My Favorite Episodes: Sex and the Evans Family

“Sex and the Evans Family” is not only my favorite episode; it’s also the one I’ve seen most often – there’ve been times when I’ve literally played it over and over (and over) again, saying most of the lines right along with the performers. This is the episode where Florida and James are dismayed about Thelma’s impending date with a 21-year-old. They are also dismayed (for different reasons) about a document found in their apartment titled “Sexual Behavior in the Ghetto.” (More about the episode can be found here.)

Sex and the Evans Family. It’s one brilliant line after the next.

The writing in the episode is brilliant – it’s just one funny bit after another, and it doesn’t rely on one-liners from J.J. or barbs between J.J. and Thelma. One of my many favorite exchanges comes when Florida is trying to figure out the owner of the document and Willona suggests that it might belong to James. Florida shoots down this idea with confidence: “Willona, we’ve been married for 18 years, and I got news for you,” Florida tells her friend. “James don’t need no instructions.” Another favorite comes when Florida tries to hide the “sexual behavior” document from Michael, and he wants to know what it is. “Is it something on black unity?” Michael asks. And Willona responds wryly, “In a way.” After she delivers this line, she scratches her head and studies her nails before furtively casting a sheepish glance in Florida’s direction – and Florida affixes her with a disapproving slow burn that makes me laugh every time. I also love when Thelma tells her father that the document is educational. “Educational!” James rejoins. “Where was it printed? Porno Tech?!” The episode is just brimming with smart, funny dialogue.

In addition to the writing, there’s just so much about this episode to love. Here are a few:

Amos’s facial expressions were priceless.
  • Willona’s look. She’s sporting an attractive Afro wig, hoop earrings, and a cool patchwork shirt with a turtleneck sweater. It’s a great outfit.
  • John Amos’s facial expressions are classic. He doesn’t even have to speak to convey his delight when he believes that the document belongs to J.J. Or his horror when he learns that it’s Thelma’s. His smug look of self-satisfaction when she tells Florida she had “reason to glow” when they were dating. His contempt when Eddie arrives at their door. The reluctance with which he sheds his suspicion toward Eddie as Florida reads from his thesis. And his pride at hearing the benefits of having a “strong father figure” in the home. It’s a master class of acting.
  • I don’t know if this was the idea of Philip Michael Thomas, or the director – or maybe just my imagination – but the next time you see this episode, check out Eddie’s reaction when Thelma emerges from her bedroom, ready to leave for their date. “Wow,” Eddie says. “You look great.” He actually looks her up and down and gives this sort of lewd laugh. I always find this to be incredibly interesting – he seems like he just might be the “lecherous young man” that James feared.
There’s no way I would have let my 16-year-old step out with this dude.

Speaking of Eddie, I would be remiss if I didn’t address the elephant in the room, the only blemish in this otherwise perfect episode: the age difference between Thelma and her date. I know that times have changed, but I find two main things wrong with this scenario. First, although Eddie is called a “21-year-old boy” several times in the episode, he’s no boy – he’s a man. And why a man who has GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE would want to go out with a high school junior is not only beyond me – it’s just gross. Secondly, looking back on my own experience of growing up in Chicago in the 1970s, if my mother had an objection to someone I wanted to date, then I wouldn’t have gone out with them – because she wouldn’t have LET ME. So, for me, it’s completely implausible that James and Florida would grouse and grumble about Thelma’s date rather than simply putting their collective feet down and forbidding her to go out with him. They both state that they’re not happy about it, but no one seems to consider telling her that she can’t go. Period. Makes no sense.

But I love this episode so much that this questionable plot mechanism ultimately doesn’t matter to me. Certainly not enough to dampen the joy I receive from watching it over and over (and over) again.

What do you think of this episode? Let’s talk about it!

Season One — Sex and the Evans Family (March 15, 1974)

“Pretty heavy stuff!”

