(a “good and loving times” review of this TV comedy series by Timothy J. Verret)
GOOD TIMES is my all-time favorite TV series, comedy and otherwise. I watched it when I was a kid and I’m watching it still, especially after purchasing an expensive DVD collection of all 133 episodes of the show! So, what in the world can a black family teach this white kid? The series teaches me about family, sacrifice, and love (“and the greatest of these is LOVE” – 1 Corinthians 13:13). I will attempt in this “good and loving times” review to do a character analyses of the major characters (and one minor one) in this series and how I’m taught by each one of them.
JAMES EVANS, SR.: Played by the brilliant John Amos, he is the dad of the Evans’ family. When I used to watch this series as a kid, I used to imagine that James was my dad. Why? James is the father who will do just about anything for his family. He is a man of great “good and loving times” of sacrifices, whether that’s holding down more than one job or setting his kids on a course of self-discovery and self-love. I’ll never forget his line to one of his sons: “I may not be much, but I’m the best James Evans I know how to be!” That right there is how James functions as father for his family, i.e., he recognizes his weaknesses AND his strengths (BOTH!) and he does his very best with these. All “good and loving” fathers accept this. I am not a father (unless you count cat Conrad and dog Blue, which I do by the way) but if I were, I would tell my kids the very same thing: “I may not be much, but I’m the best Timothy J. Verret I know how to be!”
FLORIDA EVANS: Played by the impeccable Esther Rolle, she is the mother of the Evans’ family. She is the devout Christian member of the family. In the very first episode of the series, the Evans’ family was going to be evicted and while James went out to hustle pool for the money and the kids tried to stage a dishonest hustle with the evictors, it was Florida who walked over to the picture of Jesus on the wall and desperately asked Him for help. Even though James’ number came in for the money, we know it was Florida’s prayer that kept the family from being evicted. Florida always sacrificed herself for the love and mercy of Jesus for her family. When James misquoted Bible scriptures, which he did a lot, Florida was on him like white on rice (sorry, I had to go there!). Very much like James, she kept the Evan’s family running through the “good and loving times.”
J.J. EVANS, JR.: DYN-O-MITE! Played by Jimmie Walker, J.J. got most of the “good and loving times” of laughs in the series with his buffoonery and one-line pokes at the other characters, particularly his sister, Thelma. J.J. was ALL confidence in his ways with the ladies, and yet he was an artist and thus highly sensitive and vulnerable, though he rarely showed this. I think James Evans, Sr., had a very special bond with J.J. that he didn’t have with the rest of the kids. It might be the whole “first born,” but I think James saw himself in J.J. as everything he wanted to be. James Sr. dropped out of school early to support his own family when his father abandoned them, so he really pushed J.J. and all the other kids to stay in school, for he wanted them to have the future he didn’t have. When J.J. was shot by a gang member, James Sr. went to court to see justice carried out on this gang member. What happened was James Sr. recognized that he loved J.J. so much, he had to have mercy on this gang member to have mercy on his own son, J.J.
THELMA EVANS: Played by Bern Nadette Stanis, she was also an artist (actress, dancer) and she was the one James Sr. called, “baby girl.” She brought “good and loving times” into the family, especially loving, as she was the only daughter who was searching for Mr. Right, even though James Sr. often called her suitors Mr. Wrong. Because Thelma saw love as completely necessary for her teenage discoveries of male intimacy and connection, the whole Evans’ family had love on their own minds when they probably would not have had this if she wasn’t in the family. Stanis really overacted her role as Thelma, but that is what I liked most about her for some reason (maybe because I overact in my own roles on- and offstage?). She really overacted in one episode where her husband was drinking and she had him in her room, confronting him on this. When he said to Thelma, “What do you want from me?,” she responded, “EVERYTHING!” She did NOT overact that line, though, and I kind of wished the whole family was in that room with her to hear this.
MICHAEL EVANS: “Why, you militant midget!” James Sr. once said to Michael, played by Ralph Carter. Michael was the “good and loving times” as “black” in the family but not the black sheep. He brought the whole “proud to be black” into the Evans’ family at times when they seemed to have lost their “blackness.” He went to protests at a very young age, and he was the family’s hope of the first black man ever to sit on the Supreme Court. Michael was a hero for the black community and in one episode, he got suspended from school for calling George Washington a racist because he owned slaves. When he refused to apologize to the teacher, James Sr. would have none of that because of how important finishing school was to him. Michael did apologize to his teacher because he knew how important that was to his father, but he never apologized for being black. Not even a little bit!
WILLONA WOODS: My, where would be without Willona? Played by Ja’Net DuBois who we lost recently, Willona was a MAJOR comic relief in the series! Next to J.J., she most definitely got the most laughs with her sassiness and sway of being unmarried (divorced) but having the “good and loving times” of her life! James Sr. was always on her like white on rice (sorry, I had to go there AGAIN!), and their relationship was a highlight for the series. Florida considered her part of the family, and I think Willona really appreciated that because she didn’t have a family of her own. That was until she adopted Penny (a young Janet Jackson), a physically abused child, and Willona got what she deserved, i.e., a family to call her own. Florida was always trying to get Willona married but in one episode, Willona gave it straight to Florida: “Now, you think I’m lonely because I’m not married? I’m alone but if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s lonely.” How could she be with the Evans’ family and her always coming through their door without knocking?
NATHAN BOOKMAN: This is the one minor character of the series I mentioned earlier. Played by Johnny Brown, Nathan was one of my favorite characters in the series. He was the “good and loving times” and obese janitor who the entire Evans’ family (“and you, too, Willona”) picked on mercilessly. That is probably why he was one of my favorites! But weight aside, Nathan was very talented and did some amazing impressions of famous people when there was a talent show in the series. Like J.J., Nathan thought he was a ladies’ man, but he wasn’t, just like J.J. I find it ironic that J.J. always tore into Nathan pretty hard about him being overweight and unlovable to the ladies, because J.J. was underweight and he couldn’t get ladies to find him loveable either. I always had “good and loving times” when Nathan showed up because every time he did, I always shouted, “What’s up, Nathan?
GOOD TIMES is just a funny, heartwarming and “good and loving times” TV series, because it’s so hilarious and yet so human. The Evans’ family teaches me, and all of us, that families survive the “good and loving times” AND bad times by sticking close together and beating the odds. In one episode, James Sr. kept money he found from a grocery store robbery and the world was saying, “YES, keep it!” but Florida was saying “NO, don’t keep it!” She gave it to James straight: “Our family IS our strength. Who cares what sick people in the world out there have to say. This is the ONLY world that matters to me!” The “this” Florida was referring to was her family, and we take note that love IS our strength, no matter what sick (and hating) people out there in the world have to say.