reposted from 2010.
Christmas, as we all know, is a time of joy, goodfellowship, and political score settling, as well as some good old fashioned rioting for outright electronics. Televised Christmas specials are as integral to the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus as trees, lights and presents, and when we reference holiday specials on TV in the 1970’s, we immediately harken fondly back to Clarice’s giant eyelashes batting at Rudolph, The Grinch’s big heart and Linus’ Jesus speech. We throw the entire genre under rose colored spyglasses. The truth is, most holiday specials on TV in this era were actually crap, traumatizing even. Some really weird gravitas must have pervaded the television writer’s rooms back then.
Unlock your repressed memories, old folks, there’s more to the history of the TV Christmas special than The Island Of Misfit Toys and The Gospel according to Peanuts. And I am going to tell you about it.
Frosty the Snowman – 1969 (warning: this review contains expletives and spoilers).
Nothing conveys the holiness of the Christmas season more than snowmen, because Jesus would have grown up around this great totem of spirituality. 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!” Jackie Vernon’s VO is a retarded galoot. 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 in desperation – he clearly still wants it. He pursues the hat onto 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 hat, despite 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.
Actually, 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 and collapses in Santa’s arms. While Karen is 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 horrible lazy, stupid story-telling, the crap animation, the completely unlikeable and forgettable characters, the godawful voice acting, 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
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.
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 horrific, smoking 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 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 (plaid coat with white fur hood, red tights and white fur boots), bitchy Kringle realizes the true meaning of Christmas and performs the aforementioned lavish musical number. Complete trash.
The premise of this depressing, 1977 Yuletide special is mind numbingly simple: Karen has the gang over to her contempt penthouse apartment for an album wrap holiday party, but her crabby, luded out, brother Richard has the holiday blues and wants to bow out altogether because he is a total asshole. Karen is totally bummed out, assuming that it’s her fault for not being “old fashioned” enough for old Richard. Flash back to happier times – specifically the 1890’s – a full-on gay 90’s fantasy replete with lavender, fur-lined frock coats and bandstand.
Richard mopes around LA. winding up in a seedy coffee shop where Harvey Korman is the wacky proprietor. Enter a ebullient Kristy McNichol as a little girl with nowhere to go on Christmas. Burr Tillstrom drags out Kukla and Ollie (without Fan) 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 thin, but still bright looking Karen, while a very doped-up and closeted Richard – whose world we know has already begun to crumble down around him – mopes around.
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 keeping his sister on a treadmill of morose songs and touring and at the height of his Methaqualone addiction, and Karen – of the velvety voiced rich, mournful alto- is achingly thin, sick. The first Special had Karen living alone in a penthouse apartment. This one has the sad siblings living together in a cozy house, a set that resembles their 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.
The Carpenters border on the catatonic. That’s because Karen is SICK, and Richard is jacked up on downers, probably to dull the psychotic rage of the closeted gay and the tyrant, that burned within him. One month after ‘The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait’ aired, Richard checked into a clinic for his Quaalude addiction
Kristy McNichol is back again to shine light into the sibling misery, this time with her creepy, tone-deaf brother Jimmy in tow. Next to The Carpenters, Kristy is a shiny haired, beaming specimen of teen dreamery. It’s 1978 and Kristy is the It Girl. Alas, the uncharismatic Jimmy drags her down. The brother and sister’s rendition of a Spanish carol – “sung” wearing matching white pants suits – is as painful to watch as it sounds.
Special guests include this freak (left), Gene Kelly and the understandably uncomfortable and noticeably upset looking Carpenter parents. The Special is painful in it’s window into the future, an all too real version of Scrooge portending a dead Tiny Tim and his own lonely grave. It’s less a celebration of Christmas than a painful series of moments framed by unfortunate circumstances and percolating with portentous tragedy. A holly, jolly train wreck. A few years later, Karen Carpenter collapsed of heart failure and died in what is obstensibly this set – the Carpenter parent’s home in Downey, California – a house that she and Richard originally bought for themselves it sounds.
Annie Christmas Special, 1977
If you were around in 1977 you would remember that ANNIE was more than just a Broadway-related phenomenon. It crossed-over into the country’s consciousness more than any one can believe. Now ANNIE is relegated to eye-rolls and derogatory anecdotes. but in 1977, the show was EVERYWHERE on television… which is what prompted their own terrible Christmas Special, set to capitalize on the huge success of the show.
The setting is the Broadway theatre after the curtain has gone down on a pre-Christmas performance. The fourth wall breaking The “plot” is patently petarded. The original Broadway cast of kids (remarkably uncut save the littlest one, the beatific Danielle Briseboise), are disgusted that they have to work on Christmas. Hence, they demand a Christmas party. But the skin-flinty, Christmas-hating Scrooge/theatre owner, “Mr. Nickelander”, is on his way to Florida! And he 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 infinitesimal production value, the digs at child labor laws, pesky union rules and cheap producers as well as the creepy stereotypes. make this an unmitigated disaster.
Don’t believe me? Watch the first ten minutes of this jaw-dropping wonder starring much of the original Broadway cast.
Here’s Andrea Mcardle singing a stupefied, soulless version of A Little Drummer Boy.
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! Like we always predicted would happen someday, Mike is trapped inside the death chamber of his own design!
As the whole family and rubberneckers stand around the yellow police tape, waiting 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.
I’d re-write the scene so that the entire building collapses on Mike, killing both him and the family’s hope of ever seeing him again, and thus provide the ending scene with the requisite tension/release element so obviously absent from this original. Seeing Mike emerge jauntily from that Apocalyptic rubble smiling, waving his hardhat around and scratch-free leaves us with an uneasy feeling.
Wow. This creepy oddity aired in some time in the early 70’s. It starred 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 think it ever aired on TV again.
It goes like this: 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 has to be 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 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. “HERE I AM, FATHER HERE I AM!”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.
The miming, black lacquered hair lunatics, putting themselves through the luggage scanner, 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.
There’s a truly bizarre sequence of Shields & Yarnell performing as giant babies which was upsetting and that had nothing to do with Christmas or Walt Disney World. Avery Schreiber hams it up as a wisecracking Gepetto/an egregious stereotype of an “Italian” and is annoying as shit. 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 depressed-looking, post “Annie” Andrea Mcardle 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, Katie.
In hat can only be described as a deliberate rejection of Christ the Risen Lord and His Holy Nativity, we bring you the worst Christmas teevee had to offer. 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.
Donny is in out of control narcissism mode, rocking Santa suits, Christmas sweaters, tight pants, full on pimp suits or the pelts of various animals. He thought he was the coolest fucking guy on the planet.
Marie seems completely insane, repressed, and to revel in playing the sexualized child. She plays a coquettish 5-year old girl and it’s literally impossible to not have Paul Lynde as Santa seem like a pervert because of it 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. You may think that the whole thing is a plot to further erode the tenuous grasp that Christianity still has on the tattered remnants of Western Civilization, which lies everywhere in ruins thanks to militant secularists and probably the Jews, with their “Happy Holidays.” And you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.
Well, Old, that’s it! This year, maybe celebrate a historically accurate American Christmas the Vallow family way – by throwing rocks at the rich peoples’ windows and trying to set the factory on fire! Have yourselves a merry television Christmas, in Hell!