Dec. 25 – A Jetson Christmas Carol

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Original air date December 13, 1985

Merry Christmas! We have reached the end on our advent calendar celebration of the holiday season. This is the third complete 25 day advent calendar here at The Nostalgia Spot and fourth overall. For this year, I managed to shy away from the tropiest of the tropes when it comes to Christmas television specials – adaptations of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. For this final feature though, I’ve decided to go traditional. I like to weigh these features by visibility, so if I’m covering a special that might actually air on TV during the countdown I try to put that up front. For the ones that have no shot, I tend to save them for the end. In the case of “A Jetson Christmas Carol,” I saved it for last since it’s a conventional holiday special that many people have probably seen. While it’s unlikely to be broadcast on a major cable channel, it’s easy enough to find in the wild and it’s a perfectly satisfying take on the classic Christmas tale.

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The Jetsons first preiered September 23, 1962

The Jetsons was Hanna-Barbera’s logical next step following the success of The Flintstones. Where The Flintstones depicted a fictional family of prehistory, The Jetsons focuses on a family of the future. It premiered on September 23, 1962 in prime time on ABC and was the first show broadcast on that network in color. It would last one season with the final new episode airing in March and reruns taking it all the way around the calendar where it was removed from the lineup in September of 1963. It was then moved to Saturday mornings where reruns were shown for the younger audience. It’s popularity endured though into the 1980s and with cable now expanding television lineups Hanna-Barbera would return to the series to bring the total episode count to 65. A third season of ten episodes would follow and the series was essentially capped-off by the 1990 animated feature film. The Jetsons would continue to have a presence in syndication, along with a lot of Hanna-Barbera’s works, for much of the 90s before eventually being ousted by newer programs.

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In the future, everyone has terribly ugly laser trees.

The Jetsons may have seemed derivative of The Flintstones, but it’s take on the common nuclear family played well for audiences. Where The Flintstones focused more on the adult problems of Fred, The Jetsons was more confident in spreading things around. The family, as introduced by the very catchy and lavishly produced theme song by Hoyt Curtin, consists of George Jetson (George O’Hanlon), his wife Jane (Penny Singleton), teenaged daughter Judy (Janet Waldo), son Elroy (Daws Butler) and they’re also joined by the family dog Astro (Don Messick) and robot maid Rosie (Jean Vander Pyl). For the second season, the little alien Orbitty (Frank Welker) was added to the cast as another pet, of sorts. George is a typical working man who has a job at Spacely Sprockets working for Mr. Spacely (Mel Blanc), a short man with a big temper who often is at odds with his employee. They live in a future as envisioned by folks in the 60s so Jane is a stay-at-home mom while George is the bread-winner. Their lives are made easier by technology with Jane’s housework largely automated or falling to Rosie while George just pushes buttons from a console at work. They have flying cars, video phones, and a host of other contraptions some of which have since become reality while others remain just fantasy.

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What would the Jetsons be like if they were rich? Well, we’re going to find out.

“A Jetson Christmas Carol” is from the show’s second season and it first aired on Friday the 13th in December of 1985. As the title implies, this is a re-telling of A Christmas Carol. In the place of Scrooge we have Mr. Spacely with George serving as the Bob Cratchit of the tale. In the role of Tiny Tim is surprisingly not Elroy, but Astro the dog who’s very life depends on the actions of Mr. Spacely.

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George is a bit concerned with the size of the Christmas shopping list this year.

The episode opens with the family sitting at the table while machines feed them breakfast. Jane is talking about how she needs to finish the Christmas shopping while the kids are eager to hit the mall. Astro is off in the corner sneaking a peek at Jane’s Christmas list until she snatches it from him. When George sees it he asks aloud how they can afford so many gifts and Jane matter-of-factly informs him that they can’t, but also that they can’t worry about such things at Christmas (what an awful sentiment). George, surprisingly cheerful, leaves for work while Jane hopes he can get out early for Christmas Eve. She and the kids leave for the mall, though not before Judy expresses some indecision on what to wear (all the while using space puns or 80s teen lingo) before just settling on the same outfit she always wears. Once they’re gone, Astro heads for the neon Christmas tree with hovering ornaments and starts snooping around.

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The mall on Christmas Eve is crowded no matter what year it is.

While the kids shop at a very crowded mall, George hosts an office Christmas party attended entirely by robots, other than himself. He jokes with his computer partner RUDI (Messick) who shares a corny joke until Spacely catches them via video monitor and orders everyone back to work while also declaring he hates Christmas. After Elroy gets a lesson on “want” at the mall, we head home to find Rosie whipping up some eggnog (ingredients:  one egg and one nog). Astro helps Elroy hang up some mistletoe and then goes back to gift-snooping. Orbitty calls Astro out and Jane catches him opening his gift. When she tells him it’s supposed to be a surprise, he insists he is surprised (Astro is on the same level as Scooby Doo in terms of communication skills) and finds a toy cat inside. The robot cat (Welker) rolls around on a wheel while Astro gives chase and seems to be enjoying himself.

