Category Archives: Television

Dec. 21 – Buzz Lightyear of Star Command – “Holiday Time”

Original air date December 16, 2000

When Pixar set out to create competing, fictional, toys in its debut film Toy Story it settled on cowboys and space rangers. The thought being that once upon a time cowboys were the most popular fantasy toy among boys, but were soon replaced by fantastic space voyagers once real-life space travel became possible. In order to really set the mood for the film, Pixar created Buzz Lightyear. He had a fictional back story that felt like it came right off of the back of an action figure blister card in 1990. He had a fictional TV show in the film, though we saw little of it. He had a nemesis, and the lore of the Buzz character was added to for the sequel, Toy Story 2.

Both films were a huge success for Pixar and Disney. And since the films were popular with kids, it meant licensing was super easy. After all, every character in the film was a toy! Toys were created and sold and even more money was earned. Pixar didn’t stop there though. Kids liked Buzz and they had interest in the fictional lore of the character that the films only touched upon, so why not turn that into a real world cartoon series? That’s how the world ended up with Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. This is the story of the fictional Buzz created and sold to kids like Andy of Toy Story. He’s supposed to be a cartoon in that universe, so in our real world he too is a cartoon (and because animating the show like a Pixar film would probably be way too expensive). The only thing the show couldn’t do was preserve his voice, since star Tim Allen was either too expensive (probably) and also probably didn’t want to be tied down to an animated series.

Enter Patrick Warburton, who has a better voice for the character than Allen himself. He’s a natural fit for the regal, yet brash, space ranger that is Buzz Lightyear. The show was, like many Disney Afternoon shows that came before it, a direct-to-syndication order. And like DuckTales and Gargoyles, it premiered in an extended format as a mini film of sorts which spanned multiple episodes when aired on television and could be sold at retail and marketed as a movie. The show was part of the One Saturday Morning block and also aired on week day afternoons (though not as part of the famed Disney Afternoon) from 2000-2001 and likely in reruns there after across various Disney platforms. For a long time, it was the only Pixar television series, though Disney+ is expanding that. It also has the distinction of being one of the few hand-drawn, 2D, animated offerings from Pixar.

Every episode begins with the gang racing to the TV to watch the show, a cute addition.

As a syndicated program, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command totaled 65 episodes with the 62nd being a Christmas one. We’re going to find out how the denizens of space celebrate the holiday. And if you thought the Santa who lived on earth had it bad, the one we’re about to meet has to deliver toys to an entire galaxy! And since this is a cartoon series with Buzz in the starring role, we’re going to have to meet some unfamiliar supporting characters along the way. The big, baddie is obviously Zurg, but he figures to have some minions or something, I would assume. I’m going into this show pretty cold as it’s a blind spot for me, but it at least has a solid pedigree to start.

This little robot is XR and today he’s going to learn a lesson about giving, because someone has to in a holiday special.

Each episode begins with a cute little piece of animation where the characters of Toy Story are rushing to get to a television set to watch the show. The episode begins on what I assume is the home planet of Buzz, or at least the home planet where the Space Rangers are headquartered. There’s a Santa ringing a bell in the center of town and this Santa is not the real deal, but is actually Buzz. He strikes a nice pose, though he’s lacking in the whole bowl full of jelly department. Fellow space ranger Mira (Nicole Sullivan) is educating her colleague XR (Neil Flynn) about the holiday season. Mira is pretty basic looking as she’s just a blue human, though XR is some sort of robot. He looks kind of like Earthworm Jim to me. He thinks all of this holiday stuff is pretty dumb as he buys a gift for a friend and they do the same (he’s pretty cheap since he cites the gift as being ten bucks) and doesn’t see the point. Mira stresses it’s the giving that matters, and we’re probably setting up for a holiday lesson that will pay off in the end. Some kid then goes running by and mistakes XR for a toy snatching him up and thus proving his point for him. I also can’t help but notice that the characters have yet to say “Christmas” and instead use the generic term “holiday.” It’s sort of weird to have a holiday just named “The Holiday,” but apparently there was no Space Christ for a Christmas to arise from.

Buzz is a pretty solid looking Santa.

They soon turn their attention to Santa Buzz who’s working the crowd. A large man in a red suit soon approaches needing Buzz’s help and it’s plainly obvious that this guy is going to turn out to be Santa (Earl Boen). And sure enough, he claims to be Santa! Buzz thinks he’s crazy and isn’t eager to help him out with whatever problem he currently has. Fellow ranger, Booster (Stephen Furst), then calls for backup and Buzz bails. As Santa calls out to him practically begging for help he refers him to Mira to provide a statement.

But this guy is a better looking Santa.

Buzz then happens upon Booster who too was playing Santa in a different part of town to collect donations. The kids have turned on him though as they recognized the big, red, alien is not Santa. He’s hiding in terror behind his collection bucket as the locals pelt him with snowballs. When Buzz arrives, they stop momentarily to regard him and soon claim he isn’t Santa either. When Buzz insists that he is they ask him to explain how he can possibly get toys to every kid in the galaxy in a single night, and Buzz confesses that he can’t. They ready their arms, and Buzz distracts them with promises of destruction by offering to show off his wrist laser. Problem solved!

Booster is apparently not the most reliable member of the force.

Mira is still taking “Santa’s” statement back in town. He had something stolen, but can’t say what. While Buzz is regaling the children with tales of his exploits until Star Command sends out a signal for him to return to base. They all return to an orbiting space station where Commander Nebula (Adam Corolla) hands over a list of crimes Zurg apparently intends to commit. It’s the usual sort of stuff, but ends with Buzz’s newspaper being stolen on the list which really seems to piss him off.

Diabolical!

The first item was to sabotage the fleet, so Buzz and team head to where they think Zurg is going to strike only to find nothing. Buzz thinks he was scared off, and then a flash of white light and snowflakes appear for a second. When it fades all of the space ships are in disarray. Buzz is in disbelief over what he just witnessed, but has no time to ponder how Zurg did it because next on the list was busting out everyone in a space prison. The fleet is scrambled and Buzz and team are shown surrounding the jail. Once again, a flash of light and snowflakes occurs and when it fades Buzz and his subordinates are surrounded by escaping criminals! And then to top it off, the next morning Buzz emerges from his home in his robe to find his paper waiting for him. He’s comforted by its presence, but as he reaches for it a flash of light and snowflakes once again occurs, and Zurg (Wayne Knight) appears with newspaper in hand. He offers a quick pleasantry and then vanishes!

Never mess with a man’s paper.

Back in town, Buzz is overseeing the lighting of a giant, holographic, Christmas tree. It lacks the charm of an evergreen, but at least it’s environmentally friendly. Soon the man claiming to be Santa reappears to once again request Buzz’s aide. Buzz is in a grumpy mood on account of the Zurg stuff and is in no mood to even entertain this guy’s request. The rest of the team bails too since they think this Santa guy is literally insane. Santa pushes back though and is pretty insistent on who he is. He does allow himself to get frustrated though as he wonders aloud why no one believes him. Clearly, no one realizes they’re in a Christmas special. Buzz then explains he stopped believing when he was 9 because he didn’t get the laser he wanted. Santa knows, and he knows why he didn’t get what he wanted. For one, he wasn’t going to gift a 9-year-old a weapon for Christmas, and two, Buzz was actually on the naughty list for shooting the fur off of his cat’s tail.

Nice tree, would be a shame if something were to happen to it…

Buzz is pretty shocked that Santa knows this as blasting Fluffy was something only he knew about. Now that he finally believes this guy is Santa, it’s the perfect opportunity for Zurg to strike again. He’s going full Grinch this time as he steals the giant, hologram of a tree with the same flashing lights and snowflakes as before. And it’s not just the tree, as Buzz receives a transmission from Star Command that Zurg has hit all of the other planets in the galaxy and stolen everything related to the holiday! They keep teasing the line too that Zurg stole Christmas, but no one actually goes so far as to say it as they still insist on not saying Christmas. They had me on the edge of my seat just waiting for it!

Well this puts every version of The North Pole to shame.

Santa then has Buzz hop into his Christmas tree-shaped spaceship to take him to his work shop on North Polaris. It looks like a snowglobe of a planet, which is pretty near. There Buzz meets the elves, which are actually “LGMs” or Little Green Men (the squishy aliens from Toy Story). They are decked-out in elf attire (and also voiced by Warburton, but with his voice sped up) and apparently serve Santa. They finally spill the beans on what Zurg stole from Santa. Apparently, if you haven’t figured it out yet, Santa uses a device that stops time to deliver presents. He used to use some impossibly fast jetpack contraption, but apparently he’s too old for it. The elves are working on a replacement, but it’s still a week away from completion and Christmas is just two days away. Buzz takes one look at the old hyper-speed accelerator and requests it be strapped to his back.

Buzz is a character that seems quite comfortable in the spotlight.

Buzz radios ahead to his teammates and instructs them to meet him on Trade World. Their the group rendezvous with Buzz and Santa, only the rest of the team still wants to discuss the whole Santa thing. There’s no time though, and Santa demands they help decorate the place for the holiday. As they do, they broadcast out a message designed to infuriate Zurg and basically challenge him to come wreck their holiday again. Zurg sees the broadcast and acts accordingly, while Buzz shows off his new toy. Santa’s hyper-speed whatever thing has been strapped to Buzz’s back and looks ridiculous. It’s a giant snowflake, but the side is what is strapped to Buzz so it extends off of his back twice his height. The other rangers aren’t sure of this plan, but Buzz tells them they just need to go at Zurg when he shows up to make him think they don’t have any real plan for dealing with him.

This jetpack thing is pretty ridiculous.

Zurg then arrives on Trade World flying around in this Dr. Robotnik-like ship. He’s predictably pompous, and I have to say I love the choice of Wayne Knight for his voice. Santa informs Buzz he has to activate the hyper-speed accelerator at the exact moment Zurg uses his stolen device to stop time. Zurg readies his item as the other rangers surround him and engages it. Everyone appears to freeze in place, including Buzz! Oh woe, Christmas is ruined! As Zurg starts wrecking up the place and celebrating his victory, the frozen Buzz comes to life!

This battle and chase sequence is pretty awesome.

Buzz breaks out the one-liners (“I’d say the yuletide has turned!”) and the rock music kicks in. It’s battle time! Zurg chases after Buzz and opens fire with his laser blaster. Buzz does some Matrix moves to avoid it demonstrating his impressive speed. As the two zoom around the city, Zurg blasts a bunch of holiday decorations that Buzz apparently feels compelled to save. Zurg laughs at him and tells Buzz his devotion to his holiday has made him weak. Oh, that’s where you’re wrong Zurg, it’s made him more powerful! They do the Dragon Ball Z thing of zooming around as lights and eventually come to blows.

Yes! Give me more of this!

When the dust settles, Buzz’s hyperspeed accelerator is destroyed and Zurg has lost his grip on the time stopping device, which frees everyone else. Buzz and Zurg meet in a standoff in front of a billboard lit up red as the snow begins to fall. It’s quite an impressive visual. Zurg then finds out he’s out of ammo, and as Buzz declares victory, he summons his little buggy thing which knocks Buzz over. Zurg jumps into it ready to escape, but Buzz tells him he lost since he doesn’t possess the ability to stop time any longer. Zurg points out that the device is broken so Santa can’t either. He’s ruined everyone’s holiday! XR even admits that Zurg has won.

With morale at its lowest, it’s time for XR to get his lesson in believing.

Zurg escapes and the rangers return to Santa’s work shop. They’re all pretty down as without the ability to stop time Santa can’t bring everyone their gifts. XR then asks what Santa did before he had all of this fancy tech, and he shows them. A bright, red, sleigh is summoned and Buzz is pretty taken by it right away. He jumps in and ponders what it uses for fuel, and Santa predictably confirms it runs on belief. The belief in Santa.

Who needs reindeer when you have…lights…on sticks..?

Everyone starts to proclaim they believe, and apparently it takes very little to fill the tank. With Buzz, Mira, and Booster all professing their belief it’s nearly full, but they need one more person. Santa confronts XR about his lack of belief and basically tells him he knows that he believes in him more than anyone, even though he’s rather insistent that he does not. When he asks how Santa knows that, he replies simply that he’s Santa! It’s kind of cheap as the sleigh then fills with power without XR actually declaring his belief. With it at full power, some lights extend off of the front of it. It kind of looks like an old TV antenna that used to adorn every house, but it’s in the shape of a Christmas tree. There are lights where the reindeer would be, though only six. A seventh, red, light is at the tip.

This is like Christmas porn for someone like me.

With the sleigh powered-up, Santa just needs some helpers. Buzz and the gang dawn space helmets and they take off for other planets. Buzz even gets to drive the sleigh! We see a montage of the gang sneaking into houses to leave presents, the best of which is a reverse of a scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A bunch of fish aliens are sharing a bed in a manner similar to Cindy Lou Who and her siblings. Mira slides a candy cane under the hands of one of the fish kids, rather than stealing a candy cane out from under her.

A toast to a job well done. No whiskey here, though.

The gang ends up back at the work shop where Santa toasts hot chocolate to a job well done. The only thing is one person is missing: XR. Apparently he had a special task to attend to and we cut to a little boy’s room where XR is the actual present. It would seem he gifted himself to the little kid from the beginning of the episode which is…weird. We don’t get to see how he untangles himself from that situation to return to work as the episode ends on a shot of the family’s tree with a Space Rangers logo where a star would normally be. That’s actually kind of weird and is like placing a police badge or something at the top of one’s tree. If you do that at your house well more power to you, I guess. I stick with a star.

If some weird guy pops out of one of my kids’ Christmas presents and goes for a hug it’s not going to be a happy ending.

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is a show I wish had existed when I was younger. It has a nice pace to it and the dialogue is rather witty. I love Warburton as Buzz and his supporting cast is solid as well. Knight is fantastic as Zurg and I wouldn’t mind seeing more episodes where he has an even bigger presence. The animation is also way beyond what I expected. Perhaps Pixar had something to prove because everything looks great. The lighting especially is dynamic and I had a great time just taking this one in. The action scene with Zurg and Buzz was set to techno music and gave off some serious Samurai Jack vibes, even though this show actually predates that one.

It’s almost a blink and you’ll miss it, but we do get the moon shot in this one.

As a Christmas story, this one is both fun and odd. The characters never actually say Christmas during the episode. It’s just referred to as a holiday and obviously shares a lot of the same imagery and even an icon. The animators kind of screw up though as the word “Noel” is present during the city fight between Buzz and Zurg. If they were avoiding the term Christmas because it references Christ, then they should have avoided noel as well since it translates to “to be born,” and is a reference to Christ as well. The lack of reindeer is almost bizarre, but I get that they wanted to do their own space thing with it. Santa does have decorative reindeer antlers on his seat in his spaceship, so maybe he had them once upon a time and now they’re dead. I definitely like that the show went for a Grinch plot with Zurg, made all the more obvious by the visual gesture during the montage near the end. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the best Christmas special ever, why more shows don’t borrow from it confuses me. We have a million different versions of A Christmas Carol, and hardly any Grinch plots. It’s 50 years old at this point, it’s fair game!

Despite there being no “Christmas,” there’s still plenty of the usual imagery.

This special could have been pretty manipulative since it telegraphs everything that’s coming our way. We know XR is going to come around on the holiday, we know Santa is telling the truth about who he is before he ever opens his mouth, and we also know that the heroes will prevail. The episode does a good job though of not really staying with anything too long. It does come close with the Santa/XR confrontation, and that bit is probably the weakest part, but at least it doesn’t get too sappy. They also made room for humor during the exchange, such as Buzz declaring you can’t force someone to believe in anything followed by him ordering XR to believe in Santa. The montage was a good move, and making the kid get XR as a present is more funny than heart-warming so it works and doesn’t betray the spirit of the show.

Bizarrely, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is pretty hard to come by. Disney never released it on DVD or Blu Ray, and has yet to add it to Disney+. It doesn’t make much sense to leave it off, but for now the company is not being protective with it. That means you can find it online rather easily, though everything is going to be a rip from a TV broadcast. I assume it’s only a matter of time until Disney brings it to their streaming platform, but for now it’s basically YouTube or bust. If you like Toy Story then give it a look. It’s pretty fun and visually it’s definitely worthwhile. I think I even like it more than Toy Story That Time Forgot and if Disney were smart it would start airing that special alongside this one during the holidays. Of course, I’m the type of person that thinks Disney should be running a ton of its holiday themed episodes and specials on ABC this time of year so maybe I’m biased.


Dec. 20 – Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas

Original air date December 4, 1992

Once upon a time, Hanna-Barbera ruled the cartoon television universe. The company was one of the first to prioritize television over film when it came to cartoons, and it was a strategy that worked quite well. Come the 80s, cartoons were a Saturday morning staple and were taking over the weekday afternoon as well. Hanna-Barbera had been challenged by other companies, but was still holding strong. Then along came a little French company called DiC. DiC had a few shows airing in France, but wanted to expand to the US. In order to do so, it would hire ex-Hanna-Barbera story writer Andy Heyward, who would go on to create the character Inspector Gadget.

Inspector Gadget was DiC’s break-out hit in America. The cartoon was about a cyborg detective tasked with stopping the nefarious M.A.D. which was lead by the villainous Dr. Claw. The catch was that Inspector Gadget was an idiot completely oblivious to what was going on around him. His gadgets, while neat, were prone to malfunction and Gadget would find himself in perilous situations he would either rescue himself from via dumb luck, or with the help of his niece Penny and her dog Brain. Penny is a smart kid who comes with a lot of tech while Brain is apparently a super-smart dog capable of everything a human is save for speech. Brain would basically shadow Gadget to keep him safe while Penny did a lot of the real sleuthing. Gadget would inevitably spy Brain in one of his disguises, mistake him for the real crook, and somehow Dr. Claw’s plots would be foiled. Every episode would end the same way with Gadget getting the credit and Dr. Claw flying away in his car screaming “I’ll get you next time, Gadget! Next time!”

The theme song is definitely the most fondly remembered part of the show, for me.

