Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #26: Ozzie and Harriet pt. 1

Just Enough Information: Before there was The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, there was simply Ozzie and Harriet, a partnership which was “formalized” in 1935 when bandleader Ozzie Nelson married his band’s vocalist, Harriet Hilliard, and they decided the best way to go forward with their careers was also as a duo.

They had a pretty good on-air partnership, first on early-to-mid-1930s Baker’s Broadcast, then as permanent part of Red Skelton’s pre-war cast. After Skelton was drafted in 1944, Ozzie went to CBS with an idea for a show starring the Nelsons playing themselves. Eventually, their two sons joined the cast: David and Eric (better known as Ricky)—only after a “professional” David and Ricky had been playing the parts for several years.

The center of the show was Ozzie himself as a genial bumbler whose whims often charted a course to Disaster Island, but most people who didn’t experience the show firsthand (and once again, that would be me) remember this as the series which made Ricky into a pop star…then later, for storyline purposes, a law clerk. Ozzie produced, directed, and co-wrote most of the television episodes. At 14 years, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet still hold the record as the longest running live-action sitcom in American television history. As a sign of how drastically the tides have changed in the past 60 years, the overall sitcom longevity champ is now The Simpsons.

Therein lies a tale, and this is why there’s a very good chance that you’ve never seen the show if you were born after the 1960s. The series has developed such a reputation for blandness and offering an idealized fantasy version of the American family that describing a show in terms as “Ozzie and Harriet” is almost as bad as calling your mom one of Charlie Sheen’s girlfriends. Even broadcast historian John Dunning, who thought the radio series was a consistent performer, said eventually the television series was “too cute, too precious” in its stubborn resistance to changing times and the real world.

Combine that caveat with a string of episodes based around a sacred holiday and you can see why I’m suddenly getting a sinking feeling in my stomach.

The Christmas Episode: “The Lost Christmas Gift”. (The disc labels this one as “The Late Christmas Gift”, but TV.com’s log gives that name to a season 1 episode, so I’m going with their assessment.) Original Broadcast: December 24, 1954.

This week, America’s favorite family flashes back to the previous Christmas, when Ozzie starts worrying that the boys are missing the true meaning of Christmas by counting their presents instead of their blessings. Ricky seems a bit down in the mouth, and it turns out that the catcher’s mitt everybody thought was under the tree never showed up.

After turning the house upside-down, Harriet gets the idea that the mitt may have been delivered by mistake to the Nelsons across town, since it happened before, and after a little bit of low-key guilt-tripping Ozzie and Ricky make the trip to the other side of town.

(Caution: There are spoilers from this point on.)

When the other Mrs. Nelson opens the door, it’s obvious to Our Nelsons that The Other Nelsons (Mrs. Nelson’s a widow with three very small children) are poor, but it’s a more of a middle class one-present-each-this-year poverty, not a cold-gruel-and-the-lights-go-off-tomorrow poverty. Also, apparently the poor get no laugh track, since the canned laughter drops out for the rest of the episode.

Played by Ozzie's sister-in-law and two of his nieces, because he obviously had her number. The boy came from central casting.

After Our Nelsons all get on the same page about the Other Nelsons, the boys decide that those kids should have a proper Christmas, so they round up a few things in the house and then make the rounds to the people who were at their folks’ party the other night. Just before they leave for the other side of town, there is the missing catcher’s mitt right at the front of the tree. It’s something vaguely resembling a Christmas miracle! Rick volunteers to put his mitt in with the other presents, too.

And that (SPOILERS OVER) is pretty much all there is. All in very good taste, but a little bit dull for my tastes. I can’t even rag on it because it wasn’t really awful, it was just there. We’ll see how the rest of these go before I pass judgment.

Oh, the Nelsons this week were brought to you by Aunt Jemima, who advises you to make a yummy creamed-poultry-and-waffles combo today!

And that's cranberry (or strawberry) sauce on top, if you were wondering.

Our Holiday Message For Today: Just the standard “it’s as much about the giving as the getting” lesson. Also, I want chicken and waffles now. Let’s just move along, please.

Spot ‘Em: Next week, Ozzie and Harriet will be brought to you by Hotpoint…as we are informed by Happy Hotpoint, played by Mary Tyler Moore.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Another Youtube gift, but make sure you mute your left speaker if you can. The balance kind of bugs me.

Next: Ricky sings! That's more like it...

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