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Holiday Treats DVD Review

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Series & DVD Details

Featured Series: "I Love Lucy", "The Honeymooners", "The Andy Griffith Show", "The Brady Bunch", "Taxi", "Family Ties", "Frasier", "Wings"

Directors: James Burrows, James V. Kern, Frank Satenstein, Bob Sweeney, Oscar Rudolph, Will Mackenzie, Noam Pitlik / Writers: Bob Caroll, Jr., Madelyn Pugh, Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf, Marvin Marx, Walter Stone, David Adler, John Fenton Murray, Barry Kemp, Rich Reinhart, Robert Caplain, Christopher Lloyd, Bill Diamond, Michael Saltzman

Cast: Lucille Ball (Lucy Ricardo), Desi Arnaz (Ricky Ricardo), Vivian Vance (Ethel Mertz), William Frawley (Fred Mertz), Keith Thibodeaux (Little Ricky Ricardo), Jackie Gleason (Ralph Kramden), Art Carney (Ed Norton), Audrey Meadows (Alice Kramden), Joyce Randolph (Trixie Norton), Andy Griffith (Andy Taylor), Ron Howard (Opie Taylor), Don Knotts (Barney Fife), Elinor Donahue (Ellie Walker), Francis Bavier (Aunt Bee Taylor), Will Wright (Ben Weaver), Robert Reed (Mike Brady), Florence Henderson (Carol Brady), Ann B. Davis (Alice Nelson), Maureen McCormick (Marcia Brady), Eve Plumb (Jan Brady), Susan Olsen (Cindy Brady), Barry Williams (Greg Brady), Christopher Knight (Peter Brady), Mike Lookinland (Bobby Brady), Judd Hirsch (Alex Rieger), Jeff Conaway (Bobby Wheeler), Danny DeVito (Louie De Palma), Marilu Henner (Elaine O'Connor), Tony Danza (Tony Banta), Meredith Baxter Birney (Elyse Keaton), Michael Gross (Steven Keaton), Michael J. Fox (Alex P. Keaton), Justine Bateman (Mallory Keaton), Tina Yothers (Jennifer Keaton), Kelsey Grammer (Frasier Crane), Jane Leeves (Daphne Moon), David Hyde Pierce (Niles Crane), Peri Gilpin (Roz Doyle), John Mahoney (Martin Crane), Timothy Daly (Joe Hackett), Steven Weber (Brian Hackett), Crystal Bernard (Helen Chapel), Thomas Haden Church (Lowell Mather), David Schramm (Roy Biggins), Rebecca Schull (Fay Cochran)


Running Time: 208 Minutes (8 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, Stereo (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Airdates: December 1955 - December 1993
DVD Release Date: October 7, 2008; Suggested Retail Price: $12.98
Black Keepcase; Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)

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The Christmas episode has featured since the beginning of scripted television. In the United Kingdom, Christmas specials often exist outside of a standard run, sometimes entailing a reunion or serving as bridge between short, scattered seasons. In the US, though, they're almost always part of the standard canon, resulting in occasional tonal differences and reruns either unseasonable or rare.
For one week out of the year, situation comedies embrace morality and earnestness, while dramas are open to getting a little sillier. Both do so to honor the much-celebrated spirit of the season, one of goodwill, glad tidings, and flabbergasting traditions.

Next week, Paramount Home Entertainment celebrates the American Christmas episode with the DVD Holiday Treats. The studio has dipped into its vast library of CBS television properties and come up with half-hour holiday episodes of eight beloved sitcoms from over the years. The disc, debuted last year as a free-with-purchase goodie exclusive to FYE stores, has a playlist that spans from 1955 to 1993. Three black and white programs ("I Love Lucy", "The Honeymooners", "The Andy Griffith Show") take us back to the medium's infancy. The two most recent ones ("Wings" and "Frasier") still offer nostalgia, whether for last decade in general or the flourishing laugh track sitcom format now largely abandoned. In between those groups are three shows arguably claiming the roster's widest fanbases: "The Brady Bunch", "Taxi", and "Family Ties."

"Honeymooners" Alice (Audrey Meadows) and Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) exchange gifts in front of their start-topped tree. Cindy Brady (Susan Olsen) sits on Santa's lap and asks for something unusual in "The Voice of Christmas."

