Alright, I confess: I’m not the world’s most joyful person come Christmas time. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas. I do… well, sort of… kind of… I certainly like getting gifts… as long as they’re good gifts, that is. But, if I had my druthers, I would completely re-envision the whole Christmas scenario and eliminate the whole religion thing altogether.
Wait, I’m too late for that, aren’t I? Never you mind the whole Christian-holiday-stolen-from-the-Pagans bit, kids — Christmas is all about commercialism now, baby! Merchandising! Hot chicks in elf costumes subtly suggesting you’ll get more than a kiss under the mistletoe if you buy that brand new automobile! Creepy guys in Santa suits asking your children to come sit on their lap! Even creepier guys incessantly ringing those annoying bells outside of stores! (How do they keep from going nuts anyway? Oh, wait, that’s right — they are nuts.) Marking up the cost of goods at the beginning of the fourth quarter and then “slashing” the “regular” prices by 20% so consumers can think they’re saving money on all of the cheap plastic junk they buy on an annual basis! Yes, that’s what Christmas is all about — another triumph for capitalism! Hoorah!
Okay, okay, so I’m not expressing enough holiday cheer here, I know. But I’m a realist, folks, the type of guy who says, “Of course the glass is half empty… you just drank from it! If you had vomited into it instead, then it would be half full!” But that’s really a story for my therapy group. Do me a favor and forget everything I just said. Instead, let’s discuss that one priceless piece of history that not even those money-hungry, mass-merchandising corporations can take away from us — TV Christmas specials.
Now, I myself do not watch a lot of TV. There are currently about 13,972 channels airing entirely different versions of the same thing. Worse still, I have to pay for these channels, just so I can flip through them with the aide of a remote containing no less than 691 buttons and say, “Well, looks like there’s nothing on!”
Ah, but that’s where things have changed, kiddies, and your Uncle Luigi has the proof. It’s called TV Sets: Holiday Treats and it is a collection from CBS/Paramount containing eight classic episodes from eight of CBS’s most memorable sitcoms. Relive those moments of television’s past — without paying $69.99 a month; without flipping through the channels for hours at a time; and, most importantly, without the greedy hands of commercialism creeping in on you and urging you to buy, buy, buy!
All episodes are tightly packed onto one disc and include…
I Love Lucy: "The I Love Lucy Christmas Show" (1956) – directed by James V. Kern. One of television’s earlier “retrospective” shows has Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel reminiscing about the days before and leading up to the birth of Little Ricky (which means stock footage aplenty). The newer segments house all of the Christmas content, including a visit from Santa himself.
Luigi’s Useless Information: The disappearing Santa Claus from this episode was actually featured in a 1951 episode of the iconic show, wherein St. Nick was played by none other than Vernon Dent, whom devoted fans of The Three Stooges should recognize almost immediately.
The Honeymooners: "’Twas The Night Before Christmas" (1955) – directed by Frank Satenstein. Ralph gets the perfect gift for Alice. Uh-oh, it’s a duplicate of something he bought her before! And, with that, Ralph and Norton are in it up to their necks as only Jackie Gleason and Art Carney could do it (if there’s a Comic Heaven, those two are sitting on thrones most assuredly).
Luigi’s Useless Information: No matter what you may think of The Honeymooners, this one is always a good holiday pick — right before you pop in that VHS bootleg of The Star Wars Holiday Special (which also featured Art Carney, albeit a very embarrassed one).
The Andy Griffith Show: "Christmas Story" (1960) – directed by Bob Sweeney. “Oh, Ben… you ol’ softie!” is what my oldest brother repeatedly chuckled once when we saw this episode many moons ago. This Mayberry Christmas tale (which, incidentally, is one of the few Christmas specials that doesn’t draw inspiration from Dickens) finds the good-natured Sheriff Taylor attempting to go home for Christmas, temporarily releasing the equally good-natured lawbreakers with the assurance that they’ll return the day after Christmas. Theoretically a sound plan, but mean ol’ Ben Weaver (Will Wright) has other plans.
Luigi’s Useless Information: Fans of Mayberry favorites Otis, Gomer, Goober, and Floyd the Barber are in for a disappointment if you’re expecting them in this episode — this season one entry was made before most of the cult faves were written into the series, whereas Otis (who was pretty much there from the get-go) simply doesn’t show up in this one (he was passed out somewhere, no doubt).
