And calling Ernie liberal illustrates the meaninglessness of such labels. Ernie does ridicule conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. But he also repeatedly refers snidely to Cherlyn's Jewish last name, and her Jewishness is at least as much a target here as is her whiteness. Ernie's cracks about bagels and gefilte fish, in fact, have the tone of a watermelon reference in connection with blacks.
Why would Cherlyn hang around and accept Ernie's insults, turning the other cheek with a graciousness that belies believability? The answer lies in the way the character of Ernie is written.
We learn early in the series that Cherlyn's own white parents have rejected Goodie because he's black. Having not met them, we can immediately assume the worst and color them racist. But Ernie we have met. And despite his narrow-mindedness in some areas, he remains somehow as likable as Archie Bunker--yet another benign bigot whose essential decency softens the edges of prejudice in a way that blurs reality.
After drawing early criticism in some circles, Archie got away with it, ultimately becoming a seminal character in the history of television, and perhaps there's glory ahead for Ernie too. A crack here about Jews, a crack there about whites, glazed by laughter. Perhaps it's harmless.
Yet you view "704 Hauser" with the same clashing emotions that you felt at times when watching "All in the Family," feeling a bit uneasy while laughing.
* "704 Hauser" airs at 8:30 tonight on CBS (Channels 2 and 8).