America has just had its Live to air remakes of All in the Family and The Jeffersons, courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel and 96 year old writer /producer Norman Lear.
All in the Family
The cast featured Woody Harrelson as Archie Bunker, Marisa Tomei as Edith Bunker, Wanda Sykes as Weezy Jefferson, Ellie Kemper as Gloria Stivic and Ike Barinholtz as Mike “Meathead” Stivic. Sean Hayes and Anthony Anderson were also among the performers.
Archie Bunker’s original chair was also there on loan from the Smithsonian.
There was a moment when Jamie Foxx flubbed a line…
The cast included Wanda Sykes as Louise Jefferson, Justina Machado playing Florence Johnston, Anthony Anderson as George Jefferson’s brother Henry, Jovan Adepo as Lionel Jefferson, and Will Ferrell as neighbour Tom Willis. Adding to the stellar cast, Amber Stevens West as Jenny Willis Jefferson, Stephen Tobolowsky as Mr. Bentley and Jackee Harry as Diane Stockwell. And there was a surprise cameo from original cast member Marla Gibbs.
Harrelson’s Archie — or more specifically, his attempt at Carroll O’Conner’s thick Queens accent — didn’t quite settle until after the first commercial break, while Foxx got so caught up in mimicking Sherman Hemsley’s tics that he flubbed a punchline and blurted, “It’s live!” Better off was Tomei, who stole just about every scene with her wide-eyed, full-throated commitment to Jean Stapleton’s brand of quivering enthusiasm.
Woody Harrelson is an actor with many gifts but clearly no gift for New York-area accents. His Archie Bunker (originally played by Carroll O’Connor) sounded like Jersey by way of Slovakia. Those who still remember Jean Stapleton’s Edith don’t think of Marisa Tomei — love her as most do — in a ragged wig.
And then, like all funkytown TV, the party started. Jamie Foxx, as George Jefferson, fumbled a line during the opening episode, but naturally had to say something. (“It’s live,” he ad-libbed. “Everyone sitting at home just think their TV messed up.”)
With the great wordplay, Shirley Chisholm references, and those fastball cultural critiques that defined the best of Lear’s cottage industry of television back in the day, the appearance of the octogenarian Gibbs reprising her multi-Emmy nominated role as George and Louise Jefferson’s maid Florence was a true turn of heart that bridged the decades without a word. As the last remaining member of the core cast, it was a loving remembrance and homage to the deceased Isabel Sanford, Sherman Hemsley, Michael Evans, Roxie Roker and Franklin Cover.
Live In Front Of A Studio Audience was produced and co-hosted (with Norman Lear) by Jimmy Kimmel, who apparently had something different in mind: a little less challenging, a lot more breezy. This special has more in common with the recent trend toward staging canonical Broadway musicals live: stoking the studio audience into clapping and cheering, while teasing the home viewer with the possibility that everything might go haywire. And that’s fine! The results were very entertaining. But the special didn’t necessarily honor the spirit of the original Lear shows—nor did it breathe new life into them.
As yet there are no plans for these to screen in Australia.