The show is basically Get Smart for kids, with Gadget even sounding a lot like Maxwell Smart. That’s because he pretty much is! Don Adams played Smart on Get Smart and is also the voice of Inspector Gadget. Since this happens to be a cartoon, Gadget’s spy tech gets to be a lot more extravagant than what Smart had. The old shoe phone is now a phone embedded in Gadget’s glove, for example. It also looks pretty great for an 80s TV cartoon since DiC had the fortune of partnering with Tokyo Movie Shinsa for the animation. TMS would utilize its connections to outsource the animation to various satellite studios, but it means Inspector Gadget looks better than pretty much everything Hanna-Barbera was doing. DiC would eventually take over animation in an effort to cut costs (those in the business often referred to the company as Do It Cheap) so the era of TMS DiC cartoons on US television was brief.

A lot of people who worked on the original series were willing to come back for the special, including writer Jack Hanrahan.

Inspector Gadget was a direct-to-syndication show that only produced new episodes from 1983 to 1986. It was quite popular though so it remained on television in various markets for pretty much the entire duration of the 1990s. When I was a kid, the show felt inescapable. I watched a lot of Inspector Gadget as a result, though it was never one of my favorites. It was just on. Well after the show ended production, DiC went back to the well and produced a Christmas special for 1992. Titled Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas, DiC was able to get Adams back to voice the title character as well as the other mainstays Frank Welker and Maurice LaMarche. Hung Long Animation Company was contracted to produce the animation and was likely fed a bigger budget than a typical episode. It premiered in prime time on NBC on December 4, 1992 before heading to VHS were it was probably sold for an obscene amount (television shows and Christmas specials were often 25 bucks an episode in 1990 dollars) and then eventually forgotten. I don’t recall seeing this re-aired much at all after 1992 as the Inspector Gadget craze was apparently over. At least until a movie was made in 1999.

This is Santa, and he’s about to have a not so great day.

The special begins up at the north pole. It’s early in the morning, and Santa Claus (Frank Welker) is seated in his control tower as he rouses the elves awake. He’s a pretty traditional looking Santa; short, fat, big beard, kind eyes. The elves are roused from their slumber and they’re also pretty typical looking. They’re not little old men, save for at least one, but instead look quite young, and they all pretty much look the same. There’s a lot of inbreeding up there. They have mostly green outfits with tall hats that curl like a candy cane and end with a bell. They wake up quite happy and sing their own version of “Jingle Bells” with the lyrics altered to just describe what they’re doing.

These guys looks pretty happy considering they have a boss who literally possesses a machine to extract them from their beds and put them to work.

Unbeknownst to them all, Dr. Claw (Welker) has infiltrated the work shop and he’s up to no good. His trusty M.A.D. Cat (Welker) is at his side looking a little off model from what I remember, as he dawns a Santa outfit of his own. This is quite possibly the most we’ve ever seen of Dr. Claw as he rather famously avoided the camera during the show. We get to see his fully body with only his face obscured. He whips out a little device that when turned on activates a hidden, mind control, device in the bells of the elf hats. The elves enter a zombie like state and cease their wretched singing. Santa is confused, and then even more confused when a mechanical claw on the ceiling grabs him, pulls him from the command tower, and dumps him into a frozen dungeon. Why does Santa have a dungeon?

Dr. Claw is now Santa Claws. It writes itself.

Dr. Claw then enters the command tower and begins taking over. His plan is to sabotage the toys of Christmas and ruin Santa’s reputation. The elves start dismantling the toys on Claw’s orders and reassemble some into horrible toy abominations. As Dr. Claw enjoys the view and strokes his cat, he informs us only one man can stop him, and he’s deployed his highly ineffective M.A.D. Agents to stop him!

Christmas comes to…Gadget Land…All right, I confess, I have no idea where they live.

We then head to the home of Inspector Gadget (Don Adams). He and niece Penny (Erica Horn) and dog Brain (Welker) are busy decorating their home for Christmas. As they do, a corny Inspector Gadget theme plays that just sounds like a parody of other spy properties. Why they didn’t just use the catchy theme from the main series, I do not know. While the song plays though, we see Claw’s agents attempt to take down Inspector Gadget, only every one that tries gets tossed aside by a completely aloof Gadget. One bounces off of his springs, another gets accidentally gift-wrapped, and we also see the classic ice gag of an agent cutting a hole around Gadget as he ice skates only for the rest of the ice to fall away freezing the bumbling henchman. It ends with Gadget getting launched into his own logo as we get a second title card.

I don’t recall Gadget possessing a child-like demeanor. Maybe the cancellation of his show broke his brain?

Off to the mall, the most sacred place at Christmas time, where Gadget is seated on Santa’s lap reading him an exceptionally long list of Christmas wants. Only, this Santa isn’t the real Santa, but Gadget’s boss, Chief Quimby (Maurice LaMarche), in disguise. He tries to tell Gadget who he is, but Gadget is an idiot so Quimby calls him instead to relay the ruse. Gadget is then confused why Quimby called when he’s presently seated on his lap and I have no idea how Quimby hasn’t just snapped and murdered Gadget at this point. He hands Gadget a note, that will self-destruct, and details to Gadget how Dr. Claw has kidnapped Santa and dispatched M.A.D. agents to take him out. Gadget is confused why the agents never came for him, but declares he’s always on duty and tosses the note aside before heading out. As is always the case, the note finds a way back to Quimby, this time bouncing off of the trash can and landing on his pipe, where it explodes. Serves him right for smoking around children.

What a dope.

Gadget, Penny, and Brain then head for the north pole. They take some giant airplane that can carry the Gadget mobile, or whatever it’s called, and also flies itself. Gadget informs the plane it can drop them where they are, and the A.I. takes Gadget literally and drops the car. Gadget tries to summon the Gadget Plane, but his Gadget Copter activates instead and whirling propellers pop out his hat and remove him from the car. A calamity of errors follow, with Gadget deploying his parachute, then the copter again, which just cuts up the chute. Penny is the one who saves the day activating the plane function of the car. Gadget plummets through the roof no worse for ware, though he declares there’s a lump in the seat. That’s just Brain though, whom Gadget landed on. He doesn’t seem concerned, and now I’m wondering if Gadget has just been playing dumb all of these years and really harbors a secret hostility towards the dog.

Inspector Gadget: the agent so dumb he wouldn’t know his nemesis if they were face-to-face.

The trio then enter Santa’s work shop, and Dr. Claw is understandably irritated to see Gadget is still alive (though really he should expect it). Gadget uses his extendable legs to approach the control tower where he introduces himself to Santa Claws. Gadget is, again, a moron so he doesn’t see through Dr. Claw’s disguise. He’s so dumb that he’s even fooled by M.A.D. Cat’s antlers and thinks he’s a tiny reindeer who does a mean cat impression. While Gadget and Claw exchange pleasantries, Penny and Brain take note of how odd the elves are acting. She soon realizes that something is off, and then spies Dr. Claw in his Santa suit. Gadget informs Santa he’s going to inspect the work shop to make sure everything is operating smoothly. Penny approaches and tries to tell him what’s up, but before she can the ceiling hook grabs Gadget and takes him away.

If Brain could speak I bet he’d have a Brooklyn accent.

Penny tells Brain to keep an eye on Gadget, while she investigates what’s going on with the elves. Meanwhile, Gadget thinks he’s on a tour of the facilities and begins his inspection. Unfortunately, this is set to a rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” LaMarche takes over as Gadget’s singing voice and the audio quality dips. Maybe this was recorded last and on the cheap? LaMarche is a fantastic voice actor, but he can’t save this horrible song. It mercifully ends after five days with Gadget dumped into the same dungeon as Santa. Upon seeing the real Santa, Gadget does what you would expect: he arrests him.

I expected no less.

Brain dresses up as an elf to take a look around while Penny hides in a giant jack-in-the-box to observe what’s going on. She realizes the elves are sabotaging the toys and figures out what Dr. Claw is up to pretty quickly. She radios Brain with her Apple Watch (not really, but the similarities are pretty insane) to relay her findings, while he informs her that her uncle has been imprisoned with the real Santa, and has arrested him. She takes the news well as she’s apparently used to this sort of thing. Unfortunately for her, the elves take notice of her and slam the lid the shut on the jack-in-the-box. They’re just as inept as Dr. Claw’s usual minions though and fail to alert him of what they found.

If this show were to come back, they’d have to get creative with Penny’s tech if they want her to stay ahead of the curve.

The elves place the box in a warehouse with the real toys. Penny radios to Brain that she’ll be fine, but he needs to get the key to the cell to free Gadget and Santa. And that key is currently dangling off of the antler of of M.A.D. Cat. Dr. Claw watches the presents getting sabotaged and relays the predictable news to the audience (via talking to his cat) that he wants to ruin Santa’s reputation because he didn’t get the toy he wanted as a kid. It’s always that. As he revels in his own villainy, we see Brain lurking in the rafters.

How do they know which one is Rudolph?

In the cell, Gadget continues to interrogate Santa. He has a long list of qualifications he expects Santa to possess, but they’re unreasonable demands as, for instance, he wants Santa to descend a chimney, but there’s no chimney present. There are reindeer, which just look like a palette swap of Brain with antlers, but Gadget remains unconvinced. He then declares it’s time to get rough, but don’t worry kids, he just deploys a bird from his hat which supplies a feather for cartoon torture: tickling. Santa is apparently exceptionally ticklish as Gadget doesn’t even remove a boot and just tickles the jolly, old, man’s beard and achieves the desired effect.

Poor kitty.

Dr. Claw enjoys watching the torture via his monitor which provides the perfect distraction for Brain. As he hangs from the ceiling by his feet, he extends a candy cane to try and slip the key ring off of M.A.D. Cat’s antlers. Instead, he hooks the elastic portion of the antlers which is around the cat’s neck. As he tugs, the cat gets strangled. Dr. Claw is completely oblivious though as Brain continues to yank on it. Brain bites the candy cane in half freeing the cat and also letting him snatch the key. M.A.D. Cat winds up on Claw’s face, and when he removes the cat he also removes his beard and hat which end up on the cat. How cute? Claw notices Brain though and orders…someone…to go after that elf. As he bangs the terminal, poor M.A.D. Cat gets knocked off.

Gadget has officially moved into “bad cop” territory. He’s assaulting Santa!

Back in the cell, Gadget has now begun trying to remove Santa’s beard. He’s got a foot in the poor guy’s belly while he tugs all the while taunting him for not actually being Santa. This is pretty damn cruel. Brain arrives dressed as a guard and unlocks the cell. Gadget is happy to finally see some security around here, but when Brain grabs Santa and takes off, he assumes he’s just an accomplice to Santa’s crimes. Gadget deploys his lasso, which actually works perfectly and entangles both Brain and Santa. Gadget then leaves the two bound together to go tell the “real” Santa he’s cracked the case.

A job not well done for Inspector Gadget!

Gadget then helps Dr. Claw load his sleigh. He’s confused that no reindeer are hooked up to the sleigh, and even names a few using incorrect names (the real Santa must have supplied the real names to no effect earlier). Dr. Claw tells him he’s taking care of things himself this year to make sure nothing goes wrong. Back in the jack-in-the-box, Penny has figured out how Dr. Claw is controlling the elves. She did so by looking in her computer book thing that’s basically magic. She then deploys the creepy “jack” she’s been stuck with which pops the box open and sends her sailing into a pile of teddy bears.

Thankfully, the real heroes are on the case, no thanks to Inspector Gadget.

Back in the cell, Brain is trying in vain to free he and Santa. He disappears into a classic cartoon cloud complete with whirling sounds only to emerge each time in a different sort of knot. Penny radios him to relay the info and Santa is initially confused to hear a little girl’s voice coming from the dog. They then realize Brain has actually untied the knot. Santa then summons his first four reindeer (I’m guessing they didn’t want to draw all eight) as they head for Dr. Claw hoping to catch him before he takes flight.

I can definitely relate to that elf smiling happily pulling on Gadget’s right foot.

Topside, Gadget has finished loading the sleigh and is trying to convince Dr. Claw to let him come with. Claw is finished with Gadget though and he orders the elves to seize him. True to his character, as the elves ineffectively grab him he just assumes they’ve grown attached to him. Meanwhile, Penny storms the warehouse alongside Brain. They’re being pursued by elves, which are pretty slow. The ones who have Gadget though are basically pulling him apart now like a torture rack, though he still isn’t bothered. Penny slips into the command tower and finds Dr. Claw’s mind control device and disables it. Immediately, the elves resume their stupid rendition of “Jingle Bells,” but at least they stop dismantling Gadget. Actually, I wish they had been successful.

Here come the reindeer!

It’s too late though, as Dr. Claw is in his M.A.D. Mobile ready to take off. That is, until Santa appears! He deploys the reindeer with a “Go-go-Santa’s reindeer!” As Claw speeds away with Santa’s sleigh hooked up, Santa jumps into the sleigh and disconnects the cable. Gadget sees the cable go by and connects it to a giant candy cane pole (perhaps THE north pole) in a bid to help Santa keep his odd looking car from getting away. Santa then orders the reindeer to “bash away all!” since Claw’s vehicle is resting on ice. The reindeer use their antlers to smash the ice allowing for Dr. Claw to simply drift away. They basically just let him go for no good reason. Claw calls out as he often does that he’ll get Gadget, only he drops the “next time” since this is evidently the end for this series.

Once Claw calms down he’s just going to disconnect that cable and fly away. Sure seems like they wasted an opportunity to finally nail him here.

Santa then thanks Gadget for his help. Why? I have no idea. Surely the old man remembers how awful Gadget treated him in the cell, and he should be aware of how he didn’t really contribute anything to take down Claw. Chief Quimby parachutes in to congratulate Gadget on solving the case and to declare that Inspector Gadget has indeed saved Christmas, as the title of the cartoon promised. Gadget has no time for congrats though as he instructs the reindeer to take off with a “Go-go-eight-tiny-reindeer!” Santa takes to the sky with Penny and Brain in the sleigh with him. Gadget soon joins them and we’re treated to an accurate depiction of Santa’s sleigh, complete with 8 reindeer, as he passes by a full moon. We return to the sleigh itself for one final shot of the whole gang wishing us a merry Christmas as we say goodbye to Inspector Gadget.

Time for the usual end of Christmas special pleasantries.

Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas is essentially a holiday themed exclamation point for the old cartoon series. It stays true to the spirit of that show with Gadget being comically inept while Penny and Brain save the day, with some help from the real Santa Claus. And in keeping with most Christmas specials, the writers and animators happily turn to song to kill some time and basically keep it in the public domain so there are no significant added costs. The story is super basic and adds nothing to the Santa legend, but at least it doesn’t contribute with ugly elf designs or something.

First up is the moon shot. Very nice!

The animation is noticeably different from the main series, but is largely acceptable. Some characters appear slightly off-model when compared with the old show, and Gadget’s coat looks slightly “off” to me, but for the most part I have no complaints. Gadget gets to deploy his most popular and recognizable gadgets, even if most are crammed into the one segment of Gadget falling from the sky, though it also doesn’t get to add any fun ones. At least they didn’t give him a love interest for a “Go-Go-Gadget-mistletoe” sequence. The special is so true to the spirit of the show that it’s even super familiar for someone like me who hasn’t watched an episode of Inspector Gadget in probably 30 years.

Followed by the standard farewell. Nice job, folks!

And that’s basically the crux of Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas. If you have fond memories of the old cartoon, then you’ll probably be okay with this. All of the old voices, save for Penny, are here and the special follows the usual beats. Few will probably enjoy the musical moments, but at least there’s some slapstick involved with them. Even if the slapstick isn’t particularly inventive. For me, this special mostly reminded me how annoying I found the character of Inspector Gadget. He’s so impossibly dumb, but also dangerously arrogant, that I actively root against him and wonder why any of the characters around him actually enjoy him. At least we get to see the elves attempt to dismantle him, though he unfortunately seems impervious to pain.

As always, the cat was the best part.

If you wish to set aside 20 minutes or so for Inspector Gadget this Christmas, this special has been released a few times on DVD. The first version contains some bonus episodes of the original series while a stand-alone version also followed. It’s cheap too and shouldn’t even run you ten bucks, should you wish to own it. It’s also available to stream for free online without any need for piracy. Sometimes, just being easy to watch is enough reason to take in a Christmas special if you have the time.


Dec. 19 – Christopher the Christmas Tree

Allegedly released December 24, 1993.

We look at a lot of Christmas stuff pulled from every day cartoons, for the most part. On occasion though, I suppose we should throw the Christians a bone and look at something a bit more secular. Yes, I think most people know Christmas was basically co-opted by the church many years ago, but it’s certainly because of that faith that it’s as popular as it is today. Or maybe it’s Coke’s fault. I don’t know. Either way, for many people Christmas is a time for worship so lets see if something intended to acknowledge that aspect of the holiday can be entertaining.

Christopher the Christmas Tree is a 1994 television special from the folks at Delaney and Friends Cartoon Productions. Look at the credits for that studio and you will find some other secular items, and also a Pfish and Chip cartoon (that feels like a mistake, but maybe they were looking to broaden their base). It was in conjunction with Chuck Glaser Productions and this is the only credit attributed to that entity. This thing is practically a one-off filled with voice actors of little renown, for the most part. Basically, the only one I recognized was Scott McNeil who was all over cartoons during the early 90s. According to a few sources, this thing aired on Fox and was relegated to VHS after that. It was possibly rebroadcast on Fox Family, but it’s definitely not a popular Christmas special

There’s scraggly little Christ, I mean Chris, the tree no one wants for obvious reasons.

Christopher the Christmas Tree is about a tree named Christopher – naturally. His wish is to be a Christmas tree some day, but when our feature begins (with narration by Bill Reiter who also voices the titular tree), he’s a scrawny, little, sapling. The other trees around him are large and lush and all feature a name that begins with the letter “C,” which must be standard in tree society. They’re all just trees with faces, but they also have strands of snow to distinguish them from one another and some feature pine cones. It’s not unpleasant.

“Ha ha, there’s no freakin’ way I’m letting you pick this tree, kid!”

A young boy and his grandpa come strolling up to the trees. The little kid wants Christopher, but his grandpa says he’s too small for the star they have at home. The kid then asks why they put a star on the tree, and here’s our first religious lesson. The grandfather says it’s to remind them of the star the three wise men followed long ago to reach Christ, and leaves it at that. That wasn’t too bad! They then get a tree, and leave Christopher to himself. Soon all of the trees are gone, except poor Christopher who just wants to die for a cause (that’s totally where this special is going).

This pathetic little creature is Hootie. Not pictured: The Blowfish.

