THE ODD COUPLE'S "SCROOGE GETS AN OSCAR" IS TV'S GREATEST CHRISTMAS EPISODE OF ALL TIME!
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
Just about every TV pop culture junkie knows the significance of November 13th. That was the day (and I quote)...
“Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence; that request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his friend, Oscar Madison. Several years earlier, Madison's wife had thrown HIM out, requesting that HE never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”
But here’s a little-known fact…on December 17th, 1970 (fifty years ago today) at 9pm, ABC aired what many consider to be THE greatest Christmas themed TV episode of all time…the Odd Couple’s “Scrooge Gets An Oscar.”
Odd Couple TV listing newspaper ad for "Scrooge Gets An Oscar"
Every sitcom that's been on the air for more than one season has done a Christmas/Holiday themed episode. There are some great ones including the Honeymooners’ “Twas The Night Before Christmas” episode, Seinfeld’s classic “festivus for the rest of us” and the Office has seven of them with “A Benihana Christmas” the best. In fact there were twenty three shows alone that based their Christmas exposed on Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol". But none of them can hold a holiday candle to “Scrooge Gets An Oscar.”
This episode, written by Ron Friedman and directed George Tyne, is perfect in every way. It embraces Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” so cleverly by seamlessly weaving all of its major plot points into the world of Oscar, Felix, Speed, Vinnie, Roy and Murray.
There is so much to love about this episode. It’s from the first season (which was shot on single camera without an audience) so it more closely captures the look and feel of the movie. There is an excellent score of classic Dickensian inspired Christmas music throughout the episode that drives the story, and all of the supporting players get wonderful moments to shine. There’s also a beautiful “meta” ending to the episode and to top it off, there is a classic musical moment which is often sung by Odd Couple fans when we reminisce about the show.
The only regulars missing are The Pigeon Sisters and while any episode with the sisters is a good thing, they would not have fit in here and forcing them into the storyline would have compromised the perfection that Friedman achieved.
Here’s how Friedman describes the genesis of this episode: “Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson called me in a frenzy, needing a Christmas episode, and even though it was hurriedly written, it came out really good. I worked on both the single-camera and multi-camera scripts. Tony and Jack liked my writing, and very little rewriting was necessary.”
This is how Odd Couple creator Gary Marshall introduced the episode on the Odd Couple DVD; “We always figured we should do a Christmas show. We couldn’t think up one so we finally went for “Scrooge Gets An Oscar” … we do a version of the scrooge story with Oscar and Felix in very elaborate costumes. This is one of our few episodes with special effects…SMOKE. I’m sure you won’t get that excited”
Film lovers often site Robert Towne's screenplay for Chinatown as one of the greatest screenplays ever written. One of the its strengths is that it never wastes a moment. The same can be said for Friedman's script for "Scrooge Gets An Oscar" and he had greater constraint because he had to accomplish everything in just 24 minutes over three acts and an end tag interrupted by commercial breaks!
The opening sets the tone with a very cinematic shot. Snow is falling and we see the guys playing poker through the Christmas wreath in the apartment window.
Oscar is crankier than usual because the holiday season depresses him (he and Blanche were married on December 25th.) Blanche also broke up with the guy she was set to marry so Oscar’s hope of not having to pay alimony is dashed.
DON'T TALK TO ME ABOUT CHRISTMAS, WILL YA. I’D LIKE TO GET A GIANT CANDY CANE AND BEAT THE WINGS OFF A SUGAR PLUM FAIRY
FYI: Oscar’s use of ”will ya” is a common thing...often when he is frustrated or defensive. It's probably most remembered from “Chicken delicious will ya.”
Oscar angrily quits the game and the guys all laugh and say that he will be perfect to play Scrooge in Murray’s police charity at the Midtown Orphanage...“He won’t even have to act”
A predicably festive Felix enters the room, singing “Deck The Halls” while pushing a cart with his homemade eggnog and low-cal Christmas cookies.
Felix is unfazed by Oscar’s stubbornness and insists that he will be perfect as Scrooge. Their exchange gets heated.
Oscar exits and Felix turns to the group and says, “That's our Scrooge.”
Act two opens with Felix packing his bag to leave, and Oscar helps him by bringing him his pots and pans.
This next sequence is one of the highlights of the episode and makes you appreciate just how great the supporting cast is. Felix’s cutting responses to each of the auditions are spot on and perfectly illustrate just how Ron Friedman’s writing.
