Rerun Junkie–Favorite Christmas Episodes

Bah humbug.

Yes, we’re all very aware that Christmas isn’t my favorite time of the year. Too many years working retail and running the holiday gauntlet have put a permanent crimp in my holiday spirit. And that goes for my reruns, too. I find most Christmas episodes to be too saccharine and overly-sentimental. They run that commercialized holly jolly through the society-approval filter and trim it with some moral lessons and it’s just enough to be nauseating.

However, there are a few episodes that have captured my heart, either because they forego these tropes, skewer them, or dress them in a silver pantsuit that’s absolutely to-die-for.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, The Golden Girls– The women are all planning on spending Christmas with their families. The bemoaning of the commercialization of Christmas leads them to exchanging homemade gifts, including Rose’s whittled maple syrup spigots and Blanche’s “Men of Blanche’s Boudoir” calendar, opened the night before they leave. On Christmas Eve, Blanche and Dorothy show up at the counseling center to pick up Rose, who is working a morning shift, only to be held up by a Santa (Terry Kiser), who demands they all celebrate Christmas together. Thanks to Sophia, they’re able to get out of that jam and to the airport, only to see their flights home cancelled. Later, at a diner, the women realize that they already are spending Christmas with family.

The ending is a bit sweet, what with it snowing in Miami and all, but Rose hitting “Surfin’ Safari” on the jukebox instead of a Christmas song saves it. Though I’ve always found it bizarre that they decorated the house, tree included, even though they wouldn’t be there for Christmas, I’m glad they did. They have some really lovely decorations and the tree is gorgeous. And Blanche’s pantsuit is fabulous.

“The Christmas Show”, The Monkees– The Monkees, in their forever pursuit of the next gig, end up getting hired to mind Melvin (Butch Patrick), a disgruntled forty-year old trapped in a twelve-year old’s body, while his aunt is away on a Christmas cruise. Turns out, Melvin isn’t much for Christmas. When the boys try to get him into the holiday spirit, they end up blowing through all of their money and aggravating Melvin to the point that he goes home. It’s only then that Mike realizes what’s been missing the whole time.

It could be a typical “lesson of Christmas” episode, but it’s The Monkees. They don’t do typical. Instead, they do madcap that involves them chopping down their own tree (while apparently stoned), Peter wrecking a department store while shopping for toys, Micky and Davy dressing as Santa and his elf and going down the chimney, a happy ending, and capping the whole thing off with an a capella version of “Riu Chiu”. It’s zany and sweet and the crew getting their time in front of the camera during the credits is a lovely gesture.

“Dear Sis”, M*A*S*H– In a letter home to his sister, Father Mulcahy expresses his frustration in not feeling very useful. Most everyone in camp has the holiday blues, but it seems that it’s hitting Father Mulcahy the hardest as nothing he does is really helpful. He even ends up decking a combative patient (who hit him first, so he had it coming). It’s only during the Christmas party in the mess tent that Father Mulcahy realizes that he has made something of a good impact, first when Charles thanks him for having his mother send him his old toboggan cap, and then later when Hawkeye singles him out during a toast.

M*A*S*H did several Christmas episodes during its eleven year run, but this one stands out to me for several reasons. One, it centers much of the episode on Father Mulcahy, which didn’t happen very often. Two, instead of singing a traditional Christmas song, Hawkeye leads everyone in singing a lovely version of “Dona Nobis Pacem”. And three, the episode ends with one of my favorite lines from the series. As the party is broken up by incoming casualties, the voiceover reading of Father Mulcahy’s letter to his sister says, “You know, sis, it doesn’t matter whether or not you feel useful when you’re moving from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving.”

“The Christmas Story”, Dragnet– A local church’s baby Jesus has gone missing from its nativity scene and Friday and Gannon are on the case. The statue has little monetary value, but it’s sentimental value can’t be measured and the parishioners would be very sad to go a Christmas without it. Being diligent detectives, Friday and Gannon follow a tip provided by an altar boy (Barry Williams) that leads them to a suspect (Bobby Troup), but he only borrowed a friend’s car and got into a little fender bender; he didn’t take any baby Jesus. Dejected, Joe and Bill go to the church to let the padre know they didn’t find the baby Jesus, but they’d keep looking. Just as they start to leave, a little boy pulling baby Jesus in a wagon comes into the church. It turns out that he’d prayed to baby Jesus for a new wagon and promised Him that if he got it, he’d give Him the first ride.

