About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Brady Bunch Christmas (1969)

This review is part of the 3rd annual Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog AssociationClick here to check out this blogathon's complete schedule.  Today is Day #3 during the week-long event, please be sure to check out all the other participating blog posts.

Here's the story of a lovely lady...who lost her ability to talk (and sing) just a few days before Christmas.  Those of us of a certain age have nearly every episode of The Brady Bunch memorized.  Yet fans know that "The Voice of Christmas," the first season's Christmas story, still stands out from the series' five year run.  Please indulge me while I remind you why.

Carol follows the doctor's orders to rest her voice by not speaking.

After many rehearsals for the upcoming Christmas service at church, mother Carol Brady has strained her vocal cords. The doctor orders her to rest for a few days to help ease the laryngitis and Carol agrees to not speak in order to recuperate. However, Carol resists the bed rest that the doctor also suggests. She knows she has a long list of things that need to get done before the holiday including decorating, cooking, and the rest of the shopping. Carol's husband Mike comforts her, telling her that he will make sure everything is prepared for the family's first Christmas together.

The boys require some adult assistance in order to bring in the family's Christmas tree.

Not only does Carol not feel well but she is asked to wear a smelly remedy around her neck.

Greg, Peter, and Bobby bring home the Christmas tree and Mike helps them find just the right spot in the living room.  Marcia, Jan, and Cindy bring the boxes of decorations from storage and help to begin decorating the tree.  Everyone is chipping in to help prepare for Christmas so that Carol can rest and feel better.  The maid Alice even brews her grandmother's remedy to help with Carol's recovery. Despite its strong unpleasant odor, Carol submits to the towel soaked in Alice's cure-all wrapped around her irritated throat.

Cindy asks for for a miracle.

The most memorable scene in the episode is one in which Mike takes Cindy with him to finish the family's Christmas shopping.  Mike sees an opportunity to have his youngest daughter visit with the store's Santa Claus and he leaves her in line so he can finish the shopping.  When Cindy climbs upon Santa's lap, she doesn't ask for a toy like most other children.  Instead, Cindy asks Santa to bring her mother's voice back so she can sing in church on Christmas morning.

Could YOU say 'no' to this precious little girl's plea?

This Santa can't resist the youngest of his faithful believers.

The store Santa Claus is touched by Cindy's unselfish request and promises her that her mommy will be okay in time for Christmas.  Mike Brady returns just in time to hear his daughter's impossible Christmas request and he gently tries to suggest that Santa may not have the power to make her wish come true.  Cindy's heartfelt, innocent response is a part of Christmas TV history.

Say it with me--I know you know the line.  Cindy to her father: "He's better than a doctor, he's SANTA CLAUS!"

Mike is upset with the store Santa Claus who promised the impossible to his daughter--and goes to speak with him.  After asking why he would lead Cindy to believe that Santa could make her mommy well, the store Santa confesses that he only wanted to make Cindy happy.  He admits he couldn't resist her plea.  Frustrated with what he senses is the inevitable, Mike heads home to deal with Cindy's disappointment on Christmas morning when her mother's laryngitis keeps her from singing in church.

Mike wants to know why Santa would make an impossible promise to Cindy?  Doesn't he realize he's setting the young girl up for a disillusioned Christmas morning?

Carol is touched by her daughter's hope and belief in Santa Claus' promise.

Cindy's belief in a miracle doesn't extend to her siblings. One by one, the four oldest children get out of their beds on Christmas Eve and sit by the Christmas tree dreading the morning's inevitable disappointment. They agree that the best thing to do would be to cancel Christmas--there's no point in having any celebration if their mother isn't well.

Alice urges the kids to enjoy Christmas even if their mother is sick--because Carol wants them all to be happy.

Alice overhears the children's discussion and reminds them about their parents' feelings.  How would their mother and father feel if the children refused to honor the special day everyone has been preparing for?  Won't Carol feel better if the whole family makes the best of Christmas rather than wallow in their own miseries?  Of course, the kids agree to enjoy their Christmas dinner and open their gifts--they didn't mean to make their parents disappointed in them. Mike has been listening to Alice's guidance to his family and thanks her for helping.

Carol sits upright in bed--her voice is back!  Carol is played by actress/singer Florence Henderson.

Accompanied by the organ, Carol sings the sacred carol "O Come All Ye Faithful" in church.

On Christmas morning, Carol awakens to find her voice has returned.  We see her not only singing in bed but singing in church at the Christmas service. With the entire Brady clan sitting in the pews, we hear Carol singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" as young Cindy beams with happiness, knowing Santa brought her the gift she asked for.

The family--and Alice--together in church on Christmas morning.

Mike gives Cindy an additional little hug as they listen to mommy sing.