We’re then taken to another area of the fictional Hidden Hollow. There we see a family of owls reading because owls are wise and all that. One owl, though, is not. He’s Hootie (very original), and he’s dumb. His book titled “How to Fly” is upside down and when his dad tells him to turn it around he just spins it in a 360 degree manner. His dad is so angry at his son’s stupidity that he tells him to get lost. Which is convenient, since a bindle has been sitting beside Hootie the entire time. I have no idea what sort of lesson this is supposed to impart, but poor, dumb, mute, Hootie leaves the confines of the tree for the snowy ground below. There he encounters some raccoons who want to play ball with him. They’re very hostile though, but without really an end goal, it would seem. When Hootie demonstrates that he can’t fly, they laugh at him so he scoops up his little bindle and trudges off into the woods.

He’s kind of like Rudolph, except no one cares.

We then get a montage set to a terrible song. All of the songs are originals and have a pop-country flair to them. Hootie just walks sadly through the forest as the seasons change and eventually encounters some bears on one occasion, but the mother bear chases him away. He winds up frozen and near dead on some family’s doorstep. A little kid brings him into their warm, Christmas-decorated, home and his parents instruct him to place the owl by the fire. This kid then, without really much prompting, asks his dad about the star on the tree and we learn the dad is the kid from before. The kid then makes a wish on the star for Hootie to survive, and what do ya know, it works! A wild animal isn’t a pet, though, so the kid’s dad makes him set Hootie free the next day, even though Hootie is in tears over the whole thing.

Note how Hootie is placed before a nativity scene prior to his miraculous recovery, except it’s just a red herring. The owl isn’t Jesus (spoiler: it’s the tree!).

Sad, rejected, Hootie is back to being sad in the woods, which is when he comes across Christopher. Now a big, full, tree, Christopher is happy to make friends with Hootie. The two even make a wish on a star for Hootie to fly and be able to talk, which seems a bit greedy. Christopher still wants to be a Christmas tree some day, though he seems resigned to just being a tree in the forest since he’s grown too large for most homes.

It’s Christopher! No longer a sapling, but a perverted old tree who loves having animals crawl up inside of him!

Some animals come across the two and they’re apparently in search of shelter. Being that Christopher is the only tree in a sea of stumps, they look to him to provide said shelter. He’s more than willing to be of some help as the various birds and rodents happily settle in. They do a bunch of dancing around Christopher, and this is becoming a really easy special to do a write-up on because it’s just full of empty songs and dancing!

That is not how fire works.

The next day, the animals head off to do animal stuff. A fox and a weasel happen by and they for some reason are wearing clothes to make them look like ruffians. They’re just here to crap on the dreams of Christopher and Hootie, and taunt him by saying the only thing he’ll amount to is fire wood. Proving their point, they set him on fire and leave. It’s a bit odd because they literally set ablaze the snow on Christopher. Christopher is pretty calm for a burning tree, and Hootie puts the fire out. He’s fine, and he even encourages Hootie to go find some food. He’ll be okay by himself.

Note how the setting sun has a cast the snow in a blood, red, hue for the execution scene.

Not (this was made in the 90s, I’m allowed a “Not!” joke)! A big red truck pulls up and a guy with a chain saw emerges. It would seem Christopher’s time has come, and he’s a bit distraught over it. Assuming he’s destined to become firewood, Christopher pleads with the man to not cut him down, but trees can’t talk so the guy doesn’t care. Hootie returns and tries in vain to stop what must be done, but he predictably fails and Christopher is hauled away. This thing just got dark.

Oh good, the little owl learned how to fly. I was really worried he never would.

As the truck speeds away, Hootie tries to follow, but he can’t keep up since he’s unable to fly. He just walks along sadly in the middle of the road and at this point it would not shock me if he gets run over. He doesn’t though and instead he starts flying! And talking! His wishes came true! He catches up to the truck and is even able to untie Christopher, who is still alive. Try as he might though, he can’t push Christopher off of that truck so he leaves to get help.

Hootie returns to rally the troops. Lucky for him this is a Christmas special and woodland animals are always extremely useful in such productions.

By now, the other animals have returned to find the stump that once belonged to Christopher. They’re pretty bummed, but Hootie arrives to tell them what’s up and soon they’re all racing down the road to catch the truck. They eventually find where the truck headed, and Christopher.

Hey! It’s Christopher! And he’s not on fire!

Now, apparently this where things can divert. If you were watching the original Fox broadcast, the animals find Christopher outside The White House. I am watching the VHS version and Christopher has been erected outside the United Nations. He is to be the Christmas tree for all of the children of the world, apparently even those heathens who don’t celebrate Christmas. And the little kid from earlier who helped Hootie is also there to put the star on Christopher. Someone with the UN is addressing the crowd and he declares the tree’s name to be Christopher. Not one for subtly, he goes on to say he is named so because a man named Christopher discovered America (lies) and because it contains the name of Christ who died for us all. He even remarks that Christopher had to be sacrificed in the name of Christmas. This is a special that doesn’t want to confuse anyone.

And look! The little boy from before is here to place the star on Christopher. What a happy, Christmas, ending!

Christopher is pretty damn happy to be the world’s Christmas tree. It was his destiny, he declares. Hootie though realizes this means it’s his first and last turn as a Christmas tree since this ends with him dead. Christopher reassures Hootie that this is what he wanted, and that he also shook out a bunch of pine cones before he left the forest. He wants Hootie and the animals to return to that spot and make sure they’re planted. Hootie and the animals do as instructed, and during the ending credits we see little saplings grow and a tiny, personified, tree emerges not unlike the version of Christopher we started with. The end.

Oh yeah, that’s right, he’s basically dead now. Well, one last hug before he goes!

Christopher the Christmas Tree is about what I expected; a bland cartoon about a lonely tree that just wants to die. Actually, it’s a little better if we’re just talking animation. It looks fine and the characters animate well, even if the character designs are about as boring as it gets. Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, so it’s a bit weird to see this special focus on sacrifice, that’s usually more of an Easter thing, but whatever. Some of the backgrounds are a bit drab, and in one place the characters are in a lush forest and then in the next shot it looks like a meadow, but for the most part it’s error free.

This one may be a Christian special, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get a little freaky!

The music was all done by George T. Bowers. It’s fairly disposable, though I suppose the main “Christopher the Christmas Tree” song is fine. It definitely gets a bit tiresome towards the end, but the special is mercifully only about 20 minutes worth of content. Since this one is religious in nature, there’s no Santa to speak of. It’s not particularly over-the-top with the religious messaging either choosing to mainly focus on the role of the star in the whole thing. Only at the end does all of the sacrifice stuff pop up. The only thing I was confused by was the origins of Hootie. His intellectual family is portrayed as the bad guys, are we supposed to interpret that as a dig on academics who teach “pesky” things like evolution? I could be reading too much into that scene, but it struck me as dumb. If you have small kids and don’t consider yourself a Christian household you might not want to put this on lest you confuse your children.

Or, you could just not put it on because it sucks! I do feel bad for families looking for a Christmas special that is more secular, because so often what they get is junk. I hesitate to call this one junk, but I definitely wouldn’t call it good. It’s not as cloyingly sweet as something like The Chucklewood Critters, and it at least feels earnest in its attempt to tell a story. I just personally take issue with how a lot of Christian media places so much emphasis on sacrifice, like it’s something to aspire to. At least for families that want to watch it, Christopher the Christmas Tree is easy to find online for free so have it. If you’re more of a Santa, Frosty, Grinch kind of household then you should probably just ignore this one. If you do consider your household a Christian one, maybe just watch A Charlie Brown Christmas again.


Dec. 18 – Dumb and Dumber – “Santa Klutz”

Original air date December 16, 1995

After doing write-ups for the two cartoons inspired by Jim Carrey films from 1994, you must have figured I’d do the third today! Just as Carrey stormed the cinematic gates with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber in ’94, the television world followed suit in ’95 with an animated series based on each of those three films. While the first two were made for CBS to air on Saturday morning, Dumb and Dumber went a different route. Still proving that anything relating to Carrey was worth investing in, Dumb and Dumber found itself on another broadcast network, in this case ABC. Thematically and visually, it didn’t really fit-in with the whole One Saturday Morning vibe the network was rolling with, so it’s probably no surprise to find out it wound up on Cartoon Network.

And that’s where the show probably belonged as this is a Hanna-Barbera produced toon. In the mid-90s, ABC was under the Disney banner so it was odd to have a non-Disney developed cartoon on ABC, where as Cartoon Network was owned by Turner which owned Hanna-Barbera. This ended up being the final Hanna-Barbera cartoon produced to air on a broadcast network for a Saturday morning block, an interesting little factoid since Hanna-Barbera was once the king of Saturday morning cartoons.

Because this series went a different direction, it has no affiliation with the other two cartoons we looked at so if you were hoping Harry and Lloyd would meet Ace, I regret to inform you it never happened. Dumb and Dumber probably wouldn’t have survived long enough to pull off that trick any way, since only 13 episodes were produced. Once ABC had seen enough, Cartoon Network was willing to take the re-runs, but not commission more episodes, so it’s safe to say this one was a flop.

The cartoon basically picks-up where the movie left off. Harry (Bill Fagerbakke) and Lloyd (Matt Frewer) are back home after their adventures in Aspen along with their dog-shaped van. Joining them is a new pet, a beaver they think is a cat, and each episode is split into two segments where Harry and Lloyd wind-up in some odd misadventure owing to the fact that they’re a pair of men with very limited intelligence and observational skills. As a mid-90s Hanna-Barbera production, it has a familiar art style to those who were watching the various cartoons premiering under the What a Cartoon banner. The character designs here remind me a lot of Dexter’s Laboratory, only with a touch more ugliness. Even though Harry and Lloyd had pretty similar builds in the film, for the cartoon it was decided to make Lloyd tall and lanky and Harry short and stocky. They’re both rather ugly, with Harry a walking mess and Lloyd a collection of sharp angles and teeth. While one can certainly argue this wasn’t a show that should look like The Mask or Recess, it’s still understandable to not be particularly taken with the visuals here.

The eighth episode of the series is the one to feature a Christmas plot. The first segment is dedicated to the holiday via “Santa Klutz.” The episode begins with Harry and Lloyd out and about with Kitty in their van. They’re both confused to see Kitty cutting down a Christmas tree and slapping it on top of their van, even though they refer to it as a “Christmas tree” and not as an evergreen or pine tree. Harry panics and wonders if Christmas is in December again, and quickly confirms that they’re only three days away from Christmas! Both men need to get a present for the other, but both are also faced with the problem of not having any money to get that present. Neither wants to admit this fact to the other, so Lloyd casually suggests they head to The Big City and look for a part-time job just because.

Lloyd likes to dream big.

The two arrive at Big Department Store and head in seeking employment. Along the way, Lloyd fantasizes about buying Harry a space shuttle for Christmas, proving he has no idea how much a part-time job around the holidays pays, or that he has no concept of how much a space shuttle would cost, or maybe both? Lloyd ends up with a 2 dollar-an-hour job handing out perfume samples, while Harry stumbles upon the store’s Santa who is fed up with the job. He hands over his costume to Harry and he immediately gets sent into the fray.

I hope he gets paid per kid.

Harry is seated in front of an impossibly long line of customers barely looking the part. The costume comes without a beard, it would seem, and Harry has trouble remembering the line “Ho Ho Ho.” His first child turns out to be homicidal, while the second is a degenerate gambler. Meanwhile, Lloyd finds out women don’t like being sprayed with perfume at random. The men don’t either, and when Lloyd angers a large male customer the two grapple over a perfume bottle until the top pops off. It is apparently now a grenade, and as it bounces away Lloyd does the noble thing of falling on top of it. Though since it’s perfume, it explodes rather tamely leaving Lloyd with a pleasant taste in his mouth.

Pictured: not a nice old lady.

As kids cry on Harry’s lap or sneeze on him, Lloyd attempts to sell some perfume to an old woman (Ed Asner per the credits, though it sounds nothing like him). She immediately takes offense to anything he says, even though it’s all innocent. When she informs the manager (Harvey Korman) that Lloyd accused her of smelling of cheap perfume, he asks if she’d like the man fired and she does. Lloyd them imagines a Christmas in which his space shuttle gift is repossessed by an army general (Ed Asner) leaving him despondent.

Lloyd’s Didi cosplay is on point.

Lloyd takes a walk over to the Santa area and spies Harry seated on the throne. Upon seeing his friend dressed as Santa, he comes to the totally reasonable conclusion that Harry IS Santa! And he has been this whole time! He then tries to go have a chat, but finds out from security that Santa is reserved for children. After a couple of failed attempts to sneak up, Lloyd dawns a disguise. I already said this show visually reminded me of Dexter’s Laboratory, but seeing Lloyd in his costume really drives that home as he’s basically in the same outfit as Dexter’s sister, Didi.

Upon reaching Harry Claus, Lloyd tells him he wants Santa to bring him a bunch of money so he can buy his best friend Harry a gift. Harry sees through the disguise which leads to a confrontation as Lloyd is angry with Harry for holding out on him. The two get into a fight and the store manager shows up. He reminds Lloyd that he already banned him, and fires Harry for good measure. Despondent outside the store, the two men hang their heads in shame. Only Lloyd hasn’t given-up on Harry as Santa, so Harry does the only reasonable thing he can to convince Lloyd he’s not who he thinks he is – they take a ride to the North Pole.

I think this is where they live.

The two arrive at Santa’s Work Shop on Christmas Eve. The only problem is Santa isn’t there since it’s, duh, Christmas Eve! They have that confirmed to them by an elf (Scott Menville), and Lloyd sees this as proof that he’s right. The two then head back to wherever they’re from to have a little camp out. Harry is hopeful they’ll be able to catch the real deal in action. Sure enough, he does indeed show up, but Lloyd still isn’t convinced. In fact, he had the foresight to assume Harry would try something like this so he called ahead for Officer Doohickey (Harvey Korman) who shows up and arrests Santa on the spot.

How to get on the naughty list.

Santa (Asner) is pretty surprised that anyone would mistake Harry for him, so Lloyd asks him to prove he’s really Santa. He uses some magic to get out of the police cuffs, which magically appear on Doohickey who remarks “This happens more often than you think.” Still not convinced, Santa whips out his portable PC to check his naughty list. He looks up Doohickey and finds him on the naughty list for lying to his wife about his doughnut habit. Doohickey declares he’s the real deal and scrams leaving Santa alone with the morons. He then asks the two what they want for Christmas and both gleefully whisper into one of his ears.

The next day, Kitty is opening his present from his car seat while Lloyd tells Harry he asked Santa for a gift for Harry. Harry confesses he did the same for Lloyd and the two trade identical boxes. Inside are identical gifts: best friend in the world trophies! Kitty also got a log with a plaque that reads “Best Kitty in the World.” Lloyd then declares there can be only one best friend in the world, and it’s Harry, as he tries to hand over his trophy. Harry does the same, and we zoom out on the two arguing over who is the better friend.

Everything worked out in the end, and all it took was a little divine intervention.

“Santa Klutz” is short and sweet. While I think very little of the art style, I can’t say I hate this. Maybe it was the fact that it’s only around 10 minutes, but I think I’d rather watch that again than either of the specials from the past two days. The humor is not as slapstick as I expected as it’s mostly derived from the two not correctly reading a situation or just getting into arguments stemming from the fact that they’re both stupid. Lloyd mistaking Harry as the real Santa is a bit clever as most shows aiming for such an error would have Lloyd tricked by the costume. Instead, he just thinks his best friend has been lying to him this whole time. It goes for a happy ending when I actually expected it to be a bit darker. If this were a true Farrelly brothers production, Santa probably gets victimized in some way instead of just mildly inconvenienced.

Even though I didn’t hate this, it’s not at all surprising to see a show about two grown men of limited intelligence failed as a cartoon. It’s basically 2 Stupid Dogs, but with humans instead, and how is that any more fun? I don’t think anyone walked out of a viewing of Dumb and Dumber wanting an animated series, but that didn’t stop folks from trying! If you want to check this out, it’s mostly been discarded by Hanna-Barbera. You won’t find it on Boomerang and it also isn’t on HBO Max with some of the other Cartoon Network shows. Instead, you can purchase it through Amazon and Apple if you want to stream it. Warner Bros. did make it available in a manufacture-on-demand release back in 2015 on DVD. Because of that format, it’s never really come down in price, though there also isn’t enough demand to cause it to go up. Even so, I doubt very much anyone would stumble upon this and decide they needed to spend 25 bucks on this cartoon, but in the event one person did, at least you have that option.


Dec. 17 – The Mask – “Santa Mask”

Original air date November 4, 1995

In the world of film, 1994 belonged to Jim Carrey. On television, 1995 belonged to TV shows based on those 94 movies. Well, not exactly, since all of the shows based on Jim Carrey movies made little impact, but like yesterday’s show I’d hesitate to call today’s subject a failure.

The Mask began life as a comic book by John Arcudi and was turned into a film of the same name. It then made the journey to the small screen for a cartoon also called The Mask. Like the Ace Ventura cartoon, this one was developed by Duane Capizzi and aired on the CBS network alongside Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Unlike its network-mate, this show had a much more grounded visual style. Perhaps influenced by other superhero cartoons, most of the people in The Mask look like actual humans as opposed to oddly proportioned and exaggerated cartoon characters. Wang Film Productions Company handled the animated for this particular episode, but it looks like the show relied on multiple overseas studios for the animation.

The cartoon series of The Mask is basically an extension of the film. Stanley Ipkiss (Rob Paulsen) is a milquetoast bank teller frequently pushed around by his boss Charlie (Mark L. Taylor) and landlady Agnes (Tress MacNeille), but when he puts on the titular mask he morphs into a Tex Avery cartoon character come-to-life known as The Mask. Unlike the film, the cartoon series basically turns The Mask into a superhero who does battle with other super-powered individuals and freaks of nature. At his side is his trusty dog Milo (voiced by Frank Welker, as if there’s another choice for a cartoon canine) who also finds himself turned into The Mask on occasion, as he did in the film. All the while, The Mask is dogged by Lt. Mitch Kellaway (Neil Ross) who basically serves as the true foil for The Mask. He’s accompanied by the somewhat dimwitted Detective Doyle (Jim Cummings) who seems to have a positive impression of The Mask and does more harm than good as far as Kellaway is concerned.

