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Series / The Jeffersons

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"Well, we're movin' on up (Movin' on up!)
To the East Side (Movin' on up!)
To a de-luxe apartment in the sky...
We're movin' on up (Movin' on up!)
To the East Side (Movin on up!)
We finally got a piece of the pie..."
The iconic theme song

The longest-running TV series with a predominantly African American cast in the history of American television, The Jeffersons aired for eleven seasons (1975–85) on CBS. It features an upper-class black couple, George (Sherman Hemsley) and Louise (Isabel Sanford) Jefferson, and is a Spin-Off of All in the Family, in which the characters had been the neighbors of Archie and Edith Bunker.

Although created (like its parent show) by Norman Lear, it wasn't that political. Still, it was the first series to prominently feature a mixed-racial couple, Helen (Roxie Roker) and Tom (Franklin Cover) Willis.

The show had its own spin-off, titled Checking In and centering on the character of housekeeper Florence (Marla Gibbs). Low ratings led to its cancellation just four episodes, and Florence returned to The Jeffersons.

The show did not get a proper finale, as it was ended early due to Executive Meddling on the part of CBS. Most of the cast found out after the last episode, but Sherman Hemsley didn't know until he read about it in the newspaper.

"We're movin' on up, to the top, to a deluxe trope list in the sky":

  • Amicable Exes: In the season 11 two-parter "Sayonara", Lionel and Jenny—having returned from a stay in Japan—announce that they're divorcing. By the end of the episode it's implied they'll be this, although neither character appears again on the show.
  • And Starring:
    • Paul Benedict (seasons 1-7)
    • Marla Gibbs (seasons 8-11)
  • Anonymous Benefactor: The Christmas Episode "984 W. 124th Street, Apt. 5C" has George sending money and presents to the current residents of the Harlem apartment he grew up in, so their holidays will be less deprived than his own had been.
  • Ascended Extra: Florence proved so popular with viewers she got her own title card and spinoff, Checking In. Florence was the inspiration for Marla Gibbs to play Mary Jenkins in the more successful 227 at the end of the show's run.
  • Automobile Opening: George and Louise are in a taxi following the moving truck on the way to their new apartment.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Louise Jefferson is extremely sweet and patient. But when she finally does get fed up, look out. As George could tell you...
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: The Willises, who suffer no end of derision from George.
  • The Boxing Episode: George boxed in the Navy, and puts the equipment on again after he gets in a disagreement with another man at the gym. Louise tried to plead with the man to go easy on George:
    Louise: He only has one kidney!
    Other Guy: Really? Which one? I'd hate to waste a good kidney punch.
    • Then Louise bribes the other guy to throw the fight; meanwhile George decides to throw the fight himself, so they spend the entire fight not hitting each other, waiting for the other to hit them so they can fall down.
  • Breakout Character: Florence was initially a one shot character, but Marla Gibbs stayed on, partly on the strength of one line:
    Florence: How come we overcame and nobody told me?
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Florence returns in Season 8 after the hotel she worked for in Checking In burns down.
    • Mr. Bentley returns from a two-year stay in the USSR in Season 10.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Lionel does this to George, when he gets angry about not telling him and Louise about Jenny's pregnancy. They were reluctant to say anything out of not wanting to have to endure a tirade about having a baby with mixed races, which was exactly what he ended up doing when he yelled at them.
  • Can't Tie His Tie: There was a flashback to George getting ready for a meeting with a banker for a loan to start his own cleaners. He put on his suit and was having difficulty with his tie when the banker arrived. George told him he was just taking it off.
  • Celeb Crush: Florence had a crush on Billy Dee Williams.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The show was originally a political satire of sorts, and gradually became more dramatic as it went on.
  • Childish Pillow Fight: In one episode, George and Louise are given a pair of foam bats as a part of couples therapy. At the end of the episode they, the Willises, and Florence all go after each other (in a playful way) with the bats and some throw pillows for those without bats. A clip of the scene is used in the opening credits of the later seasons.
  • Christmas Episode: Several.
    • "The Christmas Wedding" (season 3); "984 W. 124th Street, Apt. 5C" (season 4); "George Finds a Father" (season 5); "All I Want for Christmas" (season 7); "Father Christmas" (season 10).
