The fifth season of ALL IN THE FAMILY continued its trailblazing formula, tackling controversial issues with shockingly irreverent humor. Number one in the ratings for the fifth straight year, audiences now felt as comfortable in the Bunkers' living room as they did in their own. But this would be a year of change for Archie (Carroll O'Connor) and Edith (Jean Stapleton), with friends moving on up and family moving out. Like the rest of the country, the Bunkers cope with rising inflation (in a multi-episode storyline), causing Edith to join the workforce. Meanwhile, next-door neighbors the Jeffersons leave their modest Queens house for a "deluxe apartment in the sky;" the pilot for the spin-off series "The Jeffersons" appears here as an episode of ALL IN THE FAMILY. By the end of the season, Mike (Rob Reiner) and Gloria (Sally Struthers) decide it's high time to move out of Archie's house to find their own place to live. Winner of a Golden Globe® award, the fifth season also
Expecting anything resembling growth from Archie Bunker is like asking the sun to rise in the west: it ain't gonna happen. Accordingly, the most unrepentantly incorrigible character in TV sit-com history is his old self throughout this three-disc box set, which includes all 24 episodes from the fifth season of producer Norman Lear's All in the Family
. Which is to say that Archie (played brilliantly as always by Carroll O'Connor) is an irascible, intolerant, sexist, ignorant, cheap misanthrope. Funny, too.
Still, a few subtle changes are apparent. For one thing, this was the mid-'70s, the Gerald Ford era, and after the tumultuous Richard Nixon years, things were a little mellower
sometimes even Archie. Sure, he's still a guy with a blue collar and red state politics (on Nixon and Watergate: "He did not lie. He forgot to tell the truth"), a bigot ("the whole place is locked up tighter than a Jew's purse") and a master of malapropisms ("that's the crotch of the problem"). But Archie's political arguments with son-in-law Mike "Meathead" Stivic (Rob Reiner) are fewer and farther between; in fact, the overall tone of the show seems a bit lighter, with more outright slapstick humor, and the almost constant bickering is less shrill than before. That's a welcome development, as are the occasional moments when Archie reveals that he might even have a heart.
Season Five also finds George and Louise Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford) and son Lionel (Mike Evans) moving out of the neighborhood (the pilot for The Jeffersons is one of the episodes here), while daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) and Meathead move into the Jeffersons' house next door at season's end. But perhaps the most notable change is Edith's gradual willingness to stand up to her husband. She's still a dingbat, but her assertiveness and confidence show through from time to time, especially in the hilarious episode 18 ("All's Fair"), in which Edith, coached by Mike and Gloria, learns how to engage Archie in a fair fight.
Although the box set contains no bonus material, it does include a "Best Of" episode with highlights from the first 100 shows, hosted by Henry Fonda, of all people. And look for future Oscar winner James Cromwell in the recurring role of Stretch Cunningham, one of Archie's co-workers. --Sam Graham