The Mask aired from 1995-1997 over three seasons totaling 54 episodes, a bit more than Ace Ventura, but still short of the magic number of 65. Unlike Ace, it was a CBS show that never migrated to another network and the fact that it ended up with a few more episodes seems to jive well since I think of it as just a bit better than Ace Ventura. Even though the two shows clashed visually when compared side-by-side, it didn’t stop the two from having a crossover episode in each series. The series finale for The Mask was actually dedicated to the crossover, and oddly enough, Ace appears in this show as he does in his own, which is a truly bizarre sight to take-in. That is the third season though, and this Christmas episode actually takes us back to the first season.

Poor Stanley, out in the cold.

“Santa Mask” begins with Christmas descending upon Edge City. Stanley is being forced to dress as Santa and stand in the freezing cold outside of the bank he works at to attract customers. He badly wants to come in out of the cold, but his jerk boss, Charlie, has no time for complaints. He tries to make the best of things by calling out to a fellow Santa across the street, but unfortunately for Stanley he is no friend.

I don’t think he’s friendly.

The other Santa is actually a villain in disguise. Walter, I believe, is the strong silent type who saunters over to Stanley with an evil look on his face. He was apparently in the midst of a robbery, and likely has his eyes set on the bank now. Before he can do Stanley any harm, another pair of Santas show up. Dak (Cam Clarke) and Eddy (Jeff Bennett), also known as Putty Thing and Fish Guy, are here to rip-off the town dressed as Santa. It’s such a good idea that fellow villain Kablamus (Jim Cummings, using a slightly altered version of his Winnie the Pooh voice) is about to do the same thing! The scene keeps getting more ridiculous as more villains dressed up as Santa emerge, including a Zorro knock-off and apparently Rocky?!

This is actually a common problem around these parts.

The whole episode causes Mayor Tilton (Kevin Michael Richardson) to declare that anyone dressed as Santa be arrested and jailed. Apparently this is a regular problem for Edge City around Christmas time as we see video of many phony Santas causing mayhem over the years. This lands Stanley in jail as this new ordinance must have been retroactive. He’s stuck in a holding cell with all of the Santas from earlier, and also a new one. This guy (Cummings) looks like the real deal though, and he is not happy about being locked-up on Christmas Eve. He has some harsh criticisms of Edge City’s criminal justice system and turns to Stanley as someone he can dump on. Stanley obviously doesn’t think he’s the real Santa, but this guy has some pretty convincing credentials including pictures of his elves and a North Pole sleigh-driver’s license (we also learn that parallel parking eight reindeer is quite a bitch).

If he’s the real deal, he’s the most intimidating Santa I can recall!

Stanley is soon set free as the police were finally able to figure out he meant no harm, but this Santa guy isn’t as lucky. Before Stanley can exit the cell, Santa pulls him aside to let him know that while he may not believe in Santa, millions of kids do and they’re all about to have a pretty crummy Christmas with Santa locked-up. He tells Stanley that he needs someone to fill-in for him, and unfortunately he’s the best he can do on short notice. Stanley still isn’t sure what to believe, and as he exits the cell he begs the guard to confirm for him that there is no Santa, but the guy just shrugs his shoulders.

It wouldn’t be much of an episode if he didn’t put it on.

On his way home Stanley encounters a father and son pair (both voiced by Clarke) with the kid mistaking Stanley for Santa at first. Stanley pulls up his beard and puts on a smile, but the kid sees right through it. At his apartment, Stanley is torn on what to do as he doesn’t want to be known as “the jerk who couldn’t save Christmas.” Feeling he has no other alternative, he turns to The Mask!

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting a traditional sleigh.

The Mask (also voiced by Paulsen) takes to the Santa thing with open arms. He puts on the suit, complete with padding so he looks like a big, red, blob, and even comes up with a sleigh. How did he produce a sleigh? I don’t know, but this is a character who can seemingly pull a mallet out of his trousers with no regard for the rules of physics so I guess maybe he just did the same for a sleigh? It’s a rather slapstick looking affair as it has a whirling propeller over the top of it and one lone reindeer. That reindeer is, of course, Milo suspended by balloons with antlers and a red light bulb placed over his nose – poor little guy.

Chimneys are for chumps.

The duo heads to the first little house on the square, home to some little girl. Rather than go down the chimney, The Mask instead jacks up the roof and hops into the girl’s bedroom. She’s surprisingly not terrified to see this loud, green-faced, man enter her room, but she is looking forward to a Christmas present. She’s a bit frustrated with Mask Claus though as he doesn’t seem to know what she wants, even though she told “him” when she sat on his lap at the store. Eventually, she reminds him that she wanted a rocking horse, so The Mask one-ups her request and removes a real, live, racing horse from his rather massive sack. She’s pretty thrilled by this development, and The Mask hands her a stack of bills to wager on an upcoming race for him before exiting.

Elsewhere, Lt. Kellaway and Detective Doyle are out patrolling the streets for more renegade Santas. Doyle, being the “dumb” one, is rightfully concerned they may lock up the real Santa and mess up Christmas for a whole bunch of kids. Kellaway thinks he’s an idiot and tells him there is no Santa. His evidence? He never got some dumb train as a kid, so you can bet he’ll get it before the episode is over.

Well, at least he noticed his face was green. That makes him smarter than Cindy Lou Who.

The two soon run across The Mask as he was attempting to scale the next house on his list and Kellaway is eager for a chase. The Mask rides along beside their car and Doyle questions why Santa’s face is green. Kellaway breaks the news to him that it’s not Santa, but The Mask, and a chase is underway! It ends on a nearby pond that’s frozen over with the two officers exiting the car only to have The Mask ice skate over to them. The Mask gifts the pair a present each; a VCR for Doyle and a flannel shirt for Kellaway. The Mask informs him it matches his flannel underwear, which is when The Mask gives him a giant wedgie. The Mask laughs and skates a circle around the pair, and their car, and since he operates under the laws of cartoons you know this means he just cut a large hole in the ice. Kellaway and Doyle seem to be well-aware that the usual laws of nature do not apply here as they run from the car as a giant hole appears in the ice to swallow the vehicle up. The Mask leaves and Kellaway makes a call to the rest of the force requesting a helicopter and a very large crane to remove his car from the pond.

It’s wedgie time!

The Mask gleefully takes to the sky, but soon finds himself targeted by a rather odd looking police helicopter. Seriously, this thing looks more like a Transformer than any real world helicopter I’ve seen. The Mask instructs Milo to provide a diversion as he bails on the sleigh in favor of running across the rooftops. Fearing his city has become hostile towards Santa, he’s elated to see a smoke stack with neon lights welcoming Santa. He turns into a whirlwind and shoots up the smoke stack, leaving behind the word “No” added in lights to indicate that there are actually no Santas present inside.

Well that’s convenient.

The Mask disappears down the smoke stack only to find out it was all a trap! It would seem the villainous Doctor Septimus Pretorious (Tim Curry) has laid a trap with the intent to capture Santa Claus! This guy is a recurring villain who is some sort of robot with outlandish eyebrows and what looks like a cat sphincter in the middle of his forehead. Anyway, he wants to uncover the secrets of Santa’s magic sack since it can seemingly carry trillions of toys inside of it while looking mostly like an old pillow case. He’s eager to take a look and is apparently oblivious to the fact that he’s actually captured The Mask, and not Santa.

They just couldn’t leave Dickens out of this one.

The Mask rather effortlessly breaks free and then takes Pretorious on a Scrooge-like journey that wraps up in roughly a minute as opposed to the usual running-time such a thing entails. He changes wardrobes rapidly with the story, and when he needs Pretorious to do the same he simply rips his head off and shoves it where he needs it to be. Pretorious seems totally flabbergasted by the whole affair and basically just lets everything happen. When The Mask is done, or maybe just bored, he leaves, but not before he gives Pretorius his present: a bomb. As he exits the smokestack he also changes the lettering on it once again this time instructing the police to check there.

Admit it, you forgot about these guys. I know I sure did.

Outside, The Mask is unable to call for Milo, so he whips out a remote to summon him instead. The poor dog arrives out of breath and the two return to the sky with The Mask a bit dismayed to realize he’s only delivered one present this evening. Elsewhere, the other incarcerated Santas have devised a way to escape. Kablamus has let the others in on the fact that he’s a living bomb and the Rocky guy is rather impressed. For those who don’t watch the show, Kablamus is a supervillain who can make himself explode without harm. You would think the cops would have taken some precautions there. They blow the wall open and all of the Santas are free, including the real one.

I would really like to know who decided fruit cake was funny.

The Mask is then preparing to enter a home, but the sound of looting disturbs him. The Mask is forced once more to abandon his Santa duties to put a stop to these miscreants and does so by taking on the role of a drill sergeant to get their attention, then a Spanish singer to whip them into a frenzy. It’s basically all a performance to distract the crooks and group them all together (there’s a method to his madness) until they figure out they’re villains and shouldn’t be singing and dancing. The Mask then switches tactics and begins a speech about turning to some aspect of Christmas that is unloved, and the second it begins I catch myself saying aloud “not fruit cake!” Yes, it all builds to a dumb fruit cake joke. Actually, a joke basically utilized by another Paulsen show, Animaniacs, as a giant fruit cake magically falls from the sky to land on the villains. The Mask them wraps them up with a bow complete with a “Do Not Open till X-Mas” card, though I have to believe we’re past midnight at this point. Kellaway and Doyle then come upon the scene, driving a tow truck, and Doyle is predictably the only one to express affection for fruit cake.

Well, would you look at that?

With that mess taken care of, The Mask is finally able to get to the next house on his list. The only problem is right after he lands the sleigh (on the lawn, for some reason) he realizes that it’s actually dawn. He pulls off his face and The Mask is once again just Stanley Ipkiss. He’s dismayed that he’s let down Santa and realized his destiny as “the jerk who couldn’t save Christmas,” but as he peers through the window of the house he was about to enter he sees the same kid he encountered on the street earlier. Only this kid is excited because Santa left him some new action figures that look a lot like G.I. Joes. Stanley is relieved to see this and at that moment realizes that Santa must have escaped with the other inmates and set everything right.

Honestly, Stanley is lucky the worst that happened to him was his faith in Christmas was crushed. You go around grabbing people like that in the city and you’re liable to get stabbed. Or worse.

Stanley returns to the city proper and is eager to share the news that Santa is real! Most people on the street regard him suspiciously, and he even runs into Kellaway outside the police station. Kellaway has no interest in entertaining Ipkiss. He’s not even content to let Stanley think what he wants and instead informs him that all of the Santas who escaped were recaptured and takes him into the precint to show him. Stanley flips through the mug shots and doesn’t see the real Santa and begins to doubt himself. He leaves and Kellaway enters his office smugly to retrieve his bowling ball as that’s how he’s spending Christmas. There he finds the dumb train he wanted as a kid sitting on his desk. With tears welling up in his eyes, he looks to the sky hopefully, and then dismisses the possibility of an actual Santa. We don’t have room for two miracles in this one.

That’s the toy that made him lose faith in Santa?! Even the weenie whistle is better than that!

A somewhat down Stanley is then shown walking home. His experience at the police station has left him thinking there really isn’t a Santa, and that’s just sad. A present then lands on the sidewalk in front of him and Stanley picks it up. We hear a Santa voice-over thanking Stanley for at least trying to help out. His true gratitude is apparently expressed on the tag as Kellaway has been crossed out and replaced with Stanley. Inside is the flannel shirt The Mask had gifted Kellaway and Stanley is happy to have it. He picks up Milo and tells him, “Yes, Milo, there is a Santa Claus!” As the camera zooms out and we see the snow falling, the little girl from earlier goes riding by on her new race horse and Stanley gives her a wave.

The part of Virginia will now be played by Milo.

For Christmas, writer Dean Stefan basically took The Santa Clause approach, or Flintstones approach if you prefer, for The Mask. It’s a solid premise as imagining The Mask in the role of St. Nick certainly seems like it has some comedic appeal. In spite of that, I really didn’t find much to laugh at. Maybe if I were 7 this would be funny, but most of the jokes were too familiar. I liked some of the inexplicable humor, like Rocky being a villain (he’s apparently named Dynamite Joe), but few actual jokes did much to move me. The fish guy seemed like he had potential, as he’s basically just a fish, and there were some jokes at his expense once the Santas were captured as he apparently does not possess a pleasant odor. The Mask as a character isn’t really that funny though. He reminds me of The Tick, only instead of aloof he’s self-aware. He’s certainly loud and the nature of the character means he can lend himself well to gags, but few were present here. The fruit cake joke was dumb and it’s a punchline relied upon way too much in cartoons. Same with The Mask calling out fake reindeer names at one point which included Nixon instead of Blitzen – I think that’s another gag we can retire.

That’s not to say I did not enjoy the performance of Rob Paulsen. He’s a voice acting legend and he’s certainly able to match the intensity of the film performance. The other performance I quite enjoyed belonged to Tim Curry, which isn’t much of a surprise since he tends to be terrific whenever he takes on a voice role. He really didn’t have many lines as Dr. Pretorius in this one, but the way he emphasized the word “sack” was one of the few moments I actually chuckled aloud. Some words are just inherently funny when spoken a certain way, and Curry certainly found that with “sack.”

Her parents must have been pissed.

Otherwise, this episode does at least make an attempt at some Christmas feels with its resolution. There’s some cynicism present though, and it’s even embodied by the show’s real Santa character. And re-inserting the horse girl into the end was a good touch. Even though I found this one a bit short on laughs, it is written competently and I liked how it kept coming back to the fact that The Mask was so awful at playing Santa he only delivered one present.

Even though I consider The Mask to be superior to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, it’s a bit harder to come by. Only the first season was released on DVD, but at least this episode is a part of that. And because of that, it’s also available streaming. The good news is that there’s also less protection of it. If you look at the credits, there were a lot of different companies involved in this series and I’m guessing that’s why it’s not more readily available. There are just too many parties to compensate in order to make it worthwhile. Instead, no one cares about it and you can find this online streaming for free should you wish to spend Christmas with The Mask.


Dec. 16 – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective – “The Reindeer Hunter”

Original air date December 9, 1995

The year 1994 feels like it belonged to Jim Carrey. Prior to ’94, Carrey was just another actor trying to make his way through Hollywood. He did some stand-up and even starred in a film, but he had yet to really make it. After being cast on the sketch comedy series In Loving Color, Carrey’s status began to rise. He stole the show, and soon found himself entertaining roles from Hollywood. His first big hit, arriving in February of 1994, was Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The film was largely nonsensical, but the role of Ace Ventura allowed Carrey to basically just do what he did best at the time: act like a screwball cartoon character. There wasn’t much separating the character of Ace Ventura from Carrey’s stand-up or even his characters from In Living Color, such as Fire Marshall Bill. While the film wasn’t exactly a hit with the critics, it was at the box office and Carrey soon found himself among the ranks of the Hollywood A-Listers.

Following Ace Ventura, came The Mask in July and then Dumb and Dumber closed out the Year of Carrey in December of 1994. For Carrey, he began the year as a budding comedian on television and finished it as a big-shot. A sequel for Ace Ventura was fast-tracked for release in 1995 and it too performed well. Though by the time the credits rolled on the sequel, Carrey was likely priced-out of any future sequels for the franchise, just as he was for The Mask.

Whenever a film is a hit, studios naturally look to extract as much money as possible from it. With an Ace Ventura 3 starring Carrey unlikely, Warner Bros. turned to television writer Duane Capizzi to craft a cartoon series based on the character. When a film makes the jump from the big screen to the small screen, there’s always a risk audiences will reject it. Especially when we’re talking about a character like Ace Ventura who was basically just Jim Carrey. Will audiences accept what is essentially a caricature? It’s an important question to ask since there’s virtually no chance of an actor of Carrey’s stature coming with the project, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective the animated series was no exception. Still, the mere subject of a pet detective leading a wacky cartoon has some promise. Kids like animals and comedy, so perhaps it had a chance? CBS was certainly banking on that when it committed to 13 episodes for the fall 1995 television series and the show did well enough to return for another 13 episodes in 1996. Following that though, CBS apparently lost interest and the Saturday morning block was waning. The show did find new life on Nickelodeon with 15 new episodes produced to air in 1999-2000, along with the returning 26 episodes previously aired. In that sense, the show was a modest success it would seem, though it did fail to get to that magical syndication number of 65 episodes.

The show forgoes opening credits and gets straight to it. Oh, joy.

For the show’s very first episode, it turned to Christmas. This is not unprecedented as the most famous cartoon series ever, The Simpsons, did the same thing. In the case of that more illustrious show, it premiered with the Christmas episode because the show’s first episode was rejected due to how it had been animated. The Christmas episode was ready, and it was also December. It basically had to air on time, so the decision was made to delay the official series premiere to January and air the Christmas episode as a “Sneak Peek” in December of 1989. Fox would repeat the trick with Life with Louie years later. As far as I know, this particular episode of Ace Ventura, “The Reindeer Hunter,” is the first episode in production order. It doesn’t feel like a series premiere though, so it wouldn’t shock me if it wasn’t. It premiered on December 9, 1995 with the second episode not airing until January 20, 1996. I suppose I could have watched that episode to see if it operated like more of a series introduction, but I really don’t want to. And you’ll soon see why.

The cartoon version of Ace Ventura is basically no different from his film counterpart, save for the fact that he’s voiced by Michael Daingerfield (then credited as Michael Hall), a fellow Canadian as well. His voice wouldn’t be confused for Carrey’s, but he seems to have the timing and inflections down. Expect to hear plenty of “All-righty-then” from him. Ace is still a pet detective and he’s joined by his monkey, Spike (Richard Binsley). For this premiere episode, Ace has to take a very important case for someone has abducted perhaps the most famous pets of all: Santa’s reindeer!

This one gets right to the Santa-moon shot, only with a crescent moon instead of a full moon.

The episode begins with a cheery Santa up at the North Pole preparing for Christmas. The image pans out and we see this was just a television. Soon, the real Santa passes overhead and soars past the rare Christmas Eve crescent moon to land on a nearby building. This isn’t exactly an idyllic Christmas image as we’re in hot, sticky, Miami and Santa expresses his displeasure at that almost immediately upon exiting his sleigh. He’s an appropriately chunky Santa, though his reindeer are a bit on the ugly side. It’s sort of in-line with a lot of post Ren & Stimpy cartoons looking to be a bit on the ugly side as the heads of the reindeer are quite triangular with ugly teeth jutting out of their mouth.

