Written by: Elroy Schwartz. Directed by: Charles Barton.
On Easter weekend, it’s fitting that we have a holiday episode this week, even if that holiday is Christmas. As the title and air date indicate, however, this isn’t exactly a Christmas episode.
Buffy knows that Central America lies between Mexico and South America. (The twins’ IQ fluctuates wildly from episode to episode; she’s having a relatively smart week.)
Buffy can’t name the countries of Central America, though. Only one of Miss Cummings’ students can.
Actually, the student is Eve, a sickly child who’s sort of teleconferencing in from home. I wonder if any real schools actually offered this service. When I was growing up, kids who couldn’t come to school got “home-bound instruction” from a tutor.
None of the kids have ever seen Eve, and Buffy is a bit reluctant to make her acquaintance.
“It’s hard to like someone who knows all the answers,” she observes.
When she actually meets Eve, though, she hits it off with her immediately.
Eve asks Buffy if she can stay for a while. Buffy says she can if she calls Mr. French to let him know. That leads to an amusing exchange:
Eve: Who’s he?
Buffy: Well, he’s not exactly our butler…and he’s not exactly our nanny… and he’s not exactly a relative.
Buffy: “Oh” what?
Eve: I don’t know who he is.
Eve: “Oh” what?
Buffy: I still have to call him, whoever he is.
(Another creepy clown on the dresser–yikes!)
Eve says doctors haven’t been able to help her, but Buffy assures her that Uncle Bill can fix anything. Oh, dear.
That earns a big sigh from Bill, who tries unsuccessfully to explain that some problems are beyond his capabilities.
Some time later, Bill goes to the Bowers’ home to pick up Buffy and Jody, who have been playing with Eve.
After meeting Eve, Bill goes above and beyond the call of duty by arranging for an eminent physician he knows to examine her. He even tells the doctor to bill him, while explaining to the Bowers family that a research foundation will pick up the cost.
“To have a little hope again is a wonderful thing,” Mr. Bowers says. Unfortunately, that hope doesn’t last long.
Wait, Eve has been at the hospital having medical tests while her parents chat with Bill? And a doctor and a nurse brought her home? That’s odd.
As the nurse takes Eve to her room, a grim-faced Dr. Flanders delivers the bad news. “I wish you could tell you what you want to hear,” he says.
When Mr. Bowers asks, “How long?” the doctor has no real answer.
Eve’s decline from her unspecified illness is a rapid one, however.
Her daughter has grown “noticeably weaker,” Mrs. Bowers says, implying that the end is near. She thinks stopping the visits will make the situation less traumatic for Buffy.
He tries to explain to Buffy that Eve may be too tired to play anymore.
“She would still come and visit me,” Buffy says.
Bill agrees that the friendship can continue.
The kids are, indeed, surprised, since it’s not particularly close to Christmas. Bill says an upcoming work project might take him to South America, and he won’t make it home in time for Christmas. He wants to celebrate early. He tells Buffy that they should include Eve in the party, and since Eve can’t leave her apartment, they will have the party there.
Cissy’s expression shows that she understands what’s really going on, but the twins seem to buy Bill’s story.
Soon the whole family is trimming a tree at the Bowers apartment.
Jody thinks the tree look terrible–because it has no presents under it.
When the Davises get home, and the kids are in bed, Bill helps French de-Santa-fy himself.
But when Bill goes out into the hallway, he hears sobs coming from the girls’ room.
This episode is difficult for me to evaluate. The story idea is rather maudlin, and it is handled in a superficial way that doesn’t generate much real emotion in the viewer. On the other hand, it is so very Family Affair. Can you imagine any other sitcom from the same era telling this story? Especially in a (sort of) Christmas episode?!
I like the fact that the dialog is subtle; the episode conveys Eve’s fate through knowing glances and awkward pauses.
I can’t help wondering how Brian Keith, who had lost a young son, felt about this episode’s subject.
Eve Bowers: Eve Plumb. Miss Cummings: Joan Vohs. Mrs. Bowers: Ann McCrea. Dr. Flanders: Ivan Bonar. Mr. Bowers: Paul Sorensen.
Eve Plumb, of course, would go on to play Jan Brady in The Brady Bunch, which debuted about 10 months after this episode aired. (“Christmas Came a Little Early” has another Brady connection–writer Elroy Schwartz was the brother of Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz. This is the third of six Family Affair episodes Elroy Schwartz wrote.)
All the other guest actors are Family Affair “repeat offenders,” except Paul Sorensen. Late in his career, he had a recurring role in Dallas as Andy Bradley.