Originally broadcast for one season (195556) on CBS, The Honeymooners chronicles the sometimes madcap, sometimes touching life of big-mouthed but soft-hearted bus driver Ralph Kramden and his sarcastic wife Alice, who live in a cold-water walk-up apartment in Brooklyn (based on Jackie Gleason's childhood home at 328 Chauncy Street), and their friends and upstairs neighbors, sewer worker Ed Norton and his wife Trixie. Ralph and Norton are constantly getting embroiled in one crackpot get-rich-quick scheme after another.
Born from a series of recurring sketches on the variety-format series The Jackie Gleason Show (many of which were preserved on kinescope and rather misleadingly touted as "lost episodes" decades later), The Honeymooners was eventually spun off into its own program, starring Jackie Gleason as Ralph, Art Carney as Norton, Audrey Meadows as Alice, and Joyce Randolph as Trixie. (Pert Kelton had originated the role of Alice in the Jackie Gleason Show sketches, but was blacklisted during the HUAC "Red Scare" and forced out of the cast. Uncle John's Bathroom Reader claims that Kelton's official reason for being fired was that "her boobs were too big", while Wikipedia's page on Pert Kelton claims that it was due to alleged heart problems.)
Along with I Love Lucy, this is one of the ur-SitComs from the early days of television. While a one-season affair as a standalone series (it regularly got trounced in the ratings by The Perry Como Show during its initial network run), it remained a part of Gleason's reconstituted variety show until the end of its run, found a second life in ubiquitous syndicated reruns, and became a certified cultural icon, widely imitated (in particular by The Flintstones) both in Hollywood and abroad. (There have been at least two Swedish versions, for instance.) In the late '70s ABC aired four hour-long Honeymooners reunion specials, including one for Christmas and one for Valentine's Day.
Years later, the show's legacy continues to live on: In 2002 CBS aired a made-for-TV biopic called Gleason, starring Everybody Loves Raymond 's Brad Garrett as The Great One—one scene of which features Gleason creating the basics of The Honeymooners along with his other characters. In addition, a film adaptation with an all-black cast (including Cedric The Entertainer as Ralph) was released in theaters in June 2005, though this iteration wasn't very well-received. In 2017, the show was adapted into a stage musical that premiered at New Jersey's Papermill Playhouse.
This show provides examples of:
- Aesop Amnesia: Ralph will always jump to the conclusion that Alice is cheating on him whenever there is the slightest misunderstanding in communication between the two. Her supposed infidelity is always proven to be a delusion in his own head, but this doesnt stop him from making the same presumption every time the situation arises.
- Acrofatic: Ralph. Just watch his cartwheels.
- Animated Adaptation
- The series was spoofed in several '50s Looney Tunes shorts. Most notable were three shorts that cast the characters as mice. In one Bugs Bunny cartoon, caricatured versions of Ralph and Ed are depicted as hungry train hobos who, when they see Bugs, naturally try to eat him.
- The Flintstones got their start as a fairly obvious Expy of the Honeymooners.
- Antidisestablishmentarianism: Alice orders Ralph to spell this word in "The $99,000 Answer", to which this trigger is exchanged:Ralph: I'll spell it. (pauses) I'll spell it!
Alice: Well? Go ahead.
Ralph: (agitated) I'll spell it when you give me $16,000 for spelling it!
Alice: (total disbelief) Sixteen thousand dollars for spelling it!? I'll give you $32,000 if you can SAY it!
- Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Ralph and Alice are constantly fighting, but have such a moment at the end of every episode, giving an opportunity for Ralph to say one of his catchphrases: "Baby, you're the greatest."
- Big "SHUT UP!": Ralph does this a lot, usually to Ed.
- The Boxing Episode: "The Bensonhurst Bomber", in which Ralph unwittingly challenges a much bigger, tougher person to a boxing match.
- Brick Joke / Chekhov's Gag: See Minsky Pickup below. After studying almost every popular song in existence, guess what the first song he gets on The $99,000 Answer is...
