These days, I mainly watch the episodes where James Evans is still alive. The show took a nosedive after he left. Jimmy Walker might be dynamite, and Thelma might be easy on the eyes, but the writing sucked. I have the same criteria for Star Trek: The next Generation - all the episodes with a beard-less Riker suck ass. When he grew the fur, the show got better.
Good Times had some excellent episodes. And most of the time they dealt with current political issues and race relations. Even today they provoke the same emotional response intended in the early 70's when they first aired.
All that aside, the best part of the show was the "Studio Audience." These people provided some of the most memorable moments on television. But Good Times wasn't the only show to benefit from recording live audience reactions. Here are my top 5 Studio Audience Moments of all time
1. Good Times. Episode - Penny (a young Janet Jackson with no large boob to pop out unexpectedly) gets physically abused by her mother. Scene - Penny comes home late and her mother is ironing a shirt. Mom picks up the iron and moves toward a frightened Penny with it. Audience Reaction - Gasps, "Oh no", "Oh my God." Very dramatic.
2. Diff'rent Strokes. Episode - Arnold and friend get molested by a creepy old Gordon Jump (Arthur from WKRP). Scene - Naked Gary Coleman tries to run away when his friend starts to get worked over by the creepy old man. I half expected Gordon Jump to yell "Bring out the gimp!" Audience Reaction - Dead silent. Maybe a cough?
3. Good Times. Episode - The one where the deaf kid falls down the elevator shaft. Scene - Deaf kid falls down elevator shaft. If you don't remember this magic moment, you don't deserve your TV set. Basically, the kid is leaving the Evans home with his mother. He waves while he backs up into an empty elevator shaft. Worst special effect ever when he falls backwards, but one of the BEST TV show moment in history. Audience Reaction - Gasps, "Dear God." "no". But if you watch it again really closely you can actually hear somebody laughing. This kills the drama, but makes it freaking hilarious. I guess this is the peril of the Studio Audience. You take the good you take the bad. Take them both and then you have...
4. Facts of Life. Episode - The girls try drugs. Scene - Mrs. Garret finds the coke. She gives the girls a lecture and has a full meltdown. Hmm, did you get rid of ALL the coke, Mrs. Garrett? Audience Reaction - Gasps in the predictable places.
5. Married With Children. Episode - All of them. I just added this because I can. There is someone in the audience for every taping that has the worst laugh ever. The laugh is so bad that it almost ruined the show for me. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then I'm sorry I just spoiled the show for you, because you're going to notice it now.
I know I'm forgetting a bunch. If you can add to this, go for it.