Television Ruined Christmas in the 1970s.

by kara on December 31, 2011

reposted from 2010.

When we reference holiday specials on TV in the 1970′s, we immediately harken fondly back to Clarice’s giant eyelashes batting at Rudolph, and Linus’ Jesus speech. We throw the entire genre under rose colored spyglasses. Most holiday specials on TV in this era were actually CRAP, traumatizing even. Some weird gravitas must have pervaded the television writer’s rooms. Unlock your repressed memories.

Frosty the Snowman – 1969 (warning: this review contains expletives and spoilers).

I cannot control my vitriol over this “Christmas Classic”. Whomever thought making an entire TV show around that horrible and annoying song is what we refer to as a “hack”. Put a hat on a fucking snowman and he begins to dance around. Once he’s done marching through town and melts – the villain being the sun - the story ends and “he has to “hurry on his way” (a quaint reference to the ephemeral nature of snowmen). “He’ll be back again someday”.

“THE END”.

No, there is an entire Christmas Special squeezed out of this garbage. I mean, the “Rudolph” song at least tells a story - outcast losers bullied by both children and adults, who triumph by proving a greater worth. Not just our nasal-nosed hero, but Herbie, Cornelius, the entire fucking island of misfit toys.

The “Frosty” animation is atrocious, the story -telling lazy, the characters hateful. Old Frosty is not cute, not funny, he’s stupid (he can’t count), he is a total moron. His hiLARious go-to line is “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” There is a verse in the very stupid song about the traffic cop, who hollers “STOP”! Said Cop shows up as a whole character in, an ethnic idiot, a drunken, Irish buffoon who is bamboozled by a fucking snowman. Frosty’s nemesis is a bumbling, huge- snouted amateur magician who spends all day fiddling with his cards and shit and practicing his awful magic act, when all along his fucking hat is actually magic. It’s not Magic “suddenly” when it lands on Frosty’s head, or when it’s touched by Christmas snow it is magic

Moreover, the hapless magician is wrongly vilified for wanting his hat back when he does discover that it’s actually magic. Although he tosses it towards the trashcan, when it starts bunny-hopping bouncing away (the bunny within), he lumbers after it, and clearly still wants it. He pursues the hat into the playground, and when the wind blows it away, stupid Karen snatches it! Does our little heroine return the lost property to it’s rightful owner? NO. She takes it and immediately plops it on Frosty’s head, as if it was hers to keep! The lesson is what? “Finders keepers” trumps “do the right thing”? Instead of reasoning with the magician, everyone wrongly asserts that it is not his hatdespite his clear efforts to catch it seconds ago. The narrator then states in a lordly manner: “now, of course, the hat did belong to Frosty and the children.” Wait, what?? This sound-byte strikes me as the classic “assumptive assertion”, used by salespeople (“cash or credit?”) as well as magicians “now, as we saw, the bag was completely empty…” He says it, which means it is so. Similarly, in “Frosty”, the entire premise of right and wrong is predicated on the flimsiest of playground ethics: “Move your meat, lose your seat.” This particular rhyme has always struck me as a childishly selfish, a mean spirited ‘ism’, and a passive form of “might makes right”. If this attitude were isolated to children, it would be tolerable, but, depressingly, adults are stupidly subject to the influence of these sound bytes as well, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. The Frosty arc continues with this “established fact” of the children’s domain over the hat, and even Santa takes this side without any attempt at compromise or conflict resolution, resorting to threats and bribes.

An example of the low brow, hacky comedy is when the wacky train conductor informs Karen and Frosty that it’ll be 8 thousand dollars for a ticket to the North Pole. $8,000 is a lot but even if it were 2 cents they couldn’t afford the fare. BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY. The conductor shrieks and convulses, apoplectic: No MONEY??? That’s the joke. The whole joke. The punchline is that the train conductor wants to be paid for selling the passengers tickets.

The only part of this whole mess I liked was the train car full of  pretty “Christmas Cakes”.  But WHY they are carrying frozen cakes to the North Pole? And WHY does selfish, stupid Frosty choose the ONE mode of travelling transport that – despite being perfect for him and his fat ass - will literally kill Karen?

And why is Karen putting her life on the line for that stupid snowman anyway? Why does she love him THAT MUCH? When they stupidly hide in a fucking greenhouse and Frosty dissolves into a puddle of water, Karen sobs like her mother was murdered. While convulsing over the puddle that was Frosty, we are subjected to a sorrowful montage of all the great times she and Frosty had within the last 10 minutes.

