“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!
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.
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.”
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Philip Michael Thomas (billed as Philip Thomas)
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.)
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.
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.
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!)