Franks and Beans episode four, “The Gift,” features a Christmas theme for several reasons. First, the practical: this episode was shot over the first few days of 2008, when the season was still lingering and, well, the background props were still up and festive-looking. Second, the subversive: every television show or piece of popular culture manages at least one commentary on the holiday within its existence.
If you don’t believe me, think back to any medium-to-long-running sitcom you’ve enjoyed in the past, say 10 years. I’ll bet dollars to donuts (I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO USE THAT PHRASE!!) that there was at least one painful Christmas themed episode in the lot, and I’ll bet that the episode in question was then replayed every single year afterwards as long as the show was on the air. Heck, the first episode of The Simpsons WAS a Christmas special! Not wanting to be left out in the cold on this obvious inane tradition, and having the forethought to use the props that were available at the time, “The Gift” was born.
I find that there are probably three main categories for Christmas episodes when it comes to television shows. There’s the first category, the “all-ages” Christmas episode, where the existence of Santa Claus is debated. I understand (somewhat) the desire to sidestep any meaningful conversation on the season and the religious implications that it has, but shows that fall under this category tend to make my brain slowly bleed until my eyes become that jolly shade of red. The parent figure(s) in shows of this breed will always be staunch in their approach: “oh kids, it’s about time you realize that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.” But at the end of the episode, there’s always the sound of sleigh bells on the roof or magical presents appearing out of nowhere, proving without a doubt to everyone that there IS in fact a real, breathing Santa. Gasp!
Here’s what I don’t get about shows like this – they’ve just made a fantastic discovery – one that changes the entire makeup of reality within their fictional universe. If Santa Claus is actually real, what else might be true? To me, this should start a bold new direction for any show that takes this position. The subsequent episodes should be filled with town hall meetings, trips to the White House, and finally, a last-ditch effort to journey to the North Pole with weapons and ultimatums. I mean, you’ve just proven the existence of a creature who can break the laws of physics – what else does this world have in store? But NO! Next episode, there all back to their mundane “Boy, men and women sure do have a lot of differences! I hope we can work them out and remain a dysfunctional yet supportive family!” What a load of crap.
The second category uses the same theme, albeit in a more adult (read: dramatic) fashion. These dramas are too serious to debate the existence of Santa and his elves, so they’ll usually move on to the entirely new debate of “what is the meaning of Christmas?” This usually takes form when one character – a depressed, brooding type – refuses to go to the office party, instead staying home to drink. See how dramatic this is? Other friends and colleagues will try to console the character, who will eventually reveal a traumatic childhood experience that colors his or her views of the holiday and all that it means. “I was five years old when I first realized that my father molested all of the Salvation Army bell ringers…and then…he touched ME, too! WHY, CHRISTMAS, WHY?!”
The third category, and we can all be thankful for this last solace, represents the Christmas episode parody, where both of the two previous themes are mocked in a way befitting the medium. The Venture Bros. have done an excellent job at this, as have a few others. I’m not about to say that Franks and Beans has done comparably in its attempt to squeeze into this category of self awareness, but the attempt is, if nothing else, a lob-toss try to keep us safely away from the previous two choices.
In other words, there are two jokes within this one episode. First, there’s the obvious “I got you a book” line, but second, there’s the nod to the theme of Christmas episodes in general.
Let’s break down this episode, shall we? As good or as bad as the writing is, this episode would never have seen the light of day if Larry couldn’t edit as well as he so obviously can. My lips are clearly not moving throughout the episode, so it’s apparent that we went with the voice over shot. This isn’t necessarily very tricky to pull off, but I went about it the absolute wrong way in preparing the shots. Basically, we filmed me scribbling while someone else (a background appearance of the character known as “Larry’s Mom”) read the hastily prepared script. I then read, for the camera, my script and hoped it would all sync up with some form of magic. I don’t know why, but I just assumed it would work. Of course, it is always stupid to assume that timing between two different people – without any practice, mind you – will work itself out. It won’t. But Larry makes it look perfect, and my hat is off to him for this (there’s a joke somewhere in this last sentence…).
Does the joke work (the overall idea of the episode, that is)? I don’t know. I certainly hope so, but I suppose it’s not as obvious as, say, Larry without a shirt as in “The Change” (always a favorite). Here’s what I was thinking when I came up with this basic idea: I’m deep in thought, pontificating on the true meaning of friendship, realizing that buying an endless stream of gifts is not the way to show that you really appreciate someone. I’m bearing my soul, at least to a small extent, in hopes that someone I care about (though obviously in a non-sexual way. That part was obvious. Of course it was. Right?) will realize that I really do value the things that we share. And then in lumbers Larry with a clunky, one-line answer and a clunky, no-thought gift, showing the opposite of the two extremes. This is perhaps more subtle than some may be expecting, especially after watching some of our other hit-you-in-the-face-with-a-shovel-it’s-so-obvious episodes, but I really do hope that it could be appreciated. I guess we’ll see.
The reference to the David Hasselhoff super racetrack whatever was brought out of thin air, and no such device exists in the real world. This is a shame. The coupon for the free car wash, however, does exist, and it’s terrible that it’s not more visible on the screen when I unfold the piece of paper. A mixture of clipart and permanent markers, I actually did promise to wash Larry’s car, but he has kindly not pressed the issue as much as, say, I might have. The inclusion of the penny was also a last-minute addition, but one that works in the overall context of the episode, I think.
The book that Larry so malevolently tosses at me is World War Z, a zombie tale that I have yet to read. So take that, thoughtless gift. But Larry is a fan.
That wraps it up for this episode, and, as a matter of fact, our look back at F&B episodes of old, at least for the time being. No, I’m not about to start work that I actually get paid for – Larry and I are returning from our self-imposed hiatus and will be filming brand new episodes of Franks and Beans next week. We’ll try to squeeze as many in as we can, because we’ve both been chomping at the bit to get back in the saddle. Wow, that was TWO horse references in one sentence! You just know, with that kind of wit, how great the next few episodes will be.
So strap in and get ready for some new and shiny Franks and Beans. I’m not sure which episode will be airing first, but it will air, if all goes according to plan, in two weeks. Two weeks! You could practically get an online degree in that time. So get crackin’, and meet us back here then! See you soon!
- Jeff M.