I love retro TV.
Much as I adore curling on the couch and watching the latest episode of New Girl, Once Upon a Time or The Walking Dead, there is something comforting, and in the case of the shows that have stood the test of time (I discovered sadly the other day that F Troop isn’t one of them) highly enjoyable, about watching shows that were last on TV … last Tuesday.
Wait sorry they’re the ones on Nick at Nite.
No, the shows I am referring to are gems like The Bob Newhart Show, Hart to Hart, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and That Girl, all of which to one degree or another still have the capacity to entertain without you wincing or groaning or uttering that awful much-feared phrase “it was funnier when I was younger”.
So in honour of my love affair with the shows of Christmas past, I have chosen three festive episodes of some of my favourite shows, re-watched them and blogged to tell the tale.
THE BOB NEWHART SHOW
EPISODE: “I am Dreaming of a Slight Christmas”
This episode of The Bob Newhart Show, which ran from 1972 to 1978 and featured Bob Newhart as psychologist Robert Hartley and Suzanne Pleshette as his wife Emily, should have as its tagline, “Be careful what you wish for”.
Determined to enjoy a scaled down celebration with a “little Christmas tree, a quiet Christmas eve and a few gifts” – the tree is so small in fact that their friend and next door neighbour Howard (Bill Daily) can’t see it when he first enters the apartment on a visit to swap gifts – they’re looking forward to time alone, something that rarely happens thanks to the demands of Bob’s job.
But of course this is sitcom-land where the best intentions are never quite enough to get you what you want if not getting what you want will procure a hearty belly laugh, and so Bob finds himself stuck at the office Christmas party with his office’s drunk receptionist Carol (Marcia Wallace), his friend and the medical suite’s resident orthodontist Jerry, an anxious patient Mr Peterson (John Fiedler) and the worst blizzard in Chicago’s history swirling outside the windows of their intermittently blacked out office.
Not quite the Christmas he had in mind but he makes it home eventually where he’s greeted by a much relieved Emily who decides to make the best of things when Bob falls asleep on the couch next door.
Ever optimistic, she laughs and says “Merry Christmas Bob, we’ll get ’em next year.”
VERDICT: A slight premise but Mr Peterson’s angst is fun to watch, Carol is a joy to watch and the genuine rapport between Robert and Emily provides the warm and fuzzy element to this sweet, heartwarming and funny Christmas episode.
EPISODE: “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, You’re Under Arrest”
It may not look that way at times but That Girl (1966-1971) was groundbreaking.
The series, which starred Marl Thomas as aspiring-but-rarely-employed actress Ann Marie and Ted Besell as her patient, long-suffering boyfriend Donald Holliger and began each episode of a freeze-framed Ann being identified as “That girl!”, was the first sitcom, at Marlo Thomas’ insistence that featured the female protagonist as a successful woman in her own right (and not as someone’s girlfriend or live-in help).
On the website, emmytvlegends.org, she had this to say about the show:
“I think the legacy of ‘That Girl’ is the fact that, as Billy Persky always says, we threw the grenade into the bunker. We opened up the window for young women. You did not have to be the wife or the daughter of somebody or the secretary of somebody, but that you could be the somebody. The story could be about you and what you wanted in life. Once that happened, I think that really paved the way for a lot of other.”
Now granted, as Laurie Powers notes in her excellent 2009 post My Favorite 60s TV Show: That Girl, she was still by all modern metrics are thoroughly conventional girl but still, she pushed boundaries that to that point had barely been tested.
And it shows in the way her character behaves and responds to various situations – she’s sweet and goofy yes but has a mine of her mind, lives alone, and is more than able to look after herself, thank you very much.
Although as this episode ably demonstrated, she did need the help of her boyfriend Donald to get her out of trouble from time to time.
Such as in this episode when, fearing that she and her neighbours will be robbed as part of a theatre scam – you buy a ticket from the scalper, they note your address and while you’re watching the show, your home is ransacked – she enlists Donald’s help in moving all her next neighbour’s (the excellent Carol Ann Daniels and Bernie Kopell as Ruth and Jerry Bauman) Christmas gifts and valuable possessions to her apartment for safekeeping.
Naturally their easy-to-misinterpret act is witnessed by an overly curious neighbour across the way, Rear Window-like, and they oft they go to the police station where they have some explaining to do.
Of course it all ends well … at least till they start giving out the presents on Christmas Day.
MY VERDICT: I love the fact that Ann Marie is portrayed as goofy and well-meaning but not witless, and Donald as complaint but not a doormat, and the episode is a delicious dose of misinterpretation leading to much mirth and merriment.
EPISODE: “The One With Christmas in Tulsa”
In its day, and it was a considerably long one, lasting 10 very successful years (1994-2004), Friends was a phenomenon.
Everyone wanted to copy Rachel’s hairstyle (yes even some men).
The words to “Smelly Cat” were on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
And everyone wanted to dress up as the Holiday Armidillo for fancy dress parties.
OK that last part’s probably not true – although it could be; surely somewhere out there in our great big twisted world harbours an armidillo dressing-up fetish? No? OK moving on – but the show was hugely popular and could genuinely be referred to as “water cooler hit”.
And this episode, which has Chandler and Monica’s work-based separation at Christmas as its wraparound story – Chandler is forced to work over Christmas in Tulsa while Monica stays at home in New York – goes a long way to explaining why.
It is essentially a pastiche show using Chandler’s fond recollections of Christmases past to show clips of old festive episodes – the one where Phoebe sings her holiday theme song which conspicuously lacks words that rhyme with Rachel and Chandler, the one where Rachel and Phoebe look for Monica’s presents to them so they can match them (“She always bests us, that wily … minx” says Phoebe), the one where Chandler and Joey gave everyone presents from the gas station shop, and yes the one where the Holiday Armidillo (Ross) is thwarted in his attempts to explain Hanukah to his on Ben by Santa’s (Chandler’s) arrival – and it works a treat.
And while it also makes liberal use of clips that show the progression of Monica and Chandler’s relationship, it does serve to progress their story as Chandler fights off an advance from one of his Tulsa colleagues, “the second prettiest girl in Oklahoma”, Wendy (Selma Blair) and rushes home, quitting his job in the process, to spend the holidays with the woman he loves.
All together now – “Awwwwww.”
MY VERDICT: While I am not really a man of pastiche shows in general, this one at leasts serves a purpose, reaffirming Monica and Chandler’s love for each other and giving both characters somewhere new to go.
And hey it’s all Christmas-y … that’s never a bad thing.
* Don’t think about it! Answer me straight away. Favourite old TV show?