Series / Good Times
Clockwise from left: Michael, Thelma, Willona, Florida, JJ, James.
Any time you meet a payment!
Any time you need a friend!
Any time you're out from under!
Not gettin' hassled, not getting hustled!
Keeping your head above water!
Making a wave when you can't!
Easy Credit rip-offs!
Scratchin' and Survivin'
Hangin' in and jivin'!
Ain't we lucky we got 'em?
was a Norman Lear
that ran on CBS
from 1974–79. The show, a Spin-Off
of Lear's earlier comedy Maude
(itself spun off from All in the Family
), followed the lives of the Evans family, a poor black family living in the high-rise projects of Chicago:
- Florida Evans (Esther Rolle): Matriarch, occasional Mama Bear
- James Evans (John Amos): Patriarch, Chew Toy
- James "JJ" Evans, Jr. (Jimmie Walker): Catch Phrase machine, The Wisecracker, Kavorka Man (cleaned up in later seasons)
- Thelma Anderson, nee Evans (Bern Nadette Stanis): The Chick
- Michael Evans (Ralph Carter): "The Militant Midget", male Soap Box Sadie, The Smart Guy
- And their neighbor, Willona Woods (Ja'net Du Bois): Sassy Black Woman, Drop-In Character
Most episodes featured the efforts of the Evans to get by in the ghetto and make a better life for themselves. Despite the fact that those efforts usually ended in bitter disappointment
, the show remained surprisingly positive and uplifting. And like most Lear shows of the time, Good Times
wasn't afraid to moralize
or bring up controversial topics
The show's most controversial move
was killing off patriarch James
at the beginning of the fourth season. Esther Rolle hoped this would bring a shift in JJ's character from the clownish Kavorka Man
he had been, to a more responsible Man Of The House. The writers didn't see it that way, seemingly ramping up JJ's foolishness
(though it's worth noting that Jimmie Walker, who played JJ, was a stand-up comedian and not much of an actor). This led to Rolle quitting the show for the entire fifth season, her character having relocated to Arizona
to be with her second husband. She was brought back in the sixth and final season with promises to clean up JJ's act (and never reference her second marriage
, which Rolle thought went against Florida's character in multiple ways).
The series finale aired on August 1, 1979, with a Mega-Happy Ending
. Reruns can be seen daily on TV One and occasionally on Nick at Nite's TV Land. All six seasons are available on DVD.
This show provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Penny's mom. One of the show's most infamous scenes is of her burning Penny with a hot iron. And that actually happens off-screen, we just see the iron about to be used and the bandaged wound afterwards. Also, although Fair for Its Day , James' heavy-handed disciplining of his kids. He uses his belt on them, which is relatively uncommon today.
- Accidental Misnaming: Alderman Fred Davis to Willona. And vice versa: she calls him "Balderman" and he calls her "Fellow-na." Though on Willona's part, it's slightly less than accidental.
- The Alcoholic: Ned The Wino and Fishbone. Cousin Naomi and her parents in the Very Special Episode "Sometimes There's No Bottom in the Bottle."
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: That song Michael sings at Thelma and Keith's wedding? It's a Stevie Wonder song, "You And I (We Can Conquer The World)" from the album Talking Book.
- Angry Black Man: James and Michael. Though Michael was a much straighter example, James being angry in the more traditional sense. For Michael, this pretty much vanished in later seasons.
- Attempted Rape: Willona's husband Ray makes advances to Thelma, eventually groping her (and he would likely have taken it further had Willona and Florida not walked in). Later, Penny is similarly assaulted offscreen.
- Babies Ever After : Thelma announces her pregnancy in the finale.
- Back to School: Bookman, Florida, and James.
- Bad Job, Worse Uniform: JJ's uniform while working at a fried chicken restaurant.
- Bald Black Leader Guy: Alderman Davis plays with this trope. He's mostly just a politician, but is also a skilled (if very self-serving) civil rights leader.
- Berserk Button : Try not doing your homework with James around. Or mess with Florida's family.
