionel and Weezie. The big turn in the episode is when George wants to hire a maid to take care of the apartment’s numerous bathrooms. Weezie is caught in the middle since she’s always taken care of the house. Now she has to consider hiring her friend to work for her. The eventual hiring of the maid brings on the sassy Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs). She’s fearless in her treatment of George. She puts the little guy in his place.

The episodes switched between issue oriented plots and normal sitcom frivolity. “Louise Feels Useless” has her get a job to do something with her time. What she can’t tell George is that she’s now working for a rival dry cleaners. “Jenny’s Low” displays the frustration of the Willis’ daughter since her brother is able to pass for white. He doesn’t have the racial hassles she gets. This isn’t a script recycled from The Brady Bunch. “Louise’s Daughter” features the Darren switcheroo. Lionel turns into Damon Evans Why did Chris Evans leave the role? Because he was a creator and writer on Good Times. Chris and Damon don’t seem to be related. In a confusing moment, Chris returned to the role a few seasons later when Good Times was canceled. But Lionel wasn’t a major character in the later years. The original Lionel in the All in the Family pilots was played by D’Urville Martin. The actor would achieve cinema immortality by directing and starring in Dolemite.

The show had quite a few famous guest stars. Gary Coleman played George’s nephew in an episode. Sammy Davis, Jr. moves next door in order to get some rest. Of course he can’t be left alone by his new neighbors. “You’ll Never Get Rich” sends the family to Atlantic City. This was the boon time for the now self-destructing gambling town. Among the people near the craps table is Phyllis Diller, Charo, Engelbert Humperdinck, Helen Reddy, Joe Frazier, and Michael Spinks. It’s like a Love Boat on land.

What interesting to note in the show is the treatment of the apartment. We’re assured in the theme song that it’s a “deee-luxe apartment.” But this is not some ostentatious penthouse being pimped by Donald Trump. It’s almost suburban in its layout and furniture. The kitchen looks rescued from The Brady Bunch. This is not a sleek temple of European design. While the Jeffersons have come along way since being stuck next to Archie Bunker, they’re not quite ready for The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous crew to call up from the lobby. The feeling that the Jeffersons were doing good, but not rolling in Silver Spoons money allowed the sitcom to be anchored to a certain reality. Viewers weren’t teased with the ritzy life like an episode of Dynasty. George’s wealth was not unobtainable. Sure they were better off than the family on Good Times, but George and friends still had issues of race, economics and friendship. Just because you’ve moved up in the world, doesn’t mean you’ve freed yourself of problems. There’s so much more to The Jeffersons than an inspiration theme song.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was recorded on standard definition video so there’s a fuzzy nature to the image. But the sharpness of the performances makes up for this resolution deficiency. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You’ll hear all the wise cracks from Florence.

Movin’ On Up (17:12) allows Norman Lear to address the spin-off. He speaks lovingly of the cast.

Whose Side Are You On? (24:55) is one of the 4 episodes produced as Marla Gibbs’ spin-off series called Checking In. It co-starred Larry Linville best known as Frank Burns on M*A*S*H*. She’s running a hotel. She’s just not as snappy playing the executive in charge of housekeeping as being the maid.

E/R (47:50) is a comedy starring Elliot Gould and Marcia Strassman (Welcome Back, Kotter) working the emergency room. This isn’t ER. The episode was directed by Peter Bonerz from The Bob Newhart Show. George Jefferson drops by to help the medical nonsense.

“The Jeffersons Move Up” (24:53) is the All in the Family episode where George and Weezie head into Manhattan. Edith Bunker will miss her neighbors. In a sense this is the first episode so watch it before digging into The Jeffersons.

The Jeffersons: The Complete Series – Dee-luxe Edtion completes the saga of George and Weezie. Their life with a view from above Manhattan still had street level issues. The boxset brings together all that made this couple so wonderful for over a decade on TV.

Shout! Factory presents The Jeffersons: The Complete Series – Dee-luxe Edtion. Starring: Isabel Sanford, Sherman Hemsley, Marla Gibbs, Roxie Roker, Franklin Cover and Paul Benedict. Boxset Contents: 253 episodes on 33 DVDs. Rated: Unrated. Released: December 9, 2014.