The Ten Best Episodes of THE HONEYMOONERS’ Classic 39

Welcome to another Situation Comedy Tuesday! Following our seven-week coverage of the best episodes from Lucille Ball’s first two series, I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, today we’re highlighting the best half-hour episodes of the second best sitcom of the 1950’s — The Honeymooners. 

Ralph Kramden is a New York bus driver who dreams of a better life. With his eccentric good friend, Ed Norton, the sewer worker, Ralph constantly finds himself involved in a bevy of crackpot schemes. All the while, his exasperated wife, Alice, is there to bring him down to earth (or pick him up, if he beats her to it). For as much as they fight, even big-mouth Ralph knows that, his baby, she’s the greatest.

The Honeymooners stars JACKIE GLEASON as Ralph Kramden, ART CARNEY as Ed Norton, AUDREY MEADOWS as Alice Kramden, and JOYCE RANDOLPH as Trixie Norton.

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The Honeymooners had an interesting history. It originally began as a sketch on the 1951-1952 season of DuMont’s Cavalcade of Stars. Most sketches were under ten minutes and featured the iconic foursome minus Audrey Meadows, whose role in this first year was played by Pert Kelton. For the following season, Jackie Gleason moved to CBS for The Jackie Gleason Show, and The Honeymooners went with him. Kelton was replaced by Meadows and the sketches played on the Gleason Show for the next three years (until the summer of 1955). By then the sketches had stretched to about 40 minutes in length and were undoubtedly the highlight of every show. For that reason, Gleason dispensed with his variety show for the 1955-1956 season, and instead committed to a single year of filmed half-hour episodes of The Honeymooners. These episodes, which for a while were the only ones seen in syndication, became known as “The Classic 39.” After this initial season was completed, Gleason declined to continue with The Honeymooners, opting instead to return for another year of The Jackie Gleason Show. Once again, The Honeymooners sketches went with him. But as Gleason’s show ended in 1957, so did The Honeymooners… for the time being. Over the next two decades, Gleason brought back the Kramdens and Nortons in a slew of skectches, specials, and even a new series. But without Meadows and Randolph, the series was never quite the same. The best Honeymooners stuff comes from the ’50s and that’s what I’ll be covering here on That’s Entertainment! 

Today I’ll cover the best from The Classic 39 and over the next two weeks, I’ll cover the best from the 1951-1957 sketches. The Classic 39, along with the 1954-1955 sketches, make up the best of The Honeymooners, so this list was a little challenging to make. But I have picked eleven episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might WILL be a few surprises.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of The Honeymooners’ Classic 39. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)

*Each episode of the Classic 39 was directed by Frank Satenstein.

 

01) Episode 3: “The Golfer” (Aired: 10/15/55)

Ralph pretends to be an expert golfer in order to get a promotion. But when his boss asks him to play, Ralph must learn quickly.

Written by A.J. Russell & Herbert Finn

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The highlight of the episode and the reason it’s one of the season’s best is the sequence where Ralph tries to learn the game of golf. From the initial sight gag of Ralph in his golfing attire, to Alice walking in at the most inopportune time, to Norton’s attempts to “address the ball”, and Ralph’s rabid swing that knocks the pans off the kitchen stove, there are non-stop laughs. This is a funny episode with lots of physical bits for Gleason. (Episodes like these are usually winners.)

02) Episode 5: “A Matter Of Life And Death” (Aired: 10/29/55) 

Ralph worries that he has only six months to live, after reading a report that, unbeknownst to him, is actually referring to his mother-in-law’s dog.

Written by Marvin Marx & Walter Stone

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This is one of two Classic 39 episodes that were adapted from sketches. In this one, Ralph reads a vet report for his mother-in-law’s sick dog and comes to the conclusion that HE only has six months to live. This episode features a classic misunderstanding with some truly hilarious bits, but extends beyond the sketch as Ralph tries to sell his story to a magazine. Funny and well-written, the best stuff occurs in the first half with Ralph and Norton reading the report.

