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

Johnny and the Sprites: A Very Spritely Holiday

TitleDebuted in 2006

11 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Johnny is decorating his home for Christmas when Gwen shows up with a present for him. Wanting to be a part of Christmas (but not understanding it), the Sprites decorate a box and give it to Johnny. When he tells them he can’t wait to open it, they admit they didn’t know there was supposed to be something inside,, but Johnny reassures them that he treasures it.

Fun Fact: The song in this episode, as well the show’s theme song, were written by Stephen Schwartz, who wrote and composed all the songs for such Broadway hits as Godspell, Pippin and Wicked.

My thoughts: This show got its start as five minute episodes that aired on the Disney Channel between shows. Audience reaction was so positive that the episodes were expanded into half hour shows for a season and it was renewed for a second season as well. The show was created by its star, John Tartaglia, who is a puppeteer as well as a singer, actor, dancer and comedian. He is super ‘kid show’ cheesy in this program, which harkens back to the days of shows like Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room, where children’s shows had hosts who spoke to the kids in the audience in an overly emotive way. He’s so enthusiastic that he tells the audience he celebrates every holiday – Christmas, Hanukkah AND Kwanzaa. I have to admit, I hate when shows do this. In trying to be all-inclusive, I feel that they marginalize each of the celebrations by assuming that a holiday is something you can put on and take off, like a sweater, with no cultural roots or knowledge. But the premise of this episode is actually very cute and the music definitely rises above the generic tunes you usually hear on this type of show. It was no surprise at all to me to see that it had some real showtune cred behind it. Other big name Broadway composers have written songs for this show as well, including Robert Lopez, part of the songwriting team responsible for the music from both The Book of Mormon and Frozen.

Everyone looks thoroughly baffled here.

Everyone looks thoroughly baffled here.

Can you spot the Sprite in this picture?  He's the little green guy in the tree who is watching this gift exchange with shock and awe.

Can you spot the Sprite in this picture? He’s the little green guy in the tree who is watching this gift exchange with shock and awe.

I sing while wrapping gifts, too, Sprites.  No judgement.

I sing while wrapping gifts, too, Sprites. No judgement.

Johnny has just made it awkward by wondering what's inside the beautiful box.  Uh-oh...

Johnny has just made it awkward by wondering what’s inside the beautiful box. Uh-oh…

Individual Superlative: No Middle Ground – Both of the people who show up in this episode were familiar to me from my Avenue Q soundtrack, where they sing about racism, internet porn and having loud sex. So I only know them from that very adult show and then this very preschool show.

Want to Watch it? Johnny and the Sprites: A Very Spritely Holiday doesn’t seem to be available in any home video format, but you can sometimes catch it on TV during the holiday season.