Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas with B.J. & The Bear!

Happy Holidays!
Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone has an excellent time this weekend. And I wish you all a Happy New Year.

Please...  to close out the year...  enjoy a review of the B.J. & The Bear Christmas episode over at Christmas TV History, Joanna Wilson's awesome site about all things related to Christmas TV.

B.J & The Bear Xmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Days S6: E16 Christmas Time

Part 2

There's a knock at the door. But, it's a different door and it's a different story.

Brief Tangent: "Christmas Time" aired 4 years after "Guess Who is Coming To Christmas." The episode itself is very specifically set at Christmas 1960. Richie graduated from high school in Season 4 and has been in college for a while. There's every good chance that "Guess Who..." is set at Christmas 1956 except for one big element: Joanie receives a hula hoop. The hula hoop craze was in 1958. On the other hand, Joanie's physical growth doesn't match up to 2 years so maybe it is 1956. (There's one Christmas episode in between these two we're discussing so there is a Christmas gap.) All this seems like it might not be terribly important in the grand scheme of things. But, I always like to try set the stage as best I can.

General festivities abound

However, the fun of trying to date Happy Days episodes must step aside... there's that darn knock at the door to deal with. The first important knock was in either Christmas 1956  or Christmas 1958. (Probably '58.) It was Mr. C and Richie trying to get The Fonz to come back to their house to celebrate the holiday without wounding his pride. And it works. But, past issues haven't been addressed. No wounds have been healed. It's that second knock, the one in 1960, that heals a wound. Although, it looks like it might go wrong for a while.

What house is behind that optical effect?

The Cunninghams!

Times have changed since whenever "Guess Who..." happened. The Fonz no longer lives in that apartment building. He now lives in the rooms above the Cunningham's garage. Chuck is no longer there. (We do not speak of Chuck). The Fonz lives with the family almost as an eldest son. He basically has a variation on the attic room that Greg got in The Brady Bunch or that many of my friends had in high school. The Fonz lives with the family but set apart from the family. That's for the best, I think, what with the constant influx of women into the place. By this point in the series (around 130 episodes), the show has a live studio audience and each episode is as loud and raucous as every other sitcom on TV. And it works to the show's advantage because the viewing audience went through the roof, mainly because of The Fonz.

The Fonz has a great scarf
The Fonz buys fun ties

The Fonz... who is an enigma wrapped in a riddle shrouded in a leather jacket. Clearly a nice man with magical powers who loves the Cunninghams (his favorite middle class family) and being alive in this time period. But, as mentioned in Part 1, there is a darkness there. And no matter how cool The Fonz's scarf is, this Christmas may be a rough one for him because there is a knock at the door...  and it's a sailor with a gift.
Oh boy! The Sailor And The Fonz

Most Happy Days episodes have one main plot-line going through them. Most modern day sitcoms usually have an A Story and a B story, even a C story. This episode of Happy Days (plus a later Christmas episode) has multiple story-lines. The A Story is The Fonz. The B Story is Mr. C buying an aluminum Christmas tree that no one is happy with. The C Story is something to do with Richie and Lori Beth and I'm getting sleepy already writing about those two. (Their relationship is something for another column.) The B story is funny, especially the resolution. But, the Fonz rules here, especially when he learns that the gift is from Vito Fonzarelli, his dad. His dad that he hasn't seen since he was 6.

More general Christmas shenanigans

Then, the wounds open anew. I think the Fonz's pain was always there but his life with the Cunninghams, the constant flow of ladies and his evolving magical powers covered everything up. The sailor with the gift tears it all wide open. The Fonz becomes angry, spiteful and threatens his best friend, Richie, when Richie tries to help him overcome some of the bitterness. The dark side of the Fonz comes out here, albeit briefly. It was a side we always felt was there but don't see until now. It took a second knock on the door at Christmas to bring it. To threaten to tear apart what the initial knock had done.

Ralph & Potsie are fun

The Fonz hates his dad. Hates Vito for how he tore apart their happy home life. Hates him because Vito's leaving must have influenced Mom leaving later on. The Cunninghams bring the Fonz happiness and joy, probably better than his parents may have been able to. But, the return of his father, via the gift, shows off that what he has with the Cunninghams is not actual family. His actual family has returned to his life and he hates it. (This is all a bit dark for such a carefree show set in the 1950s.)

Luckily, the Fonz has Richie on his side. Richie keeps pushing the Fonz again and again to open the Christmas gift from his dad. Sometimes at the risk of Richie being punched hard by The Fonz. And, we all know, when the Fonz punches you, you stay down. But, the friendship is so strong, possibly forged by Christmases past, that Richie keeps pushing. And it all culminates at the Christmas Eve family dinner.

Some shots of Richie confronting the Fonz...
with some Fonz Anger

Everyone has had a lovely meal. They are starting to open gifts. The big joke throughout the scene is that everyone has brought a real Christmas tree to the house because the aluminum one is so depressing. The family sits at their couch in what looks like the center of a Christmas Tree lot. It's a funny gag. (Fibber McGee & Molly did something similar on a radio episode back in the 1940s. It's a funnier visual.) Richie hands The Fonz his dad's gift with a letter...  And the Fonz gets very angry.