The DVD is something of a difficult sell. Not only did varying parties have to be aligned and compensated -- no easy task even within a common studio. There is also the challenge of marketing a disc of eight episodes of eight different shows to collectors used to getting uniformity and completeness plus those who may already own some of the featured episodes, all of which have appeared earlier on complete season DVDs. Even exceedingly warm reception won't get this to crack top seller charts.

And yet, Holiday Treats is a wonderful idea that speaks volumes about TV sitcoms and their eagerness to note the Christmas season in a merry, fun, and ever so slightly poignant way. I only hope it inspires other studios to broaden their horizons and attempt other creative compilations instead of just repackaging the same popular movies or imploring people to buy them again in high definition.

A few observations specific to this compilation are easy to make. For instance, almost all of the selected episodes are from the shows' first seasons and thus have the feel of sitcoms still finding their way. The eldest ones, "Lucy" and "Honeymooners" revel in simplicity, keeping themselves close to the radio program format that often guided early TV. Later works such as "Taxi" and "Frasier" offer more complexity in characters and circumstances. The two centering on nuclear families, "Brady Bunch" and "Family Ties", tend to succceed largely due to their settings and group dynamic.

Regardless of how much you've seen of these eight shows in the past (and I'd imagine nearly everyone has seen, or at least knows, a bit), each becomes abundantly familiar in the course of its featured episode. You don't need context or full character backstories. This is just television comedy. It went down smoothly upon first airing and, for the most part, continues to do so today.

Here are synopses and information on the eight episodes of Holiday Treats:

Ethel, Lucy, Ricky, and Fred are four Santa Clauses surprised by the just-vanished fifth at the end of the "I Love Lucy Christmas Show." Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) is tested by miserly storeowner Ben Weaver (Will Wright), while Barney Fife (Don Knotts) looks on.

1. I Love Lucy: "I Love Lucy Christmas Show" (26:04) (Originally aired December 24, 1956)
In between familiar sources of holiday laughs (Little Ricky's questions about Santa Claus, Fred's errant tree-trimming), clips from past episodes are broadly cued. The featured flashbacks are: Lucy (Lucille Ball) giving Ricky (Desi Arnaz) news of her pregnancy, Lucy's tuneless performance as part of a barbershop quartet, and the group's delivery room rehearsal and run.

Introductory text screens announce that this special was missing for 33 years before CBS found it and aired it in 1989.

It's presented in full here, even leaving a Sanka commercial message intact. The episode is followed by another long-lost-but-rediscovered item: 1951 excerpt "Jingle Bells" (3:18) from Season 1's "Drafted" that was recreated nearly shot-by-shot in the special's 5-Santa finale.

2. The Honeymooners: "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" (26:00) (Originally aired December 24, 1955)
Gift exchanges are in order, as Ralph (Jackie Gleason) tries to sneak a glimpse of what wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) has gotten him. When he learns that his present for her is neither special nor unique, he does his best to correct it with no money and time running out. The episode ends with the cast wishing its audience a Merry Christmas, which is sometimes cut in syndication.

3. The Andy Griffith Show: "Christmas Story" (26:01) (Originally aired December 19, 1960)
Grouchy storeowner Ben Weaver (Will Wright) threatens the merry mood at Mayberry's police station. Meanwhile, sheriff Andy (Andy Griffith) enlists deputy Barney (Don Knotts) to play a skinny Santa.

4. The Brady Bunch: "The Voice of Christmas" (25:31) (Originally aired December 19, 1969)
Just days before she's due to sing at Church, Carol (Florence Henderson) comes down with laryngitis. While she's reduced to whispers and wearing a stinky neck wrap prepared by Alice, the other Bradys carry on with Christmas traditions: setting up the tree, a sit on Santa's lap, and presents talk.

In what's not your typical Christmas episode, "Taxi" centers on a poker game in which Alex (Judd Hirsch) is bankrolled by Louie (Danny DeVito). For their Christmas dinner, the characters of "Wings" make do with limited supplies (like rice cakes and wheat germ) and learn Lowell (Thomas Haden Church) is mistaken in the Christmas carol lyrics department.

5. Taxi: "A Full House for Christmas" (24:31) (Originally aired December 12, 1978)
Louie (Danny DeVito) is excited to have his estranged brother Nick (guest Richard Foronjy) visit for Christmas, but soon is angered by Nick's disregard of their mother.
To make things right, Louie bankrolls Alex (Judd Hirsch) in a high-stakes poker match against Nick. This is easily the disc's least Christmassy episode and probably its least mirthful one too.