- Broadcast Live: The "Lost Episode" skits from the variety show.
- Butt-Monkey: Practically all the main characters, but especially Ed.
- Catch-Phrase: "To the moon, Alice!", "Baby, you're the greatest!", "Bang! Zoom!", "Hamana-hamana-hamana-hamana", "You know that I know that you know that I know...", (spoken by Ed) "Hey, Ralphie boy!" (and "Sheesh! Whatta grouch!" after being told to Get Out!), in the "lost episodes" both "You are a mental case" for Ralph to Ed and "Eh, shut up" for Alice to Ralph.Fry: He was just using space travel as a metaphor for beating his wife.
- Call-Forward: In the musical adaptation, Ralph's co-workers sing that one day, Ralph may have a statue of himself in front of the Port Authority Bus Terminal...◊
- Celebrity Lie / Celebrity Paradox: A Jackie Gleason Show sketch (later redone in one of the '70s color specials) has Ralph claiming he knows Gleason and can book him for the Raccoons' annual dance.
- The Chew Toy: Ralph and Ed.
- Closer to Earth: Originally, Pert Kelton's Alice was supposed to be a shrew, and just as bad as Ralph. When Audrey Meadows replaced Kelton (after Kelton got blacklisted), the character was retooled.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander. Ed Norton, many times, but often...
- The CloudCuckoolander Was Right. ...he's right.
- Comically Missing the Point: Ed again. For example, Trixie complains to him about her experience buying chopped meat from a butcher. She had asked him how much the chopped meat was and he says, "58 cents a pound, sweetie pie," much to her embarrassment. This exchange is thus triggered:Ed: Boy, I don't blame you for being mad. You're never going in that butcher shop again. What a nerve — 58 cents a pound for chopped meat.
Trixie: Ed, I was referring to him calling me "sweetie pie"!
Ed: What do you want him to call you, "lover lips"? He hardly knows you.
- Creator Cameo: Sort of in the musical adaptation. Ralph and Norton write a commercial jingle to appear on Cavalcade of the Stars and end up meeting Jackie Gleason and Art Carney.
- One of the "lost" Christmas episodes featured Alice sending Ralph out to get special potato salad as she prepared the apartment for a holiday party. During the rest of the segment, Gleason returned as his now lesser known characters including Rudy the Repairman, Joe the Bartender, The Poor Soul, and Reginald Van Gleason the Third, before finally returning as Ralph.
- Another "Lost Episode" revealed that Ralph and Alice's landlord is none other than Jack Benny!
- Gleason cameoed as Ralph in the "Lucy Visits Jack Benny" episode of Here's Lucy in 1968. In the story Lucy and Company are vacationing in Jack's Palm Beach home (long story). Jack, being Jack, charges for everything, and an evening BBQ turns out to not be for them but rather tourists on a bus, who line up, give Jack a dollar apiece which he puts in a wooden box he's holding. A man who works for Jack says that the bus driver would like to know if he can have a bite too. Jack says "Of course" and the man calls "Ok, Ralph, you can come in." Gleason comes in shyly looking around at everyone (he acts more like his Poor Soul character than Ralph), slowly starts to assemble a hamburger, then starts to take a bite. He notices the box of dollars in Jack's hands, takes a dollar, putting it atop his burger as lettuce and again raises it to his mouth saying "Oh, how sweet it is!"
- Dark Reprise: In the musical adaptation, a dramatic version of "Old Folks at Home" (aka "Swanee River") is used briefly in the score during a low point for Norton.
- Deadpan Snarker. Both Alice and Ed.
- Department of Redundancy Department: TV Land noticed that much of the scripts were people repeating what they or other people had just said (for example, Ralph: "It can't be! It can't be!"), and created a promo highlighting this fact (calling the effect Duo Dialog).