Satisfaction in watching The Brady Bunch isn't found in unpredictable storylines or complex emotions--we love this episode because it's comforting, sweet, and centers on the impossible innocence of simpler times. (Simpler times that didn't exist in the late-1960s either.) "The Voice of Christmas"--with Cindy's precious innocence, and her adorable curly pig tails and lisp--endures as one of the most cherished Christmas TV stories because it continues to offer viewers comfort and simplicity despite the world we live in. To enjoy this episode as a sugary treat is to appreciate the series as an oasis from the complex and often difficult real world. Watching this episode a million times makes you no less immune to tearing up with emotion.

Recognize the actor playing Santa Claus?

You may recognize the actor who plays Santa Claus in the episode as Hal Smith.  Brady Bunch junkies like myself know that Smith also appeared as the Kartoon King in another BB episode "The Winner" in which Bobby tries to win an ice cream eating contest on TV in his desperate quest for a trophy.  TV fans know Smith for his lovable role as the town drunk, Otis Campbell, on The Andy Griffith Show.  And, Smith also performed quite a bit of voice work for Hanna-Barbera and has brought Santa to life in multiple holiday cartoons for them as well.

Another bit of Christmas TV history: remember the 1988 made-for-TV movie  A Very Brady Christmas?  In the end, the family huddles together worried about Mike's safety after he's trapped inside a collapsed building.  You may recall that Carol begins singing "O Come All Ye Faithful"--the same song she sings in the original 1969 Christmas episode--just before we see the Christmas miracle that concludes the TV movie. That's a nice emotional connection for fans of the original series.

Do you have this album?  Is it on vinyl, CD, or a digital download?

Those of us that listen to the album Christmas with the Brady Bunch know the disappointment in the version of "O Come All Ye Faithful" on the album is not the same audio track from the original 1969 Christmas episode.  Instead, the album version is the sacred carol sung by Eve Plumb--who played middle sister Jan Brady on the series.  I can't speak for others, but I know I've always wished it was Florence Henderson's version of the song on the album.

Summer of Classic TV on MeTV includes The Brady Bunch every Friday.

Starting this Friday, May 29th, The Brady Bunch will be airing every Friday throughout the summer on MeTV in two hour blocks starting at 9pm(ET.)  How groovy is that?

If you're interested, I wrote about the 1966 Christmas episode of That Girl in the 1st MeTV blogathon, and the 1958 Christmas episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive and the 1972 Christmas episode of the Mod Squad in the 2nd annual MeTV blogathon.  Click on the series titles to see those reviews again.

Many of you are already asking about it so let me say that my annual Christmas in July celebration here on my website will be announced next week.  I'll post the questions to an all-new mini-questionnaire and I welcome everyone to participate.  If it's even half as fun as last year, I think we'll be in for a fun classic TV treat.  Remember what we did last year? Click here for the 2014 introduction to the Christmas TV Party and the recap.  And, come back the first week in June to see this year's instructions.

Don't forget to check out all the other participating blogs in the Summer of MeTV Classic TV blogathon.  For the complete list, click HERE.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Family Christmas (1976)

Family ran for five seasons, 1976-1980.  Are you a big fan too?

The one drama series I most frequently turn to when I'm looking for emotional comfort is Family.  Although the Lawrence family never resembled my family, I've always connected to the emotions and the gentle, perhaps even common, dramas my favorite TV family struggled with.  I've watched the first and second seasons on DVD over and over again.  Today I thought I'd share my thoughts on the second season Christmas episode.  When will they release more of this series on DVD?  I make this complaint a lot, don't I?

On-screen title of this yuletide episode although the DVD re-names it "The Christmas Show."

The 1976 holiday episode has been titled "The Christmas Show" on the official DVD set however, the title appears differently on screen at the beginning of the episode.  Episode title changes happen quite a bit, actually.  No matter, this first Christmas episode of the series has several memorable moments.

Doug's father James comes to the house for Christmas and introduces his new girlfriend, Constance Hume.

The central storyline concerns itself with Doug's father James.  He is coming over for the family tree trimming party as he does every year, however, this year he brings along a girlfriend.  Doug is polite and warmly welcomes Constance to his home but he is upset.  Not only is Constance significantly younger than his father (Doug comments she must be his own age) but Doug is shocked to discover that his father is serious about the relationship and they are talking about getting married on New Year's day.

Nancy was experiencing Christmas in an all new way, through the eyes of her child, only to learn that Timmy is leaving with his father for the holiday.

Meanwhile, the other members of the family have their own concerns.  Oldest sister Nancy is disappointed to realize she has unknowingly agreed to share custody of her young son Timmy with his father over the entire Christmas weekend.  Young Timmy is at that age where he is experiencing the joy of Christmas for the first time and Nancy is upset with her ex-husband Jeff that he is taking Timmy on a cruise to Mexico.  Nancy was hoping to have Timmy home with her and the whole family for the holiday.  (This is just one among many bitter struggles Nancy has with her ex-husband Jeff throughout the series.)

Although she's a teenager, Buddy is still the youngest member of the family so she gets to put the star on the top of the Christmas tree at the party.

