Viola Davis & Marisa Tomei bring life back to Norman Lear sitcoms in second Live ABC special

After the success of ABC’s first live special celebrating Norman Lear’s iconic sitcoms All In The Family and The Jeffersons in May, Wednesday night saw a telecast of politically minded comedy and surprisingly heartfelt moments for a second go-round. 

A pair of Best Supporting Actress Oscar winners stole the show for this edition of Live In Front Of A Studio Audience, which again resurrected the Bunkers along with another beloved Norman Lear show from the 70s, Good Times.

Viola Davis as Florida Evans, the role immortalized by the great Esther Rolle, and Marisa Tomei again bringing to life the irresistibly shrill Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton in the original run of Family) both more than held their own opposite Andre Braugher and Woody Harrelson, respectively.

Florida rides again: Viola Davis (opposite Andre Braugher) stole the show for this second edition of Live In Front Of A Studio Audience, which resurrected another beloved Norman Lear show from the 70s, Good Times

Florida rides again: Viola Davis (opposite Andre Braugher) stole the show for this second edition of Live In Front Of A Studio Audience, which resurrected another beloved Norman Lear show from the 70s, Good Times

The special was again co-hosted by late night’s Jimmy Kimmel, along with ’97-year-old miracle’ Normal Lear, who together looked like The Muppets’ peanut gallery Statler and Waldorf.

Things started off with a well-timed politically themed episode of Good Times from November of 1975, with the nostalgic theme song performed by Black-ish’s Anthony Anderson and Patti LaBelle with the help of a golden in-studio choir. 

The episode started with Braugher in the role of Evans patriarch James Sr., declaring his support for local politician Fred Davis, who has already been in power for some time.

Enter Jay Pharoah as James’s son J.J., in the iconic bucket hat and eternally sour-faced expression, who blindly follows suit and supports the same party as his father. 

Oh, Archie! Marisa Tomei again brought to life the irresistibly shrill Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton in the original run of Family), and more than held her own

Oh, Archie! Marisa Tomei again brought to life the irresistibly shrill Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton in the original run of Family), and more than held her own

Statler and Waldorf: There was an undeniable similarity between these puppets and the evening's co-hosts

A pair of old fogies: The special was again co-hosted by late night's Jimmy Kimmel, along with '97-year-old miracle' Normal Lear

A pair of old fogies: The special was again co-hosted by late night’s Jimmy Kimmel, along with ’97-year-old miracle’ Normal Lear, who together looked like The Muppets’ peanut gallery

Dyn-o-mite: Jay Pharoah played James's son J.J. Evans, in the iconic bucket hat and eternally sour-faced expression made famous by original player Jimmie Walker

Dyn-o-mite: Jay Pharoah played James’s son J.J. Evans, in the iconic bucket hat and eternally sour-faced expression made famous by original player Jimmie Walker 

Davis, playing James’s wife Florida, comes home and reluctantly reveals to her husband that she went to the rally of Jimmy Pearson, an idealistic young political opponent to Davis who may actually have some fresh ideas for real change.

Tiffany Haddish joins the fray as family friend Willona Woods, along with Asante Blackk and Corinne Foxx as the younger Evans kids Michael and Thelma, respectively (Foxx, it should be noted, is the daughter of Jamie Foxx, who played George Jefferson in the first live telecast earlier this year).

Some nifty one-liners ensue, as the family debates the merits and faults of each local candidate, and soon a Good Times guest of honor arrives: none other than veteran actor John Amos, who portrayed James Sr. in the original series.

Good Time gals: Tiffany Haddish (center) joined the fray as family friend Willona Woods, along with scene stealer Davis (left) and Corinne Foxx (right) as Thelma Evans

Good Time gals: Tiffany Haddish (center) joined the fray as family friend Willona Woods, along with scene stealer Davis (left) and Corinne Foxx (right) as Thelma Evans

Evans youngsters: When They See Us's Asante Blackk (right) played Corinne's younger onscreen brother Michael

Evans youngsters: When They See Us’s Asante Blackk (right) played Corinne’s younger onscreen brother Michael 

Good Times guest of honor: None other than veteran actor John Amos, who portrayed James Sr. in the original series, came back as a crooked politician

Good Times guest of honor: None other than veteran actor John Amos, who portrayed James Sr. in the original series, came back as a crooked politician 

Here, Amos plays politico Davis, and it becomes clear pretty quickly that he’s somewhat of a crooked blowhard. 