  • Clip Show: The three-part episode "George and Louise in a Bind," in which the Jeffersons are tied up by a robber and begin reminiscing, leading to flashbacks (including from their time on All in the Family). Also, part 1 of "Florence Did It Different", when Louise describes to Carmen how Florence handled George.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: One episode has George saving the life of the leader of The Klan. When the man learns what happened, he tells his son "You should have let me die".
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Played both Clean and Reliable on the episode in which George winds up using the technique to save the leader of a KKK group, although the KKK leader still has to be taken to the hospital afterward.
  • *Crack!* "Oh, My Back!": Mr. Bentley's back would often go out, and he would ask George to walk on it.
  • Crossover:
  • Cut Short: In spite of being wildly successful, the show was ultimately cancelled in 1985 with no proper Series Finale of its own.
  • Dead Person Conversation: In "They Don't Make Preachers Like Him Anymore", Florence is rocked when a seemingly good-hearted new preacher at her church runs off with the money the choir was using for a trip. She goes on a rant in the church only to have the kindly Reverend Taylor pop up to give her a talk on never losing her faith. Florence heads home to tell the Jeffersons about how Taylor helped her and now feels much better. She heads to her room, missing the totally baffled looks George and Louise share.
    George: How could Florence have just talked to Reverend Taylor when his sister said he died in his sleep four hours ago?
  • Death by Racism: Inverted, when a leader of The Klan (who'd earlier refused to let his son learn CPR in a class which Louise and Florence also attended) suffers a heart attack, and is saved by George's use of this skill. His parting words ("You should've let me die") suggest he'd have preferred this to owing his life to a black man.
  • Drop-In Character: Mr. Bentley.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first season was trying to find its legs. Florence wasn't initially a Servile Snarker (but thanks to Louise's permission, she became one), and Allan went from being tan-skinned to straight-up Caucasian.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: Jennie is writing an article about gangs, and she starts to hang out with one. Each member has at least one scar, which they call "medals," and they are proud to show them to her and tell how they got them (in a knife fight, shot, etc.). One young trainee gang member doesn't have any medals yet but is looking forward to getting one in the next rumble - if he doesn't have a medal he can't become a full member of the gang. He ends up killed in the rumble.
  • Everybody Cries: In “Lunch With Mama”, George, Louise, and Mother Jefferson attend a funeral for whom they thought was an old family friend of Louise’s. Mother Jefferson, upset that her lunch date with George was canceled because of the service, begins bawling loudly. This leads to George, Louise and almost everyone else in the chapel to start crying as well. However, it turns out they went to the wrong service and that the deceased at that one wasn’t well liked.
  • Exact Words: George comes home one afternoon to find Florence vacuuming while eating an apple. He tells her "I don't want you doing two things at once" while working—and so she promptly stops vacuuming and sits down to finish her snack.
  • Fashion-Based Relationship Cue: During the Hawaii vacation episodes, Florence makes a point of wearing a flower behind her right ear to indicate that she's looking for love.
  • Flanderization: The show always had one foot in typical sitcom fare, but early seasons often dealt with both blatant and more subtle forms of racism, such as George attempting to navigate his new upwardly mobile world while trying to hold onto his identity as a proud black man. Other serious subjects were touched on as well, such as health issues, aging, politics, alcoholism and suicide. But as the show continued, it began to fall back on more typical sitcom tropes such as slapstick, Mistaken Identity plots, dream sequences, celebrity cameos, etc, as George's schemes grew more outlandish and his fights with Louise grew more farcical, to the point of Louise even pointing a gun at him in one episode (Played for Laughs, of course). A good demonstration is the stark difference between the first season opening sequence and the one from season six.
  • Funny Foreigner: Mr Bentley is a stock English example.
  • Gang Initiation Fight: A deconstruction. Jenny embeds herself with a street gang in order to do an "inside" story about them. One of the gang members she meets is a pledge and he has to participate in a gang fight before he can become a full member. That evening the gang has a fight with another gang, and the pledge is killed during the fight.