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And you thought Futurama was the first to depict drunk robots.

Back at Spacely Sprockets, George is literally counting down the seconds until quitting time, but just as that time arrives Spacely pops-up on the video monitor to tell him he’s working late. George, sullen, doesn’t really offer up a fight and turns back to his console. Jane soon phones in and gets the bad news, while George returns to work wishing some ghosts would visit Spacely like they did Scrooge.

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This is unfortunate for Astro, but what about the obviously sentient robot cat?

At the Jetson residence, Astro continues to chase his toy while the family seems to be getting along all right without their patriarch. Astro ends up catching his toy leading to a crash. The robot explodes and as Astro is left lying on his back a single sprocket lands in his mouth and is ingested. The family runs over to him with worry, while Astro’s fur takes on a greenish hue. They bring him over to the couch for a look and all are worried. Elroy wants to call a vet, but Jane isn’t certain they can find one on Christmas Eve. As he and Judy head out to find one, Astro wails that he’s dying. This is actually kind of dark.

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Hopefully there’s some booze leftover from that office party.

At the office, an exhausted George is finishing up the orders as he lays on the terminal pushing the last button. Spacely pops back in on the monitor to ridicule George for working too slow. He tells him he’ll see him in the morning, but George at least stands up for himself a little by reminding Spacely that tomorrow is Christmas and it’s a day off, to which Spacely remarks “Too bad,” to himself. George beats a hasty retreat only to emerge in a snowstorm. Remarking he’ll be lucky to get home by Groundhog’s Day, his car seems to have little trouble lifting itself out of the snow. At home, Astro is running a fever of 102 as Elroy and Judy return home with bad news:  they couldn’t find a vet open at Christmas. Jane tells them things are looking grim, as George makes his triumphant entrance. He’s in a celebratory mood, but finds the family is not. He takes a look at Astro and arrives at the same conclusion as his wife, though when he finds out Astro got hurt chasing his toy he admonishes him for opening his gift early. He then questions if he’s faking it while Judy scolds him.

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That’s what you get for peeking, Astro – death!

At Spacely Sprockets, Mr. Spacely is seated in his office enjoying his money. Since it’s too late to deposit it at a bank, he decides he better spend the night with his money at the office. Upon falling asleep he’s greeted by the ghost of his former business partner, Marsley (Blanc). Marsley gives him the usual Jacob Marley talk while Spacely angrily insists he’s dreaming and orders Marsley to go away before remarking he was always a bit of a sicko. He goes back to sleep only to be awakened by a weird, floating, robot (Messick). It’s the Ghost of Christmas Past, and he takes Spacely back to his days on the playground where he had little Georgie Jetson run his lemonade stand. A young Spacely (Welker) flies in to find George counting the cash and snatches it from his hands returning only a penny. When George questions this arrangement the young Spacely tells him to not be greedy before taking off. They then journey to a fly-in movie theater where a college-aged (and bald) Spacely (Welker again) is watching The Flintstones with his future wife. When she questions if he loves money more than her he insists that of course he loves money more! He promises to take half a day off for their wedding, which is apparently good enough.

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Jacob Marsley – not one of the show’s better puns.

Spacely is returned to his office in quite a happy mood. He saw nothing wrong with the actions of his past as he resumes his sleeping only to be roused by yet another ghost (Welker). This one is a giant Christmas present, a too on the nose joke on the Ghost of Christmas Present. The giant box with extendable arms takes Spacely to the home of the Jetsons where they look at the family as they worry over Astro. Spacely is unmoved by the family’s plight, insisting he’s a business man and not a dog-father. He’s returned to his office, but he’s not alone for very long.

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That would be ghost robot number one.

A giant, black-green, robot with red buttons looms over him. Spacely is a bit unnerved by this silent third ghost who soon zaps him to the future. There they arrive at a mansion and Spacely is over-joyed to see what he assumes is his future home. Instead though they find the Jetsons inside happily discussing how fabulously wealthy they are. Spacely is annoyed to see this and demands to know how they got so rich, and even though George can’t hear him, he’s happy to fill him in. They attained their wealth thanks to a lawsuit against Spacely after Astro’s death as a result of swallowing that sprocket. The family is sad recalling their old dog, though if they’d give up this new lifestyle to bring him back I’m not sure. George then elaborates on what became of Spacely as Spacely questions how George could sue his beloved boss, thus proving he has no concept of how people really feel about him. After the suit, his company went under and his wife left him. Last anyone knew, he was on skid row. As Spacely turns to the ghost to ask if this is all set in stone or just a vision of what might be, the ghost zaps him back to his office.

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Did I say Marsley was bad? Okay, this one is worse.

