Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Honeymooners" again: What's the real shocker in this episode?

Speaking of "the Honeymooners"--and really, why shouldn't we--I was watching one of the Lost Episodes the other day and I found a double whammy of items that dated the episode. Now, I think a great show is a great show and I usually find virtually nothing "dated" about the show in the sense that people most often use the word when referring to television programs. But this episode, "The Brother-in-Law," contains a few elements that place it way down on the list of samples I'd present to someone who has never seen the program.

Ralph's constant toothless threats of physical violence have been commented on time and time again by modern commentators who are appalled by even the empty references to wife beating. Personally, I do find it amusing when Ralph says, "Bang! Zoom!" I also find it funny when Alice stands up to him, clearly recognizing Ralph is all bluster and would never dream of hurting her.

Less funny in a genuine way but still kind of funny in a "Wow, it was a different time back then" way are the references the Nortons make to domestic violence, especially in the rougher, gritter Lost Episodes (as opposed to the filmed Classic 39, the standard syndicated package that represented the show for decades). Not only does Ed make frequent references to belting Trixie, but he sometimes comes downstairs with a bump on his head, remarking about not being able to dodge a frying pan or something to that effect. I can still  appreciate the spirit of these remarks and laugh, but they do take me out of the narrative a bit. They remind me that I'm watching a 60-year-old program and kind of make me take a brief mental step back.

Then there are some moments that just make me think, "Hoo, boy." In "The Brother-in-Law," Ralph asks Alice if she'd like a belt, and when she doesn't back down, he says he won't give her one because, he says with disgust, "You're just the type that would call the cops." Whoa! For whatever reason, even the original studio audience doesn't seem to know how to react to that one, and there are some odd yells and subdued laughs. It does kind of take you out of it for a second.

But Ralph made similar comments in other episodes. I think what really shocks in this episode is not Ralph's mouth, but something a bit lower--namely, his tie:

Where the heck did he get that thing, the clearance rack at the Bensonhurst Fat Man's Shop? Was it a door prize at a Raccoon Lodge social? Are those supposed to be sunflowers?

I just don't think there's anything Ralph Kramden could utter that would distract me more than that tie. And here's the kicker: Several weeks later, in "Kramden vs. Norton," Ralph faces off against Ed in court after a dispute over a television set, and guess what he wears. That's right, not only Ralph Kramden the character, but Jackie Gleason the performer, or at least somebody behind the scenes, thought this tie was spiffy enough to be part of his dress-to-impress duds.

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