  • George Jetson Job Security: Florence, especially during the early years. At least once, Florence did get fired ... only for her habit of eavesdropping on George's telephone conversations to save him from a potential scam – two con artists had wanted to sell George delivery vans that had been damaged in a flood – and it also saves Florence's job. By the early 1980s, the trope no longer applied and Florence's place in the Jeffersons' lives was secure.
  • Hash House Lingo: Tom Willis once ordered a drink "on the rocks. And hold the ice."
  • Height Angst: George Jefferson is visibly shorter than his wife Louise, and their maid enjoys needling George about his size. Calling him "runt" is George's Berserk Button.
    • He's also quite a bit shorter than Tom Willis and Harry Bentley who are played by actors who were both nearly a foot taller than him.
  • Height Insult: George Jefferson recounts his rough days growing up when he was picked on for being shorter than average. This bullying taught George to be contentious and combative. His son, Lionel, remarks that George must've been "a feisty little runt" in those days. As it turns out, George gets agitated at the mere mention of the word "runt".
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Anytime Mother Jefferson cries. Jenny was prone to this as well.
  • Invisible President: Averted; George once invited then-president Jimmy Carter to stay at his house.
  • Least Rhymable Word: A songwriter George has hired to write a sing about his wife, Louise (whom he calls Weezy), thinks he has this problem.
    Songwriter: Well, you try finding a rhyme for 'Weezy'! Believe me, it isn't easy!
  • Lie Detector: Played for Drama, in the episode where Lionel was offered a high paying job. At his interview, after answering all questions given to him, he was obligated to answer them again while hooked up to a lie detector. Feeling he was being denied his rights, he turned the job down, much to George's anger.
  • Long Last Look: In one episode, Louise goes back to the small apartment she grew up in; after having some Flashbacks, she takes one final glance around before leaving.
  • Long-Runners: Aired for 11 years.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: The Willises, at least from George's POV.
  • Mammy: Florence subverts the trope. She is a Sassy Black Woman, but she's also thin and works for a black family.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Florence is stunned with a visiting minister to her church ends up ripping off the parishoners and running off. She believes she's going to leave the church and talks to the reverend inside who gives her a stern lecture on faith that lifts her spirits. Coming home, Florence finds Louise wanting to talk to her about the reverend but Thelma says it's okay and the conversation she just had with him did her a world of good. As soon as she leaves, George gives Louise a baffled look.
    George: Louise, you made the phone call. How can Florence have talked to Reverend Taylor when his sister said he died in his sleep four hours ago?
    Louise: I don't know but you know something? I almost believe her.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Happens twice:
    • In one episode George meets with his old navy buddy who had a sex change (see below).
    • In another George has been working late even though Louise doesn't like it. When he tries to sneak in and is caught she believes he's having an affair and he tells her this rather than let her know the truth.
    • Subverted in another episode, where Louise confronts George about mysterious withdrawals from their banking account and unexplained visits out of town. This turned into a Jerk with a Heart of Gold moment, as Louise eventually tracked down George to an apartment in the Bronx ... their old apartment, where a black couple and young son were living. George was helping the couple financially as the father was trying to find a good job.
    • Subverted in another episode where Louise finds George in a hotel room with a lovely young woman (long story, but it is completely innocent), but instantly believes him when he tells her nothing is going on between them, because she notices that he doesn't display the physical tic that usually tells her that he's lying.
  • Mistaken for Terrorist: In one episode, Lionel gets rejected for a bank loan. George goes to the bank to cosign without Lionel's knowledge, only for Louise to go there for the same reason, forcing George to hide behind pillar (then Lionel's mother-in-law arrives for the same purpose, forcing Louise to hide, then Lionel's father-in-law arrives to cosign, forcing her to hide). George moves to the counter and opens his briefcase to cover his face; the teller asks if he was making a deposit, to which George has he wasn't there to put money into the bank. The teller dumps money into his briefcase and screams not to shoot, then the security guard draws his gun and holds George at gunpoint.
  • Multi-Part Episode: Quite a few, actually:
    • "The Break-Up" (Season 2), where Lionel and Jenny break up after fighting over the former's term paper (which George apparently bought for him).
    • "The Grand Opening" (Season 4), where George brags about his wealth at a bar, leading to two thugs ransacking his apartment and holding Louise hostage.
