Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #8: Date With The Angels

As promised, Betty White! She's been everywhere this year, so why not here, too?

She won a comedy Emmy in the '50s! It wasn't for this one!

Just Enough Information: Date with the Angels was an ABC sitcom focusing on the trials and tribulations of newlyweds Vickie and Gus Angel (Betty White and Bill Williams). Produced at a time when her smash syndicated sitcom Life with Elizabeth was still circulating like crazy on the repeat market, Angels was originally conceived as revolving around a young woman’s fantasies about how she wishes her life could be (via dream sequences) vs. good ol’, bad ol’ real life…or as close as 1950s sitcommery would let you get. However, the sponsor (Plymouth) wasn’t having any of it, and pulled rank early on in production. As White put it later, “Without our dream sequences, our show flattened out and became just one more run-of-the-mill domestic comedy, but without [Life with Elizabeth co-star] Del Moore’s impeccable comedic timing.”

The series only got one shot at a Christmas show, because Santa didn’t bring them a renewal. Date With The Angels ended on January 29, 1958.

The Christmas Episode: “Santa’s Helper”. Original Broadcast: December 13, 1957.

We join Vickie Angel and her neighbor, an old gent named Mr. Finley (“a few points off magnetic north”), wrapping Christmas presents. Vickie is convinced the guy needs a job to keep him occupied during the day, and gives a ring to her friend Dolly at Martindale’s Department Store to check for openings.

You didn't really think Miss Jane could live on what that skinflint Drysdale paid her?

Dolly (Nancy Kulp, if you didn't figure it out yet) is stationed at the Martindale’s toy department, which is run Mr. Wallace, whose hobby is being a sourpuss. He can’t stand children and (paging TV Tropes) he can’t stand Christmas. When Vickie brings Finley over to the store, everybody decides he’d make a great Santa…even if his ho-ho-ho is a little weak. He doesn’t exactly fill out the suit, either.

The Adventures of Dollar Store Santa!

Complicating matters just a little bit is Finley’s son Roger, a 37 year-old man who expects dad to have dinner on the table every night and finds any deviation unacceptable. Richard Deacon (just a few years away from The Dick Van Dyke Show's Mel Cooley) gives his arch dialogue a deadpan spin that suggests a baritone Leonard from The Big Bang Theory. Without a physics degree, of course. Or hair.

Vickie (making a vague gesture): Your father went that way.
Roger: You have just described a 180-degree arc.

Complicating matters a lot is what happens when Mr. Finley gets to work: Taking his task a little too literally, he not only asks the children what he wants for Christmas, but he gives it to them, too. When a mother asks "Okay Santa, where do I pay for this?" he shoots back "Since when does Santa Claus charge?" Meanwhile, Wallace is rushing around the sales floor trying to figure out where all the money is for the toys that are flying off the shelves.

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: Would it be giving too much away that the answer to both of these dilemmas is in the spirit of Christmas?

For that matter, would it be giving too much away to say that Our Holiday Lesson For Today is "If you make a mistake that puts a department store $500 in the hole at Christmas, make sure you have a little girl with big soulful eyes on your side"? Didn't think so.

There are some good performances, so this show's worth seeing at least once, but as much as it pains me to say so, the weak link is the Angels themselves.

I can't say no to that face, but I can say "yes, with reservations."

Maybe this isn't the ideal episode by which to judge the whole production, but all Vickie and Gus do is react to the supporting cast. They're pleasant enough, but once the plot shifts into gear (especially with such a strong supporting cast) they're just there, the husband even less so. It seems to bear out White's contention that once the original gimmick was removed, there's not much to make this appointment TV.

Spot ‘Em: Just because I gave away two spot 'ems this time doesn't mean there aren't others. Mr. Finley (the elder) is played by Burt Mustin, better known to the baby boomers and beyond as Gus the Fireman on Leave It To Beaver. The other one, Mr. Wallace, is Hanley Stafford, another "hear him once, never forget him" radio voice best remembered for playing the father of Fanny Brice's Baby Snooks for well over a decade.

But Don't Take My Word For It: Another random Youtube stranger has our back once again!

Next: Lux Video Theatre goes all anthology on our sorry butts! And it won't be two days until you see it, either!


David said...

We created a new online game that tests your knowledge of the past and present. Play Web vs Webb and try to guess if a word is a computer term associated with the World Wide Web or a police term that Jack Webb, famous TV detective and star of Dragnet, might have uttered.

So, does "stack" involve search warrants or browser windows? Visit and find out.

Eric said...

Very nice, but I think you meant to put this comment under another post. :)