Back at the Barnyard: It’s an Udderful Life

titleDebuted in 2009

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Otis throws a big holiday party on Christmas Eve and his high school friends Donner & Blitzen drop by with Santa during their delivery run. Otis accidentally gives Santa the wrong cup of eggnog and he comes down with ferret fever, incapacitating him for the night. Otis and the barnyard animals step in and deliver the last presents to prevent Christmas magic from disappearing forever.

Fun Fact: The title is a reference to It’s a Wonderful Life and Snotty Boy’s Christmas wish to receive a Red Ryder BB Taser references A Christmas Story.

My thoughts: This is the Christmas episode of Back at the Barnyard, which was a television spinoff of the 2006 animated movie, Barnyard, written and directed by Steve Oedekerk. The TV series ran for two seasons and this was the only Christmas episode. There’s a lot going on here and most of it seems to be trying to be in your face and edgy. There are some moments that made me laugh, but I’m not a big fan of this animation style or this type of humor, so most of it went a little wide of the mark for me. The idea that Christmas magic will disappear if Santa doesn’t get all the presents under the tree by midnight seems to reinforce the materialistic theme that so many specials work to defy. I feel like this is a show where you have to know something about the characters (and there are lots of them – they’re hard to keep straight) in order to really appreciate the special. So probably I’d say this is one for fans of the show, but not necessarily for anyone else.

narrator

The narrator is a bit of a hot mess.

snotty-kiss

Mistletoe can be the start of a beautiful relationship.  But not this one.

santa-has-the-fever

Santa in the grip of Ferret Fever.

hoobermans

The show is full of bizarre (but also pretty funny) plugs for Hoobermans bakery.

Individual Superlative: Don’t Eat Before Watching – There are several gross-out jokes in this show, including the narrator giving himself a root canal, filing his foot calluses and asking the audience to look at the boil on his neck.

Want to Watch it? Back to the Barnyard: It’s an Udderful Life is available on DVD.

Gullah Gullah Island: A Gullah Gullah Christmas

title

Debuted in 1997

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Shaina dreams that she goes to the North Pole and meets Santa. When the reindeer all get sick, Binyah Binyah Pollywog stands in for them and pulls Santa’s sleigh. The family enjoys Christmas together.

Fun Fact: During its original broadcast, Gullah Gullah Island was Nickelodeon’s highest-rated preschool show.

My thoughts: It’s easy to dismiss Gullah Gullah Island as yet another saccharine representation of a picture-perfect family with parents who balance wisdom and kindness, cherubic well-mannered children and even a wonderful extended family to smooth over the rough spots if anyone has a slip. But there’s something immensely likeable about this show and I found myself entertained by the fun they all seemed to be having and the genuine care they all showed for each other. The mother and father here are Ron and Natalie Daise, who are married in real life and the kids are played by their own children, who are all actually talented. But the show wasn’t a vanity project (as you may imagine from the cast) but rather a celebration of the Gullah culture of the sea islands around South Carolina and Georgia. The character of Binyah Binyah Polliwog is the most tiresome part of the show for me (but probably also a favorite of kids, so I’ll cut him some slack) and he features largely in this Christmas special. There are some cute touches, such as the garden that grows Christmas ornaments, and there are lots of fun musical numbers, but overall, it’s not one I watch every year.

binyah

Is Binyah Binyah throwing gang signs here?  I have concerns.

santa

Santa’s beard game is on point.

mrs-claus

But Mrs. Santa seems to be channeling the Bride of Frankenstein.

elfis

And Elfis is channeling…no, I don’t want to know.

Individual Superlative: Elfis Has Left the Building – One of the elves that Shaina meets in her dream North Pole is ‘Elfis’ who dresses and talks like Elvis Presley. I’m sure 90’s kids really loved that joke.

Want to Watch it? Gullah Gullah Island: A Gullah Gullah Christmas is available on VHS and DVD.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Title

Debuted in 1970

51 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A foundling child is adopted by a family of toymakers and he grows up determined to deliver his family’s toys to children in nearby Sombertown, where toys are outlawed. In order to do so, he befriends the Winter Warlock, charms a local schoolteacher and finds ways to get around the town’s rules. He marries the schoolteacher, eventually limits his toy deliveries to once a year (on Christmas Eve) and becomes Santa Claus.

Fun Fact: This was the first time that Mickey Rooney provided the voice of Santa Claus. He did it again in The Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph & Frosty’s Christmas in July, The Happy Elf and A Miser Brothers’ Christmas. Maybe he was so good at it because his actual last name was Yule.

My thoughts: This classic special has been a part of my Christmas for as long as I can remember. I was terrified of the Winter Warlock and his razor sharp teeth, so his transformation was always a big deal to me. And I used to think that the ‘Put One Foot in Front of the Other’ song was a big waste of time, but as an adult, I can better appreciate the concept of achieving goals by taking small steps. (So now it’s just Jessica’s love song, ‘My World is Beginning Today,’ with its trippy animation that I forward through.) Fred Astaire reprised his role as mailman/narrator S.D. Kluger in a similar special that explores the origin of the Easter Bunny. Burgermeister Meisterburger is a fantastic villain here and I kind of like that the story resolves with the people realizing that his laws are silly and overturning them. I could make a really good political statement here, but it’s Christmas so I’m not going there. In addition to being a good origin story, this special sets Santa up as a role model for perseverance and positivity. I’m glad this one is still out there entertaining a whole new generation. (And let’s face it…this is where we all learned the word ‘burgermeister.’)