The sixth episode of the series (my favorite, by the way) centers on two primary plot points: (1) Thelma, who is 16, has an upcoming date with a 21-year-old, and (2) Wedged between the cushions of the family sofa, Florida finds a manuscript titled “Sexual Behavior in the Ghetto.” Neither James nor Florida is pleased with the age gap between Thelma and her date, but this issue fades in significance to Florida when she finds the document. Even though J.J. denies ownership, Florida is certain that this “trash” belongs to her oldest son, and shares this with James when he arrives home. Florida is dismayed to find that James is not only unconcerned but seems rather delighted: “A boy his age wanting to know about these things is the most normal thing in the world,” he says. “And he ain’t a boy no more – shucks, he’s a man!” But minutes later, when Thelma reveals that the document is hers, James does a complete about-face, becoming nearly apoplectic, labelling the document a “filthy piece of trash,” and reviving his objection to her dating an older boy.

Eddie Conroy explains.

As it turns out, the document is the thesis written by Thelma’s date, Eddie Conroy, who is pursuing his master’s degree. In fact, when Eddie arrives for the date, he clarifies that the thesis is what brought him and Thelma together; he interviewed her as part of his research regarding attitudes and sexual behavior among ghetto residents. This information infuriates James even more, but he’s radically mollified when he hears Eddie’s conclusion, that “in homes with a solid family foundation, especially a strong father figure, the incidence of unwanted pregnancies is almost non-existent.” Content with Eddie’s explanation, James is now happy to allow Thelma to go out with him.

“Sex and the Evans Family” is another episode where the audience is shown the disparity between the temperaments and belief systems of Florida and James. While Florida is appalled at the idea of J.J. reading this material, James sees it as inconsequential, other than as a reason for approving of, and even esteeming, his son. (“You dog, you,” James admiringly says to him, not once but twice!) In contrast, when the document is shown to belong to his daughter, James’s attitude is completely different, and he seems to be unable to understand why Florida sees this double standard as an issue. Ever the voice of reason, Florida consistently combats James’s skewed declarations; when he justifies his stance by saying that boys don’t get pregnant, Florida counters with, “No, but they’re usually somewhere around the scene of the crime.”

“Boys don’t get pregnant.”

James’s reactions are clearly based on emotion, while Florida’s are rooted in practicality. One of the best lines that demonstrate James’s stance comes when he is talking to Thelma about the “sexual behavior” document. James asks his daughter what has gotten into her lately, “going out with 21-year-old men and reading stuff like that.” Thelma responds that there’s nothing wrong with dating a 21-year-old, and she asks him, “What’s wrong with reading stuff like that?” And James’s answer? “Because it’s stuff like that!” Which, really, is no answer at all. It is, instead, on the level of that tried and true parental response: “Because I said so.” Ironically, even when James is satisfied with allowing Thelma to go out with Eddie, it’s not because of any assurance he has received regarding Eddie’s character or intentions, but because of the complimentary language about fathers that is contained in Eddie’s thesis.

Pop Culture References:

Richard Roundtree

“You see, that cat Shaft is a bad mother . . .”

J.J. is preparing for a date and Florida points out that it is his fourth date that week (each one with a different girl), calling him the “Richard Roundtree of the projects.” Richard Roundtree was the star of the 1971 hit film Shaft and its sequels, Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), and according to the hit soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, Shaft was “a sex machine to all the chicks.”

When You’re Hot, You’re Hot

When Florida comments on his numerous dates, J.J. responds, “What can I say, Mama? When you’re hot, you’re hot!” This could be a reference to the popular 1971 country song by Jerry Reed called “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” that crossed over to the Top 40 pop chart. It describes a game of craps being played in a back alley.

Gas Rationing

After J.J. makes the aforementioned remark about being hot, he adds, “Right now, the two things most demand around here are me and gasoline.” This is another reference to the country’s gas problem, previously discussed in the pop culture section in my post on Season 1, Episode 3.

Lena Horne, Stormy Weather, and Show Me the Way to Go Home

Lena on the screen singing “Stormy Weather.”

Florida and Willona are reminiscing on the boys they dated when they were Thelma’s age, and Florida shares that her “dreamboat” was too fast for her. He took her to see a Lena Horne movie, she recalls. “While Lena was on the screen singing ‘Stormy Weather,’” she says, “I was in the balcony singing ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home.’” Lena Horne was a popular black singer and actress, whose career spanned seven decades, beginning in the 1940s. In 1943, she starred in an all-black film called Stormy Weather, in which she sang the title song. “Show Me the Way to Go Home” was a well-known song written in 1925. Interestingly, the following year, the song would reach a wide audience with the release of the Steven Spielberg hit, Jaws (1975); it was sung in a scene by stars Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, just before their boat was attacked by the shark.

