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Series / Good Times

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Clockwise from left: Michael, Thelma, Willona, Florida, J.J., James.

Any time you meet a payment! (GOOD TIMES!)
Any time you meet a friend! (GOOD TIMES!)
Any time you're out from under!
Not gettin' hassled, not gettin' hustled!
Keepin' your head above water
Makin' a wave when you can't!
Temporary lay-offs! (GOOD TIMES!)
Easy Credit rip-offs! (GOOD TIMES!)
Scratchin' and survivin' (GOOD TIMES!)
Hangin' in and jivin'! (GOOD TIMES!!)
Ain't we lucky we got 'em?
The series' iconic theme song

Good Times was a Norman Lear-produced Sitcom 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:

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.

Both Esther Rolle and John Amos grew dissatisfied with J.J's character. Rolle felt that J.J. was not a good role model for blacks, and Amos felt the show was becoming more about his antics, than about its original intent to be about family values. 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 J.J.'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 J.J.'s foolishness (though it's worth noting that Jimmie Walker, who played J.J., 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 J.J.'s act (and never reference her second marriage, which Rolle thought went against Florida's character in multiple ways).

When the fifth season started, an 11-year-old Janet Jackson joined the cast as Millicent "Penny" Gordon Woods; after Penny's abusive mother Lynnetta reveals that she was abused as a child after a fight with Thelma and Willona, Lynnetta tells Penny that she deserves better. In the sixth season, Lynnetta has remarried and starts sending Penny anonymous gifts while attempting to frame Willona as an unfit adoptive parent who throws wild parties with undesirable guests. After her scheme is exposed, she leaves and Penny regards Willona as her real mother.

The series finale aired on August 1, 1979, with a Mega-Happy Ending. Reruns can be seen daily on TV One and Catchy Comedy (as of March 2023). All six seasons are available on DVD.

This show provides examples of:

