I love “Seinfeld,” maybe more than I should, because it’s about a small group of self-absorbed, self-absorbed people with no qualms, no compassion, and, alas, no dogs. If you accuse me of liking a sitcom in the presence of the great Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I have to plead guilty.
But despite my love of “Seinfeld” and its comedy tropes, I’m relieved that “All in the Family” beat it (with 53.1 percent of the vote) in the final round of our bracket for the best series of the past 50 years. years. The students of the world got it right.
“All in the Family” is a show about America and family that takes on a range of difficult social, cultural, racial, gender, and political issues that have never been shown on scripted TV before. In the process of showing the country and its diseases, embedded in the domestic life of its citizens, it changed the TV into something more reliable and interesting than before. It has elevated the conversation around TV, too, making it more relevant and personal.
Indeed, I think the influence of “All in the Family” cannot be overstated. It introduced ideas that are still playing on television more than 50 years after it first aired, and any comedy that comes out now owes a lot to it. You could even argue that Tony Soprano, a wonderful man, was based on Archie Bunker.
And it’s not a dinosaur by any means. The main themes of “All in the Family,” not in all hostility, remain relevant in 2022, sadly.
In the 1960s, as the country was going through all kinds of profound changes and conflicts, television programs were giving us a need to feel like “Petticoat Junction,” or shows that were struggling with their egos like “Hogan’s Heroes.” When provocative issues were going on in TV shows of the time — sexism on “Bewitched,” or class issues on “Beverly Hillbillies” — they were cloaked in silliness. It was a strange and unhealthy system of oppression by many societies, ignoring all the differences and conflicts that were tearing people and families apart.
And then came Norman Lear, and then came “All in the Family,” joyfully portraying every deep conflict between generations, between spouses, between neighbors, between friends. Lear knew that nothing would change until daylight was brought in.
I really expected “The Sopranos” to win this competition – which started with a group of 64 shows – or if not maybe one of the biggest dramas of the season like “Breaking Bad” or “The Wire.” But there’s something special about turning a virtual space into an equally genius and culturally-leading series that keeps climbing to the bottom of the best-of list. “All in the Family,” those were the days.
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