Bewitched: Sisters at Heart

Title

Debuted in 1970

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Darren and Samantha host the daughter of an African-American co-worker while he is out of town on a business trip and she and Tabitha decide they are temporary sisters. After another child tells them they can’t be sisters because they’re not the same color, Tabitha accidentally gives them both polka-dotted skin and Samantha has difficulty changing it back. Meanwhile, a man who was going to hire Darren for his company’s big advertising account refuses because he believes Darren is in a mixed marriage and when he realizes that this makes him racist, he apologizes and swears to do better.

Fun Fact: This was Elizabeth Montgomery’s favorite episode of the entire series.

My thoughts: This special wasn’t in my original lineup to review this year. I caught it on TV earlier this month and happened to notice that the credits listed a high school class and their teacher as contributors to the story. So, of course, I dove into learning the history of the episode and it was too interesting not to share. A 9th grade teacher at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles was having trouble reaching her class through reading assignments and wanted to trying using the medium of television, which they all enjoyed. She contacted several shows, but Bewitched was the only one to respond. Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband paid for the students to visit the set and they were so impressed that they wrote their own episode of the show and sent it to her. The show’s scriptwriter tweaked their script, but Ms. Montgomery insisted that no significant changes be made without the students’ approval. The students were even invited back to be part of the rehearsal and production of the episode. In its initial broadcast, it was preceded by a special introduction by Ms. Montgomery. I enjoyed this episode a lot, especially when we see Mr. Brockway (the big company owner) own up to his racism and want to change, which I really love because it underscores the message that it’s never too late to become a better person.

Whiteface

Is ‘whiteface’ as bad as ‘blackface?’ Are they equally bad?

Polka dots

Yikes! It’s contagious!

Larry Tate

Larry Tate makes checks to make sure it’s still him before telling Mr. Brockway that he doesn’t want his million dollar account. I love this moment.

Families

I know we’re supposed to see a beautiful holiday image of tolerance and equality but all I see is that I want Samantha’s skirt.

Individual Superlative: Best Back Story – Seriously, though, how cool is the back story on this episode?

Want to Watch it?Bewitched: Sisters at Heart is available on iTunes and it often shows up on cable during the holidays.

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Adam Ruins Everything: Adam Ruins Christmas

Title

Debuted in 2016

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Adam’s sister, Rhea, is stressed about their parents’ upcoming Christmas visit. As they prepare the house, Adam takes several opportunities to debunk some holiday myths and traditions and Rhea gets upset that he’s not being more helpful. He shows her a video from their childhood in which she tells him there’s no Santa and that it’s best to know the truth, which makes her realize she’s the one who made him so curious about the truth and they share a nice holiday with their parents.

Fun Fact: At the end of the special, we find out that the unseen narrator is Adam Savage (Mythbusters) which is a nice button on the rest of the show.

My thoughts: Adam Ruins Everything is a show that came from the College Humor website and it’s hosted by Adam Conover, who starred in the website segments as well. On each episode, Adam gives details, history and interesting facts about a different subject, disproving some general misconceptions and providing an entertaining and educational overview of the subject. It’s a lot like Penn & Teller’s Bullshit series only presented more as a sitcom with different characters. This is a really enjoyable episode, with a lot of interesting information, much of which was new to me. Comedian Rhea Butcher plays Adam’s sister and she provides a nice counterpoint to his character. The live action shifts to animation (reminiscent of A Charlie Brown Christmas) to tell some of the stories and I think it’s awesome as an homage and a comedic device, particularly when the story they’re telling is more adult in nature. As with any show of this nature, you may learn something that pushes you out of your comfort zone, but the good news is that how much you let that affect your holiday is pretty much up to you.

Saturnalia

What kind of cups does Starbucks have for Saturnalia?

Economics

The whole economy of gift giving section will make you rethink the gifts you’ve already bought.

Wonderful Life

Every time a bell rings, an angel puts an It’s a Wonderful Life parody in their special.

Krampus

Krampus, just put the baby down and walk away.

Individual Superlative: Favorite Message – Okay, at its core, this is a comedy show, but the underlying message that is repeated a few times throughout is that everyone should celebrate the holiday in a way that is meaningful for them and I think that’s a tremendously important takeaway.

Want to Watch it? Adam Ruins Everything: Adam Ruins Christmas is available on YouTube and will probably be shown again during this holiday season.

The Boy Who Dreamed Christmas

Title

Debuted in 1991

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Peter falls asleep thinking of how he needs everything on his Christmas list. Nilus the Sandman takes him to the North Pole, where he learns that the evil Toy Master has taken over production, because Santa could no longer keep up with the increasing demand for toys. Peter defeats the Toy Master by giving up the toys on his list and is pleased to receive one simple gift from Santa instead.

Fun Fact: Elton John took his stage surname from Long John Baldry, who provided the voice for Nilus the Sandman.