03) Episode 7: “Better Living Through TV” (Aired: 11/12/55) 

Ralph’s newest get-rich-quick scheme is to sell an all-purpose kitchen gadget. With Norton’s assistance, Ralph plans to demonstrate it on live TV, but his  last-minute stage fright may ruin the commercial.

Written by Marvin Marx & Walter Stone

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One of my all-time favorites! Ralph has a new scheme: selling “Handy Housewife Helpers” — an all-purpose kitchen utensil. Despite Alice’s protests, Ralph and Ed go on live TV and attempt to sell their product in a commercial spot. As to be expected, things go disastrously. Incidentally, Ralph’s falling into the wall and knocking it over was an unscripted bit that naturally happened in front of the audience. One of the best sitcom episodes of all time, it will leave you with one question: “But can it core a apple?”

04) Episode 15: “A Matter Of Record” (Aired: 01/07/56) 

Alice leaves Ralph after he kicks her mother out of the apartment. To make up, Ralph cuts a record of apology.

Written by A.J. Russell & Herbert Finn

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This episode features Ralph at his most angriest and his most pussycat-est. One of Gleason’s best explosions EVER occurs when he times how long it will take his mother-in-law to insult him without his saying a word. When she does as he expects, he furiously bursts and calls her a “BLABBERMOUTH!” in one of the most side-spliting moments of the series. Later Ralph tries to make good by recording an apology. As much as I like seeing angry Ralph, it’s also nice to see him to do his puppy dog bit too. Very funny episode. Great for first time viewers!

05) Episode 18: “The $99,000 Answer” (Aired: 01/28/56) 

Ralph spends a week learning popular songs to win the jackpot on The $99,000 Answer. 

Written by Leonard Stern & Syndey Zelinka

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Ah, this episode is often included in lists of the best sitcom episodes of all time. A great premise: Ralph prepares to go on a “Name That Tune” type of show and hopes to win $99,000. He studies up all week, only to, as you might expect, have his dreams come crashing down in a hilariously tragic, and brilliantly unexpected way. This is a great episode and a lot of people’s favorite, but I would maybe only put it in my top five. (I like episodes that give Gleason the chance to do large physical bits better.) Still, this is a brilliant episode that plays best on its first viewing.

06) Episode 20: “Young At Heart” (Aired: 02/11/56)

Ralph and Ed try to prove to their wives that they can still do all the things they used to do when they were younger.

Written by Marvin Marx & Walter Stone

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This is one of the series’s best episodes. The wives complain that the husbands don’t engage them in the things — dancing and skating — that they used to. So Ralph and Ed, in the episode’s best bit, practice their dancing to a record of “The Hucklebuck”. Gleason, a musical comedy man, is truly a hoot when he gets opportunities like these. Another great bit finds Ralph and the gang at the skating rink. But underneath all the shtick, however, is some real truth (that fortunately never plays too syrupy). This is a funny and great episode for first time viewers!

07) Episode 23: “Mama Loves Mambo” (Aired: 03/03/56) 

A dance instructor moves next door to the Kramdens and teaches all the wives in the building to do the mambo, at their husbands’ collective expense.

Written by Marvin Marx & Walter Stone

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Here’s another dancing episode! Carlos Sanchez moves next door and teaches all the wives to mambo. The husbands don’t like it, so they decide the best way to handle the situation is to learn to mambo themselves. The best part of the episode is the dancing lesson, and the rest of the show falls comparatively flat. Still, this is a popular episode with a plenty of laughs.

08) Episode 27: “Head Of The House” (Aired: 03/31/56) 

Ralph has told a newspaper that he is the head of his household and is forced to prove it to a co-worker of his.

Written by Leonard Stern & Syndey Zelinka

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This episode’s premise is interesting, but it never quite lives up to its full potential. That’s no bother, however, as this episode features a HYSTERICAL scene in which Ralph and Norton get drunk on non-alcoholic grape juice (à la Blotto). Apparently most of the dialogue was ad-libbed on the spot as Gleason and Carney veered from the script. The live theatricality of this show is one of its most appealing traits, and this episode features a brilliant scene that capitalizes on that electricity.

