Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ron Palillo, 1949-2012

He taught us that Horshack meant "The cattle are dying," which has become sadly prophetic all too soon. Godspeed, Ron Palillo, and if I didn't spell that right, notice that he couldn't spell it either.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Let the "Good Times" Roll

The other day on the treadmill at the gym, I happened across an episode of "Good Times" airing on something called Antenna TV, a division of Tribune Broadcasting that is available on "digital subchannels" of regular stations across the country. I don't know how that works, but apparently, my gym does.

I hadn't seen "Good Times" in years, maybe even decades - I would say that it's remarkable how young Jimmie Walker looked, except that he hasn't been seen in public since like 1982. One thing I love about coming across ancient TV shows is how much of their current-day culture they project, in ways that weren't apparent to us back in the day. The plot of the "Good Times" I saw (which, I see now, was the second episode in the series' run) revolved around a painting J.J. had done of "Black Jesus." As soon as the Evans family hung the portrait in their living room, they embarked on a remarkable string of good luck. James got an unexpected refund from the IRS, for instance, but my favorite was that Thelma got asked by a boy to attend an Isaac Hayes concert with him. I can't imagine a single TV show that wouldn't be improved by sending the characters to an Isaac Hayes concert. Jim Rockford should have gone to an Isaac Hayes concert. The Golden Girls should have gone to an Isaac Hayes concert.

There was also an IRS-fueled joke, in which Florida said that the president (not named, but it was Nixon, on his last legs) probably got a tax deduction for taking Israel to lunch. I was struck both by the sophistication afforded to Florida and the level of knowledge required to fully get the joke (which I admit, I don't). You don't see that kind of political humor in sitcoms anymore, and you especially don't see people taking such strong political sides in sitcoms.

Just as striking as the content was the form that the episode's storyline took. Florida wants to take down Black Jesus, because she thinks everyone is just falling for silly superstition, but James, who has a job interview the following day, wants to keep the picture up at least until then, to keep the good luck rolling. Then J.J. enters, dejected because a local art competition didn't accept his portrait done in the style of Ernie Barnes, who did the famed mural of all the dancing people shown over the end credits of "Good Times."  James suggests he take Black Jesus to the competition instead. J.J. demurs, saying he doesn't want to jeopardize the family's run of good fortune, but James insists, saying that this is J.J.'s best chance to win the contest, and he should run with it. J.J. finally accepts. End of episode.

We don't find out if J.J. wins the competition. We don't find out if James gets the job. We don't even find out if taking Black Jesus off the wall ends the string of good luck, although I suspect that it did. Most modern sitcoms would try to tie up every last one of those loose ends, I think. "Good Times" thought it was sufficient to end the story with the father making a sacrifice on behalf of his son. It's probably better that way.