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Old 08-28-2014, 05:54 AM   #1
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Confused Did Diff'rent Strokes "lose its edge" as the '80s set in?

I pretty sure that this is going to get somewhat political, but I have to do this to help put things into a proper perspective:
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The first phase of "Diff'rent Strokes" shark-jumping. The charm of two project kids living on Park Ave. supposedly wore off (it didn't and they should have stuck with that concept) so, as Arnold and Willis got older, the cast tackled more pertinent social issues, such as drugs, smoking, violence, the environment (Kimberly's hair turned green from acid rain), child abuse (Arnold and Dudley's photographic "Tarzan" romp with the lovable bike store owner played by Gordon Jump), and Kimberly's week-long bout with bulimia due to the pressure of "Maggie's" overwhelming beauty (an effort to boost Mary Ann Mobley's ego). They even went so far as to throw a two-for-one special when Arnold and Kimberly hitch-hiked (an obvious no-no), but got taken to their captor's home where Arnold got tied up, escaped, couldn't remember where he got taken, and could only remember the car license plate through hypnosis. Kimberly got saved from rape in the nick of time (whew!).

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The show stopped being funny when both Willis and Arnold grew up. When Arnold was no longer a cute funny kid from Harlem it just went downhill. And face it Willis was never that funny anyway, the show was all about Arnold.


Quote:
When the kids got older. The whole show was centered around Gary Coleman and his cuteness. Here we had a poor black kid from the ghetto who pretty much grew up and became a rich white kid from the penthouse. Also, after Mary Ann Mobley came along, there were just too many changes to keep up with.

Quote:
Diff'rent Strokes took a turn for the worse when Kimberly and Arnold Drummond were kidnapped (off the streets of Manhattan) by a man who claimed to work for NASA. This episode opened the floodgates of "Public Service" episodes which were designed to inform the audience as to the real troubles that lurk outside. Give me a break!!! This episode eventually led to Kimberly's eating disorder, Arnold and Dudley's close call with a child molester, etc..... Sit-coms are no longer sit-coms when they turn preachy. They become annoying.

These comment below most exemplifies my point:
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The show definitely lost it's edge during the conservative 80s. Arnold and Willis started out as two streetwise kids from Harlem but towards the end of the show they lost their identity. The same thing happened with the Jeffersons. It's like the writers didn't want to deal with their ethnicity anymore and instead portrayed them as caricatures.

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If there was any one time DS jumped, it is when NBC got wise to the fact that Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges weren't that funny anymore and decided to end it. That is, until ABC picked it in the eleventh hour. And the show got even worse. I was watching the E! True Hollywood Story the other day and the narrator stated that Gary Coleman actually wanted OUT of DS to try other acting gigs. Gary Coleman realized that the novelty of his character Arnold had worn out its' welcome. So, in truth, that's why ABC cancelled Diff'rent Strokes. Another shark-jumping moment was when NBC and Tandem fired Dana Plato because she was pregnant (?!?) She could have pulled a Hunter Tylo and sued them for pregnancy discrimination! But then again, this was the 80's! A pivotal JTS moment was when DS suffered the same curse as The Jeffersons: WHITEWASHING! Basically, it was when Arnold and Willis lose the street part of their personalities and become assimilated into the culture of their adoptive father.

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This show JTS when it ceased to be a situation comedy, and became a sanctimonious, clumsily moralizing pulpit for 80's sterility. This line of demarkation was epitomized when the architect of our massively successful "war on drugs", Nancy "Xanex" Reagan appeared at Arnold's school to apprehend a rather meek-looking individual peddling "goofballs". If this was not the JTS point, it certainly came when Willis began wearing soul-glo, and Arnold wore a high-top fade, a la Cameo. WORD UP!

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The show's attempts to deal with racial issues was rather heavy-handed.. which to a certain extent would have to be expected from the quasi-liberal types who were the producers/writers of the show, plus dealing with the whims of network hierarchy.. the questions I have: Why was there never any sexual tension hinted at between Willis and Kimberly, even though they were clearly around 13 when Willis & Arnold were brought into the family-- **Arnold & Willis assimilated fairly quickly-- it is unclear that they attempted to maintain any kind of relationship with their past life.. I was actually kind of glad that they moved away from the "white folks won't let us in the country club until Dad vouches for us" type episodes.. **Willis & Arnold show virtually no interest in hip-hop music & aesthetics, despite New York's virtual monopoly on the movement at the time.
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Old 08-28-2014, 06:45 AM   #2
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I stopped watching it after 2 years.
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Old 09-02-2014, 01:18 AM   #3
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I'm an 80's kid so I enjoyed the later seasons a lot more than the preachy 70's episodes, gotta agree on how quickly the writers made Arnold and Willis less "ghetto" and more whitey friendly especially with the ugly sweaters Arnold would be wearing even inside the house!
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Old 09-11-2014, 04:19 AM   #4
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http://www.datalounge.com/cgi-bin/io...hread,13543609