A baby baby

This scene is equal parts ridiculous and awesome. “A baby baby, Zingle.”

Winter and Kris

Putting one foot in front of another is still the best way to get where you’re going.

Burgermeister

Burgermeisters just want to have fun.

Fever dream

“Before we animate Jessica’s song, let’s all drop acid!”

Individual Superlative: They Cut What? – Over the years, they’ve trimmed the special down to allow for more commercials by cutting songs and taking out the ‘traumatic scenes’ of Burgermeister Meisterburger setting fire to the toys. But some versions have removed the clips of Kris Kringle jumping from house to house on the rooftops, out of fear that kids will emulate his dangerous behavior, which seems ludicrous to me when you’re talking about a guy who has flying reindeer.

Want to Watch it? Santa Claus is Coming to Town is available on VHS, DVD, YouTube and it still comes on TV annually.

Marvel’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. – It’s a Wonderful Smash

Title

Debuted in 2014

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: After a battle with some bad guys leaves parts of the city in shambles, A-Bomb wishes that the Hulks could be more appreciated for the good that they do. We next see them living the lives of their dreams, rich and famous in a luxurious penthouse, but that turns out to be a false reality the Collector is using to keep them prisoner. The agents of S.M.A.S.H. team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to break free, defeat the Collector and retrieve the Orb of Truth.

Fun Fact: This episode was produced to be part of Season 1, but aired during Season 2.

My thoughts: Let’s face it – I am not the target demographic for this show. I have enjoyed the recent Marvel movies (especially Guardians of the Galaxy) but have never been a big fan of the comic book hero genre overall. So I had my husband watch this one with me to get a second opinion, but we were pretty much on the same page. About halfway through the show, I asked what any of this had to do with Christmas and then remembered that the original battle takes place in a city decorated for the holidays. At the end, they explain Christmas to the Guardians of the Galaxy and have a warm and fuzzy moment when they talk about the sense of family that you have in a super hero group. In retrospect, it seemed like just I watched 15 minutes of weird things punching and shooting each other, with a few minutes of plot and a non-stop parade of new characters coming and going. I’ll give it a few comic points for having A-Bomb hallucinate having Eliza Dushku for a girlfriend when she does the voice of She-Hulk on the show. But this one is strictly for those who are already fans.

Destroyed city

The Christmas tree in the background makes the destruction look festive!

Guitar Playing

A-Bomb plays guitar in a band in his fantasy world.

Hulk and SheHulk

“Why Hulk wearing dumb sweater?”

Not Groot

No, you are NOT Groot.

Individual Superlative: I AM GROSS – Groot was awesome in the movie, but in this thing, he is absolutely terrifying. His tree face here looks like a nightmare of evil. I mean, look at him! I want the movie version back!

Want to Watch it? Marvel’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H: It’s a Wonderful SMASH is available on YouTube.

South Park – Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics

Title

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.

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.

Twisted Whiskers: Mr. Mewser’s Holiday Spectacular

TitleDebuted in 2010

11 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Mewser hosts a Christmas special in which he tries to read a Christmas story, but is continually interrupted by party guests. One of the cats shows up pretending to be Santa, with gifts for everyone except Mr. Mewser. The real Santa tries to visit, but Von Ripper attacks him, so he throws a gift to Mr. Mewser from the chimney.

Fun Fact: Twisted Whiskers was the first series ever to air on The Hub network.

My thoughts: Remember when those weird-faced big-eyed dogs and cats were just about everywhere, especially on school notebooks and lunchboxes? I was a little freaked out by them and those were just still pictures. Animated, they are even worse. Thankfully, this crazy conglomeration of freaky animals (the cats and dogs are joined by a bird and a bear) is only 11 minutes long. Because a lot of the moments in this one that are intended to be humorous come at the expense of some of the characters, this one comes off as feeling mean-spirited. I was not a fan of this one and the fact that we never get to hear any of “The Lonely Yule Log Who Nobody Loved” doesn’t bother me in the least.

This character is Broken Bear, who is going to hilariously fall off the roof soon.

This character is Broken Bear, who is going to hilariously fall off the roof soon.

And Mr. Mewser's ornaments are held up by enslaved mice.

And Mr. Mewser’s ornaments are held up by enslaved mice.

This guy sticks a walnut in his mouth and then puts his whole head in the nutcracker's mouth.

This guy sticks a walnut in his mouth and then puts his whole head in the nutcracker’s mouth.

KILL IT WITH FIRE!

KILL IT WITH FIRE!

Individual Superlative: Most Visually Disturbing Character – Yes, there have been some creepy Ghosts of Christmas Future out there, but for my money, Tiny Head, the regular size cat with the kitten head, is the stuff of nightmares.

Want to Watch it? Twisted Whiskers Holiday: Mr. Mewser’s Holiday Spectacular is available on YouTube. But there are so many better ways to spend 11 minutes.