When I was a kid, and going as far as back as the 1970s, Saturday morning meant one thing: cartoons! Usually beginning at 7 AM, all of the broadcast networks came at me with full cartoon force. Now, rarely was I awake that early and programmers seemed to know that. The earliest hours were often dominated by shows aiming at a younger audience and as the morning went on the target demographic would shift ever so slightly. Come 11 o’clock was when I really got my jam on as that’s when X-Men would air on the Fox Kids Network. Not long after, Spider-Man would join the party and force me to make sure I was awake by 10.
Fox Kids was where I spent most of my Saturday morning, but it was obviously not the only kid on the block. CBS had cartoons like Skeleton Warriors and eventually Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. ABC was there as well usually with Disney properties like The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and also with the occasional odd-ball like that cartoon based on MC Hammer. ABC was also unique as it would usually devote one Friday per year to its Saturday programming by having TGIF change format to be a preview of the new cartoons coming in the fall. It was smart of the network considering TGIF was largely viewed by children even though it tried to play-up that it was family entertainment.
In 1997, ABC rebranded its Saturday morning block as ABC’s One Saturday Morning which eventually became Disney’s One Saturday Morning. It’s five hours of summer once per week, which is what the network wanted us to think, but mostly it was just five hours of cartoons I didn’t care about. I was aging out of this stuff, as I explained on the Sam & Max post, and ABC really wasn’t trying to win me back with stuff like Recess and Doug.
Maybe I should have stuck around because Saturday morning cartoons are now dead. Ratings probably played a role, but mostly I think it’s due to the proliferation of cable. Most of the networks are owned by a parent company that also has dedicated cable channels for cartoons and children’s programming. ABC, for instance, is owned by Disney which has several channels. In the 90s, there were still plenty of cable-less households. I was one for some time and I think my next door neighbors resisted the temptation for my entire childhood. Now, if a house doesn’t have cable it’s because streaming was found to be a better, and more affordable, option. In other words, cartoons are everywhere, and Saturday morning lost its novelty as a result. It’s a shame, but I get it and it’s not like kids today can miss something they never had.
A late arrival for Disney’s One Saturday Morning was The Weekenders. By the time this episode aired, the programming block had changed to just ABC Kids, likely reflecting the fact that Disney had purchased Fox Family Worldwide and wanted to piggy-back on the Fox Kids branding which had been the most popular of the Saturday morning blocks. The Weekenders is an animated sitcom created by Doug Langdale that follows the lives of four seventh graders: Tino, Lor, Carver, and Tish. Each kid comes from a different background and the differences between each often drive the plot of each episode. Tino (James Marsden) is an Italian-American boy from divorced parents. Lor (Grey DeLisle) is a tomboy from a large family, Carver (Phil LaMarr) is an African-American boy who appears to really be into fashion, and Tish (Kath Soucie) is a Jewish American of Lithuanian descent. And as we’re about to see, these kids all celebrate a different holiday come December.
The Weekenders begins with a song by Wayne Brady, who was still all over ABC in the early part of the millennium. After the upbeat, but long, song concludes we get right down to business. No title cards here, but this thing is titled “The Worst Holiday Ever.” It begins with Tino giving us a chalkboard lesson on how he and his friends celebrate different holidays. He’s voiced by James Marsden, only his voice has been pitched up and it sounds like James Marsden on helium. I don’t like it. We’re about to get a look at one holiday experience shared by all four kids.
The setting for this show is a fictional city modeled after San Diego. As such, these kids have never experienced snow and that’s the driving force behind the plot to this one. Lor’s grandmother, simply referred to as Granny (Kerri Kenney Silver), is going to take the kids on a little RV trip to the mountains to find some snow. The kids pile into the rough-looking RV and hit the road. The enthusiasm seems muted, but Granny is certainly a character as she’s rather rough around the edges and seems to have an affinity for powdered foods.
