Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday and the last of a two-week Rerun series, designed to give yours truly a quick reprieve before we launch back into regular programming. Once again, I’m excited to resurrect another currently relevant post from this blog’s nearly eight-year run!
As before, I’ll provide a link to the original piece and then offer a bit of updated commentary. But please be gentle. This early article is from my first year blogging, and standards have changed as I’ve changed — I’ve improved as a thinker, a communicator, and a television-watcher.
Let’s revisit… The Ten Best Episodes of THE HONEYMOONERS’ Classic 39 https://jacksonupperco.com/2013/08/06/the-ten-best-episodes-of-the-honeymooners-classic-39/
Frankly, I’m mostly rerunning this post to set the figurative table for Get Smart, because Leonard Stern counted The Honeymooners as his first foray into the sitcom genre (after having written for Milton Berle and Abbott & Costello before joining Jackie Gleason’s variety show in 1953), and making an association between this great scribe’s two most famous credits is helpful in shaping our view of both. However, I said what I had to say about The Honeymooners in last year’s essay on the two forms of situation comedy as established in the 1950s. So, since the record has already been updated, I’m going to keep my comments brief and instead urge you to check out that piece again, where the important takeaway is, even when packaged as a half-hour sitcom, The Honeymooners’ origins as a sketch are clear, with single-dimensional characterizations either defined by a superseding star persona or the limited narrative structure itself — not to mention a sense of humor more sustained by the premise, or its funny ideas, as opposed to emotionally identifiable plot-pushing regulars. That is, like all sketch comedy, The Honeymooners is predicated more on narrative suggestions than well-developed characters, and while these “Classic 39” refine their image of the iconic Ralph Kramden and thus make the best case for this format, their character work is shallow in contrast to, say, I Love Lucy’s, as there’s less of a precise link between Ralph’s definition and the generation of story. And yet, thanks to The Honeymooners (and The Phil Silvers Show, for which Stern also wrote), this style of sitcommery was creatively formative and we can see it in every era, including the narratively loud ’60s, with shows that also claim strong personalities (like Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart), but are nevertheless similarly led by their premises. Also, Stern’s understanding of the genre as built by The Honeymooners is felt in his later series, for whether he’s shepherding the high-concept parody shtick of Get Smart and Run, Buddy, Run or the low-concept quasi-realism of the slapsticky I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster and the silly-meets-sophisticated He & She, both of which balance this looser idea-driven comic aesthetic with a growing sincerity/depth of character, his years on The Honeymooners, and the sketch-based comedy it exemplifies, remain evident.
As for the Classic 39, they are indeed classic, due to indelible performances and a rich supply of comic thoughts, which, unlike the sketches of both the 1950s and ’60s, also typically function with a little more dramatic weight, especially when they’re able to employ an obvious objective for Ralph and/or maximize his flaws for conflict. Accordingly, while over half of this single-season run is funny enough to be considered great (or better), the best of the best is clear, and my top ten list from 2013 would be 90% the same today (see the graphic above)… Meanwhile, with regard to Get Smart, although the latter’s dependency on stories that reinforce its high-concept premise may make it seem relatively inconsistent and NOT immediately comparable to the low-concept The Honeymooners, its satirical premise and slapstick-laden plots, all anchored by a larger-than-life personality, are both comedically reminiscent and dramatically adherent to this same idea-driven modus operandi. In fact, Get Smart might as well be a sketch itself — it was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, after all — and… Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. With this conception of Get Smart percolating, I’ll leave you again until next week…
Come back next week for the start of Get Smart! And stay tuned Tuesday for a new Wildcard!