Someone wants to abduct these ugly-ass reindeer.

As Santa squeezes his bulbous form down the chimney, a shadow appears over the reindeer. A large figure tosses a sack over them and we smash-cut to the episode’s title card. We’re then introduced to the hero of the show: Ace Ventura. He’s in his apartment and he’s apparently cranked the air conditioner as he has penguins joining him as he’s seated on the couch with his monkey, Spike. It’s so cold in the apartment that there is actually snow falling from the ceiling.

An uncommon sight for Miami, though really, an uncommon sight inside any apartment.

Ace is called upon to answer the door and it’s the building superintendent, Mr. Schickadance (Vince Corazza). He has a problem with the snow, which is something a good super would have concern with. He apparently lives next door as he gestures to his wall which is covered with ice. Ace points out that there’s no “No Snow” designation on the sign for the complex as there is with a “No Pets” (though he has pets, so he obviously wouldn’t feel beholden to such a proclamation anyway). In short: the snow stays.

Old Santa apparently keeps Ace on the speed dial for just such an occasion.

Ace then receives a phone call and he’s skeptical of its source. The gentleman on the other end is claiming to be Santa Claus, so Ace tests him by asking him what he got for Christmas last year. Santa “aces” the quiz as he brought Ace a salon chair for crafting his unique hairstyle. With that out of the way, Ace hears him out. Turns out, Santa’s reindeer have gone missing in Miami and he needs Ace to help him find the reindeer. Surprisingly, the timing of this whole thing isn’t played up as much as it could be considering it’s Christmas Eve. You would think one little hang-up would really throw Santa off schedule, and this is hardly a little hang-up.

Cheeky.

Ace agrees to meet with Santa so he heads out to his car with Spike at his side. There we see that his license plated reads “Pet Dick,” and while I understand that dick is another name for detective, I’m still surprised CBS let the show get away with that. Mr. Schickadance is outside as well changing the sign to read to “No Snow. ” He’s on a ladder, so you can probably guess what happens next as Ace drives away…

Don’t worry, kids, we got Ace on the case!

Ace joins Santa at the scene of the crime. Finding no clues, he begins questioning Santa in order to deduce a motive. He asks him who might hate his guts, and Santa seems rather shocked at the mere suggestion someone might dislike him. Ace asks him to produce his naughty list and is then dismayed when he unfurls it and it’s long enough to roll off the side of the building and continue on down the street. He hands Santa the keys to his apartment, noting this investigation could take a while, and then starts with the top name on the list, a certain Akak the Clown.

A good, sneaking, disguise at Christmas time, I suppose.

Akak is apparently the clown mascot of a local burger joint. Ace spots him leaving his restaurant with a bag of food. Declaring they need disguises, Ace emerges from a costume shop dressed as a snowman and stalks Akak through the streets. When the clown removes a large sack from the back of his trunk, Ace pounces on him only to find the bag filled with toys. He then rules Akak out, and proceeds down the list. A sequence of slamming doors is then presented as Ace apparently finds no leads. He them enters a museum looking for a Larry Asta…something. He’s dismayed to find he’s not out of the “A’s” yet, but does find this Larry fellow in the midst of a heist. Pointing his carrot nose like a gun and doing an Al Capone impression, he holds the crook up and demands answers. It would seem there’s a big caper going down tonight, but it’s not related to any reindeer. When Ace asks where they are, the crook is dumb-founded, but suggests he asks the shady looking guys on the roof across the street who are about to get into a getaway chopper.

The monkey is definitely the smartest one.

Ace races over to the roof of the department store and finds three dudes placing a sack into a helicopter. One is kind of green and monstrous looking, another is your typical giant lug, and the third looks like a little scientist type. Ace demands they cease what they’re doing, but they disregard him. As they take-off, Ace grabs onto the lab coat of the science guy. The thug simply pulls the little man into the copter, while letting him out of his coat, causing Ace to plummet to what should be his death. Rather he lands atop a giant Christmas tree, which was on the roof of the building, which then bends causing him to land on the roof of a police cruiser below.

It’s at this point I think I’ll be okay with them killing off the star 8 minutes into the series.

There Ace is confronted by Officer Emilio (Bruce Tubbe) and Sargent Aguado (Al Waxman). They know Ace from around town and aren’t exactly happy to see him. Emilio helps him up and when Ace tells them to put out an “APB” for a helicopter, Aguado laughs at him and taunts him with, “Why? Have Santa’s reindeer been kidnapped?!” between laughs. When Ace confirms that’s exactly what happened, it doesn’t change the situation. Emilio actually tries to tell him when he talks crazy it makes it harder for him to be of any assistance, and Ace responds by talking through his butt. The two officers have a function to attend that night and they drive off with the giant star still lodged in their car leaving Ace alone with his piece of evidence. Ace then notices the lab coat has the unmistakable odor of lady’s perfume on it, so he runs into the department store to conduct some research.

This is Ace Ventura, so expect some ass-play.

At the cosmetics counter, Ace sprays various perfumes in his face trying to find the right fragrance. All the while, a female clerk tries to warn him against perfume overdose, apparently a thing. Ace doesn’t listen and ends up passing out. A doctor has to come help revive him, and when he awakens he notices a display with an unusual looking woman holding a perfume bottle. It’s the fragrance he’s looking for! The clerk is able to tell him that the woman is Atrocia Odora (Pam Hyatt) and it turns out her factory is in town.

That’s no reindeer!

Ace heads over to the Odora plant and finds the helicopter from earlier on the roof. Spike gets to work sabotaging the chopper so it can’t be utilized as an escape route later, which is far smarter a plan than I would have expected of Ace. He then enters the factory from the roof and finds a big, white, sheet with “No Peeking” printed on it draped over a cage. Thinking this is where the reindeer are, Ace triumphantly removes it only to find an albino alligator roaring at him. The goons from earlier then spot him and are surprised he survived the fall. As Ace goes into some posing routine explaining his death-defying prowess, the big guy does a butt stomp on him. With Ace subdued, the green guy puts on a Santa outfit to go alert the boss.

The villain of the episode (series?), Atrocia Odora.

As the fake Santa enters another room, we see it’s a police officer function hosted by Odora herself. Disguised as Santa, the little guy is able to get over to Odora to alert her of what’s happening in the factory. She excuses herself to go check things out. Inside, Ace has been freed from the large buttocks and is using his karate maneuvers on the big guy, to no effect, while Spike is harassing the scientist guy. Once Odora enters the big guys retrains Ace in a more conventional manner than before by simply grabbing his arms.

Odora immediately notices the various odors on Ace’s shirt and warns him about the dangers of mixing fragrances noting he smells “louder than his shirt.” Ace demands to know where the missing reindeer are, but Odora instructs her men to dispose of him. As she walks away, Ace declares he knows her type and that she is eager to reveal her sinister plan. She deadpans it doesn’t bother her and continues out the door. Ace counts down aloud from 3, and she enters on 1 declaring that she does indeed need to tell him all about it.

That is certainly a sight.

Odora then explains she intends to create a treatment for aging. As she goes into her big, villain, speech, Ace plugs his ears and sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” via a sequence of “La’s.” This just enrages and annoys Odora and she has her men restrain him once again. Odora then explains her enemy is aging for as we age things become loose and sag, as she describes the various body parts starting with the face that fall victim to this Ace stops her before she can get past the neck. She then explains that Santa’s reindeer possess the unusual ability to defy gravity and reasons the secret must be in their glands. The professor then wheels in a contraption containing all 8 of Santa’s reindeer. They’re confined with their rear pointing up and a giant syringe is poised above them. It’s pretty kinky, though the reindeer do not look like they’re into these kinds of reindeer games.

At least Spike is enjoying himself.

Odora leaves Ace with an explanation about a death trap she has laid for him as she heads back to the party. As she does though, Spike hitches a ride on the back of her blazer while the goons drag Ace off to certain death. As they do, he reveals to them, out of a sense of moral obligation, that his monkey has escaped and is undoubtedly seeking help. We then cut to Spike at the party stuffing his face with food.

I really don’t like Ace’s character model.

Ace is then dragged away, all the while pleading, and in the process he opens the cage of the albino alligator. The ornery, and surprisingly bipedal, reptile chases the two goons up onto a giant chemical vat. Ace dusts himself off and informs the crooks this is what happens when you mess with him, mistaking the alligator for an ally. It then takes note of him and starts chasing him around the factory forcing Ace to exit into the party. Seeing all of the police in one place, he gets the sensible idea to inform them what’s going on in the other room. When Ace reveals that Odora should be arrested for abducting Santa’s reindeer, the suggestion is met with laughter.

At Ace’s apartment, we check-in with Santa to find him watching TV while one of Ace’s penguins searches for food in his beard. While channel-surfing, Santa stumbles onto apparent live coverage of the function and Ace pleading with the cops to arrest Odora. They’re not taking him seriously, and Emilio tries to reason with Ace by letting him know he’s not helping his cause. Ace then decides they’d probably like to arrest him, and he goads them into doing so while Aguado shouts “he’s disturbing the peace! Arrest him!” As Ace runs off, it’s clear he intends to lead the pursuing officers into the factory. Odora catches wind of the plan and counters in a fiendishly clever way: the dessert tray!

Never fear, Santa is here!

Ace races over to the captive reindeer, but all of the officers have abandoned the chase in pursuit of something sweet. The two other goons have also somehow returned the alligator to his cage, and the third goon still dressed as Santa re-enters the room. With Ace surrounded, it looks like his goose is cooked, but here comes Santa Claus! He swoops in like Tarzan to take out the impostor Santa, then turns his attention to the big guy. He takes him out with a series of kicks, leaving the professor for Ace. He yanks off the little guy’s glasses, and since this is a cartoon, this renders him blind.

Ace living out every kid’s fantasy.

With that guy out of the way, Ace is able to free the reindeer and not a moment too soon as they were about to be “penetrated” by the giant needles. The impostor Santa grabs one of the giant needles and charges towards Ace, but he’s saved by the reindeer. Flying high in the factory, Ace notices the fake Santa has turned his attention to the real Santa. As he charges Santa, Ace swoops in on his reindeer and crashes into him causing the needle to stab into the machinery. This apparently causes an overload of some kind, and the goons beat a hasty retreat.

That’s unfortunate.

Or they would, if it not for the fact that their helicopter was sabotaged! As Ace compliments Santa on his fighting prowess, the copter explodes and the three goons fall from the sky. They land right on Mr. Schickadance, who was still hanging from his sign after Ace took out his ladder. Santa then bids Ace farewell with an uncharacteristic “Heigh-ho, reindeer away!” He thanks Ace, and Ace responds with a “Wait until you see my bill!” He then remembers Spike is still in the building, and he’s been eating this whole time and apparently it’s caught up to him as he gets sick all over Odora’s lap.

I’m surprised we had to wait until the final act for a vomit gag.

Ace stops in front of the giant Odora #5 tank to declare it’s about to blow in a comedic fashion. He then heads into the party to pass this warning on to the police inside, though he’s more interested in making puns. He warns Aguado he’s about to receive a white Christmas as the whole thing blows up covering everyone in white cream. It also frees the rare, albino, alligator which was likely stolen from somewhere and is enough to get Odora arrested.

Ever see an albino alligator covered in cosmetics?

We then catch-up with Ace on the beach as his skin is now bone white. He needs to catch some rays in order to return his skin to some form of normal, and he has Santa along beside him. Ace gives Santa a Christmas present and it’s a shirt just like Ace’s to go along with Santa’s new hairstyle, which Ace reveals by yanking off Santa’s hat. Apparently Santa has co-opted Ace’s signature ‘do, and he goes into a nervous, stammering, explanation as the episode ends.

Now that’s a Miami Christmas.

And that is how Ace Ventura rescued Santa’s reindeer and saved Christmas! All in all, it was mostly what I expected. For better or worse, the Ace Ventura presented here is true to its big screen counterpart. He’s constantly rambling, sometimes its nonsensical, but mostly it’s surprisingly lucid. He’s a far more capable detective, I mean dick, than expected despite his slightly unorthodox approach. It’s a solid premise to incorporate Christmas into the show, and I suppose it was entertaining to kids who liked the films. For me, I was definitely ready for it to be over as a little Ace goes a long way.

The character designs did little for me.

Visually the show is rather ugly. It’s at least bright with a fairly robust color palette, but it’s also super basic. No shading or lighting to speak of and the character designs are a bit crude and ugly. There’s nothing really unique about it as even the three bad guys have a very bland look to them. The voice cast is serviceable, and I think Daingerfield does a good job with what he has, but none of the other cast members do much to stand out. I did like Pam Hyatt’s performance as Odora. And that’s a fun name for a villain too: Atrocia Odora. She has a little Cruella in her and it’s not very subtle.

I think Ace Ventura is just a character you either love or hate, with little room for in-between.

Given all of that, it’s not at all surprising that the cartoon version of Ace Ventura is rarely referenced. The show basically came and went, airing in the waning days of the CBS Saturday Morning before heading to cable to die. I am rather surprised it ever made it to a major network, but that was the power of Jim Carrey in the mid-90s, even if he had nothing to do with the cartoon. This one feels more like a USA show. Regardless, if you like the movies then there’s a reasonably good chance you’ll like this portrayal. And if you want to view it, you’ll probably have to track down a DVD or pay for a streaming option. It’s not terribly expensive, but I also wouldn’t really call it worth it either.


Dec. 15 – Bobby’s World – “Miracle on 34th Street and Rural Route 1”

Original air date December 22, 1995

When the Fox Network launched in the late 80s it had an uphill battle in front of it to gain relevance. The network seemed to know from the start that it couldn’t just jump right in and start doing what networks like ABC and CBS had already done and instead chose to focus on under-served aspects of entertainment. Sketch comedy, edgy sitcoms, live sports, and adult animation helped propel the network to eventual heights, but also helping along the way was good old Saturday morning. Fox would craft its own block of children’s programming and source material from admittedly odd places. And one such work was Bobby’s World.

Bobby’s World aired from 1990 – 1998, but like a lot of Fox Kids originals, it seems to have just disappeared since.

Bobby’s World is largely credited to comedian Howie Mandel, who at the time was best known for his stand-up routines and a role on the series St. Elsewhere. The real credit though belongs to a pair of Jims: Jim Fisher and Jim Staahl. Both knew Mandel and once worked at the famed Second City. The pair were contracted by Fox to create a kid’s show and the two thought of their friend Howie and his character Bobby. Bobby was part of Mandel’s stand-up routine and was basically just a vessel for Mandel’s funny voice which at that point had also appeared in Gremlins and Muppet Babies. Mandel was onboard and did contribute story ideas and such, but it’s a stretch to say he created the show. He was definitely the face of it though, as he would voice Bobby and Bobby’s father, Howard, who was basically just a cartoon version of himself. He also appeared in live-action segments to open and close each episode. Was his “star power” really needed? Probably not, as the target audience of children probably could not have cared less who Howie Mandel was, but it probably helped the show get some added coverage.

It’s a cartoon about that kid from The Shining!

Bobby’s World was one of the first hits for what would become Fox Kids. It premiered in 1990 and would run for 8 seasons totaling 81 episodes. Each episode basically revolved around Bobby, who was a young boy of about 4 with huge feet and an ill-fitting shirt who possessed an overactive imagination. The show is rather interesting for its use of change. Bobby actually ages throughout the life of the show. He begins the series as the youngest of the family, but by Season 3 he has twin infant brothers. By the time the show ended he was considered to be around age 7 or 8 though he was just as imaginative as always. It’s not a particularly original concept, a kid escaping reality via his own imagination, but the Bobby character wasn’t without charm so it’s not hard to see why the show worked in the long run.

In Season 6 the show decided to do a Christmas episode. This might seem a bit puzzling to some reading this since Bobby is a Howie Mandel character and Bobby’s dad in the show is basically Howie who is very Jewish. As was covered already, Mandel wasn’t the one writing the show and apparently he didn’t care that Bobby was going to canonically be Christian. Or he did, but didn’t make a big fuss about it. Considering that Fox was willing to be different, it’s a bit surprising that they didn’t do a Hanukkah episode instead, but network folks might have been pushing for Christmas. The episode could have stuck that in its back pocket for another holiday episode since the Generics (yes, the family name is literally Generic) celebrate Christmas with their mother’s parents, but Howard’s cousin also joins them so that muddies things a bit.

Every episode begins with Howie, usually with Bobby, in an animated setting. It ain’t no Roger Rabbit.

The episode begins with Mandel alongside Bobby to introduce the story. Mandel talks about his love of Christmas (maybe his family celebrated both?) and his fondness for the scents of the season. This opens up a joke for Bobby recalling the smell Uncle Ted makes when he pulls his finger causing Mandel to stop him there and get on with the episode.

Many car rides on Christmas Eve ended this way for me too.

The episode begins with the Generics arriving home following a Christmas gathering. It’s dark and everyone’s asleep in the car as Howard scoops Bobby up out of the back seat. I see palm trees in the background and they’re returning from a place where it snows so this has been one hell of a car ride. He and wife Martha (Gail Matthius) seem proud of their young son as Howard remarks this will be a Christmas Bobby tells his own grand kids about some day. Bobby, half awake, mumbles the same back to himself which sets up another introduction for this plot. Bobby imagines himself an old man recalling the events of the evening to his young grand kids, a boy and a girl who more or less look exactly like him. And despite being old, Bobby also appears to possess the same body only he’s wrinkly and has white hair. This is the imagination of a kid, after all.

The episode is going to go back and forth between the events of the plot and Old Man Bobby. It’s entirely unnecessary.

Elder Bobby then starts to tell the grand kids what happened that day and the story is finally allowed to begin. It starts at the Generic home with Bobby recalling the smell of his mother’s Christmas cookies. We will soon find out these cookies shouldn’t smell great as she refers to them as frosted whole wheat fiber holiday nuggets. They look about as appetizing as the dough is gray and reminds me of the gruel from Kamp Krusty. This is also the time for Bobby to setup his transformation as he’s obsessed with getting a Captain Squash Game Master for Christmas. His mom asks him if he knows what Christmas is all about and he gives the predictable kid answer: presents. She doesn’t correct him though and instead reprimands him for eating raw dough.

