Friday, January 1, 2010
The $99,000 Answer Is
New Years is a time for resolutions, a whole day reserved to get over your hangover. I think of it as a chance to indulge my insatiable appetite for a certain Bensonhurst bus driver named Ralph Kramden. Every year without fail the Honeymooners Marathon is broadcast on WPIX. It’s a chance to relive one of the greatest comedy combos Art Carney and Jackie Gleason to ever gloss the idiot box. As a kid, I was a huge fan of their humor, their improvisational acumen and the simple, sidesplitting chicanery.
I long for a program redolent with their comic signature that never seems to get old. Maybe I am wired for it. the setting is sparse and the scenarios, by and large, are same. Ralph and Norton are cooking up another hair-brained scheme that’s bound to go awry but you keep rooting for them because the two of them are teeming with an unbridled crapshoot in the game of life. They believe they are mere inches away from reaching a big payoff, but they, time and again, grossly miscalculate. They are brought back down to earth. Ralph is back in his two-room, that sink, that stove, and those four walls. No, Alice you are not going to get to see Liberace. And yet they are still happy-go-lucky.
I love “The $99,000 Answer” episode (#18 of the classics) written by Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka. Ralph seems so close to hitting his high note. He knows all the popular songs, he can even knows the obscure Italian folk music and operas Mrs. Manicotti crones to him. If Ralph doesn’t get kicked out of the apartment for having Norton playing the piano all hours of the night before the big show then Ralph is, for sure, going to be a champ— he is that sharp when it comes to his musical knowledge. But, of course, it wouldn’t be the Honeymooners if things didn’t go kerplooey by the end. “Mr. Kramden, for one-hundred dollars, who sang Swanee River?” “Huminiahumina humina Ed Norton,” Ralph says and you cannot laugh at the irony of his forgetting the real composer of Swanee River and hazarding his ridiculous guess as his old chum Norton as the composer.
I’m also a huge fan of “TV or Not TV” which is considered the first episode of the classic 39. Who can forget that pithy, poignant line— “Official Space Helmet on Captain Video.” Really I could spend a whole day rattling off lines. Before Seinfeld, this was the most highly quotable show. Was it in fact? I don’t know, but I bet it was at least for me.
Zip zip it is done.