Christmas is a great time to reunite with friends and family, and to share happy memories of times past. (Or is that New Year’s?) Either way, I had a very interesting Christmas this year when it came to the presents I received. Apparently I must reek of nostalgia for TV variety shows of the 1970s, because a lot of my gifts seemed to share that common theme. (I kid you not.) I was given “The Best of Donny and Marie,” “The Sonny and Cher Show,” “The Best of Laugh-In,” “Love, American Style Season One” and the weirdest selection of the bunch, “Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special.”
Some people might consider this a collection of bargain bin items. But I was actually looking forward to sitting down and reconnecting with some of the shows I thought were so great when I was younger. (With the possible exception of Paul Lynde's special, which I'd never heard of before.)
First in the line-up was “The Best of Donny and Marie,” which comprised several of their greatest episodes from the first two seasons of the show. But after watching the first three, I was surprised the show ever made it to Season Two. (Let alone Episode Two.) The sad part is that the DVD is being released as “the best” of the series; which makes me wonder just how bad “the worst” of the series is. (Perhaps those would be more interesting to watch.)
The jokes were horrible, the sketches were childish, and the singing was mostly lip-synched. How did I ever think this show was good? Or maybe I never really did; I just thought I was supposed to. After all, Donny and Marie are a part of American culture. We grew up with them; or at least I did. And though I don’t think the show translates well in today’s more sophisticated TV environment, I’m sure the simplicity of themes and dialogue might do well on a channel like Nickelodeon, or perhaps in conjunction with a show like “The Teletubbies.”
I’ll admit I’ve always had a place in my heart for Donny and Marie. Not because I was such a big fan, but because they represented the kind of nerdy optimism I wanted so badly to believe in. Their perfect smiles and happy-go-lucky attitudes were as foreign to me as the countries we’ve bombed and invaded over the past several years. Perky was not accepted in rural Ohio like it is in Hollywood; especially from a boy. But on television every week, Donny and Marie reminded me that anything was possible; even if it meant using a laugh track and ice skates to accomplish it.
So maybe my happy memories of “The Donny and Marie Show” were more about what Donnie and Marie represented rather than the actual show itself. They taught me to look for the silver lining and never wear spandex in public, and for that I will always be grateful. Their shows, however, could use a major facelift.
And that's when I wondered whether I was getting into some dangerous territory. If I didn't like the Donny and Marie show as much as I thought I did, what did that mean for the rest of my 70s memories?
Next on the viewing agenda was “The Paul Lynde Halloween Special,” which is just as creepy as you might imagine. Mr. Lynde, a regular on Hollywood Squares and Bewitched, is just not interesting enough to carry his own show. He’s much better served as a supporting player, using his signature vocal inflections to deliver a ribald punch line or two. But in this TV special, which only recently became available on DVD, he is horribly upstaged by the long list of celebrity guest stars, Donny and Marie among them.
Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz” reprises her famous role for the special, and is humorously aided by Witchipoo from the old “HR PufnStuf” series. Together, they drive the show forward, as Paul Lynde sort of stands around looking miserable. The highlight of the show is a horrible disco version of Harold Arlen’s “That Old Black Magic,” uncomfortably sung by Florence Henderson, who dances around the set in a floor length sequin black dress accompanied by dancers in orange Afros. Screechingly bad!
Two down. Three to go.
Finally, I decided to watch a little of the “Sonny and Cher Show,” just to make sure my memories of 70s television weren’t being irrevocably tainted by our current atmosphere of terror and cynicism. And to my relief, the show is as funny and campy today as it was when it first aired oh so many decades ago. Cher is much younger, of course, and her nose looks different. But the chemistry between these two is unquestionable.
Every time Sonny thinks he’s going to win an argument, Cher easily deflects his zingers with her deadpan attitude and delivery. It’s classic comedy, brilliantly marketed to the masses by two people who always seemed like the epitome of cool. Even when they were arguing, they were fun.
And then of course, there are Cher’s many costumes and solo performances, which have been copied and duplicated by drag queens all over the world. No wonder she’s been able to survive so long. People keep resurrecting her persona. (Although at this point, I’m not sure how many more resurrections her body can physically take.) Nevertheless, I loved this show when I was younger, and I still love it today.
Having restored my faith in the legitimacy of my happy memories, I will next move onto “Laugh In” and “Love, American Style.” But right now, I just want to bask in the glow of at least one childhood recollection restored, and one more Christmas celebrated.
I can’t even think about 2008 yet.