Friday, May 3, 2013
'The Roman Holidays;' Empirical Evidence of Collosally Great Comedy
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1972-73 Saturday morning cartoon series "The Roman Holidays" should remove any doubt regarding Hanna-Barbera (H-B) earning the title of "All-time King of Saturday Mornings." Like the similar recently released DVD set of "Help!...It's The Hair Bear Bunch," "Holidays" is even better than remembered.
Greater "Holiday" cheer is likely attributed to its primary target audience of Gen Xers having a much better understanding of the humor of this "Flintstonesesque" series set in 63 A.D. Rome than they did 40 years ago.
I doubt that I understood the joke "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" back in the day. I know that I did not understand the humor regarding a Centurion traffic cop asking "Where's the fire, Nero" when pulling over a speeder.
The combination of great humor and lack of a laugh track in "Holidays" also evoked memories of Alan Spencer, who created the hilarious '80s cop show spoof sitcom "Sledge Hammer!," successfully lobbying for removing the laugh track from the episodes in the DVD release of "Sledge." Spencer plainly stated that the audience did not need to be told when something was funny.
"Holidays" followed the highly successful "historical context" formula that H-B utilized in "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons."
In the case of "Holidays," the middle-class nuclear Holiday family lived an early '70s American style life in ancient Rome. Dad Gus mowed the lawn and watched football, mom Laurie kept house and guided Gus and the couples' two children through life, teen son Happius (a.k.a. Happy) played in a band and had a steady girl, and tween daughter Precocia was the golden child who begged Laurie to allow her to wear a mini-toga.
Rather than a lovable dinosaur ala "The Flintsones" or a wonderfully dopey dog ala "The Jetsons," the Holiday family pet was a tame accident-prone lion named Brutus who loved Gus as much as Dino and Astro adored their "daddies."
"Holidays" also supported the theory that Hanna and/or Barbera had a thing for Gingers that might have rivaled Alfred Hitchcock's preference for blondes. Laurie Holiday, Wilma Flintstone, Jane Jetson, Josie of "Josie and the Pussycats," Tina of "Goober and the Ghost Chasers," and Daphne of "Scooby-Doo" were all red-heads. This percentage of women in the H-B universe with that hair color far exceeds the norm in the general real-world population.
Just as the Flintsone family put a stone age spin on their vernacular and household possessions and the Jetson clan transformed everything into a space motif, the Holidays geared everything to the society of their days. This often took the form of adding "ius" to celebrity names. Stefano McQueenius was a popular star, and Naderius was a consumer advocate.
Examples of tricking out everyday items Roman style included sundial and hour-glass watches, televisions that displayed numbers in the Roman numeral style, and newspapers coming in scroll form.
Similar to Fred Flintsone and George Jetson, construction worker Gus Holiday worked for a hot-tempered boss who regularly threatened to fire him and ultimately withdrew awarded raises and promotions. Gus had the additional woe of appropriately named Mr. Evictus, who was as tempermental as Gus' boss and often threatened the family with eviction from their home in the amusingly named Venus De Milo Arms apartment building.
Evictus' threats prompted one of the series' most amusing moments. Precocia asked during a ride in the family's chariot if they could take a detour through the park so that she could see where they will be living.
Like "Bear," "Holidays" also benefited from an awesome group voice cast.
Stanley Livingston, who provided the voice of Happy right after finishing a phenomenonal 12-year run as middle-son Chip Douglas on the sitcom "My Three Sons," is tied with veteran comedian Dom DeLuise for most recognizable name to Gen Xers. DeLuise did the same awesome job portraying Mr. Evictus as he did with his better-known roles.
H-B voice god Daws Butler, who brought Brutus to life, is almost as well known as Livingston and DeLuise. Butler made this scene-stealing character a cross between "The Wizard of Oz's" cowardly lion and Butler's portrayal of classic H-B character pink mountain lion Snagglepuss.
Character actor Dave Wilock provided Gus' voice; his other high-profile H-B gig was as the narrator of the hilarious late-60s series "Wacky Races." "Races" is notably for leading to the equally good spinoffs "Dastardley and Muttley in their Flying Machines" , which had the very catchy theme song with the lyrics "Stop that pigeon; stop that pigeon; stop that pigeon now, and "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop."
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Holidays" is encouraged to email me.