After hosting the successful "Acting Black Blogathon" earlier this year, I made a few new blogging buddies and came across lots of cool upcoming blogathons on other sites. One of those was the "Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon" hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. You can click the link to get the full rundown of the rules, but that really is what it's all about, your favorite TV show episode. The only catch is that it has to be from a "classic" show. In this case, classic means a show that made its debut more than twenty-five years ago. Fine by me, I don't watch much current TV anyway. I also don't write much about TV, so I'm kind of excited I get to do so here. Let's do it.
Though I don't write much about TV, I have written a time or two about my TV viewing habits when I was but a wee lad in Queens. Once I got into my teens I was generally up rather late, even on school nights. One of the main reasons I was up late was because I had to see another installment of my favorite show of all-time, The Honeymooners. It came on at 11:00 each weeknight in syndication. It was a show that went off the air fifteen years before I was even born, but I loved it, nonetheless. I imagine that's because I could relate to the Kramden's better than most other TV families. This wasn't some perfect middle class clan struggling with middle class problems that would all be solved in thirty minutes. This was a couple having a hard time making ends meet while living in a rundown tenement building in Brooklyn. Even if they ended every episode happy, they were still going to go to bed that night in a place where Wally and the Beave couldn't imagine laying their financially secure heads. My kind of people.
Since the Kramdens, and their neighbors/best friends the Nortons, were broke many of the episodes revolved around get rich quick schemes or a way to bring in more income into the household. My favorite episode of the show is no exception. It's called "The $99,000 Answer," named after the fictional game show that our hero, Ralph Kramden (the brilliant Jackie Gleason) has been chosen to participate on. The show's premise is simple: answer a series of questions which increase in difficulty and monetary worth as you progress until you get to the ultimate prize of $99,000 with chances to stop at lower amounts along the way, much like How to Be a Millionaire. To put that into perspective, the average American salary in 1955 when the show originally aired, was about $4400 per year. $99,000 was more than twenty-two times that. And judging from their apartment, Ralph made less than average. Median household income last year was a little over $53,600. Twenty-two times that amount puts us over $1.2 million. Understandably Ralph, a lowly bus driver, was rather excited to get on the show. He's so nervous that when the host asks what he does for a living Ralph says "I brive a dus." Luckily for him, the show runs out of time and he will have to come back next week for his chance at the money. That's when the brilliance starts.
If fans of the show know anything about Ralph, it's that he's full of bluster, brimming with confidence, and to hear him tell it, knows everything. He decides to study his chosen category, "Popular Music," and study it hard. He enlists everyone he can in the building where he lives. His biggest aid is none other than bestest buddy Ed Norton (an also brilliant Art Carney). Ralph rents a piano, which Norton knows how to play, a record player, and the sheet music to what seems like thousands of songs. Ever the voice of reason, Ralph's wife Alice (the wonderfully feisty Audrey Meadows) tries to talk some sense into her man. He vows to drive right ahead to the $99,000 Answer. She reasons she'll be happy if he won $600 and decided to stop. His reply is classic Ralph, "$600? Peanuts, peanuts! What am I gonna do with peanuts?"
The moment Norton sits down to play the first one begins the greatest extended joke in the history of television. I won't spoil it, but the entire episode works feverishly toward the punchline which is so typical of Ralph's fortunes, all at once hilarious and heartbreaking. He is like so many people I've known throughout my lifetime. He's a guy that just wants to give his wife the absolute best, but lacks the means to do so. When big money opportunities come his way, he's going to run with them. How can I not love him for being that guy. Occasionally, I've been that guy.
You may have seen this episode because it's become a classic, and deservedly so. Rather than droning on any further about it, I'll just let you watch it.