- Big Brother Instinct: JJ to Thelma and Michael. For all his goofiness and constant teasing of them, he makes it abundantly clear that the best way to set off his Berserk Button is to harm either of them.
- Break the Cutie: Poor Penny qualifies for this in spades.
- Bus Crash: James's off-screen death.
- Butt Monkey: Bookman. Or maybe just call him Buffalo Butt Monkey.
- Catch Phrase: JJ's "DYN-O-MITE!"
- Chew Toy: James could never catch a break.
- The Chick: Thelma, the only daughter in the family. She is hyper-emotional where Florida is calm and stoic, but she's also the most compassionate.
- Christmas Cake : Discussed in the Season 1 episode "Florida, the Matchmaker." Willona points out that an unmarried man over 30 is a carefree bachelor, while a woman over 30 who is unmarried (or, in Willona's case, divorced) is considered over the hill. Willona remains happily unmarried throughout the series.
- Christmas Episode: There was one where Penny stole a gift for Willona. The other one was a Musical Episode.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Carl Dixon. Florida got married to Carl at the end of the 1976-1977 season and planned to move to Arizona to tend to Carl's chronic health issues; the storyline was planned to explain Esther Rolle's coming departure from the show. At the beginning of the 1978-1979 season, Florida had returned ... without Carl, and with no explanation for his absence. The reason for this was that Rolle agreed to return to the show, but only if changes were made, one of them being that there would be no record of Carl having ever existed. (Rolle thought it was implausible for the devoutly Christian Florida to marry someone who was an avowed atheist, and also felt that Florida moved on much too quickly after James' death.) According to The Other Wiki , a deleted scene shows Willona asking Florida about Carl. Florida shakes her head, implying that Carl passed away from cancer during her absence. The reason for the move to Arizona was a spot on Carl's lung.
- Cousin Oliver: Penny - though much better received by the audience than most, the result was the same.
- Dad the Veteran: James served in Korea.
- Daddy's Girl: Thelma to James.
- Diabolus ex Machina: This is a pretty regular occurrence on the show, something that even bothered the actors.
- Whenever James gets a better, more stable, better paid job, something happens that gets him fired or laid off. Or he gets killed.
- Whenever JJ gets the opportunity to make some money off of his art, something inevitably happens to make him turn down the deal or get the whole thing called off.
- Thelma gets married to a potential NFL star, only for him to blow out his knee at their wedding.
- The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Semi-averted, first ever mention of a VD on American TV, but no mention of which or how it was transferred.
- Fair for Its Day: In those days, VD was used much the same way as "STD" is today: As a catch-all term (and then, there was a smaller range of diseases to refer to.)
- Dog Food Diet: The episode "Social Security" deals with this, with one of the Evans' neighbors being forced to eat dog food for some meals to survive.
- Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: James, James, James.
- Drop-In Character: Willona, one of the first.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Keith, bordering on The Alcoholic.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: A great example of this.
- Failure Is the Only Option: The Evans family will never make it out of the ghetto, will never be financially well off enough to do more than just survive, will never be any better off than they were in the previous episode.
- Fairytale Wedding Dress : Thelma gets one in the Season 6 wedding episode.
- The Ghost : J.J.'s elusive girlfriend Henrietta. Also a more literal example after James passes away in season 4.
- Happily Ever After: About the only character who didn't hit it big in the finale is Bookman.
- Happily Married: James and Florida.
- Hollywood Atheist: Carl Dixon, which was one of Esther Rolle's biggest problems with Florida marrying Carl.
- Insatiable Newlyweds: Thelma and Keith.
- Join or Die: This is why Michael joins a gang. Quote paraphrased.
They asked Johnny to join and he didn't, so they broke his arm. They asked Willy to join and he didn't, so they broke his leg. Then they asked me to join, and they were looking at my neck.
- A couple of Seasons prior, JJ also fell victim to their "Health and Accident Insurance Program," as in "If I don't join, they were gonna ensure that I had an accident to my health."