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Painfully obvious that it was written only by white people. Even then, Arnold and Willis were portrayed not as inner city black kids, but how white suburban people wanted to think inner city black kids were.
by: Anonymous reply 15 01/02/2014 @ 08:40AM
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Old 09-11-2014, 06:49 AM   #5
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I can't stomach it today and if I could do it all over again, I avoid it like the plague.
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Old 01-09-2015, 12:15 AM   #6
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Diff'rent Strokes perhaps, was something of a product of the 1980s era of so-called 'limousine liberalism' (rich folks quite condescendingly practicing noblesse oblige towards poor, underprivileged black folks), while Maude (Conrad Bain's prior sitcom) was reflective of the '70s era's willingness to make satirical targets of both liberals and conservatives.
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Old 03-14-2015, 01:31 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Mace Dolex
I'm an 80's kid so I enjoyed the later seasons a lot more than the preachy 70's episodes, gotta agree on how quickly the writers made Arnold and Willis less "ghetto" and more whitey friendly especially with the ugly sweaters Arnold would be wearing even inside the house!

I guess a good analogy to this is Richard Pryor's film roles/comedic persona pre-"freebasing incident" and post-his "freebasing incident".
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As he recuperated, an apparently “reborn’ Pryor set about consolidating his growing superstardom with a batch of projects that continued to marry his endearing screen persona with the raw subversion of his stand-up. But behind the commercial frenzy that surrounded him, something had changed. His demons had not gone away, of course, and his boozing and drug taking soon returned to monstrous levels, but part of Pryor had died on June 9, 1980. For the edgy, dangerous performer of the seventies would now give way to a lazier, less coruscating comic, one who was moving further away from his own truth. But was this the result of his near-apocalypse, or simply a consequence of mainstream success?

* * *

The signs that Pryor’s best days were behind him were soon to appear. Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip (1982), a record of the star’s first return to stand-up comedy eighteen months after the fire, immediately shows something of this decline. Although the provocative honesty still shines through, and the funny routines, when they come, are occasionally brilliant, some of his energy has been replaced with doubt and caution; he is a little less agile, less sure of himself. And his newfound aversion to the word “******” seems, although heartfelt, a curious concession to the encroaching political correctness of Reagan-era Hollywood.

It was by no means the life-threatening “accident” that had sapped Pryor’s magic by Live on the Sunset Strip, however. In fact, his long-awaited routine about setting himself ablaze turned out to be one of the movie’s high points. But in a remarkably candid interlude, the comedian admits to the audience that he knows he was better — funnier — when he was hungry, when he wasn’t the Hollywood hotshot. And this isn’t just a throwaway comment. On the first night of the concert, in December 1981, Pryor actually abandoned the stage of the Hollywood Palladium halfway through the act, announcing: “I don’t know what I’m doing here … I’m not funny any more.” Leaving the bewildered audience behind, he locked himself in his trailer and wouldn’t come out. He had to be goaded into resuming the concert film the following evening. Things went more smoothly this time, and judicious editing ensured that not too much of Pryor’s uncertainty dragged down the concert movie, but the experience left the comedian somewhat shaken.

Despite this, Live on the Sunset Strip earned almost twice what it cost to make in its first three days of release. And the box office reception to his downbeat comedy-drama Some Kind of Hero (1982), about a Vietnam vet returning to find himself distrusted by his government and ignored by society, also excited the executives. Soon after, Pryor was signed up as the comic relief in Superman III (1983) for an unprecedented four million dollars — a million more than Christopher Reeve was getting for playing the caped superhero himself.

Another big payday was to come with The Toy (1982), a witless and degrading farrago that casts Pryor as an expensive plaything for a spoiled little white boy. The Toy Could have had allegorical potential, not just regarding Pryor’s career but for all those ethnic actors in Hollywood, but it fell far short of any such insight, and existed solely to show Pryor freaking out and looking scared, like a comedy negro looking down the barrel of a redneck’s gun. Nonetheless, the film did respectable business. Nineteen-eighty-two ended with Pryor as the number-one box office draw in America.