- Domestic Abuse: Fans of the show will tell you this trope is averted. Ralph was a pompous bully-wanna-be, but Alice was the emotionally stronger of the pair by far. In a mix of Closer to Earth and Over and Under the Top, Alice ignored Ralph's impotent threats of violence while Ralph was instantly cowed by dirty looks from Alice. This does not stop many moments from being quite uncomfortable for modern audiences.
- Don't Explain the Joke: An odd example that's not the show's fault at all; one episode has Ralph and Norton accidentally handcuffed together on a train, forcing Ralph to get out of bed whenever Norton wants something, much to the former's chagrin. After Norton prepares a cigarette, you can clearly hear a kid in the audience anticipate that Norton forgot to get a match (and the subsequent blowup from Ralph).
- Double Take: Brought to a science!
- Early-Bird Cameo: In the first Honeymooners sketch before it became its own show, Art Carney plays a cop who gets hit by a barrel of flour Alice throws out the window.
- Embarrassing Middle Name: Edward Lilywhite Norton
- Epic Fail. The result of any of Ralph's Get Rich Quick schemes.
- Every Episode Ending: Ralph and Alice make up and make out.
- Fat and Skinny: Ralph and Norton.
- The Film of the Series: The forgettable 2005 film.
- 555: In recent syndicated and cable cast showings of the episode in which the Kramdens get a telephone, some of the numbers are dubbed over when spoken by the characters.
- Foreign Remake: The show saw several adaptations around the world. Interestingly, most were produced during the 1990s-2000s and lasted much longer than the original standalone series, which shows the lasting appeal of the original show:
- The French-Canadian Cré Basile (1965-70) was not a direct adaptation, but like The Flintstones, it was heavily inspired by The Honeymooners to the point Jackie Gleason would've probably sued its creators if it wasn't completely obscure outside Quebec. One of its characters, Symphorien Laperle, later got his own beloved sitcom in Symphorien (1970-77).
- The Dutch Toen Was Geluk Heel Gewoon ("[Back] Then, Happiness Was Normal") started out in 1994 with adaptations of the original 39 episodes, albeit with the setting changed to 1950s Rotterdam. After the original stories ran out, the lead actors began writing new stories with many new characters and references to Dutch history and popular culture, leading to a successful run that ended in 2009 with 226 episodes. A film adaptation was released in 2014.
- The Swedish Rena Rama Rolf changed the setting to modern Gothenburg and bus driver Ralph to streetcar driver Rolf. It ran from 1994 to 1998.
- The Indonesian Detak Detik made the Ralph equivalent Mat Sola a Silver Bird taxi driver and removed references to alcohol in deference to Indonesia' Muslim majority. Two series of a total of 26 episodes were produced in 1996. Art Carney personally phoned the cast prior to production to give them his best wishes.
- The Polish Miodowe Iata ("Honeymoon Years"), similarly to the Dutch version, used a mix of translated original scripts and new scripts, both with the setting changed to modern-day Warsaw. It ran from 1998 to 2003, with a short-lived revival in 2004 as Całkiem nowe lata miodowe.
- Game Show Appearance
- Get Out!: Ralph Kramden says this to Ed Norton virtually Once an Episode, always in a loud voice. He'll occasionally say it to others, as well.
- Sometimes lampshaded with Ralph just repeatedly pointing to the door and/or mouthing the words. Norton watches for a few seconds before saying, "You want me to get out, Ralph?" before Ralph then shouts the words.
- Get Rich Quick Scheme: A common theme on the show, in which Ralph is constantly throwing away his and Norton's wages on foolish get-rich-quick schemes.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Ralph is a classic example of this.
- Have a Gay Old Time: In one episode, Ralph tries to prove to Alice that he can be youthful by doing the Hucklebuck. However, watching his pathetic attempts to dance, Norton urges Ralph to step it up by saying, "Get in the groove and be gay!"
- Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: Said word for word in one episode by Ralph to Ed before a coin flip. It goes over Ed's head, of course, but after Alice glares at Ralph, Ralph says "Don't look at me that way, I learned that trick from you when you got me to marry you!"