- Kavorka Man: JJ, who was somehow able to compete with the school quarterback despite being skinny and funny looking.
- Killed Off for Real: James, whose offscreen death at the beginning of Season 4 is probably the most infamous example of this trope in a comedy show outside of Henry Blake's.
- Landlord: Bookman... well, technically a building superintendent, but close enough, as he did collect the rent every month and gleefully served the Evanses their many eviction notices when they were late, pissed him off, pissed off Alderman Davis, etc.
- Lethal Chef : Everyone makes fun of Thelma's cooking.
- Limited Wardrobe: James seemed to wear the same brown shirt and off-white corduroys every single episode. Lampshaded in one episode when he ponders whether to wear "my brown shirt, my brown shirt or my brown shirt?"
- Mama Bear: Florida
- Ms. Fanservice: Thelma, and on occasion Willona.
- Musical Episode: One doubled as a Christmas Episode while the plot of the other was a talent show to raise money for a daycare center in their building.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: Played with in the episode, "Sex and the Evans Family".
- Neighborhood Friendly Gangster: "Sweet Daddy" Williams was generally portrayed as one of these, despite being a racketeer, loan shark, and pimp. Although sometimes only in comparison to others who might take over the turf if he wasn't there. Sure, he's a crook and a con, but at least he's never killed anybody.
- Playing Gertrude: John Amos was only 34 when the show began, making him just 8 years older than his "son" Jimmie Walker, and 19 years younger than his "wife" Esther Rolle. He pulled it off by being Younger Than He Looks.
- Promotion to Parent: JJ in season 5 due to the absence of both parents.
- Put on a Bus: Florida, to Arizona during Season 5 with her new husband.
- Race Lift : An in-universe example. J.J. has an Acid Reflux Nightmare where he's white.
- The Rashomon: The episode "Where's There's Smoke"; the couch catches fire and burns a hole in one of the pillows. JJ, Thelma, and Michael each tells Willona their version of what happened. Penny's version of the story is the truth.
- Sassy Black Woman: Willona, the Trope Codifier.
- Scary Black Man: James was this when he got mad.
- Soap Box Sadie: Michael, "The Militant Midget". Unlike most examples, he was a kid, male, and his views were generally relevant to the plot and the target audience. This part of his character was phased out completely as he got older, due to the show's writers thinking a teenaged black militant would be off-putting to white viewers.
- Spinoff: Second generation Spinoff: From All in the Family to Maude to this show. Oddly, this wasn't originally planned as one and Florida was added into the mix later in preproduction. This explains some of the odd and unexplained lapses in continuity between Good Times and Maude, including Florida and her family appearing to have lived in Chicago for quite some time, her husband's name being changed from Henry to James, and a lack of references to Florida having ever cleaned houses or James/Henry having ever been a firefighter. It's possible James/ Henry had told her to lie about his occupation to the Findlays to get a better maid position.
- Trademark Favorite Food: JJ's "Kool-Aid Sour".
- Transatlantic Equivalent: Remade for British TV as The Fosters (interestingly, the original show has never aired in the UK).
- Uncle Tomfoolery: JJ fell increasingly into this in later seasons. However, he did improve by the show's final season.
- Very Special Episode: The VD Episode, complete with disclaimer before the start of the show.
- Subverted with the child abuse storyline that introduced Cousin Oliver Penny. The Very Special Problem was resolved in no fewer than 6 episodes and Penny remained on the show until its end.
- We Sell Everything: Lenny. He would give the residents a rhyme about his merchandise and then open up his fur coat to display his (usually ill-gotten) wares.
- Wham Episode: "The Big Move."
- Written-In Absence: Florida, Season 5. The kids would "talk to her" on the phone once every other episode.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: A number of episodes revolved around the characters trying to improve their situation and absolutely failing by the time the credits rolled. The most heartwrenching example, though, has to be in the fourth-season premiere: James has gotten a promising new job in Mississippi and the family plans on moving to join him, leaving the ghetto behind forever! Then James dies in a car wreck and they're stuck.