“The Jeffersons” was not only a hilarious sitcom but also an important cultural influencer. The show featured a happy, successful black family. That wasn’t something common on TV in the mid-1970s when the show debuted. Starring Sherman Hemsley “The Jeffersons” followed the life of George and his wife Wheezy. George owns several dry cleaning stores and lives in a luxury apartment. Mr. Jefferson has some strong opinions and isn’t afraid to share them. He’s outspoken and often very rude. Among the coarse and caustic things he says are a few hysterical lines as well. The show may have been off the air for more than 30 years but some of its quips are still hilarious.
Take It On Credit
One of George Jefferson’s favorite pastimes is making observations on the other rich folks in his building. He worked hard for everything he has and came from humble beginnings. Many of his neighbors were born into privilege. For George, the fact that his wealthy neighbors are out of touch seems obvious. “Rich people never even see money. All they know is, “Charge it”, “I’ll sign for it”, and “Sue me”.” This line is as true today as it was when the show aired. Some things never change.
That’s Not How It Works
Like many wealthy families, George and Wheezy have a live-in maid. Far from bing just the help, Florence is a member of the family. Because of her high standing in the household, Mr. Jefferson reserves some of his best insults for her. The teasing is mutual and there are moments of genuine affection that prove it’s all a playful game.
George hurls this line at his faithful helper taking a swing at her intelligence: “If I paid you to think, you could cash your check at the penny arcade!”. Florence swings right back with “Where do you think I cash it now?”. Even in the 1970s you’ be hard-pressed to find an arcade that cashes checks but the joke is still pretty solid.
Til Death Do You Part
A cornerstone of the show is the rock-solid marriage between George and Wheezy. They were the picture of commitment. That doesn’t mean Wheezy was spared from George’s teasing. The characters were so iconic and beloved that they made appearances on other shows as well. In one visit to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air“, George bemoans the struggles of marriage: “We tied the knot forty years ago, and I been swinging from it ever since!”. That’s a lot of talk from a repugnant man who’s long-suffering wife has had his back no matter how unpleasant he is. It’s clear George loves Wheezy dearly but what husband or wife can resist picking on their souse a little? Especially to a younger, single person.
The Grand Tour
George is, at his heart, a man from humble beginnings. He’s immensely proud of what he’s earned for himself and how he’s elevated his family. One of the most satisfying parts of the show is watching George proudly boast and sometimes humiliate himself about his standing. He’s a man who thinks he’s arrived and wants everyone to know. His language as he shows off his apartment is as endearing as it is silly. “This here is the living area, where we does our living, and this is the dining area, where we does our dining, and this is the kitchen area…” George goes on. Wheezy wraps up the joke with the punchline “Where we do our kitchening”. The rest of the family gets in on the teasing and fight back from time to time.
One of George Jefferson’s most controversial traits is his attitude toward white people. After a lifetime of betrayal and harassment, his trust is broken. When he moved his family into their new high-rise building George was forced to spend much more time around the people he has learned to distrust. One of their neighbors, and eventually closest friends is Mrs. Hellen Willis. She and Mrs. Jefferson become fast friends but Mr. Jefferson takes some time to warm up to her husband, a white man named Tom.
Today seeing couples who look very different from each other is completely normal. That wasn’t the case 30 years ago. This progressive relationship isn’t easy for George to accept right away. He’s known to make ascorbic comments to his friends and neighbors such as “Yeah, where’s the other half of the zebra?”. It’s clear that George is opening up his mind and growing to adapt to societal progress. It’s refreshing to see a character break out of their own bias and not take themselves too seriously.
Like most sitcoms “The Jeffersons” tackled some pretty serious topics. There were the obvious underpinnings of class and race but the show branched out even more to tackle social issues and even mental health. The issue of mental health wasn’t exactly a topic de jour in the 1970s or 80s. This was ground-breaking television, especially for a family of color. In one particularly dark episode, Florence reaches a breaking point. She begins showing signs of suicidal ideation. It wasn’t common to discuss the signs that someone may be thinking about hurting themselves so this was important television. Even though the subject matter was serious George managed to break the tension with a snappy line. Florence asked what was so wrong with suicide, she was just doing god’s work. She asked if Mr. Jefferson didn’t want to go to heaven to be with god. He answered “Yeah, but I’m waiting till He sends for ME.”. The line brought a brief smile to tense and somber moment.
George Jefferson was never known for being kind or gentle. He makes a lot of inappropriate comments to everyone in his life. No topic is off the table for his insults. He’ll make inappropriate jokes about someone’s appearance, sexual orientation, age, race, and gender are all fair game for his snarky remarks. In one episode he sees Florence in a beautiful period costume She’s dressed as a housekeeper from the civil war era. George makes the least appropriate remark possible: “What’s for dinner?… Pancakes?”
A source of much embarrassment for George and so much amusement for the audience are his nieve views on his newfound wealth. Nouveau Riche isn’t exactly a compliment. As it turns out, George is easy prey for impulse decisions that play to his vanity.
Such was the case when he came home with a $500 bottle of wine. This was a case of “just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD”. Even Wheezy was confused by the impulse buy and asked her husband why he would ever pay so much for just one bottle. His answer? “because it’s a classy thing to do.”.
For many seasons Florence struggles to find love. She’s a little oldfashioned and men seem to be put off by her prim and proper ways. In an attempt to help her out Mr. Jefferson tries to give her some dating advice. “You can’t be on the defensive all the time. Be on the offensive, like me. I’m the most offensive person in the world.”. At least this remark proves that even on a subconscious level, Mr. Jeferson is aware of his shortcomings.
Tom Willis is the whipping boy for a lot of George Jefferson’s jokes. George has never hidden his unease around white people. He seems to pick on Tom just a little more than everyone else. Perhaps because he’s still in the early phases of accepting interracial marriage. Tom is one of his most beloved friends so the ribbing mostly comes from a place of love. When Tom is excited about the sound his party hat makes as it snaps back to his head George fires off a one-liner about his friend’s big appetite. “Why don’t you take off your belt? I love the sound your belly makes when it hits the floor”