My thoughts: I remember catching this one when it aired for the first time on The Disney Channel. When it starts up, the first thing on screen is a credit for Long John Baldry as Nilus the Sandman and I assumed that he was a known character somewhere. But this special was his first appearance, which was followed by two more specials and then a television series that lasted two seasons. I was unsurprised to learn that the series featured Nilus entering the dreams of children to teach them lessons and I imagine they were every bit as heavy handed as the lesson in this one. The animation in this special is bookmarked by mediocre live action that transitions to animation when Peter falls asleep. The Toy Master is a really creepy looking clown, who towers over Peter and Santa like a nightmare monster and as his musical number, he gets a rap song about how efficient his toy production has become. (See Superlative below.) Santa’s song about how kids got super greedy is very pretty, even as it’s banging you over the head with its morality. Overall, this one felt like a launching vehicle for Nilus as a character and not much more.

Nilus

He has literally just burst through the cloud to say, “That’s me!” and wink to the audience. Ham it up, Sandman.

Sad Santa

There’s no crying in Christmas!

Toymaster

Yikes, right?

Peter

I think he’s just happy to have survived the Toy Master.

Individual Superlative: Least Evil Bad Guy – I will readily admit that the Toy Master is creepy looking as all hell. But I am not sure what he’s doing that’s so terrible. It seems to me that he’s automated the workshop and is still planning to deliver all the toys to the kids. Is it just that he’s put Santa out of work? I’m missing something.

Want to Watch it?The Boy Who Dreamed Christmas is available on DVD and YouTube.

The Elf and the Magic Key

Title

Debuted in 1993

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Santa is kidnapped and the kidnappers want to exchange him for all the toys in the workshop. Toby the elf goes to see Mrs. Buzzard, who finds Santa in her crystal ball and gives Toby a magic key. Toby finds Santa being held by two guys who turn out to be Mrs. Buzzard’s two lost sons and Toby uses the magic key to reunite them all.

Fun Fact: The special was written by Lee Wilson, who plays Trixie the elf.

My thoughts: This special is a sequel to The Elf Who Saved Christmas, which debuted a year earlier. I originally watched these with my kids when they were little and other than Mrs. Buzzard (as played by Jo Ann Worley) coming off as a little scary to my son, they didn’t leave much of an impression. Both the script and the acting are over the top, as though you’re listening to someone patiently and slowly speaking to a person who doesn’t speak their language well. The two comic relief elves (Hoot and Smitty) bumble their way through some slapstick bits that just don’t manage to be funny, even to their intended audience. The only redeeming quality about this one is Santa’s big speech to the Buzzard Brothers. When they claim to have a right to be rotten because they were abandoned as kids, Santa explains that no one, no matter how tough their life has been, has the right to be mean to others. This is a really good message that more people need to hear. Unfortunately, not many people will sit through this saccharine packet of a special to hear it.

Big Mailbox

This mailbox does not comply with Post Office standards.

Bumbling Elves

Hoot and Smitty doing some antics.

Mrs. Buzzard

Okay, I can see why Mrs. Buzzard was scary.

Santa and Toby All Tied Up

These ropes don’t look all that secure.

Individual Superlative: Give Toby a Raise! – In both these special and its predecessor, Toby (who seems to be a pretty low level elf) takes matters into her own hands and saves Christmas. Dang, I hope she gets a good Christmas bonus!

Want to Watch it? The Elf and the Magic Key is available on DVD and YouTube.

 

Sanford and Son: Ebenezer Sanford

TitleDebuted in 1975

20 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: After insulting his friends and family, taking advantage of a local kid who is looking to earn a little extra Christmas money and being too lazy to celebrate the holiday, Fred falls asleep in his chair. In his dream, his son Lamont appears as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future and shows him the error of his ways. When he wakes up, Fred sets out to make things right and joins his friends for a Christmas party.

Fun Fact: Redd Foxx’s real name was John Elroy Sanford and his character was named for his brother, Fred.

My thoughts: Sanford and Son was an American-ized version of the 1960’s British sitcom, Steptoe and Son. I grew up watching this show and it was much later that I learned that Redd Foxx was notoriously filthy in his standup act. It didn’t really surprise me. I can’t imagine anyone else playing this character, though. Like many 70’s sitcoms, the show had a lot of recurring bits that you waited for in every episode. You know Fred is going to insult Aunt Esther and he does so hilariously here, responding to her declaration of having the spirit of Christmas by telling her she also has the face of Halloween. You know he’s going to have a fake heart attack and claim he’s soon to join his wife, Elizabeth. But you also know that there’s a good heart inside this guy and this episode plays that up bigtime. He owns up to his behavior, which is something you rarely see him do and he unselfishly gives away his own gifts to make things right for the kid who helps him out. And the show closes with him singing ‘The Christmas Song’ amongst the rest of the cast and it’s surprisingly sweet.

