We’ve reached Christmas week! So what better way to kick off with this final stretch than with the show that mentions most of the days of the week in its theme song? That wasn’t a great segue, but we’re watching Happy Days.
Happy Days – “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas Dinner”
Original airdate: December 17, 1974
Man, I loved Happy Days as a kid. Both the original series, which I’m pretty sure I saw in syndication because I remember it starting up after my mom’s soap operas (Including Ryan’s Hope which definitely had a lengthy storyline about a woman being kidnapped by a gorilla.), and the later animated series where the gang got a time machine and a talking dog. Wolfman Jack explained the premise in the opening.
Now, of course, I have massive affection for Ron Howard and Henry Winkler, largely because of Arrested Development, but Winkler is also amazing on Barry and they seem like swell guys all around. I’m even a big fan of Solo, even if I think the bits that were clearly directed by Lord and Mitchell are better than Howard’s, but it takes a village. So I was psyched to watch Happy Days.
The opening theme didn’t set things up well because it’s very long and has lots of scenes from the series that are mostly about teen boys trying to play pranks and kiss girls and I’m not signing up for that. Also, the episode title made me think it might be about race but, spoilee, the titular “who” is Fonzie. He’s who’s coming to Christmas dinner.
I’ll be honest with you, this episode starts out pretty rough. We open with the Cunninghams preparing for Christmas and there’s some slapstick about a mechanical Santa beating up Richie and his dad. He’s supposed to look like he’s pulling a present out of his sack, but he kind of doesn’t and also this Santa’s face is absolutely terrifying. His eyes are huge.
The diner scenes aren’t much better. There’s a lot of mistletoe nonsense, which I always hate. But it establishes that Fonzie is going home for Christmas and he’s got big plans with his relatives and you can tell instantly that he’s not really going anywhere from his delivery. Which is good on Henry Winkler but he plays it too real instead of trying to convince the audience for a few minutes. We’re smarter than Potsie and Ralph! You have to try harder! Potsie and Ralph leave this episode so early on, by the way.
Then we move on to a Christmas party at Howard’s store. The main joke is that one of the employees got so drunk during work hours that he’s now paralyzed. Which is not how being drunk works. By this point, I was pretty turned off on the episode. But then Howard’s car breaks down and he and Richie bring it to the garage to see if Fonz can fix it. And of course he can, but it means he missed his bus. He assures them that he’ll catch the next bus in an hour.
Richie heads back to bring Fonz his gift and sees the guy sitting sadly at a table eating canned food by himself. That guy is not about to catch a bus. Back at home, Richie is really feeling bad and finally when the tree lights don’t work, he gets Howard to agree to invite Fonz over to fix it. They go to Fonz’s apartment (where he keeps his motorcycle) and he resists the invitation until Richie gives him a Christmas present. He finally agrees to help but before he leaves, he pushes the gift under his tiny Charlie Brown Christmas tree and that was a very nice moment.
So Fonz fixing stuff turns into him fixing more stuff and eventually he has to admit that he doesn’t have anywhere to go but the Cunninghams are only too happy to celebrate with him and it’s very sweet.
You know what? This is pretty good. Some of the early scenes are rough going but it comes together nicely and I was shockingly invested in it. I should note that this was repurposed as a Christmas episode for the next two seasons – the next year, there’s a framing sequence with Fonz telling Arnold the story of last Christmas. Then when Al replaced Arnold, they reshot the framing sequences next year. It’s appallingly lazy, frankly. Also, those new presentations are the only time brother Chuck Cunningham is mentioned after they cut him from the show.
Best Line: “I saw him eating ravioli out of a can. Now what kind of way is that to spend Christmas Eve?” – Richie describing the saddest thing he can imagine. Unrelated: I am having ravioli for Christmas dinner.
Christmas Decorations – The Cunnighams go overboard. You’ll also see some decorations at the diner and a sadder attempt at Fonz’s apartment.
Trimming the Tree – We get to see the Cunninghams set up the tree. Chuck has problems with the lights. I forgot that Chuck’s whole game was that he’s dumb. There’s also Fonzie’s small and sad Christmas tree, which is a favorite of mine.
Santa Claus – Robot Santa wants to hurt you. I assume he’s the first version of Futurama‘s Santa.
Gift Exchange – Fonz gives lockets to two waitresses and also passes out gifts to the guys, though we don’t see what they are. Richie gives him a wrench and gives Chuck a basketball.
Mistletoe – Yep. It’s there.
Home for the Holidays – The whole point is that Fonz doesn’t have the chance to go home but just maybe home is where the heart is or something.
Holiday Cheer-O-Meter – This year’s episodes have mostly been bummers up to this point, but I ended up surprisingly invested in this. This was one of the more fun episodes to watch this year and it actually had Christmas cheer. Welcome to the 10 club!