The Breakdown: The Elevator Shaft Episode of Good Times

by James Hill

June 9, 2016

This is “The Breakdown” where we look at some of the biggest moments in our lives (and by “our lives,” we mean stuff that was happening on TV) and get at the heart of what makes these scenes and characters so unforgettable with five thoughts.

The last time we looked at “Good Times,” it was seeing the hellish life that young Penny endured with a mother that preferred hot irons over belts. This time it’s a different child that puts a lump in our throat when we look at episode 612 — also known as the “elevator shaft” episode. Get ready to be traumatized.

1. Is that you Mrs. Pearly? Remember the nicely-mustachioed lady that tried to make out with Craig’s dad in “Friday After Next?” Well, here she is decades earlier but every bit as feisty. That’s thanks to actress Bebe Drake (who was also Myra on “Martin”) who seems to have a knack for playing testy characters. From the neck swivel to the finger pointing, Drake makes Ms. Baker (for better or worse) the dreaded angry, black woman which would normally piss us off but “Good Times” was smart enough to allow two poor, black women who portrayed vastly different aspects of their race and gender. Imagine that!

2. If we didn’t know any better, we’re guessing that the episodes when Penny was introduced as having a cruel iron-wielding mother did so well the show runners decided to ante up. How else can you explain that this episode feels like a remake of episode 501? Precious child whose name ends in “y?” Check. Overbearing mom who needlessly endangers said child? Yup! Child is saved only by the intervention of one of the main cast? Dynomite! Good thing the show didn’t go another season so we could meet Sally whose mom makes her juggle hot knives.

3. As we saw with recent episodes of Rickey Smiley for Real, there are lots of different ways to parent. Some go old school and some . . . don’t. No judgment here. So big shout-out to this episode for deftly shedding light not only on troublesome parenting but it’s effect on children. When Florida says “Only if you yell at him. Which is most of the time!” it’s not just her telling Ms. Baker she’s a sh**** parent but questioning if all she wants is a child that only responds to anger. Honestly, this is kind of blowing us away even as we write this.

4. A little off-topic, but is it just us that or when Ms. Baker says “Now you saw him answer me, front the front to the . . .” don’t you want to say “from the rooter to the tooter?” No, just us? OK, but maybe it’s because that was a line from John Witherspoon’s character from Boomerang. A character that happened to be married to . . . wait for it . . . Mrs. Jackson played by none other than Bebe Drake. See, we know we weren’t crazy!

5. No joke — this episode is THE reason why we never just blindly walk into open elevator doors. We don’t care if Yeezy is texting us (he doesn’t), we look from that phone to make sure we don’t pull a Larry. Looking at the scene now, the special effects are more than just a little cheap but damn if they didn’t work on us back in the day. Maybe that’s because Esther Rolle’s look of terror is so real as she rushes out the door or the kid’s cute smiling face but the scene still works. Confession: In our memory, we saw the kid actually fall down the shaft but maybe that’s testament what nightmare fuel this scene really is.

Got a TV moment you’d love to see us break down? Leave a comment below or hit us up @tvonetv

Want more Breakdowns?

1. “A Different World’s” Wedding Scene

2. “Good Times” Damn, Damn, Damn Moment

3. Max and Kyle Sleep Together on “Living Single”

4. The opening to “What’s Happening!!”

5. Penny Gets Burned on “Good Times”

6. Dwayne Puts Whitley in Check on “A Different World”

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