227 originally aired from 1985 to 1990, a TV blackout period for me, so I have only recently come to appreciate what is now considered a sitcom classic. It was designed as a vehicle for Marla Gibbs, who’d scored a hit as the sassy maid Florence on The Jeffersons. This was her second attempt to headline her own sitcom; she’d also starred in a very shortlived Jeffersons spinoff Checking In, in 1981. By contrast, 227 lasted five seasons, a very healthy run for a TV show.
While ostensibly a vehicle for Gibbs, 227 was really an ensemble show. Hal Williams, who played her husband, was nearly as recognizable at the time as Gibbs. He’d had recurring roles on Sanford and Son and The Waltons, and had appeared in the Goldie Hawn movie Private Benjamin (1980), reprising his role in the sitcom version, which ran from 1981 through 1983. In 227, Gibbs and Williams played a couple living in a Washington DC apartment building with their daughter, played by Emmy and Oscar winning actress Regina King, in her first major role. Veteran stage and screen actress Helen Martin played their nosy old neighbor Pearl. Alaina Reed Hall, whose biggest credit ’til then was on Sesame Street, played Gibbs’ best friend. Jackée (Jacqueline Henry) played her frenemy; and left the show when the two fought for supremacy on the show in real life. (She attempted her own spinoff, Jackée in 1989, but the pilot was not picked up).
In contrast with The Jeffersons’ Florence, Mary Jenkins, Gibbs’ character on 227 was not dumb, earthy, or rude. Relative to The Jeffersons, 227 was not a comedy of nonstop contentiousness. Much like The Cosby Show, which had debuted the previous year, the show kind of hearkens back to classic ’50s sitcoms, evoking (to my mind) The Goldbergs or The Honeymooners (i.e. an urban rather than a suburban setting). In its last season, Paul Winfield and several other ringers were brought on to bolster ratings, but it didn’t save the show.
Though the show left the air 30 years ago, Gibbs has worked steadily ever since. Just a short while back we enjoyed her cameo in Norman Lear’s 2019 revival of The Jeffersons!