Spin-offs of popular shows are common, but how often do you get a spin-off of a spin-off? Not very often, but the hit sitcom Good Times provided the best possible example. The story begins with Maude, a series starring Bea Arthur that was a spin-off from All In the Family. On Maude, the title character had a sharp, independent-minded African-American maid named Florida. Maude and Florida’s verbal duels became a highlight of the show, making the Florida character very popular with viewers. When that popularity got too big for a co-starring role to contain, Florida got her own spin-off series, Good Times, in February of 1974.
Good Times focused on the life of Florida and her family. She had a husband, James, who worked hard to help support the family but had erratic luck in finding work. The couple had three children: seventeen-year-old jokester and aspiring artist J.J., sixteen-year-old Thelma (who usually acted as J.J.’s comedic foil), and ten-year-old would-be militant Michael. The family lived in a high-rise ghetto on Chicago’s South Side. Their neighbor was Willona Woods, a clothing-store employee and the building’s number-one gossip.
Despite starting mid-season, the show became an instant hit and ended up placing in the Top-20 of the Nielsen ratings for its first season. The reason for this is that there was no other show on television at the time that was quite like Good Times. It dealt with timely African-American social issues like busing, drug addiction, black on black crime, and prejudice. What’s more, it did so from an African-American perspective, finding the humor and drama in these topics without cheapening them.
The show also created a comedy superstar in young Jimmie Walker. As J.J., he stole practically every scene he was in, especially his exchanges with Thelma. His favorite saying, “Dyn-o-mite!,” quickly became a national catch-phrase. J.J. was obsessed with the idea of finding a get-rich-quick scheme that would get the family out of the ghetto, and a lot of time was devoted to these schemes. He formed a rock band, managed a comedian, considered joining the army, and tried many other plans that always came up short in the end.
John Amos (James) left Good Times in 1976. His character was written out of the show and thus J.J. earned more screen-time. Ironically, this allowed the show a chance to deal with another important issue, single-parent families, as J.J. became the man of the house. He did what he had to do to help support the family, sometimes unintentionally becoming involved in shady schemes in the process. In a memorable two-part episode called “J.J.’s New Career,” he briefly became a numbers runner. Meanwhile, Florida was romanced by a new adult-male character, Carl. Another new character was also added during this time: Bookman, the often-lazy building superintendent.
Esther Rolle (Florida) left the show during the 1977-78 season, and young Janet Jackson was added to the show as Penny, an abused child who was adopted by Willona after the Evans family rescued her from an unfit mother in a multi-part episode called “The Evans Get Involved.” Rolle returned for the show’s next season, but the ratings were starting to slip. Good Times was pulled from the CBS lineup in December of 1978, but it returned briefly in the spring of the next year, ending its network run in August of 1979.
The show is still a favorite in syndication. Few series have blended comedy and social commentary the way Good Times did, and for that, it will always have an important place in television history.
If you were a fan of Good Times back in the day, maybe even spouted out “Dyn-o-mite!” at every opportunity, we’d love to hear your thoughts and memories of this beloved 70s show in our comments section.