- Henpecked Husband: Ralph and Ed.
- Herr Doktor: In one episode, Ralph calls on a psychologist to administer "ze truth serum" to Norton to figure out why he has been sleepwalking.
- Housewife: Alice and Trixie.
- Hypocrite: Ralph regularly accuses Alice of being frivolous with money, while he barely gives her enough to make ends meet and instead spends most of his paycheck on bowling and lodge dues.
- I Ate WHAT?!: In one episode, Alice takes care of a dog, and puts some leftover dog food in the icebox. Ralph and Ed find it, taste it and like it, and Ralph, seeing a money-making opportunity to market this delicious appetizer, tries to sell his boss on the idea... until one of the co-workers who raises dogs takes a sniff of it.
- Incessant Music Madness: Norton often does this, prompting Ralph to finally yell at him to stop.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: "You're My Greatest Love", composed by Gleason himself.
- It Will Never Catch On:
- One of Ralph's Zany Schemes involves selling frozen pizza.
- A running gag in the musical adaptation, where Norton comes up with the idea for VCRs (and DVRs), cell phones and drive-thru restaurants. Ralph declares each idea as the worst he's ever heard.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ralph is one of the classic examples.
- Kitschy Local Commercial: the classic "Chef of the Future" scene.
- Large Ham: Both Ralph and Norton.
- Last-Name Basis: Ralph calls Ed Norton "Norton". For that matter, it seems like everyone calls him 'Norton' much more than they do 'Ed'... including Trixie, who only calls him "My Ed" when she's worried about him like when he's sleepwalking.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the musical adaptation, Bryce Bennet (having been fired) vows he'll be back for revenge of Ralph, Alice, Norton and Trixie. Norton responds that's not happening, commenting that there's one scene remaining in the show and he knows Bennet isn't in it.
- Minsky Pickup: In "The $99,000 Answer", when Ralph is cramming for an appearance on a game show where he has to identify songs, Norton is helping him by playing songs on the piano. To Ralph's consternation, EACH song is preceded by Norton "warming up" which consists of the first few notes of "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" followed by "dadum, dadum dum dum!" (The bit with the Minsky Pickup is here starting at 6:40) It's the only Honeymooners episode to ever have had its own page on The Other Wiki.note Ralph: Why must you always play... (mimics the notes of "Swanee River") ...before you go in and play the song I'm trying to guess?Norton: If I told you once, I told you a thousand times, it's the only way I warm up before I play the piano. A pitcher warms up in the bullpen before he pitches the ball game; I gotta warm up before I play the piano. I hope I don't have to tell you this again.
- Megaton Punch: Ralph constantly threatens to do this to Alice. Judging by the events in "The Bensonhurst Bomber", he probably could knock her clear to the moon. But he never does, and never will — the only reason he hit a guy in that episode is because he thought it was part of an act.
- Never Wake Up a Sleepwalker: One whole episode shows Norton walking in his sleep. Ralph is forced to look after him and even ponders waking him, against which Alice warns him, because it's dangerous to disturb a sleepwalker.
- No Indoor Voice: Ralph shouts a lot, especially when he gets angry enough, which is relatively common on this show.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Ralph dreads the visits of his mother-in-law, because she constantly implies that Alice could've done better than him.
- Perpetual Poverty. To Ralph's chagrin. Alice isn't as bothered, although she does get a bit envious at times over Trixie's TV and phone.
- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Ralph is never actually seen driving a bus. Nor, except on one occasion, is Ed actually seen working in the sewer.
- Poor Communication Kills: As paranoid as Ralph tends to be, you'd think Alice would learn that keeping secrets from him invariably blows him into jealous rages. Since this is a main staple of the show, however, it continues to happen.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: In the episode "A Matter of Record", as Ralph's mother-in-law makes wisecracks about him to Alice, he glowers at her and says, "YOU! Are a BLABBERMOUTH!!!" This causes not just Alice's mother to leave, but Alice herself walks out on her husband as well.