The Exorcist

After James reacts to finding out that the document is Thelma, Florida expresses her confusion. “A little while ago when you thought it was J.J. reading this stuff, it was hallelujah time,” she says. “Now that you find out that it’s Thelma’s, you want to call in the Exorcist.” The Exorcist was a hit movie released in 1973 that concerned a little girl being possessed by a demon. In order to save her, her mother contacts an exorcist, which is a Catholic priest who is tasked with investigating cases of possible demonic influence or possession. (Incidentally, I saw The Exorcist in the movie theater when I was 11 years old, after weeks of bugging my mother to take me. It was the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I still haven’t quite recovered.)

Keep on Truckin’

When J.J. is finished preparing for his date, he tells his family, “Well – I gots to keep on truckin’!” The phrase “Keep on truckin’” was first popularized in 1968 – it appeared in a one-page cartoon by artist Robert Crumb, which was published by Zap Comix. The cartoon showed several men swaggering down a variety of vistas. (Crumb was inspired by the 1936 song by Blind Boy Fuller called “Truckin’ My Blues Away.” The first line on this song is “Keep on truckin’ mama, truckin’ my blues away.”) The phrase became well-known (especially among hippies – who Crumb reportedly despised) and Crumb’s drawing was extensively used on all kinds of merchandise. Crumb sued numerous times over the image being used without his permission, and in 1977, it was ruled he would retain possession of the copyright.

In August 1973, Eddie Kendricks (a founding member of The Temptations, who’d embarked career two years earlier) released “Keep on Truckin’” – the song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Singles Chart and was Kendricks’s only number one solo record. Here’s Eddie Kendricks singing the hit in 1974 on The Midnight Special television show.

Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood) sang “Tonight” in the 1961 version of West Side Story.


Just before J.J. leaves, he tells his family not to wait up for him, because he expects to have a long evening. Then he sings: “Tonight, tonight, won’t be just any night…” This line is from the song “Tonight,” in the musical West Side Story, which premiered on Broadway in September 1957, and was made into a film in 1961. It was remade by director Steven Spielberg in 2021.

Male Chauvinist

James allows J.J. to go out on a date, but does not want Thelma to go on hers. Thelma wants to know why J.J. can go out, but she can’t, and James responds, “Because he ain’t my daughter. I ain’t gotta worry about him.” Thelma rejoins that her father is “nothing but a male chauvinist!” This is a term that was popularized by feminists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It refers to men in positions of power who believed in the male superiority and demonstrated that belief through their words and behavior.

Let’s Make a Deal

The original host of Let’s Make a Deal was Monty Hall.

When Thelma’s date arrives to pick her up, James blocks his entrance, causing Eddie to ask if he is at the Evans apartment. James tells him, “Well, it ain’t Let’s Make a Deal.” This was the first time that Let’s Make a Deal was mentioned on Good Times, but it would not be the last. Let’s Make a Deal is a TV game show that originated in 1963 on NBC-TV; contestants dressed up in costumes and compete to win cash and prizes. The show aired until 1968, then moved to ABC-TV, where it remained until 1976. The show was revived on CBS-TV in 2009, with Wayne Brady as host, and as of this writing, it’s still on the air.

Guest Star

Philip Michael Thomas (billed as Philip Thomas)

Thomas skyrocketed into stardom with his role on Miami Vice.

Perhaps best known for his role on the popular 1990s television series Miami Vice, Thomas was born on May 26, 1949, in Columbus, Ohio, and grew up San Bernadino, California. As a child, he expressed an interest in acting and participated in the theater group in his church. After graduating from high school, he enrolled in Oakwood College, an HBCU in Huntsville, Alabama, and two years later, he transferred to the University of California, Riverside. While a student there, he landed a part in the San Francisco production of Hair and quit school a short time later to pursue acting full time.  A few years later, in fall 1971, he made his Broadway debut in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play No Place to Be Somebody in a cast that included Mary Alice and Julius Harris (who would both be Good Times guest stars in later seasons); the play ran for 39 performances at the Morosco Theater.

