TV Sets: Holiday Treats
Like any lasting form of entertainment television has an incredible diversity. There are dramas, mysteries and comedies for almost any imaginable taste. Almost as soon as TV became part of our everyday lives one type of episode was invented. This is the holiday episode; a special story written to show the usually characters as a major holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving comes around. Many of these episodes are rerun around the appropriate holiday and have become part of the tradition for millions of American homes. We might have seen them so many times over the years that our mouths move in synch with every line of dialogue spoken. One of the best vaults of old and new television series now belongs to CBS Paramount. They have it all from the classic shows we grew up with in the fifties to the current day hits. In the spirit of the holidays, still a few months away, they have opened this vault and produced a special collection of eight of the most beloved Christmas episodes to hit the air waves. The series represented here are ‘I Love Lucy’, ‘The Honeymooners’, ‘The Andy Griffith Show’, ‘The Brady Bunch’, ‘Taxi’, ‘Family Ties’, ‘Frasier’ and finally ‘Wings’. It is extremely doubtful that anyone out there has not watched more than one of these episodes. Some will bring you back to those simpler days of childhood while others you may recall from more recent periods in your life. In any case these are more than just another episode in a popular TV series; they have all become part of television and our own history.
Typically the Christmas episode of a series, especially the sit-com as featured here, are driven by a tightly established formula. There are a few categories that most of the stories fall into. There are take offs of well proven Christmas stories like ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O’Henry or ‘A Christmas Carole’ by Charles Dickens. Just because the original stories were more drama it doesn’t mean the TV writers can’t have a lot of fun twisting the elements of the story around. Then there is the well used theme of discovering the true meaning of Christmas. This is a variation of the "Christmas Carole’ without the ghostly guides. Usually it revolves around a poor family that has so much less than the sit-com family.
I Love Lucy
The I Love Lucy Christmas Show
Season 6 episode 11 December 24, 1956
This episode was lost for some thirty three years and only rebroadcast December 18, 1989. The episode begins with Lucy (Lucille Ball), Ricky (Desi Arnaz) and their son Little Ricky (Richard Keith) putting up their Christmas decorations. The boy pulls up a chair in front of the fire place to wait for Santa Claus but his parents quickly rush him to bed with the old ‘Santa won’t come if he is around. It is a view of parents making things up on the sport to satisfy the endless curiosity of their child. They even manage to tell the boy that the Sandman tells Santa when all the children are asleep. This is an innocent episode from a much more gentle time on television. As soon as Little Ricky is in bed Ricky signals Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel (Vivian Vance) to come in with the tree and presents. Back in those days children fell fast asleep mere seconds after going to bed and never heard the adults just outside their rooms. Most of this episode was flashbacks of previous bits with things going wrong in setting up the tree and, of course, an appearance by Santa (A. Cameron Grant).
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Season 1 episode 13 December 24, 1955
This is a ‘Gift of the Magi’ variation. Alice (Audrey Meadows) is busy wrapping gifts and hiding them from her husband Ralph (Jackie Gleason). Her best friend Trixie (Joyce Randolph) comes in complaining about the gift her husband Norton (Art Carney) gave her; an orange juice squeezer in the shape of Napoleon. While Alice is out of the room Ralph comes in and tries to hide Alice’s present and chooses the same place she did, under the ice box. Back then they used a real block of ice to cool food and there was a tray underneath to catch the water. I felt real old watching this since I remember the ice man making his deliveries. Ralph promises not to look but Alice wants to hide it again. Ralph feels he needs a better present for her and sells his beloved bowling ball.
The Andy Griffith Show
Season 1 episode 11 December 19, 1960
It is Christmas eve in the sleep town of Mayberry and Sheriff Andy (Andy Griffith) is looking forward to the big party; like everyone else in town. His deputy Barney (Don Knotts) comes in with a stack of Christmas cards including one from three brothers in prison together. The meanest man in town, Ben Weaver (Will Wright) catches the local moonshine maker Sam Muggins (Sam Edwards) and demands that Andy lock him up. Not wanting to separate Sam from his family on Christmas Andy arrests his wife and children as ‘accessories before the fact’ and lets them celebrate the holiday at the sheriff’s office. Andy deputizes his family to help out. Ben, looking on is jealous and does everything he can think of to get arrested and join the party.
The Brady Bunch
The Voice of Christmas
Season 1 episode 12 December 19, 1969
The newly blended family is getting ready to spend their first Christmas together. Carol (Florence Henderson) has laryngitis and is afraid that she will not be able to sing at the evening’s church services. Youngest child Cindy (Susan Olsen) visits with a local department store Santa and instead of asking for toys wants a Christmas miracle. Meanwhile the older children want to postpone celebrating the holiday until Carol feels better. This prompts the family housekeeper, Alice (Ann B. Davis) to sit them down to teach them the meaning of the holiday.
A Full House for Christmas
Season 1 episode 13 December 12, 1978
At the garage everyone is talking about the plans they have for Christmas. They notice that Elaine (Marilu Henner) is visibly upset. Alex (Judd Hirsch) tells the other drivers that she is depressed because her ex-husband has their children this year and this is the first time she will have to spend Christmas without them. Meanwhile the dispatcher Louie (Danny DeVito) is looking forward to his brother Nicky (Richard Foronjy) is coming to town. Nick is a big time poker player and Louie is anxious to get in on the action. Nick winds up starting a game in the garage and fleecing all the drivers.
A Keaton Christmas Carole
Season 2 episode 8 December 14, 1983
Michael (Michael J. Fox) has less Christmas spirit than usual. A Ghostly messenger comes to give him a look at Christmas past, present ad yet to come. This is a common theme but here gets the special little Michael Keaton twist.
Miracle on Third and Forth Street
Season 1 episode 12 December 16, 1993
It is the first Christmas for Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) since he moved to Seattle. He is greatly looking forward to spending the day with his son Fredrick but his ex-wife cancels the visit. Frasier takes out his hostility on everyone around. In a snit he decides he would rather spend the holiday alone at the radio station rather than put up with the happiness of his friends and family. He winds up listening to the most depressing callers imaginable.
A Terminal Christmas
Season 2 episode 11 December 21, 1990
The episode opens with Fay (Rebecca Schull) explaining to a passenger that his gift is too big to place in the baggage compartment and too large to go under the seat. He tries to buy a seat for the package but they are full up. In disgust he leaves it with Fay. She tots it to the back room which is filled with gifts that she has gotten from other passengers with the same con. Fay is later upset about celebrating Christmas; she misses her late husband. The whole gang winds up in her home for dinner which naturally doesn’t go as planned.
There have been many DVD theme sets but this one is endearing. It represents episodes from throughout the history of television. It is sure to become a family holiday tradition.