Good Times - J.J.'s Fiancée

"Liquid nitroglycerin is soluble in alcohols but insoluble in water. In the early days, when impure nitroglycerin was used, it was very difficult to predict under which conditions it would explode." - A Most Damnable Invention: Dynamite, Nitrates, 
and the Making of the Modern World by Stephen R. Bown.

Let's have a look at the 17th and 18th episode of the 3rd season of:

Good Times was a sitcom about a black family living in the infamous Cabrini Green housing project (never identified outright as such on the show) in Chicago that ran from 1974 to 1979. It was a spin-off of Maude, which was itself a spin-off of All in the Family.  

The last of Cabrini Green's highrises was demolished in 2011.
Also featured in such films as Candyman (1992) and Hard Ball (2001).
(Note: Candyman ain't real, folks. Come on.)

There's much more to the story than its portrayal in the media, of course, as this issue of the student newspaper of the College Prep School that borders the former projects explores pretty well. But let's stick with the small-screen Cabrini Green of Good Times.

Monte should be on anyone's radar if only as the writer of the classic high school movie Cooley High. He fell out with Lear over royalties and ownership rights not just for Good Times but for his other creations, most notably What's Happening! His career suffered as a result of this, and after a stalled attempt to reinvent himself as a playwright, he moved back to Chicago, where he lives still. (This interview from 2014 is the most recent I could find.)  Mike Evans caught the last train out in 2006. One-man-sitcom-army Norman Lear is, of this writing, in his 90s and still kicking.

Good Times starred John Amos as James Evans and Esther Rolle as his wife Florida, and Jimmie Walker, BerNadette Stanis, and Ralph Carter as their three children J.J., Thelma, and Michael. Walker's popularity as J.J. made him the breakout star of the cast.

Stanis was a model and pageant winner who got the role of Thelma after testing well when reading with Walker.
Most of her and J.J.'s rapport involved their calling each other butt-ugly. A situation that only makes sense in one direction in real life, not that cracking on siblings needs to be be grounded in reality.

Cast departures necessitated changes in the set-up over the lifetime of the show.  

Only the three children and the family's in-show neighbor, Willona, played by Ja'net Dubois, above, stayed for all 6 seasons.
Dubois was 28 when she was cast as Willona, but her character was supposed to be close to Esther Rolle's age (53). Insert white-people-can't-tell-black-people's-ages-at-all commentary here.
Amos was written off the show after season 3 and one too many dust-ups with Norman Lear and the writers about the show's direction.
Exactly when he took up the identity of "Major Grant" is unknown.

Also unknown - when exactly he found time to record this little number, which Blogger won't let me embed for some reason, but there's the link. Wow. I just - wow.

Amos wasn't the only cast member to branch out into music by any means. Ralph Carter had a minor disco hit with "When You're Young and in Love," and Stanis put out a hard-to-find album (Lover) in 1990.

Stanis (also the author of several books) and Carter at the Essence Music Festival 2009.
Esther Rolle left the show after the 4th season.

Both Amos and Rolle grew disgruntled as the show transformed from its original conception - a lighthearted examination of real-world-issues impacting the African American nuclear family in the 1970s - into a weekly showcase of J.J. "in his chicken hat" and his catchphrase "Dy-no-mite!" 

Certainly not the first or last show to suffer that fate.

Anyway! I fell into a bit of a rabbit hole of 70s TV reading and Chicago history looking up stuff for this post, but as it's afield of our Prom expedition, I'll put it aside for now. 

"You're the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time."

As the title might suggest, "J.J.'s Fiancée" is less about the prom and more about J.J.'s misadventures in love. He thinks he's found the girl of his dreams -

Diana (Debbie Allen)

but both his and her family are less than supportive of the idea of their getting married.

Unbeknownst to all except the viewing audience, Diana is harboring a little secret:

When J.J. mistakenly grabs Thelma's purse instead of hers when they leave the apartment, Thelma discovers her works and leaves the prom to come home and break the news to both families.

