24th Jul2007

JJ Gives Up His Ticket Out Of The Ghetto: Good Times Analysis

by Will

“Why’d she have to take her candyass back to Norway?!”

Dr. Phil said it was OK to look, but he sure as Hell didn’t tell me what I’d find…

I’m going on very little sleep right now, so bear with me. This isn’t exactly a stream-of-consciousness post, but it’s going to be sort of scattered.

Last night, I caught the oddest episode of Good Times ever. It was like the writers decided to just pretend that the Evans’ weren’t poor. Because anyone who’s ever seen Good Times knows that that is the plot of every episode: we’re poor, we don’t know how we’re gonna make it, but our family will get us through. Basically, the plot of Good Times is pretty much covered in the theme song to 227.

So, in this episode, I guess the producers wanted to try something different. It’s not that the Evans family wasn’t poor now, but it wasn’t the main focus of the show this time around. JJ was putting together a singing group with Michael as the lead singer. Thelma was their choreographer, while Willona was their songwriter. Anyway, GT used to do a lot of “Here’s Michael singing” episodes, as Ralph Carter was a Tony Award-winning musical star. This performance stood out, however, because he was incredibly tone deaf. I guess it just goes to show you that they didn’t overdub back in those days.

So, JJ takes the group to a nightclub because there’s a talent show, with a grand prize of $150. And this money will come in handy because the Evanses are poor. How the Hell they were going to happily split $150 between 8 people is beyond me, but I wasn’t exactly alive in 1976, so maybe things were different then. Well, at the nightclub, they find out they can’t perform because Michael’s only 15, and it’s an establishment that sells alcohol. The group turns on JJ and they storm out of the club. While he’s sulking, he meets Judith Cohen. This is where the episode gets weird.

Judith Cohen is this overweight, self-deprecating, redheaded Jewish chick who wants to be a star. At the same time, she doesn’t chase her dream because she doesn’t believe in herself. Well, JJ finds that he’s a manager without a group, and Judith professes that she’s a group without a manager. Wow, that is some hardcore self-deprecation. So, the decide to join forces, and JJ sees this chick as his ticket out of the ghetto. The part that struck me, though, was that he latched onto her without ever hearing her sing. I thought it was going to turn out that she was terrible, and he’d truly latched onto a loser. In any case, he took her to Thelma to learn some dance steps, and Willona was going to do her costume. JJ was determined to make sure Judith won that competition. All this, and still nobody had heard her sing a note.

Well, competition time comes, and Judith gets onstage. At first, she’s kind of hokey, poking fun at herself in some Vaudevillian act. Next thing you know, she launches into this moving rendition of Send in the Clowns, which had an emotional resonance that I’d never experienced from that show before. Well, of course Judith wins the competition. Next thing I know, there’s Dean Travers from Three’s Company, and for once, he’s not being smarmy. He wants to sign Judith to sing weekly in his restaurant, but that plan is squashed when JJ refuses to hand Judith over to this more established manager who just pops in out of nowhere. Apparently, this guy had clout, and he controlled all of the musical acts in Chicago. If JJ wouldn’t give Judith to him, he’d make sure she never worked again. So, JJ decides that it’s more important for her to showcase her talent than for him to hold onto her, so he lets her go. Yes, he gives up his ticket out of the ghetto (which, oddly, was a white girl), by giving her to The Man. Sure, that’s probably not how I was supposed to read into that episode, and it was 4:30 in the morning, but that’s the message I walked away with. It could also be interpreted that the Black man was never going to better his situation as long as he had something that the White man wanted. Once again, probably overanalyzing. Man, I need sleep…