Folks, the movie industry isn’t done yet pillaging the TV vaults of shows you grew up watching. And while many studios took the smarter road and made those adaptations comedic reinventions of the original, it’s inevitable a stalemate would arise eventually. This time, it may be in the reports of Sony creating a “Good Times” movie adaptation and perhaps done in the same spirit of satire as “The Brady Bunch Movie” managed to kick off for all others.
But go back and remember what the basic focus of “Good Times” was when debuting on CBS in 1974. An off-branch from “All in the Family”, it was Norman Lear’s halfway serious look at the plight of poor African-Americans living in the Chicago projects. While Lear’s “The Jeffersons” stepped away from that the minute George Jefferson became wealthy from his dry cleaning business, “Good Times” never strayed. Throughout its five-year run and evolution, the family stayed in poverty, with only hope for getting out at the very end of the series.
It’s that very theme that makes a “Good Times” satire a little bit more of a problem. Much like how the big screen live-action adaptation of “Fat Albert” turned out, it’s easy to focus on the lightweight comedy of the characters. At ground level, however, were some of the best ever depictions into the realities of the abject circumstances surrounding African-American poverty.
So how would Sony’s film on “Good Times” manage to incorporate this while presumably updating itself as a modern satire? Therein is another problem when it’s a challenge to satirize the characters. You can say that when the character of J.J. Evans (played by Jimmie Walker) was already and arguably one of the funniest one-liner characters in TV history next to Archie Bunker.
In that regard, “Good Times”, as serious as the issues were that it explored, didn’t always take the characters seriously. You can also say that with the handyman in the apartment: Nathan Bookman. He was the African-American equivalent of Schneider from “One Day at a Time.”
If it’s easy to parody the Bookman character, how do you go about satirizing Esther Rolle’s Florida Evans character when she was one of the warmest matriarchal characters ever? Based on that, you can see how much of a challenge it’s going to be for producers Scott Rudin and Eli Bush to make this film without a strange balance of patronizing satire and seriousness.
Then again, nobody said such a balance couldn’t be done in creative hands. We’ve already seen the balance of tragedy and comedy balance out on the big screen under such notable names as Woody Allen. And “Good Times” fit that better than anything on TV of the era with the comedy coming first before a serious shock at the end. The same could be done again.
Or, it could be done all seriously in its reported 1960s time period. Perhaps it’s the only way to shut down satire when the 1970s seems to get in the way of taking anything seriously.