The first half of Wednesday’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience transported audiences to 921 North Gilbert Ave., in the inner-city of Chicago, where a star-studded cast – led by How to Get Away With Murder’s Viola Davis and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Andre Braugher — recreated a classic episode of Good Times.
The aforementioned episode — Season 3’s “The Politicians,” which originally aired Nov. 4, 1975 — finds the Evans family divided when Florida (Davis) and James (Braugher) support different candidates in a local election. James and oldest son J.J. (Saturday Night Live’s Jay Pharaoh) back incumbent alderman Fred Davis (played by original series star John Amos), while Florida, their two other kids Thelma (Beat Shazam‘s Corinne Foxx) and Michael (This Is Us‘ Asante Blackk), and their next-door neighbor Willona (The Last O.G.’s Tiffany Haddish) back rising star Jimmy Pearson (When They See Us’ Jharrel Jerome).
Florida, who has just attended a Pearson rally, has invited the young politician over to help with his campaign. But before he arrives, Davis shows up to pay his “favorite family” a surprise visit. It quickly becomes clear that the political hack cares very little about the Evans clan, but wants to retain the support of a typically down-ballot household. At one point, he turns to James and says that the opposition really blew it this time by picking that “young egghead” Pearson to run against him, but he is fresh out of excuses when Willona asks why he’s been avoiding debating the up-and-coming competition. In fact, “if the poor kid were here right now, I’d tear him apart,” Davis says. And within seconds, Pearson arrives at the Evans’ front door. “Here’s your chance, Mr. Davis,” Florida says.
James proceeds to apologize on his wife’s behalf. He tells Davis that he doesn’t know what’s gotten into her lately. “What’s gotten into me is some sense,” she replies. Pearson then says how excited he is to finally discuss the issues with Davis… but Davis is only willing to debate one issue before he splits. Michael interrupts and asks Davis why he never says what his position is on a local policing issue, but he doesn’t have an answer. Then Pearson asks where the incumbent stands on night care centers for working moms. Again, no answer. Pearson refers to Davis as a relic of the past, but he refuses to engage in any further smack talk. Florida, however, is more than up to hurling insults in Davis’ direction. She takes him to task for being anything but a man of the people — and soon enough, everyone is going back and forth to defend their respective candidate. J.J. assures Davis that he’ll get all his chicks to vote for him, “because they don’t picket, and they don’t fight… One taste of these lips and they follow the lead of Kid Dyn-o-mite!” Florida and Willona try their best to egg Pearson into trash-talking Davis, but he insists that he’s only interested in the issues, and Davis heads out.
In the following scene, Pearson’s supporters are gathered at his election headquarters. Thelma runs in with the results from the family’s precinct, which reveal that the fresh-faced hopeful only got three — yes, just three — votes, compared to Davis’ 74; less than 40 percent of constituents cast their vote. Let-down supporters begin to walk out, then James and J.J. stop by to gloat about Davis’ victory and invite everyone to his celebratory bash. Pearson enters soon after and thanks the women for all of their help. Thelma and Willona proceed to head out, then Florida confronts James about Davis’ victory. She tells him that just because he voted for a winner doesn’t mean that those who voted for Pearson cast their ballots wrong. “Maybe you weren’t wrong, Florida, but Pearson here was,” James responds. He then turns to Pearson and says that he’s a good man who is better educated than Davis — but when it came time to talk to the people, he thought he was above trash talk and didn’t say enough to support why they should choose him over Davis. Florida tries to cut James off, but Pearson tells her that he’s right. He was talking at the people, not to the people — and now he’s motivated to try even harder in the next election.
Wednesday’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience also featured a classic All in the Family episode with an ensemble that included Woody Harrelson (as Archie), Marisa Tomei (as Edith), Ellie Kemper (as Gloria), Ike Barinholtz (as Mike), Jesse Eisenberg (as David Brewster), Justina Machado (as Teresa) and Kevin Bacon (as Pinky Peterson).
Grade the Good Times portion of Live in Front of a Studio Audience below, then hit the comments with your reactions.
