MPI has scrounged around their previous The Doris Day Show disc collections to come up with Doris Day - Christmas Memories, a slim gathering of the three Christmas-themed episodes from her 1968-1973 CBS sitcom. Fans who already own Seasons Two, Three, and Four of The Doris Day Show (from which these episodes were pulled) will have to decide whether or not the added extras here make double-dipping for this disc an option. There is another commentary track by the wonderful Day herself, along with some nice newsreel and audio bonuses that Day fanatics (I count myself a big fan, as well) may well deem absolutely necessary.
I've written extensively on Seasons Four and Five of The Doris Day Show (please click here for my review of Season Four, and here for the Season Five review), so I'm not going to get into any long background on the show. Suffice it to say, The Doris Day Show, while always interesting whenever the incomparable Day showed just a tenth of her megawatt talent and charm, was a fairly forgettable, featherweight series that's interesting today primarily for literally embodying the infamous transition CBS incorporated with their successful sitcoms in the late 1960s. Abruptly cancelling "anything with a tree in it," such as Nielsen stalwarts Green Acres and Mayberry, R.F.D. (with their "undesirable" rural, older-skewing demographics), in favor of more youth-oriented demos for urban-centered comedies like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family, The Doris Day Show landed right on the cusp of that network policy shift, and the series was altered - year after year - accordingly. And not to the show's benefit.
While the first season of The Doris Day Show had Doris Martin, a widower with two sons, Billy and Toby (Philip Brown and Todd Starke), moving back to her father Buck's (Denver Pyle) rustic Northern California ranch, Season Two saw Doris leaving the ranch daily for excursions into San Francisco, where she worked as a secretary for the editor of Today's World magazine, Michael Nicholson (McLean Stevenson). Ladies man/writer Ron Harvey (Paul Smith) and best friend and co-office worker Myrna Gibbons (Rose Marie) helped keep Doris entertained during her work day. Season Three saw yet another change, with Doris leaving the ranch with her boys, and moving into a San Francisco apartment, with landlords Angie and Louie Pallucci (Kaye Ballard and Bernie Kopell), and fussy, obnoxious next-door-neighbor Willard Jarvis (Billy De Wolfe) joining Doris' extended family. Season Four would yet again significantly alter the show's format, bizarrely wiping out Doris' entire family as if they never existed, and making her a single career girl, working now as a writer at Today's World for new boss, blowhard Cyril Bennett (John Dehner), with new office buddy Jackie Parker (Jackie Joseph). Absolutely no explanation was given for this rather remarkable transformation (and honestly, how could they have explained it, anyway?), a change in format which would stay consistent for the final fifth season (by which time viewers had steadily disappeared, no doubt thoroughly confused by the ever-morphing The Doris Day Show).
You can get a good idea of how those bizarre format changes altered the series (for the worse) when you watch the Doris Day - Christmas Memories collection, with its sample episodes from Seasons Two, Three, and Four. And frankly, after watching the first two offerings, I was a little disappointed I didn't originally get to review the earlier seasons of the series - because they clearly play better than the last two seasons I reviewed. The first Christmas episode here (apparently, there was no specific holiday-themed episode from Season One, which seems odd), A Two Family Christmas from Season Two, finds Doris inviting, at father Buck's suggestion, Michael, Ron and Myrna to Buck's ranch for an old-fashioned family Christmas. However, at Today's World's office Christmas party (where some of the employees get up to some extremely mild, G-rated shenanigans), all three tell Doris they have other plans - all of which sound far more exotic and exciting than Doris' family gathering. At home with Buck and the boys, Doris is surprised by some carolers, who of course, turn out to be her office chums who on second thought, decided Christmas is about family, and turn up at Doris' door.
Prior to reviewing Seasons Four and Five, I hadn't seen any of the earlier seasons of The Doris Day Show (except as a small boy, and I didn't remember it very well, at all), so A Two Family Christmas was a pleasant surprise for me. It's impossible to judge an entire season by one episode, but I must say I did enjoy the presence of the talented Denver Pyle as Doris' father, Buck - and I would imagine the first three seasons were better with his inclusion. It would seem, at first, a strange mix - Pyle's earthy rancher father character and single career mother Day - but it works here, mostly on the strength of Pyle's gameness and rustic appeal, and his good chemistry with Day. The episode itself starts off rather shakily, with the office party a bit of a comedic dud, but once the action shifts to the ranch, A Two Family Christmas becomes a charming outing, with the screenwriters abandoning, basically, any attempt at a "story" to present a series of Christmas tableaus as the Martins and their guests enjoy the holiday. The episode, quite nicely, just...ends, when, after the gifts have been opened on Christmas morning, and everyone is enjoying hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts, Doris Day steps out of character, and addresses the home audience directly, wishing them "happiness, peace, and much, much love." It's a beautifully understated moment, simply and sincerely delivered by Day.
