"Sure, the acting wasn’t flawless and the rhythms of the 1970s comedy occasionally felt jarring on a 2019 stage," says Caroline Framke of the star-studded Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear. "But the special was so overwhelmingly dedicated to the fun of the conceit and the enduring accuracy of the punchlines that any technical nitpicks I had quickly faded from memory. By the time Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson was shimmying across the Jeffersons set belting 'Movin’ On Up,' it became frankly impossible to begrudge the spectacle of it all. TV could frankly do a whole lot worse than gathering talented performers to tackle smart, topical comedy with such visceral joy that they’re practically vibrating off the screen. That the material remains so stubbornly timely is a bonus — and a warning. The fact that these sitcoms can be recited verbatim almost 50 years later only proves just how much of our world is, despite such intense and ongoing efforts otherwise, the same as it ever was. As (Norman) Lear himself said: There is, as always, so much more work to do."
Live in Front of a Studio Audience was a fun experiment, but too unimaginative: "It’s a provocative experiment, sure, which I hope the network repeats—but also perhaps reimagines," says Noel Murray. "As fun as it is to see Woody Harrelson do a Carroll O’Connor imitation, and to see Jamie Foxx riff on Sherman Hemsley—and even as oddly sweet as it is to see them both fumble their lines and break character, during a live broadcast—it would’ve been even cooler to see them approach these roles fresh, as though they were doing a new production of Death Of A Salesman, and not an SNL sketch. What would new versions of Archie Bunker and George Jefferson really look like?" Murray adds that host Jimmy Kimmel "apparently had something different in mind: a little less challenging, a lot more breezy. This special has more in common with the recent trend toward staging canonical Broadway musicals live: stoking the studio audience into clapping and cheering, while teasing the home viewer with the possibility that everything might go haywire. And that’s fine! The results were very entertaining. But the special didn’t necessarily honor the spirit of the original Lear shows—nor did it breathe new life into them."
It was a fun but only partly successful exercise in nostalgia and cultural context: "As host, Kimmel could have done a better job at pinpointing the context; mostly he just seemed to think the whole thing would be neat. And to be honest, it was kind of neat," says Hank Stuever, adding: Woody Harrelson, "who is nearly a decade older than Caroll O’Connor was in the original episode, got the Bunker voice and mannerisms down okay, but lacked (Carroll) O’Connor’s subtler, seething presence. (Marisa) Tomei made a passable Edith, all sweetness and screech, more costume party than performance. That turned out to be the true challenge for everyone involved — were they in this for real or just for kicks? Was there a way to honor their characters as they were and yet somehow innovate a little? Or was it just a game of dress-up and pretend?"