Almost sixty years later, Jackie Gleason’s legendary spin off of “Cavalcade of Stars” popular comedy segment about a normal bus driver named Ralph Kramden seeking his riches and fame, while living with a long suffering wife endures and remains one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. It stands besides “I Love Lucy,” and “Gilligan’s Island,” as one of the most recognizable and beloved series that always manages to find its way on to television, in spite of the series being set during a time where the telephone was still a rare element of the average household. The reason why “The Honeymooners” continues to live on, is not just because of the fact that Ralph Kramden is a quintessential every man, but for the brilliant writing, excellent acting, and top notch comedy that packs a punch even today.
For folks unaware, Jackie Gleason stars as blue collared worker Ralph Kramden, a New York city bus driver who spends his days paling around with his neighbor Ed Norton, and arguing with his wife Alice, all the while anxiously trying to find new ways to become rich and famous. Every episode involves Ralph either defying or matching wits with the more sensible and rational Alice, or failing at finding a means of gaining wealth that could grant him and Alice a one way ticket to the top. The show famously ended after thirty nine episodes when Jackie Gleason decided to call it quits. The show, nonetheless, lived on in syndication. Gleason would later re-visit “The Honeymooners” in future variety shows. All black and white and filmed with a studio audience, “The Honeymooners” is surprisingly low tech at times, resembling an extended comedy skit. Walls shake when doors are slammed, and backgrounds are obvious matte paintings, but that’s part of the charm that keeps Gleason’s show so fantastic.
Gleason knew what made the series such a wonderful combination of wit and slapstick, and combined both along with him and his friend Art Carney’s masterful ability to improvise. There are occasional moments when a line is flubbed or forgotten, prompting Gleason and Carney to take a humorous moment and transform it in to a side splitting gem of a joke. Take for example “Better Living Through TV” when a Swiss army gadget launches a projectile by accident prompting Gleason to rebound with the line “Maybe we ought to say something about spear fishing.” I grew up watching “The Honeymooners” and still find a great time and plenty of hearty laughter whenever I tune in to an episode. Gleason was able to tap in to a relatability that comes along only once every lifetime. It works brilliantly in post-Depression era America, and works now in a world where the blue collared worker still strives for their chance at wealth and prosperity.
The series is now very deservedly preserved in High Definition by Paramount with a wealth of features. There are promotional clips, commercials for automobiles starring the cast, and two in depth “60 Minutes” profiles on star and show creator Jackie Gleason. There’s the inclusion of the slightly more tolerable of the “Lost episodes” line up that takes the series in a melodramatic area as Ralph and Alice adopt a baby girl, and attempt to adjust to parenthood only for their world to come crashing down on them when the mother demands the baby back.
There’s the 35th Anniversary Special with host Audrey Meadows profiling the show’s history, and the characters, as well as Gleason. There’s the 50th Anniversary Special hosted by comedian Kevin James who pays great respect to the series with a series of clips and interviews with celebrities like Tom Hanks. Finally there’s a “Person to Person” Segment Featuring Jackie Gleason, who interviews James and Mary Rahilly.