Angry Fonz trying to read the letter...

...and simply getting angry

But, the Cunninhgams keep him under control. And Richie reads the letter. We learn why Vito left his family...  as the Fonz sits sullen throughout. Mr. C gets angry at Vito for abandoning his family. The whole scene is as tense as "Will they be able to get The Fonz to come over for Christmas?" from so long ago. But, the emphasis is different. There is no more chicanery or fiddle-about going on here. They love the Fonz. The Fonz loves them. They want him to be well. They want the Fonz healed. It's a wonderful, honest scene and it has a twist within it...

Richie takes over...
Mr. C gets mad at Vito

It might be an obvious twist but this should be considered a SPOILER! (I'll put some comedy tree pictures here. The paragraph in between the tree pictures is the Spoiler.)

The sailor with the gift was Vito. One can sort of see that on a second viewing. The sailor doesn't just hand off the gift and go. He seems to be wanting the Fonz to say something good about his dad but The Fonz won't. One can see a proud glint in the sailor's eye when he sees his son. When you've finished watching the episode, go back and watch it again with that revelation in mind. It makes the scene even more poignant.

There is a long uncomfortable moment at the end of the scene where the Fonz is stone cold still. One wishes that Chachi could have been there to provide that extra family support but Who's Watching The Kids? wasn't going to shoot itself. After that dark, uncertain moment, the Fonz lets out a cheer. The wound is healed as well as it will ever be. How? Because all his life The Fonz had thought he was the reason his Dad left. But, it turns out Vito was a bad dad. It had nothing to do with the Fonz. The viewer can see a weight lift off of Arthur at that moment.

Post Letter: Happy Fonz!

His dad's gift? A kimono. And the Fonz looks good in it. And Christmas looks great on the Fonz and the Cunninghams. Oddly enough, it is all down to Richie being the one who does the pushing. In "Guess Who's Coming To Christmas," Richie gets Mr. C to go to Fonzie's place and bring him over. They could have so easily let it ride. The Fonz would have been fine. In "Christmas Time," Richie pushes the Fonz to face up to the gift. These two moments are obviously huge ones in the Cunningham/ Fonz relations. The next big one would be at the end of the series and would bring everything full circle. That would be the first one that is actually between the Cunninghams and the Fonz himself as opposed to the Fonz's demons and his past. That is another story.

The kimono

Two knocks at two doors with the same man on the other side of the different doors. Happy Days wasn't known for its character arcs. But, they are there. There is more to the Fonz's arc dealing with his past but it really begins with "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas" and reaches an emotional climax during "Christmas Time." He would possibly find his mom. Grandma Nussbaum would appear. Chachi would become a regular. All sorts of great bits would follow...  but these two Christmas episodes are the main sticking points. And they are fantastic.

Merry Christmas. Stay cool. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas TV Podcasts!

There are TWO new Made-For-TV-Mayhem podcasts up. Both of them deal with Christmas TV movies and eventually segue into Christmas TV in general.

On both episodes, we are joined by the Awesome Joanna Wilson of  Christmas TV History. 
She knows her stuff and the conversation is really quite good. (If you'll pardon my ego there.)

Amanda, Nate, Joanna and I discuss Home for the Holidays and A Very Brady Christmas

Episode #1 

Amanda, Joanna and I discuss Bernard and the Genie and lots of general Christmas TV viewing.

Episode #2

The iTunes link:

iTunes Made-For-TV Mayhem Show

And, please, if you enjoy, leave a review. They really do help.

Merry Christmas!
Happy Holidays!
Joyeux Noel!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Happy Days S2: E8 Guess Who's Coming To Christmas.

Vito and Angela Fonzarelli gave birth to a son that they named Arthur. Then, Vito vanished. After a time, Angela went away too. Arthur, affectionately known as "The Fonz," was raised by his Grandma Nussbaum. The young man dropped out of high school and became a very 1950s-style rebel based on Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones with a bit of James Dean thrown in. In the early days of his existence (as we know it), he wore a very sensible green windbreaker as he sat on his motorcycle, hanging out. He had a very rebellious bad boy nature to him, which apparently drove the ladies crazy because very few could deny his charms. He started wearing a leather jacket after a time and became good friends with a young man named Richard Cunningham. The Fonz was everything Richie wanted to be: super cool, irresistible to the ladies and always doing his own thing. Richie was everything the Fonz wanted to be (minus the increased volume of ladies): Richie had a family, he had plenty of loved ones and lots of friends.

 Mr. C lays down the Law
 Chuck...  One last sandwich for the road.

In the early days of Garry Marshall's hit television show Happy Days, The Fonz was a semi-shady character who (while appearing in every episode) was almost too cool and aloof for anyone to get near. As the second season began (in September 1974), Richie and The Fonz became closer and closer friends. This was kind of due to the fact that The Fonz was becoming more and more popular on the show. One of the many times in TV history when a secondary character has overwhelmed the stars. The Fonz was a rebel but he was a charming rebel. He brought a touch of excitement and a whole lot of cool to Milwaukee in the second half of the 1950s. It's in the episode "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas" that The Fonz becomes (in all but name) a member of the Cunningham family.