It felt some of the actors went to all of the rehearsals and others mentally checked in TODAY. It was pretty disjointed. And while it was great to see John Amos, he forgot a lot of his lines which made it uncomfortable to watch.
Jay Pharoah was terrible. Just awful casting.
Not good times without Lenny.
I’m just commenting on this post because I get the reference and want to give a virtual high five.
Just remember, if you ain’t got Lenny, then you ain’t got any.
Growing up I love watching Good Times I had a blast reminiscing that particular episode I enjoyed it I enjoyed it I enjoyed it thank you for the Memories
Pharaoh’s overacting really got distracting, but, otherwise, I think that the cast did a very good job, especially Viola Davis, whose theater training definitely shown through here.
Is there a way to play JJ without overacting? That is just a tough role to tackle nowadays.
I actually thought his performance was NOT far enough over-the-top to be JJ. I liked Junior’s take on Black ish better, but he wasnt performing live.
Had the same though – Junior was a better choice for JJ
I think he was a poor choice to play JJ. His delivery and timing were off. Not landing the jokes or the punchlines the way they should. He didn’t seem comfortable in the role and really wasn’t sure what to do with himself most of the time.
Viola Davis nailed it! She’s always proclaimed to enjoy live performances more and it’s apparent she can do it seamlessly!
Jay Pharoah did the best he could with a very dated exaggerated character. I personally would preferred to have another Jefferson episode instead.
I’m not sure about that. I remember JJ doing the bird arms maybe once per episode, not constantly with every line.
The acting and issues were great. Need to see more because the original is iconic.
It’s hard for me to see actors playing the original characters because I don’t think they can be ever duplicated.
The actors in the play are professional and very talented and I can’t wait to see more.
Hard to duplicate iconic originals just as it’s hard to duplicate an original Al Green song; no matter who you are…
What these shows do is really make me appreciate just how well cast the original was. These were very good actors stepping into these roles, and it just felt off. This cast did not capture the energy of the originals.
I said all along that it would come down to James. Braugher was ok, but he didn’t capture Amos’ onscreen charisma and passion for the role. The energy wasn’t there.
Viola Davis is a great actress, but did not have Esther Rolle’s timing and delivery. And you too Willona.
Even John Amos, who obviously was stunt casting and made me applaud when he appeared, couldn’t do what the original Alderman Davis could. But in his defense, he’s 80 years old and doesn’t act nearly as much as he used to. Plus it was live, and I don’t think he was truly up for it.
You got to watch the original episode to see what I mean. James’ passion for Davis was not just strong, but funny. The smug victory lap. The bonding with JJ.
The actor who originally played Alderman Davis had an energy about him that really conveyed the sleazy politician.
The kid from This Is Us that played Michael was terrific. I give him that. Maybe they should have picked an episode that had more of a role for Michael.
I thought it was better than the Jefferson live on stage.
Very disappointing. While the casting was apt, line readings were slow and lacking pace meaning that the firecracker joke style of the original was missing and thus here fell flat. I felt bad for John Amos who was clearly struggling to remember his lines, and the timing was just off throughout.
I wasn’t disappointed, but I agree that the time was off. I was thrilled to see John Amos playing Fred Davis, but you could tell he was struggling with his lines and cues. Once he was out of the picture, the rest of it worked pretty well.
The timing was off. The whole “doing the dozens” scene didn’t work as well as it should have. Tiffany Haddish was a great choice for Willona, but she didn’t really have much to do this episode. John Amos was clearly struggling to remember his lines, which is unfortunate. I thought it was nice to bring him back. Viola Davis and Andre Brauher were great. The other kids and the young politician didn’t really make much impact. The guy playing JJ was a poor choice – didn’t have the timing or the delivery to make the jokes work.
I turned it off after 15 minutes, which were torture to watch.
I thought the women were fabulous. When they did their parts together it was seamless and in character. The rest was a bit of a hot mess. I was so excited to see Amos, but it didn’t go well. I think the Michael part was the best done of the men
Best comedy and acting ever