Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Honeymooners

We all have our own cherished Thanksgiving traditions. Enjoying Grandma’s famous stuffing recipe (which oddly tastes a lot like Stove Top), the game of touch football on the lawn (they still talk about the year Uncle Ed’s stitches came loose), weird cousin Marla’s holiday decorations (festive paper turkeys with hatchets), everyone bringing their favorite dish, renewing the argument over whether cousin Marla should be hospitalized, etc. My fondest tradition was watching THE HOONEYMOONERS marathon on one of the local LA channels. The last few years it’s been discontinued but thanks to DVD’s, I now own all 39 classic episodes and can gleefully watch them again for the nine millionth time.

Produced in 1955 for one season only, THE HONEYMOONERS remains my favorite all-time sitcom. I don’t think there’s ever been a more inspired cast than Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, and Audrey Meadows. And Joyce Randolph was okay too.

I wonder what people in their 20’s would think of the show. Would it seem too retro? Would the black-and-white cause a disconnect? Would the comedy still hold up? I’d like to think it would. I’d like to think any generation would marvel at Art Carney demonstrating a golf swing, or Jackie Gleason learning to mambo.

If you’ve never seen THE HONEYMOONERS, or haven’t in a long time, I invite you to get the DVD collection and have your own Thanksgiving marathon. But JUST the classic 39 episodes. The collected sketches from Gleason’s variety show or the “lost episodes” don’t hold up. But those 39, for my money, are sitcom perfection. I’d be interested to hear what you think.

Some of my favorite episodes are:

The Golfer
Better Living Through TV
Oh, my Aching Back
The $99,000 Answer
Young at Heart
Unconventional Behavior
Hello, Mom

I bet as you read this I’m watching one of them right now.

23 comments:

CM said...

I'm 31 years old (that's close), and I love The Honeymooners. I think it's the energy of the live audience and the soulful performance of Gleason that's most appealing. That opening theme has so much grandeur to it, you just feel immediately like you're watching something important.

The emotional connection between the performers and the live audience is so palpable that I never feel as if I'm watching it alone, even though I frequently am.

VP19 said...

There are some things that are timeless and transcend genre, such as "The Honeymooners." Another example is "The Jack Benny Program" on radio...the writing was wonderful and Benny's persona was brilliant (Kelsey Grammer has admitted basing some of Frasier Crane's personality on Benny).

moe "simon metz" berg said...

there really is nothing like the honeymooners. nothing. and now i shall return to my big bowl of kranmar's delicious mystery appetizer.

Matt said...

I'm 20 years old, and one of my film professors showed us a clip from the honeymooners in our Mass Media and Society class. I'll be honest, I was expecting it to be rather tame and maybe garnering a few chuckles, mostly out of respect. But the whole class was laughing just as hard as if it had aired today. And we just saw two scenes.

I attribute it to the fact that the show has two things that never cease to get old: 1) Physical comedy, and 2) spousal abuse.

Matt said...

and by "never cease to get old" I mean either "never get old", or "never cease to be funny". Take your pick on that one.

Anonymous said...

"One of these days, Alice, one of these days...."


Showing my age now - never knew they'd collected them on DVD. Another item for the Christmas list....


Shell

J Lee said...

"Better Living Through TV" is about as perfect a job of writing, acting and even improvising (the spear fishing gag) as has ever been put into a 30-minute sitcom episode.

There's reportedly a process now where old kinescopes can be computer enhanced to appraoch the level of normal film images. If so, there are also a lot of episodes of "The Honeymooners" when it was part of "The Jackie Gleason Show" that deserve to go onto DVD, without having to endure the low-image quality of the old film-the-TV-screen copies that ran in syndication about 20 years ago.

Paul Duca said...

J Lee...the "Classic 39" episodes aren't kinescopes, they were products of the DuMont "Electronicam" system--a TV camera that simultaneously put the image on motion picture film.

Mr. Hollywood said...

THE HONEYMOONERS is perfection! The theme music ("Melancholy Serendade") was written by Gleason himself and is a superb stand-alone tune as well.
I had the honor of interviewing both Gleason and Carney. It just doesn't get any better. Two classy professionals that today's so-called comedy talent could learn from. Sadly they are both gone now but that show lives forever!!!

J Lee said...

Paul --

I was talking about the ones that Gleason licensed to Viacom just prior to his death that were taken from segments from his CBS and DuMont Network shows from 1951-55 and from the one season after the Classic 39, when The Honeymooners was folded back into The Jackie Gleason Show.

