Four decades may have passed since it premiered Jan. 12, 1971, on CBS, but
All in the Family
can shock even today's most sophisticated or jaded viewers.
More shocking perhaps, Norman Lear's revolutionary sitcom still has the power to make you think even as you fall over laughing. That's a rarity, given the dearth of thoughtful fare on the tube.
The first season of Family is included in the massive, 19-disc boxed set The Norman Lear TV Collection from Sony (www.sonypictures.com/homevideo; $159.95; not rated), which came out Tuesday.
The set, which features six hours of bonus content, also includes the first season of six other groundbreaking shows: Good Times; The Jeffersons; Maude; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; One Day at a Time; and Sanford & Son.
Lear, who turns 87 next month, didn't invent the half-hour issues-sitcom (Room 222, which dealt with pressures faced by teens, premiered in 1969, two years before All in the Family), but he revolutionized the genre.
Each episode of Family packs the contents of an entire U.N. summit, albeit with a huge dose of cutting humor.
In less than 25 minutes, the Bunker household - ruled by the loving if despotic blue-collar patriarch Archie (Carroll O'Connor), who presides over the house from a tattered (and one imagines, smelly) chair - is rocked by surprisingly serious debates about every conceivable political and social issue.
In heated exchanges peppered by racial epithets, Archie tries to hold back any whiff of social change (or socialism) advanced by his verbally abused wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton); their bouncy daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers); their son-in-law, Michael "Meathead" Stivic (Rob Reiner); and their African American neighbors, the Jeffersons.
Lear's shows are a welcome palliative to today's politically correct, feel-good TV fare.
With the notable exception of Chris Rock, no one today dares cook up the winning blend of irreverence, eye-opening rudeness, and social commentary that made Lear's shows such classics.
Ever wonder what our polite neighbors to the north watch? Here's a chance to find out with three new releases produced for Canadian TV.
Murdoch Mysteries: Series 1 due out June 16 from Acorn (www.acornonline.com; $59.99; not rated) is a terrific procedural police drama with a difference. Based on the mystery novels of Maureen Jennings and set in Toronto at the turn of the 20th century, the first season's 13 episodes follow the exploits of an oddball detective (played by Yannick Bisson) who uses his brain - and the newly established science of forensics - to solve murders. Murdoch's ally is an equally unconventional medical examiner who is (gasp!) a woman.
The one-hour show was produced after the success of a series of three amazing, and far superior, TV movies from 2004, which featured talented Toronto actor Peter Outerbridge in the title role. It's out on DVD as The Murdoch Mysteries Movie Collection from BFS (www.bfsent.com; $39.98; not rated).
For more hard-hitting drama, there's nothing better than Intelligence: Season 2, also from Acorn ($59.99; not rated). A cross between 24 and The Wire, it's half mob drama, half espionage thriller.
Set in Vancouver, Intelligence follows intelligence operative Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) as she tries to free the nascent Canadian intelligence service from the grip of the far-more powerful CIA and to disentangle Canada's legal system from its dependence on U.S. policy.
The drama gets going when Spalding recruits Vancouver drug lord Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) as an intelligence source.
Also, look for the Vancouver-based procedural crime drama Da Vinci's Inquest on Acorn's Web site.
Finally, don't miss the three-hour Canadian mini-series Guns from Phase 4 Films/Peace Arch Entertainment Group (www.peacearch.com; $29.99; not rated), which was released Tuesday. Canadian-born stars Elisha Cuthbert (oh, yeah, she's from Calgary), Colm Feore, and Shawn Doyle star in an urban epic about a legitimate international arms dealer (Feore) who nearly destroys his family when he branches out by selling guns to street thugs.