The Brady Bunch: "The Voice Of Christmas" (1969) – directed by Oscar Rudolph. Oh, dear God, they just had to include an episode of The Brady Bunch, didn’t they? I hate the Brady clan! With a passion! The plastic smiles; unrealistic situations followed by valuable life lessons that never happen in real life; a mentally masochistic maid that actually likes putting up with six blended family hellions, their domestic Betty Crocker mom, and their Fred MacMurray dad. THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN THE REAL WORLD, PEOPLE! Yes, fantasy is fun, but when an entire generation grows up mistakenly believing that this is how their lives would be and winds up breeding Generation X… well, you get my point. I hate The Brady Bunch and the only positive thing I can say about this episode is that it features voice legend Hal Smith as Santa Claus. Unfortunately, you have to look at cute l’il Cindy sitting on him.
Luigi’s Useless Information: Did I tell you how much I hate The Brady Bunch yet?
Taxi: "A Full House For Christmas" (1978) – directed by James Burrows. Louie’s little brother Nick comes to see their ma for the holidays — but he’s a big-time poker player and he starts swindling everyone out of their money instead of visiting his mother. Louie decides to play on his level and has him square off with Alex in a high-stakes game with the company’s receipts.
Luigi’s Useless Information: Taxi was the Cheers of its day (they were created by the same people, after all). And, as truly wonderful as the original casts were, each series really took off with the inclusion of a crazy character: in the case of Taxi, it would be a reverend named Jim. In Cheers, it would be a psychiatrist named Frasier.
Family Ties: "A Keaton Christmas Carol" (1983)– Directed by Will Mackenzie – I think Michael J. Fox’s Alex Keaton sums it up best: “This holiday is a silly, sentimental farce — it’s phony! People just pretend to have this so-called ‘Christmas Spirit’!” The plot of this one is another take on the Dickens tale, with Alex being visited by ghostly apparitions of his family members and given a glimpse of the future, wherein his family are poor and he’s wealthy…and bald (oh, the horror).
Luigi’s Useless Information: Heh, check out Michael J. Fox’s bald cap! Ha, ha, ha, ha!
Frasier: "Miracle On Third Or Fourth Street" (1993) – Directed by James Burrows – When little Frederick can’t make it for the holidays, Frasier turns his back on his father’s plan to go to the cabin in the woods and instead opts to do his self-help talk show on the most depressing day of the year. Frasier is always a good pick, no matter what the season — plus, both Kelsey Grammer and Dan Butler still have a little bit of hair in this Season One episode!
Luigi’s Useless Information: Aww, David Hyde Pierce looked sooooo cute back then!
Wings: "A Terminal Christmas" (1990) – directed by Noam Pitlik. It’s Fay’s first Christmas without her recently deceased husband George. The airport is snowed in. Everyone’s stuck. Deal with it, right? And what better way to combat misery than spending Christmas Day with Tim Daly and Steven Weber? Ouch.
Luigi’s Useless Information: At times, it’s really hard to believe that this show was created by the same people that brought us Cheers, Taxi, and Frasier. Sorry, but it never really struck me as too terribly funny. Oh, well…
All episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the quality varies from episode to episode. Oddly enough, the older Lucy and Andy Griffith shows look more pristine than Family Ties (which was shot on video) and the more recent Wings and Frasier (which just look shot by comparison). Two-channel English sound accompanies each episode of holiday cheer. No subtitles are available, but closed captioning is.
Although they aren’t advertised on the packaging, nor are given any special section of their own, there are some vintage CBS holiday promo bumpers thrown in between each episode. They only run a few seconds long and there are only two of them (which are repeated over and over), but it’s still kind of cute in a way.
There’s also a brief look at the finale from the I Love Lucy episode "Drafted" (which I mentioned earlier) which was thought to be “lost” for several decades. The quality of this scene really shows its age, so no complaining, okay?
The disc’s animated menus also feature some of the retro animation present in the vintage CBS bumpers.
Okay, so time to weigh it all out, folks. Is TV Sets: Holiday Treats a good pick or not? Well, yes, it’s a good pick! Sure, some of these specials might downright blow (*cough*Brady Bunch*cough*), but the pros definitely weigh out the cons, people! Plus, with an MSRP of $12.98, it is without a doubt the most inexpensively generous gift you can buy this year without giving in to the Spirit Of Consumerism… or any year for that matter.
Besides, you gotta have something else besides Santa Claus Conquers The Martians to watch every year, right?