Executive producer Norman Lear attempts to turn his All in the Family inside out with 704 Hauser. Staged on a rebuilt version of the living room at 704 Hauser Street, where white, working-class Archie Bunker used to spout fine reactionary nonsense, the series offers John Amos as Ernest Cumberbatch, an African-American, working-class liberal. A veteran of the ’60s civil rights movement, Ernest chews on an unlit cigar and chews out his son, a bright-eyed conservative whom his father named after Thurgood Marshall but who goes by the nickname Goodie (T.E. Russell). Remember when Archie and Meathead bickered over politics? Here’s a typical 704 Hauser exchange:
Goodie: ”You’re a bigot!”
Ernest: ”A black man can’t be a bigot!”
Goodie: ”Tell that to a Korean, Dad!”
In other words, 704 Hauser remembers to be provocative, but forgets to be smart or funny about it. Goodie also has a white, Jewish girlfriend, Cherlyn (Maura Tierney), who likes to kiss him and then congratulate herself on their interracial romance. ”Mmmmm, we are somethin’ else, aren’t we?” she coos. Eeewww.
Amos is an old pro at this sort of broad comedy, but he’s been directed to telegraph his reactions in a dreadfully exaggerated way, and the writers haven’t got a fix on his character. One minute he’s speaking articulately about Malcolm X, but the next he’s making stupid ripostes to Cherlyn like, ”Is that somethin’ they teach you in that temple wit’ the funny little beanies?” C-