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"All in the Family" The Complete Series DVD Review - Page 1 of 2

All in the Family: The Complete Series DVD box set cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com All in the Family: The Complete Series (1971-79)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Norman Lear (developer); Johnny Speight ("Till Death Us Do Part") / Regular Writers: Larry Rhine, Mel Tolkin, Don Nicholl, Michael Ross, Bernard West, Milt Josefsberg, Lou Derman, Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf, Bill Davenport, Ben Starr / Regular Directors: Paul Bogart, John Rich, Bob LaHendro, Wes Kenney

Regular Cast: Carroll O'Connor (Archie Bunker), Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker), Rob Reiner (Michael "Meathead" Stivic), Sally Struthers (Gloria Stivic)

Recurring Characters: Danielle Brisebois (Stephanie Mills), Mike Evans (Lionel Jefferson), Jason Wingreen (Harry Snowden), Isabel Sanford (Louise "Weezie" Jefferson), Allan Melvin (Barney Hefner), Betty Garrett (Irene Lorenzo), Danny Dayton (Hank Pivnik), Sherman Hemsley (George Jefferson), Bob Hastings (Tommy Kelsey), Billy Halop (Bert Munson), Vincent Gardenia (Frank Lorenzo, others), Mel Stewart (Henry Jefferson), Liz Torres (Teresa Betancourt), Andrι Pavon (Carlos), James Cromwell (Jerome "Stretch" Cunningham), Gloria LeRoy (Mildred "Boom-Boom" Turner), Lori Shannon (Beverly LaSalle), Estelle Parsons (Blanche Hefner), Bea Arthur (Maude Findlay), Zara Cully (Mother Jefferson), Barnard Hughes (Father John Majeski), Bill Quinn (Mr. Van Ranseleer), Clyde Kusatsu (Rev. Chong), William Benedict (Jimmy McNabb), Scott Brady (Joe Foley), Theodore Bikel (Albrecht "Alvin" Klemmer), Roscoe Lee Browne (Assorted), Eugene Roche (Pinky Peterson), Janis Page (Denise), George Wyner (Dr. Sidney Shapiro), A Martinez (Manuel)

Notable Guest Stars: M. Emmet Walsh (Billy Hartfield), Cleavon Little (Coke), Eileen Brennan (Angelique McCarthy), Hector Elizondo (Carlos Mendoza), Richard Dysart (Russ DeKuyper), Sammy Davis, Jr. (Himself), Rue McClanahan (Ruth Rempley), Michael Conrad (Uncle Casimir Stivic), John Randolph (Joe Peterson), Mary Kay Place (Betty Sue), Ron Glass (Jack), Charles Durning (Detective), David Doyle (Jim Sanders), Vic Tayback (Joe Tucker), Richard Masur (George Bushmill), Charlotte Rae (Miss Lillian Henderson), Henry Fonda (Himself), Norman Lear (Himself), Paul Benedict (Harry Bentley), Franklin Cover (Tom Willis), Roxie Roker (Helen Willis), Robert Guillaume (Dr. Franklin), Bernadette Peters (Linda Galloway), Billy Crystal (Al Bender), Jack Gilford (Bernard Bernstein), Doris Roberts (Marge), F. Murray Abraham (Clerk), Christopher Guest (Jim)

Running Time: 5304 Minutes (208 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired (Seasons 1 & 2 only)
Seasons 8-9 Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Original Series Airdates: January 12, 1971 - April 8, 1979
Suggested Retail Price: $199.99 / DVD Release Date: October 30, 2012
Twenty-eight single-sided discs (25 DVD-9s & 3 DVD-5s) / Five Clear Keepcases in Cardboard Box
Complete Season Sets Still Available: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ($19.99 SRP; Sony); 7, 8, 9 ($29.93 SRP; Shout!)
Multi-Season Bundles: Seasons 1-6 ($79.99 SRP; Sony), Seasons 7 & 8 ($29.93 SRP; Shout!)

