Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Lone Juror

It seems like such a natural theme for a court–oriented program.

And on this evening 40 years ago, All in the Family gave it a unique spin.

The theme is of a jury in a murder trial that almost reaches a unanimous verdict — but there is a single juror who refuses to go along with the others.

I think the first time I ever saw it was in the film "12 Angry Men." I'm not sure how old I was when I saw it. All I know is that every time I have seen that theme in a TV show or another movie, that is what I think of.

But since this night 40 years ago, I also think of All in the Family.

It was part of the abbreviated first season for the show, which was a midseason replacement. As short as that first season was, it was loaded with groundbreaking episodes that dealt with racial and religious prejudice, homosexuality, women's lib, all sorts of things.

By comparison, the episode that was on tonight might have been somewhat tame — kind of a refreshing change from the somewhat frenetic pace it set in its first three months.

There was a kind of a kooky quality to the episode that aired tonight. It was evident somewhat early on, when the Bunkers' friend Clara came by and told the Bunkers about having to cook "in the lower oven." She explained that she usually cooked in the upper oven but was forced to change her procedure by circumstances beyond her control.

"When you're used to doing something one way and without warning you gotta change," she declared, "it can really throw you off!"

Archie would be able to sympathize shortly. Edith had been chosen to serve on a jury in a high–profile murder case, and the jury was going to be sequestered.

He didn't like the idea and did what he could to keep Edith from serving on the jury after Mike warned him that it could be a long time before Edith would be cooking his meals again.

But nothing was going to keep Edith from serving on the jury — or sticking by her principles.

It turned out that Edith was the "lone juror" who was rumored to be keeping the panel from reaching a verdict. In reality, she was the lone holdout against what would have been a wrongful conviction.

Because, you see, it also turned out that Edith was right.

And she was vindicated when someone else confessed to committing the murder.

It was also a vindication of the judicial system.

But all Archie could see was that he had been deprived of Edith's cooking for two weeks because she was serving on a jury that was "trying the wrong guy!"

As I say, I have seen variations on this theme, some dramatic, some comedic, over the years. It's simply filled with possibilities — none of which was ever presented more effectively than this evening 40 years ago.