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Special Report :: Christmas TV History’s Joanna Wilson on “Edith’s Crisis of Faith”

June 14th, 2011 by unkle lancifer · 8 Comments

“Edith’s Crisis of Faith” features the character Beverly LaSalle, a transvestite and female impersonator, played by Lori Shannon. Beverly appeared in two earlier AITF episodes, “Archie the Hero” in 1975 and “Beverly Rides Again” in 1976. A friend of the family, Beverly returns to the Bunker home in “Edith’s Crisis of Faith” in order to invite them to her scheduled performance at the prestigious Carnegie Hall the week before Christmas. The Bunkers are happy to see Beverly and accept her invitation while Edith, who considers Beverly to be “like family,” returns the gesture and invites the performer to Christmas dinner at the Bunker home.

What comes next is disturbing and unexpected. Though the action takes place off camera, we learn that son-in-law Mike Stivic and Beverly are mugged. Eventually we see Mike in the hospital in bandages–he was beaten but will be fine. Mike describes the mugging saying that Beverly had successfully defended him against the gang of violent attackers but then the gang turned on Beverly with a lead pipe. Mike says, “I guess they figured out what he was and they just started smashing him with the pipe.” A doctor tells Edith and Archie in the waiting room that Beverly has died. “Just because he was different,” Gloria later adds. The rest of “Part 1” sees Edith numb in her grief at Christmas time.

The storyline continues into the following episode “Edith’s Crisis of Faith, Part 2” where we see more fully how deeply Edith is affected by the death of her dear friend. Not only is Edith unable to put aside her grief, she finds she can’t even be happy at Christmas for the sake of her two year-old grandson Joey. Even worse, Edith who is usually a person of unwavering faith now questions her belief in a God that would allow someone as kind, gentle and good as Beverly be so tragically murdered. She won’t go to church at Christmas and even suggests that she may never go back. Archie encourages her to return to church but Edith’s disillusioned response is: “Why? What good does it do?” Edith’s family is beside themselves trying to cheer her up but Edith is inconsolable. She even runs out of the room when Archie offers a prayer over the family’s Christmas dinner. Eventually, Mike is the only one able to offer any comfort to Edith. Mike reminds her that we can’t always understand everything. Though Mike’s answer is simple, he is actually making a complex point that a crime such as this is beyond reasonableness–it may never make sense. Watching a character as gentle and decent as Edith suffer so terribly is torturous and emotionally draining.

What many may find difficult here is that this deeply emotional and tragic episode occurs at Christmas–the one time of year most people want to feel uplifted, optimistic and hopeful. That may be the exact point the writers of this episode may have been communicating–juxtaposing this sad episode with the usual bright spirit of the holiday. It also makes it difficult to re-watch year after year as we all so often do with Christmas TV sitcom episodes.

However, the tone of this painful episode is handled correctly. AITF had perfected the appropriate manner in which to handle the sensitive issues of the day in previous episodes that dealt with topics such as racism, bigotry, war, politics, cancer, and more button-pushing issues one wouldn’t immediately associate with family sitcoms. Even other Christmas episodes of AITF took on hot topics such as Edith’s breast cancer scare, the divorce of Gloria and Mike, and my favorite: 1976’s “The Draft Dodger” where Mike’s friend, a draft dodger on the run, comes to Christmas dinner to share a table with Archie’s friend who’s son was just killed in Vietnam.

Yet, Christmas may just be the most appropriate time of year to remind ourselves of our desire for a world filled with peace. Hate crimes such as these unfortunately still exist and occur all too frequently. Part of what makes AITF such a groundbreaking show is the fact that its take on subjects such as this are still relevant today. Perhaps the depth of emotion felt in “Edith’s Crisis of Faith” can serve as an annual reminder to grab our loved ones even closer and find compassion and acceptance for everyone.

Though a situation comedy, the jokes are never at the expense of the social issue but are aimed squarely at the insensitive fool, Archie Bunker. This show so successfully tackled social issues that many other TV series in the 1970s and 1980s went on to try to do the same thing with varying degrees of success.

UNK SEZ: Thanks so much Joanna for sharing such a wonderful post! I have a strong recollection of this episode as well and you really captured what made it so memorable.