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"All in the Family" is widely considered one of the greatest sitcoms in television history. Shout! Factory has a reputation for being one of the best distributors of television content. The two come together for the studio's October 30th DVD release of The Complete Series.

The iconic, groundbreaking "All in the Family" ran nine seasons on CBS, airing from early 1971 to the spring of 1979. It was the #1 rated show on television for its first five full seasons,
drawing over 20 million viewers and about 3 million more than whatever took #2 at its peak. The show also won three consecutive Emmy awards for Outstanding Comedy Series in its first three seasons and remained nominated every subsequent season it spent on the air (winning a fourth in its penultimate attempt). "All in the Family" spawned a number of spin-offs including the long-running hits "Maude" and "The Jeffersons."

The series was an obvious choice for DVD treatment even before it became the norm for current and classic television shows to receive complete season releases. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, then still called Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, released one season of "All in the Family" a year, beginning in 2002. Due to unsatisfactory sales numbers, their releases stopped after Season 6 was issued in 2007. Then, Shout! Factory swooped in beginning in 2010 and quickly made the final three seasons available in less than a year.

Now, with another holiday season presenting the ideal time to debut a higher-priced box set, Shout! issues this 28-disc, 208-episode* collection with bonus features galore.

The "All in the Family" title logo appears over stock New York City footage. Carroll O'Connor played the "lovable bigot" Archie Bunker for thirteen consecutive television seasons.

Adapted by the influential Norman Lear from the British comedy series "Till Death Us Do Part", "All in the Family" truly captures and reflects the generational clash and change that marked America at the time. The show centers on old-fashioned, working class bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) and the three people with whom he shares his Queens, New York home: mousey, marginalized "dingbat" matriarch Edith (Jean Stapleton), his open-minded liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic (future film director Rob Reiner) whom Archie calls "Meathead", and Mike's wife and Archie's daughter, the mediating Gloria (Sally Struthers).

The show didn't reinvent the sitcom technically. It was initially presented like a stage play, broadly played for the camera and rarely venturing outside the first floor of the Bunkers' home. But it did introduce what would soon become standards, being shot on video as opposed to film and in front of a live, responsive studio audience. It wasn't the look or feel that distinguished the show, but the writing and the characters that immediately struck chords with viewers. With a core cast of just four, the series managed to accurately portray the conflicting sentiments and outlooks of two generations, the young Baby Boomers and their parents.

To use the vernacular of two decades later, "All in the Family" was politically incorrect. The earliest episodes were prefaced with network disclaimers warning about the content. Ethnic slurs abound with prejudiced Archie Bunker on his throne, an old brown armchair recognized as his turf. While the passing of time tends to soften material once considered cutting-edge (e.g. "The Simpsons"), our heightened cultural sensitivity actually makes "All in the Family" maybe even more shocking now than it was then and an unbelievable venue for such network success and acclaim. Using some of the very same terms found in these 30-40-year-old scripts can get an actor fired from a network television show today (just ask Isaiah Washington) or essentially kill their career (Michael Richards).

"Dingbat" wife Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) lives to serve her husband, even if it can kill her, which is a possibility in this series finale. Representing the young Baby Boom generation are son-in-law Michael "Meathead" Stivic (Rob Reiner) and Bunker daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers).

It is always clear that the series doesn't share Archie's antiquated yet commonplace views on race, ethnicities, gender, and sexual orientation. But it never shies from airing them and letting the cranky, explosive patriarch defend them against level-headed objections. In doing so, the show broke boundaries in television, injecting the artificial format with realism and bite. That edge helps it remain funny today, even if some will consider it inappropriate or harmful.

The secret to the show's success may be in that it never painted in absolute strokes. Archie isn't some hateful monster altogether discredited,
just an old-fashioned guy unwilling to budge from his inherited stances. His clashes with hippie perpetual student Meathead create an atmosphere of frequent contention, but beneath that there is also tolerance, love, and understanding. Even as minorities and gays are slandered by Archie's acid, malapropic tongue, the Bunkers' home is somehow a comfortable place to visit, a reflection of its time as well as the times connected to it in opposite directions.

