Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #43: Meet Corliss Archer

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Just Enough Information: Meet Corliss Archer was a short-lived syndicated television adaptation (April-December 1955) of the long-running radio sitcom, both of which were inspired by the magazine stories of F. Hugh Herbert. Corliss, played by Ann Baker, was a cute, perky teenage girl on the edge of 16, attached to sweetheart Dexter Franklin, a nerdy bumbler who obviously had a box of four-leaf clovers in his closet. Her father Harry is a level-headed lawyer (Level headed? What fun are those guys?) and mother Janet is…well, not.

CBS also took a crack—although a bizarrely scheduled one—at Corliss as a live production during the 1951-52 season, once during the summer with two live stagings going to different parts of the country on different days, and then again as a brief midseason replacement. Bobby Ellis, who played Dexter, was the only cast member who played in both TV versions. The radio series managed to outlast them all, closing shop in the fall of 1956 after a little over 12 years on the air.

The Christmas Episode: “The Christmas Presents”. Original Broadcast: c. December 1955. According to every episode guide online, this was the last episode of the series released into the wild.

One of Harry Archer’s hobby horses throughout the series was the battle of the sexes, and it’s obvious that the battle escalates into psychological warfare when it comes to hiding Christmas presents. It doesn’t help the whole unfortunate “men are smarter” vibe that both Corliss and her mom turn into a couple of snoopy kids when confronted with the challenge that they won’t find (and sneak a peek at) the presents this year.

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To twist the whole “the husband is the adult of the house” knife, he goes directly to their packages (which are hidden in obvious places, like on the floor), gives them a single shake, and cooly declares “I have a notion I’m getting an ocean of lotion.” Hahaha, you jerk.

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Haw haw, gurlz is so prediktabul.

So the rest of the A-plot—how do you like that, we actually get a sub-plot in this show!—is Corliss and Mrs. Archer sneaking around the house like nosy ten year-olds desperately trying to find the hiding places, while the Mister very easily stays ten steps ahead of them every time until it starts to bum you out. When you get exchanges like “Isn’t it just like a man.” “What?” “Being right.”, you know you’re cruising on the wrong side of the cultural divide.

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Haha, dance puppets! Dance!

(Oh, the cleverest part of the series is that the scene transitions are represented as still cartoons, while the narrator rattles off some chatter. Nicely done.)

Then there’s Dexter, who has decided that this year he’s making his own presents and has asked for the usage of the Archer workshop for that purpose. This is where karmic retribution finally comes in, because now Harry has the snooping-around bug and, while helping Dexter in hopes of picking up a clue, gets innocently and repeatedly brutalized by the hopelessly clumsy boy.

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You remember that Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where Joel and the robots were watching a movie about an animal trapper and our guys were rooting for the animals? Same thing here.

(highlight for spoilers) As a final bit of cosmic punishment, Dexter’s gift to Mr. Archer is a freshly laid cement pathway in the back yard…right over the hiding place of the presents. Serves you right, jackass.

You can probably tell this show lost me early on (and you can probably tell why, too), but like a lot of radio-to-TV sitcom flops, there was also a problem in the casting the central role. Don’t get me wrong, Ann Baker’s just adorable here, even if the story breaks against her, but Corliss on the radio for a massive portion of its run was the most excellent Janet Waldo, who played the girl with the breathless wonder and exasperation that would transfer in one piece into the voice role that most non-radio fans remember her for, Judy Jetson. You compare the two, it’s easy to see which is the “genuine” article. Ms. Waldo casts a long shadow.

Our Holiday Lesson For The Day: A marriage is built on love and mutual trust…until Christmas, when it’s built on subterfuge and an overarching sense of craftiness.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Internet Archive has a nice selection of the series, if you think further investigation is necessary.

Next: Annie Oakley hopefully restores the balance of gender bias!

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