A quartet of iconic characters nearly 60 years removed from their run head back to the small screen with the Blu-ray release of ‘The Honeymooners.’ It’s the return of Ralph and Alice Kramden, the first working-class Americans to find their way to television in the 1950s; a bickering husband and wife that would set the stage for so many others to come.
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The memorable series ran for just one season – but what a season! ‘The Classic 39,’ as they have come to be known, were helped and shaped tremendously, of course, by a lengthy lead up. Debuting as a six-minute sketch on ‘Cavalcade of Stars’ starring Jackie Gleason, ‘The Honeymooners' skit moved to ‘The Jackie Gleason Show’ in 1952, where it became more and more a regular fixture. It continued beyond it’s televised run too, and still today has left its mark on situational comedies.
The collection, which is being released by CBS in conjunction with Blu-rays of ‘I Love Lucy’ and ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ brings you right back into their hard-luck world, ugly home, and sassy relationship. Here’s what you get.
The Package Deal:
-The 39 episodes from the television run, in crisp HD black and white.
-Original sponsor material available for most episodes.
-Two short promotional teasers.
-Best Buick Yet Dealer Presentation.
-Jackie Gleason Profile and interview on ‘60 Minutes’ with extended outtakes.
-‘Person to Person’ interview, conducted by Jackie Gleason.
-35th and 50th Anniversary Shows.
-“The Adoption” hour-long musical episode from 1966.
In all, it’s a rather surprising amount of extra content for a show that ran in the '50s. So celebrated was it though, that retrospectives and interviews abound, and the features, when not funny, are quite insightful. Here is a closer look at what’s notable:
The Best Buick Yet:
This one is weird, and hysterical. It’s basically a 20-minute infomercial for Buick, as endorsed by Gleason and the show. Gleason lends his voice across colored pictures of him, the rest of the cast, and the team of Buick. He relates the success of a TV program to that of an auto company, and then gives way to someone from Buick to carry on with the pitch. It’s all nostalgic and a little strange, mainly because it’s done straight and you don’t see it at all today. But now I want Tom Hardy to do one of these for Audi.
‘60 Minutes’ Profile:
Morley Safer interviews Gleason in one of the most telling and noteworthy conversations had by Gleason reflecting on his career. Conducted on Oct. 28, 1984 in a hotel bar and lounge, it’s a “Portrait of a 68-year-old hustler,” says Safer. With cigarette in hand, Gleason offers anecdotes and glossy truths on his life on and off the stage (“we had one, two, three, maybe 15 drinks…” he says about one night doing stand-up) as Safer highlights the rise of the talented and iconic comedian from the clutches of poverty.
While the main interview is less than 15 minutes, the outtakes (which aren’t those kind of outtakes), add 20 more minutes to the conversation and a slew of entertaining stories.
'Person to Person' Interview:
In 1956, Jackie Gleason sits in for Edward R. Murrow – though still smoking a cigarette, just like the famed interviewer did – for a 10-minute conversation with James Rahilly, a veteran New York City bus driver. In discussions and meeting his wife and kids, Gleason seeks to find out if James is an equal driver to Ralph Kramden. This appearance of Gleason is a stark contrast to the one he makes on '60 Minutes' nearly 30 years later.
The 35th year retrospective is a clip show and celebration with select cast interviews, just a few years after Gleason passed away. The 50th anniversary show, meanwhile, offers a bit more. Hosted awkwardly by Kevin James (there are a bunch of cheesy jokes, and no laugh track to help him out), the hour-long showcase features clips, archival footage, and commentary from others, including Tom Hanks and Carol Burnett.
In all, there is plenty for fans of ‘The Honeymooners’ to get excited about. While the show itself is beautifully restored (that is, totally watchable by today’s standards) and still funny, the extra features add nuance and layers to a most influential comedian. A majority of the content isn't exactly new, but it's still a worthy and comprehensive retrospective.