Despite the lazy, stupid story-telling, the crap animation, the completely unlikeable and forgettable characters, and that one horrible song repeated over and over and over again, they show it every year and everyone pretends it’s a “classic”. Moreover, 3 sequels were produced, “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland” (based on the song “Winter Wonderland”) in which Frosty got married, “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July” , “The Legend of Frosty the Snowman” and a horrific derivative work, “Frosty Returns”. All shit

Star Wars Christmas Special

The first 20 minutes are completely in “Wookie” – you know, that annoying howl we were introduced to in the movies in small spurts? The Star War Christmas Special is all about the riveting star “Chewbacca”, and Chewbacca’s attempts to get home to celebrate “Life Day” (?) with his wife (?) and son. Long stretches of this peculiar special are sans dialogue, as we suffer through Chewbacca’s family talking to each other in their grating native tongue. Produced in the years between “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back”, and during the peak of the vaudevillian variety special era, this holiday special was an abject oddity. It featured exciting movie stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew and guest appearances by scintillating stars Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, Diahann Carroll and Jefferson Starship. This bizarre spectacle was co-written by Bruce Vilanch, king of the cheesy variety specials of the seventies, who was over his head in trying to integrate the holidays and Wookies in space.

The Spirit of Christmas and T’was the Night Before Christmas

A nightmare-inducing, special treat for us Philly kids. Broadcast on our local PBS affiliate, the program was split into 2 nightmarish segments featuring the “Mable Beaton Marionettes”. The first is a presentation of Clement C. Moore’s poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” starring a demonic looking Santa Claus with glittering green cat eyes. Who the FUCK would be that Santa puppet (above) into a kid’s show?? “The Spirit of Christmas” segment was – naturally – the story of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Enacted by puppets. Serious Puppetress Ms. Beaton maintained that her forte was serious material, but the Santa segment was her concession to the commercial appeal of secular Christmas stories.

Benji’s Very Own Christmas Story! - 1978

Benji’s Christmas Story is set in an exotic locale, is celebrity-free and is highlighted by – according to TV Guide – by a “lavish dance sequence featuring Kris [Kringle] and 65 elves”. The “plot” revolves around the actors from the “Benji” movies on a promotional tour in Switzerland.

At some point, the actors are asked to be Grand Marshalls of a Christmas parade in Zermatt. Benji doesn’t do much, gets carted around a lot, like so much taxidermy. The elves have to take over for Kris Kringle when he breaks his leg, thus miss the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the world’s most famous mutt. With help from the Benji actors -including the feathered haired Cindy, in the coolest winter togs ever (red tights and white fur boots), bitchy Kringle realizes the true meaning of Christmas and performs the aforementioned lavish musical number. Complete trash.

The Carpenters at Christmas” - 1977

The premise of the 1977 Yuletide special was mind numbingly simple – Karen has the gang over for an album wrap holiday party, but crabby, luded out, brother Richard has the holiday blues and wants to bow out altogether. Enter a ebullient Kristy McNichol as a little girl with nowhere to go on Christmas. Burr Tillstrom drags out Kukla and Ollie (without Fran) for a vaudeville style routine. The incomparable Kristy is the bright light in this special, infectious as she performs song and dance routines with a still bright looking Karen, while Richard – whose world we know has already begun to crumble down around him – mopes around.

‘The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait’ - 1978

Designed to coincide with the album release which failed to crack the top 100 that year but is now rightfully considered a holiday classic. Richard was at the height of his Quaalude addiction (he would go to rehab later that year), and Karen looks achingly thin. The first Special had Karen living alone in a penthouse apartment. The second special has Karen and Richard living together in a cozy house, a set that resembles the Carpenter’s real life family home. In one sad scene, a frail Karen sings ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ as she whips up Christmas cookies for the gang in the kitchen.

Kristy McNichol was back again to shine light into the sibling misery, this time with her creepy brother Jimmy in tow. The McNichols had a minor hit as a duo in 1978 (“He’s So Fine”) and Kristy was a major star. The McNichols warble through an embarrassing Spanish carol in matching white pants suits. Special guests include Gene Kelly and the uncomfortable-looking Carpenter parents. The Special is painful in it’s window into the future. It seems less like a celebration of Christmas and more a painful series of moments framed by unfortunate circumstances and percolating with portentous tragedy.

Annie Christmas Special, 1977

The Annie Christmas Special, was set to capitalize on the huge success of the Broadway show. The setting is the Broadway theatre after the curtain has gone down on a pre-Christmas performance. The “plot” is patently retarded. The original Broadway cast of kids, disgusted that they have to work on Christmas, demand a Christmas party. But the skin-flinty, Christmas-hating Scrooge –  theatre owner, “Mr. Nickelander”, on his way to Florida – won’t pay! It’s up to the annoying showbiz kids to convince the parodic, lazy, grouchy “union workers” to agree to work unpaid overtime so that they can throw the party at the theatre. Yup, that’s the plot. There are some good performances by Dorothy Loudon and choreographer Peter Gennaro, but the the production value is infinitesimal, the anti-labor bent and creepy stereotypes odd, and the nonsensical plot is just too insipid and offensive to be believed.

