1 9 7 4 – 1 9 7 9 (USA)
133 x 30 minute episodes
Florida and James Evans were lower-middle-class blacks living in a high-rise on the South Side of Chicago with their three children: JJ (which stood for James Junior) was the oldest at 17; Thelma, 16 and Michael, 10.
Trying to make ends meet was a difficult task because James was always in and out of jobs – but there was plenty of love in the family.
JJ was an accomplished amateur painter who, though going to trade school, was always looking for some get-rich-quick scheme that would help get him and his family out of the ghetto. He formed a rock group, managed a young comedian and tried various other money-making ideas after he got out of school.
He did manage to earn money with his painting and was also quite popular with the girls. His catchphrase “DY-NO-MITE!” became very popular in the mid-1970s. Florida’s neighbour and best friend was Willona Woods.
At the start of the 1976-77 season, there was a major cast change. James found a job working as a partner in a garage in Mississippi when he was killed in an auto accident.
The entire family, which had been planning to move to their new home and start a new life, was now fatherless.
JJ became the man of the house and was even more determined to find a way out of the ghetto for his family. Some of his not-so-legal schemes became very shady.
Florida found a new man in her life in the spring of 1977 – Carl Dixon, the owner of a small appliance repair shop. They were married during the summer of 1977 and in the fall, were referred to on the show as being “on their honeymoon.”
Esther Rolle had become upset with the role model for young blacks provided by JJ’s woman-chasing, less-than-honest character and, on the pretence of illness, left the series prior to the start of the 1977-1978 season.
In the storyline, Carl had developed lung cancer and he and Florida were living in a Southern location that was better for his health.
Friend and neighbour Willona became a sort of surrogate mother to the Evans family. Little Penny Gordon (played by future musical superstar Janet Jackson), a victim of child abuse, became Willona’s adopted daughter. JJ was working full-time at an advertising agency and Bookman, the building super, became a more prominent member of the cast.
The following fall, Esther returned to the cast without Carl (and no explanation on where he was) with the promise that JJ would be a more respectable character and daughter Thelma married football star Keith Anderson.
JJ, who was paying for the wedding, had lost his job at the agency when a business slowdown forced them to lay him off. He had to borrow money from loan shark Sweet Daddy to pay for the wedding. To make matters worse, JJ accidentally tripped Keith during the ceremony, resulting in a leg injury that jeopardised Keith’s million-dollar pro-football contract.
Money was hard to come by and the newlyweds were living in the Evans apartment while Keith recuperated. Keith, while depressed by his physical ailments, drove a taxi to help out, while JJ taught art at home and Florida got a job as a school bus driver.
In the last episode, everything finally worked out. Keith got his big contract as a running back and moved into his own place with Thelma, who was expecting their first child; JJ sold the comic strip he had developed to a syndicate for a healthy advance and neighbour Willona got promoted to head buyer at the clothing boutique where she worked.
J.J. (James Jr.) Evans
Penny Gordon Woods