An odd but welcome jumble of Christmas-themed sitcom episodes, the peculiarly titled Christmas Treats - T.V. Sets (What does that mean?) samples nine CBS-Paramount-controlled titles from the 1960s through the early '80s, more than three-and-a-half hours' worth, on a single dual-layered DVD.
The appeal of the set largely depends on the viewer's personal tastes; perhaps like me you'll enjoy some of the shows while finding others tepid and dull. It's hard to imagine fans of Cheers also eager to watch a Christmas-themed Mork & Mindy or Love, American Style. It would have made more sense for CBS-Paramount to release a set of '50s and '60s shows on one DVD, and another set of '70s and '80s shows as a separate release. Some obvious titles, such as I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners Christmas episodes, as well as classic TV dramas with holiday-themed shows, such as Twilight Zone's "Night of the Meek," have been overlooked. (The latter is owned by CBS but currently distributed by Image.) Classic TV fans would probably most like to see Christmas episodes from shows not yet out on DVD at all.
(The Warner Archive Collection has an even more bizarre mishmash of "Classic Christmas" episodes available, featuring such incompatible fare as Dr. Kildare and Veronica's Closet.)
In any case, this is harmless enough, and I even enjoyed revisiting a few terrible shows I hadn't seen in 35 years or more.
Included are the following episodes, in chronological order:
The Lucy Show - "Together for Christmas" (originally aired 12/24/62)
Petticoat Junction - "Cannonball Christmas" (12/24/63)
The Beverly Hillbillies - "Christmas with the Clampetts" (12/25/63)
The Odd Couple - "Scrooge Gets an Oscar" (12/17/70)
Love, American Style - "Love and the Christmas Punch" (11/17/72)
Happy Days - "Richie Branches Out" (12/07/76)
Mork & Mindy - "Mork's First Christmas" (12/13/78)
Laverne & Shirley - "O Come All Ye Burns" (12/19/78)
Cheers - "The Spy Who Came In For a Cold One" (12/16/82)
I personally found the four older episodes more enjoyable than the five later ones. The Lucy Show episode is pretty clever, with Lucy Carmichael (Lucille Ball) and new housemate Vivian Bagley (Vivian Vance) discovering they have completely incompatible Christmas traditions: one opens presents Christmas Eve, the other on Christmas morning; one insists on an all-white fake tree, the other on a real green one, etc. It's a funny and, by Lucy Show standards, atypically insightful.
I'm not particularly fond of The Beverly Hillbillies or Petticoat Junction but both of these are worthwhile. The former, the long-running comedy about a backwoods family transplanted to Beverly Hills when "black gold, Texas tea" is discovered on their land, somehow lasted nine seasons*. This early episode, when the series was still relatively fresh, has several laugh-out-loud moments, with the bemused Clampetts trying to make sense of the elaborate gifts given them by greedy banker Mr. Drysdale (Raymond Bailey). Granny (Irene Ryan) thinks their new TV set is some kind of washing machine. When she turns it on shots of a lake seem to confirm her suspicions, but when water-skiers appear she completely freaks out. And when Elly Mae (Donna Douglas) captures a live mink to give to Mrs. Drysdale, Jed (Buddy Ebsen) asks, "You didn't by any chance steal this critter, did you?"
Elly: No, sir!
Jed: Well, I know'd you hadn't, but, Mrs. Drysdale made such a point of it. She said she didn't want no mink stole!
The Petticoat Junction episode is pleasant but unmemorable until the end when, breaking from the usual sitcom form, the last several minutes consist entirely of shots of the Hooterville Cannonball train, decorated with Christmas lights, riding the rails at night while its passengers sing Christmas carols. This episode features character veterans Charles Lane and Frank Cady, as well as B-Western stars Edgar Buchanan (Hopalong Cassidy's ex-sidekick), Smiley Burnette (Gene Autry's ex-sidekick) and former Mesquiteer Rufe Davis.
The remaining shows are no better than fair with "Love and the Christmas Punch," a 14-minute segment from Love, American Style embarrassingly bad. Henry Gibson plays a deliveryman caught in a lame farce of drunken Christmas revelry, in a segment featuring Ann Miller, John McGiver, and E.J. Peaker. "Scrooge Gets an Oscar" is a pretty good Odd Couple riff on the Dickens classic though it comes from that show's first season, before it switched to a three-camera show before a live audience, and thus lacks the energy from which stars Tony Randall and Jack Klugman derived their performances.
Like The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley were all Garry Marshall shows. They were huge hits initially - and unlike The Odd Couple have all aged very badly. The Happy Days show is particularly weak and barely qualifies as a Christmas show, with Richie (Ron Howard) trying to con his way into meeting the model on a poster promoting a soft drink. It's unfunny and predictable, with the grating laugh track on overdrive. Hard to believe there was a time when kids thought "The Fonz" (Henry Winkler) the coolest thing since James Bond. The Laverne & Shirley episode is a bit better, with a superior supporting cast (Phil Foster, Betty Garrett, Michael McKean, etc.) and more old-fashioned physical humor, but it's nothing special. "Mork's First Christmas," gets schmaltzy at the end but chiefly operates as a vehicle for rising star Robin Williams's unique brand of manic stand-up humor. Filmed near the peak of the show's popularity, the cast seems to be enjoying themselves and co-star Pam Dawber (as Mindy) can't hide her amusement watching Williams's antics.
Like "Richie Branches Out," the Cheers episode "The Spy Who Came In For a Cold One" has a Christmastime setting but that's about it. Its story, about a customer at the Boston bar "where everyone knows your name" pretending to be a spy, then a poet, and then a millionaire, is a bland first season episode, before the series found its groove, and plays predictable and uninteresting today.
Video & Audio
Except for the Love, American Style segment, derived from an obviously older video master, the Christmas Treats shows generally look great in their original full-frame format. The black and white episodes are all look clean and crisp, and the color '70s shows look better than they probably did during their original airings and certainly better than their original syndication versions. To my surprise, the 1982 episode of Cheers was in full stereo. The region 1 disc is closed-captioned. There are no Extra Features.
This is the kind of thing that's ideal to run as white noise during a big Christmas party, on a small, out-of-the-way TV nestled in a corner somewhere. There are only a couple of episodes worth sitting down and actually watching but overall this is good for a few scattered laughs. Rent It.
*And, as several readers have pointed out, probably would have lasted several more had it not fallen victim to CBS's "rural purge" of still-popular but demographically undesirable shows in the early 1970s.
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.