In the 1970s, Thomas’s career took off on both the big and small screens; he made his feature film debut in 1971 in Come Back, Charleston Blue (the sequel to Cotton Comes to Harlem), sporting a huge afro and a snazzy wide-lapel suit in his role as an inner-city minister. In addition to his role as Eddie on Good Times, some of his other television credits during the 1970s included Police Woman, Medical Center, Wonder Woman, Starsky and Hutch, and the mini-series Roots: The Next Generations. He also starred with Irene Cara in the feature film Sparkle (1976). His most popular role came in 1984, when he was cast as Detective Ricardo Tubbs, opposite Don Johnson in Miami Vice. Produced by Michael Mann, the hit series ran until 1989 and was a standout for its fashions, music, and ultra-cool vibe. During the run of Miami Vice, Thomas also branched out into singing, releasing two albums and this music video. (Incidentally, after Thomas rose to “overnight” fame due to his role on Miami Vice, he coined the now well-known acronym EGOT [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony] when he stated his desire to achieve the EGOT within five years.)

Thomas in more recent years.

After Miami Vice left the air, Thomas continued appearing in various productions, and notably served as the voice of Lance Vance for the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Vice City Stories video games. In addition, in 1993, he co-wrote the tune that was chosen as the theme song for the city of Miami. The following year, he signed with the Psychic Reader’s Network (which later became Access Resource Services, and then Traffix, Inc.) and became the spokesperson for the Philip Michael Thomas International Psychic Network; he appeared in numerous televisions ads and infomericals like this one. In the late 1990s, Thomas was replaced by Youree Dell Harris – better known as Miss Cleo. Thomas sued, charging Traffix with breach of contract, and in 2002, he was awarded $1.48 million, plus $780,000 in interest.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Thomas is still acting, and will appear in two films slated for release in 2023, both written and directed by Karmyn Jones: Whealthy and Wise, co-starring Clifton Davis (of That’s My Mama and Amen fame) and No Family Without Blood, in a cast that includes Chicago native Chance the Rapper.

Other stuff:

J.J. and his afro pick.

When J.J. is first seen, he is combing his hair with what was known as an afro pick. The handle of J.J.’s kind of pick was divided in two, so the user could grip the handle while picking their hair, and fold the two sides down and make it more compact when it was not in use. (Or stick the pick in their hair, as J.J. does.) One side of this pick was red and the other was green, representing two of the three colors of the Pan-African flag; these colors were introduced by Marcus Garvey. Red represented the blood that was shed for liberation, and green was for the abundant natural wealth of Africa. (Incidentally, my brother had a pick just like this in the 1970s.)

There’s a scene where Thelma wants to know if her mother is ironing her dress, and Florida informs her that she’s just getting started. “Someday when I want a vacation,” Florida tells Willona, “I’m going to take a job as a maid.” This is a likely allusion to the job Florida had working for Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) and her family on the TV show, Maude.

It’s revealed in this episode that Florida and James have been married for 18 years. It also comes out that James is three years older than Florida.

The references to Florida’s weight continue. While Florida and Willona are discussing their dating lives as teens, Florida comments that “that was a lot of years and 50 pounds ago.” Willona then remembers that Florida used to be known as “the girl with the dangerous curves.” Florida slaps herself on the rear and remarks, “Well, the curves are still here. But they’ve widened the road a little.” Har har.

The iron rest can be seen on the edge of the ironing board, right next to the iron.

As a seller of vintage items on Etsy (shameless plug!), I was interested to see that Florida was using an iron rest while she was doing her ironing. An iron rest is the same shape as the flat surface of the iron, and allows you to set the iron flat on the board instead of resting it on the heel of the iron. They aren’t often seen these days, but they’re beneficial because the iron is steadier than if it were resting on the heel, especially if the ironing board is wobbly. Also, it leads to less strain on the wrist, since you don’t have to twist the iron onto its heel. (Before I noticed the iron rest, I thought this was a goof in the episode, because Florida had the iron on the board for so long on the flat part!)

~ ~ ~

The next episode: Junior Gets a Patron . . .