But if the direction of Pryor’s film career was suddenly at odds with the renegade brilliance of his early success, things were to get much worse from here. Ironically, they did so as the star secured what appeared to be an all-empowering deal from the studios.

In 1983, Columbia Pictures gave Pryor over $40 million to set up a company to produce four films — with complete creative control. The deal established Pryor as the most powerful black actor in Hollywood. He named his company Indigo Productions and announced he was looking to make serious, relevant, and challenging films with black actors and filmmakers.

In effect, it was a case of giving the lunatic control of the asylum. Indigo was a disaster from the start. Perhaps more than anything, it finished Pryor as a radical force. He was required to make business decisions, select scripts, and green-light projects, oversee them from concept to finished film. At the press launch, he was all noble ambition and worthy intent. But underneath he had no idea what he was doing. Indigo would become — in his own words — a fiasco.

Despite all the big talk, the first project Pryor decided to produce was yet another concert film. As a commercial decision, it seemed sensible enough, but it was hardly an artistic gamble. Even so, the expectation was understandably high.

Worryingly, the result, Richard Pryor Here and Now (1983), confirmed the warning signs of Live on the Sunset Strip, catching the comedian badly off form. Pryor professed to be clean and sober now — he’d gotten his act together since spending the Superman III shoot in London completely off his rocker. (Revealingly, it’s fair to say that Superman III is the last film in which Pryor is spontaneously funny, although whether he is four-million-dollars funny is another matter.) But free of the drugs, Pryor is out of his depth in Here and Now. He’s trendily suited and slick, but moves uncertainly about the stage, falling back into some old routines that — this time — fall quite flat. And he is quite unable to deal with the raucous New Orleans crowd, whose frequent heckles catch him off-guard. Always acutely self-aware, Pryor is consciously playing to a crowd that knows he’s sold out. The calamity-prone performer of Live in Concert is gone, and Pryor can’t imitate him. Here and Now simply highlights John and Dennis Williams’ assertion that for Pryor “the absence of pain would be the kiss of comic death.”3

Not that there was a complete absence of pain in Pryor’s life. Indigo Productions was already going out of control, and at the end of 1983 he fired the company president, former football star Jim Brown. Brown had been Pryor’s close friend and right arm for some years, and the move smacked of corporate coldness. Worse, the firing upset the black community. Brown was a popular black figurehead — he and Pryor had made for a loveable badass couple. They were the brothers who’d infiltrated the white corridors of power and were going to stick it to The Man. Instead, Indigo fell dormant and didn’t release another film until 1986.

* * *

Nineteen-eighty-four was a significant year for black stars in Hollywood, but Richard Pryor wasn’t one of them. On the big screen, Eddie Murphy overtook Pryor’s box office status with Beverly Hills Cop, one of the biggest money-makers of the year and the 23-year-old’s third hit movie in a row. On TV, veteran Bill Cosby launched The Cosby Show, which quickly became one of the most successful series of the 1980s.

Pryor, however, was falling into limp imitations of Murphy’s successes (the spineless Brewster’s Millions, 1985, having more than a few similarities to the snappy Trading Places, 1983) or giving way to a “Cosbification” of his screen persona. This was apparent in his return to TV — seven years after his controversial, quickly aborted sketch show — with Pryor’s Place, a Saturday morning children’s series in which he played “a sombre, earnest figure … hosting the wholesome adventures of two black boys” on a Sesame Street-style set. Although the series represented, according to John and Dennis Williams, “a minor racial breakthrough”4 — given the casual acceptance of the blackness of its characters — it hardly befitted a performer who, only handful of years before, could hardly do anything without it being “radical.”

This hadn’t been the first time Pryor had presented himself in the mould of Bill Cosby. He’d begun his career trying to emulate the older performer, who by the mid-sixties was the highest-paid black actor on television and the first to achieve equal billing in a hit series (I-Spy, 1965-68, alongside Robert Culp). Cosby, of course, was already a well-known stand-up by then, and he had succeeded by avoiding issues of race to present a laundered, family-friendly form of comedy that relied on his dry but affably avuncular delivery for its impact. Pryor worked for years trying to copy this style, but in a legendary “breakdown’ in front of a Las Vegas audience in the late sixties, couldn’t square it with himself any more. One night, he abruptly left the stage and fled for California. Only then, settling in Berkeley, going deeper into drugs and hanging out with counterculture figures, could the birth of a unique comedian truly begin.

