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Erin Listens: My Favorite Husband, Burns & Allen October 2, 2015

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
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I currently have a day job that involves 6-8 hours of relatively mindless database-querying. I am burning through a ton of podcast and old-timey-radio hours.

Latest show put in rotation:

My Favorite Husband is a 1948-1951 domestic comedy, the forerunner of TV’s I Love Lucy (the female lead, Liz, is Lucille Ball, and some of the radio show’s plots got straight-up lifted for TV). To me, not having seen Lucy, it sounds like somebody’s suburban AU of the Burns and Allen Show.

Doesn’t help that the male lead is also named George. There was even an earlier one-shot version where George Burns and Gracie Allen played the lead roles!

Going by the early episodes, it’s…not quite as good as Burns & Allen. Liz Cugat is a lovable oddball with her head in the clouds, just not as delightfully, consistently zany as Gracie-the-character. George Cugat is another long-suffering straight-man husband, but one of the fun complexities in George Burns’s character is that he can be as ridiculous in his wife under the right circumstances, and we haven’t seen that from Cugat.

And their careers are different, which messes with the balance of the marriage. In both shows, the husband controls the couple’s finances, but with Burns and Allen, they both work in show business — and everybody knows that Gracie is the powerhouse of the team. (“Don’t worry about money, George, you’ve got one of the biggest talents in the business!” “Oh, thanks, Bill…” “…so as long as Gracie stays married to you, you’re fine!”) You understand that they’re both making the money — it’s just that George, as The Sensible One, is definitely the one who should be managing it.

With the Cugats, their George has one of the blandest middle-class jobs imaginable (a vice president at a bank), and Liz doesn’t work. So there’s more of a sense that this is George’s money, he’s the only one entitled to it, and he lets Liz use it out of generosity. Less interesting and less egalitarian.

To be fair! Burns & Allen is a high bar to hit, so even somewhat-watered-down Burns & Allen makes for good listening. And there are points in favor of My Favorite Husband. The advertising is less intrusive. There’s more humor based on the sitcom-dilemma-of-the-week, in contrast to humor based on running gags that can get repetitive.

Also, Burns & Allen has an uncomfortable streak of “casual/accepting toward domestic violence” humor. I don’t mean slapstick, none of the good characters are shown hurting each other, the show realizes that this is a bad thing — there’s just a disconnect about how bad. That hasn’t shown up in My Favorite Husband, so I’m hoping that’s a sign of a cultural shift (and not just a sign of “you haven’t gotten to that episode yet”).

Most of the show is available on The Internet Archive. A few are misnamed files that are duplicates of other episodes, which is a shame (usually TIA’s downloads are better-curated), but there’s plenty of My Favorite Husband to listen to.

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