Sherman Hemsley follows up his successful run on 'The Jeffersons' with this hit sitcom about the lives of a Philadelphia deacon; his lovelorn daughter; members of the local church community; and the minister they hire.
This show covers a lot of familiar comic territory as Hemsley's earlier series 'The Jeffersons (1975-85),' that was produced by Norman Lear for CBS. First, the role of Deacon Ernest J. Frye is very similar to George Jefferson, and that is probably what made 'Amen' an immediate favorite of viewers. Many episodes featured situations that allowed Hemsley (and his costar Anna Maria Horsford) the opportunity to do broad physical comedy. For example, who could forget the time Ernie caused the backyard of the church to sink during an important ceremony? Or the time when he took a group of boys camping and was sprayed by a skunk? Then, there was the time daughter Thelma (Horsford's character) was home on leave from the army and filled up the entire kitchen with an ever-expanding, highly active bread dough. You get the idea. The show had many laughs, but it also conveyed a genuine message about the goodness of people and their ability to build a strong community. And at the heart of this community was the blossoming relationship of the deacon's daughter and the very eligible, very handsome minister (Davis' character). In addition to Hemsley's considerable talents, 'Amen' benefits from its solid supporting cast: Clifton Davis in a starring role as the reverend, Dr. Reuben Gregory; Anna Maria Horsford in a starring role as the deacon's daughter, Thelma Frye; Barbara Montgomery and Roz Ryan in supporting roles as sisters Cassietta and Amelia Hetebrink, respectively; and Jester Hairston in a supporting role as Brother Rolly Forbes. Along the way, other actors were added to the cast: notably Rosetta LeNoire as the deacon's aunt Leola who marries Rolly; and a pesky neighbor boy named Chris, played by Tony T. Johnson. Elsa Raven also appears during the third and fourth seasons in a recurring role as the Fryes' Swedish maid Inga; and in the final season, Bumper Robinson is the deacon's street-wise protege, Clarence. 'Amen' never placed in the top ten, but it did very well for NBC on Saturday nights, a night of the week that traditionally had the lowest number of viewers for network television. A total of 110 episodes were produced during five seasons (substantially less than the eleven season total of over 250 episodes for 'The Jeffersons'). But 'Amen' continues to be a significant achievement for Hemsley, and for the costars of 'Amen.' Almost twenty years later, the series continues to pick up new fans in syndication (usually on cable stations that promote family values). It is remembered for its humor and warmth; its special Christmas episodes (one each season); and the musical performances of special guest stars that include Nell Carter and James Brown. - Jarrod McDonald
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