Season One – Episode Three: Too Old Blues (February 8, 1974)

James and Florida search the want ads for “equal opportunity”

In this episode, James has just received word that he has passed the written aptitude test for a union apprentice training program and is scheduled for an interview. If he’s accepted, he’ll earn $2.50 an hour as an apprentice, and upon completion of the program, he’ll receive $4.25 an hour. Before leaving for his interview, James tells Florida to use their rent money for a party to celebrate his new job. During the interview, while going over James’s application, the interviewer discovers a computer error; the application states that James is 31 years old, but he’s actually 41. Because the government-funded apprentice program is for men ages 18 to 35, James is too old to be accepted. When James arrives home, the party he requested is in full swing, complete with guests. He looks sheepish as he’s serenaded by the group’s rendition of “He’s a Jolly Good Dude,” and his discomfort grows as Thelma and J.J. talk about all the things they’d like to buy with James’s new salary. He finally shares that he didn’t get the job, but Florida offers words of support and encouragement, leading James to philosophically conclude: “So I missed out. What’s the big deal? What would it have meant anyhow? Some more spending money, fancy clothes, nicer place to live? What do I need with a union job for when I have you and these kids?” He and Florida embrace, but James rather plaintively adds, “But it sure would’ve been nice.”

James isn’t pleased to learn that he’s “too old.”

Between the laughs, and the surfeit of pop culture references (see below), this episode serves to underscore the close-knit, caring nature of the Evans family. There’s the excitement and pride over James’s new employment prospects but, more importantly, it’s the family’s reaction when they learn that he didn’t get the job. After James shares his disappointing news with the partygoers, he leaves the room with Florida, and the three children commiserate in their own little group. “Whoever said he was too old don’t know Daddy,” J.J. offers, and Michael adds, “I’d like to see the dude who called him too old. I’d tell him about some of those not-too-old whippings he’s laid on me.” Thelma has the last word: “Daddy ain’t too old. He could do that job at the union. He could do anything anybody gave him a chance to.” And even though James expresses concern that he has disappointed Florida, she bolsters his spirits with her uplifting response: “James, you always see this family through,” she tells him. “You can do it.” The episode sees the family experience a hopeful start only to plummet back to earth in worse shape than they’d been before, but the message is that together, they will always find a way.

Pop Culture Connections

Energy Crisis

While hugging Florida (more on this below under “Other Stuff”), James states that he doesn’t have to worry about “that energy crisis” because he has his “own personal heating system” (meaning Florida.) The energy crisis James is referring to was caused by the action taken by the Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, who imposed an embargo against the United States. This was in retaliation for the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military and to gain leverage in the post-war peace negotiations. Embargoes were also enacted against other countries who supported the Israelis, including the Netherlands and South Africa. As a result of the embargo, the U.S. saw skyrocketing prices for gasoline and fuel oil. The embargo, which started in October 1973, ended in March 1974, about a month after the episode aired.

Wilt Chamberlain

Before joining the NBA, Chamberlain played for the Harlem Globetrotters.

After the “personal heating system” comment, Florida observes that a good looking man like James could have married any woman in Chicago, and he responds, “True. But I married you.” Florida rejoins, “If that’s a compliment, I’m Wilt Chamberlain.” Chamberlain was a seven-foot, one-inch basketball star who joined the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1959, when he signed on with the Philadelphia Warriors (which later relocated to California to become the San Francisco Warriors). During his career, he would also play for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers and would play on two NBA championship teams. Chamberlain retired from basketball in 1973.

Meat Shortage

At breakfast, Thelma complains about the family eating oatmeal again, and Florida tells her that she should be grateful for the oatmeal or any other food on the table. “Remember,” she adds, “this family got through the meat shortage without even knowing there was one.” The term “meat shortage,” while commonly used at the time, is a misnomer. In the early 1970s, there was a blight in corn crops that started in Florida and spread north and west, resulting in an increase in corn prices. Concomitantly, livestock producers began to cut back on their herds, leading to a reduction in beef production and a spike in beef prices. This led to price gouging and even a meat boycott; there was no shortage, per se, but meat was inordinately expensive. After a few years, the blight faded, corn prices fell, livestock was rebuilt, and prices returned to normal.

Ozzie and Harriet

This ain’t the Evans family.

When Thelma and J.J. argue about the amount of time she spends in the bathroom, James complains about the frequency of the arguments between the siblings and Florida remarks, “Let’s face it, James – this family ain’t Ozzie and Harriet.” The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was an ABC-TV sitcom that aired from 1952 to 1966 and starred the real-life family of actor/bandleader Ozzie Nelson, his wife, singer Harriet Nelson, and their sons, David and Ricky. The series was typified by the family’s wholesome relationship and homespun lifestyle.

