Every year I plan on taking a short cut by posting this list with the idea of simply cutting and pasting something I wrote from a previous year. Every year, however, a few shows jump to the top of the list that were overlooked in the past. This year is no exception, starting with the first entry:

All in the Family: “The Draft Dodger” (1976). The recent passing of Norman Lear reminded us all of the great work he did in the ’70s in helping to craft a whole new generation of TV comedies for grown ups. In this seventh season episode of All in the Family, writers Jay Moriarty and Mike Milligan present a simple premise. Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) wants no negative talk at the table in front of his special guest, Pinky Petersen, a Gold Star father who lost his son in the war in Vietnam. Stumbling into a last-minute dinner invitation is Steve Brewster (Renny Temple), a friend who grew up with Mike (Rob Reiner) back in Chicago.

The catch is that Steve fled to Canada to avoid the draft and has illegally returned to the U.S. When Archie finds out, he is outraged and blows his top. When his friend Pinky weighs in, however, it is an emotional wallop and one of the series’ many high points.

For the uninitiated, watch the scene for O’Connor, who is incredible. This is one of those episodes from the ’70s you doubt would fly on network TV today in the divided states of America.

The Honeymooners (1955). In “T’was the Night Before Christmas.” This story is set over 20 years earlier in another blue collar Brooklyn setting. The story is as stark and simple as the Kramden’s apartment: Ralph (Jackie Gleason) sells his beloved bowling ball to buy a present for his wife Alice (Audrey Meadows). By the end of the episode, you’ll marvel at how much—after 68 years–four people (including co-stars Art Carney and Joyce Randolph) in one room can make you laugh and cry. (Some early “lost” episodes of The Honeymooners are available for streaming on Tubi.)

M*A*S*H: “Dear Dad” (1972). On January 1, Fox presents a two-hour salute to this series titled, M*A*S*H: The Comedy that Changed Television.” If you love this series, you won’t want to miss it. This episode, from the first season of the series, finds Hawkeye (Alan Alda) writing a letter to his father. He’s trying to explain the madness of war, which is pretty much what M*A*S*H attempted to do every week. It seems even crazier here with Hawkeye jumping out of a helicopter and attempting to save lives on the battlefield dresses as Santa Claus. I can sum up the reason to watch this episode in eight words: written by Larry Gelbart, directed by Gene Reynolds.


The Andy Griffith Show (1960). A town Scrooge forces Sheriff Taylor (Griffith) and Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) to keep a family locked up over the holidays. When Aunt Bee (Francis Bavier) and Opie (future director Ron Howard) bring Christmas to the jail, you’ll want to be locked up too. Griffith even gets to sing and play the guitar. You’ll watch this and say, “Why can’t they make TV shows like this anymore?”

Car 54 Where Are You? (1961). In the episode titled, “Christmas at the 53rd,” Capt. Block (Paul Reed) and officers Toody (Joe E. Ross) and Muldoon (Fred Gwynne) headline the precincts’ annual Christmas show, and Gilbert & Sullivan fans are in for a treat. Gruff Ross offers a shockingly moving song, especially considering some consider him the worst human being on Earth. Bewitched fans will recognize a young Alice Ghostley as Muldoon’s sort-of girlfriend. I love the energy of this episode which is like attending a live, holiday performance from the actors who make the show. If it seems as if the writers were taking the week off, they still had to pull together some terrific song parodys — and the actors had to be talented enough to put them over. As you’ll see below, this formula was tried, successfully, by others. Stream it now on-demand on Tubi.

The Dick Van Dyke Show (1963). In  “The Alan Brady Show Presents,” we finally get to see the variety TV show writers Rob and Buddy and Sally all work on: The Alan Brady Show. Brady appears as Santa in a sleigh pulled by June Taylor-ish dancers while his writers step on stage and perform various musical numbers. There’s Buddy (Morey Amsterdam) with his cello, Sally (Rose Marie) witrh her Jimmy Durante impression, Rob (Van Dyke) with his Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), adorable together in matching, hooped Santa suits. Even Mel (Richard Deacon) and Little Ritchie (Larry Matthews) gets into the act.

That Girl (1966). The first colour episode on this list, “Christmas and the Hard-luck Kid” finds Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas) telling boyfriend Donald (Ted Bessell) about the time she slept over at a school with one of her students who was missing out on the holidays. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. The kid was played by Christopher Shea, better known as the voice of Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas and other Peanuts specials. A very early effort from writer James L. Brooks. Can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.

Sanford & Son (1975). “Ebenezer Sanford” is yet another variation on the Dickens’ classic. Scrooge-like Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) can’t stop insulting everyone, including Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page). “I have the feeling of Christmas,” she tells him. “And the face of Halloween,” he replies. When Fred falls asleep, he is visited by three ghosts, all played by his son Lamont (Demond Wilson). Funny and touching, with Foxx warming up at the end with a version of “The Christmas Song.” Follow this link to stream it now on CTV Throwback.

Laverne & Shirley (1976). “Oh Hear the Angels’ Voices” is another, “Let’s put on a show” episode. It’s co-written by Garry Marshall, who was a writer-producer on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The charm of it is seeing Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams and the rest of the regulars cut loose with Christmas songs and sketches, including the late David L. Lander as “Squiggy.” It is a tad iffy, however, that the show takes place in a “mental ward.” Look for future WKRP standout Howard Hesseman as a doctor — or is he?

Frasier, like Bewitched, did several Christmas episodes — eight in fact. My favourite is the first season gem, “Miracle on Third or Fourth Street,” (Dec., 1993). Crushed by the last-minute news that son Frederick will no longer be visiting for the holidays, Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) volunteers to work Dec. 25th at the radio station. Features a stellar script by series co-creator Christopher Lloyd, the episode is funny, sad and moving and aggressively unsentimental. Listen for celebrity voices Mel Brooks, Ben Stiller and Rosemary Clooney among the depressed radio station callers who call the good doctor. Available for streaming on Paramount+.

One last Christmas present:

Take less than two minutes and watch this Christmas-themed musical moment from a 1967 episode of The Monkees. The four leads harmonize beautifully a cappella on “Riu Chiu,” with surviving member Micky Dolenz clearly impressing Davy Jones on vocals.

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