Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1972-73 Saturday morning cartoon series "The Roman Holidays" should remove any doubt regarding Hanna-Barbera (H-B) earning the title of "All-time King of Saturday Mornings." Like the similar recently released DVD set of "Help!...It's The Hair Bear Bunch," "Holidays" is even better than remembered.
Greater "Holiday" cheer is likely attributed to its primary target audience of Gen Xers having a much better understanding of the humor of this "Flintstonesesque" series set in 63 A.D. Rome than they did 40 years ago.
Many of these children of the '70s did not understand the joke "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" back in the day. The same is true as to the humor regarding a Centurion traffic cop asking "Where's the fire, Nero" when pulling over a speeder.
The great humor and lack of a laugh track in "Holidays" evokes memories of Alan Spencer of the hilarious '80s cop show spoof sitcom "Sledge Hammer!," successfully lobbying for removing the laugh track from the episodes in the DVD release of "Sledge." Spencer plainly stated that the audience did not need to be told when something was funny. Trust him; he knows what he's doing.
"Holidays" followed the highly successful "historical context" formula that H-B utilizes in "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons."
In the case of "Holidays," the middle-class nuclear Holiday family live an early '70s American style life in ancient Rome. Dad Gus mows the lawn and watches football, mom Laurie keeps house and guides Gus and the couples' two children through life. Teen son Happius (a.k.a. Happy) plays in a band and has a steady girl; tween daughter Precocia is the golden child who begs Laurie to allow her to wear a mini-toga.
Rather than a lovable dinosaur ala "The Flintsones" or a wonderfully dopey dog ala "The Jetsons," the Holiday family pet is a tame accident-prone lion named Brutus who loves Gus as much as Dino and Astro adore their "daddies."
"Holidays" also supports the theory that Hanna and/or Barbera have a thing for Gingers that may rival Alfred Hitchcock's preference for blondes. Laurie Holiday, Wilma Flintstone, Jane Jetson, Josie of "Josie and the Pussycats," Tina of "Goober and the Ghost Chasers," and Daphne of "Scooby-Doo" are all red-heads. This percentage of women in the H-B universe with that hair color far exceeds the norm in the general real-world population.
Just as the Flintsone family put a stone age spin on their vernacular and household possessions and the Jetson clan transforms everything into a space motif, the Holidays gear everything to the society of their days. This often takes the form of adding "ius" to celebrity names. Stefano McQueenius is a popular star, and Naderius is a consumer advocate.
Examples of tricking out everyday items Roman style include sundial and hour-glass watches, televisions that display numbers in Roman numerals, and newspapers coming in scroll form.
Similar to Fred Flintsone and George Jetson, construction worker Gus Holiday toils for a hot-tempered boss who regularly threatens to fire him and withdraws awarded raises and promotions. Gus has the additional woe of appropriately named Mr. Evictus, who is as tempermental as Gus' boss and often threatens the family with eviction from their home in the amusingly named Venus De Milo Arms apartment building.
Evictus' threats prompt one of the series' most amusing moments. Precocia asks during a ride in the family's chariot if they can take a detour through the park so that she can see where they will be living.
Like "Bear," "Holidays" also benefits from an awesome group voice cast.
Stanley Livingston, who provides the voice of Happy right after finishing a phenomenonal 12-year run as middle-son Chip Douglas on the sitcom "My Three Sons," is tied with veteran comedian Dom DeLuise for most recognizable name to Gen Xers. DeLuise does the same awesome job portraying Mr. Evictus as he does with his better-known roles.
H-B voice god Daws Butler, who brings Brutus to life, is almost as well known as Livingston and DeLuise. Butler makes this scene-stealing character a cross between "The Wizard of Oz's" cowardly lion and Butler's portrayal of classic H-B character pink mountain lion Snagglepuss.
Character actor Dave Willock provides Gus' voice; his other high-profile H-B gig is as the narrator of the hilarious late-60s series "Wacky Races." "Races" is notably for leading to the equally good spinoffs "Dastardley and Muttley in their Flying Machines" , which has the very catchy theme song with the lyrics "Stop that pigeon; stop that pigeon; stop that pigeon now, and "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop."