RIP Norman Lear: Watch Full Episodes of His Daring 70s Sitcoms, Including All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, and More

On the evening of Jan­u­ary 12, 1971, CBS view­ers across the Unit­ed States sat down to a brand new sit­com pre­ced­ed by a high­ly unusu­al dis­claimer. The pro­gram they were about to see, it declared, “seeks to throw a humor­ous spot­light on our frail­ties, prej­u­dices, and con­cerns. By mak­ing them a source of laugh­ter, we hope to show — in a mature fash­ion — just how absurd they are.” There­after com­menced the very first episode of All in the Fam­i­ly, which would go on, over nine full sea­sons, to define Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties. It did so not just by dar­ing to find com­e­dy in the issues of the day — the Viet­nam War, the gen­er­a­tion gap, wom­en’s lib, race rela­tions, homo­sex­u­al­i­ty — but also by spawn­ing a vari­ety of oth­er major sit­coms like Maude, The Jef­fer­sons, and Good Times.

Even if you did­n’t live through the sev­en­ties, you’ve prob­a­bly heard of these shows. Now you can watch full episodes on the offi­cial Youtube chan­nel of Nor­man Lear, the tele­vi­sion writer and pro­duc­er involved in the cre­ation of all of them and many oth­ers besides.

If you’ve ever seen San­ford and Son, Fer­n­wood 2 NightDif­f’rent Strokes, or One Day at a Time (or if you hap­pened to catch such short-lived obscu­ri­ties as Hang­ing In, a.k.a. Pablo, and Sun­day Din­ner), you’ve seen one of his pro­duc­tions. His death this week at the age of 101 has pro­vid­ed the occa­sion to acquaint or reac­quaint our­selves with Archie and Edith Bunker, George and Louise Jef­fer­son, Flori­da and James Evans, and all the oth­er char­ac­ters from what we might now call the “Nor­man Lear mul­ti­verse.”

The best place to start is with the pre­miere of All in the Fam­i­ly, which intro­duces the Bunker clan and the cen­tral con­flict of their house­hold: that between bois­ter­ous­ly prej­u­diced work­ing-class patri­arch Archie Bunker and his bleed­ing-heart baby-boomer son-in-law Michael “Meat­head” Stivic. Lat­er episodes intro­duce such sec­ondary char­ac­ters as Edith Bunker’s strong-willed cousin Maude Find­lay, who went on to star in her own epony­mous series the fol­low­ing year, and the Bunkers’ enter­pris­ing black next-door neigh­bors the Jef­fer­sons, who them­selves “moved on up” in 1975. (So far did the tele­vi­su­al Lear­verse even­tu­al­ly expand that Good Times and Check­ing In were built around the char­ac­ters of Maude and the Jef­fer­sons’ maids.)

An out­spo­ken pro­po­nent of lib­er­al caus­es, Lear prob­a­bly would­n’t have denied using his tele­vi­sion work to influ­ence pub­lic opin­ion on the issues that con­cerned him. Yet at their best, his shows did­n’t reduce them­selves to polit­i­cal moral­i­ty plays, show­ing an aware­ness that the Archie Bunkers of the world weren’t always in the wrong and the Meat­heads weren’t always in the right. By twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry stan­dards, the jokes volleyed back and forth in All in the Fam­i­ly or The Jef­fer­sons may seem blunt, not least when they employ terms now regard­ed as unspeak­able on main­stream tele­vi­sion. But they also have the forth­right­ness to go wher­ev­er the humor of the sit­u­a­tion — that is to say, the truth of the sit­u­a­tion — dic­tates, an uncom­mon qual­i­ty among even the most acclaimed come­dies this half-cen­tu­ry lat­er. Watch com­plete episodes of Nor­man Lear shows here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Revis­it “Turn-On,” the Inno­v­a­tive TV Show That Got Can­celed Right in the Mid­dle of Its First Episode (1969)

Watch Mad Magazine’s Edgy, Nev­er-Aired TV Spe­cial (1974)

Watch Between Time and Tim­buk­tu, an Obscure TV Gem Based on the Work of Kurt Von­negut

Watch the Open­ing Cred­its of an Imag­i­nary 70s Cop Show Star­ring Samuel Beck­ett

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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