Aristotle Onassis

For his celebration party, James tell Florida that he wants barbecued chicken and ribs, champagne, and music, and jokes that she can hire The Temptations. “Hold on there, Onassis,” Florida says. “What do I use for money for this orgy?” Florida was referring to Aristotle Socrates Onassis, the Greek shipping magnate who was, at that time, one of the wealthiest men in the world. In 1968, he married Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of President John F. Kennedy. Onassis died in 1975 at the age of 69.

Rodney Allen Rippy

Everybody knew who this kid was, back in the day.

In an allusion to J.J.’s penchant for thievery, Willona refers to him as “Rodney Allen Ripoff.” This is a takeoff of the name of a child actor who became popular in the 1970s for his appearances in commercials for fast-food chain Jack-in-the-Box. (Jack-in-the-Box was the first fast-food restaurant to popularize drive-thru ordering via a two-way intercom system. These restaurants featured a clown head on top of an intercom, with a sign that read, “Pull forward. Jack will speak to you.”) Rippy would later guest on numerous television shows, present with Michael Jackson and Donny Osmond at the American Music Awards, and sing “Take Life a Little Easier,” a record released by Bell Records in 1973 based on one of Rippy’s Jack-in-the-Box commercials.

Diana Ross

While joking about the type of party he wants for his celebration, James tells Florida not to book The Temptations but, instead to hire “The Supremes – and WITH Diana Ross!” The Supremes was an all-girl musical group that was popular during the 1960s, comprised originally of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. (Ballard was fired from the group in 1967 and replaced by Cyndy Birdsong.) Almost from the beginning, Ross emerged as the main singer, and in 1970, she left the group to pursue a solo – and wildly successful – career.

Soul Train

Soul Train was a product of Chicago.

Thelma is responsible for providing the music for the party that her father requested – she explains to Florida that she;s gotten albums by Isaac Hayes, The Jackson Five, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Florida quips, “When he said ‘music,’ he didn’t expect you to hijack Soul Train.” Soul Train was a popular musical variety show that premiered on WCIU-TV in Chicago in 1970, created by Don Cornelius, who was also the show’s executive producer and host. Airing live on weekday afternoons and sponsored by local Chicago-based retailer Sears, Roebuck and Company, the show featured acts by popular R&B and soul acts, and local teens and young adults were shown dancing to the music – the first episode on August 17, 1970, featured Jerry Butler, The Chi-Lites and The Emotions as guests. The program was an immediate hit, attracting the notice of another Chicago company, the Johnson Products Company, which co-sponsored the show’s expansion into syndication. Seven other cities purchased the program: Atlanta, Birmingham, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, and by the end of its first season, the show was airing in 18 additional markets. In October 1971, when the program moved into syndication, it began airing weekly and its home base moved to Los Angeles. Cornelius moved west as well, but for a while, a local version of Soul Train continued to air in Chicago, with Cornelius briefly hosting both programs before focusing solely on the Los Angeles show. The show’s Chicago version continued to air every weekday afternoon until June 1976, hosted by dancer Clinton Ghent, who’d been a part of the show since its inception, and reruns were shown every Friday until 1979. The show was known for two long-running elements: the Soul Train scramble board, where two contestants would unscramble letters to spell out a famous group or singer, and the Soul Train line, a take-off of the 1950s dance, The Stroll. Here, dancers would line up in two lines opposite each other, and dance two at a time down the center of the makeshift aisle. Don Cornelius stopped hosting the syndicated version in 1993, and the show was cancelled after the 2005-2006 season.

Ambassador East

Willona likened the Evans’s decor to the grand ballroom at the Ambassador East.

Willona commends Florida on the decorations for the party, telling her that it looks like the Grand Ballroom at the Ambassador East. This was a popular hotel in Chicago that opened in 1926 in the Gold Coast area, near the city’s Magnificent Mile district. It was featured in the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, and the hotel’s Pump Room was a magnet for stars including Frank Sinatral, Elizabeth Taylor, and Natalie Wood. It was purchased in 2010 by Ian Schrager, an entrepreneur best-known for being co-founder and co-owner of New York’s Studio 54 nightclub. Schrager renamed the hotel the Public Chicago. The hotel changed hands a few more times and is now known as the Ambassador Chicago, under the Hyatt brand.

