“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.)
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:
- 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.
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!