  • Abuse Discretion Shot: The infamous scene of Penny getting burned with a hot iron by her mother as she pleads not to do it. It cuts away but her next scene does have her arm bandaged up.
  • Abusive Parents: Penny's mom Lynnetta. One of the show's most infamous scenes is of her burning Penny with a hot iron. And that actually happens off-screen; we see the iron about to be used and the bandaged wound afterwards.
  • 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.
  • Affectionate Nickname: The youngest son Michael is often referred to by the nickname "Gramps".
  • 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."
    • Keith begins drinking heavily after his Career-Ending Injury and inability to find a job, but snaps out of it after slapping Thelma.
  • And Starring: The show's breakout star Jimmie Walker graduated from a gang "with" combining the three children (with Tony-nominated Ralph Carter listed first) in season 1 to a triple-barreled and/also starring/as by season 5.
  • 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.
  • Bad Job, Worse Uniform: J.J 's uniform while working at a fried chicken restaurant.
  • Bald of Authority: 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: J.J. to Thelma and Michael. For all his goofiness and constant teasing of them, he makes it abundantly clear that the best way to press his Berserk Button is to harm either of them.
    (to Keith after he slaps Thelma) "You better have a good excuse for this, or I'm going to put you in every shot glass across Chicago."
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: J.J. ends up getting arrested for a liquor store robbery he didn’t commit on his 18th Birthday.
  • Big Eater: Nathan "Buffalo Butt" Bookman often tends to have a super-sized appetite to go along with his portly frame, occasionally attempting to raid the Evans' fridge once in a while.
  • Bottle Episode: Many episodes seem to take place entirely within the Evans' apartment.
  • Breakout Character: Jimmie "J.J." Walker. One of the biggest examples of the 70s.
  • Broken Tears: After powering her way straight through James's funeral and reception at their apartment, Florida badly worries her family as she just keeps on without blinking. But when all the guests, even Wilona, are gone, then and there she throws and breaks a large glass punch bowl, yelling "Damn! DAMN! DAAAAAMN!" as her family is finally able to comfort her in her darkest hour.
  • Bus Crash: James's off-screen death.
  • Butt-Monkey: Bookman. Or maybe just call him Buffalo Butt Monkey.
  • Catchphrase: J.J.'s "DYN-O-MITE!" and less frequently, "Well, you know, what can I say?"
  • 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.
  • Creator Cameo: Ernie Barnes, the artist behind J.J.'s paintings, appeared in a few episodes as one of Sweet Daddy's goons.
  • 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 bothered even the actors.
    • Whenever James gets a better, more stable, better-paying job, something happens that gets him fired or laid off. Or killed off.
    • Whenever J.J. gets the opportunity to make some money off of his art, something 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, an early mention of 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.
  • Drop-In Character: Willona, one of the first.
  • Drop-In Landlord: Bookman.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Keith, bordering on The Alcoholic.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: A great example of this; after spending the entire series struggling to make ends meet, the Evans family finally gets a break, with J.J. getting a job as a professional cartoonist, Keith getting a new football contract after knee is healed, him and Thelma having a baby, and moving in to a bigger apartment, bringing Florida with them to be their live-in nanny. Also, Michael goes to college, and Willona gets a promotion at her botique, and she and Penny end up moving into the same apartment building as Keith, Thelma and Florida, thus continuing to be their downstairs neighbor.
  • 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.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: In one episode J.J. is hired to paint a portrait of a curvaceous neighbor nicknamed "The Wiggler." All the men react whenever she's brought up.
  • The Heart: Thelma, the only daughter in the family. She is hyper-emotional where Florida is calm and stoic, but she's also the most compassionate.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Carl Dixon, which was one of Esther Rolle's biggest problems with Florida marrying Carl.
  • Hope Spot: At the beginning of Season 4, James is about to get a promising job in Mississippi, and the family is just about ready to move down south... until the family receives a tragic telegram: James is killed in a car accident.
  • I Have No Son!: When a young gang leader, Mad Dog, shoots J.J. and is put on trial for it, he is let off, but his mother coldly disowns him, going as far as to slap him and wish he had never been born. James, who was prepared to get back at Mad Dog, is almost brought to tears to witness this, and can't bring himself to do anything more.
  • 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, J.J. also fell victim to their "Health and Accident Insurance Program," as in "If I didn't join, they were gonna ensure that I had an accident to my health."
  • Kavorka Man: J.J., 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 was at the time the most infamous example of this trope in a comedy show outside of Henry Blake's. Decades later, Charlie Harper's would take the cake.
  • Lethal Chef : Everyone makes fun of Thelma's cooking, especially J.J.
  • 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?" Averted with Thelma, who had a much nicer wardrobe than the Evans should really have been able to afford, reportedly at the insistence of Bernadette Stanis, who didn't want to look poor on television.
  • Looks Like Jesus: In "Black Jesus", J.J. paints a picture of what Jesus would look like if he was black, basing his rendition on Ned the wino. As soon as the painting is hung in the living room, a number of good luck events start occurring for the Evans family and Willona.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the end of "The Big Move: Part 1" As the episode ends, the Evanses are hosting a going away party, and are reading telegrams from other family and friends congratulating them and wishing them luck. The laughter and fun all come to a grinding halt when Florida reads one from Mississippi revealing James has been killed, and everyone is stunned silent, as the episode fades to the credits.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Thelma, a beautiful, shapely young woman who's still a regular on "hottest TV stars ever" lists. Also Willona on occasion, especially when she wore a skirt.
  • 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, a loan shark, and a 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.
  • No Periods, Period: Two adult women and two teenage girls, yet the topic never came up. It's especially glaring in the episode when Willona refuses to have The Talk with Penny, insisting that she's too young, when Penny is clearly going through puberty and is bound to start any day now and needs that much explained to her at least.
  • Old Maid: 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.
  • Peer-Pressured Bully: Michael joins the Junior Warlords gang purely out of a sense of self preservation.
  • Promotion to Parent: J.J. 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. J.J., Thelma, and Michael each tells Willona their version of what happened. Penny's version of the story is the truth.
  • Scary Black Man: James was this when he got mad.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: As much as they struggled to make ends meet, James and Florida would readily turn down an opportunity if it went against moral principles. Such as when James is offered a job from a televangelist friend, which he’d initially accepted. But when he saw the impact his doing so would have on his children (he would have been feigning ailments so that he could be “healed“), he changed his mind. Likewise, Florida turning down a TV commercial spot upon learning she’d be selling a product made mostly of alcohol; she also stated she wouldn't do it if she had to do "dialect" i.e. not speak proper English; as soon as Michael gets drunk from drinking the tonic, Florida wants no further part of it. Also when J.J. is making good money with a small-time gangster/gambling operation, Florida refuses to accept any of his "dirty money" and kicks him out of their apartment, until he comes to his senses.
  • Soapbox 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.
  • Special Thanks: The note "Ralph Carter courtesy of the Broadway Musical Raisin" was included in the season 1 closing credits.
  • 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.
  • Sudden Name Change: James was called 'Henry' for John Amos's appearances on Maude.
  • The Talk: Willona stubbornly refuses to have this with Penny, insisting that she will decide when Penny is ready, even though it's obvious that she is—aside from the fact that one of her classmates is pregnant, Penny has clearly started pubertal development and is displaying the natural curiosity for a child her age.
  • There Is Only One Bed: J.J. and Michael have to share a bed. And by "bed", we mean "pull-out sofa"; they don't even have their own bedroom.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: J.J.'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: J.J. 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.
  • Wealth's in a Name: Played with in the case of Penny, whose name was a pun on her full name, "Millicent". She was poor, as were all the families in that series, but she considered herself wealthy once adopted by Willona.
  • 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," the episode where the family finds out James died on the way back from Mississippi.
  • Wham Line:"We regret to inform you, that your husband, James Evans was...killed in an automo....(bile accident)"
  • 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.

"Just lookin' out of the window
Watchin' the asphalt grow!
Thinkin' how it all looks hand-me-down!
GOOD TIMES! (Ye-eah!)
Keepin' your head above water!
Makin' a wave when you can't!
Temporary lay-offs! (GOOD TIMES!)
Easy Credit rip-offs! (GOOD TIMES!)
Ain't we lucky we got 'em?


"Good Times" is recorded on tape before a live audience.