Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

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Debuted in 1980

25 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Willy Krueger is an apartment building custodian who lives with his cat in the building’s basement and on Christmas Eve, he fantasizes about being a well-respected gentleman in a fine house, helping to decorate the giant Christmas tree in Temple Square and conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. A group of carolers visits him and he invites them to stay, but they only sing one song. He envisions himself in Bethlehem and kneels to talk to Jesus, thanking him for being his constant and best friend, and then two of the carolers return and ask him to join them.

Fun Fact: James Stewart said that conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was a lifelong dream of his that he finally got to live out in this film.

My thoughts: This special was produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and features classic movie legend James Stewart as Mr. Krueger in one of the last roles of his fifty year career. (He only did two things after this and one of them was voice work on An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.) I’m a huge fan of his and think his performance here is really wonderful. The director has said that Mr. Stewart felt very strongly about the film, worried about the over-commercialization of Christmas and fearing that the real meaning of the holiday was getting lost in the shuffle. When he is imagining himself conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, there’s a moment at the end of the song when the choir applauds him and that was apparently spontaneous and unscripted. The ending is a little over-saccharine, with the little girl caroler telling him she loves him (even though they literally just met) as they are heading off to join the carolers and there’s a voiceover (from WKRP’s Gordon Jump) reminding us that Jesus loves us, too. But you have to expect that in a special like this and it’s worth watching if you’re a Jimmy Stewart fan.

snow-haze

In this (very blurred) vision, he is sleigh-riding while the choir is all around him singing Sleigh Ride.

dancing

What would a Christmas tree lighting be without dancers wearing HUGE skirts?

clarissa

Is Clarissa about to smile sweetly at Mr. Krueger or fire demonic bolts from her eyes?

mittens-on-the-tree

Somebody else’s forgotten mittens are the saddest tree decorations ever.

Individual Superlative: That Voice, Though – I grew up watching It’s a Wonderful Life every year on TV and hearing Jimmy Stewart say ‘Merry Christmas’ is like an injection of nostalgic Christmas warmth. He says it a lot here.

Want to Watch it? Mr. Krueger’s Christmas is available on DVD and YouTube.

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Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

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Plot in 3 Sentences: Nestor is thrown out of the barnyard because of his long ears and his mother gives her life to save him during a snowstorm. He meets a cherub who guides him to his destiny, which is to carry Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. His ears allow him to hear guiding voices and bring the expectant couple safely to their destination, making him a hero among the animals.

Fun Fact: The special is based on a 1975 Gene Autry song, which Roger Miller covers as the title song for this show.

My thoughts: There’s no question that this seems like a mawkish and sentimental attempt by Rankin/Bass to recreate their earlier success with 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The stories share a lot of similar themes, although there was a little more social conscience at work here, as the show takes a much stronger stand against the bullying that Nestor receives from the other animals. A song called ‘Don’t Laugh and Make Somebody Cry’ was part of the original broadcast but is usually missing when it’s shown during the ABC Family holiday schedule. Long time Rankin/Bass fans will recognize some familiar faces in the cast, as models from The Year Without a Santa Claus, The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year were all re-used here. Yes, it’s a really sad story and I don’t watch it every year, but it’s one that I consider to be a classic that’s worth watching (if you have a box of Kleenex nearby).

camels

Further proof that camels are jerks.

sad-nestor

Nestor is showing us what all the viewers look like.

tilly

Tilly is adorbs.

mary-and-joseph

Mary’s eyes are so light blue that it makes her look blind.

Individual Superlative: Make that the Jumbo Kleenex – I watched the premiere of this special with two boys that I was babysitting and the three of us were reduced to a blubbering mass of tears and sniffles after Nestor’s mother died. “Ears, Nestor.” SOB.

Want to Watch it? Nestor, the Long Eared Christmas Donkey is available on VHS and DVD and it still shows up annually in the regular holiday programming.

South Park – Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics

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Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, introduces musical numbers sung by the citizens of South Park. The songs include some new songs as well as traditional holiday songs.

Fun Fact: A TV station in Russia had to agree to never show this episode again, after complaints almost resulted in the loss of their license to air the show.

My thoughts: When it comes to truly offensive holiday specials, it doesn’t get much more ‘in your face’ than this. After Season 1 introduced us to Mr. Hankey, a talking piece of poop that visits during the holidays, this show raised the bar with scenes of John F. Kennedy reunited in hell with John, Jr. (who had died earlier that year) and Mr. Garrison verbally abusing those who celebrate any other religious holiday in an outrageously non-PC song called ‘Merry Fucking Christmas.’ An album featuring all the songs from the special (and a few extra songs as well) was released about a week before the special aired and reached #33 on Billboard’s list of Christmas albums for the year. As always, some of the original songs are really clever, although ridiculously offensive, and there are some very funny moments. Fans of South Park’s irreverent humor will enjoy this one a lot.

