53) Better Living through Television (The Honeymooners)

The Honeymooners lasted for one season. Granted, it was one season of 39 episodes (actors used to actually have to work) and there were other sketches featuring the characters on other shows, but it’s still only one season. The main reason it’s remembered is that the show The Flintstones was directly based off of it. Also, it was one of the funniest things on TV in the 1950s that didn’t have Lucille Ball.

Dear Hollywood: Let the show stay dead. It doesn’t need a reboot.


This episode has 3 things going for it. The first is that it’s the funniest of Ralph Kramden’s (Jackie Gleason) famous “get rich quick” schemes. The second is that it mocks pretty much every telemarketing product, including ones that didn’t even exist yet. The last is that it had a moment that can’t happen much in TV anymore. Since The Honeymooners was always filmed live with no re-shoots, or even rehearsals for most scenes, accidents could happen and still make it to film. This episode has the funniest error the show ever had, and displays exactly how quick Jackie Gleason was on his feet.

Granted, he usually just said “Homina homina homina.” Low bar.

The episode’s premise is that Ralph and his neighbor Ed Norton (Art Carney, not to be confused with the actual Edward Norton), find a box of “Handy Housewife Helpers,” a device that opens cans, takes corks out of bottles, cores apples, cuts glass, scales fish, drives screws, sharpens scissors, and takes corns off of women’s feet, because it was the 1950s. Deciding that the best course of action is to sell all of them on television, the pair vows to make it rich with a super sales pitch special. Ralph borrows the money he needs for the airtime from various people (after his wife says no), and nervously does a run-through of the pitch with Ed. It goes decently, but once they put him in front of a crowd, everything goes wrong, both in the pitch, and on the actual show. During a live segment about a live segment going wrong, the segment goes wrong. Deadpool isn’t that meta.

“Jackie?” “Yeah, Art?” “Did we rehearse this?” “No, but the characters did.”

The Honeymooners never bothered to care much about nailing lines exactly, because real conversations don’t work perfectly, but this episode featured more than usual, even in the parts of the episode where they weren’t supposed to happen. Then, during the fake ad segment, the “Handy Housewife Helper” malfunctions and flings a blade offstage. Gleason goes off to retrieve it, ad-libbing a line about how the Helper is good for “spear fishing.” Ultimately, because the fake pitch fails more than usual, the bit succeeds more than it should.

The face of genius


The reason why The Honeymooners has stood the test of time is that it really shows the example of when a man’s greed exceeds his competence. Ralph Kramden constantly dreams beyond his abilities, but never actually works to get better at anything, so he fails miserably. Essentially, he’s what happens when you believe in the American Dream of success, but you don’t feel up to the work, and you don’t have the self-awareness to know that you need to change. Ralph Kramden is most of us, if not all of us, and that’s why he’s memorable. And in this episode, when given 5 minutes to change his life, he cracks under the pressure. To intentionally misuse a work by a brilliant poet:

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies—
The Heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King.

PREVIOUS – 54: Star Trek: The Next Generation

NEXT – 52: Buffy, The Vampire Slayer

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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