Good Times: Complete Fifth Season
Just as season four of Good Times was marked by the defection of actor John Amos as James Evans, so too was the series' fifth season distinguished by the conspicuous absence of another leading character. Having already gone on record over the dissatisfaction with the direction in which the series had gone -- that is, from a positive depiction of a closely knit inner-city family headed by a strong male parental figure to a somewhat stereotypical portrait of a fatherless ghetto clan dominated by the buffoonish behavior of the family's oldest son -- Esther Rolle (aka Florida Evans) decided to follow Amos' lead. Citing "illness," Rolle was off the Good Times cast list as of September 1977. Her character's sudden disappearance was neatly compensated for by explaining that, after a whirlwind courtship, Florida had married the irascible but lovable Carl Dixon (Moses Gunn), and had moved with her new husband to Arizona. The three Evans children -- J.J. (Jimmie Walker), Thelma (BernNadette Stanis), and Michael (Ralph Carter) -- had stayed behind in the family's tiny Chicago apartment, with the tacit understanding that Florida's longtime friend and neighbor Willona Woods (Ja'net DuBois) would drop in from time to time to make sure the kids were doing well. While J.J. was still the prankish "Dy-no-mite Kid," his sudden ascension to head of the Evans household had thrust maturity and responsibility upon him; he even landed a semi-steady job as an ad agency artist. In other words, J.J. began behaving less like a sitcom clown and more like a genuine human being -- precisely what Esther Rolle had been demanding for years. It was this metamorphosis as much as anything else that persuaded Rolle to return to the series at the outset of Season 6. To counteract the depletion of the basic Good Times ensemble, the producers contrived to add a brand new character and to build up an older one. A very young Janet Jackson was added to the cast as 13-year-old Penny Gordon, the product of an abusive home. Taking pity on Penny, the childless (and husbandless) Willona adopted the girl, thereby opening up a whole new realm of plot possibilities. In addition, the Evans' penny-pinching landlord Nathan Bookman (played by Johnny Brown) was promoted from recurring character to full regular. Theoretically, the time-honored ritual of cast additions and deletions is supposed to breathe new life into old sitcoms (look what that ritual did for M*A*S*H). Unfortunately, Good Times showed few signs of resuscitation. Although the series still had a loyal coterie of fans, it continued to plummet in the ratings, losing out to ABC's Eight is Enough on Wednesday nights, then to NBC's Little House on the Prairie when Good Times moved to Mondays in mid-season.