Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Seeds of Greatness #2: The Honeymooners

Show Title: “The Honeymooners”
Years: 1955-1956
Creators: Jack Philbin, Marvin Marx, Walter Stone 
Stars: Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Joyce Randolph

Background: This had already been a recurring skit for five years on two different variety shows hosted by Gleason, “Cavalcade of Stars” on DuMont and then “The Jackie Gleason Show” on CBS.  

Type of Show: 1/2 hour three-camera episodic network sitcom
Structure: Three acts (all in the same room in most episodes!)  No teaster, no tag.

Irreconcilable Hero: Ralph is discontent with his small but steady wage, craving quick wealth, but is too guile-less to make any of his schemes work.
Polarized Ensemble: Ralph denies his wife anything nice until the day he can get rich quick, Norton lives on credit without a care in the world, Alice wants the find a sustainable middle ground between the two. 

Point of View: As is often the case, we begin with Alice.  The entire show is almost always set in her kitchen domain, and we never even see him at work.  He’s the main character, but we see him primarily through her eyes, with both exasperation and affection. 

Pilot Title: “TV or Not TV”
First Aired: October 1st. 1955
Type of Pilot: Center cut.

The Storylines: There’s only one “A” story with no subplots. 
  1. Act 1: Starts with Alice plunging the sink. 
  2. Upstairs neighbor Trixie visits and says that she and her husband Norton are replacing their broken television.  Alice wants Ralph to get her a TV, so Trixie suggests the “pipe and slipper” routine.  Ralph comes home and Trixie leaves. 
  3. Alice fawns over Ralph, but she overdoes it.  Ralph is dubious: “Who’s ‘Sweetums’?”  She drops the act and demands a TV.  They fight. (When Alice finally forces Ralph to come up with a reason why they can’t have a TV, he stubbornly declares: “I’m waiting for 3-D television!”)
  4. She storms out, Norton comes in, he can’t afford a new TV either.  Ralph decides that they should share a TV.  To determine where it will go, they flip a coin, and Ralph proposes “Heads I win, Tails you lose”  He wins. 
  5. Act 2: Ralph comes home and arranges a smorgasbord of snacks to eat while watching the new TV, then leaves to talk to Alice. 
  6. While he’s gone, Norton slips in to eat the snacks and watch a kiddie-sci-fi TV show, complete with his own props.
  7. Ralph comes in and balls him out, then insists on watching the fights, but the reception is bad, so Norton sends Ralph out into the hall with the antenna to find better reception.  As sooon as Ralph’s out there, Norton locks him out and goes back to his kid’s show
  8. Act 3: Ralph watches TV late at night as Alice begs him to come to bed.  When he finally does, Norton sneaks in to watch a crime movie, which wakes them up.  Ralph comes out to yell at him, then gets sucked back in himself. Alice finds them asleep and drapes blankets on them, admitting that they never should have gotten a TV.     
Statement of Philosophy/Theme: Not really. Since they were picking up from the already popular skits, they didn’t really sell the premise very hard here (there’s not even a get-rich-quick scene for once). 
Twist: None

Why We Fall in Love with Each of Them:
  1. First with Alice when we watch her plunge the sink.
  2. Then we get a scene of her trying to trick him and he outwits her, which makes them both seem appealing.  Audiences love scenes in which both characters are engaged in tricks and traps.
  3. Nobody could suffer embarrassment and humiliation with more exasperation than Gleason, using just his eyes alone.  He could be hilariously pathetic.
Does The Pilot Predict the Greatness of the Show?: Yes, in that it’s hilarious, but it’s not a very typical episode.

What Followed: After only one long season as an independent show (39 episodes) CBS and Gleason both agreed that they were already worn out.  It went back to being a recurring skit on various other shows for many more years, going as late as 1970. 

How Available Is It?:  Nice-looking but features-free DVDs collect the “classic 39” episodes as well as all the skits, which are referred to “the lost episodes”.

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