Tag Archives: Lionel Jefferson

The Jeffersons Character Review: Tom and Helen Willis

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series The Jeffersons. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show.

There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. In 2021, it is not uncommon to see a mixed marriage in which one spouse has one skin color and the other spouse has another skin color. But it was not so long ago that it was illegal for an African-American and a Caucasian person to be married in the United States. The legal case of Loving v. Virginia is only 54 years old. On The Jeffersons, Tom and Helen Willis (Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker) were the first interracial married couple on television.

Tom is white and Helen is black. Their neighbor, George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) frequently mocks Tom for being white. Helen, who has become friends with George’s wife, Louise (Isabel Sanford), frequently has a smart comeback about George’s lack of height. After Tom and George become friends, the jokes switch to Tom’s weight. Tom and Helen have two children. Jenny, who looks like her mother, eventually marries George and Louise’s son, Lionel (Mike Evans/Damon Evans). Their son Allan (Andrew Harold Rubin/Jay Hammer), resembles his father and is frequently away from home.

Warning: the above video has the N word in it.

To sum it up: It is easy to love someone who is like you. It is harder to stay in love when your chosen partner/spouse is different and the people around you are not shy about pointing out those differences. But Tom and Helen make it work, proving that when you follow your heart and make a commitment, it is possible to stay together for what hopefully will be the rest of your lives.

Which is why they are memorable characters.

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Filed under Character Review, Feminism, History, Television

The Jeffersons Character Review: George Jefferson

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series The Jeffersons. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show.

There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. The American dream is the ability to pull yourself and your family up by your bootstraps. But as we all know, that dream still does not apply to everyone. On The Jeffersons, the patriarch of the family, George Jefferson is not exactly humble.

Descending from sharecroppers, and growing in poverty during the Depression, George became a business owner. Opening a chain of dry cleaners, he was able to move his wife Louise (Isabel Sanford) and son Lionel (played by both Damon Evans and Mike Evans) from Harlem to Queens and then finally to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. There are some in his shoes who would be unassuming and appreciative. But not George.

Like his former neighbor, Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), George is arrogant, full of it, and has certain ideas about certain people. Though underneath it all he is a loving and supportive husband and father, that is not the impression one gets upon meeting him for the first time. He takes pleasure in riling up his neighbors, Tom and Helen Willis (Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker), and their maid Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs). His schemes to bring in more money usually ended up in failure, to be replaced with a new idea.

To sum it up: George Jefferson should be proud of his success. In his time, what he was able to achieve is nothing to sneeze at. But there is a thin line between pride and arrogance. That being said, the reason that audiences have loved this character for nearly fifty years is the duality of being a good spouse and parent and having a large ego. Balancing both aspects, George appeals to the audience in a way that not only breaks boundaries but reveals the human side to what could easily be a dislikable man.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

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Filed under Character Review, New York City, Television