The family’s idea for a Christmas carol is just to take everything about Christmas and cram it into one song.

The family then piles into the station wagon to head to the home of their grandparents. It’s a long ride, long enough that everyone in the car is sick of hearing Christmas songs on the radio before they get there. This prompts Martha to encourage her bored kids Kelly (Charity James), Derek (Kevin Michaels), and Bobby to come up with their own Christmas carol. They basically just start throwing shit against the wall as they want to incorporate basically everything they love about Christmas into one song: jingle bells, Frosty, Santa, a “knight” before Christmas, snow, etc. It’s sort of cute as it’s done by presenting an idyllic Christmas setting and then images of all of the suggestions just start cluttering the screen. It does end on a fruit cake joke though, and I hate fruit cake jokes. Plus Bobby breaks the fourth wall to reference Barry Manilow which certainly dates this one.

He’s very fond of maps.

Eventually the family finally arrives at the home of Martha’s parents. Martha’s father is apparently Swedish? Or else the mid-western accent is just being taken to strange, new, places. Either way, Bobby once more breaks the fourth wall to request we not make fun of his family and we should respect the young boy’s wishes. We cut back to elder Bobby telling his story in which he sets up how he wants to tell his grandpa and grandma about the game he wants for Christmas only to find that his grandpa only wants to talk about one thing: directions. He even pulls down a shade in the living room which has a map on it as he interrogates Howard about the route he took to get there. Martha basically narcs on her own husband to confess they got lost while Bobby is allowed to display his aptitude for observational humor by questioning why kids always ask “are we there yet?” while adults ask “how did you get here?”

Uncle Ted is quite affectionate towards his brother-in-law.

Kelly then walks into the living room to question where a foul odor is coming from. Derek blames Bobby, but elder Bobby is returned just to tell us his grandmother’s house apparently always smelled like shit. The smell theme will continue. The doorbell rings and it’s Uncle Ted (Tino Insana) with his sister, Aunt Ruth (Susan Tolsky), the baker of really awful fruit cake. Ted dispenses with Christmas noogies and even has some mistletoe to sneak a smooch with…Howard? Meanwhile, Ruth practically tares Bobby’s face off while pinching his cheeks. Bobby though is delighted to see his uncle which is actually really sweet. He’s also happy because they brought the tree which they soon drag into the house. They put it up and then all have a good smell.

The Philadelphia wing of the Generic family is nothing to brag about.

We then pivot back to elder Bobby as his grand kids want him to get to the part where they open presents. Bobby tells them they’re not there yet, for first he has to tell them about his dad’s cousins from Philadelphia. They’re different and we see they dress quite formally. The father’s name is Sydney and he is clearly voiced by Rob Paulsen. He has a wife named Maive? Mame? Either way, she looks a lot older than him. They also have two teen aged kids in Jeffrey (Paulsen) and Brianna. None of the credits detail who voices who, so let’s just pile a bunch of names right here: Jim Fisher, Pat Fraley, Andrea Martin, Jim Staahl, and we might as well mention Frank Welker, who voices the family dog, Roger.

The Philly Generics are pretty condescending and their kids are just big jerks. It’s really quite puzzling that they would drive all the way out there from Philadelphia to be some place they clearly do not wish to be. Bobby is not at all bothered by the hostility as he just assumes with this many people in the house he’s sure to get what he wants for Christmas! He then declares that’s what Christmas is all about so they can really drive home the true meaning of Christmas later.

Nothing like a good family argument and a lit Christmas tree to set the mood.

The families then decorate the tree, and no one can agree on anything. Sydney thinks they need more lights while Ted insists on more tinsel. Ruth and the other lady argue about ornament placement, and everyone eventually just starts shouting. Bobby remarks it’s nice that Christmas gives families a chance to talk. His dad then asks him for the star, and Bobby daydreams about himself as a star. He has an odd idea for what a star should be as he imagines himself as a Phantom of the Opera-like character in front of a gigantic, synth, organ. He eventually snaps out of it and hands his dad the star who places it atop a well-decorated tree. Ted plugs the lights into a clearly overloaded socket A Christmas Story style, and the whole family gathers around to bask in the festive glow of the tree. Okay, now I want it to be Christmas in my house.

Bobby is apparently not one for carolers.

Next on the agenda is dinner. What’s on the menu? A traditional Christmas turkey. Howard first brings the bird to the kid’s table and Bobby remarks that it stinks. Howard gets mad at his son’s rudeness, while his sister informs him he’s just smelling their brother’s socks which were left to dry on a nearby radiator. Bobby is then tasked with saying “Grace,” so he literally just says “Grace.” The family shares a short, awkward, pause then Ted decides that’s good enough and digs in. The family then resumes its bickering as they can’t even agree on which direction to pass the sides. Sydney also feels the need to correct Ted on his use of the term “cranberry sauce” as the gelatin stuff doesn’t meet his definition. Seriously, who invited this guy?! Jeffrey then starts an argument about stuffing, and only the ringing of the doorbell can save this meal. Bobby is the only one to get up and answer it. He finds a group of carolers, and promptly shuts the door on them and returns to his seat. When his dad asks who was there, he says “I don’t know,” which just prompts his mother to ask “Well, what did they say?” “Fa-la-la-la-la-la…”

This show isn’t much to look at, but that’s a hell of an image for a Christmas special.

The interrogation is interrupted when Bobby notices another odd smell, and this time it isn’t socks. There’s smoke filling the room and Bobby is the only one to get up and run over to the source to find the Christmas tree in flames. I mean, really people, you let the five-year-old investigate the source of a fire?!

Yes, Bobby, we can see that the house is presently on fire.

The family is forced to exit the house and Bobby then wonders aloud how Santa will get him his toys with the house on fire? We then see some of Bobby’s imagination at work as Santa (Welker) lands on the roof of the house (with the proper amount of reindeer) and tries to go down the chimney with Bobby’s coveted Captain Squash Game Master. When he tries to descend the chimney he’s set on fire and rocketed into the night sky. Surprisingly, he doesn’t pass in front of the moon.

With all of the houses he visits in a given year, you gotta believe this happens to Santa on the regular.

As Bobby laments the loss of a toy he never had, two firemen decide to reprimand the five-year-old about proper fire safety. Maybe lecture the adults? They also push their artificial tree agenda on Bobby which is so distasteful! The family then just sort of stands there and surveys the damage to the house. They soon start arguing as Ted blames Sydney’s lights for causing the whole thing. As Martha tries to speak, she can’t be heard over the arguing and Bobby is forced to yell to get everyone to be quiet so his mom can talk, which is rather sweet of him. Martha just scolds everyone finishing on the tried and true line of “Can’t we all just get along?” Grandpa then suggests to Bobby they head inside to see what’s worth saving. For a guy who basically just lost his house, he’s in a rather cheery mood.

One present made it through the fire, and wouldn’t ya know, it’s for Bobby.

The inside of the house is pretty much wrecked. The fire tore through the living room and left a rather large hole in the roof. Bobby’s mom calls everyone over to the carcass of the once fine-looking Christmas tree to announce one present survived the fire: Bobby’s present. He unwraps it eagerly to find his Squash game. He’s overjoyed, until he sees his cousin Jeffrey crying because he wanted one of those for Christmas, but it was under the tree and burned up. He then mournfully remarks he’ll have to wait until his birthday in July to get one. Bobby falls for this obvious con and hands over his present to Jeffrey. He perks up and accepts the gift, while Bobby’s mom tells him she’s so proud of him. Bobby says he feels good to do it, while I sit here in disbelief that the adults in the room allowed a teenager to take a kindergartners only Christmas gift! Jeffrey sucks!

This kid sucks.

The rest of the family take a moment to praise Bobby, who now understands the true meaning of Christmas. Ted also forces them to confront how shitty they’ve been acting, and he even breaks out the mistletoe to smooch Philadelphia Lady. Ruth comes in with her fruit cake, which apparently survived the fire as well. At first, no one wants any, but an elbow to the belly from his wife causes Howard to volunteer, followed by Ted. It starts snowing again, which in a house with no roof means it’s also snowing inside. Grandpa suggests they move the gathering to the barn, along with anything still worth saving.

This is about as close to a Jesus scene as you’re going to get.

In the barn, the family huddles around the twins in an obvious manger scene setup. Bobby, seated by the piano, remarks “What’s that smell?” as we’re apparently still doing this. Of course, they’re in a barn so it stinks. Bobby then decides to share his new Christmas carol with the family, which his siblings wrote down for him. Aunt Ruth plays the piano as Bobby sings. It’s basically “Deck the Halls,” but with Bobby’s favorite Christmas things. The melody also keeps changing as Bobby introduces new things, most of which were mentioned back when this bit first surfaced. His inability to remember the names of Santa’s reindeer is cute. It ends on the notion of “The spirit of giving is what we should do the whole year round,” and the entire family sings the line.

And this sequence from Bobby’s song is as close to a “Santa in front of a full moon,” as we’re going to get.

The festivities then come to an end and everyone heads home. Old man Bobby comes in to tell his grand kids that was the year he learned what Christmas is really about. We then see Howard carrying Bobby to bed as he remarks he hopes Bobby will remember the lesson from this Christmas. He asks, “Remember what?” and his dad just laughs softly and rubs his head. Bobby then laughs himself and remarks that it’s always fun to tease your parents. Live-action Howie then pops in, crying, telling us how he enjoyed the story. Bobby thinks it’s odd he’s crying, and asks for some meat. He always gets hungry around the holidays apparently. This one is over!

Pleasant dreams, Bob-oh!

The Bobby’s World Christmas special with the stupidly long episode title is okay. It’s so concerned with setting up the moral of the episode that it practically beats the audience over the head with it. It’s too telegraphed, and Bobby giving his lone gift to a spoiled, rich, teen, just doesn’t land in the feels. Maybe if he had given it to an orphan or something, or was just forced to go without, the scene could have had more impact. Instead it just feels too wooden to even be confused with corn. I also dislike how the episode writes Santa off. If I were watching this as a kid, and surely I did at some point, I’d just wonder why Bobby thinks Santa can’t go to his house with his present? Santa doesn’t go to your grandmother’s house, unless you’re sleeping there on Christmas Eve!

We need to check-in one more time with a crying Howie before we say goodbye.

The one thing this episode does have going for it is the likability of Bobby himself. He’s cute, and some of his observations about the world around him are genuinely amusing, though a bunch aren’t as witty as the writing would like you to believe. Most of the other characters are a bit under-served, but this is also one episode out of 81 in which most of these characters have a chance to develop. The family from Philadelphia definitely sucks though, I hope they didn’t return in a future episode.

I hope you ended up getting that Captain Squash thing, Bobby.

If you wish to spend Christmas with Bobby and his family the entire series is available on DVD. It was released as a manufacture on demand title so it’s not the easiest thing to acquire now. It is available via Prime and if you have a subscription it’s included. You can also purchase digital versions of the episode. Bobby’s World also isn’t a well-protected piece of intellectual property so you can also stream it for free. As I write this, it’s available on YouTube so go for it if you wish. This is definitely more of a nostalgia view, if you liked the show as a kid then you’ll probably have fun revisiting it. Otherwise, I give it just a tepid recommend. Watch it if you just feel like experiencing something different from your regular Christmas viewing habits, assuming it isn’t already a part of it.


Dec. 14 – Aqua Teen Hunger Force – “A PE Christmas”

Original air date December 13, 2009.

It was a couple of years ago we looked at the first Aqua Teen Hunger Force Christmas episode because it contained Danzig. I was basically required to talk about it! This year we’re coming back to it, and wouldn’t you know, there is a musical component to this one as well.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force was one of the first Adult Swim cartoons to really break-out as a full-fledged hit for the network. It was crudely animated and quite absurd as it detailed three characters based on food items: Master Shake (Dana Snyder), Frylock (Carey Means), and Meatwad (Dave Willis). They are literally a giant shake cup, box of french fries, and a meatball all with a face. Shake has the bonus feature of containing hands too while Frylock is forced to use his “fries” as limbs and Meatwad can basically contort his body into different shapes. The show was created by Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro with the concept being these three would solve mysteries, only the mysteries would be relatively stupid and the characters would be rather bad at their job. That premise was dropped pretty quickly and it more or less became a show about misadventures. Master Shake would style himself the alpha of the group despite the fact that he’s mean, stupid, and self-centered. Meatwad is more child-like, but also pretty dumb and quite impressionable. Frylock is the only one with any sense of reason and it’s amazing he wasn’t driven insane by those he lives with.

The Aqua Teens (left to right): Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad.

The show takes place in New Jersey and the cast of characters would gradually fill out. Neighbor Carl (Willis) was featured the most and frequently found his life being completely upended and sometimes just plain ended by his weird neighbors. It’s funny when misfortune befalls him though as he’s a pretty terrible person as well. Various denizens of space would be added and all manner of just weird would cross paths with the main characters. Each episode was only around 11 minutes and most didn’t have much continuity from one to another. Sometimes characters would re-appear and reference past exploits on the show, but also many episodes end with a main character getting killed only to be returned the next week.

The show returned to Christmas for the Season 7 episode “A PE Christmas.” This episode will see Shake try to once again execute what he considers a brilliant, money-making scheme, that’s really foolish and misguided and destined to fail. Despite being a weird and rather ugly show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force was pretty successful at landing guest spots and this episode features some celebrity cameos like that first Christmas episode we looked at.

This is a very welcoming church, even by church standards.

The episode begins at, of all places, church. Frylock is apparently taking his faith and the role it plays in the Christmas holiday quite seriously, while Shake is not. Meatwad, for his part, is basically just along for the ride. Shake is irritated that there’s no food, pointing out they have bread, but no meat. He needs protein to bulk up for next Halloween (he says, as he mimes a Hulk Hogan pose). Frylock is embarrassed for them as people keep turning and shooting glances their way. Surprisingly, most of the people featured look normal and apparently some are even based on the creative staff on the show (Willis is for sure present in the audience). Shake then tries to get Meatwad to assist him in swiping the donation hat, but is denied by Frylock who actually happens to have money to donate. He tells the two they need to learn about how good it feels to give, while Meatwad notes it feels pretty good to receive as well.

Frylock probably didn’t need to drag him out, I’m sure he would have been more than willing to leave on his own.

Shake continues his rant as it’s evident he wants no part of this. Meatwad just wants to sit on Santa’s lap and it’s soon revealed he has mistaken Jesus for Santa. Frylock corrects him, but Meatwad still seems a bit attached to his theory considering Jesus has a beard, but he notes the stab wound from the spear and the shredded abs as a strike against his theory. Frylock ends up shouting in frustration that “Santa didn’t die for our sins!” which just confuses Meatwad further as now he thinks Frylock is telling him Santa is dead. Shake, who often behaves like an older brother towards Meatwad, sees this as an opening to tease him further by telling him Santa is indeed dead. Meatwad continues to get upset, while Shake keeps going, and Frylock decides enough is enough as he drags Shake out of the church. The whole time Shake is shouting about Jesus the failure wondering aloud how a guy gets himself nailed to a cross, “We’re supposed to revere him for his slow reaction time?!” We also see some inhuman cameos as Frylock drags Shake out so there’s the weird I was looking for.

They decorate, but it’s kind of sad.

Back at their house, we see the “Christmas tree” from the last episode has returned. It’s basically just green crayon on the wall with some stuff glued on. They’ve also added some lights and even a little Charlie Brown tree. There’s a manger in the background and it looks like a wrestling figure is playing the role of Jesus, possibly a WCW Giant or maybe Hillbilly Jim. Frylock is preparing Meatwad for a shitty Christmas, though Meatwad still seems to think he has a shot at a new Super Soaker. This is where Shake reveals he has a money-making plan up his…sleeve? He’s apparently stolen some financial documents from Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy. Meatwad notes the print-out for Chuck D is his 401k. Shake seems to think this is enough material to declare that he has stolen their identities and that he intends to record a Christmas album under the Public Enemy heading and call it “Bring Tha Toyz.” He then demands Frylock take him to a recording studio right this very moment on Christmas Eve to record so that he may have it in stores for Christmas Day.

I’d buy it.

We then cut to Shake and Meatwad in a recording studio. Shake is decked out in outlandish hip-hop attire including a massive grill he’s trying to talk through. He eventually spits it out and complains openly about Frylock needing to reimburse him for the hour and a half of studio time they missed out on due to him refusing to drive them. Their technician for the evening is Michael (Michael Kohler) and he is about as excited to be there as one would expect. Meatwad is hoping to slip in some Christmas classics on Shake’s album, but Shake doesn’t seem too receptive. He’s also worried about listeners being able to tell that they are not Public Enemy, but Shake reminds them they’ll be modulating his voice. Plus, it won’t matter since they’ll have already bought the record!

I like the inclusion of the digital clock on Shake’s Flavor Flav costume.

The tape starts rolling and Shake starts spitting his rhymes, “Happy birthday Jesus, you are the one, coming down to Earth from the planet Krypton!” It doesn’t go on much longer than that totaling about 12 seconds. They head into the booth for Michael to play it back. Michael asks somewhat hopefully if they’re done and Shake seems to think they are, despite it being one 12 second track. Meatwad points out that most albums have at least six songs and Shake angrily concedes. He tosses a bottle of soda at Michael and makes a mess as he heads back into the recording booth.

Poor Michael has to put up with Shake’s bullshit when he’d probably rather be somewhere else on Christmas Eve.

Shake then raps a bunch of nonsense about what he’s looking at “Stapler on the desk,” and the lack of lumbar support on his chair. He declares it done after only a few seconds. Meatwad sees this as an opportunity to get one of his songs onto the record, but Shake insists that Jesus doesn’t want him to sing on his record. Meatwad continues to press Shake, only for him to relent because he has to go take a dump, though he orders Michael not to roll on this take that is about to take place. As Meatwad sings “Silent Night,” we can hear the sounds of Shake’s “movement” over Meatwad’s vocals. Meatwad asks of Michael to close the bathroom door, but he tells Meatwad it is as Shake continues to shout something about eels. He eventually emerges with a plunger and informs Michael someone from his entourage must have plugged up the toilet as water starts filling the studio.

Santa has odd taste.