Spacely wakes up on his hands and knees begging for another chance. When he realizes where he is, he immediately perks up and sets out for the home of the Jetsons. For now it’s Christmas morning, and the family is still worried about their dog who at least made it through the night. Spacely arrives with his personal vet whom he dragged out of bed (this is still Spacely, after all, who will absolutely force a man to work on Christmas if it means saving his money) to treat Astro. He demonstrates some neat future tech when he whips out a portable X-Ray to spot the sprocket in Astro’s stomach. Then he demonstrates that vet technology has only come so far as he simply reaches down Astro’s throat to remove the obstruction. Astro immediately feels better and Spacely also announces he’s brought gifts for the whole family. Elroy gets the rocket guitar he was eyeing while Judy gets some nuclear roller skates. He departs by telling George he’s getting a big, fat, raise as he heads home to spend Christmas with his wife. George and the family then join arms to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with Astro and Orbitty getting the honors of the last line as our holiday special comes to an end.

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Simple yet fearsome. I like ghost number three.

That last act gives this special an interesting wrinkle. Spacely’s motivation for acting “good” is purely to save his money, unlike Scrooge who is motivated to save Tiny Tim out of the goodness of his heart. Had Spacely not acted, Astro would have died, but the Jetsons would have been thrust into an easy life. No more crappy job for George while Elroy and Judy would find their higher education not limited by financials. The kids are a bit spoiled in the future vision, so perhaps their character suffers, but George is also quick to remind them of how they ended up in this position so it isn’t as if they’ve lost sight of what the costs were for this new life. There aren’t many episodes to follow, but for what it’s worth Mr. Spacely remains unchanged following this one so he didn’t really learn anything.

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Spacely to the rescue!

Being one of the 80s episodes of the show, it actually is animated a little better in places than it was in the 60s. There’s less of characters just standing around, and best of all, no laugh track. There are a few instances of that canned running sound Hanna-Barbera was so fond of, but the voice acting is overall quite good. It’s pretty neat that the studio was able to return the entire original cast for the relaunch of the show, though O’Hanlon and Blanc would eventually both pass away during production on The Jetsons Movie. Some of the backgrounds are a bit abstract or even empty, and the trip through time with the ghosts and Spacely is surprisingly static. I suppose in most versions of the story there is little depicting the change in time between past, present, and future so I suppose I can’t really deduct points here. The plight of Astro is actually genuinely sad. The poor dog knows he’s dying and is borderline hysterical. The show is quite honest in how grim his outlook is.

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An early joke about Judy taking forever to pick an outfit even though she can change outfits literally in an instant.

A lot of the humor in this show stems from essentially the same joke. A character complains about something, then we see how trivial the complaint is. For example, Elroy complains about how long it’s going to take Judy to get changed, when she literally steps into a machine that can instantaneously change her outfit. The joke is basically “Ha, they have no idea how easy they have it!” There’s also a lot of material meant to appeal to working class folks with the greedy Spacely lording over Jetson. He makes Jetson do all of the work while he sits back and takes in all of the money. This feels like a mainstream attitude back then that has some-what shifted, and that shift seemed to begin in the 80s where wealth became the be-all end-all measurement of success. If you’re not rich then it’s because you didn’t work hard enough. It’s preposterous, but it seems to permeate our culture today and a leading cause of current clash division. Then there’s also the dated jokes at Jane’s expense where she’s characterized as a do-nothing housewife. In her case, times have obviously changed as fewer and fewer women can even afford to be stay-at-home mothers and housewives. It’s not as if the show though portrays George as some work-a-holic though as he often gripes about work while being shown doing actually very little. Though in his defense, many people now have jobs where they just sit and push buttons, and while it may not be manual labor, it’s strenuous and ultimately still a job that keeps us from doing things we’d rather do.

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Hey! A Flintstones cameo!

It’s a bit surprising how dated a show about the far-off future can seem, but there’s no predicting where society is truly heading when looking so far ahead. The Jetsons is actually fine entertainment and I would probably prefer to watch it over The Flintstones. Neither show is as good as some of the prime time animation that followed, but for its time it was good enough. This version of A Christmas Carol can be described in similar terms – good enough. It has a few laughs, some down moments, and ultimately a happy ending. It’s a fine ending for the 2018 version of The Christmas Spot.

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This one isn’t afraid to get a little grim.

If you’re hoping to sneak in a viewing of “A Jetson Christmas Carol” before the holiday is through then you’re in a relatively good spot. The Jetsons are available on DVD and there are even special holiday editions of Hanna-Barbera cartoons sold separately likely destined for the discount bin tomorrow. Season Two of the show was a manufacture on-demand release so it’s a little tricky to come by, but hardly impossible. While the show isn’t presently streaming on a major service in 2018, episodes of this show (including this one) can be found online for free rather painlessly.

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In the end though everyone is pretty happy.

Well, that about does it. I hope you enjoyed 25 days of 25 blog posts on 25 pieces of Christmas media. For me, it’s a great way to really bask in the season both writing and reading similar pieces, not to mention actually consuming all of this media either again or for the first time. Even though it’s a lot of work, I always enjoy doing it so I have no plans on stopping. I hope to see everyone back again next year when we do 25 more. As always, thanks for reading and I hope you have a very, merry, Christmas and a happy new year!


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