Aunt Esther

Aunt Esther, smiling in the face of the insults she had to have been expecting.

Fredsie and Mom

Fred’s mother calls him ‘Fredsie’ which so doesn’t fit his adult persona.

Christmas Future

The ghost of Christmas Future is Lamont in a space suit. Perfect.

Party

Fred may be crotchety, but he’s a well loved guy.

Individual Superlative: The Actor of Sanford Future – Eric Laneuville appears in this episode as Ronnie Small, the neighborhood kid earning money to buy gifts for his parents. He plays a different recurring character in the final season as Aunt Esther’s adopted son.

Want to Watch it? Sanford and Son: Ebenezer Sanford is available on YouTube.

Back to the Future: A Dickens of a Christmas

TitleDebuted in 1991

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: On a hot summer day, Doc Brown, his family and Marty McFly go back in time to Christmas in London in 1845 to cool off and enjoy the holiday. The Brown family has a run-in with Ebiffnezer Tannen, with Clara thrown in debtor’s prison and Jules and Verne forced to join a pickpocket gang. Marty pretends to be the spirit of Christmas to show Ebiffnezer the error of his ways and everyone is reunited before returning to the present time.

Fun Fact: This series marks the television debut of Bill Nye on a nationally broadcast show.

My thoughts: The animated series picks up where the popular Back to the Future movie trilogy leaves off, focusing more on the Brown family than on Marty McFly (although Marty is a regular character). The series ran for two seasons and was not picked up for a third, due to low ratings. I had never seen any episodes before watching this one and honestly, I’m astounded to hear it even got a second season. Everything about this special was bad and it was really disappointing to see that original movie cast members Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen and Thomas Wilson agreed to be involved in it. Christopher Lloyd provided short live action bumpers at the beginning and end of the show, but didn’t voice his own animated character, leaving that to voice actor extraordinaire, Dan Castellaneta. At the end of the episode, Doc Brown shares a little science fact and Bill Nye demonstrates it. I imagine this was supposed to give the show a little educational credibility. But the animation is low quality, the writing is terrible, the jokes are painfully unfunny and the plot was ridiculous so I can’t say that a minute or so of science education really helped.  Can I borrow the DeLorean to go back in time 24 minutes to before I watched this?

Family

Doc and his wife have such long necks! How do they hold their heads up?

Singers

This group of singers serves as a sort of Greek chorus.

Ghost of Christmas Future

Marty as the ghost of Christmas Future is actually from the future, so this checks out.

Bill Nye

Run, Bill Nye!  Don’t just stand there grinning, RUN!

Individual Superlative: Blimey, Guv’nor! – The ‘British’ accents in this thing are grossly over-exaggerated, to the point where I became pretty sure there was a competition amongst the voice actors to see who could be the most over the top. I hope the winner got some bangers and mash.

Want to Watch it? Back to the Future: Dickens of a Christmas is available on DVD.

Howdy Doody’s Christmas

TitleDebuted in 1951

8 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Buffalo Bob, Howdy Doody and Clarabell the Clown are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. When Santa doesn’t show up at midnight, they take a rocket to the North Pole and discover that Ugly Sam has captured Santa, believing him to be a bandit. While Bob and Clarabell struggle with Sam, Howdy frees Santa so he can make his Christmas ride.

Fun Fact: Clarabell the Clown is played here by Bob Keeshan, who later went on to star in his own show as Captain Kangaroo.

My thoughts: The Howdy Doody Show ran from 1947 to 1960 and set a format for children’s programming that many future shows emulated. Buffalo Bob Smith originated the character of Howdy Doody on radio and there are several fascinating stories around the creation and evolution of his puppet incarnation. My favorite involves the puppet’s creator angrily stealing it from the show, forcing them to fabricate a story that Howdy Doody was helping the presidential candidates on the campaign trail. This Christmas episode hasn’t aged well, so it all comes across as feeling very amateurish, a little like a show being put on in someone’s backyard. Dayton Allen, as Ugly Sam, particularly hams up his performance and seems to have one eye on the camera most of the time. Allen went on to do a lot of voice work, providing the voices for Deputy Dawg and Lancelot Link (Secret Chimp), which were favorites of mine when I was a kid. There’s really not much to this one, but it’s cool to watch from a historical point of view, though, since it really did have a profound influence on the future of television.

Clarabell

Clarabell knows your darkest secrets.

Bob and howdy

Howdy Doody is blissfully ignorant.

Dogpile on Sam

I don’t think I want to know…

Gagged Santa

Dang, Santa! Cookies and milk aren’t enough and now you’re eating your own hat?

Individual Superlative: Genre Overload – The show has a Western theme, a circus theme, a science fiction theme and a Christmas theme. Maybe Howdy Doody needed to slow his roll a little.

Want to Watch it? Howdy Doody’s Christmas is available on YouTube