The Pryor of the ’70s, of course, couldn’t have been more different from Cosby, but they happily co-existed, even working together in the 1978 film adaptation of Neil Simon’s California Suite. Cosby, however, had been seeing his own career limp along on TV and the big screen, so his return to prime time with the 1984 series was something of a major comeback.

But if The Cosby Show signified a new direction for “black” comedy in the eighties, it was a direction disturbingly out of synch with everything that Pryor had stood for in his best years. The Cosby Show ran for seven years and dominated the ratings, but it achieved its success not only by avoiding the edgy and confrontational aspects of race-oriented comedy, but also by appearing to bask in a smug, upper-middle-class elitism. The show’s Huxtable family, with their Ph.D.s, law degrees, M.B.A.s, and diplomas, may have presented a highly positive image of blacks, but somehow they looked tailored to appeal to a rigidly non-progressive audience. They were as primly self-satisfied as the households in the blandest WASP sitcoms. Perhaps this was the series’ radical raison d’etre, but for all Bill Cosby’s twinkly sarcasm and the gentle reference to some distant race struggle every fifty episodes or so, The Cosby Show often appeared ultraconservative, even reactionary. The Huxtables reflected a relentlessly upbeat image of success in Reagan-era America, when the reality of many black lives couldn’t have been more different. Of course, NBC wouldn’t have had it any other way — the network was saved by the show’s success.

Now, Pryor was falling in line with this fashion for “collaborationist comedy.” If the Pryor of The Richard Pryor Show in 1977 had been a ferocious comic bulldog, not safe to be let out amongst children and the weak, then the Pryor of Pryor’s Place and Brewster’s Millions had clearly been house-trained, able to sit placidly by as the young ones pulled at his ears — not dissimilar from the character he’d played in The Toy. Like the Huxtables, he was well-scrubbed and unthreatening; any spark of activism had been summarily defused.
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Old 04-27-2015, 11:31 PM   #8
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I still liked the show up to about 1984. But I do tend to favor the 70s show's a lot more. Somebody said the 70s show's were "preachy", PLEASE"! It's the very special episodes of the 80s that are preachy. Nancy "Freakin" Regan is on an episode about "Saying No To Drugs", it get's no preacher than that. I tend to find the 70 shows a bit more realistic in showing that Willis and Arnold showing up to live with Mr. Drummond wasn't gonna be a cakewalk. They were going to have to build their trust up with him. Plus most of the best one-liner's of the show are from 78 to 81!
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Old 04-28-2015, 12:46 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Sonny Carson
I still liked the show up to about 1984. But I do tend to favor the 70s show's a lot more. Somebody said the 70s show's were "preachy", PLEASE"! It's the very special episodes of the 80s that are preachy. Nancy "Freakin" Regan is on an episode about "Saying No To Drugs", it get's no preacher than that. I tend to find the 70 shows a bit more realistic in showing that Willis and Arnold showing up to live with Mr. Drummond wasn't gonna be a cakewalk. They were going to have to build their trust up with him. Plus most of the best one-liner's of the show are from 78 to 81!

Sitcoms of the '80s (particularly, those centered on families/kids) seemed to be a weird hybrid of the strident social commentary of Norman Lear's '70s era sitcoms w/ the morals heavy sitcoms of the '50s (e.g. Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best, etc.)
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Old 04-01-2016, 09:19 PM   #10
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In general, it seemed like a lot of black led sitcoms from the '70s (Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and Diff'rent Strokes) started to lose their touch/edge as they got closer to the '80s?

*George Jefferson softened a bit and wasn't yelling 'hon--' anymore.

*Fred Sanford and his buddies started getting into these get rich schemes.

*Michael from Good Times wasn't so "militant" and mellowed out. This started to happen once John Amos left the show.

*Arnold and Willis from Good Times started becoming preppy and lost their edge.
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Old 09-28-2016, 02:38 PM   #11
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So, if I'm understanding this thread properly, Diff'rent Strokes jumped the shark at about 18 different moments?

And I find it odd that Mary Ann Mobley, who only appeared in the last handful or so episodes, is mentioned twice as playing a role in the show jumping the shark.
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