The Austin Chronicle

DVD Watch

Reviewed by Amy Smith, December 4, 2009, Screens

Merry Sitcom!: Christmas Classics From TV's Golden Age

Shout! Factory, $12.99

There's nothing like the holidays to rev up ye olde nostalgic spirit, and there's no place like the couch, in front of the television, to do just that. For those raised on TV in the Fifties and Sixties – or grew up sucking the nectar of this era's reruns – Merry Sitcom!: Christmas Classics From TV's Golden Age provides just enough Americana trappings for your Yuletide trip down memory lane.

The DVD collection of comedy shows offers Christmas episodes from seven feel-good TV series: Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, McHale's Navy, Bewitched, That Girl, The Flying Nun, and Window on Main Street. In the first (and earliest) selection, a 1954 episode of Father Knows Best called "The Christmas Story," actor Robert Young (aka Jim Anderson) pines for the days of noncommercial Christmases and shakes his head in dismay over the self-involved conduct of his three children. So he gathers the family and whisks them off to the woods to – you've guessed it – chop down their own Christmas tree. When the car gets stuck in a snow drift, the family takes shelter in a cabin where they're forced to spend Christmas Eve, much to the children's chagrin. It's here, though, that the Anderson family learns the real meaning of Christmas. True, it's ridiculously candy-coated and WASPy, but the episode hangs tight and does a fair job of stirring up memories of yesteryear. The Donna Reed Show lays out a similar scenario in "A Very Merry Christmas."

Most of the remaining episodes offer a refreshing break from the straight and narrow, starting with McHale's Navy, the classic sitcom based on the misadventures of a patrol torpedo boat crew during World War II. Cheerfully, three leading women of TV sitcom history are included on this compilation: Elizabeth Montgomery, in a positively awesome episode of Bewitched (1954's "A Vision of Sugar Plums"); Sally Field as the titular character in The Flying Nun; and Marlo Thomas, playing that girl in That Girl (in an episode that is the least entertaining of the bunch). The DVD closes out with an odd choice – a downright lugubrious episode of Window on Main Street, again with Young – but overall, the Merry Sitcom! collection is a must-have treat for baby boomers in need of some warm fuzzies this year.

Also Out Now ...

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas (20th Century Fox, $26.98): We're betting it's lumps of coal all around for the deeply dysfunctional gang from Paddy's Pub.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Ultimate Collector's Edition) (Warner Home Video, $39.98): This 4-disc monument to the Griswold family Christmas comes with a commemorative Santa hat.

The Merry Yule Log (Synergy Entertainment, $6.95): We're going to let the press release do the talking, mostly because words have failed us: "The Merry Yule Log contains over an hour of High Definition fireplace scene plus your choice of background audio: A crackling fire, Christmas music, or both!"

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