[28 October 2008]
TV Sets: Holiday Treats is comprised of eight Christmas-themed episodes from various television series that span the 1950s to 1990s. The episodes range from classic variations on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi to storylines focused on depression during the holidays to, as in the case of the Taxi episode, only a cursory attempt to include holiday content.
The best episodes on the disc are classics from I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners, as well as Family Ties. The weakest episodes are from the mediocre Wings and surprisingly, from the frequently smart Frasier. In between, the collection is rounded out by The Brady Bunch, The Andy Griffith Show, and Taxi
Unsurprisingly, the I Love Lucy episode has held up wonderfully. The episode revolves around Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred reminiscing as they finish their Christmas preparations. The flashbacks are all very funny, but the one that stands out focuses on Ricky, Ethel, and Fred rehearsing their roles in getting Lucy to the hospital in time to give birth. They calmly practice and are ready, yet when the moment actually occurs, they fall into a panic. A fairly common convention used in sitcoms and movies today, this moment is still laugh-out-loud funny and showcases the program’s consistently high level of quality.
The Honeymooners offers an O. Henry spin on Ralph and Alice’s gift exchange, complete with misunderstandings and a joke that carries through the entire episode. The cast even breaks out of character at the end to wish the live audience a Happy Holidays. The Andy Griffith Show and Family Ties both do retellings of A Christmas Carol, although The Andy Griffith Show mainly employs the use of an Ebenezer Scrooge-like character rather than a fuller interpretation.
Family Ties offers a more traditional treatment complete with ghosts of Christmas past and future. The Family Ties episode is a great example of what made the show so consistently good. As always, Alex is the one family member reluctant to buy into any sentimentality – Christmas being no exception – yet in the end he reconciles his own skepticism with his family’s optimism without becoming sappy.
On the other hand, The Brady Bunch episode offers an almost sickeningly sweet story. Carol loses her voice just as she’s preparing to perform her solo at the Christmas service. Cindy asks a department store Santa for only one thing: the return of her mother’s voice. Of course in the end her voice returns just in time to perform her solo. Yes, the episode is overwrought and corny, but its kitsch value should not be underestimated and it’s still fun to watch. Since the DVD skews towards older shows, there is a simplicity and innocence to the collection that is very much in keeping with a large amount of the usual holiday-themed programming. In fact, most of the episodes included are of long-running series and the majority of the episodes come from their early seasons.
While the Taxi episode may be holiday-themed, with talk of Christmas parties and children caroling, the story really centers on Louie’s deadbeat, gambler brother’s return. In other words, while it is clear that the episode takes place during the holidays, the episodes itself is not about the holidays. It retains Taxi’s classic cynicism and sarcastic humor, a departure from the other programs included in this collection.
Possibly the most out of place inclusion is the Wings episode. It already stands out as the weakest series in the bunch and the episode chosen does little to dispel this notion. The episode revolves around Christmas plans falling through for most of the characters, so they decide to surprise and spend the holiday with fellow co-worker, Fay. Unbeknownst to them, Fay is still mourning the recent death of her husband and had made no plans to celebrate. Lame attempts at humor are made and in the end closure for Fay is achieved, yet there is little that ties the episode to the rest of the collection in tone or quality.
Fans of any of the shows included, will surely be happy with the episodes chosen (although I imagine there are better Frasier episodes that could have made the cut). As for bonus features, unfortunately, there are none to speak of. However, the DVD does include a series of vintage seasonal CBS promotional clips shown in between the episodes that add a little something extra to the collection.