austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

These precious moments, hold them very dear

[ Warning! Curmudgeonly sentiments ahead! ]

My preferred old-time radio station has gone into Christmas Special mode, a couple of weeks without regular programming in favor of Christmas-themed episodes of whatever it has in the vault. So it's a chance to see just how many shows decided to do a very twee tale of gosh, is that really Santa Claus? or a belabored recasting of the tale of the nativity to whatever modern dress was suitable; this would be all of them. There's surprisingly few takes on A Christmas Carol, even though you'd think Jack Benny could have just done that every year and he could just play it straight, and let the audience think it's hearing jokes.

Really bugging me, though, is My Friend Irma, a late 40s/early 50s show about standard-issue female comedy protagonist unit Jane and her roommate, the ``dumb Dora'' model Irma, along with a supporting cast of rapscallions and people with comic ethnic voices. (Key voice actors include Bea Benaderet, Hans Conreid, and Alan Reed, so pretty much, if you imagine a generic Hanna-Barbera cartoons-starring-humans cast, you've got the voice acting down.) Maybe I'd resent it less if they ever played other episodes, but this is my annual exposure to it, so the mawkish side of the show is maybe stronger than a fair sample of the program would imply.

In the episode, ``Irma's Christmas Party'', Irma has decided to throw a party on Christmas Eve. Fine. Except she figured it to be a surprise Christmas party, inviting everyone at the last minute. And she's upset to discover that, actually, all her friends had plans for Christmas Eve, mostly going over to family or other friends. Apparently, we the audience are supposed to feel sorry for Irma, but I wonder what she expected everyone was doing. At least the writers see it that way: the second act is character after character repenting of having their own lives and making plans for Christmas Eve more than two hours ahead of time, and coming round to Irma's ``means well'' plan. (The third act is an even more mawkish search for Irma, who's gone off sulking.)

OK, people will sometimes make plans without realizing others are doing their own thing. But the driving plot logic here amounts to, the cast of the show has to spend holidays together because otherwise that would imply they have existences outside being Irma's Friend. And that regardless of what modern views of realism might suggest, everyone in the cast has to come together for a big smiley hug at the end of a Christmas Episode because, hey, it's a Christmas Episode of a mediocre 60-year-old sitcom.

Duffy's Tavern does it better. Duffy's Tavern isn't played enough either, but it has character.

Trivia: The first movie based on My Friend Irma served as a launching pad for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Source: On The Air: The Encyclopedia Of Old-Time Radio, John Dunning.

Currently Reading: The Shock Of The Old: Technology And Global History Since 1900, David Edgerton.

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