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.

Advertisements

Raggedy Ann & Andy: The Great Santa Claus Caper

Title

Debuted in 1978

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Alexander Graham Wolf plans to cover all the Christmas toys in a substance called Gloopstick, which preserves them forever but also prevents kids from playing with them. Comet brings Raggedy Ann and Andy (along with their dog, Raggedy Arthur) to the North Pole to help save Christmas. Raggedy Ann discovers that Gloopstick is destroyed by love and Mr. Wolf has a change of heart.

Fun Fact: This special introduced the character of Raggedy Arthur, who promptly went pretty much nowhere.

My thoughts: The original Raggedy Ann doll was patented in 1915 and she’s been in comic books, animated shorts, stage productions, television series and even a feature film. It’s obvious from the very beginning that this is a Chuck Jones special, as the main character is a dead ringer for Wile E. Coyote, although he is voiced by film and radio star Les Tremayne. The special’s plot never really makes a lot of cohesive sense. Comet’s rationale for choosing Raggedy Ann and Andy is that they’re easy to carry and won’t be bothered by the cold.  Not the best criteria for picking someone to save the day. Wolf’s plan is puzzling, especially when he reveals that he plans to charge the children for his toys, which doesn’t make much sense after he’s also made them useless. There’s an interesting moment when Santa says that giving toys to children is ‘probably a worthy cause.’ I’ve never seen Santa presented as so ambiguous about his job. This one is odd and pretty much forgettable.

Comet

This is unsafe flying.

Sassy Andy

Andy is laying down the sass.

Acme

I should have bought stock in Acme.  They made big animated money.

Wolf tree

The Gloopstick Wolf Christmas tree is never going to catch on.

Individual Superlative: Super Sap – Be sure to cut down on sweets while watching this, because the over saccharine sweetness here could put you in a diabetic coma. It’s bad enough that love can conquer Gloopstick, but when they urge all the kids watching at home to join in on the love, it’s way way over the top.

Want to Watch it? Raggedy Ann & Andy’s Great Santa Claus Caper is available on VHS and YouTube.

Davey and Goliath: Christmas Lost and Found

Title

Debuted in 1965

29 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Davey doesn’t have the Christmas spirit so he goes out to do holiday errands, hoping he will be inspired. While buying the Christmas tree, he makes friends with Kenny, the boy working at the tree lot. The kids put on a Christmas pageant and at the last minute, Davey offers his role as a king to Kenny and in doing so, finally feels the Christmas spirit.

Fun Fact: This episode marked the last time that Davey’s voice was provided by Dick Beals, who was his original voice actor.

My thoughts: Davey and Goliath was a children’s television show using clay animation characters to tell stories that taught moral lessons. The show was funded by the Lutheran Church of America and when I was growing up, it aired here on Sunday mornings (so you could watch it on any mornings that you didn’t go to church and still say you got your dose of religion).  The animation was done by Art Clokey, who also did the Gumby series. This Christmas special was produced during the years between Season 3 (which ended in 1964) and Season 4 (which started in 1971). While some of the earlier episodes were less overt in their religious tone, this one lays it on pretty thick. The one thing I was struck by in watching this was the scarcity of adults and the fact that it looked like kids did most of the working and organizing of events in the town. Maybe Davey was just overworked from all the chores he had to do, including all the preparation for the Christmas pageant, and that’s why he wasn’t feeling Christmas. It was cool to see this again since I remember this show from my childhood, but I found it kind of maudlin.

Depressed Davey

Emo Davey is emo.

Tobacco store

Dude, you’re selling tobacco to a kid?

Joe's Sound truck

The Joe’s Sound truck provides plot exposition at no extra cost.

Smitten Sally

Sally is fully under the spell of baby Jesus and will do his every bidding.

Individual Superlative: Lighten Up, Kid! – Seriously, Davey is a major downer through this whole thing, constantly telling everyone how he just doesn’t feel Christmas and always wearing a sad sack expression. I mean, I get that he ain’t feelin’ it, but maybe a little perspective and a little less self-pity would have helped.

Want to Watch it? Davey & Goliath: Christmas Lost and Found is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

The Boondocks: A Huey Freeman Christmas

Title

Debuted in 2005

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Uberwitz gives Huey creative control over the Christmas pageant and Huey writes a new story called ‘The Adventures of Black Jesus.’ He fires all the kids for not being committed to the show and then brings on Quincy Jones to do the music. Although most of the parents boycott the show and Mr. Uberwitz loses his job for his decision, those who do see it give it a standing ovation.

Fun Fact: The Boondocks got its start as a comic strip that debuted on Hitlist.com and went on to be published in newspapers.

My thoughts: The Boondocks ran for four seasons on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim between the years of 2005 and 2014, telling the story of the Freeman family and their friends. The show is full of social commentary and satire, mostly relating to the experiences of an African American family living in a largely white neighborhood. There are some funny moments in this one and a good message about not compromising your artistic vision due to the prejudices and feelings of others, but overall, the show is dark and a little too angry and hostile for me. I know folks who love the show, though, and it was pretty well received by critics during its run, so I have to think that my issues are probably just mine. I was really expecting the play to crash and burn, so the fact that it turned out to be awesome was a welcome surprise. I was really rooting for things to turn out well for Huey, which is a testament to how well the character was represented, in my opinion.

Jazmine

Jazmine is preaching the gospel of Santa and she is feeling the spirit.

Santa vs Chair

Looks like Santa is the one who ‘better watch out.’

Riley's letter

I don’t imagine this is the usual sentiment for a letter to Santa.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones voices his own character.

Individual Superlative: Art Imitates Life – In the show’s postscript, it says that Mr. Uberwitz went on to become an African American studies professor at University of Maryland, which is where show creator Aaron McGruder went to school, where he majored in African American studies.

Want to Watch it? The Boondocks: A Huey Freeman Christmas is available on DVD and iTunes.

Pucca: Christmas Shorts

Title

Debuted in 2006

23 minutes 

Plot in 3 Sentences: In the first of three stories, a ninja named Black Powder shows up to get his revenge on Santa for becoming a giver instead of a thief. In the next story, Pucca and Garu try to discover why the Northern Lights have gone out. The third story features Tobe kidnapping Santa to take his place in hopes of capturing Garu.

Fun Fact: In the show, Pucca is supposed to be 11 and Garu is supposed to be 12.

My thoughts: Pucca started as a South Korean series of animated internet shorts, each only running a couple of minutes. They were produced from 2000 to 2005 and then expanded into longer shorts for a TV series that ran two seasons from 2006 to 2008. I stumbled on this episode because it was Christmas themed, but kind of fell in love with the show and watched all the episodes after that. The basic premise revolves around a village of ninjas, where the niece of the guys who own the local noodle restaurant is smitten with a silent ninja named Garu. The village is full of bizarre characters, including Santa Claus, who is integral to this episode’s shorts. The show is very funny and clever, with fun send-ups of anime and short parodies featuring these characters in other genres. This one has made a few appearances at our Christmas special parties over the year and is always well received.

Naked Santa

I don’t think I want to know how Santa can pull a long string of lights from his mouth.

Fake Santa with Zombie

Yes, the zombie asks Santa for brains.

Abyo with Walrus

Abyo gets his workout ninja kicking a walrus. Seems legit.

Closing Santa Wreath

Christmas is all about love, especially funny love.

Individual Superlative: Best Use of Santa’s Belly – Santa’s signature ninja move is called the Belly Bounce and he uses it to defeat Black Powder twice. That’s why he needs all those cookies!

Want to Watch it? The individual Pucca short cartoons are available on DVD and YouTube.

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.