The next morning, at the house the guys wake up to find a bunch of eels in the living room by their tree. Meatwad thinks Santa brought them for him and asks Frylock if he can keep them while Shake informs us these came out of him. They look like big worms and they have this weird expression on their “faces” that looks kind of tired, but also is possibly hiding an existence of constant pain. Shake then declares they need to go see how his record is selling.

There’s only one way into a store on Christmas.

Outside a store called Better Buy, Shake is trying to get through the doors, but they’re locked. Frylock gets in an “I told you so,” since it’s Christmas Day so of course the store is closed. It’s also likely the record isn’t in there anyway since they recorded it last night. Shake is a being devoid of logic though, so he starts trying to pry open the door with a monkey wrench. Meatwad and Frylock bail as an alarm blares, and Shake gets fed up and just tosses a garbage can through the door and goes in.

How dare they arrest Flavor Flav on Christmas?!

We cut to Shake in a holding cell back in his hip hop attire demanding to be let out because he is Flavor Flav. There are two guys behind in the corner, one being a reoccurring homeless man character model, who seem to ignore his ranting. He then wonders aloud just what he ate in Chuck D’s dumpster as more eels explode out of his backside. Since he’s a paper cup, he just collapses in a crumpled heap on the floor while the two guys behind him get sprayed with shit-blood to no reaction.

That’s a pretty sight.

We then get to see an additional scene in which Meatwad meets Chuck D (himself) disguised as Flavor Flav. Chuck D is rather confused by Flav’s appearance, but Meatwad assures him he just lost some weight. He also returns to him all of the stuff Shake had stolen, which apparently included a lot more than he had revealed earlier in the episode. He also compliments Chuck on his credit score. He then advises him to lock his dumpster, and Chuck D corrects him that it’s not a dumpster, but actually a lair for his space eels. Meatwad then demos the song he recorded, “Silent Night” with Shake’s farting and groaning over it, and Chuck D actually likes it and declares, “It’s gonna be huge.” We hard-cut to the ending credits which feature Shake’s Christmas rap, “Twas the Night Before Jesus,” only sung by Schoolly D, the regular performer for the opening credits.

This episode is pretty ridiculous, but what is somewhat surprising is it actually contains more Christmas than the previous episode we looked at. It does a good job of finding a use for the holiday within the world that is Aqua Teen Hunger Force and any episode involving some ridiculous Shake scheme to make money is often pretty entertaining. There’s some great lines from Shake and his exchanges with Meatwad are humorous, but the real scene-stealer is probably the engineer, Michael, who deadpans all of his lines. Kohler does a great job of just capturing the mood of an employee who wants nothing to do with his job at the moment without outwardly stating that.

The engineer, Michael, is perhaps my favorite character in this episode. He has to put up with a lot of shit. Literally.

Interestingly, the episode must not have been finished for its original airing in December, 2009. It originally ended with Shake’s back exploding and the eels emerging. The scene with Chuck D wasn’t added until it aired in March of 2010. I’m guessing the episode was rushed before they could get Chuck D’s audio recorded so it could air during the Christmas season, unless Chuck D happened to see it and liked it and thus an opportunity was presented to tack on a guest appearance. Either way, I actually think both endings work because the show is often so surreal and absurd that something like eel diarrhea doesn’t necessarily need an explanation. It’s certainly nice to have one though, and as a final dig towards Shake it turns out Chuck D likes Meatwad’s song instead of his.

This is a Christmas episode that is not likely to provide the usual dose of Christmas “feels,” but you’ll probably get some laughs. If you’re real passionate about the Christian side of the holiday then maybe some of the church scene will turn you off, but this was never meant to appeal to devout Christians looking to celebrate Jesus. And for what it’s worth, Shake does get his comeuppance by the end. If you wish to view it, it’s been released as part of Season 7 of Aqua Teen Hunger Force both on physical media formats and digitally. For some reason, it’s listed as part of Season 9 in some places so check first if you’re looking to buy a whole season. The entire series is also streaming on HBO Max. It’s also likely that Adult Swim will rebroadcast it this month as the network is pretty good about re-airing its Christmas episodes every year, though some of the older ones can get lost in the shuffle since there are just so many at this point. At just over 11 minutes long, it’s certainly worth a look this Christmas if this show’s humor appeals to you.


Dec. 13 – The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials

Five years ago The Christmas Spot did its first advent calendar countdown to Christmas and the theme was “The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials.” With that list, my approach wasn’t entirely forthright. I really had a list of 20 specials that I deemed worthy of such an honor and I devoted the back five to specials I felt were worth spotlighting that might otherwise have been overlooked. What I also should have added at the time was that the list is fluid. It’s going to change as we as a society of holiday consumers reevaluate the old and welcome the new. Seeing as it’s been five years, it felt right to look back on that list, re-arrange a few entries, add some more, and kick out some that have grown stale. I should stress, this is all one man’s opinion on television specials and as someone who loves Christmas I do tend to watch a lot of these specials too much and there’s definitely a fatigue factor. The list of holiday fare I indulge in year in and year out goes deeper than 25, so if your favorite isn’t here don’t sweat it. I probably think it’s fine.

For this exercise, I think it makes sense to just go down the list comparing the original to the revised edition. I’ll list the number and the entry with the previous ranking (if applicable) in parenthesis after and the 2015 entry after that, like so:

25. A Flintstone Christmas (#9) (Moral Orel – The Best Christmas Ever)

I like A Flintstone Christmas a lot, but I’ve also seen it a lot and I think it just doesn’t affect me in the same way now as it did years ago. As for Moral Orel, it’s a fine, dark, Christmas special and not something I need to watch every year.

24. American Dad! – For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls (UR) (Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too)

American Dad! has become one of the titans of Christmas as it has a new special almost every year. “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” is bloody and insane, which is what makes it the most memorable for me, but there are a lot of contenders from this show. Winnie the Pooh’s foray into Christmas is plenty sweet, but also not very remarkable.

23. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (#13) (Robot Chicken’s Half-Assed Christmas Special)

Rudolph is a classic, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s mostly included on all of these lists because of its classic status. It’s kind of ugly, and I think most of us watch it out of habit as opposed to pure enjoyment. Still, there’s no replicating that warm, nostalgic, feel it’s still capable of conjuring up. As for Robot Chicken, I very much enjoy the marathon sessions Adult Swim will air during December, but it’s designed to be disposable and the jokes are very hit or miss.

22. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (UR) (Invader Zim – Most Horrible X-Mas Ever)

Olaf’s special wasn’t around in 2015, but it looks like it’s going to be an annual tradition for awhile. It’s funny, warm, and even features songs I don’t hate. He’s quickly become the most charismatic snowman around. Invader Zim is fine, but if you want an absurd Christmas story then I think there’s better out there (like American Dad!).

21. The Tick Loves Santa (UR) (Married…with Children – You Better Watch Out)

In 2020, offbeat and silly superhero stuff is really appealing given how superheroes rule the box office (or would in a normal year). That makes The Tick a series I can appreciate even more now than I did back in 94. And watching The Tick bumble his way through a Christmas story is a great deal of fun. It knocks off the only live-action special from 2015 to be featured on this list. Married…with Children is sort of like the sitcom version of American Dad! because it has a lot of Christmas specials, and most are pretty subversive. It’s still worth watching, but it was always at risk of being dropped for the simple fact that I favor cartoons.

20. Bob’s Burgers – Christmas in the Car (UR) (The Snowman)

Bob’s Burgers and American Dad! are battling it out to be the current king of Christmas since both are prepared seemingly year in and year out. I give the edge to the Belcher family, and while it’s hard to pick a favorite from this crew, I think “Christmas in the Car” is still the reigning champ though I seem to warm more and more to “Father of the Bob” every time I view it. The Snowman is the victim I feel the worst about. It’s not moving up the ranks, but out. I know a lot of folks adore it, but I’ve just never been able to feel the same way about it. Sorry!

19. Frosty the Snowman (#15) (It’s a SpongeBob Christmas)

Like Rudolph, Frosty is skating by on reputation at this point. Unlike Rudolph though, I still feel charmed by this one whenever I watch it. The characters are goofy, some of the plot points make no sense, and that damn song will forever remain catchy. As for SpongeBob, worry not for him, for he will appear later on this list in a more prominent position.

18. Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas (#18) (Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas)

Hey! One that didn’t change! Spoiler alert, but this one is just the first to not move a spot. This one is wonderfully stupid and subversive. Many confuse Beavis and Butt-Head for just stupid, but there’s a lot of satire to be found with the duo. It’s not for everyone, but it sure is funny.

17. Futurama – Xmas Story (#12) (A Muppet Family Christmas)

Futurama hangs on slipping just five spots. It wasn’t in any real danger to fall off as I love the show and I love it’s take on Christmas. The Muppets, on the other hand, were mostly on the old version for the novelty of their special and nostalgia. Admittedly though, the special isn’t great and has maybe 2 or 3 good laughs during its hour-long runtime. Plus that ending goes on and on…

16. A Charlie Brown Christmas (#4) (Yes, Virginia)

Hoo-boy was I coward in 2015! Charlie Brown is a classic, but it’s also quite dull. It’s quotable, has great music, and the good-bad voice acting is somehow really charming. It’s near the top of many lists because it’s been around so long and boomers love it while younger generations were forced to enjoy it. Top 16 is still good, but we all need to be more honest when it comes to Charlie Brown. Yes, Virginia is super sweet and I love the ending, it’s getting there that’s tough. The special is pretty slow and the CG is downright ugly. This one would have been a lot better as a short, but maybe someone will return to it and do just that. And if you hadn’t heard, A Charlie Brown Christmas is airing tonight on PBS at 7:30 PM local time (6:30 CT) which is big news since It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was frozen out of a broadcast airing in 2020 for the first time ever.

15. A Pinky and the Brain Christmas (UR) (Frosty the Snowman)

This one was just an oversight on my part back in 2015. I had not seen it in years, but when I re-watched it for The Christmas Spot in 2017 I was reminded of how wonderful a viewing it is. That ending gets me every time.

14. The Night Before Christmas starring Tom and Jerry (UR) (A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas)

Another one I forgot about and overlooked, Tom and Jerry’s battle under the Christmas tree is full of the usual gags the duo is known for. The animation is gorgeous, especially the backgrounds, and it tops it all off with a really sweet ending. Family Guy was generously ranked in this spot in 2015 and actually was a tough omission this time around. I do still like that special, easily the best Family Guy Christmas episode I’ve seen, but I basically gave it the boot in favor of the superior show, American Dad!

13. Duck the Halls (UR) (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

It’s Donald Duck and it’s Christmas – it was practically made for me! Duck the Halls is hilarious and the animation is great. Sure, it isn’t ink and paint like the old days, but I find it plenty pleasing. Tony Anselmo gives maybe his best performance ever as Donald, and if anything I’m penalizing this one because we have more Donald to come.

12. Rocko’s Modern Christmas (UR) (Futurama – Xmas Story)

I love Rocko, but in 2015 I had all but forgotten about his Christmas special. Well, not this time as I’m putting him just outside the Top 10. The story is fairly simple, but Rocko is so likable and sympathetic that it makes this one instantly charming. And let’s not forget the great gags like the constipated cloud and the living (until it’s not) Christmas tree.

11. It’s a SpongeBob Christmas (#19) (Prep & Landing)

SpongeBob is moving up in the world and actually is the biggest mover, in a positive direction, this time around. My affection for this stop-motion Christmas special seems to grow and grow each year. In 2015 it was still pretty new so a recency bias worked against it, but five years later I’m more than ready to declare this a modern Christmas classic. And the same can be said for the special that once occupied this spot.

10. South Park – Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo (#8) (A Garfield Christmas)

Mr. Hanky just barely hangs onto a top 10 spot this time out. Is his spot in danger? Yes, considering my love of SpongeBob and Donald Duck. For now though, let’s just reflect on how crazy this special was when it first showed up in 1997 and how South Park used to have a new Christmas special every year. My, how the times have changed.

9. Prep & Landing (#11) (A Flintstone Christmas)

I’m surprised I held Prep & Landing out of the Top 10 last time around, but like SpongeBob, I guess I just wasn’t quite ready to let someone new into the club. The CG still looks great on this one and the story is unique, fun, and even heart-warming. New Christmas specials arrive every year, but rarely does one actually add to the whole Santa Claus lore in a meaningful way, but that’s what Prep & Landing has done. These elves aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

8. A Garfield Christmas (#10) (Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo)

The fat cat who loves lasagna gets to move up a couple spots, largely benefiting from folks like Fred Flintstone and Charlie Brown getting kicked further down the line. This 1987 special is still a treat to take in that blends humor with a surprising amount of sentiment. It’s a shame it lost the network timeslot it held for many years.

7. DuckTales – Last Christmas! (UR) (Toy Tinkers)

DuckTales has made a comeback since 2015 and included among the new episodes is the show’s first ever Christmas special, and it’s wonderful! It turns the story of A Christmas Carol on its head, in a way, with a time travel tale all its own and features the first mother-son pairing of Della and Duey Duck. Plus it has a fantastic cameo from the late, great, Russi Taylor. If you have yet to see it, fix that this year. Especially since word has come out recently the show isn’t being renewed for a fourth season. 2020 just refuses to stop sucking!

6. Toy Tinkers (#7) (Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire)

The Donald Duck/Chip and Dale vehicle moves up one spot this year. It matters little as this is a cartoon all animation lovers and Christmas enthusiasts should make a point to watch every year. The only negative is that the gunplay contained within this one means Disney+ will likely continue to shun it making it a tad harder to come by.

5. A Chipmunk Christmas (#3) (Pluto’s Christmas Tree)

Alvin and the gang spin a fine Christmas tale. I thought highly enough of it to rank it in the top 3 last time, but I’m bumping it down just a couple of spots this year as I basically rearrange some things. This one is becoming a little harder to come by each year as you can’t guarantee a network showing, but DVDs are cheap so grab one if you need it!

4. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (#6) (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

The premiere episode of The Simpsons is still my favorite Christmas special the show has done. Sure, it’s a bit rough to look at these days, but the story is great, classic, Simpsons. I just wish it and the other 80s Christmas specials on this list were celebrated as much as the stuff from the 60s that hasn’t aged so well. Well, most of that stuff has aged horribly, but there’s one notable omission we’ll get to shortly.

3. Pluto’s Christmas Tree (#5) (A Chipmunk Christmas)

Alvin and Pluto essentially switched places largely because I just love this little short. It’s just perfect. The scenery inside the Christmas tree featuring Chip and Dale is just the best. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every time I watch this short – I want to live in that tree. The physical comedy is fantastic, and I just absolutely adore this short. Unlike Toy Tinkers, you can find this one on Disney+ 365 days out of the year. I’ll probably watch it at least a dozen times between now and Christmas.

2. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (#2)

Mickey and our number one didn’t move, and that’s with good reason. This is my preferred version of A Christmas Carol, and frankly, we don’t need any more. It’s the only one on this list other than the parody featured in Beavis and Butt-Head (I don’t really consider “Last Christmas!” an adaptation) which is kind of surprising to me, but it also feels right. This one is beautiful and features some phenomenal voice acting. I’ll never not tear-up at the sight of a crying Mickey when he visits Tiny Tim’s grave, ditto for when Scrooge informs him he’s getting promoted at the end. I’m getting misty eyed right now just thinking about it.

  1. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (#1)

It was number one in 2015, and it will likely remain number one for as long as I’m alive. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is just a perfect Christmas special. It features a story full of heart, humor, redemption, and joy. It’s gorgeously animated with a style unique to both Dr. Seuss and animator Chuck Jones. The music is equally as memorable and the narration from Boris Karloff is the only voice people hear in their heads now-a-days when reading the source material. There’s nothing I’d change about this special, and if I had to pick just one Christmas special to watch annually it would be this one.


Dec. 12 – King of the Hill – “The Unbearable Blindness of Laying”

Original air date December 21, 1997

After yesterday’s horrid feature, I feel that today calls for a Christmas special that’s actually good. And in order to satisfy that desire, I’m heading for Arlen, Texas for our first look at a special from the animated sitcom, King of the Hill. Back when King of the Hill premiered on the Fox Network in 1997, creator Mike Judge was basically known for one thing: Beavis and Butt-Head. The dimwitted pair of Gen-Xers were often misunderstood by the general public. Most saw it as a stupid show and not as the parody it was. That was also partly due to kids like me watching the show and actually viewing the titular duo in a positive light. If they liked a band or music video, then it must be cool, even though the whole premise of the show was that these were a pair of losers worthy of mocking.

The lazy way to describe the premise of King of the Hill is to say Judge took his character Tom Anderson from Beavis and Butt-Head and gave him his own show, only now he had a new name: Hank Hill. And while the two characters certainly share a similar voice, King of the Hill is very much a conventional sitcom about how one family continues to adapt to an ever-changing world. It’s surprisingly open-minded as I think most turn to Hank Hill as some sort of beacon for conservative thought, but the man is far more nuanced than just some redneck Texan. He certainly possesses some prejudice and strong opinions on masculine matters, but he often reacts in a positive manner when he’s shown his point of view is wrong. And the things he remains stubborn on, like the virtues of propane or his preference for beer, are often inconsequential.

King of the Hill was pretty successful from the get-go. It premiered in May of 1997 with the usual small order of episodes for a first season, but was quickly picked up. The second season would premiere a mere four months after the series premiere and it’s in that second season the show would give us its first Christmas episode. “The Unbearable Blindness of Laying” is a pretty funny episode and it might be the show’s best Christmas episode. I know a lot of people like the Season Three episode “Pretty, Pretty, Dresses” and maybe we can look at that one next year, but I’m still pretty attached to this one. This episode is yet another episode of the show where Hank is forced to adapt to a pretty significant change in his world. His mother, long since divorced from his father, is going to show up for Christmas with a new man in tow. And to make things just a bit more complicated, he’s Jewish. Hank isn’t an anti-semite or anything, but he’s often awkward when forced to deal with something he’s unaccustomed to. I also wanted to pick this episode because it features a guest starring role from the late Carl Reiner, who was unfortunately one of 2020’s victims. It’s hard to feel bad for someone who passed away at the ripe old age of 98, but 2020 was such a shitty year that it would have been nice if Reiner could have made it to 2021.