Folks, not only is Joanna one of Kindertrauma‘s favorite people in general but she is also the author of the books THE CHRISTMAS TV COMPANION and ‘TIS THE SEASON TV. You can pay her a visit at her official home base CHRISTMAS TV HISTORY!

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8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 turnidoffNo Gravatar // Jun 14, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Jean Stapleton is such a great actress. This show, even as a kid made me feel like I was watching theater. It never really felt like a sitcom in the traditional sense.

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jun 14, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Thanks again for this JW!

    With so many people discussing Tracy Jordan’s non-joke about stabbing his son if he was gay this weekend it became a really good time for me to revisit this episode.

    As awful as what happened to Bev was the part that really was difficult for me to watch was Edith’s pain afterward.

    It made me think of all the people (loved ones, family, friends) who suffer hate crimes outside of the actual victims.

    I remember seeing this episode (prob in syndication) as a kid and it upset me then too & I really didn’t understand why anyone would want to harm Bev.

    It’s too bad that we don’t have network shows with this type of quality anymore!

  • 3 Jami JoAnne RussellNo Gravatar // Jun 14, 2011 at 11:24 am

    @Unkle – I think that’s because we simply can’t get away with it anymore. (At least not in a sitcom. I suppose if it was some drama like House they’d be all over it like flies on poop. Heck, L&O:SVU has probably done it a million times now.) Because people get all offended. We’re too uptight now adays.

    I wish we could return to those times when we could teach lessons about stuff without the PC-Police coming down on us. AITF had some moments you just don’t get away with anymore. Like when Sammy Davis Jr gave Archie a big old kiss on the cheek. (I LOVE that episode, if only because I’m a Sammy fan.) Or when Edith was almost raped. Let’s face it – Edith is not society’s standard of beautiful. You never see overweight rape victims on SVU (Unless they have Down’s Syndrome) – even the homeless scizos could model for Victoria’s Secret.

    Until the PC-Police shut up, we’ll never have grown breaking moments like that again. And the world will grow worse because we’re erasing history and are doomed to repeat it.

  • 4 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jun 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    J J R,

    Yeah there is almost the idea that everyone has to agree on stuff before it can be discussed and so nothing gets discussed. I think the focus is more on pleasing the advertisers than the audience now too.

    I hate to sound like an old foggie but you rarely see anything on TV anymore that challenges viewers with anything besides the false concept that they are the center of the universe.

    I think that is why the whole Drafthouse texting thing struck a nerve. There’s a whole generation coming up who has been spoon fed the idea that narcissism is a positive trait and not to concern themselves with others.

    I’ve always been a big fan of “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need!”

  • 5 tistheseasontvNo Gravatar // Jun 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    It doesn’t matter how long ago this show was made, I’m continually struck by how sophisticated and wonderful this show was. Thanks to Kindertrauma for letting me write this 🙂

  • 6 Jami JoAnne RussellNo Gravatar // Jun 14, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    You know what strikes me funny, Unk? How 99% of the people who are all like “Don’t say that!” aren’t even members of the group that they’re claiming will be offended. Most Jews and Muslims for instance don’t care if you say “Merry Christmas” or have Christian themed decorations in your business. My mom’s best friend happens to be black and she DESPISES being called “African American.” She’d rather be called black.

    Maybe the PC-Police should shut up and listen once in awhile. They might – gasp – LEARN SOMETHING!

  • 7 VinylTuscaderoNo Gravatar // Jun 22, 2011 at 8:42 am

    I love how insightful the comments are on KT!

    I remember this episode in full, and how shocking and heartbreaking it was to watch a show that dealt not only with hot button issues, but their effects on a family that was very similar to my own.

    The show was groundbreaking in so many ways, and when Edith died a few years later, was one of the only shows on television, to kill off a beloved character.

  • 8 Hail AntsNo Gravatar // Feb 9, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I remember this episode well. It was kind of after AITF had peaked, comedy wise. It started to get a little too preachy for my taste. Was still a good episode, just too jaringly not comedy. Also, all these years I thought it was Divine from the John Waters films who played Bev…

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