13 year-old Buddy is awkwardly occupying that space between being a child and an adult.  As the youngest, she finds she has to remind the adults to keep up the family's annual holiday traditions while she knows she doesn't feel like a child anymore.  Mother Kate is disappointed in the warmer-than-usual weather in Pasadena this Christmas.  She misses the snow she experienced at Christmas as a child growing up in Oregon.  Emotions are running deep this holiday season at the Lawrence home.

Constance catches Willie staring at her!  Constance Hume is portrayed here by singer/actress Sheree North.

Willie is convinced he's met Grandpa's girlfriend Constance before.  The next day while Christmas shopping with Buddy, Willie steps into a record store and instantly recalls why Constance looks familiar to him:  she used to be a recording artist known as Connie Sullivan.  Willie buys a Connie Sullivan record to give to Grandpa as a stocking stuffer on Christmas morning.

Willie remembers why Grandpa's girlfriend looks so familiar.

Willie thinks everyone will be tickled to discover that Constance used to be a celebrity.

Willie tells his father about the Connie Sullivan record he's purchased--but Doug isn't happy.  In fact, Doug forbids Willie to give his gift!  Later, we hear Doug talking to his wife Kate about his feelings.  Doug remembers Connie Sullivan from her singing career in the 1960s.  She made headlines several times from a lurid affair with a married bandleader and getting mixed up with mobsters.  Kate feels that Doug should drop his concern about Constance but Doug wants to talk to his father about her scandalous past.

Doug has hurt his father's feelings so badly that James refuses to come over for Christmas dinner as planned.

Sure enough, James takes offense to Doug's interference in his private life.  It turns out, James knew all about Constance's past. Now James resents his son meddling in his business and speaking to him like he's incompetent--or worse, an old fool being exploited by a younger woman. Doug thinks he has every right to be protective of his father's interests but James is so hurt that he refuses to come over to the house for Christmas dinner.  Kate is angry that the family won't be together for Christmas.

Doug is stubbornly convinced he's right but now the family won't be together for Christmas.

Although Christmas TV episodes require a bit of conflict in order to move a narrative forward, this drama unfolds and resolves itself acknowledging its characters' depth and subtlety of emotion that is most often overlooked in family sitcom storylines and many other dramas.  This is the strength of the series Family overall--and it's true in this particular episode as well.

Kate quotes Hamlet about the tradition of holding Christmas sacred to make her point about the holiday's importance to adults as well as children.

My favorite moment in this holiday episode is a shared conversation between mother and daughter on the sofa.  Teenager Buddy tells her mom that she thinks Christmas is best enjoyed by children.  Kate hugs her daughter, agrees, and says that she thinks Christmas time may be more important for adults.  She quotes Shakespeare's Hamlet (Act I, scene i--dialogue spoken by Marcellus) to make the point that adults require the annual reminder to stop and remember the importance of love, family, and peace.  It's a powerful moment, filled with the depth of emotion and importance that only a mother's wisdom can bring.  And, Kate makes her point by quoting Shakespeare!?  The oft repeated claim that television is a "vast wasteland" overlooks precious moments like this.

It's emotionally satisfying to see mature men express their feelings and resolve their conflicts.

By the end of this episode, the conflicts are resolved--and the Lawrence family spends Christmas together.  Again, the happy ending may be of no surprise to television viewers but here the emotional lives of the characters are the driving force of the story--not the plot itself.  It's wonderful to see Doug not just apologize to his father but tell him that he loves him and needs him in his life.

This episode also give actress/singer Sheree North a chance to shine a little.  We hear her sing at bit of "The Little Drummer Boy" at the Lawrences' tree trimming party and "What Child Is This?" as a part of her church choir on Christmas Eve.

Despite their rancorous divorce,  Jeff and Nancy agree to come together for Timmy this Christmas.
Jeff ends up dropping by on Christmas day to return Timmy to Nancy.  After spending Christmas Eve with his side of the family, he now better understands how important it would be for Timmy to be with his mother and her family on Christmas day.  Nancy graciously invites Jeff to spend the rest of the holiday with her family and his son, Timmy.

Buddy's mysterious box from the freezer reveals its contents:  Kate's authentic snowman.
And, Buddy thoughtfully gifts a bit of Christmas nostalgia to her mother.  Buddy has found and purchased a snowman--made of real ice--for Kate to experience a bit of her childhood again.  While most of us know what it is to have a bit of family drama at Christmas, sometimes it's easier to endure when fictional families, like the Lawrences, inspire us to hope for the best.

The Lawrence family at Christmas.

In 1976, McNichol appeared in both the Family Christmas episode and the Starsky & Hutch Christmas episode.

Are you a fan of the series Family too?  Who is your favorite character and cast person?  I always wanted a brother like Willie but I identified with Buddy.  If you want to see Kristy McNichol in another yuletide episode, don't forget that she appears in the 1976 Christmas episode of Starsky & Hutch too.

Kristy plays a street-wise kid on the Christmas episode of Starsky & Hutch.