I’m not one for religion. I tend to cringe and shy away when people ram home the “Christ” in Christmas. But this episode is an exception and it’s all in the handling of the case and the ending. Our detectives are pursuing this matter seriously, as they usually do, but the justice is less nabbing a thief and more doing right for a congregation. The little boy who took the statue was fulfilling a promise, something that is more in tune with the holiday spirit than any of the sappy treacle that often gets splattered on the screen.

“Christmas with the Addam’s Family”, The Addam’s Family– It’s the common holiday problem that all sitcom parents face at one point or another: Santa. Pugsley and Wednesday are told by the Addams’s unkind neighbor that Santa doesn’t exist. The family bands together and elects Uncle Fester to play the role to restore the children’s faith. When he gets stuck in the chimney, each member of the clan takes it upon themselves to prove that there really is a Santa.

This could easily be a mediocre, overly-sweet episode, but this is the Addams family. This delightfully loving family is weird and wonderful and only they could pull off a Santa overload with such sincerity.

“Operation: Silent Night”, Magnum P.I.– While ferrying Magnum, Rick, and Higgins to their various destinations before he catches a flight home to New Orleans, T.C.’s chopper crashes on a deserted island that the Navy uses for target practice. Though Rick is convinced they’re all going to die, everyone else is pretty confident that they’ll get off the island soon enough. T.C. works on the chopper while Higgins forages for food and Rick and Magnum gather firewood for a signal fire. They end up discovering a downed Japanese WWII plane, which Higgins salvages to create a boat, which later sinks. Rick falls in a bog that he thinks is quicksand, which causes him to imagine his own funeral. T.C. despairs over his inability to fix the chopper and as such, he’ll miss his flight home. And Magnum, who was going to play Santa to some orphans, dons the outfit once again and provides the group with a Christmas tree to boost their spirits. All the while, the guys are unaware that off-shore, a Navy commander (Ed Lauter) with no Christmas spirit is about to bombard the island for practice.

What I love about this Christmas episode is how it’s so tangentially related to Christmas. There are obvious Christmas references and elements (Magnum dressed as Santa is hard to ignore), and there’s even a Scrooge in the form of the Navy commander insisting that his crew do drills on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. But the episode isn’t dressed up in garland and lights and bows. There’s no heavy-handed true Christmas spirit bashing us over our heads. It’s four friends coming together in a difficult situation not because of some of magical holiday emotion but because that’s just what they do. There’s also the nod to another December holiday celebration. In addition to Christmas, T.C. also celebrates Kwanzaa, which he educates Higgins (and the audience) about.

Okay, I might have gone on a little long, but don’t for a minute think that’s because I’m having a change of heart about Christmas or Christmas episodes.

Oh no. Does my heart look three sizes bigger to you?

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Rerun Junkie–Hawaii Five-O Favorites Seasons 9-12

Here we are. The end of our journey through some of my favorite episodes from each season. You can read the previous entries here and here.

The episode selection for these last four seasons was difficult, as were the previous seasons, but maybe for slightly different reasons. I haven’t watched these seasons as much and for me, there aren’t as many standout episodes. After season 10, there’s no Chin Ho. After season 11, there’s no Danno. So, yeah. The subjectivity is high here, kids. Consider yourselves warned.

“Heads, Your Dead” Season 9, Episode 7. Air date: November 11, 1976. Directed by Bruce Bilson. Written by Herman Groves.

Based on a real-life case, hijackers get themselves hired to be the crew of luxury yachts, then murder the owners and steal the boats to sell elsewhere. Danno and Officer Sandi Welles are sent undercover to investigate. Sandi, along with a group of people, is taken hostage by the hijackers and their fate rests on a flip of a coin.

