Judge Patrick Naugle aspires to be a wacky neighbor.
Our reviews of The Color Honeymooners: Collection 1 (published June 27th, 2006), The Color Honeymooners: Collection 2 (published March 10th, 2008), The Color Honeymooners: Collection 3 (published May 21st, 2008), The Color Honeymooners: Collection 4 (published August 20th, 2008), The Honeymooners (published December 8th, 2005), The Honeymooners: The Classic 39 Episodes (published November 25th, 2003), and The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes (The Complete Restored Series 1951-1957) (published November 8th, 2011) are also available.
"To the moon, Alice!"
There are very few TV shows that survive the ravages of time. Want proof? Take a look online at some of the television shows that were released during the medium's infancy. Sure, there are bunch of now classics on the list—I Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Show, The Ed Sullivan Show—but there are even more shows that have been lost over the years because audiences either don't remember them, or they just weren't very good to begin with. With the inception of cable—as well as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other venues for original content—more and more brand new shows are being released each year, and that means more and more that will be forgotten in the intervening years. It's a rare television series that can capture an audience's attention and hold it not only through the original broadcast run, but in reruns, on home video, and beyond. Jackie Gleason's immortal classic The Honeymooners is that kind of show.
The Honeymooners, created by star Jackie Gleason, was based on recurring sketch of the same name (and loosely inspired by the radio program "The Bickersons") that originally aired on the DuMont network's Cavalcade of Stars. Eventually it would move to CBS's The Jackie Gleason Show, where the skits became immensely popular. Although the tone and feel of the original sketches were much darker, when The Honeymooners first aired 1 October 1955, things had lightened up considerably. The series starred "The Great One", Jackie Gleason, as the gruff but lovable bus driver Ralph Kramden, living in a run down Brooklyn apartment with his levelheaded and very, very patient wife, Alice (played for the first seven episodes by Pert Kelton, then replaced by Audrey Meadows). Their neighbors were Alice's best friend, Trixie Norton (Joyce Randolph) and her husband, Ed (Art Carney), who worked for the New York sewer department. They were neighbors and friends, and by the end of the show's run, they felt like part of the home viewer's family.
Viewers immediately fell in love with the Kramdens and the Nortons, seeing their own lives reflected in the lives of the comedic foursome. The Honeymooners would last for one single season, with Gleason deciding to pull the plug after airing only 39 episodes. On 26 September 1956, the final episode aired with Gleason noting, "The excellence of the material could not be maintained, and I had too much fondness for the show to cheapen it." Over the next six decades, The Honeymooners ran constantly on reruns and eventually earned it status as one of the Golden Age of television's greatest success stories. Although the characters would pop up occasionally in various revivals, these Classic 39 Episodes are what stand as Gleason's television legacy.
What can possibly be said about The Honeymooners that hasn't been said a thousand times before, and six different ways to Sunday? The show has become immortalized in pop culture with phrases like, "One of these days…POW! Right in the kisser!" or "Straight to the moon, Alice!" Even if you haven't seen the show before, the characters are instantly recognizable by either their names or their likenesses. All four actors—Gleason, Carney, Meadows, and Randolph—had an immense chemistry with each other, which spilled out from the screen. Gleason and Carney were especially amusing, the twosome playing off each other like ping pong balls in glass jar. Witness one scene where the duo argues over a new TV set and which program to watch, only to fall asleep together while watching a Charlie Chan film. It doesn't sound that funny in print, but on TV it was both endlessly amusing and filled with small bits of warmth that made The Honeymooners that much more special of a show.
When the package says "Classic 39", they mean it. Not a single episode in this set is a dud. From Ralph having to pawn his bowling ball so he can buy Alice a holiday present ("Twas the Night Before Christmas") to Ralph ending up on a game show ("The $99,000 Answer"), all of these episodes feature moments and one-liners that are worth waiting for. Jackie Gleason had the impressive ability to make Ralph both somewhat loathsome (let's be honest: he threatens his wife with domestic violence…a lot) and yet lovable at the same time. Maybe that's because deep down it's clear that Ralph is really just a big teddy bear who wouldn't hurt a fly. Art Carney gives the goofy Ed just the right mix of zaniness and pathos, paving the way for such future sidekicks as Kramer from Seinfeld. Although it feels like Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph sometimes take a backseat to the men's shenanigans, the women are still able to hold their own which is impressive considering the mid-1950s was not the most friendly towards women displaying independence.
Each episode of The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Episodes is presented in 1.33:1/1080p full frame, black and white high definition. Fans of this series have been waiting a long time to get all of these classic episodes in high def, and their wait was definitely worth it. It's clear from the start that Paramount has really put time and effort into this set to make sure the image quality is as good as they can make it look. While there is some grain to be found here (this is, after all, a very old show), it's natural and not at all obtrusive to the viewing of the show. The black and white image is often crisp and clean without any major defects marring the image. Fans of the series should be happy with the way each of these episodes turned out. The LPCM 2.0 lossless mixes are good, but certainly not great. The age of The Honeymooners shows in the sound quality; while each mix features solid dialogue and music, there's little else here to get excited about. Also included on this set are English SDH subtitles.
Bonus features include some promos for the show, some featurettes on Jackie Gleason ("60 Minutes' Jackie Gleason Profile", "60 Minutes' Jackie Gleason Profile Outtakes"), a bonus episode ("The Adoption"), a 50th Anniversary special hosted by Kevin James and featuring rare footage, a 35th Anniversary Special with interviews of the surviving cast members, a "Person to Person" segment with Jackie Gleason interviewing a real life bus driver, and a twenty minute long commercial for the '56 Buick featuring Jackie Gleason.
The Honeymooners: Classic 39 Episodes is indispensable viewing for anyone interested in the history of television. You can see the fingerprints of the show all over many current and past sitcoms, and my guess is the series will continue its influence over television for years to come.
Still swooning six decades later.
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