Those were the days: the 10 best 'All in the Family' episodes

Here are, arguably, the 10 best 'All in the Family' episodes from series' nine-season run

MarketWatchNovember 21, 2012 

The entire nine-season run of the landmark 1970s comedy All in the Family, created by Norman Lear and starring Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker and Jean Stapleton as his wife, Edith, is now available in a deluxe 28-disc DVD box set, released by Shout Factory.

Here is look at the 10 best episodes:

10. "Games Bunkers Play." Original airdate: Nov. 3, 1973).

Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner) suggests that neighbors Frank and Irene Lorenzo (Vincent Gardenia, Betty Garrett) and Lionel Jefferson (Mike Evans) join the Bunkers in playing a board game called Group Therapy. The idea is that each player has to answer a question that reveals something about himself or one of the others.

Things get uncomfortable for Mike, however, when each turn in the game seems to alert Mike to something he doesn't want to hear. Reiner demonstrates why he was born to play Mike, gradually becoming more unhinged as the game progresses.

Archie runs off to Kelcy's Bar before the game gets under way, and writers Michael Ross and Bernie West use his absence, and several telling remarks from Edith to explore a vital aspect of the Mike-Archie relationship.

9. "Now That You Know the Way, Let's Be Strangers" (aka "Mike's Hippie Friends Come to Visit"). Original Airdate: Feb. 23, 1971.

Mike and wife Gloria (Sally Struthers), Archie's daughter, invite two hippie friends over. Archie objects to the fact that they are not married, but later, Mike and Gloria, who have been defending their friends, wind up asking their guests to leave when they prove difficult. It was one of the show's early statements that it wouldn't present the younger, progressive generation as perfect. All in the Family was always more complex than its primary conflicts.

8. "Cousin Maude's Visit." Original airdate: Dec. 11, 1971.

Bea Arthur makes her first appearance as Edith's liberal cousin Maude Findlay, nursing the Bunkers back to health when the entire house is stricken with the flu. Her scenes with Archie are the highlight, especially during a debate over the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom Archie despises. This turns into a free-for-all about Nixon, the civil rights movement and various other issues that had resonance in the early '70s. Arthur's deep voice and commanding presence would prove to be great assets when CBS spun off Maude in 1972.

7. "Archie in the Cellar." Original airdate: Nov. 17, 1973.

Archie gets locked in the cellar of the Bunker house while everyone else is away and gets drunk on vodka. Essentially a masterful solo performance by O'Connor, especially when he uses a tape recorder to try making a will.

6. "Sammy's Visit." Original airdate: Feb. 19, 1972.

In the most well-known episode of the series, Sammy Davis Jr. leaves his briefcase in Archie's cab and hilarity ensues when he comes over to the Bunker house to claim it.

In director John Rich's autobiography, Warm Up the Snake: A Hollywood Memoir, Rich recalls that Davis had discussed his admiration for the show on The Tonight Show, and his agent called the following morning to convince Norman Lear and the All in the Family crew that he would be a great guest star. At first the show's creative team resisted, on the grounds that All in the Family needed to be rooted in reality, and a celebrity walk-on would detract from that. But Davis and his agent persisted, so the writers established the entire subplot of Archie moonlighting as a cab driver, over several episodes, just to set up a circumstance under which someone like Davis would encounter him.

5. "The Draft Dodger." Original airdate: Dec. 25, 1976.

Archie invites his friend Pinky (Eugene Roche) to Christmas dinner, while Mike and Gloria invite their buddy David. Pinky has lost his son in Vietnam. When Archie finds out that David avoided the draft by fleeing to Canada, he explodes. Mike asks Archie when he's going to admit that the Vietnam War was wrong, setting off the loudest rant in series history, as Archie shouts, "I don't wanna talk about that rotten damn war no more!" The episode ends on an upbeat note, but the tension crackles as O'Connor delivers Archie's tirade in a way that indicates the character might have his own misgivings about the conflict. "It may be, too," said Jeffrey McCall, professor of media studies at DePauw University, "that Archie is carrying baggage from his World War II experience."

4. "Archie and the Computer." Original airdate: Oct. 27, 1973.

Edith receives nearly $48 in quarters from a company that sells canned prunes, due to a computer glitch. Archie is anxious to spend the money, rather than give it back, as the ever-proper Edith wants to do. Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration's computer declares that Archie is dead, confusing him with an Archie Binker who died recently. It was an ingenious warning about the growing role computers were playing in American life, after films like Colossus: The Forbin Project had speculated about the Cold War implications of electronic devices talking to each other.

3. "The Bunkers and Inflation" (Parts 1-4). Original airdates: Sept. 14, 21, 28 and Oct. 5, 1974.

When Archie's union calls a strike, the Bunker household is turned upside down. Archie drives Edith to distraction when he is home all day; she ends up getting a job at Jefferson Cleaners. All four parts of this story arc demonstrate All in the Family's ability to stay current and yet create enough character-driven comedy to keep the episodes funny and fascinating years later.

2. "Lionel Steps Out." Original airdate: Oct. 14, 1972.

Archie goes berserk when Lionel Jefferson, who is black, dates his niece Linda (Dianne Hull), who is white.

1. "Archie and the Editorial." Original airdate: Sept. 16, 1972.

After the manager of a local TV station (Sorrell Booke, best known as Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard) delivers an editorial advocating gun control, Archie decides to offer a rebuttal. Perhaps the archetypal All in the Family episode, with all of the program's elements working to perfection. Each of Archie's arguments is played for big laughs, highlighted by his solution to the problem of skyjacking, which had made headlines during the early 1970s. As in so many of these shows, the characters debate an issue that still rages today.

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