A big part of the reason why I like this episode is because I like Officer Sandi Welles (Amanda McBroom) in it. I also like bad guys. They’re pretty ruthless. There’s a certain amount of psychological terror involved in telling your already terrified hostages that you’re going to throw them overboard and whether or not they get a life raft depends on a coin flip. But that’s what makes it so compelling.

“The Descent of the Torches” Season 10, Episode 5. Air date: October 20, 1977. Directed by Charles S. Dubin. Written by Alvin Sapinsley

An archaeological dig reveals tunnels that could lead to the grave of King Kamehameha I. And someone is so convinced of it that they dress up in a royal robe and mask to frighten off and eventually kill members of the dig.

I very nearly picked “A Death in the Family”, but honestly, it’s not really a favorite in the sense that I enjoy it, but more in the sense that it ripped out my heart and dumped it on the steps of Iolani Palace. Anyway. The reason why I picked “The Descent of the Torches” instead is because of the Hawaiian culture. This episode gets into that and I really like it. Let’s face it. For the majority of the run, it’s a pretty white show. There are some Hawaiian faces and there’s the presentation of life on the islands, but not too much on the Hawaiian culture. Yes, there are better episodes in this season, but this one scratches an itch for me.

“Stringer” Season 11, Episode 17. Air date: February 22, 1979. Directed by Ray Austin. Story by Paul Williams and Robert Janes. Teleplay by Robert Janes.

Members of Tony Alika’s Hawaiian kumu mob shoot out a tire on a police car that’s trailing their out-on-bail boss, causing an accident that kills one officer and nearly kills my much-adored Duke. The whole thing is caught on film by a “stringer” (free-lance photographer) named Tim Powers, who decides to try to blackmail Tony Alika and the political boss he was making a deal with.

I really need to do a whole post on Tony Alika, as he was a recurring villain during the 11th and 12th season and I’m always looking for a reason to write about my beloved Ross Martin. But I went ahead and picked this episode for my season 11 favorite because of the Paul Williams aspect. Not only does he get the story by credit, but he also plays the stringer of the title. A man who’s probably known more for his songwriting, I always love it when he shows up in things. He’s small and interesting and hard to ignore.

“Woe to Wo Fat” Season 12, Episode 19. Air date: April 5, 1980. Directed by Barry Crane. Written by Frank Telford.

The final episode. Three scientists who all attended a space-based, laser defense symposium have been abducted. McGarrett impersonates the fourth in order to be abducted and find out what’s going on. Of course, it’s Wo Fat going on.

Wo Fat is another character that deserves his own post. Khigh Dhiegh portrayed Steve McGarrett’s arch nemesis throughout the show’s 12 year run. But, when it comes to favorites, I have to give my pick to the last episode of the series. Not one of the best episodes maybe, but endings are always hard. And it’s only fitting that the last episode feature the final battle between McGarrett and Wo Fat.

I hope you enjoyed some of my favorite episodes and I hope these posts tide you over until I actually get around to doing my Book ’em, Danno podcast.

Until then, relax…

Rerun Junkie–Hawaii Five-O Favorites Seasons 5-8

It was only after I put this post together that I realized the episodes I picked featured three written by Jerome Coopersmith and two directed by Charles S. Dubin. I suppose this could be used as evidence of me liking their work.

Anyway.

Reminder that the process of picking one favorite episode from each season was difficult. If you’re curious as to how I couldn’t have possibly picked “Hookman” for season 6, it’s because I sort of wrote about it already. And you can read about my favorite episodes from seasons 1-4 here.

“I’m a Family Crook–Don’t Shoot!” Season 5, Episode 13. Air date: December 19, 1972. Written by Jerome Coopersmith. Directed by Bob Sweeney.

The Lovejoys are a family of grifters who come to Hawaii to work their magic. They end up stealing the briefcase of a collector for a mob protection racket which contains the collected protection money and his ledger. Naturally, the mob wants this briefcase back. And Five-O would like it, too. Shenanigans ensue.