An annoying holiday song plays us through a driving montage that ends at the base of a park. A park ranger by the name of Trooper Sue (Soucie) informs Granny that a big snowstorm is coming and the roads are impassable beyond where they are. Granny tells the kids they’re going to camp here for the night and see how things turn out in the morning. When they wake up on Saturday (I assume most episodes take place over a weekend, given the show’s title) they find themselves surrounded by snow and unable to move. Stuck in the RV, the kids are forced to amuse themselves with stories and that’s the framing device for this sucker.
Lor tells us about the worst Christmas she ever experienced. It involved a holiday gathering and we see a scene of her very large family at Christmas. It looks like chaos and it reminds me of my own holiday gatherings at my grandparents’ house where my dad was one of nine kids. That place turned into a warzone real fast. Lor’s story involves her PE teacher visiting, Coach Colson (LaMarr). He apparently brought a big bowl of mashed potatoes for dinner, and Lor is going to witness him dropping them on the floor and then scooping them back into the bowl with his bare hands.
At dinner, everyone is enjoying the potatoes except Lor. She knows their horrible secret and refuses to eat them. However, she also fears retribution from the coach should she out his deed. She ends up eating everything on her plate, except the potatoes, and hopes for the best. After dinner though, everyone is getting violently ill except Lor. She’s left to hand out buckets, and all of the gross stuff is merely implied as opposed to shown because we’re no longer in the 90s, folks. Feeling she can’t keep it in any longer, she reveals what happened to the potatoes. Granny corrects her though and says some potatoes falling on the floor won’t make you sick. Then she posits it could have been the liver stew she made for dinner that had apparently been maturing in her trunk since last Christmas. Lor was apparently the only one who didn’t sample that monstrosity.
The end result of the night, and Lor’s story, is that she had to clean up after everyone and Coach Colson still punished her anyway with remedial chores during practice. Next up is Tino, who is going to try to top Lor’s awful holiday with a tale of his own. Because we have four kids who all need to celebrate something different, Tino gets to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Normally associated with paganism, Tino’s family just celebrates it because his mom got sick of Christmas. It would have been interesting to see a Pagan or Wiccan family, but Tino gets to distinguish himself by being the child of divorced parents.
Even though they don’t celebrate Christmas, their house sure looks like one that does. They have a tree, and since Tino’s mom (Lisa Kaplan) grew frustrated with the tangled up lights, she’s hanging flashlights instead (why do they have so many flashlights?) while Tino hangs stockings. He puts up one for his dad, which his mom objects to. She does so in a sensitive manner, but then does the divorced parent no-no of basically bad mouthing the absent parent if front of the kid. She apologizes, and then tells Tino she invited a neighbor over for dinner to share in the holiday.
That neighbor is Totie Weems (Soucie), and she’s an old, judgmental, lady. She basically bad mouths Tino’s mom to her face for being divorced referencing how divorced moms were essentially shunned back in her day. She’s a pretty awful dinner guest, and things get worse when it’s revealed she invited her nephew over as well. He comes in wearing headphones and sunglasses apparently oblivious to all around him. He just stuffs his face with food and makes a mess of the place while Totie settles in on the couch to do some knitting. In order to have a quiet, holiday, moment, Tino and his mom flee the house to her Jeep where they sit in the darkness and embrace one another. It’s pitifully sweet.
With Tino’s story over it’s now time for Carver’s. Seeing as how he’s the black kid, his holiday story is about the worst Kwanzaa ever. His story is also the shortest. It’s just a one-note joke about Carver opening a Kwanzaa gift. He likes it, but then discovers he’s wearing miss-matching socks. The embarrassment results in him declaring it the worst Kwanzaa ever! When the other kids point out how silly his story is, he revises it to include a swarm of insects and aliens. It’s his story, after all.
Tish now gets her chance to describe the worst Hanukkah ever. She explains how each year her mother bakes names into a knish and serves it in the lead-up to the holiday. When each member of the family eats their piece, they find the name of the person they’re to buy a gift for. Tish gets her aunt, and she’s elated because her aunt is famously easy to buy for as she only loves two things: cats and mugs. When the day of the celebration arrives though, Tish is thrown a curveball by her cousin who comes baring a gift for Tish even though she didn’t pick her name.
