The holiday episode-within-the-series is always a treat, but unlike holiday specials, don’t get the traditional network re-airing year after year (or sometimes, decade after decade).
Christmas and Halloween always seem to get the biggest response from television shows, and usually get a new episode every year. But the one holiday that usually seems to be one trick pony in the sitcom holiday world is Thanksgiving. And while that should be shame, it tends to be harder to re-invent the wheel for the holiday each year. I don’t know why that should be the case, but it is.
In the 1980s, I watched a steady stream of sitcoms. Growing up in the mid-late 1980s, I saw the last few seasons of some of the most well-known sitcoms of the early 1980s, while watching a bunch take off (and to varying degrees, succeed) through the late 1980s and into the 1990s. As I was growing up, I continued to watch many sitcoms. These days, I’m not as impressed with the ones I see on television (I don’t watch much current television, aside from a few things), but I prefer nostalgia, because well, you’ve read some of my past stuff.
One sitcom my family watched when I was growing up (and one I DVR’ed when Antenna TV was airing it last year) was the delightful show about an prim English butler who worked for a Pittsburgh family, butted heads with the husband/father, and regularly sparred with one of the family’s children…who happened to be a bratty eight-year-old. That show was Mr. Belvedere.
It’s all coming back to you, isn’t it?
During the show’s six-year-run, the Owens family celebrated Christmas several times (not beginning with season 2), but only celebrated Thanksgiving once in those six years (in season 2). That episode was “The Letter.”
Predictable, just like a holiday episode, don’t you think?
It’s an undetermined amount of time before Thanksgiving in the Owens house, and youngest child/resident brat Wesley has just finished a football game, his noted accomplishment of the game was his tackling of the Quarterback. Wesley thinks he should go back to Ballet, where no one yells at you.
It’s a shame Wesley never experienced the joys of Dance Moms.
Kevin, the oldest son, observes all of this, and feels bad that their father (George) is pushing Wesley to stick with football when he clearly is unhappy with it. That must have been Bob Uecker’s theory on baseball, because he stuck with that. If you’re unfamiliar with that background, let’s just say as a baseball player, he’s a dynamite commentator.
George promises Wesley that any letters and trophies he earns from football will be placed on the mantle, which encourages Wesley (perhaps a little) to stick with it.
Mr Belvedere, who has been a quiet observer the whole time, thinks George is being hard on Wesley, but doesn’t interfere with any of the goings on. But of course, it’s all done in a humorous way (references to English sports, English sports that aren’t sports, and large noses), as these two make great sparring partners.
Cut to the opening credits, and that ultra-catchy theme song…
And back to the episode!
Wesley takes the phone off the hook and puts it in the drawer, as Mr. Belvedere asks him why he has done that. Wesley explains that he was practicing his kicking, and did such a great job, he broke the stained glass window at Homer Hufnagel’s house (the Hufnagel family, in case you’re unfamiliar with this series, is the never-seen neighbors the Owens family seems to run across negatively – they’re like Mavis from Fraiser, but, an entire family).
Kevin arrives home, and begins clearing the fridge of food so he can “bulk up” in anticipation of trying out for football so Wesley doesn’t have to shoulder their dad’s dreams of varsity letters. He believes Wesley doesn’t want to do it, so he’ll make up for the disappointment of when he was a little kid and didn’t want to play football.
Oh, and Mr. Belvedere makes a joke about Yugoslavia coming over, which only feels timely in the 1980s.
And the phone rings once Mr. Belvedere hangs it up properly.
And yes, it was Homer Hufnagel on the phone.
Wesley comes into the house (again, some undetermined amount of time prior to Thanksgiving) to inform George of his football training accomplishments, which included tackling Mr. Belvedere while he was taking out the trash. George is proud of him (gee, I wonder why?), but Wesley can’t figure out why he hasn’t gotten any bigger, so he thinks he should take steroids. Silly Wesley, don’t you know how dangerous those are…and how East Germans who are tired of being women take them?
This show is just chock-full of 1980s glory, isn’t it?
Mr. Belvedere is unhappy about the tackling, Wesley gave him, but Kevin is even more unhappy with the Hufnagels, whom he is fighting with because their Doberman got in his way. And talk about ‘roid rage, Kevin’s got it. Except he isn’t taking steroids…we don’t think. No, he isn’t.
But he does crush cans on his forehead.
Mr. Belvedere gets to the bottom of Kevin’s behavior and secret. Kevin believes he will be finally earning his Varsity letter during next week’s Thanksgiving football game.
A week later…oh, so the previous scene isn’t an undetermined time before Thanksgiving, it was a week ago!
