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


  1. This was an excellent choice for the MeTV holiday blogathon. It's one of the best HAPPY DAYS episodes. I'm also always intrigued with how TV series develop over a time. As you point out, The Fonz developed from a supporting player to the de facto star of the show over three seasons.

    1. Thank you, Rick! I hope your holiday season was excellent.

  2. I love this episode too. The tension between Howard wanting a family-centered holiday this year and Richie feeling an obligation to not let Fonzie spend the holiday alone is so tender and wonderful here. Great sense of humor here Daniel. Thanks for writing about this one.

    1. Thanks, Joanna. I watch this episode randomly throughout the year whenever I need a pick me up. It's an almost perfect Christmas TV episode as far as I'm concerned.