HoneymoonerscoverGrade: B+/A- for adults; C+/B-  for kids
Entire family: Yes, but . . .
1955, 1017 min. (39 episodes), black-and-white
CBS Home Entertainment
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: PCM 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: C+

The Honeymooners began in 1950 as a comedy sketch on Cavalcade of Stars, a variety show hosted by Jackie Gleason, and continued with The Jackie Gleason Show. The Honeymooner sketches became so popular that five years later they aired for a season as a half-hour situation comedy, and it’s these “39 classic episodes” broadcast on CBS that are featured on this Blu-ray.

Shot for the most part on a single set depicting the shabby New York City apartment of bus driver Ralph Kramden (Gleason) and his longsuffering wife, Alice (Audrey Meadows), The Honeymooners had the feel of a stage play, with character entrances sparking plenty of applause—especially when tenement neighbors and good friends Ed Norton (Art Carney) and his wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph) walked in.

So here’s the puzzler. The basic set-up—two couples living in apartments above and below each other, with one gender getting into mischief—is the same as I Love Lucy, and yet our kids don’t find The Honeymooners nearly as entertaining, despite being #3 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, right behind Lucy.

Maybe part of it is the look. Black-and-white can seem ancient enough for young people, but at least Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were visionary enough to shoot each episode with more permanent 35mm film than the throwaway kinescope process being used by other television series prior to the introduction of videotape in 1956. I Love Lucy also used three cameras, compared to the one or two that were standard for other sitcoms. Kinescopes were subject to banding, and we see evidence of such vertical white lines on some of these episodes, even though the Blu-ray is a vast improvement over the DVD.  

Then again, maybe The Honeymooners is less kid-friendly because the episodes were more adult in nature—and I’m not talking about mature content. Everything is absolutely G-rated, but there was something childlike about Lucy and Ethel’s schemes that Ralph and Ed just couldn’t match, except for select episodes. They’re absolutely Lucy and Ethel in “Better Living through Television,” in which Ralph and Ed make a TV commercial to try to sell a boxload of gadgets that Ralph bought in his latest get-rich-quick scheme. And when Ralph tries to teach Ed how to golf, gets stuck in the sewer where Ed works, looks after Ed while he sleepwalks, or mistakenly thinks he has just months to live, the scripts come closer to I Love Lucy’s wide-appeal situations. But there are other episodes about Ralph’s work or lodge that just don’t have crossover appeal.

HoneymoonersscreenMostly, though, I think it’s the characters themselves. Lucy was the linchpin that held her shows together, and her character was one children could identify with. She had dreams and schemes and went about things in ways that were clearly all wrong. But her heart was in the right place, and in her relationship with Ricky she was like one big kid who needed a hug. Ralph Cramden is a blustery fellow who shouts a lot, raises his fist as if to hit his wife (“Why I oughta . . .”) or, pacing behind her, threatens her with “To the moon, Alice, to the moon!”—though it’s clear to adults that he’s all bluff. But to kids? He comes across as a bully, and when he gets his come-uppance every episode, children will take satisfaction. With Lucy, there’s more empathy. Also, while The Honeymooners feeds off of gender stereotypes from the ‘50s, I Love Lucy was already sticking a toe into the waters of women’s liberation.

Norton was the goofy character, the likable one, the naive one, and parents who love this show will do well to start smaller children off on ones in which Norton is predominantly featured—as when he insists on wearing his space helmet while watching a favorite TV program.

Bottom line:  Older children will “get” The Honeymooners, but it won’t play as well with the whole family as I Love Lucy or The Andy Griffith Show—two other classic sitcoms new to Blu-ray.