For this review, I chose to watch two episodes from each season, plus the 200th episode retrospective. Consulting Emmy nominations, IMDb user scores, and TV Guide and TV Land countdowns, I did research to ensure I was including some of the show's most beloved and significant episodes in my selections.

* The 208 episode count means 208 half-hours of episodes. Counting multi-part episodes as just one gives the series a total of 201 episodes. Wikipedia uses the latter, as do I here.

"Cousin Maude's Visit" introduces the outspoken liberal character that Bea Arthur would play for six seasons. In one of the series' best-remembered episodes, Sammy Davis, Jr. drops by the Bunker house and gets to chat with Archie.

1 / 1.1 Meet the Bunkers (25:54) (Originally aired January 12, 1971)
Gloria and Mike give Archie and Edith a Sunday brunch to celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary, but the occasion proves to be anything but civil as Archie and Mike butt heads.

5 / 1.5 Judging Books by Covers (25:38) (Originally aired February 9, 1971)
Archie's homophobia is on full display and challenged, as he demeans Mike's effeminate Roger (Anthony Geary) as a "fairy", only to discover that his masculine ex-football player pal Stevie (Philip Carey) is the one who's actually gay.

25 / 2.12 Cousin Maude's Visit (26:07) (Originally aired December 11, 1971)
With everyone but Edith severely ill, her cousin Maude (Bea Arthur) defies Archie's telegram and shows up to help out. The FDR-loving relative was so popular, she would be brought back for Season 2's finale and have her own eponymous spin-off, the first born out of "All in the Family", on CBS the following fall.

34 / 2.21 Sammy's Visit (25:49) (Originally aired February 19, 1972)
Moonlighting as a cabbie, Archie gives a ride to Sammy Davis, Jr., who has to show up at the Bunker household to retrieve the briefcase he left behind. There, he and Archie talk race and prejudice.

Vincent Gardenia and Rue McClanahan look to play in the Emmy-winning Season 3 episode "The Bunkers and the Swingers." A heat wave causes Meathead to break out revealing jean short cut-offs as he reads a petition over Archie's shoulder. Locked in the cellar, drunk, and fearing for his life, Archie sees visions of his family.

38 / 3.1 Archie and the Editorial (25:28) (Originally aired September 16, 1972)
A TV editorial pleading for stricter gun control laws enrages Archie, who gets to tape his own rebuttal.

44 / 3.7 The Bunkers and the Swingers (25:26) (Originally aired October 21, 1972)
Edith's innocent response to a married couple's magazine ad seeking friendship brings the Rempleys (Vincent Gardenia and Rue McClanahan) into their home expecting wife-swapping fun.

62 / 4.1 We're Having a Heat Wave (25:34) (Originally aired September 15, 1973)
The Bunkers' air conditioner breaks during a heat wave,
intensifying Archie and Meathead's arguments about Watergate and minorities moving next door. This episode introduces Frank (Gardenia) and Irene Lorenzo (Betty Garrett), neighbors who would hold recurring roles for some time (Irene through Season 6, after which Garrett left to join the cast of "Laverne & Shirley").

71 / 4.10 Archie in the Cellar (25:35) (Originally aired November 17, 1973)
Home alone for the weekend, Archie gets locked in the cellar by Irene's newly-improved door. He braves the cold with a bottle of Polish vodka and a tape recorder he uses to draft a "last will and tentacle."

97 / 5.12 George and Archie Make a Deal (24:43) (Originally aired November 30, 1974)
Archie is reluctant to sign George Jefferson's (Sherman Hemsley) petition running for public office.

The Jeffersons (Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley) move on up to the East Side in the "All in the Family" episode that served as their pilot. Archie Bunker's (Carroll O'Connor) Christmas spirit runs out when he learns there he is in the presence of a Vietnam War draft dodger.

