Thursday, December 24, 2015

MeTV Holiday Blogathon-The Odd Couple: "Scrooge Gets An Oscar"

This post is part of A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic TV Blog Association. MeTV has been airing holiday-themed episodes of classic TV series every weeknight and one of tonight's shows is "Scrooge Gets An Oscar," from The Odd Couple! Find links to other Blogathon posts here.

"Joy to the World" plays on the soundtrack as the camera peeks through an apartment window. Five men are framed through a Christmas wreath as they are seated around a table playing poker. So opens "Scrooge Gets An Oscar," the Christmas-themed episode of the classic series The Odd Couple that airs tonight on MeTV.

The show premiered on ABC on Thursday, September 24, 1970, and the Christmas show was only the twelfth episode of the series to air. It premiered on December 17, eight days before Christmas, and Scrooge was everywhere that fall: the musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, entitled Scrooge, had premiered at New York City's Radio City Music Hall on November 19, 1970, and starred Albert Finney as Scrooge and Alec Guinness as Marley. The makeup and costumes used for Oscar (Jack Klugman) and Felix (Tony Randall) in "Scrooge Gets An Oscar" seem based on the portrayals of the two key characters in the movie, and it may be that the producers of The Odd Couple got the idea for this episode from the film.

Alec Guinness and Albert Finney in Scrooge
Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in
"Scrooge Gets An Oscar"

Snow is falling outside and Christmas is coming, but Oscar is a grouch; Vinnie remarks that Oscar married his ex-wife Blanche on December 25th and that's why the anniversary holds bad associations for him. Oscar remarks, "I'd like to get a giant candy cane and beat the wings off a sugar plum fairy." His mood is so sour that his friends decide he would make a perfect Scrooge for their performance of A Christmas Carol at the Midtown Orphanage. Things only get worse for Oscar when Felix marches in, singing "Deck the Halls" and pushing a cart with a bowl filled with his homemade eggnog. Oscar gets madder and madder and, though Felix tells him "You're sloppy but you're not cruel," Oscar decides to throw Felix out of the apartment as a Christmas present to himself. After his roommate leaves the table, Felix tells the poker players: "That's our Scrooge!"

The opening shot of a snowy NY street

The first act of "Scrooge Gets an Oscar" opens with a lovely shot of a New York City street in a snowstorm; 1970-era cars crawl along the snow-covered streets. It wasn't really snowing in NYC that day; in fact, there had only been 1.8 inches of snow so far that month, so the footage must have been from a prior winter. Inside the Madison/Unger apartment, Felix sadly packs a bag and surprises Oscar by giving him a Christmas present. "Goodbye forever, old buddy," says Felix, who heads outside, where another bit of stock footage shows a snowy scene outside the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

That's the library on the right

A classic scene follows, as Roy, Vinnie and Speed sit around reading in the room where they will rehearse for the play. Vinnie comments "that Charles Dickens was sure a genius," but Speed is more interested in the paperback he has tucked inside his script--Lolita and the Naked Pharmacist, Or, Happiness Is A Hot Drugstore, a naughty takeoff on Charles Schulz's Happiness is a Warm Puppy, first published in 1962 and very popular throughout the rest of the decade.

Murray the Cop arrives and, now that the cast is assembled, Felix enters. The director of the show, he is responsible for choosing who will play Scrooge, since Oscar refuses to participate. What follows is hilarious, as Roy, Vinnie and Speed audition for the part. The highlight is Vinnie's reading, which leads Felix to comment that "If we ever do Scrooge as an ax murderer, you've got the job!" The upshot of all this auditioning is that the only person really able to play Scrooge is Oscar.

Vinnie's special take on Scrooge

Back at the apartment, the pleas of the Poker Players fall on deaf ears, and Oscar's mood only worsens when he receives a singing telegram that goes like this:

Season's Greetings, Oscar boy, my alimony's due
If you don't pay up right away I'll get the cops on you
And you'll spend Christmas in the clink with other bums like you

--Your former wife, Blanche Madison

Not surprisingly, this pushes Oscar over the edge and he throws everyone out of his apartment. Felix wags his finger and tells Oscar, "That's who you are! The real Scrooge!" Alone at last, Oscar settles down on the couch to watch TV and nurse the stomach pains brought on by overeating. "A Christmas Carol" is on, and Oscar falls asleep and dreams that he is Ebenezer Madison; on the TV screen he sees Felix as Marley's ghost.

