No mixed bag today. This might be one of my all time favorite rebus puzzles. What a great concept! The four main characters of LITTLEWOMEN (34A: 1860s novel that is the basis for this puzzle's theme) are hidden in the two 10-letter across answers and two 9-letter down answers. Although Mr. Sessa did not split Jo's name (DIRTY[JO]KES), he managed to split all of the other three across the answer's two words (BRIGH[AMY]OUNG, GLO[BETH]EATER, and [MEG]ENERATION). And really, I don't think you could split Jo in any meaningful way. The crosses work out well also, with 5D: Like a freshly drawn draft (FO[AMY]), 22A: "Attendance is mandatory" ([BETH]ERE, my least favorite of the four), 49A ____ Mission, Calif. (VIE[JO]), and 50D: Some Swiss watches (O[MEG]AS).
I didn't figure out it was a rebus until I entered 32D. I was stuck looking at that square where AMY would eventually go... Wait! I just realized. Horace and Amy are in the same northwest quarter! This is crazy. Didn't you just know that when Horace and Frannie left for vacation, they'd be missing some great puzzles?
I started on the wrong foot, by entering TMC at 1A (Presenter of "The Borgias", in brief), not ever having watched the show. That led to the questionable Tiffany for 1D: Audrey Hepburn title role and potentially okay "calimari" for 3D: Staple of Mediterranean cooking. It all seemed plausible for a short time, although I was shaking my head even as I entered each one. HORACES soon put me right.
I think the fill on this puzzle is really pretty good, especially considering the amount of theme material. I particularly liked 24D: Goes through a stage of babyhood (TEETHES), 26D: Trite comment (BROMIDE), and 42D: Place abuzz with activity? (APIARY), although the last has a unnecessary question mark. We did have to put up with SHO, AOL (a weird clue as well, considering Moviefone has gone the way of the Dodo), RHEAS, and NRC, but overall, I can forgive these.