PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Merry Sitcom: Christmas Classics From TV's Golden Age

The overarching theme among these stories is an often unacknowledged tension between affluent postwar consumer culture and a more austere mode of living.


Merry Sitcom: Christmas Classics From TV's Golden Age

Cast: Marlo Thomas, Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Sally Field, Ernest Borgnine, Donna Reed, Elinor Donahue, Paul Petersen, Elizabeth Montgomery, Billy Mumy, Dick York
US Release Date: 2009-11-03

“It’s the most wonderful time, of the year”… or so the puppet masters controlling Philo T. Farnsworth’s momentous invention would have us believe. Since the '50s, TV sitcoms have often presented a Yuletide episode, brimming with warm fuzzies and intended to demonstrate to the audience that good will towards one’s fellow man always triumphs in the end. I personally recall watching many during my Wonder Years in the '70s and '80s; a stock character was a portly, retired gentleman – with a twinkle in his eye and a kindly soul – intended to symbolize Old St. Nick himself.

I suppose someone somewhere must have mused, “Why can’t we see these Very Special episodes again?”, and voila! Shout Factory rode to the rescue! The California-based homevid distributor has just released , a compilation of Baby Boomer seasonal episodes. Although I’m a firm Gen X-man, I’m definitely among the more ancient of that tribe, so I was hardly unfamiliar with the selected shoes, and couldn’t resist taking a look, if for no other reason than to satiate my Inner TV Addict.

My memory of Robert Young is cemented by his portrayal of the ever-congenial “Marcus Welby, M.D.” whose reruns I occasionally glanced at after school during my tween years. His earlier program, the weightless sitcom Father Knows Best, is included here, as the earliest broadcast in the collection, stardate 1954, an era when TV audiences were expanding exponentially in the wake of I Love Lucy.

Titled The Christmas Story, Young’s Jim Anderson laments that his family has never know a “quiet, simple Christmas”, and drags them into the woods on a wintry day, seeking the perfect tree for their parlor. Predictably, the Andersons become stranded during a sudden blizzard, and are rescued, so to speak, by a bearded loner named Nick, who seems utterly delighted to make their acquaintance. When Jim’s WASPy wife – the patrician Jane Wyatt – suggests that they’ll miss the holiday altogether if they can’t get “back to town”, Nick gently reminds her that “It’s Christmas up here, too”. Hmm… what a novel notion!

In A Very Merry Christmas, Donna Stone, doyenne of The Donna Reed Show suffers a an existential crisis upon realizing that her spoiled suburban brood has been seduced by Yuletide consumerist greed, and has her nerves frazzled during a bargain-hunting tug-of-war at the local department store. Proclaiming that “Christmas presents are not something you weigh or measure”, the crusading hausfrau, married to a Rock Hudsonesque physician – don’t smirk - determines to assist in putting on a hospital Xmas bash for sick children, most of which, curiously, are afflicted with the most minor injuries conceivable. No H1N1 here, thank you very much!

I confess I’d never seen McHale’s Navy until now, and frankly haven’t missed much. Evidently a light-hearted take on the US naval presence in Hawaii during the Second World War, this episode titled "The Day They Captured Santa Claus”, is marred by ‘Oriental’ stereotyping, typical of that period – check out Disney’s The Ugly Dachshund or the later The Aristocats – and an avoidance of any unpleasant aspects of warfare, preferring the silly, harmless histrionics depicted in Hogan’s Heroes. I don’t know if any non-holiday episodes touched on Pearl Harbor or the American navy’s arguably imperialist occupation of those islands, but I tend to doubt it.

Freckle-faced perennial Billy Mumy – star of three of the most memorable Twilight Zone tales – appears in “A Vision of Sugar Plums”, a Xmas entry from Bewitched, the longest-running of the Bewitching Blonde sitcoms. As you might expect, young Billy plays a sullen, fatherless boy brought home from an orphanage to spend the holiday with Samantha and Darren. Declaring that “Christmas is a lot of bunk and so is Santa Claus”, you just know that he’ll eventually flash a toothy, warm-hearted grin by the time the end credits roll, especially after Samantha takes him on a magical journey. Of course, everyone’s favorite neighbor, Gladys Kravetz, witnesses – via her living room window – more than she should. Frankly, dear Mrs. Kravetz steals the show, her shrill complaints at their most annoying pitch.

The DVD also features episodes of “hat Girl, The Flying Nun, and the little-seen Window on Main Street, Robert Young’s follow-up to Father Knows Best. I hadn’t seen the Marlo Thomas series in a dog’s age, and she is amusing as Ann Marie, a perpetually perky Snow White-cum-Lois Lane, who channels the sweet, giggly girl-next-door, counterpointing that with a mod cosmopolitan hipness, bringing to mind – in her go-go boots – '60s “It” girls Holly Golightly and Ann-Margret. Is it a coincidence that she’s dubbed “Ann Marie”? And couldn’t you just see her cooing “Santa Baby”?

The overarching theme among these stories is an often unacknowledged tension between affluent postwar consumer culture and a more austere mode of living, rooted in a simplicity made necessary during the Depression and World War II. Let’s also remember, prior to the Crash of ’29, America’s middle class was much smaller, and there were fewer useful items to buy. Most people didn’t own homes, and city dwellers seldom owned cars, as they didn’t need private vehicles – remember trolleys? – and often couldn’t afford them. The America presented in these so-called “Golden Age” sitcoms was an imperial-industrial powerhouse, flexing its muscles, and emotionally frivolous enough to ignore its myriad inner contradictions.

These programs were the product of Jet Age comfort, and they are little more than candy floss, cheesy, innocent entertainment beloved now by nostalgists who miss their own faded youth -- or an idea of someone's faded youth -- far more than they miss any particular TV show. Some would argue that it’s a terrible shame that a society that wields such technological and intellectual might produce such needless fluff. Others might say that the strength of America is found in a populace comfortable enough to sit back and digest these frothy desserts. You can have your cake and eat it, too, but it certainly won’t fill your tummy.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.