- He even says "Blab! Ber! Mouth!
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Jackie Gleason based the apartment on his childhood home; Art Carney based his trademark of waving his hands before doing anything on a ritual habit his father had before he would write anything.
- Ed Norton is a big fan of Captain Video, as seen in the episode "TV or Not TV". Coincidentally, the network that aired that show was also the creator of the Electronicam system (see below).
- "The $99,000 Answer" shows the titular game show as a parody of The $64,000 Question, which itself is mentioned time and again on the show.
- In one episode, Norton, caught raiding Ralph's icebox, says, "Dun... de da dum."Norton: All I hope is, when they do my life on Dragnet, they leave my name out to protect the innocent.
Ralph: (Norton is holding a turkey drumstick in his hand) You put that turkey back or they'll be doing your life on Medic.
- Simple, yet Awesome: Most of the series takes place in a 10 x 10 room without props or scenery, and its still one of the best sitcoms in the 70-year history of TV.
- Snap Back: One episode has Ralph being laid off, forcing Alice to get a job. By the end of the episode, things are back to normal.
- Lampshaded in an episode of Family Guy in which the same thing happenend to Peter and he remarked how odd it was that Ralph had his job again by the next episode.
- Something Completely Different: "Trapped." The plot deals with Ralph witnessing a bank robbery, nearly getting murdered, and later being held hostage along with Alice and Norton in the apartment. There were understandably many fewer laughs in this episode than any of the others, and even several instances of Nightmare Fuel. It remains a vastly unpopular episode with fans, and is subjected to Fanon Discontinuity.
- Strongly Worded Letter / Irrevocable Message: The "Lost Episode" "Letter to the Boss." Ralph thinks he's been fired after being told to turn in his uniform, so he dictates to Norton a hilariously hostile letter where he calls his boss JJ Marshall a "dirty bum" and a "miserable lowlife" and that he "ought to turn in" his "membership card to the human race." Ralph tells Norton to sign it "Respectfully yours, et cetera et cetera." Later, Ralph finds out from a higher-up at the bus company that he's been promoted to traffic manager. Ralph is thrilled but remembers the letter so he and Norton have to run off and find it before Ralph's boss sees it. Oh, and Norton ACTUALLY SIGNED the letter "Et cetera, et cetera."
- Spoiler: In-Universe example. In "A Matter of Record", Alice's mother gives away the ending of the Broadway murder mystery Ralph wanted to watch.
- Three Cameras: The "Classic 39" episodes were shot using the Electronicam system developed by DuMont. It used TV cameras equipped with a separate film camera and a beam splitter that would split the image coming through the lens to the two cameras. The image on the video camera was broadcast live and the filmed footage was later edited into a "final cut" based on a kinescope of the live broadcast. The Honeymooners was the only notable production to use this system note ; while it did produce much higher quality footage than the kinescope process, the bulky dual-cameras were cumbersome to operate and it was soon made obsolete by videotape.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: Ralph's excuse for not buying Alice a TV set:Ralph: I'm waiting for 3D television!Alice: Are you waiting for 3D refrigerators, too?
- In one episode Ralph wants to invest some money and Alice reminds him of some of his previous investment schemes, including lo-cal pizza and glow in the dark wallpaper. Lo-cal pizza of course can now be found in any supermarket, while some companies actually did come out with glow in the dark/black light wall paper in the '60s.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Ralph and Ed, naturally.
- Who Would Want to Watch Us?: In the musical adaptation - Jackie Gleason is a character in the show, and hearing about Ralph and Norton's schemes inspires him to create a TV series around them. After settling on the title, Ralph doesn't think it'll work.
- You Just Had To Say: Typically inverted by Ralph: when he proposes an idea that gets him in trouble, he will admit his fault: "I've got a (opens his mouth wide) BIIIIIIIG MOUTH!"