An early milestone in urban TV comedy, Sanford and Son was an immediate critical and audience favorite when it debuted in the early '70s, signaling the arrival of one of TV's most memorable characters: Cantankerous-but-lovable junk dealer Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx). An African American answer to "Archie Bunker," widower Sanford and his "Dummy" son Lamont (Demond Wilson) run a family junk business in Watts, dreaming up schemes to strike it rich. Outspoken and outrageous, Sanford serves up big laughs as he skewers stereotypes, forever threatening, "How'd you like one across your lip?" Aided by a colorful cast that includes acid-tongued Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page), Sanford and Sons provided a showcase of black talent of all generations, featuring guest stars like Lena Horne and episodes written by Richard Pryor. Timely and topical during its highly-rated five-year run (1972-1977), Sanford and Son emerged as one of the decade's biggest TV hits, inspiring producer Norman Lear to develop more barrier-breaking shows like The Jeffersons and Good Times.
Sanford and Son's second season began on September 15, 1972. The sitcom quickly vaulted to the No. 2 spot on the network ratings--right behind creators Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin's previous effort, All in the Family. The second season brought no changes to the show's basic format--comedian Redd Foxx remained the focus as cantankerous junkman Fred Sanford, with Demond Wilson as his son and perennial foil, Lamont. What the second season did bring was several new characters and some of the series' funniest episodes. The second season supporting cast was filled out by some of Foxx's fellow comics, including Leroy and Skillet ("A Visit from Lena Horne") and LaWanda Page as Aunt Esther, who became a recurring character after "The Big Party." Also joining was Don Bexley as Bubba ("By the Numbers"), Nathaniel Taylor as Rollo ("Have Gun, Will Sell"), and Barney Miller's Gregory Sierra as neighbor Julio ("The Puerto Ricans Are Coming!").
But Sanford and Son's strength remained in Foxx's sharp-tongued and often improvised performance, which was ably abetted by the scripts (a number of plotlines were taken directly from Steptoe and Son, the U.K. series that inspired Sanford). Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney penned two of the collection's most laugh-filled half-hours, "The Dowry" and "Sanford and Son and Sister Make Three," but every episode has its share of hilarity thanks to Foxx and his costars. Though only English and Spanish subtitles are offered as extras, series fans should be pleased with the set, especially as a reference for Fred's best zingers ("I'm gonna stick your face in a bowl full of dough and make gorilla cookies!"). --Paul Gaita
Sanford and Son: The Complete Third Season
Though conflict erupted between comic Redd Foxx and the producers of Sanford and Son during its third season, viewers are spared the backstage rancor and instead enjoy more hilarious episodes, fueled as always by Foxx's Emmy-nominated performance as cantankerous junkman Fred Sanford. Sanford and Son was a solid ratings hit as it entered its third season (ranked third among network shows) and Foxx had won a Golden Globe the previous year, but a contract dispute had driven a wedge between him and series producers Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear (who also ran the season's top-rated program, All in the Family). Negotiations would eventually break down, and Foxx would be absent from six episodes (Fred was said to be visiting relatives in St. Louis) and did not return to the show until season 4 was underway.
Foxx's departure allowed the spotlight to shine more brightly on co-star Demond Wilson (who would soon launch his own contract disputes, which prompted his leaving the series in 1976) as well as new cast member Whitman Mayo, who joined the show that season as Fred's pal Grady. While series aficionados are firmly divided over Grady, Mayo is quite funny, especially during the final six episodes (in particular "Will the Real Fred Sanford Please Stand Up?" and season closer "Hello Cousin Emma, Goodbye Cousin Emma"). Other standout episodes include "The Blind Mellow Jelly Collection" (in which Fred attempts to reclaim his donated record collection) and "Fred Sanford, Legal Eagle" (Fred defends Lamont in traffic court), which features Starsky and Hutch's Antonio Fargas. The third-season scripts, penned mostly by story editor Ilunga Adell (Moesha), remain sharp, as does the direction (the lion's share is handled by Peter Baldwin, though Bud Yorkin helms two episodes). Fans and first-timers alike will find plenty of laughs, which unfortunately lack any extras. --Paul Gaita
Sanford and Son: The Complete Fourth Season
Sanford and Son's fourth season (1974-1975) was the highest rated of its five years on network TV (the program reached no. 2 on the Nielsen charts); the program and star Redd Foxx both received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for the season. Behind the scenes, however, the series was in turmoil due to Foxx's dissatisfaction with the tone and quality of the program, and he went missing from nine episodes, three of which kick off the first disc (Fred's absence is explained away as a trip to St. Louis).
But even without Foxx, Sanford and Son still managed to generate plenty of laughs, thanks in no small part to its hard-working supporting cast; Whitman Mayo's Grady, in particular, gets plenty of chances to shine, especially in "Grady and His Lady" and "The Family Man" (which served as the pilot for Mayo's own short-lived series). Pat Morita's Ah Chew makes his first appearance in "There'll Be Some Changes Made and Gregory Sierra as Julio makes his last in "The Stung"; guest stars include Billy Eckstine and Scatman Crothers. Sanford and Son's fourth season can be viewed as something of a swan song for the popular series; after a ratings dip and timeslot change in the fifth season, Foxx and Wilson would both depart the show by the sixth season, and the show was cancelled in 1977. --Paul Gaita
Sanford and Son: The Complete Fifth Season
Guest stars and more guest stars seem to be the theme of Sanford and Son's very funny fifth season (1975-1976). The 25 episodes feature a parade of celebrities supporting stars Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson in guest and recurring roles, including John Larroquette and Robert Guillaume in Steinberg and Son, a TV sitcom based on Fred and Lamont's life; Marlene Clark as Lamont's girlfriend June; Nancy (The Beverly Hillbillies) as Officer Hoppy's overprotective mom; and George Foreman, Merv Griffin, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gorme as themselves. The other addition to the series comes with the introduction of the Sanford Arms, a apartment built on former neighbor Julio's place, and which comes complete with a host of eccentric guests (the hotel, along with Sanford stars LaWanda Page and Don Bexley, would be the focus of its own short-lived sitcom following Sanford and Son's cancellation in 1977).
Otherwise, it's business as usual at Fred and Lamont's junkyard, with the pair getting involved in bank robberies, earthquakes, and escort services, while still finding time to go camping (in the season finale, written by Garry Shandling). The sheer amount of laughs offered by season 5 was a strong reminder of why the show had remained so popular for four seasons; unfortunately, time slot changes and the disinterest of both leads would spell the show's demise only one season later. --Paul Gaita