Sunday, June 02, 2013

Those were the daaaaaaays...

No show changed television quite like "All in the Family."

The landmark sitcom about working-class stiff Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) and his brood at 704 Hauser Street in Queens, N.Y. erased the inanity of most '50s and '60s TV comedies and delved right into issues such as biogtry, race and racism, rape, menopause, the Vietnam War, inflation and Watergate.

Sounds like a riot, huh?

Well, it was, and in no small part because of Jean Stapleton, who died Friday at age 90. Stapleton played Archie's long-suffering wife Edith. She was given the most difficult role on the show and handled it with aplomb. Her comic timing was impeccable. Edith's big heart, her genuine love for others, contrasted well with Archie's bombast.

As Ken Levine says in his excellent tribute, we accepted Archie because Edith did. Give some credit to the writers, too, who made Archie multifaceted. Yes, he ranted about "spics" and "spades" (his words), but as Levine says, he was a dock worker worried about the changing world around him and how he would find his place in it. Deep down, he was a softie hiding behind all that ranting.

Edith kept him honest, occasionally zinged him the way Gracie Allen did George Burns, and lived up to her Christian beliefs, treating others the way she wanted to be treated. In that sense, Edith Bunker may be the most sincere Christian ever portrayed in an American sitcom.

Stapleton was an accomplished actor, appearing on Broadway, and later playing Eleanor Roosevelt on screen and on the stage.

Her death is a time to remember her talent and to mourn the state of modern TV. "All in the Family," a funny show that taught us important life lessons, couldn't make it onto the broadcast networks today.

We are a worse nation for it.

Rest in peace, Ms. Stapleton.

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