It's Christmas Time in the City, from Season Three, finds Doris now living in her gorgeously-designed San Francisco apartment, and planning a quiet little Christmas party for her family and friends. Michael, Myrna and Ron are back, as our Buck and the boys, along with landlords Angie and Louie Palluci. Of course, even the slightest bit of noise is unacceptable to Scrooge neighbor Mr. Jarvis, who, after frequent entreaties to stop the party, warns he'll call the police the next time he hears any noise. When Doris suggests the partygoers switch to singing some Christmas carols, the old softie Mr. Jarvis, hearing the beautiful music (Doris gets to solo on Silver Bells), melts and goes down to join the party. Directed by Denver Pyle, It's Christmas Time in the City moves fairly quickly, and it's quite a bit more funny than the previous episode, with Paul Smith getting the biggest laughs with his crazy dancing. If it feels less of a "family," "Christmas-y" effort than the first episode, it does end as A Two Family Christmas does, with Doris breaking the fourth wall to step out of character and address the audience once again, to wish them again, happiness, peace and much love.
The third and final episode here, Whodunnit, Doris? from Season Four, is an unmitigated disaster of a Christmas episode that eschews entirely any of the holiday or family feelings that were present in the first two Christmas episodes. For some unexplained reason, Doris is almost-witness to a murder (yep, a holiday murder) by someone dressed up as Santa Claus - which of course prompts Doris to try and solve the case (and almost get killed in the bargain). How anyone thought this episode was worthy of a Christmas framework - or worthy of filming in any context, for that matter - is anybody's guess, but its extremely poor quality is indicative of the overall shoddy fourth season of The Doris Day Show. It's bad enough that the episode shows "Santa Claus" not only killing someone but holding down a gun on Doris (just what the kiddies turning in with their families wanted to see, I'll bet), but the protracted, seemingly endless denouement between Doris and guest Charles Nelson Reilly (sans toupe!) has got to be seen to be believed. It is dreary. Since Doris Martin's family has been erased from her character's history, there can't be any of that "family" spirit in the episode, but did the show have to be so crass and unfunny with the little plot it was left with? Even worse, the final spoofy ending, where Doris makes a face watching "herself," "Doris Day" (Cy and Doris Martin are watching TV, when the final clip from It's Christmas Time in the City comes on, with "Doris Day" giving her holiday wish), pretty much negates the good feelings Day brought to the first two episodes. A truly terrible episode, and an embarrassing one to end the Doris Day - Christmas Memories disc.
The full-frame, 1.33:1 video transfers for Doris Day - Christmas Memories appear to be the same transfers from the original season releases. MPI doesn't have the best track record with their video fidelity, and it's obvious that no restoration has been attempted on these prints. Colors are somewhat faded, with a blown-out, contrasty look at times, while scratches and dirt do occasionally crop up. Image sharpness isn't the greatest, either.
The English 2.0 mono audio track accurately reflects the original broadcast presentation, although the levels seem a bit on the low side. Dialogue is clear, but I would imagine that fans of Ms. Day would have loved to hear her sing in stereo here.
First up is another uncomfortable commentary track with Doris Day and Jim Pierson (they did two tracks for Season Five, as well), discussing It's Christmas Time in the City. Day, sounding great, pretty much refuses to elaborate on any of Pierson's queries (which are fairly useless, anyway). There's a hilarious moment when Pierson, bugging her with an annoying question, gets swatted down by an obviously irritated Day who says, "Pardon me? I'm listening to this! I'm enjoying this!" That reprimand goes unheeded by Pierson, who continues on with his bogus line of inquiry, quizzing Day on Mr. Jarvis' first name (it's Willard), bringing up the 1971 movie of the same name - to a totally non-plused Day. Next, Vintage Doris Day Newsreel Footage, running 9:46, shows various Warner Pathe newsreels of Doris involved with holiday promotions, including Toys for Tots and the Gift Lift program, as well as non-Christmas functions such as film premieres for Pillow Talk and Midnight Lace. Doris Day Show Highlights from Radio, taken from her Christmas radio show in 1952, features a duet with Jimmy Boyd on Jingle Bells, and Jack Kirkwood and Don Wilson helping Doris out on Hark the Herald Angels Sing. It runs 22:08. Silent Night Montage, running a short 1:19, features Doris singing Silent Night again (from the previous radio show), over a montage of black and white stills of the star (as with the previous extra, as well). Doris Day Christmas TV Promos, running 1:48, is an audio take of Day wishing her TV viewers a Merry Christmas. And Original Sponsor Bumpers, running a scant :30, features The Doris Day Show ad bumpers for Biz and Ivory Liquid Soap.
Only the additional bonus features, including another Doris Day commentary track, should spur on viewers who already own Seasons Two, Three, and Four of The Doris Day Show, to pick up Doris Day - Christmas Memories, which gathers together all three of the Christmas episodes produced for that series. The first two episodes are quite charming, but the third, from Season Four, is a disaster, so non-Day fanatics should rent Doris Day - Christmas Memories first, to see if it's to their holiday liking.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.