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In 1966, Jackie Gleason's television variety show added a new hour-long sketch that reintroduced audiences to one of America's favorite families--the Kramdens and their neighbors the Nortons, whom Gleason immortalized as The Honeymooners in the 1950s, first on his variety series, and as its own program. For this all-color incarnation, Gleason reunited with Art Carney as pal Ed Norton, while Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean were the new Alice and Trixie, respectively. The Color Honeymooners also added musical numbers to the sketches, but aside from these new features, it was the same old Honeymooners, as seen in this four-disc set, which preserves the nine-episode "Trip to Europe" story arc. It's actually a revised version of the "Box Top Kid" sketch from The Jackie Gleason Show circa '56-57, which finds Ralph consumed with contest fever after his brother-in-law wins an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe through a write-in contest. After Norton pens a slogan for Flakey Wakey, Ralph is granted first prize--but must first prove that he's lost weight from eating the product. This spins into an eight-part story which takes the Kramdens and Nortons to Europe, where they cause havoc in the great cities of the Continent, as well as on an African safari. The sketches are balanced out by a number of musical bits, including performances by the June Taylor Dancers, the Glea Girls, and other regulars and guests.
The real question for Honeymooners fans is: do the color episodes hold up when compared to the originals? And the answer is, in a way, no: Gleason and Carney are older and a bit slower in regard to timing and performance, and MacRae and Kean, while pleasant, can't touch Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph as Alice and Trixie. And the musical and production numbers, while eye-catching, weigh down the humor at the core of the sketches. But there's still plenty of chemistry between Gleason and Carney in their best-loved roles, and if you're a die-hard Honeymooners/Gleason fan, you'll probably want to add these episodes to your collection. The four-disc set includes all nine unedited episodes from the story arc, as well as the featurette "The Great Gleason Express," which chronicles the star's process of moving his show from New York to Miami Beach ("the sun and fun capital of the world," lest you've forgotten) via a lavish train, with plenty of stops along the way to cater to his fans. The featurette is rounded out by an interview with Gleason's widow, Marilyn Taylor Gleason. --Paul Gaita