There’s something timeless about a father and son running a business and butting heads with each other. Sanford and Son is classic TV that ought not be forgotten.
Remembered best for ornery junk dealer Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) chiding his level-headed son Lamont (Demond Wilson) for being a “big dummy” despite Fred’s numerous week-to-week get-rich-quick scheme failures, the show was adapted by revered producer Norman Lear (who also created All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Good Times) from the 1960s British program Steptoe and Son. Fred’s staunchly religious sister-in-law Esther (played by LaWanda Page) provided a constant source of frustration for him, while a slew of his friends, led by Grady (Whitman Mayo) and Bubba (Bubba Bexley) could be counted on for a steady stream of lighthearted comic relief.
One of the first American sitcoms to feature a predominantly African-American cast, Sanford and Son often explored the social landscape of 1970s America through the eyes of its characters. Fred and Lamont are polar opposites in their views on African-American identity – while Lamont is progressive and forward looking, a product of post-1960s America, Fred is old-school, hard-headed, and prejudiced. In the season two episode “Lamont Goes African”, Lamont reflects on his identity as a working-class African-American and ponders whether a better lifestyle awaits in returning to his African roots; Fred remains steadfast in his view that as poor black men in America, they’re screwed, and there’s not much that can be done about it. In “Watts Side Story”, Fred objects to Lamont dating a Puerto Rican woman, demonstrating the silliness of his bigotry in an era where interracial dating was becoming the norm.
Sanford and Son also excels at classic slapstick humor. Redd Foxx is a comic master, always ready with a pithy one-liner or his classic chest-clutching, full-body-heaving “I’m comin’ for ya, Elizabeth!” plea to his deceased wife in times of despair. LaWanda Page, a comedienne herself, shared a strong comedic rapport with Foxx, getting into outlandish shouting matches with him over trivial matters.
The show is not without its genuine emotional moments, either. Fred and Lamont, despite their ideological differences, still care deeply for each other, and Fred occasionally showed that he had a heart (“Ebenezer Sanford”, a parody of “A Christmas Carol”, allows Fred the opportunity to observe the folly of treating his friends and family poorly).
If you’re interested in the history of African-American television, exploring the 1970s American cultural milieu through the lens of Los Angeles junk dealers, or just looking for a classic show that will make you laugh, Sanford and Son is well worth your consideration.