Tish doesn’t know how to respond, so she lies and says she has a gift for her cousin too. She races upstairs to dig through her closet and ends up finding a sweater that still has the tags on it. She boxes it and gives it to her cousin, who is angered to find out it’s a re-gift of the present their cat-loving aunt gave the two of them last year. Not only does this anger Tish’s cousin, but her aunt starts to cry, and someone’s pet monkey, Oliver (Robbie Rist), angrily hands over a half-eaten bag of peanuts. Apparently, Oliver drew Tish’s name in the gift exchange. Anyways, there’s a freaking pet monkey with a hat! Talk about burying the lede!
With Tish’s story concluded, all of the kids have shared an awful holiday experience. That just leaves Sunday to come when the kids find out the roads won’t be cleared enough for them to travel further, so it’s back home they need to go. They wanted to experience the snow though, so they head out to play in the snow outside the now dug-out RV and immediately sink into the ground. That’s not really how snow works, but whatever.
The grumpy kids then need a lesson from Granny, who shares her own holiday story that took place years ago with her great-grandmother. While picking berries, they happened upon a turkey caught in a trap. They freed the bird and seemed ready to continue on their way, but a horde of angry turkeys caught sight of them. In a scene reminiscent of South Park‘s first Thanksgiving special, Granny and her granny are chased by the birds and forced to seek shelter in a cave. The birds won’t enter the cave because it’s the home of a hibernating bear.
The two old women (Granny has apparently always been old) make the most of their surroundings and eat snow, make a snow tree, and catch some Z’s. The next morning, they try to make their escape, but the turkeys spot them. They chase them off a cliff. With the two women dangling precariously by a scarf, the turkey from the day before that they rescued shows up and makes the save. And that’s why Granny doesn’t eat turkey at Christmas, but will for basically any other occasion.
This all leads into a lesson from Granny that the only thing that matters is spending the holidays with people you care about. It’s a rather conventional, but effective, message. The kids come to realize this adventure wasn’t so bad, and as they journey home Granny decides to pull over so they can play in the snow one more time. There’s far less where they stop, but still enough to make a snowman.
So it turns out the kids had a pretty fine holiday, in the end. And that’s how our story ends. This thing is rather packed, so there’s really no attempt at educating the audience on the differences between the holidays celebrated by the main characters. Really, it doesn’t even matter that they were different as all of the celebrations are pretty much the same. Except Granny’s, of course, which was just an oddball story. Of the five, I suppose I liked Tino’s the most. It had the humorous visual gag of hanging flashlights on a tree plus a rather sweet ending. Tish’s was the most conventionally horrifying as no one likes to be surprised with a gift from someone when they don’t have one to give, nor does anyone like getting caught in a re-gift. Lor’s story was mostly fine, while calling Carver’s half-assed would be generous. And I found Granny’s story to be pretty stupid.
The segments in between the stories were mostly intended to be funny with lots of jokes at Granny’s expense. Or rather, through her. Powdered food is referenced several times as well as Granny’s beef jerky. None of it is particularly humorous, but the kids do interact with each other in a rather authentic manner that I found refreshing. The ultimate message of the special is rather bland. I’m not even sure if it was effective.
The Weekenders is a rather interesting show for what it’s attempting. Despite its initial success, dethroning Pokémon in the ratings when it premiered, the show sort of fizzled out and hasn’t really been heard from since. It made the jump to expanded cable via the Toon Disney channel before wrapping in 2004 where it hasn’t been heard from since. Disney is rather notorious for releasing incomplete versions of its television properties to retail, but The Weekenders hasn’t even been gifted with that. If you want to watch this, you’ll have to look it up online. How much you enjoy it probably depends on your level of nostalgia for the program. For me, I have zero nostalgia for it so I just found it all right. The animation is fine, but the character designs are just a touch better than Klasky-Csupo, which I mostly despise. This isn’t the type of cartoon I went for as a kid, but I appreciate that it exists. If you want a more grounded holiday special (excluding the ridiculous turkey segment) you could do worse.