Not many people know this, but both of my parents are hardcore fans of “The Honeymooners” and growing up I must have seen every episode of the Jackie Gleason sitcom at least a thousand times. I have every quote memorized, I remember every episode, and yes, I’ve even sat through the painfully unfunny, and boring “Lost” Episodes. I’ve also never seen the cinematic reboot with Cedric the Entertainer since, as a fan, I have to draw a line somewhere. In either case, 2016 marks the sixtieth anniversary of when Jackie Gleason voluntarily cancelled his sitcom “The Honeymooners” after thirty nine episodes.
The series lived on in syndication for decades after, becoming a cult classic and garnering an immense following of loyal fans. There was even at one time a convention for the fans of the series. “The Honeymooners” is a New York staple, and every single year the local TV station in New York (WPIX/Channel 11), plays a twenty four hour marathon of all thirty nine episodes. Since it’s been almost a hundred years since the show bowed out, I thought I’d list my top five favorite episodes of the series. It was not an easy feat, at all. With great pain, I had to omit a ton of great episodes in favor of this five, including “The Worry Wart,” “Trapped,” “A Matter of Record,” “Mama Loves Mambo,” and so many more.
In spite of that, these are the top five episodes of “The Honeymooners” that always stand out most for me. If you have never seen “The Honeymooners,” I highly suggest these five.
5. TV or Not TV
The first episode of the series sees Alice, the housewife, anxious to convince Ralph to buy their first TV after she learns that neighbor Trixie and Norton are about to buy a new one. After a hilarious fight with her, Ralph and Norton agree to split costs on the TV and share it. This, of course, results in a lot of fights over who is going to watch TV at what time, and there are a ton of hilarious moments from Ed Norton watching “Captain Video,” Ralph cheating on his coin toss with “Heads I win, tails you lose,” and the finale where Ralph is awoken in horror when Norton is watching a late night horror movie aloud. It’s also a very good indication on how addictive TV is and would be, when it became much easier for every home to buy a set.
4. Better Living Through TV
In one of Ralph’s many attempts to get rich quick, he claims a whole lot of multipurpose knives. Thinking he has the upper hand, he decides to sell the knives on television with Norton and film his own commercial. Things go awry when Ralph discovers he’s petrified of live TV, resulting in a hilarious series of events and catastrophes. Alice plays the voice of reason, trying to convince Ralph that maybe the knives are flimsy, hence why they were in storage for long. Ralph learns the hard way, in the end. There are a ton of wonderful moments, including Ralph crashing in to the set, Norton threatening to punch Trixie after the commercial fails, and the obviously unscripted moment when a piece of the knife prop pops loose launching in to the air, prompting Jackie Gleason to improvise with the line “Maybe we should mention something about spear fishing.”
3. The Bensonhurst Bomber
One of the more clever episodes sees Ralph being a bully and getting what’s coming to him. After bullying a smaller man out of a table at the local pool hall, Ralph accidentally gets in to hot water with his much larger best friend Harvey. Harvey challenges Ralph to a fist fight, prompting Ralph to prepare for the match, whether he likes it or not. From there he and Norton team up as Norton shows Ralph the basics, ending in a lot of hilarious moments including Norton sneaking a punch in to Ralph’s stomach. The ending offers a neat twist when Ralph and Norton set up a fake confrontation with a thug at the pool hall which Ralph hopes will scare Harvey away from the actual fight itself. But things don’t exactly go as planned. It’s a very memorable and raucously funny episode with Gleason and Carney at their best. Listen carefully as Gleason and Carney have a tough time remembering the line “Get a load of fatso, there!” as they constantly phrase the sentence wrong while in character.
2. Unconventional Behavior
Once again Ralph tries to outwit Alice by avoiding an argument with her to give him money for the upcoming Raccoon convention, and invite her along with him anyway. Little does he know she planned to give him the money anyway, ensuring her and Trixie tagging along with heir husbands, either way. This is one of the few times Ralph uttered one of his best catchphrases “I got a BIG MOUTH!” While preparing to take the train to the convention, the guys lose the girls prompting them to miss the train. Things go from bad to worse when a pair of trick handcuffs keeps Ralph and Norton linked together and without any help. Of course Ralph is short tempered and Norton is oh so annoying as they struggle to sleep, and cope with being linked together. There are a ton of really funny instances including Norton asking “Hey Ralph? Mind if I smoke?” to which Ralph replies “I don’t care if you burn.” The episode has a great ending including a memorable surprise twist.
1. The Man from Space
The episode I constantly revisit finds Ralph anxious to win the costume contest in the Raccoon Lodge’s costume party. After he learns Norton is renting a costume, and that Alice won’t give him money to rent his own, he opts to make his own costume. This leads Ralph to obsessing with winning the contest, as he’s build a suit out of household elements to look like a space man. Of course everyone pretty much has no idea what he’s actually supposed to be when he finally finishes his outfit made out of knobs, the ice box door, and various other items. I love how Norton says he confused him for a Sherman tank and how in the end, Ralph is mistaken for a pinball machine. Art Carney also has a good role in this episode when he rents a costume making him look like one of his role models, a French founder of the sewer system. His consistent donning of the costume and use of snuff to sneeze in the face of Ralph is hilarious, as well as his French rants against Ralph when the two are arguing. Ralph’s construction of his suit is silly enough, but the way the episode ends is a fun plot twist as, once again, the more humble Norton beats out the more aggressive and petty Ralph.