 

Singing Mr. Hankey

What a festive singing piece of poop.

Hannukah

It’s a whole new take on the dreidel song.

Gene and Diana

Princess Diana and Gene Siskel under the mistletoe, as Satan sings his Christmas song.

Jesus and Santa

Jesus and Santa have a lounge act where they battle religious carols against secular songs. Santa closes with Duran Duran’s ‘Rio.’

Individual Superlative: A Tender Moment Amidst the Chaos – The end of the show features a montage of all the show’s female characters, since this was the final episode in which they were voiced by Mary Kay Bergman, who died about a month before the show aired. This show was dedicated to her memory.

Want to Watch it? South Park: Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics is available on DVD.

The Simpsons: Simpsons Christmas Stories

TitleDebuted in 2005

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: In the first story, Homer Simpson has to lead the Christmas service at church and he tells a very different version of the nativity. In the second, Grampa tells the story of his long-standing resentment of Santa Claus, after Santa left him stranded on a desert island during the war. The third story is a comical look at Christmas in Springfield, set to songs from The Nutcracker.

Fun Fact: When Bart (as baby Jesus) performs the miracle of turning wine to water, he does the head nod from I Dream of Jeannie.

My thoughts: The very first episode of The Simpsons was a Christmas special and they have done another 11 Christmas-themed episodes since then. This one is a compilation episode comprised of three separate comic stories, all based around Christmas. I enjoyed all three of these stories, but the last one was probably the funniest to me. The notion that Homer’s realization that “The Nutcracker Suite” is in the public domain leads to a series of vignettes featuring the residents of Springfield, including a montage of Moe attempting suicide (which is probably very offensive to some) and a very sweet scene in which Marge’s gift to Homer is a gift for him to give to her, since she knew he’d forget to get one. This isn’t my favorite of the Simpsons Christmas specials, but it is a pretty funny one that I always enjoy watching.

If Bart is the savior, we're all doomed.

If Bart is the savior, we’re all doomed.

Santa and young Mr. Burns make a very cute couple.

Santa and young Mr. Burns make a very cute couple.

Lisa and Millhouse make a less convincing couple than Santa and Mr. Burns.

Lisa and Millhouse make a more awkward couple than Santa and Mr. Burns.

Because Christmas is doing for others what they would have done for you if you hadn't done it for them already.

Because Christmas is doing for others what they would have done for you if you hadn’t done it for them already.

Individual Superlative: Most Mischievous Newborn King – Bart Simpson as baby Jesus? Ay caramba!

Want to Watch it? The Simpsons: Christmas Stories is available on the Season 17 DVD or Blu-ray set.

Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

TitleDebuted in 1988

49 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Pee-wee Herman prepares for Christmas, decorating the playhouse and sending a very long Christmas list to Santa, asking for lots of presents. All the usual playhouse friends stop by, along with lots of special guests who sing songs or share traditions. Santa delivers all of Pee-wee’s gifts, but tells him that Pee-wee asked for so many things, Santa couldn’t bring any gifts for anyone else, so Pee-wee donates his gifts to the other kids and gets to helps Santa deliver them.

Fun Fact: k.d. lang’s (truly bizarre) performance of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ was the longest guest segment to film, taking about half day.

My thoughts: I love this crazy special and it’s been a regular and well-loved part of our Christmas special party tradition for nearly two decades now. Although Pee-wee’s Playhouse was a Saturday morning show, this special originally aired in a weekday primetime slot and it’s easy to pick up on all the jokes that were intended for the adults in the viewing audience. The guest list includes such diverse celebrities as Grace Jones, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Little Richard, Charo, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello and there’s even a cameo from Oprah before she became a household name. There are a few short films and animated bits, including one in which we see that the dinosaur family is Jewish. The running gag with everyone bringing Pee-wee fruitcakes for Christmas culminates in a scene where we see a room full of shirtless construction workers using the fruitcakes to build an addition to the playhouse. There’s a definite message about greed and generosity hidden amongst all the wackiness. Yes, this one is weird, but it’s pretty wonderful, too and worth watching at least every other year. AAAIIIGHGH!!!   (Those who have seen it will know why I just screamed real loud.)

I still laugh every time Magic Johnson tells Pee-wee that he and Magic Screen are cousins.

I still laugh every time Magic Johnson tells Pee-wee that he and Magic Screen are cousins.

What the hell is Grace Jones wearing?

What the hell is Grace Jones wearing?

Whenever we watch this with people who have never seen Pee-wee before, seeing Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis is always a shock.

