...doot doot doot dee dee doot...
...and so forth. With apologies for the bad impression of the funk-inspired theme song, I am happy to endorse the first season DVD set of Sanford And Son. Just hearing those first few notes of the music takes me back to the early 1970's, when I would sometimes spend Saturday nights at my grandparents' house, eating dinner off tv trays and watching the zany antics of Redd Foxx as the titular Fred G. Sanford. (The "G" stood for whatever best suited Fred's scheme of the moment.) At his side was his irascible but loving son, Lamont, his best friends Grady and Bubba, and the ever-irritating and physically unattractive Aunt Esther. Add to this mix an eccentric band of guest stars, bit players, and denizens of South Central LA, and you have Mr. Sanford's Neighborhood (aka Watts, CA.) Most of the episodes involve either Fred or Lamont (sometimes both) coming up with an ill-fated deception or get-rich-quick scheme. As I generally try to avoid plot synopses in my reviews, I will concentrate instead on what made this series "work."
By the 1970's, America had grown cynical and somewhat world-weary. Watergate, Vietnam, youth outrage, the drug counterculture, and the increasingly rebellious face of popular music had made squeaky-clean sitcoms in the "Leave It To Beaver" mold obsolete. When Redd Foxx first grimaced at the camera and referred to his son as "You Big Dummy," it was clear that this was not going to be another "Father Knows Best." Instead, the show was (while humorous)a reaction to the then-outdated style of escapism in television, film, and theatre. Fred was the sort of impoverished junkman that you could actually find without much trouble. His grumpy facade, his slovenly appearance, and his familiarity with low language (including the "N" word, which he was not above dropping from time to time)set him apart as a grittier, more "realistic" protagonist. Americans black and white alike responded positively to Fred...he was, in many ways, "one of us." Foxx himself began the series on the heels of a successful career as a nightclub comic, including many of his established one-liners into the show.
As the "Son" half of the show's duo, Demond Wilson made for an appropriately droopy sad-sack Lamont. Constantly belittled by Fred, Lamont plodded his way through a drudge of a job, an ever-disappointing love life, and the trials of being a 30-year-old man living with his father. Not to be overly academic, but Lamont seemed representative of the "forgotten" lower middle class of the 1970's. He was the sort of guy you might pass on the street and never notice. It is through his relationship with Fred, however, that the stray beams of sunlight penetrate the Sanford's cynical and grungy world. Lamont clearly loves his "Pop," and Fred shows occasional moments of sincere affection towards Lamont, keeping them human and (dare we say it) oddly loveable. The dynamic between these two characters is strong from the start.
The secondary characters of "Sanford & Son" exist primarily for comic relief and plot development, and represent a wide array of stereotypes...Lamont's best friend, Rollo, is a pimped-out hustler, who never proves to be half as streetwise as he pretends. Aunt Esther is a Bible-swinging, scripture-quoting fundamentalist who still indulges in verbal jabs with Fred, most often calling him a "heathen" or "fish-eyed fool." Bubba and Grady are basically a black Laurel & Hardy, Bubba boisterous and chubby, while Grady is simpering and thin. It is through their interaction with Fred and Lamont that these characters come to life. (Trivia: Don "Bubba" Bexley was a friend of Foxx's from his stand-up days.)
That's the overview, but the question still remains...WHY buy this boxed DVD set? I could go on and on about S&S being a seminal American sitcom (like "All In The Family," it was based on a British sitcom, yet became a cornerstone of American pop culture.) However, the real reason to buy it is because Foxx and company are so entertaining. The show is NOT politically correct, the characters are crude, and the situations alternate between ridiculous and tragi/comic...AND IT WORKS!!!! "Sanford & Son" may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those seeking a dose of earthy '70's realism in comedy, it will fill the bill.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older