They also find a number on a scrap of paper in the purse and proceed to call it, luring the pusher over in a plan to confront him. 

Turns out, though, he's just a kid.

The line that gets the most applause in the episode is "You can't tell me a country that can put a man on the moon can't stop dope traffic," spoken by James. 

Meanwhile, J.J. learns of Diana's addiction when she begins to go through withdrawal after they get out of town. When she crawls out the window and leaves him in the hotel, the episode ends with his Dad calling to him through the phone receiver. 

Kind of a sad one.

The End. Not a bad episode but had I known how little of the actual prom it involved, I might have skipped it. We don't even see Thelma (or J.J.) at the prom. About the only prom trope we get is Thelma's dress, a minor plot point, as Florida is hurrying to finish it (as she makes it herself) before the big night.

People made their own dresses as recently as the 70s!

I liked that detail. I know a few folks who know how to do these sorts of things, but we're definitely in an age where making your own prom dress would be considered something totally retro or hipster-y rather than a skill born of necessity. Interesting juxtaposition to nowadays, so for that reason alone, I'm happy to view it through the TV Proms lens.  

It was announced a few months back that a movie version of Good Times was being written by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris. Dy-no-mite! Hope it actually materializes. 

(and pt. 1) was


  1. Unfortunately, there's a confusion between political necessity so called (Moon Landing) and the wars on drugs, poverty, and the question of urban renewal.

    The punchline here is that drugs are now legalized in some states and NASA has folded (and several thousand of its staff are jobless) and space travel has turned into a sort of cosmic joke of private enterprise...

    Moving on!

    How's this for an idea for a TV Proms entry. It may count technically. There's a high school gym, there's a band, and it all plays out in a big gathering at the gym. Try and guess which sitcom I'm thinking of: "Doobie or not Doobie."


    1. I googled "What's Happening Prom episode" when I made my original list and couldn't find one that matched well enough. I'm sure there is one, though, probably the one you're describing. (You do mean "What's Happening," I assume?) But, I think after the 3 or 4 I've got in queue, I'll be leaving TV Proms in the rearview, at least for the immediate future.

      The completist in me doesn't want to leave out ANY show. I can see myself adding to this series sporadically in the future.

    2. Yeah, I was talking about the "What's Happening" episode. Oh well, still a good episode.


  2. I haven't seen an episode since I was probably eight or nine, but I used to frickin' love "Good Times." It was never J.J. who caught my attention, though, it was John Amos and Esther Rolle. They seemed like my tv grandparents or something; just people you'd want to spend time with, you know? Television is pretty good for that.

    I don't know if I ever saw these two episodes, but I'm sure I must have. I probably saw every episode of the sitcoms I watched around that time.

    Out of curiosity, how does the drug angle come off? It sounds as if it's the sort of thing that could very easily veer off into horrid heavy-handedness, but it also seems like -- given its pedigree and the context of the era -- it could have been genuinely moving.

    The "Die Harder" screencaps cracked me up.

    Finally, I wouldn't be me if I didn't comment on BerNadette Stannis. Goodness me...that prom dress is WORKING. Still fine as hell in 2009, too.

    Man, I'd love to devote some time to a re-exploration of some of those '70s sitcoms. I bet that would be a blast.

    1. McClane!!

      I somehow ended up with way too many pics and screencaps of Thelma. Sometimes the 14 year old in my head really calls the shots. Actually, a better way of putting that would be, sometimes the 41 year old manages to do things, but mainly, it's a dictatorship of the 14 year old in my head. This blog records the struggle!

      The drug angle is handled with a little heavy-handedness, I must say. Norman Lear shows always walked that line, sometimes (All in the Family) with more success than others (The Facts of Life.) But the actual ending moved me.

    2. My blogs seem to be laboring under the same dictatorship. Oh, well; at least we're honest about it.