Felix, Speed, Vinnie, Roy and Murray are at Felix’s photo studio (Portraits A Specialty) to rehearse “A Christmas Carol” and to try and figure out how to do the play without Oscar.
Felix asks Roy to read for Scrooge.
Murray offers to play Scrooge, but Felix tells him that no one would ever believe him as a mean person.
Felix, now in full blown director mode, suddenly turns to Vinnie and gets right in his face to motivate him.
Next up is Speed who delivers what is arguably the funniest reading.
The guys all encourage Felix to read for the part and with false modesty he demurs while quickly opening his script and delivers an over-the-top reading that clearly falls flat.
After auditioning himself for the role of Scrooge, Felix rhetorically asks “We better get Oscar, huh?
We are now back at the apartment and the guys are having one last intervention with Oscar to try and convince him to play Scrooge. They each make a heartfelt case and Oscar seems to be softening when the doorbell rings. It’s a singing messenger with a message from Oscar’s ex-wife.
Season's greetings, Oscar boy,
My alimony's due
If you don't pay up right away
I'll get the cops on you
And you'll spend Christmas in the clink
With other bums like you.
This enrages Oscar and he yells for everyone (including Felix) to leave. On the way-out Felix pays the messenger and tells him...
Oscar slams the door on them and goes to the window to yell at the Salvation Army Band to stop playing “Joy To The World” or he’ll call the cops.
With everyone gone, Oscar settles in to watch the roller derby, but it’s pre-empted by “A Christmas Carol” which quickly puts him to sleep (cue the classic dream sequence effect). Oscar is now fast asleep on the couch wearing old English style pajamas with a night cap. He is woken up by the sound of Felix on the TV dressed as Marley's Ghost calling out to him.
Before we get into the final act, think for a second how much ground was covered in just fourteen minutes. Friedman did an excellent job of laying out the foundation for what’s about to come and expertly distills the heart of “A Christmas Carol” over the next eleven minutes and still maintains the humor and rhythm of the Odd Couple dialogue.
Marley's Ghost suddenly appears in front of a disbelieving Ebenezer Madison and beckons him join him as they tip toe to the window.
After falling twelve stories, Marley's Ghost suddenly reappears with his arm in a sling; “we’ll take the elevator.”
"God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” plays as Marley and Ebenezer emerge from a thick fog.
The fog clears and we get a look at Ebenezer Madison’s Christmas past. Dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit he’s reading a letter he wrote to Santa when he was a young boy.
Oscar doesn’t want to see anymore so Marley gives him a look into Christmas present. We see Felix dressed as Bob Cratchit, Murray as Tiny Tim and Roy, Vinnie and Speed as the rest of the family. As Tiny Tim repeatedly says “God bless us all, everyone” Felix’s replies are priceless.
Marley’s ghost suddenly leaves Ebenezer alone in a cemetery where he sees a tombstone with clothes strewn about it.
Ebenezer pleads for one more chance as the dream sequence ends with Oscar back on the couch repeatedly yelling ‘please, please’ in his sleep. A reformed Oscar agrees to play Scrooge and when he and Felix walk out of the apartment we experience our "Meta Christmas" moment.
Now you would think that would be it right? What a beautiful ending. It’s perfect as is and yet there is one more piece of icing on this beautiful Christmas cake. Most sitcoms from the seventies had a short end tag of every episode and the Odd Couple was no exception!
Sadly, Garry Marshall, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are no longer with us (ironically for this story, Klugman passed away on Christmas Eve in 2012.)
Ron Friedman is still going strong! He’s a prolific television and film writer with over 700 hours of episodes for many TV series, such as The Andy Griffith Show, The Good Guys, Bewitched, Gilligan's Island, All in the Family, The Odd Couple, Happy Days and That's My Mama.
Ron wrote six other Odd Couple episodes; "Lovers Don't Make House Calls", "Felix's Wife's Boyfriend", "Does Your Mother Know You're Out, Rigoletto?", "Psychic, Shmychic” and "Last Tango in Newark"
He recently appeared on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast with Frank Santopadre. You can listen to that interview here.
Writer: Ronald I. Friedman; Director: George Tyne; Guest Stars: Larry Gelman as Vinnie, Ryan McDonald as Roy, Al Molinaro as Murray Greshler, Garry Walberg as Speed, and Ogden Talbot as the messenger boy.
Ogden Talbot who guest starred as the singing messenger appeared in three other Odd Couple episodes: “Natural Childbirth”, “The Ides of April” and “Gloria Moves In”.
The Odd Couple Christmas Gallery