This episode got the nod for this blog post because it didn’t seem right to pick the “V for Vashon” trilogy. That deserves its own post. But that’s not to say that “I’m a Family Crook–Don’t Shoot” didn’t earn it’s place as a fave. It’s Andy Griffith and Joyce Van Patten as con artists. How can you not love that? What’s more is that even though they’re “bad guys” in the sense that they’re criminals, you still really like them. You definitely don’t want to see the mobsters get them, but you also don’t want Five-O to throw them in jail. It’s a fun episode that provides some real tension once the mobsters go after the Lovejoys’ daughter.

“Draw Me a Killer” Season 6, Episode 2. Air date: September 18, 1973. Written by Walter Black. Directed by Charles S. Dubin.

A mentally ill young man fixated on the Judy Moon comic strip believes that he must repeatedly save the heroine and ends up murdering the comic villains’ real life look-a-likes. When the young man spots (and begins to stalk) a woman who resembles Judy Moon, things get intense. In order to flush out the killer, Danno allows himself to be drawn as the next villain.

Mental illness wasn’t necessarily handled with the deftest hand back in the day. Hey, it still isn’t now in the present. But this episode was an interesting take on someone whose grasp on reality wasn’t the best. There’s no doubt that our killer (played excellently by Elliot Street, who was also played the mentally challenged son of baseball player Pernell Roberts in a season 3 two-parter) is dangerous. But the character is also sympathetic. After all, he’s only moved to murder in order to save someone. Unfortunately, he’s mixing up fiction with reality through no fault of his own. His boss, played by Audrey Totter (The Postman Always Rings Twice), helps provide a little more dimension to a character that could easily just be a run-of-the-mill “skitzo”.

“Welcome to Our Branch Office” Season 7, Episode 11. Air date: December 3, 1974. Written by Jerome Coopersmith. Directed by Charles S. Dubin.

A pair of con men break into Five-O headquarters and take pictures of the offices. They replicate them in an abandoned building and then hire and train men to act like the real Five-O. It’s an elaborate scheme meant to extort money from wealthy businessmen. Naturally, McGarrett isn’t thrilled to find himself and his men accused of strong arming folks.

This is another fun episode I enjoy purely because it is fun. First of all, the masterminds behind this fake Five-O scheme are Cameron Mitchell (Swiss Family Robinson TV show, The Toolbox Murders) and Frank Gorshin (The Riddler himself). Talk about a fun couple. A good part of the episode shows the two of them getting together the fake gang and setting up the fake office. And the one victim who ends up reporting the fake Five-O has a wife who wears a magnificently loud dress. He also says that it was definitely McGarrett he saw. Which is hilarious because, with the exception of Danno, NONE of the look-a-likes look that much like their counterparts. Danno is the exception because James MacArthur took on a dual role to play his double, parting his hair on the wrong side to emphasize the difference. It’s an entertaining episode that provides a nice break from some of the more serious ones.

“Retire in Sunny Hawaii…Forever” Season 8, Episode 9. Air date November 7, 1975. Written by Jerome Coopersmith. Directed by Bruce Bilson.

Danno’s Aunt Clara comes out for a visit. When a man she became friendly with on the flight over is attacked by two men and ends up dead, Five-O is on the case. Aunt Clara’s quality time with her nephew now involves being used by Five-O in a ploy to catch the killers and unravel the whole illegal scheme.

Again, subjectivity plays a huge role in my choices of favorites, and this is definitely one of those episodes. Danno’s Aunt Clara is played by James MacArthur’s real-life mother Helen Hayes. I’m a sucker for things like that. Seeing mother and son work together onscreen is a true delight.  Throw in TV guest star journeyman Ian Wolfe as the unfortunate Mr. Miller and Charles During as Havens, and the episode comes together so well that you wish Aunt Clara would have visited more often.

You can read the final installment of favorite Hawaii Five-O episode posts, seasons 9-12, here.

Rerun Junkie–Hawaii Five-O Favorites Seasons 1-4

If you’ve been listening to Eventually Supertrain (and you should be!), then you know that Dan and I sometimes kid about me doing a Hawaii Five-O podcast called Book ’em, Danno because I can often make connections between Hawaii Five-O and The Green Hornet.

