Today, we look at the impressive way that the classic All in the Family episode, “Archie is Branded,” was staged.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
When I talk about “gimmick” episodes, I’m mostly talking about episodes that were intentionally meant to stand out from a typical episode of the series through something other than plot details or scheduling. For instance, if a one-hour show does a two-hour episode, I don’t think that that would necessarily count as a “gimmick,” but if a one-hour show does a two-hour episode where they film on location in, like, Brazil, or something, then that would be more likely to be considered a “gimmick” (Gimmicks are not bad, in and of themselves, I’m just not looking for those types of episodes. I’ll do a whole other feature on gimmick episodes at some point in the future). What’s interesting, then, about the classic Season 3 episode of All in the Family, “Archie is Branded,” (written by Vincent Bogart) this episode would have seemed like a gimmick for many other shows, but really, it was just a fairly standard episode of All in the Family, just done really well.
All in the Family was most commonly staged like a 25-minute play, as the scenes typically filmed live in just a single location, the living room of the Bunker resident in Queens, New York. If a more standard multi-cam sitcom suddenly only had effectively a single set for a full episode, it’d probably seem like a gimmick. This, though, was the standard for All in the Family, so it only stood out because of how powerful of an episode it was.
The set-up is that the Bunkers’ front door has a swastika painted on it because some Neo-Nazis mistook their home for the home of a Jewish activist.
Look at all of the subtle staging bits in just this clip, like the way that Archie (Carroll O’Connor) makes his son-in-law, Mike (Rob Reiner) hold the phone while waiting for the police to answer so that Archie can eat breakfast…
Archie assumes it is just some punk neighborhood kids until they’re visited by Paul, a member of a Jewish vigilante group who shows up to offer the Bunkers protection. He and Mike then have some philosophical discussions about violence before he heads off, with the Bunkers assured that it it unlikely to happen again, as the Neo-Nazis found the right house, and there might be some violence there. So the guy, played by the brilliant Gregory Sierra, heads off. Here’s his final scene of the episode, as he finishes his debate with Mike:
Paul: I don’t agree with what you say, but I like your chutzpah. Y’know somethin’? One of these days you’re gonna find out that this is the only answer.
Paul: [he forms Mike’s hand into a fist] Right there.
Mike Stivic: I still think you’re wrong. Because this…
Mike Stivic: [He makes his other hand into a fist] … only gets you this.
Paul: OK, friend. You keep talkin’, and I’ll do what I have to do. Shalom.
Edith Bunker: Shalom. What does that mean?
Mike Stivic: Believe it or not, Ma, it means ‘Peace’.
Gloria Stivic: Jewish people also use it to say ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye’.
Edith Bunker: How do you know which one they mean?
Archie Bunker: Why don’t you use your common sense, Edith? If a Jew is comin’ at you, it means ‘Hello’. If he’s goin’ the other way, it means ‘Goodbye’.
Edith Bunker: [sincerely trying to understand] But when does it mean ‘Peace’?
Archie Bunker: Ahhh, Edith, in between ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’.
Then, off stage, we hear an explosion, and see that Paul has been killed in a car bombing. O’Connor’s Archie, who had been heavily supportive of Paul’s message of responding to violence with violence, is excellent in the scene, as he is obviously shaken by the real life result of meeting violence with violence. This isn’t even necessarily saying that that is the WRONG thing to do (I don’t think the show is specifically supporting Mike’s position over Paul’s), just that a blowhard like Archie doesn’t take reality into consideration when he makes his stances.
It was directed by John Rich and Bob LaHendro, so I guess they needed two directors for such a complex episode.
Okay, if I’m going to have 363 more of these, I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!