This has been an extraordinary summer for advertiser-supported television, from AMC's Breaking Bad to FX's Rescue Me to BBC America's Doctor Who and beyond. I would even go so far as to include Oxygen's charming and addictive The Glee Project and Comedy Central's cheerfully naughty Tosh.0 on my burgeoning list of current must-see favorites.
But as I think about the programs I have enjoyed the most since the last week of May, when the traditional television season ended and the so-called summer season began, it occurs to me that the show I have watched and thought about the most is the peerless comedy classic All in the Family.
There are few shows that were more controversial in their day, and fewer still that so vitally and insightfully reflected the day to day life of a specific group of people as they experienced a specific time in American history when virtually everything was in flux. In this case, the Bunker family -- bigoted but good-hearted conservative Archie, his doting wife Edith, their liberal son-in-law Mike and their sweetly progressive daughter Gloria -- were the epitome of a working class family in transition from the old rules of the World War II era to those of the early Seventies, a time marked by a failing economy, an unpopular war and a government that simply couldn't get anything right. (Who says this show is outdated?)
One might say that Roseanne accurately reflected the working-class experience of the late '80s (when, once again, the economy was spiraling downward) just as ABC's The Middle does today (again with the economy). That's true of both, just as it's true that ABC's award-winning Modern Family, though brilliant, focuses largely on a family of great privilege that seems not to worry about gas prices or unemployment or paying taxes or much of anything except their interpersonal problems.
But All in the Family more than other past or present comedy about families really drilled down into the issues of the moment, not so much preaching about them as showing with great heart and humor how changes in the world enter ordinary people's homes and impact their lives. Archie is looked back upon simply as a bigot, especially by younger people who have never watched All in the Family. But he was so much more.
This column continues over at MediaPost.