Now, I don’t know if my lazy self will ever go through with such a threat, but it did give me the idea to do a blog post about my favorite episodes. And when I was going through the seasons picking out my favorites, I realized that I needed to show some kind of restraint.

So, here’s what I did.

I picked one episode from each season that I love and would recommend to someone else. I tried to pick ones that I haven’t already mentioned on the blog. Since there are twelve seasons of the show, this is going to be split up into three different posts with four episodes a post. And even though this show went off the air the same year I was born, I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.

Believe me when I say that this wasn’t easy and I will most likely be writing about the episodes I’m not mentioning here.

Until then…

“One for the Money” Season 1, episode 17. Air date: February 5, 1969. Story by Robert Sampler. Teleplay by Palmer Thompson. Directed by Paul Stanley.

McGarrett receives a cryptic letter and a photo of a woman with her face crossed out. The woman’s been stabbed to death. After a second victim/letter/photo combo appears, it looks like there’s a serial killer on the loose. Both victims were employed by the same company, run by a woman named Martha. Her two nephews, Charlie and Arthur, also work for her. It turns out this killer has quite the agenda involving this company.

This is a delightfully twisty episode. Aunt Martha is played by my favorite Jeanette Nolan and the nephews are played by Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train) and Paul Collins (JAG). Between the captivating story and the guest cast, it’s an excellent episode that keeps you on the edge until the very end.

“Most Likely to Murder” Season 2, episode 21. Air date: February 21, 1970. Written by Robert Hamner. Directed by Nicholas Colasanto.

Police officer Lew Morgan’s wife is murdered. As Lew’s friend, this case is pretty personal for Danno. It turns out the good cop’s wife was having affairs and it’s her latest lover, a criminal, that’s the favorite suspect. Five-O needs to find him before the apparently grief-stricken husband finds him first.

Another tightly twisted episode featuring a mustache-less Tom Skerritt as Lew Morgan. Sam Melville (The Rookies) plays number one suspect Gary Oliver and Linda Ryan, who plays one of Gary’s former lovers, Gloria Warren, appeared on the show eleven times over twelve seasons, only playing the same character twice. She also inspired me to get my own pixie cut. Anyway, Danno’s personal involvement in the case gives the story a nice weight, creating a couple of good gut punches towards the end.

“Over 50? Steal” Season 3, episode 11. Air date: November 25, 1970. Written by E. Arthur Kean. Directed by Bob Sweeney.

Lewis Avery Filer is an insurance investigator forced into early retirement. In apparent revenge, Filer steals from businesses insured by his former employer using a variety of tricks and disguises that captures the attention of the press and all of our hearts. Okay, except for Five-O, who has a devil of a time catching up to him. Filer returns in season 4’s “Odd Man In”.

If you were to ask me what my all-time favorite episode of Hawaii Five-O is, I’d probably blurt this one out. Hume Cronyn is Lewis Filer and he is having an absolute ball with this character. The cleverness of the crimes and the likeability of the character really has you on his side. He’s a crook you can love! And when you find out his ultimate goal for the money, you really don’t want him to be caught. Filer is just as much fun when he comes back in “Odd Man In”.

“Goodnight, Baby-Time to Die!” Season 4, episode 21. Air date: February 15, 1972. Written by Abram S. Ginnes. Directed by Alf Kjellin.

A convicted murderer who’s been threatening a woman has escaped from jail. McGarrett and company go to the woman’s house to both protect her and hopefully catch the convict. As they wait, they receive calls and updates about the man while McGarrett talks to the woman about her connection to the killer.

This is one of those episodes where I can only tell you to watch it. The first time I did, the swerve broke my neck. No joke. It’s a very well done episode featuring Beth Brickell (Gentle Ben) as Carol Rhodes, the target of escaped convict LB Barker, played by William Watson (Gunsmoke, M*A*S*H). It’s a taut thriller of an episode that’s still good on repeated viewings.

Read about the favorite episodes from seasons 5-8 here.