6. Family Ties: "A Keaton Christmas Carol" (24:07) (Originally aired December 14, 1983)
Severely lacking in seasonal spirit la Ebenezer Scrooge, Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) is visited by sister-ghosts (Tina Yothers, Justine Bateman) and shown a cheery Christmas past and gloomy potential Christmas future. They serve to adjust his outlook on the holiday.

7. Frasier: "Miracle on Third or Fourth Street" (22:12) (Originally aired December 16, 1993)
After an argument with his father, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) opts to spend Christmas Day not at the family log cabin but at work on his call-in radio show. It's a sad, lonely, and (in the "Frasier" tradition) not particularly funny holiday, despite guest callers including Mel Brooks, Rosemary Clooney, and Ben Stiller.

8. Wings: "A Terminal Christmas" (22:58) (Originally aired December 21, 1990)
The employees of Nantucket's tiny Tom Nevers Field airport all show up for work on Christmas only have to snow and a passenger cancellation keep them from their plans. Instead, they make an unannounced visit to Fay's (Rebecca Schull) house, where they help her get over the still-fresh death of her husband.

VIDEO and AUDIO

I'm fairly certain that the episode presentations here are identical to their appearances on earlier season set DVDs. Paramount may not be the best studio at bonus features or pricing, but their audio/video usually doesn't leave much to be desired. That's truer of movies than TV series, but the shows still look and sound quite good here, especially considering the age of the older ones. Of course, this isn't a disc you get to show off the picture and sound. But if you've ever bought a $1 DVD of vintage television in the public domain, then you'll be quite pleased by how much easier on the eyes and ears the content here is. Disappointingly, no subtitles whatsoever are provided, but closed captions are.

This vintage holiday CBS promo is one of two alternately shown to transition from one featured sitcom to the next. The main menu consists of two pages simply listing episode titles and featuring our animated host of sorts.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

No designated bonus features are included here. While it would have been nice to get some kind of discussion of the holiday episode and its significance in sitcom production, the disc is quite filled to the brim already with 3 and a half hours of content.
And as even the best short featurette is likely to have less appeal than a popular TV show episode, the void of extras makes sense.

As does the lack of an insert, since the case back provides show and episode titles, synopses, and even original airdates.

It's worth mentioning that a couple of animated CBS holiday greetings spots are scattered about. A one-minute one involves birds and a woodsman, while a 30-second one features a girl's visit to Santa. The prominent hiss of their soundtracks suggests they're old, but beyond that they're of indeterminate origin. Their inclusion is a very nice touch, but it would have been nicer with a few more similar promos being used instead of the same two being alternately repeated between each show change.

Though the static, silent menu is limited and fairly no-frills, it is cued by a very cool minute-long introduction that helps explain what this is with animation and the featured show's title logos.

Ample chapter stops are provided within episodes and for the recurring interstitials.

The Keaton Family isn't in the best shape in this vision supplied by the Mallory-esque Ghost of Christmas Future. Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) gets Christmas dinner looking like his impoverished company at Lou's pitiful diner.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Not everyone will see the value in Paramount's Holiday Treats DVD, but I think it's a pretty brilliant collection. The disc surveys forty years of TV sitcoms, provides eight distinctly different yet similar observations of Christmas, and entertains heartily doing both. The very low SRP brings the episodes down to about half of iTunes video pricing. That rate and the largely wonderful content are enough to earn this disc a definite recommendation. I'd even encourage a buy by those who might already have two or more of the featured episodes in a DVD set. Note to studios: more DVDs like this, please. For companies owning copious amounts of yesteryear programming, the possibilities are exciting and practically endless.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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TIVO

Featuring the Stars of Holiday Treats:
Lucille Ball: Easy to Wed | Jackie Gleason: The Hustler | Florence Henderson: The Muppet Show: Season 1
Ron Howard: Happy Days: The Third Season | Don Knotts: The Apple Dumpling Gang No Deposit, No Return
Danny DeVito: Deck the Halls | Tony Danza: Angels in the Outfield | Michael J. Fox: Midnight Madness
Thomas Haden Church: Smart People | Kelsey Grammer: Toy Story 2 Teacher's Pet | David Hyde Pierce: Nixon A Bug's Life

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Reviewed September 29, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1955-93 CBS Studios, Inc. and 2008 Paramount Home Entertainment/CBS DVD.
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