After the success of The Jeffersons, Marla Gibbs landed her own TV show, Checking In, in 1981, but when a writer’s strike put an end to its production, Gibbs would return to the show that originally made her famous. Though the unexpected cancellation of The Jeffersons in its 10th season was a shock to many, it was a mixed blessing for Gibbs. In the early ‘80s, Angela Gibbs brought to her mother’s attention a play by Christine Houston called 227, a very serious drama about middle-class black men and women living in a Chicago building during the ‘50s. In Los Angeles, Gibbs’s theater troupe, Cross Roads Academy, mounted the show to great success (Nia Long starred in the original production), and after buying 227‘s TV rights, Gibbs had an easy time appealing to network execs feeling the void left behind by The Jeffersons. In translating the play to the screen, the material had to be considerably softened. The location changed (from Chicago to D.C.), as did the time period (a three decade leap forward), which meant that the producers of the show didn’t have to deal with the Civil Rights Movement. Some critics called 227 a lame knock-off of The Cosby Show, but only someone who thinks all black people look alike could confuse the two shows. Bill Cosby’s show was funny, but it scarcely grappled with black consciousness; paint everyone’s face white and the show would have a difficult time distinguishing itself from any other polite, family-conscious sitcoms like Eight is Enough. 227 wasn’t as whitewashed, but it was also nowhere near as funny. Gibbs is Mary, a housewife in D.C. who spends much of her time dishing gossip with her best friend Rose (Alaina Reed). The first and strongest episode of the entire series evokes the show’s strong sense of community in Mary’s struggle to beautify her building despite the protestations of a landlord who remains (and later dies) off-screen. When she tries to put money into a broken washer in her building’s basement, she remarks that that the machine is “so old it takes Confederate money.” This loaded declaration radically justifies Mary’s sense of entitlement, and when Rose inherits 227 from the dead landlord, there’s a powerful sense of progress felt in the way that the woman’s kindness is rewarded. But the show more or less dies after this episode. Save for some coded off-the-cuff remarks here and there, 227 clearly wore Gibbs’s frustration over not being able to grapple with difficult issues plaguing the black community. Indeed, most episodes played out like adult-friendly Afterschool Specials. In one, Mary doesn’t know whether she should leave a note behind for a man whose BMW she rear-ended. In another, her daughter Brenda (a very young Regina King) looks like a whore after Sandra (the series-stealing Jackée) puts too much makeup on her face. A show of wasted opportunities, 227 is what The Women of Brewster Place would look like if it were edited for the Disney Channel.
This DVD set compiles 22 episodes from the first season of 227, which ran between 1985 and 1986. The show's video masters have clearly degraded these last 19 years, and though there isn't much wear and tear to the image, the overall presentation is on the soft side. As for the sound.well, stereo is always better than mono.
Three unfortunately short featurettes: "From Stage to Screen" allows Christine Houston and Marla Gibbs to discuss the origins of the show; Gibbs, Reed, and Jackée reminisce on the series on "Three Ladies Remember"; and the cast and crew discuss the show's role in network (and cultural) history in "Stories from the Stoop." Rounding out the disc is a series of previews for other TV shows Columbia TriStar has made available on DVD.
There's no place like home, except who wants to come home to this?