Whenever we watch this with people who have never seen Pee-wee before, seeing Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis is always a shock.

And this is why I screamed real loud, because I said the secret word.  And now that you've read it, you have to scream every time someone says it for the rest of the day.

And this is why I screamed real loud, because I said the secret word. And now that you’ve read it, you have to scream every time someone says it for the rest of the day.

Individual Superlative: Perviest Floor – It’s not just that Floory asks Miss Yvonne to come stand over him in her festive Christmas dress. It’s the way he delivers the line with boozy salaciousness that makes it hilariously raunchy.

Want to Watch it? PeeWee’s Playhouse Christmas Special is available on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. You can also find it on YouTube.

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All

TitleDebuted in 2008
43 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Stephen Colbert is trapped (by a bear) inside a mountain cabin when he should be in New York, taping his Christmas special with Elvis Costello. Friends stop by and perform musical numbers with him and an angel grants his wish, bringing Elvis Costello to the cabin, where he is eaten by the bear. Santa saves Elvis and reveals that the special is on DVD, which is the greatest gift of all.

Fun Fact: Stephen told all of his fans to download the soundtrack from iTunes at a specific time so that it would overtake Kanye West’s album. He called it Operation Humble Kanye.

My thoughts: There are lots of things I like about this special and I’m glad that it’s become one of those that Comedy Central replays every year. This format, which mimics those old cheesy (and yet awesome) Christmas specials from singers like Andy Williams or Perry Como, really works for Colbert’s television persona. The songs, most of which were written by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, are fantastic and it was no surprise when the soundtrack won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album. The inclusion of an acoustic version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” is wonderful, throwing a little warmth and heart into the special. I really enjoy this one.

Stephen and Elvis

Elvis Costello looks like he’s having so much fun during this show.

John Legend

From what I know of nutmeg, it probably didn’t mind being objectified in this song.

Toby Keith

You can actually find this video on some conservative websites, where they don’t seem to know it’s intended as a satire.

Besties

If these two can be friends, there’s hope for all of us!

Individual Superlative: Most Inappropriate Gift for Baby Jesus – Marijuana is just not an appropriate gift for the infant son of God.  (Or the infant son of pretty much anyone, to be honest.  Even if it is on their registry.)

Want to Watch it? A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All is available on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes. It usually airs in reruns on Comedy Central during the holidays.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together

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Debuted in 1979

50 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: John Denver and the Muppets get together and sing a lot of songs. A sub-plot involves Miss Piggy being a diva. There’s really not enough plot to warrant a third sentence.

Fun Fact: John Denver’s real name is Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. He took the surname ‘Denver’ owing to his love of Colorado.

My thoughts: I am a longtime fan of both the Muppets and John Denver and have owned the soundtrack for this special for most of my adult life, so a lot of these songs are a part of my Christmas tradition. “The Peace Carol” is really lovely and John’s duet with Rowlf on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is one of my favorite versions of that song. But the special itself, which is really just the scaffolding to hang the musical numbers on, feels slow and a little tedious at times. I think that the Muppets are at their best when they have some type of story going on around the musical numbers, giving the characters a platform from which to build humor or emotional depth. But John seems to be having a wonderful time and, as a fan, I enjoy the special on that basis. He and the Muppets teamed up together for another Christmas special, Rocky Mountain Holiday in 1983.

Fozzie sings the lyrics correctly and pretty much dooms me to a life of imagining this face every time I hear 'Seven swans a'swimming.'

Fozzie sings the lyrics correctly and pretty much dooms me to a life of imagining this face every time I hear ‘Seven swans a’swimming.’

John and Miss Piggy step out of their toy number to yell, "Far out!" No, seriously, that's what they're doing.

John and Miss Piggy step out of their toy number to yell, “Far out!” No, seriously, that’s what they’re doing.

I wonder if they recycled the Baby Jesus Muppet into one of the babies that sang in Muppets Take Manhattan. And if so, did that baby feel better than the other babies?

I wonder if they recycled the Baby Jesus Muppet into one of the babies that sang in Muppets Take Manhattan. And if so, did that baby feel superior to the other babies?

All I want is to sing Christmas carols in my living room with all the Muppets. Is that so wrong?

All I want is to sing Christmas carols in my living room with all the Muppets. Is that so wrong?

Individual Superlative: Most Tree Hugging – there’s a whole musical number reminding us to say a prayer for the forest and all the creatures who live there and if that’s not enough, the proceeds from the soundtrack re-issue in 1996 went to Plant-It 2000, a charity supporting the protection of indigenous trees. Far out.

Want to Watch It? John Denver & The Muppets has never been made available on home video, but you can find it on YouTube and the soundtrack is still pretty easy to find.