[31 July 2006]
Good Times / Any time you meet a payment/ Good Times / Any time you need a friend/Good Times / Any time you’re out from under. / Not getting hastled, not getting hustled / Keepin’ your head above water / Making a wave when you can / Temporary lay offs / Good Times / Easy credit rip offs / Good Times / Scratchin’ and surviving / Good Times / Hangin in a chow line / Good Times / Ain’t we lucky we got ‘em / Good Times
—Theme Song from Good Times
August 1st marks the release date of the sixth and final season of Good Times, a pivotal sitcom focusing on the daily struggles of a working class African American family living in the housing projects of south side Chicago. The series originally ran on CBS from February 1, 1974 until August 1, 1979. The show was a spin-off of the sitcom Maude (which was also a spin-off of the popular sitcom All in the Family), all three having been created by producer Norman Lear. Good Times’ Florida Evans’s character (played by Esther Rolle) was Maude Findlay’s housekeeper on the sitcom Maude.
In early 1974, the Florida Evans character and her husband James (referred to as “Henry Evans” on Maude) were expounded upon and transported to an apartment in a housing project (implicitly the Cabrini-Green projects, which is pictured in the opening and closing credits but never mentioned by name on the show) in a destitute, African American neighborhood in inner-city Chicago. Florida Evans and her husband James (played by John Amos) lived with their three children named J.J. (Jimmie Walker), Thelma (Bern Nadette Stanis), and Michael (Ralph Carter). Their buoyant neighbor and Florida’s best friend was Willona Woods (Ja’net Du Bois), a recent divorcée. Penny (Janet Jackson) was Willona’s adopted daughter who had been physically abused by her biological mother. To round out the regular cast was Bookman (Johnnie Brown), the building’s super.
Virtually at the premiere episode of the show, J.J., the eldest child and an aspiring artist, was the public’s favorite character on the show. His frequently cited catch phrase “DY-NO-MITE” made him extremely popular with audiences along with his comedic presence and timing. As the series progressed, however, Rolle and Amos, who played Florida and James respectively, became more and more suspicious of the direction the show was taking with respect to J.J.‘s clownish behavior, which became more of a feature in each episode than the general storylines of everyday life in the Evans household. Rolle was particularly outspoken about her issues surrounding J.J.‘s character, feeling that J.J. was becoming more and more stereotypical, reminiscent of the shuckin’ and jivin’ that had historically characterized African Americans in American comedic TV. In a September 1975 interview with Ebony magazine, she is quoted as saying: “He’s 18 and he doesn’t work. He can’t read or write. He doesn’t think. The show didn’t start out to be that… Little by little—with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn’t do that to me—they have made J.J. more stupid and enlarged the role. Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child.”
John Amos also was similarly vocal about his displeasure with the characterization of J.J.—so much so that when time came to re-negotiate his contract in the summer of 1976, he was dismissed from the series. In a recent Los Angeles Times interview, Amos stated, “The writers would prefer to put a chicken hat on J.J. and have him prance around saying ‘DY-NO-MITE’, and that way they could waste a few minutes and not have to write meaningful dialogue.” Despite this and other episodes of tension between the cast and the producers/writers, Good Times was a hit with audiences and enjoyed continued success for six seasons. The final season DVD collection of the show offers closure for the now familiar characters that the audience had held dear for six seasons. The series ends with the expected “happy endings” for each character. The 24-episode, three-disc set features memorable episodes such as Thelma’s wedding and Florida’s homecoming. To Good Times fans, this DVD collection will serve as a necessary culmination of the lives of the lovable and endearing Evans family.