ABC took viewers back in time Wednesday night when it aired “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons,’” verbatim re-creations of two episodes of the legendary sitcoms, with an all-star cast taking on the iconic roles.
From seeing some of Hollywood’s biggest names put their stamps on classic roles to reliving a pair of the 1970s biggest shows, there were lots of memorable moments from the special, executive produced by Jimmy Kimmel (who also hosted the evening’s festivities), so let’s take a look at some of the ones that really stuck with us.
The “All in the Family” theme is back
Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei starred as Archie and Edith Bunker, respectively, on “All in the Family” and even tackled the show’s classic opening, which originally featured Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton singing while seated at a piano. Harrelson and Tomei did their best to stay true to the open, with Tomei even shrieking the lines the way Stapleton did.
The duo hit the notes while maintaining the characters’ drawn-out accents, with Harrelson even smoking a cigar, just the way O’Connor did in the original.
Marisa Tomei becomes Edith!
Portraying Edith Bunker may seem like a daunting task, especially since Stapleton won three Emmys for her work (and earned five other nominations), but the Oscar-winning Tomei was thrilled to try her hand at portraying such a well-known character.
“Deeply honoured to step into Jean ‘Edith’ Stapleton’s shoes,” she wrote. “It’s been a magical week fuelled by the enormous part and talent of Jean Stapleton. I tried to tune into the legacy of love that she created. It was a joy and truly humbling honor to dance in her shoes.”
Fans seemed to embrace the job she did, as well.
“Marisa Tomei is playing Edith Bunker to a T,” one person wrote.
“Marisa Tomei is a freakin’ national treasure. Spot on Edith!!” wrote another pleased viewer.
Jamie Foxx is George Jefferson!
Tomei wasn’t the only Oscar winner to put his or her talents on display. Jamie Foxx showed some spice when he took over the role of opinionated and feisty George Jefferson, made famous by the late Sherman Hemsley over its 11-year run.
One of the most talked about moments of the night came when Foxx messed up a line and acknowledged it before carrying on. While delivering his lines during a scene in the Bunker home during “All in the Family,” Foxx couldn’t get his words out correctly, so he decided to address the flub.
“It’s live,” he said while his co-stars laughed. “Everyone sitting at home just think their TV just messed up.”
Still “Movin’ On Up”
The night had Oscar winners, so why not throw in a Grammy winner, too? Jennifer Hudson — who’s won a pair of Grammys and an Oscar — weaved her way through the Jeffersons set while singing a soulful and lively rendition of the legendary theme song.
The return of an original star
Marla Gibbs is best remembered for playing Florence on “The Jeffersons,” so fans were delighted and surprised when the 88-year-old actress, who is the only remaining living member of the show’s principal cast, turned up at the end of the episode in a guest role as — you guessed it — Florence.
A true who’s who
The live special featured an amazing array of talent. “The Jeffersons” cast also included Wanda Sykes as Louise, while Will Ferrell and Kerry Washington appeared as Tom and Helen Willis, respectively, and renowned character actor Stephen Tobolowsky portrayed eccentric neighbor Harry Bentley.
Jackée Harry also appeared in a guest role as a maid, marking a reunion of sorts with her and Marla Gibbs, who starred together on the 1980s sitcom “227.”
Ellie Kemper played Gloria in “All in the Family,” while Ike Barinholtz took over the role of Michael — or Meathead, as Archie liked to call him. Anthony Anderson played Archie’s neighbor Henry Jefferson, who just so happens to be George’s brother.
Sean Hayes also got in on the fun, portraying another one of Archie’s neighbors, Mr. Lorenzo.
So how did viewers respond to this grand TV experiment? Judging by the posts on social media, it sure seems like they loved the nostalgia brought on by seeing the old episodes in a new light.
“The whole #LiveInFrontOfAStudioAudience cast was fantastic - Marisa Tomei was a standout, along with Wanda Sykes, and someone needs to get Will Ferrell and Kerry Washington a sitcom gig together, stat,” someone else commented.
“I’m kinda loving this. Please do Good Times!” another person wrote.
With glowing reviews like this, we have to wonder if networks will schedule other shows that remind us all that those were indeed the days.