The episode begins with a twangy, instrumental, rendition of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which is the perfect song to choose considering what the plot has in store for us today. All of the folks in the neighborhood are out stringing lights in celebration of the coming holiday. As a denizen of the north eastern part of the US, it’s always a little funny for me to see Christmas in a warm environment. Hank (Judge) is finishing up with his lights when wife Peggy (Kathy Najimy) approaches. Hank is making sure the colored lights are in their proper order as Peggy questions why he’s not excited to see his mother. Hank corrects her that he is excited to see her, it’s been two years since they were last together, but he’s nervous about meeting her new boyfriend.

Hank’s memory of how his father treated his mother.

As Peggy and Hank wait for Hank’s mother, Tilly (Tammy Wynette), at the airport gate, Peggy tries to get Hank to warm up to seeing his mom with a new man. Hank is clearly traumatized from his youth when his father treated his mother like a footrest. We even get a cut-away of Cotton Hill (Toby Huss) literally using Tilly as a footrest in the kitchen while she scrubs the floor. He can’t imagine why she would sign-up for more of the same as he apparently can’t fathom his mother finding a man who treats her well. Tilly then emerges from the the connecting tunnel carrying two pieces of luggage which irritates Hank immediately. Tilly then shakes his hand, two-handed style, which unnerves Hank who is not one for public displays of affection as he tells his mother one-hand only.

The Hills meet Gary.

Tilly’s boyfriend then comes strolling in from the restroom (“You flush it and where does it go?”) and goes right into a much bigger display of affection. Reiner voices him as the stereotypical old Jewish man, which makes sense since Reiner himself is an old Jewish man. He embraces Peggy and kisses her cheek and goes for a big hug with Hank. Hank is clearly unnerved, but Tilly’s boyfriend, Gary Kasner, isn’t going to back down or allow Hank’s obvious discomfort to sway him.

At the Hill residence, Hank informs his mother and Gary of the expected sleeping arrangements. Gary is to sleep on a cot in son Bobby’s room, which prompts Tilly to ask if Hank is uncomfortable with she and Gary sleeping together. Hank assures her it never entered his mind until she said something, and now he can’t possibly think of anything else as he heads down the hall to presumably setup the cot.

When times get rough, turn to your buds and suds.

Outside, Hank drinks beer with the rest of the nieghborhood: Dale (Johnny Hardwick), Bill (Stephen Root), and Boomhauer (Judge). Hank is venting about Gary, and when he says the man’s full name Dale questions if he’s German. Hank corrects him that he’s Jewish, and there’s an awkward silence before Dale demonstrates that he’s surprisingly receptive. Hank is mostly suspicious of the guy because of the luggage thing and the fact that he won’t eat steak after having a bypass, noting his boss gets an annual bypass and eats steak every day! This gets Bill and Dale discussing sacred animals to certain faiths, prompted by Bill first mistakenly thinking cows were sacred to Jews, ending with Bill rationalizing that he can’t follow a religion that restricts his diet. There are ways to get into Heaven, but if that’s one of them then Bill wants no part of it!

Bobby, the budding comedian, finds a role model of sorts in Gary.

Inside the house, Gary and Bobby (Pamela Adlon) are getting ready for bed as Gary will be sleeping on a cot in Bobby’s room. Bobby notes that he and Gary have the same build, which feels like the start of a subplot where Bobby and Gary become kindred spirits. Gary agrees with Bobby’s assessment and Bobby asks him if he’s a war hero like his biological grandfather. Gary replies he’s not, though he spent a lot of time on a submarine in Korea which prompts Bobby to ask about toilets on a submarine. Gary laughs and remarks, “You, I like.” Bobby has apparently never heard anyone phrase “I like you,” in such a manner and concludes it’s funnier to say it that way, but in a very nonchalant, deadpan, manner. It also causes Bobby to think everyone from Arizona, where Gary and Tilly traveled from, speaks like Gary.

Hank is then shown tossing and turning in bed. Apparently, he is so bothered by the presence of Gary it’s affecting his sleep, even though he successfully managed to get Gary and his mom into separate rooms. We see time pass from 11:00 to 1:20 and at that point Hank gets up. In the living room (or den, or whatever) he finds Gary sitting on the couch eating something he found. Gary is happy to see Hank as he wants to know what this “delicious cutlet” he’s eating is. Hank tells him it’s chicken-fried steak and Gary suggests he’ll count it under chicken, since he’s allowed to eat that. He then tells Hank to sit down and suggests they have a talk.

Hank’s “favorite” TV program.

Hank, obviously a bit uneasy about this situation, does as suggested and takes a seat beside Gary. Gary starts by saying Hank’s mother means a lot to him and begins to weave a tale about lonliness in the senior years that Hank cuts off quite quickly by turning on the TV. He tells Gary his favorite “program” is on and what comes on is some TV preacher curing hiccups. Now it’s Gary’s turn to be uncomfortable as he asks Hank, rather carefully, if he believes in this stuff and Hank is fully committed to the lie to get Gary to shut up as he insists he’s not to be disturbed while watching his favorite program.

Love is in the air.

The next morning, the Hills are getting ready to go watch middle school basketball. Bobby is annoying Hank with his “Arizona speak” while Luanne (Brittany Murphy) is insistent they get there before tip-off so she knows which basket belongs to which team. Hank asks his mother if she wants to come along, but she declines. The Hills leave and Gary pops into the kitchen. The sight of Tilly in her robe has Gary feeling a bit frisky after spending the night apart and Tilly seems receptive to his advances.

Oh, my!

In the car, Hank asks Peggy if she remembered to bring the novelty foam finger for the game. She replies in the affirmative, but Hanks keeps escalating the questions: “Does it say number one on it?” “Yes, Hank.” “The basketball one?” “Ugh.” Hank turns the car around because this finger is obviously very important to the middle school basketball game experience. When Hank gets back in the house, he finds the finger on the couch, but hears an odd noise coming from the kitchen. He remarks to himself (in his head) that it sounds like the dryer is on, but his mother’s robe and Gary’s pajamas have been strewn about in the living room. Hank then peers into the kitchen and a look of horror spreads across his face. We’re then “treated” to numerous close-ups and cuts of two, old, wrinkly, bodies going to Pound Town. We see Gary’s USS Trout II tattoo, his pacemaker scar, lots of veins, a few smiles, with the camera lingering on a medical alert bracelet which glistens in the morning sunlight.

Hank backs away from the scene, shaking. His pupils have retreated from each other and we then see Hank’s perspective as the den starts to fade away into nothing. Hank stumbles outside groping for the car. He gets in and tries to start it up, but fumbles the keys. Peggy then realizes her husband is blind! Bobby, ever the comedian, uses this as an opportunity to try out some Gary-speak with a “Blind, he’s gone now!”

Hank’s googly eyes on display.

Hank and Peggy visit an optometrist who concludes that there’s nothing wrong with Hank’s eyes and it doesn’t appear as if he’s had a stroke. He then accusingly asks Hank if he poked himself in the eye, and Hank is adamant he did not. At this point, one of Hank’s pupils is looking down and the other is looking up which is a distracting, but funny, visual that will persist for the remainder of the episode. Peggy is a bit delirious and starts demanding the doctor use some of the fancy machinery she sees all around them to fix Hank’s eyes, even insisting he use some laser in the corner. The doctor says “All right,” but Hank shouts over him. It’s a line delivered with such subtlety that I missed it the first time I watched the scene. Hank then asks if it’s possible to lose your sight after seeing something terrible. The doctor then talks about hysterical blindness and gives a couple of books on the subject to Peggy. He then tells Hank the only way to cure it is to confront what he saw, then adding in a line about when Hank is ready to admit he poked himself that he should come back and get fixed right up.

On the car ride home, Peggy confronts Hank about what he saw. Hank says he can’t tell her lest he lose his voice. Peggy keeps prodding and Hank finally relents. He can barely get it out, but he tells her he saw his mother and Gary in a compromising position. Peggy initially laughs at him, then tells him to get over it referring to him as a big baby. Hank tells her it’s not that easy then asks her how she’d feel if she saw her mother in the arms of a 65 year old man wearing nothing but a submarine tattoo on the kitchen table? Peggy then turns dark and angrily says “I eat breakfast on that table.”

When the two get home, Gary, Tilly, and Bobby are waiting out on the lawn. Hank says he poked his eye and it should get better. When his mom asks “What about the other eye?” he makes up a story about the other eye compensating for the damaged one by shutting down. Gary is confused and remarks he never read about a sympathetic eye condition in any of his psychology magazines which prompts Hank to suggest he read the Ten Commandments. Only Hank is gesturing to a wall and confusing Gary. When he asks “You want I should come over there?” Bobby lets out a chuckle as he picks up more “Arizona speak.”

Lady Bird! No!

In the house, the boys are over watching TV and plenty eager to give Hank a hard time about poking his eye. Hank is wearing the foam finger still as that’s now his guide when he walks around. Bill is really laying into Hank, only his zingers are terrible. He makes a “ring ring” sound and tells Hank the phone is for him and hands him his boot. Hank tries to score one on Bill by throwing the boot back at him, but misses. And worse for Hank, he was holding onto the dog’s, Lady Bird, leash and she bolts after the shoe.

In the kitchen, Bobby and his grandma are rolling dough for cookies when Peggy walks in on them. She freaks out seeing the two prepare cookies on the now defiled table and sweeps everything off of it. Tilly lets out a “Peggy!” while Peggy just starts washing the table and matter-of-factly asks if anyone wants to make cookies.

Poor Hank is then shown shaving, and being a real Texas man he uses a blade, and he’s impossibly bad at blind shaving. He manages to shave off a sideburn and nick his face before giving up. He puts some toilet paper on his cut face, only he doesn’t tare it off of the roll so when he stumbles out he has a rather long trail following him. He notices it and lets out a sigh, then tells Jesus that what he really wants for Christmas is his sight back. He then adds he’d like a wrench set too, but that’s more for Santa. Gary witnesses the whole ordeal and has a rather sad expression on his face.

That poor tree is unaware of the danger it’s in.

Later that morning the family is celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. Bobby blows out the candles and everyone claps while Hank is kept in the dark over by the tree. He then takes it upon himself to do his usual task of handing out the presents. He picks up the first one and asks if anyone requested something “square” from Santa. He then tosses it in the general direction of everyone saying it’s for Bobby. Of course it’s not and Luanne sees it’s for her and tries to get it from her cousin’s grasp, but Bobby insists it’s now his. He opens it to find a nightgown and indicates he’ll enjoy wearing it when he’s older. Hank then reaches for another one and ends up pulling the tree out from under itself.

The family is then shown seated on the floor beside the repaired tree as Gary hands out the gifts he and Tilly brought. Peggy gets a book about comedians and when she shouts to Hank we see he’s seated in the corner by himself, apparently asleep, though Peggy’s yell wakes him. Gary then says they got another mink coat for Hank and he and Bobby share a laugh. Gary does apologize as he assumes the bit is getting old, suggesting this has been going on for awhile, and Hank sarcastically thanks him for turning his holiday into a Woody Allen picture. He then stands up and says he’ll wait in the truck until it’s time for Peggy to drive him to his dad’s house for Christmas dinner. As he stumbles out the door with his foam finger, Peggy assures Gary that Hank didn’t mean what he said. She then heads outside to confront him, only to find Hank with his foot stuck in a bucket. She tells him he needs to go back inside and face what he saw if he wants to get his sight back. Hank is in no mood and just replies by asking if she’s going to take him to his dad’s now.

I think most viewers expected it would come to this.

We cut to the truck on the road and Hank is relieved to be out of that house away from his mom and Gary. Naturally, this is when we find out that Peggy isn’t driving, but Gary. Hank is rightly confused when Gary responds by asking where they’re going. Hank demands he pull over so he can ride in the bed of the truck, but Gary insists he’ll be more comfortable in the cabin. He then narrates what they’re seeing as Hank gets progressively more and more agitated until he’s literally shouting “Shut up.” To Gary’s credit, none of this phases him as he’s determined to get Hank out of this funk.

The pair eventually arrive at Cotton Hill’s (Toby Huss) home in Houston. When Cotton answers the door he says “You’re late.” Hank says it’s good to hear his dad’s voice, and this time I think he’s serious since he’s probably sick of hearing Gary’s. Cotton asks if he’s still blind, and then slugs Hank in the gut for confirmation. “Either you’re still blind or slow. I’d believe both.” He turns his attention to Gary, and Hank refers to him as his driver. Gary gives Cotton his name, and Cotton reacts angrily to the name “Kasner.” At least he sounds angry, but he always does. He then says “Happy Hanukkah,” and tells Gary he served with one of his “tribe” in the pacific. He says his name was Brooklyn and asks Gary if he knows him. A bit confused, Gary says “I know a Brooks….stein,” which is good enough for Cotton who insists that’s the guy!

Cotton tells Hank they need to go get a tree. Hank tries to place his hand on his dad’s shoulder as a guide, but Cotton rebuffs him, “I didn’t fight off a horny bunker full of privates so you could cop a feel!” They aren’t going far anyway, as Cotton just grabs his shotgun and shoots down a skinny little tree in his yard.

Old shin-less Cotton is one of the show’s funniest characters. The writing is good, but what really makes him work is the performance of voice actor, Toby Huss.

Inside, Hank and Cotton are eating what looks like TV dinners. Hank is trying to talk about the holidays in a nostalgic manner, but no one cares. Cotton instead tries to make small talk with Gary, which is how he finds out that Gary is seeing Tilly. Cotton is surprised to find out anyone would want Tilly in a sexual manner, remarking she was too old for him when he got rid of her. He thinks he’s being helpful by telling Gary she’s spent, but Gary stands up for his woman and insists he doesn’t talk about her like that under penalty of getting his ass kicked! Cotton may be a piece of shit, but he has an odd moral code about him. He respects Gary for standing up for his woman and announces he’s backing down from a physical confrontation, though he does slip in a “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Gary then tells Hank he’ll wait for him in the truck.

Gary is shown in the truck as Hank stumbles out the front door. He gets out of the truck to help Hank to the passenger side door and tells him he didn’t have to leave early on his account. As the two pause to hear Cotton screaming for his eggnog, Hank sighs and says, “No problem.”

I can’t get enough of Hank’s blind eyes.

The two pull off the highway and Hank remarks they can’t be home yet. Gary says he’s taking him somewhere to get his eyes fixed. Hank tells him he’s already seen a doctor, but Gary corrects him by saying they aren’t talking medicine, they’re talking faith. Hank gets uncomfortable as Gary leads him into a building, worried his god will be angry with him if he sees him in another god’s temple. Gary tells him he’s not taking him to a temple, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, they’re seeing the televangelist Hank insisted hosted his favorite show. Gary confesses he knows how Hank lost his sight, and while he’s not flattered that he made Hank go blind, he’s understanding. Hank then finally realizes where they are when he hears the preacher’s voice.

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas here?

The preacher (uncredited, but it sounds like Toby Huss) is giving a sermon about Jesus working on his birthday as he surveys the crowd. Hank, even though he doesn’t actually like this church, is touched that Gary would do something nice for him, even though he’s been a jerk to Gary. Gary tells Hank he did it for his mother, because he’s fond of her. Hank then allows himself to suggest maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world for his mom to be involved with Gary. Gary gets a big, dopey, grin at the sound of that and poor Hank can’t see the incoming hug until it’s too late. He reacts with his usual gasp. He then returns the hug, though only one-handed.

The blindness fades, and old Gary comes into view.

The preacher continues his sermon and states that Jesus can heal the blind. Gary calls out to him to heal Hank and the guy saunters on over. When he asks Gary if Hank is his son, we get the sappy, predictable, “I’d like to think, maybe one day,” and Hank returns the gesture with a slightly less enthusiastic, but still mostly warm “I guess that’s an all right way of thinking.” Then, just like magic, Hank’s vision returns and he even smiles when Gary comes into focus as the priest winds up to smack the blindness away. Hank catches him by the wrist and proclaims he can see! The preacher of course takes all of the credit.

Bill never stood a chance.

As Hank and Gary pull up to Hank’s house, the boys are waiting outside. Dale calls out, “Hey Hank, how’s the weather? Oh wait, you’re blind!” continuing their poor performance in shit-slinging. Bill adds a “Hey Hank, you’re not wearing any pants.” As the two chuckle, Boomhauer is the only one to take notice of Hank emerging from the pickup with a rather large stick in his hand. “He’s got his sight, man, run!” The three scatter as Hank chases after them, easily shoving Bill to the ground, as the credits roll to an instrumental, twangy, rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” We’re then treated to an additional scene during the credits in which Hank declares this the best Christmas ever. It’s mostly a vehicle though for Carl Reiner to make food munching noises as Gary gives Bobby advice on how to mix foods and reasons it’s okay for him to eat so much since it’s Christmas. The last line is the cliché “Are you gonna eat that?” from Gary.

The logical ending.

This is an entertaining Christmas special, and it even throws in some genuine sentimentality to please the Christmas traditionalists out there. I like how the episode tries to setup its southern cast for a bigoted, anti-Semitic, reaction on a few occasions, but instead uses dramatic pauses to make a different joke each time. Bobby mistaking Gary’s Jewish-isms as “Arizona Speech” is also pretty funny, and as a B-plot it only exists for a couple of quick jokes and isn’t meant to steal the spotlight from the main plot.

And the main plot of Hank losing his sight due to seeing his mother getting nailed on his kitchen table is a pretty damn funny way to go about telling a Christmas story. A lot of Hank’s reactions to the actual business are rather predictable, but Mike Judge’s performance as Hank is still so humorous and straight that it works. I was surprised by how far the animators took that particular scene as it’s almost gratuitous, but it also adds to both the humor and the horror for Hank. Gary is a character that’s easy to write since he’s basically a stereotype, but Carl Reiner brings a genuine warmth to him which helps sell it. Admittedly though, I’m a little tired of Gary by the time this thing ends. And to top it off, we get a little dose of Cotton in this one too. He is repulsively funny, and his brief appearance might be the funniest sequence of the episode, outside of the sex scene.

I do enjoy those exterior Christmas shots.

Ultimately, this is a funny Christmas episode of a well-made sitcom. It wisely doesn’t try to force the other characters into the plot in any meaningful way preferring to keep the story focused on Hank and his predicament. It’s a good enough episode that I’m a bit remorseful that Cartoon Network no longer airs King of the Hill. The show does air on some cable networks, but the easiest way to see this episode is to stream it on Hulu. It’s also available on DVD, and unlike yesterday’s Christmas feature, it is worth a watch this holiday season.


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