Grade:  B-

TV sitcom

Not rated (would be G)

Some Christmas movies are best seen as a run-up to the holiday, while a few special ones become part of our family holiday traditions. Others, like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Ultimate Christmas Collection, are best seen after the letdown of Christmas, when everyone is feeling slightly sad that the extended family that gathered has gone back to their own separate, hectic lives. This two-disc 70th anniversary DVD set is guaranteed to spark nostalgic feelings and thoughts, especially if you’re a fan of classic TV, old enough to remember television before streaming, or feeling nostalgic already about Christmases past.

For 14 years, Americans tuned in to watch The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a sitcom featuring former bandleader Ozzie Nelson, his singer-turned-wife Harriet, and their two boys, David and Ricky. It wasn’t exactly reality TV, but it wasn’t a straight fictional sitcom, either. Their TV house on 822 Sycamore Road was built to look like an exact replica of the Nelsons’ Hollywood home, and the episodes were mostly inspired by the Nelsons’ real lives, especially young Ricky’s, who had a propensity for lowering his head and driving full speed ahead, no matter what was involved.

Like today’s reality shows, the Nelsons played themselves and ad-libbed a certain amount, but there were still scripts that shaped each episode and you always suspected that when the cameras stopped rolling there was a side to this TV family that you never saw. I mean, name two siblings in America other than David and Ricky that never really fought! These guys were as polite to each other as they were to their teachers or parents, whom they addressed as “ma’am” or “sir.” As in “No, ma’am,” or “Yes, sir.” But I can’t think of a better way to get a feel for the Fifties than by watching The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and this Christmas collection will get more play and appeal to a wider audience than the regular episodes because of people’s natural curiosity about how families celebrated Christmas in earlier decades.

Ozzie and Harriet remained pretty much the same throughout this squeaky clean-cut series. Ozzie was the ever-smiling, often bumbling or hapless father who had a good relationship with his wife and sons, and who never raised his voice or got angry.  There seemed to be no secrets with this group, and no topic that was too small or too taboo to bring up. Ozzie always seemed to talk on a level that would have made him a great kiddie show host, especially when he wore those cardigan sweaters that Mr. Rogers later would discover. Harriet, meanwhile, was the always perfectly coiffed and poised matron who was the quiet voice of reason and the apron-wearing expert on social graces.

It’s the boys who did all the changing, Ricky especially. Viewers first saw him as a milder, 11-year-old version of Dennis the Menace–that twinkle-in-the-eye mischief-maker who was basically a good kid but had some pretty definite ideas about how to have fun.  Then, before you knew it, Ricky was caught up in the brand new rock ‘n’ roll craze and dressed like Elvis Presley for one Halloween episode. The pre-teens went nuts. The family had always been musical, with the boys playing multiple instruments, so it was a no-brainer for Ozzie to figure out how to incorporate Ricky’s playing into the show. His first musical outing aired on April 10, 1957, with “Ricky the Drummer.” Quickly, Ricky Nelson became a teen idol, and his father, who had the same sort of control over this show as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had over theirs, found ways to incorporate every single song somehow in the episodes. If there wasn’t a way to work in the song during the show, then it was tacked on at the end, like an epilogue or a bonus scene.

By the time he reached the age of 21, Ricky Nelson had earned nine gold records for Imperial Records, with two of his biggest hits topping the Billboard charts. “Travelin’ Man” was technically the first rock video, because Ozzie found a way to intercut location footage with Ricky’s performance. “Hello Mary Lou” was Ricky’s biggest hit ever, selling over 7 million records worldwide. The quieter, steadier older brother Dave also grew up and got married by the show’s end, with his wife June and Rick’s wife Kris also appearing on the show. Because they were real people and really forerunners to today’s reality series, Americans really formed an attachment to the Nelsons.

Included here are 10 episodes from the ‘50s, three from the ‘60s, and a 1984 “Ozzie & Harriet Christmas Special.” Fans of Square Pegs, Family Ties, Father Dowling, or Melrose Place might enjoy seeing Rich Nelson’s daughter, Tracy, bouncing on a knee during one of the bonus features included here, which all feel like video Christmas cards. Maybe that’s why, collectively, the pacing and nostalgic feel of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Ultimate Christmas Collection make it best suited for looking back and remembering Christmas with family in days gone by.

The best of the episodes are “A Piano for the Fraternity,” which gives you a look at fraternities before the Animal House years and features a multi-generational plot; “The Fruitcake,” which plays with the idea of unwanted gifts with O. Henry irony; and “The Christmas Tree Lot,” which gave audiences another chance to see Ricky strum and sing.

Entire family:  Yes

Run time:  420 min. Black & White / Color

Studio/Distributor:  MPI

Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Featured audio: Digital 2.0 Mono

Bonus features:  C+

Amazon link

Not rated (would be G)