102 / 5.17 The Jeffersons Move Up (24:53) (Originally aired January 11, 1975)
This pilot episode for "The Jeffersons" aired a week before that spin-off's midseason debut. The Bunkers' neighbors leave Astoria, moving on up to the East Side of Manhattan (to a deluxe apartment in the sky) and meeting their new neighbors, including Lionel's girlfriend's interracial parents and a friendly Englishman (Paul Benedict).

120 / 6.11 The Little Atheist (25:30) (Originally aired November 24, 1975)
Archie and Edith go next door to Gloria's house for Thanksgiving, where an argument breaks out over the planned religious rearing (or lack thereof) of Gloria and Mike's unborn baby.

127 / 6.18 Archie Finds a Friend (25:37) (Originally aired January 26, 1976)
Archie invites a Jewish watch repairman over for dinner to let him in on a millionaire-making invention: a remote doorbell ringer. (This poignant episode is discussed in one of the booklet's essays.)

146 / 7.13 The Draft Dodger (24:52) (Originally aired December 25, 1976)
Dropping in from Canada, Mike's draft-dodging friend (Renny Temple) spends Christmas with the Bunkers, as does the father (Eugene Roche) of a soldier slain in Vietnam.

148 / 7.15 Archie's Chair (24:51) (Originally aired January 15, 1977)
After a freshly-shaved Meathead breaks it and the repair shop accidentally gives it away, Archie's chair winds up in an art gallery.

On her 50th birthday, Edith (Jean Stapleton) gets the not so nice gift of attempted sexual assault. Archie does not take Gloria's confessions of infidelity lightly in "California, Here We Are." Norman Lear hosts the 200th Episode Celebration of "All in the Family."

159 / 8.3 Edith's 50th Birthday (Parts 1 & 2) (48:14) (Originally aired October 16, 1977)
While Archie and company set up for a surprise birthday party next door, Edith is assaulted by a man (David Dukes) intending to rape her.
The second half tries to restore some levity, as Archie and Meathead check the house for the intruder. But the effects of the experience on terrified Edith are no laughing matter.

167 / 8.11 Edith's Crisis of Faith (Parts 1 & 2) (25:09 & 25:10) (Originally aired December 25, 1977)
At Christmastime, Mike and family friend and female impersonator Beverly LaSalle (Lori Shannon) are mugged, with the latter killed. The experience leads Edith to question going to church. Part 2 finds the family trying to lift Edith's spirits and restore her faith.

189 / 9.12 California, Here We Are (48:27) (Originally aired December 17, 1978)
Archie and Edith venture not only outside of their living room but all the way to Santa Barbara to spend Christmas with Gloria and Mike (Struthers and Reiner make their first and only true guest appearances since leaving the show). Undermining the seasonal joy is the bombshell that Gloria and Mike have separated.

198 / 9.21 The 200th Episode Celebration (1:13:08) (Originally aired March 4, 1979)
Norman Lear hosts this triple-length retrospective, which aired between the taping and airing of the series finale. One hundred lucky couples were brought in from all over the nation to the Los Angeles Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where they are treated to highlights from the show's 9-season run featuring taboo-shattering clips on sex, politics, racism, health scares, and bathroom humor. Those couples had reason to be underwhelmed by this, which treads out the four leads for just a brief appearance, although the end credits suggest they mingled with the fans afterwards.

201 / 9.24 Too Good Edith (24:46) (Originally aired April 8, 1979)
After ignoring the doctor's orders to stay off her feet so that Archie's bar's St. Patrick's Day party can go as planned, Edith requires serious medical attention for her phlebitis. After all the dramatic episodes, this one is a pretty minor (but sweet) note on which to end.

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Video and Audio, Bonus Features, Menus, Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

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Reviewed October 3, 2012.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1971-79 Tandem Productions, Sony Pictures Television, and 2012 Shout! Factory.
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