A Very Brady Christmas

Almost 20 years after the premiere of the original “Brady Bunch”, the kids have grown up to be enormously unsuccessful and unattractive (except for the Cindy stand- in), and with bland kids of their own. Despite their plethora of marital and personal problems, everyone is having a great time back at the old split-level homestead for Christmas, until Mike learns that one of his crappily designed buildings has a dangerous structural problem. As he is inspecting the problem on-site, the building collapses! Mike is trapped inside the death chamber of his own design! As the whole family and rubberneckers wait anxiously by the pile of rubble, fearing the worst, Carol uses the power of song – “O Come All Ye Faithful” – to keep up the spirits of the onlookers. This whole nonsense harkens back to the weird 1969 episode where we are subjected to seeing the Brady kids in church:

The Littlest Angel

Wow. This oddity aired in 1969 starring the era’s answer to Shirley Temple, Johnny Whitaker (Family Affair”). Intended to be an uplifting childrens tale of angels, it went horribly wrong, because for there to be a child angel there needed to be a dead kid. It scared the bejesus out of me by depicting children dying horrifying deaths, then being whisked off to weird places with only strange adults, unable to ever speak or hear from their parents again. Apparently, even in the pre-PC era, parents were creeped out enough to complain and I don’t remember it ever airing again.

8 year old Michael, only son to BC era Middle Eastern parents and probably the only person ever of Middle Eastern descent with red hair and freckles, innocently races up a craggly cliff, chasing a dove sent from God, runs right over the edge of the cliff and dies.

Michael has trouble adjusting to life in heaven. His life on earth was so great, and heaven, well, it kind of looks like hell. Apparently, Michael is the first person in history to ever have died in childhood because there are no other children in heaven – just really weird adults. Eternal lives seem to be spent wandering around or standing in lines in vast empty spaces with cheesy prom decorations. I remember thinking “God, please don’t let me end up there” and then spent the rest of my life making sure I wouldn’t.

The low point is when the angels allow Michael to go back to earth to retrieve his special treasure box from his family home. He finds his parents abject – positively bereft over their only son’s disappearance (apparently they had not yet discovered the body), but is unable to speak to them, nor are they able to see or hear him. But it’s only the box he’s after! He grabs it and skiddadles on out, leaving his folks to agonize. Anyway, Michael has Jesus to worry about now! He returns to Heaven as the little King of Nazareth is being born, bestowed with fancy gifts. Michael has nothing but his humble box – which, it turns out, is the best gift of all.

Despite B-side celebs Fred Gwynne, Tony Randall, and Cab Calloway, let us burneth the film that this heap is printed on so that no future generations of children be subjected to it. Mercifully, the producers neglected to include a scene where Michael’s parents find their son’s bloodied, battered and broken body at the base of the mountain.

Walt Disney World Christmas Specials with Shields and Yarnell

The miming, black lacquered hair lunatics, mingling with Disney walking-around characters under the fake snow with christmas carols playing as if the idiots in Goofy suits are actually singing them. Phyllis Diller and Dee from “What’s Happening!” trade inappropriate and lame jokes –  presumably old Mad Magazine rejects as Danny Simon (Neil Simon’s brother), co-”wrote” the program. Even Bruce Vilanch wouldn’t touch this one or else he was in self imposed exile following the Star War Holiday Special debacle. Avery Schreiber as wisecracking Gepetto, is really, really annoying, and Shields is just a creepy, slapsticky serial killer. Yarnell is actually talented, and way hotter than I remembered. She dances a competent Sleeping Beauty in a Pas de Deux with a Prince Charming in balls hugging tights that was emotionally scarring to the family set. At one point she totally knees the prince in his protruding package.

The horrendous program ends with a post “Annie” Andrea Mcardle, obviously miserable if not (rightfully) valiumed out, listlessly crooning a slew of melancholy songs as the 7 dwarves and other stale Disney characters wander aimlessly around her. Avery/Gepetto oogles the sullen teenager while inexplicably stroking a ferret.

The Donny and Marie Christmas Specials….. All of them.

They were the worst. Every one of them. Every year in the 1970s seemed to have brought forth another diabolically awful holiday offering from the creepy and grotesque Osmond clan. Besides the creepiness of the family members themselves, gender divided between wood pile and kitchen, there was the onslaught  of some of the the corniest songs you have ever heard. Marie seems insane, repressed, and to revel in playing the sexualized child. Donny is in out of control narcissism mode, rocking Santa suits, Christmas sweaters, tight pants or full on pimp suits. He thought he was the coolest fucking guy on the planet. And they are obviously romantically attracted to each other.

When poor little Tommy is trotted out, you just want to die. There is no way he is not a chubby woman.

Really, really, really white. True trash, horrible and grotesque.

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