Episode Title: “The Worst Noel”
Production Code: 0813
Reviewed By: Nitzan Gilkis (email@example.com)
Rating: 9 out of 10
The fourth out of six MWC Christmas episodes and my personal favorite of the bunch, “The Worst Noel” proves once more that the show’s writers can turn even the blandest of plots into hilarious episodes. Here the main plot can be summed up with one sentence: “Al and Peg channel-surfing on Christmas Eve”, but sharp writing and great acting (especially on Ed O’Neill’s side) make this a highly enjoyable episode. A word of praise also to director Amanda Bearse for the smooth zigzaging between the main plot and its two subplots, which manages to keep the viewer interested all the way through.
“her breasts are touching!”
I’ll start with the bad, namely the subplot involving Bud and Kelly’s attempts to sneak a jukebox into the house to give to Al and Peg for Christmas (don’t worry, they didn’t buy it, heaven forbid; it just fell out of a truck). It relies too heavily on goofy physical slapstick humor, the kind you expect to find in Leslie Nielsen spoofs or “Home Alone”-type movies. I’ve never found watching a dummy crash head-first into the patio particularly funny, and it happens three times (!) here. MWC’s strength has always been clever witty humor, and stuff like this just ‘cheapens’ it in my opinion. In addition, this subplot is very derivative and predictable. Take for example the following exchange: Bud: “Don’t lift it until I say so” Kelly: “Don’t what?” Bud: “Lift it!” (guess what happens next). Please! We’ve seen similar things elsewhere a hundred times before and it stopped being funny long ago. In their defense, Faustino and Applegate do the best they can with their lines, especially Faustino, with two of his classic in-camera stares (“uh-oh!”) and some very funny responses to Kelly’s dimwitted actions and sayings. I loved Applegate’s expression after her “I wanted to make sure it was tight on your end too” line, but other than that she didn’t get to do much.
Marcy and Jefferson’s one-joke subplot is better, even if it drags on a bit too long for my taste. Marcy comes over to borrow some ice and a chair, then Jefferson and a couple of guys come over and take the rest of the chairs and the kitchen table, then Marcy returns, drunk as a skunk, and admits that she is having a party, and all the while we can hear loud music coming from the D’Arcy house – and all this still isn’t enough for Al to confirm his suspicions that there’s a party going on next door. A little hard to believe that Al is really that dumb, but what the heck, it’s funny. Interesting to note that whenever Marcy’s drunk she kisses Al. Wonder what Freud would have to say about that.
“guess who’s under the mistletoe?”
Al: What is it? You look over, you see a smile on my face, you say “I can’t have this”?
Peg: I just thought it would be nice if we could enjoy something together.
Al: We tried that on our honeymoon. Remember how we cried?
On to the main plot, then. As can be expected, the writers use the opportunity of Peg and Al’s channel-surfing to shoot their poison arrows in every possible direction: NBC, PBS, Susan Pleichette, home shopping channels, country music, and of course Sally Struthers and Michael Bolton (two of MWC’s most laughed-at celebs). This episode goes to show that MWC was just as good at doing satire in the eighth season as it was in its early years, and it’s a shame they didn’t do it more often in the later seasons. In my opinion the best bit of satire here is the commercial Al and Peg watch for “It’s A Country Christmas”, with three songs that have different (hilarious) titles but the exact same melody. They also do a good job making fun of people’s complaints that there’s nothing to see on TV, with the short power blackout scene towards the end. Oh, and let’s not forget “It’s A Malcolm X-mas”…
“who’s that riding in the sleigh?”
As I mentioned earlier, Ed O’Neill is a clear standout in this episode, turning in one of his best performances ever (plus some unforgettable facial expressions) and keeping the episode together. He’s obviously enjoying himself here, and his interplay with Katey Sagal during the couch scenes is tremendously fun to watch. No matter how many times I watch this episode, I still crack up at lines like these (which are made a lot funnier than they may seem on paper by the way O’Neill delivers them):
Peg: How can you hate “It’s A Wonderful Life”?
Al: Because it’s a horrible life.
Peg: You don’t like anything!
Al: Starting with you!
You’ve gotta love Al’s thoughts on what should have been done with “I Love Lucy” (Mertz’s World – ha!), or on why a sequel to “It’s A Wonderful Life” was never made. His facial expressions and gestures while watching the country commercial are priceless, as are his responses to Michael Bolton’s performance of “Silent Night”. But my favorite part is the way he looks at Peg’s party hat at the beginning of the second act. Definitely worth rewatching.
Al gets suspicious
The ending is one of the true classics. Bud and Kelly smash the jukebox and only one record survives, but that’s quite enough to warm Al and Peg’s hearts. Bud puts it on, Al puts his arms around Kelly and Peg and says “It really is a wonderful life”, everyone smiles. But, as they said in “Go For The Old” a season earlier, if you thought the episode was going to end like that you just haven’t been paying attention. The record jams and the frame freezes just as everyone’s smiles turn into scowls and frowns. Marvelous.
It’s a Bundyful ending
Bottom line: despite a silly subplot and occasional writing slips, few episodes are more enjoyable than this one.