    • "George and Louise in a Bind" (Season 4), where George and Louise get into a fight, and then get taken hostage by a burglar, resulting in a Clip Show.
    • "The Homecoming", (Season 5) where George lets the Willis' son Allan (who has just inherited a warehouse) move in with the Jeffersons so he he can use the warehouse to open a factory.
    • [[Halloween Episode "Now You See It, Now You Don't"]] (Season 6), where Louise witnesses a murder and tries to get the murderer arrested.
    • "The Arrival' (Season 6), the episode where Jenny has her baby.
    • "The Jeffersons Go To Hawaii" (Season 7) where George and Louise go on vacation for health reasons while the Willises extend their vacation at the same time; they end up staying in the same hotel.
    • "Florence's New Job" (Season 7), where Florence gets a new job at a hotel.
    • "The Separation" (Season 8), where Lionel and Jenny decide to separate, and their parents try getting them back together.
    • "Florence Did It Different" (Season 8), where George and Louise get used to their new maid, just as Florence comes back for her old job (the hotel burned down).
    • "The Strays" (Season 8), where George gets a new ring for Louise and then loses it after confronting a street gang.
    • "Laundry Is A Tough Town" (Season 9), where George goes into a battle with another dry-cleaners, only to retire after Louise is crowned the millionth customer at the other cleaners.
    • "Death Smiles on a Dry Cleaner" (Season 9), where George, Louise and Florence go on a murder mystery cruise, only for a real murder to happen.
    • "Mission: Incredible" (Season 10), where Tom gets conned out of $15,000 by some of George's old friends and forces George to ger ir back.
    • "Sayonara" (Season 11), where Lionel and Jenny decide to get a divorce, but their parents think they're having another kid.
  • N-Word Privileges:
    • George used the word in one very memorable circumstance, in reference to his own son, no less! One episode saw one of George's cleaning stores burn down in an accidental fire, and it appears that Lionel's electrical wiring is to blame. When George confronts his son with this, Lionel, grossly offended at the apparent accusation of incompetence, vehemently denies he is at fault and storms out, slamming the door behind him. George, now really angry, yells to Louise: "What the hell's HE so mad about? That nigger burned down my store!"
    • Yet another memorable circumstance occurred during an episode where George's old friend, Monk Davis, pays him a visit, demanding hush money, or he would reveal a dark secret from George's childhood to George's family. When it turns out that Louise and Lionel already know about it, George's literally kicks Monk in the butt, prompting the startled response: "WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU, NIG-AAAH?!?"
    • When a snooty, rich couple calls Louise a 'boor', George springs from his chair and exclaims, "Nigga what the hell did you say?"
  • Old Friend, New Gender: George goes to visit his old Navy buddy Eddie Stokes, only to find out he's now Edie Stokes.
  • Pinocchio Nose: Louise notes to a friend that she can tell when George is lying because he always scratches his ear when he does. Later in the episode, she catches him in a hotel room with another woman. Despite how bad it looks, she instantly believes him when he tells her that there's nothing going on between them because he doesn't display the tic in question.
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot:
    • "The Jeffersons Move on Up", which aired as an episode of All in the Family, was one for this show.
    • The Season 7 two-parter "Florence's New Job" is one for Checking In.
  • Prejudice Aesop: Being a show about African-Americans in the '70s, and a Spin-Off of All in the Family, this was bound to come up a few times.One of the most notable was Sorry, Wrong Meeting where George, Bentley, and Tom go to what they think is a Neighborhood Watch meeting when really it's a KKK chapter who're trying to force the Jeffersons out of the building. The leader suffers a heart attack while arguing with George, who saves him via CPR. But when told he did, the leader bluntly states "You should have let me die" before being wheeled off to a hospital. Needless to say, the leader's son and the men of the chapter see how toxic prejudice can be if he isn't even willing to be grateful his life was saved at all, and they leave the meeting en masse.
  • Pretty in Mink: A few furs showed up, including Tom buying Helen a red fox jacket after taking a stock tip from George.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: In one episode, George tries to teach Tom how to "act black," in order to fit in with Helen's friends.