 I tried this at a McDonald's. 
I am writing this blogpost from prison
where I'm serving 8-10 for jackassery.
 Loved you in Bigfoot, Misty!
 Huey, Dewey & Louie
 Those Waukesha lies

Howard Cunningham (Mr. C) has declared that this Christmas will be just for the nuclear Cunningham family, even the slowly-fading-from-existence Chuck will return for one more Christmas before continuity would delete him forever. Joanie, Richie's sister, isn't happy with these plans. But, the rest of the family, including Marion (Mrs. C) seem fine with it. Very quickly, the episode hops to Arnold's, the local burger joint, where Richie is hanging out with his two pals Warren "Potsie" Weber and Ralph Malph. Those two goofballs are using parsley as Mistletoe to get smooches. This is the kind of thing we did in the 1950s and it was fun. (Keeping in mind, that I was born in 1973 and when I say "the kind of thing we did," I mean the kind of thing we did in the 1970s when we were wishing it was the 1950s.)

How come this wasn't a spinoff?

The Fonz arrives full of good cheer and gifts for the two waitresses and something for the three guys. The Fonz Bonhomie belies a bit of darkness. Where is his dad? Why did his dad leave his family? Will he ever return? Where is his mom? Why did she vanish from the picture? And where is Grandma Nussbaum? When will we meet her? No time for those questions now, though. Because the Fonz must remain cool at all times. So, he sits down with the three high school students (after being given a gift of a banana split from one of the waitresses, Marcia.) as they tell Fonzie about their Christmas Eve/ Christmas Day plans. Well, the Fonz has plans of his own: he's going to Waukesha to spend Christmas with his family. He extols the awesomeness of this family get-together, which sounds like it rivals Christmas at the Ewings.

Breakdown and fixup

And, of course, it's all baloney.

The Fonz doesn't have anywhere to go. He'll be alone in his apartment with only his bike to keep him company. Or will he be alone? Maybe there will be some sort of Christmas miracle that will bring him together with family. There's a knock at the door...

 A boy and his bike
 The faces of sitcom stars trying to help the Fonz

But, I'm getting ahead of myself...

After the scene at Arnold's, Richie joins his father for a Christmas party at Mr. C's hardware store where we meet the delightful member of the staff whose names I have completely forgotten. I think there's a guy named Buzz. They drink eggnog and act very 1950s, especially the strange looking older lady who might be Joe Besser in drag. After the party, the Cunningham car breaks down. But, the Fonz is still at work! He fixes their car and misses his bus. The Fonz becomes very defensive when they offer to sit with him until the next bus. So, Richie and Mr. C leave Arthur at the garage.

Two different Christmases...

The Cunningham Christmas has begun! Almost...  Richie goes back into the garage to give the Fonz a gift...  and he sees the Fonz eating ravioli out of a can and admiring a Christmas card. Richie gets it! But, will he be able to convince family-centric Howard to return to the Fonz's apartment and get the Fonz to come back and spend Christmas with them?

The Fonz has arrived!

There's a knock at the door. A conversation occurs. A semi-furtive conversation where a secret is being kept plays out. The Fonz is involved. It is Christmas Time. Where are the Fonz's parents? We're still early in the show here. For the first two seasons, Happy Days was shot as a single camera show with a laugh track. In its third season, the show would go multi-camera like most sitcoms of the time with a loud raucous crowd looking on. That's when the Fonz really took off. That's when he was boosted to second in the credits. That's when he gained magical powers. That's when he began leaping over many, many things with his bike. That's where his backstory started filling in and it's also where he started gaining family members, including Chachi and Grandma Nussbaum and a cousin Angelo. For being a man who is so lonely in this episode, it turns out there's a lot of family around for him. But, that's later in the series.

Hip to Waukesha

Here he becomes part of the Cunningham family for their Christmas. They get him to come over under the guise of fixing this odd Santa automaton that sits on their front porch. And, the Fonz misses the last bus. But, it's OK because the Cunninghams have a beautiful Christmas set up. The Fonz stays. In fact, he stays the night. And it's really all very lovely. In fact, of the 250 episode of Happy Days, this one is in my Top 5 favorites. It starts off OK but then, once that car breaks down, it gets better and better.

Christmas with the Cunninghams

From the low point of the Fonz and his ravioli to Richie's worry for his friend to the visit to the Fonz's apartment to the unbridled joy one can see in the Fonz's demeanor when he gets to be a part of a real family Christmas, this episode is everything that is good about Happy Days. But it is, in the end, kind of a placeholder for the real story behind the Fonz and why he doesn't have anywhere to go. Now, the show never fully answers all the questions. The Christmas feeling is so strong here that Who cares? is the initial response. But, unanswered questions can burn into your soul and leave you aching. The Cunninghams take The Fonz in as their own. But, those questions still remain unanswered.

Christmas 1960: There is a knock at the door.

To Be Continued

On your way out, please enjoy The Mugging Santa