Sunday, December 15, 2013

Under the Evil Eye

Irene Lorenzo (Betty Garrett): Bless you, Archie. You're one of a kind. Thank God for that.

In the midst of the Christmas season, it's kind of nice when a TV series reminds viewers that life isn't peace on earth, good will to men. Prevents a glucose overdose. Forty years ago tonight, All in the Family was all too eager to oblige.

Ever since the Lorenzos (Frank and Irene) moved in next door to the Bunkers, there was an ongoing feud on All in the Family between Archie (Carroll O'Connor) and Irene (Betty Garrett).

In the episode that aired 40 years ago tonight, it bubbled over into a tangible competition.

Archie and Irene were arguing about whether women should be allowed to play in traditionally male sports. Archie did some bragging about his prowess at pool, and Irene was inspired to challenge Archie to a game.

Archie didn't know that Irene was pretty good, good enough to have won a personal pool cue in a tournament.
Frank (Vincent Gardenia): Irene! I'm still waiting. Are we going to the museum?

Irene: Later. I got a date to shoot pool — for money!

Frank: No kidding! Who's the pigeon?

Irene: Minnesota Fats over there! (pointing at Archie)

When Archie discovered (to his dismay) how good she was, he pretended to have injured his back to get out of the match — and blamed it on a Sicilian curse that Frank put on Archie after he made disparaging remarks about Irene.

But Archie got shamed into going ahead with the match by Frank, who threatened to go down to the neighborhood bar and tell everyone that Archie wasn't showing up because someone put a curse on him.

"Then, after they all stop laughing, I'll tell them the truth," Frank said, "that you are afraid to play a woman!"

Archie got to the bar early so he could warm up, but he lapsed into his aching back routine when the Lorenzos arrived. Irene took pity on him and said she couldn't go through with it. But Frank insisted that Archie was faking; to prove it, he silently dropped a dollar bill on the floor as the three of them were preparing to leave.

"Archie, is that your dollar?" Frank inquired casually.

And Archie, ever ready to claim a loose buck, immediately said it was and bent over to pick it up. Bad move.

"He can bend! He can bend! He can bend!" Frank exclaimed.

And an invigorated Irene re–challenged the chagrined Archie, who went on to lose the match.

In its gentle and generally nonthreatening way, All in the Family poked fun at its usual targets that night — irrationality, superstition, sexism (well, –isms of all kinds, really), greed, hubris, stereotyping — and did so effectively.