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Series / The Jeffersons

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"We're a-movin' on up, to the East Side, to that de-luxe apartment in the sky..."

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 centered on the character of housekeeper Florence (Marla Gibbs). Low ratings led to its cancellation after 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":

  • Aloha, Hawaii!: The Jeffersons and Willises take a trip to Hawaii in a four-episode season 7 arc.
  • Amicable Exes: In the season 11 two-parter "Sayonara", Lionel and Jenny—having returned from a stay in Japan—announce they're divorcing. By the end of the episode it's implied they'll be this, although neither character appears again on the show.
  • 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.
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  • 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: Mr. Bentley moved away at the end of season 7, then moved back at the beginning of season 10.
    • Florence also when her spinoff Checking In didn't check out.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Crossover:
  • 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 Ambiguously Brown to straight up Caucasian.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • N-Word Privileges:
    • Rarely did Norman Lear's comedies use the word "nigger," but the notable exception is "Sorry, Wrong Meeting," where two Klu Klux Klansmen freely use the slur towards the regular characters.
    • Usually, this trope was reversed when George calls various white people – especially Tom – a "honky" and his daughter-in-law a "zebra" (the slur for a biracial person born to a Caucasian and an African-American). At least once, however, George uses the term in front of a child he is babysitting, and when the kid uses it to one of George's clients, it jeopardizes a lucrative business deal.
    • Tom also used the word once, asking George how he would like it if he called him a "nigger", in response to George calling Tom a "honky".
    • George did use it 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?"
    • George also predicted that if Tom ever got into an argument with Helen, he'd inevitably call her the slur. Both Tom and Helen were less than pleased, of course, at this insinuation.
  • Not So Different: "Louise's Painting" (Season 5, Episode 1, original airdate September 20, 1978). Louise takes an art class and George is mad about her painting of a nude male model. George goes to a class with her, and the nude model this time is female, which George loves, and Louise reacts the same way George did the first time.
  • Old Friend, New Gender: George goes to visit his old Navy buddy Eddie Stokes, only to find out he's now Edie Stokes.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: "The Jeffersons Move on Up", which aired as an episode of All in the Family.
  • 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.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Florence.
  • Servile Snarker: Florence, again.
  • Scout-Out: In the final episode of the series, George helps his granddaughter Jessica with her scout troupe, the Red Robins.
  • Shared Universe: With All in the Family and its other Spin-Off, Maude (and its spin off, Good Times).
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Uncanny Family Resemblance: The "Father Christmas" episode has Sherman Helmsley (George) and Franklin Cover (Tom) playing their characters' fathers via flashback.
  • 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.
  • Wedding Day: Lionel and Jenny get married on December 24 in the first Christmas Episode.


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