Amos, happily, will also be appearing in another rehash of a beloved title from ages past: Coming 2 America, the highly anticipated sequel to the 1988 classic Coming To America.

As luck would have it, Florida invited over Pearson, played by Jharrel Jerome, and soon the whole family trades barbs in full-on debate mode — with J.J. uttering the first and only ‘Dyn-O-mite!’

As luck would have it: Florida invites over Pearson, played by Jharrel Jerome (left)

As luck would have it: Florida invites over Pearson, played by Jharrel Jerome (left)

Soon: The whole family begins trading barbs in full-on debate mode — with J.J. uttering the first and only 'Dyn-O-mite!'

Soon: The whole family begins trading barbs in full-on debate mode — with J.J. uttering the first and only ‘Dyn-O-mite!’

While the timing of the episode might have been well-placed — exposing the tired practices of a corrupt politician used to relaxing on the job while touting someone with a fresh perspective — Amos and Haddish kept flubbing lines and missing cues, and the episode never quite sung.

Fences star Davis, however, nailed every one of her lines, and the repartee between onscreen siblings Foxx and Pharoah was highly reminiscent of the insult-filled relationship brought to life by original players BernNadette Stanis and Jimmie Walker, who along with Ja’net ‘Willona’ DuBois were welcomed onto the stage after the episode’s conclusion by Kimmel.

After an inexplicable gag involving the always-funny Martin Short singing The Facts Of Life theme song, viewers were then ushered once again into the home of Archie and Edith Bunker, respectively played here to the hilt by an excellent Harrelson and Tomei, who belted out the unmistakable tune of All In The Family.

An inexplicable but amusing gag: The always-funny Martin Short sang The Facts Of Life theme song between the two shows

An inexplicable but amusing gag: The always-funny Martin Short sang The Facts Of Life theme song between the two shows

The Bunkers: Viewers were ushered once again into the home of Archie and Edith Bunker, respectively played here to the hilt by an excellent Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei

The Bunkers: Viewers were ushered once again into the home of Archie and Edith Bunker, respectively played here to the hilt by an excellent Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei

Their episode, from Christmas of 1976, tells the story of an old friend of Mike ‘Meathead’ Stivic’s (here played by Ike Barinholtz), who ruffles Archie’s patriotic feathers when it’s discovered over Christmas dinner that he dodged the draft for the Vietnam War.

The friend is David Brewster, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who delivers his lines straight as he drops in as a guest of the Bunkers.

After a silly gag involving a Santa Claus prop that Archie fails to work right, we meet his daughter — and Meathead’s wife — Gloria, played here by Ellie Kemper.

In character: Harrelson was in top form in the role immortalized by Carroll O'Connor

In character: Harrelson was in top form in the role immortalized by Carroll O’Connor

A silly gag: Woody works with a Santa Claus prop, but fails to pull the joke on Meathead (played by Ike Barinholtz, right)

A silly gag: Woody works with a Santa Claus prop, but fails to pull the joke on Meathead (played by Ike Barinholtz, right)

Archie, it turns out, is waiting for a guest for Christmas dinner as well — a man named Pinkie Peterson, played by none other than Kevin Bacon, who lost a son in the war.

It all comes out over dinner: the fact that David dodged the draft, which gets Archie hot under the collar (what else is new), and that Pinkie lost his son.

But, in a show of Christmas spirit, the Bunkers succeed in convincing Archie to show kindness to David, with Pinkie’s help — in a touching moment, Bacon’s Peterson remarks that both David and his son did what each felt he had to do, and that the point was to be able to share Christmas dinner together.

The episode succeeds in recreating the unmistakable nostalgia of the Norman Lear classic, and Tomei of My Cousin Vinny fame steals the show, bounding her way across the set in her most earsplitting imitation of Stapleton’s original Edith.

Christmas guests: The Bunkers welcome guests played by (from left) Jesse Eisenberg, Kevin Bacon and Justina Machado

Christmas guests: The Bunkers welcome guests played by (from left) Jesse Eisenberg, Kevin Bacon and Justina Machado

Heartfelt moments: The episode succeeds in recreating the unmistakable nostalgia of the Norman Lear classic, and Tomei of My Cousin Vinny fame steals the show

Heartfelt moments: The episode succeeds in recreating the unmistakable nostalgia of the Norman Lear classic, and Tomei of My Cousin Vinny fame steals the show

Under the mistletoe: The All In The Family episode was from Christmas of 1976

Under the mistletoe: The All In The Family episode was from Christmas of 1976

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Trang Tin Xe Máy

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