Those episodes were sydicated in the mid-1980s by Viacom along with the Classic 39, but the images on many made the shows distracting to watch, a problem that would be even more severe on an HDTV (a number of the kinescoped 1951-55 and 56-57 skits were later redone in color for Gleason's 1960s show out of Miami that were turned into musicals. Those had the kind of showbiz bloated glut lots of 60s TV variety shows suffered from. The color remakes are only worth buying on DVD for curiosty purposes).

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I doubt that you'd find many sitcoms that came after The Honeymooners whose plot or premise wasn't a copy of something that appeared on one of those 39 epiosdes. And of course The Flintstones was a direct ripoff.

octoban said...

Only one season? How come?

Andrew said...

There DOES seem to be something special about great sitcoms with unusually short runs. Just 39 episodes of The Honeymooners, just 12 of Fawlty Towers, just six of Police Squad!...

The only other sitcoms besides The Honeymooners I can think of based on variety show sketches were The Simpsons and ... Mama's Family. Go figure.

mcp said...

Part of the problem of watching The Honeymooners Today is getting deja vu in reverse. Because so many sitcoms have borrowed from them, you feel like you seen the shows before even if you never saw them before.

You can't compare the number of Fawlty Towers to short run U.S. sitcoms. Usually, U.S. sitcoms have short runs because they got canceled (Police Squad, Amazing Teddy Z, etc.). British sitcoms get short orders period. Fawlty Towers shot six episodes in 1975 and six in 1979.

Unlike U.S. sitcoms, British ones don't have large writing staffs. Usually, the creator writes all the episodes (Stephen Moffat for Coupling). This makes it impossible to write the large number of episodes that a U.S. sitcom has (except for Frizell & Greenbaum on Mister Peepers as per Ken's blog entry, Fred Allen on his radio show, and Carl Reiner writing the entire first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show).

The British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine claims it is the longest running sitcom in the world. However, some years they only aired one episode. If The Honeymooners had been made in the U.K. it would have taken Gleason at least three years to make the classic 39.

Andrew said...

Terry Golway at the New York Observer noted, after Art Carney died, that The Honeymooners focused on two working stiffs, and how you'd never see that in today's sitcom world where every glib, ironic character is upwardly mobile and would never dream of demanding physical labor (bus driving, sewer worker) for a living.

Jenius said...

I was a teaching assistant in my 20's (off and on for the last 6 years.) One of the teachers I worked with showed the $64,000 Question episode to every class.

It always held up for the two of us, most the middle schoolers were mildly amused. And maybe it's odd, but while I liked the show in my high school days, it was another friend in his early 20's that made me appreciate it more.

Karen said...

Well, maybe it's a guy thing, like "The Three Stooges." I never found "The Honeymooners" all that funny myself--I guess because those two things that never get old (physical comedy and spousal abuse) have never really floated my boat all that much.

But I would never assume that B&W would put off today's viewers. I introduced my 8-year-old twin nephews to the Marx Brothers with phenomenal success...to the point that they request the films on sleepover nights. Of course, since they're guys, they like Harpo best and I like Groucho best. Of course, that could also be because they're 8 years old. I mean, most of Groucho's jokes fly by too fast for them even to comprehend.

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chicago Joe said...

I'm 21 years old and I own the "classic 39"...my favorites laso include "Better Living Through Television," especially when Art Carney says "Can it core a apple?" and when Jackie Gleason enters, dazed, "I'm da chef of da future." Perfect.

Susie said...

I love your blog. And I love the Honeymooners. And FYI I'm a comedian who is related to Honeymooner greatness, though few know it: my aunt played Mrs. Wedemeyer in "Alice and the Blonde." And she's still hot, and still in LA. Pretty cool, right?

Darien said...

I Have been posed with a trivia question that I can not answer.
In the episode titled "The Deciding Vote" there is a list of Racoon Lodge members whose dues are in arrears. Does anyone know who they are? I believe Kramden tops the list.

MoonerFreak said...

Hello There.. I am a 15 year fan of the Honeymooners.. I have two myspace pages dedicated to them.. I am very very curious.. IF you could maybe get me an autograph of your aunt??? I hope I am not being to forward.. My email is nickfnswisher@yahoo.com THANK YOU

PALGOLAK said...

You are correct sir.

the 'Addressing the ball' scene is perhaps the funniest TV moment I ever watched, AFAICR.