  • "Rear Window" Witness: In a Halloween episode, Louise happens to look across the street into another apartment and witnesses a murder; the murderer is dressed as a giant white rabbit. Nobody believes her but the rabbit saw her seeing him and tracks her down.
  • Repeating So the Audience Can Hear: George's phone conversations.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Many times. For example, "The Blackout", which aired January 21, 1978, was inspired by the infamous Blackout of 1977 in New York.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Florence.
  • Scout-Out: In the final episode of the series, George helps his granddaughter Jessica with her scout troupe, the Red Robins.
  • Secret Diary: In "I've Got A Secret", George finds out Louise is keeping a secret diary from him, and wants to know what's inside, but she won't tell him. When he finally gets the diary out of the trash chute, he finds out Louise is cheating on him. It turns out the diary in the trash chute didn't belong to Louise.
  • Series Continuity Error: George would sometimes state that he's an only child, despite his brother Henry appearing on All in the Family and being mentioned in early episodes of this show.
  • Servile Snarker: Florence, again.
  • Self-Made Man: George was originally just a janitor, before he got an insurance settlement opened his dry-cleaning business. It became so successful that he could afford to move to the deluxe apartment that the show is set in.
  • Shared Universe: With All in the Family and its other Spin-Off, Maude (and its spin off, Good Times).
  • Shrine to Self: In "The House That George Built", George has a near death experience which causes him to decide to write his autobiography, but after recieving a sarcastic suggestion from Tom, he instead decides to open an autobiographical museum detailing his life story. The museum ends up being a big failure due to his pompous overestimation about how much the public is interested in knowing more about him.
  • Sleek High-Rise Deluxe Apartment in the Sky: The show is set in one, overlooking Manhattan.
  • Snowball Lie: Everyone except Florence told Louise they like her paintings even though they were awful. She got a show, and then George finally confessed that they were just encouraging her. She didn't believe it and sold a painting for $500, proving them wrong - until the purchaser revealed he only wanted it for the frame and threw the painting in the trash.
  • So Was X: During one of the many times George brags about his wealth:
    George: I worked my way from the bottom up to the top!
    Helen: So does a gopher!
  • Spinoff Sendoff: In the pilot, as Louise is packing in the kitchen, Edith Bunker comes over from next door to wish them luck in their new place.
  • Stealth Insult: Mother Jefferson's specialty, directed at Louise.
  • Talking to the Dead: Florence almost lost her faith before the Reverend Taylor talks him out of it, even though he died four hours ago.
  • Tame His Anger: George has a Hair-Trigger Temper, but he does try to control it when others are around.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "Movin' On Up", a gospel-style number co-written and performed by Ja'net Dubois (better known as Willona on Good Times).
  • Token White: Tom Willis was the only constantly recurring white character. Also one of the first characters of this type on television.
  • Transplant: Florence got her own Spin-Off, but it was short-lived. When it got cancelled, Florence returned to work for the Jeffersons.
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: The "Father Christmas" episode has Sherman Helmsley (George) and Franklin Cover (Tom) playing their characters' fathers via flashback.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: In "Once A Friend", Louise gets a shock when an attractive woman named Edie comes to visit George. George doesn't recognize her until she reveals that she used to be Eddie, who George knew from the Navy.
  • Vacation Episode: The Jeffersons and Willises take a trip to Hawaii in a four-episode season 7 arc.
  • Video Will: George shows everyone a copy of the video will he made. He does joke around a little ("Close your eyes. What do you see? Nothing? That's what I'm leaving you."), but was pretty generous to all he mentioned in it.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: With the vitriol on one side. George constantly insults and belittles Tom Willis and Harry Bentley, but when the chips are down, it's obvious he does care about them and will go to great lengths to help them out.
    • Played straight (at times) with George and Florence. Largely because they're both a Deadpan Snarker trying to one-up each other.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: There were two episodes showing how George started his dry cleaning business, one of which was during the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Women Are Wiser: Louise is far more reasonable than George. Helen sometimes reins in Tom, too.
  • You Know I'm Black, Right?: In one episode, George seriously has to save face after making stupid "zebra" jokes about his in-laws to a wealthy prospective client, one who is also one of two inter-racial spouses. (Of course, simply apologizing is something George can't make himself do, so he makes the situation far worse in his attempts to make better.)