My 10 Favorite Episodes of ‘Sanford and Son’
Norman Lear’s second television series, ‘Sanford and Son,’ told the story of a Los Angeles junk dealer, Fred Sanford, and his son, Lamont.
The premiere episode, “Crossed Swords,” sets up the dynamic between Fred Sanford, an elderly junk dealer, and his long-suffering son, Lamont, who isn’t eager to stay in the family business.
While the two love each other, they’re constantly at odds. Fred, a widower, often tries to manipulate his son — for his son’s own good, he insists — by faking heart attacks that might reunite him with his dead wife, Elizabeth:
The show featured a cast of supporting characters and one of the most popular, Aunt Esther, played by LaWanda Page, was always the perfect foil for Fred:
Lear created Sanford and Son based on the British series Steptoe and Son, and based it in a junkyard in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. The series, which was considered NBC’s answer to Lear’s CBS series, All in the Family, often featured racial humor, some of which would probably not pass muster by today’s standards. The N-word was occasionally dropped, but those occasions seem to have been quietly edited out over the years in syndicated reruns.
But despite the calamity, it was a series about a father and son who genuinely loved each other, even as they grated on each other’s nerves.
1. ‘The Piano Movers’
Lamont learns a newly-divorced eccentric man wants to get rid of his ex-wife’s piano and brings Fred to the man’s penthouse apartment to move it out. But Fred’s suspicion about the man’s new lifestyle
2. ‘Coffins for Sale’
Lamont makes what he considers a great purchase: a pair of wooden coffins. Fred, who is too superstitious to sleep in a home with coffins, urges Lamont to take the offer of a funeral director. But Lamont scoffs at the offer, which is exactly what he originally paid for the boxes.
When Fred decides to spend the night outside in the truck, Lamont’s own superstitions begin to get the best of him, too.
3. ‘The Shootout’
Fred has a loud argument with a neighbor and then later accidentally fires an old rifle, not realizing the old war relic was loaded. Lamont notices a bullet hole in a window across the street at the neighbor’s home and Fred immediately assumes he’s killed the neighbor.
4. ‘The Great Sanford Seige’
When money runs out, the Sanfords realize they can’t pay their bills. Fred’s repeated instructions to Lamont to put the bills “back in the mailbox” isn’t a real solution. Fred and Lamont find themselves trapped in their home bill collectors knocking on the door.
5. ‘Pot Luck’
Lamont buys an antique commode for what he thinks is a steal. Fred tells him he’s fallen for a scam. But when an antique collector, played by guest star Jonathan Harris, offers a big price for the piece, Lamont insists he knows what he’s doing.
6. ‘Happy Birthday, Pop’
Fred Sanford turns 65 and is prepared to enjoy a work-free retirement:
Despite Fred’s effort to get out of the little work he does around the house, Lamont tries to surprise his father on his birthday, but every effort to make the evening special backfires. Lamont gives his father a new hat for the occasion, and when Fred looks at the sweatband and notices the initials, FS, he doesn’t immediately recognize them for what they are.
“Well, it on the sweatband, FS, it coulda meant, ‘For sweating,’” he tells Lamont.
7. ‘We Were Robbed’
Fred accidentally destroys his son’s collection of fine porcelain figurines and concocts a phony robbery story to hide the truth.
It contains what becomes a long-running sketch on the series. A white cop asks Fred questions in “police speak,” and Fred turns to the white cop’s partner, a black cop from the neighborhood, for a translation in “jive:”
8. ‘The Copper Caper’
Lamont gets his hands on a shipment of copper and tells his father that getting into commodities like precious metals could be the ticket to easy street. Fred doesn’t trust the man who sold Lamont the copper, mostly because he’s white.
But in the end, Fred’s instinct, in this case, proves correct.
9. ‘Tooth or Consequences’
Fred’s fear of the dentist keeps him from making an appointment even when his toothache becomes unbearable. Lamont finally forces him to go to a free health clinic to get the tooth taken care of, but Fred surprises his son with a request: “White dentist, please.”
10. ‘A Matter of Life and Breath’
Lamont tries to get his father to a doctor for a checkup under the guise of getting a chest X-ray. But when the results come in the mail, Fred panics that he may have tuberculosis.
Those are my favorite episodes of Sanford and Son.