What You See is What You Get

Willona also has complimentary words for Michael’s outfit for the party, and jokes that he’ll have to fight off the girls. Michael rejoins, “Well, what they see is what they gonna get,” accompanied by a little swaying type of dance movement and a snap of his fingers. This is reminiscent of a catchphrase and movement used by comedian Flip Wilson in drag as “Geraldine Jones,” a sassy, independent, sexy, and feisty female character that he popularized on his NBC television show in the early 1970s. Also, in 1971, the R&B group The Dramatics released a hit song, “Whatcha See is Whatcha Get.”

Guest Stars

Interviewer: Woodrow Parfrey

Parfrey played the man who interviewed James for the apprentice program. Born Sydney Woodrow Parfrey on October 5, 1922, this prolific actor of stage, screen, and TV was orphaned in his teenage years and worked as a car mechanic before entering the military. He was captured by the Germans in World War II, and upon his release from the Army following the war, he took an aptitude test which indicated that he would be proficient in the acting field. He performed in a variety of stage productions during the 1940s and 1950s, including the Broadway production of Room Service, which closed after only 16 performances despite a cast that included Jack Lemmon and Everett Sloane.

He focused primarily on TV and film beginning in the 1960s; his television credits included appearances on a wide variety of popular shows including Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Hazel, Quincy, and the pilot for The Waltons, titled The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. On the big screen, he was in such hits as Planet of the Apes (1968), Dirty Harry (1971), Papillion (1973), and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Sadly, Parfrey suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 61 – the same age his father was when he died.

Monty: Stymie Beard

Beard played one of the guests at James’s “celebration” party; he had one line: “Florida, I couldn’t be happier if it was MY wife who got a job!” You can read more about Beard in the post on the first episode of the series.

Other stuff:

Although this was the third episode filmed, it was actually the first one to air.

This is the first episode that makes a reference to Florida’s weight (a running gag that lasted for too long, in my opinion). James gives Florida a hug from behind and remarks, “Gorgeous hunk o’ woman here.” Florida laughingly replies, “I don’t know about the gorgeous, but I’m sure a lot o’ hunk.”

There isn’t an overabundance of lines or situations in Good Times that are cringe-worthy to me, but they do exist and this episode contains the first. James says that he married Florida because she was pregnant but adds that he’s only joking. Michael and J.J. are seated at the dining table nearby and J.J. says, “You mean y’all waited for the preacher to say the word before y’all had me? Don’t spread it around – my friends will never stop jiving me!” So, in other words, most of the families in the community are single-parent households, with an absentee father and children born, as they say, out of wedlock – and this is so much the norm that J.J.’s friends would make fun of him if they knew that his parents were married before he was born. This is patently insulting – and not the last time this type of characterization will come up in the series.

This episode contains numerous references to J.J. being a thief, which was first mentioned in the pilot. J.J. is heading downstairs to get the family’s mail, and Florida warns him not to take any mail that doesn’t belong to them. “I don’t take things, Mama,” J.J. says, “I find them.” Florida admonishes him, saying that God didn’t intend for man to steal, and J.J. asks, “Then how come he gave us more pockets than hands?” Later, when James learns how much he’ll make if he’s accepted into the apprentice program, J.J. remarks, “We gonna be so rich and have so much money, I won’t have to find my art supplies no more!” Before the party begins, Florida sends .J.J. and Thelma to buy potato chips from the local store, and when Thelma asks why she has to go along, Florida explains: “I want the potato chips bought, not found.” And upon his return with the chips, J.J. remarks that he’d been in the store numerous times, but “that’s the first time I’ve ever been involved with a cash transaction.” (Ugh. Talk about overkill!)

We learn in this episode that James dropped out of school after the sixth grade, and that he served in the Korean War. We also learn the name of Willona’s ex-husband: Alvin. That name would change later in the series, though.

Florida is back to conversing with God in this episode – after James leaves for his interview, she looks heavenward and expresses her thanks to the Lord, adding, “In my heart I always knew you was the biggest equal opportunity employer of them all!”

The next episode: God’s Business is Good Business . . .