09) Episode 33: “Unconventional Behavior” (Aired: 05/12/56) 

Ralph and Norton are sure to be a riot at the annual Raccoon convention… if they ever manage to get out of Norton’s trick handcuffs!

Written by Marvin Marx & Walter Stone

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Okay, many sitcoms have done this plot: I Love Lucy, Three’s Company, December Bride, Frasier, etc. There’s nothing incredibly new added here, but Gleason, partially because of his build, makes even the most routine bits 100x funnier. The script is nothing special; most of the laughs come from Norton and Ralph handcuffed together. But this is a very funny, if predictable episode.

10) Episode 38: “Dial J For Janitor” (Aired: 09/15/56) 

After several janitors have quit working in his building, Ralph decides to take on the job himself. But he finds it a lot tougher and more complicated than he thought it would be.

Written by A.J. Russell & Herbert Finn

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I love this episode. The premise builds logically and comes to a funny, but not incredibly ridiculous climax. Ralph takes on the role of janitor, and in the hope of efficiency, he installs a phone specifically for janitorial emergencies. Of course, it rings non-step (to Ralph’s hilarious chagrin). The climax has Ralph going to down to the basement and getting horizontally wedged in between two pipes. This episode features a great story, with lots of funny bits. Just a solidly entertaining episode.

 

I’m sure many fans will be surprised at my list; there are many good episodes that could have been included. But come back next week as I cover the best Honeymooners sketches from 1951-1954.

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Remember to tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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11 thoughts on “The Ten Best Episodes of THE HONEYMOONERS’ Classic 39

  1. Pingback: Jackson Introduces The MVE Awards | THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!

  2. You pegged one and forgot one. The $99,000 answer demonstrates Norton’s necessity in play the intro to Suwannee River before every song, Hilarious! And my all time favorite episode is called ‘Peacemaker’ where Norton sets the Alarm Clock incorrectly and Ralph makes it all the way down to the corner before returning to the apartment for revenge!

  3. Hi, I would like to find out what your top 20 episodes are from the Classic 39 and if you have a top 3 all time favorite that would be great too! Thanks -Kaylie

    • Hi, Kaylie! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      This was one of the first series I covered on Sitcom Tuesdays. If I were writing this post today, not only would my thoughts be more detailed, but I probably would have chosen 13 favorites, as opposed to just ten.

      My top three probably are:

      01) “Better Living Through TV”
      02) “Young At Heart”
      03) “The $99,000 Answer”

      And then four through ten, which are included above (and listed below in airing order):

      04) “The Golfer”
      05) “A Matter Of Life And Death”
      06) “A Matter Of Record”
      07) “Mama Loves Mambo”
      08) “Head Of The House”
      09) “Unconventional Behavior”
      10) “Dial J For Janitor”

      These three would also make the list if I compiled it today (again, listed below in airing order):

      11) “Hello, Mom”
      12) “Oh, My Aching Back”
      13) “Pardon My Glove”

      Then these would fill out 14-20:
      14) “TV Or Not TV”
      15) “Funny Money”
      16) “A Woman’s Work Is Never Done”
      17) “The Sleepwalker”
      18) “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”
      19) “A Dog’s Life”
      20) “Please Leave The Premises”

  4. Thank you so much! I work for CBS and I am taking stills from the show to put in an upcoming calendar. I will use your list as a starting point for an 18 month calendar, one photo from each episode and a few others!

    • Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      You really can’t go wrong with one of the Classic 39, but I admit to not liking the majority of the crime oriented episodes/sketches. The threat of actual danger isn’t a great source of comedy, as far as I’m concerned, so I’m not wild about this installment.

  5. Hi-I loved and still laugh soon much when Alice gets a dog and Ralph and Norton mistake dog food for a mystery appetizer. When the worker in Mr Marshall’s office says Hey this is dog food and they all spit it out and Ralph soon faints cracks me up. Thanks for your enjoyable website.

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