When the Classic 39 debuted, it was still an early moment in the life of television, especially when considering that this was one of the first sitcoms. Given the social context (in which families moved to the suburbs and the good jobs were the corporate ones), Honeymooners can be considered as belonging exactly to this era, an era of social change.
Thus, it is pretty obvious that the Honeymooners described this revolution in its Classic 39 run. We have Ralph, the working man, a symbol of masculinity which runs his family just the way he pleases, even with several accents that nowadays seem a little too out there (the whole one of these days quote).
But then again this isn’t as much a reality as it is an illusion. He is the one that provides for the family and he does have the last word. But still he is the little child of the house and often the joke is on him. The woman, although a secondary character in the family, became more and more empowered.
With this show, Jackie Gleason wanted to present an aspect of the American life with which the working class could relate. So the genius of it was to tell the story in a comedic manner, which kind of sounds like a tragedy from a certain point of view. Life didn’t center on buying things and consuming, but on trying to acquire the money to buy the things and to consume.
So there is self-awareness in The Honeymooners, which is best seen in the first episode, TV or not TV. While the episode may be viewed from the perspective of a man’s struggle to find the means of buying a new television set for her wife, on a deeper level it is actually something else.
In fact, I believe that it shows exactly the dangers of consumerism – Ralph doesn’t have the money to buy the TV set, so he needs to get them. And the TV will be the one to introduce his wife to new purchasing opportunities. In a way, it is a never-ending loop in which one object calls for another.
And for the working class man it is hard to provide. He isn’t defined by what he has, but by what he is: and he is large and wears a uniform every day. And the TV isn’t going to change that (even if it is a danger for himself too, since he falls asleep with buddy Ed while watching it).