Mr. Belvedere (and his hired slaves, Wesley and Heather) grocery shop for Thanksgiving, but Belvedere decides to tease George about how he didn’t shop for the holiday, and bought a “nice box of noodles” for a nice tuna casserole.
Marsha finds Kevin’s report card among bills, and shows it to George. It turns out Kevin’s efforts to impress/please his father have resulted in his grades slipping, to which Kevin argues that he can’t be grounded until after the next day…so he stomps off in a huff.
But not before he wishes the family a Happy Thanksgiving.
The next day, Wesley is watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which Heather doesn’t understand, being that she is worried about Kevin’s whereabouts.
Oh, and Heather calls Wesley a “sexist pig,” and Wesley retorts with snorting, to which Mr. Belvedere informs him that he will be fed shortly.
The phone rings, and it turns out Kevin is calling. He asks Mr. Belvedere to bring his school stuff and some clothes, giving him an address and not wanting his parents to know his whereabouts.
It turns out Kevin is living on Skid Row in the rundown Hotel Gilbert, near the Midnight Mission. He also need a can of Black Flag.
Because rundown hotel.
Marsha is worried that Kevin is drinking again (which he isn’t), but Mr. Belvedere will not betray Kevin’s trust.
Meanwhile, on Skid Row…
Kevin is making himself food and gives a can of cranberry sauce to his across-the-hall neighbor, who reminds me of Monroe Ficus from Too Close for Comfort in drag.
Can’t figure out why.
Mr. Belvedere arrives to drop off Kevin’s requested items, and talks to him about how his family is worried about him, and that he should tell his parents why he has done all of this. Kevin insists he will tell them when he has his Varsity Letter in hand.
Mr. Belvedere and Wesley are finishing up with the relish tray and turkey, and Wesley wants Kevin to come home. He also wears olives on his fingers (yearly tradition, he says), so you know this kid isn’t overly serious.
At the dinner table, the family starts talking about Kevin, and Wesley says a prepared Grace-type statement. The family begins talking about Kevin, and Mr. Belvedere reveals Kevin’s whereabouts at this time.
After some stock footage of a high school football game, the Owens family shows up at the hotel to see him.
Kevin is still understandably sore with his dad about the attempt to get the Varsity Letter, but in the usual sitcom way, they argue, then make up, and then leave. Not so usual? Lady Monroe Ficus saying goodbye to “Kevy.”
Yeah, I’m equally disturbed by that last sentence. And I wrote it!
Back home, Kevin is in the darkened kitchen with Wesley, who is going to scrape the marshmallows off the yams. They have a heart-to-heart about Wesley playing football, and he tells Kevin that he shouldn’t worry about Wesley not being so great at football and trying to impress George, since he is actually having fun. That makes Kevin happy.
Also out of the mouth of Wesley? Kevin is worries about everything because, according to Mr. Belvedere, he is a brooder. Also according to Mr. Belvedere? Wesley isn’t bothered by anything because he is a sociopath.
Good lord, it’s a sitcom, but I hope this kid grows up ok.
Wesley tells Kevin he’s glad that he came home, and tells him to get some sleep. We close on Kevin eating the turkey leg that he always eats on Thanksgiving.
And what Mr. Belvedere episode would be complete without Mr. Belvedere writing in his journal while voiceover tells us what he is writing?
Belvedere mentions this being his first Thanksgiving, there are things to be thankful for, he was given a cornucopia of chaos, dilemmas, intrigue, and leftovers. As he eats his pumpkin pie, he says out loud that he can’t imagine what he will get for Christmas.
You won’t be finding out this season, that’s for sure.
And end of episode!
“The Letter” aired on November 22, 1985 (Thanksgiving was November 28th that year, in case you were burning to know this information), and was the ninth episode of the season. In a season that didn’t see a Christmas episode (this didn’t happen for the first time until the third season), it was nice to know that one of the fall/winter holidays got their dues early on in the life of the show.
Thanksgiving got to be its first.
If you’d like to see the one and only time the Owens family celebrated Thanksgiving onscreen, click play below!
And there you have it, this year’s Thanksgiving contribution. I didn’t say this was probably the most memorable contribution to the holiday world of sitcoms, but it is a nice story. In a current world where sitcoms are desperate to play for laughs even on occasions where it isn’t necessary (or in some cases, appropriate), it’s nice to know there are exceptions that play to the heart. And if they had to be in the past, then so be it.
If you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out what happened on Thanksgiving Eve in 1986, in a desert town in the world Amazing Stories inhabits.
And if you really needed to know what happened on this blog on Thanksgiving last year, check out how another sitcom family, the lesser-known (perhaps intentionally) Lawson family on Small Wonder, celebrated Thanksgiving in 1986.
I didn’t say the sitcom world had all high points, people.
Have a safe, happy, and healthy Thanksgiving!