Oscar settles down to watch some TV
Felix as Marley's ghost

After the mid-show commercial break, the dream continues. Marley warns Scrooge and then appears in person in the apartment; after a misguided attempt to lead Scrooge out the window, the two decide take the elevator. Throughout their satiric journey, Marley and Scrooge retain the traits of Felix and Oscar: the fog bothers Marley's sinuses and young Ebenezer Madison wishes for a pony, even though he lives in the Bronx! The sight of Jack Klugman in knickers is not easily forgotten and recalls Joe Besser as Stinky in the early 1950s' Abbott and Costello Show.

Young Ebenezer Madison

Joe Besser as Stinky on
The Abbott and Costello Show

A quick look into Christmas Present features the Poker Players again, with Al Molinaro as Tiny Tim repeating "God Bless Us All, Everyone!" over and over. The final visit, to Christmas Yet to Come, takes place in a stylized graveyard, where Oscar sees his own gravestone. He has a quick change of heart and awakens on the couch, with Felix there to tell him goodbye for one last time before he moves out of the apartment.

Christmas Present

But the magic of Christmas is not through with Oscar Madison, as we learn in the conclusion of "Scrooge Gets An Oscar," and he agrees to go ahead and play Scrooge in the Christmas play. The tag shows Oscar and Felix exchanging presents that fit their personalities.

Oscar and Felix celebrate Christmas Eve

It's fitting that "Scrooge Gets An Oscar" will air on MeTV tonight, hours before the big day, because it is one of the best examples of Memorable Entertainment that classic TV sitcoms have to offer.

On this Christmas 2015, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and a special prayer should go out to the family of Al Molinaro, who played Murray the Cop in this episode and who passed away this past October 30th at the age of 96.

--Jack Seabrook

This post is part of A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic TV Blog Association. MeTV has been airing holiday-themed episodes of classic TV series every weeknight and one of tonight's shows is "Scrooge Gets An Oscar," from The Odd Couple! Find links to other Blogathon posts here.


Walker Martin said...

I'll try and watch this episode tonight. Sounds interesting. And a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you also, Jack. And also to the rest of Bare Bones staff.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Walker, and a very Merry Christmas to you!

Walker Martin said...

ME TV was supposed to air the episode that Jack discussed above but when I tuned in they decided to have the dreaded fireplace log and Christmas songs. One thing a TV station has to do if they are to be considered a legitimate station and that is to follow their announced programming. ME TV is a pretty sorry station.

Jack Seabrook said...

I have the same local station as you. I suspect the local station preempted the network feed. If you still want to watch the show, it's free on Hulu.

Walker Martin said...

I have to admit that I never bothered to watch the Odd Couple when it was on TV in the 1970's. But I did just finish the episode, "Scrooge Gets An Oscar", on Hulu. This was one of the better Christmas shows I've seen recently mainly because the story of Scrooge is such a great tale. I loved the shots of NYC in the snowstorm.
Rereading my comment above made me laugh. I sound like Scrooge!

Jack Seabrook said...

I'm glad you liked it! Isn't it funny that NYC circa 1970 looks so long ago now.

Grant said...

This is nearly the first Odd Couple I ever saw, so I'm attached to it for that reason too.

It's great how that auditioning scene gives everyone a chance to be funny. Including Ryan McDonald as Roy, who was usually the straight man for everyone else.

Jack Seabrook said...

I love the bizarre way Roy punches at the air to emphasize things while he's reading, although his punches don't seem to correspond to much of anything!

Joanna said...

I like the detail that Oscar receives a telegram from ex-wife Blanche about his alimony check to remind us how grouchy Oscar can get. He is the perfect Scrooge! Thanks for writing about this one.

Jack Seabrook said...

That darn singing telegram is seared into my brain and sometimes I find myself singing it, though I don't always get all the words right! Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

I watched (and recorded it) Sunday night and it's one of my favorites but I have a complaint. The Scrooge audition scene at Felix's studio was edited! We heard Scrooge audition readings from Roy, Speed (the auctioneer) and finally Felix. But the scene with Vinnie reading the script as an evil, sinister Scrooge was completely omitted! Why? So they can cram in another 15 seconds of commercials?

Jack Seabrook said...

How could they cut that! Stick to the DVD!