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Dec. 13 – Bob’s Burgers – “The Bleakening: Part 2”

In part two of “The Bleakening,” the Belchers search for their missing tree. Will they be reunited?!

Well fellow cartoon Christmas enthusiasts, we’re in a new and interesting place today. We’re coming in for the second part of a two-part story we started looking at yesterday. In the first part of “The Bleakening,” the Christmas special from Bob’s Burgers which originally aired in 2017, the children of Bob and Linda Belcher were out hunting for the mythological being known as The Bleaken. It is he whom the children have accused of stealing their mother’s dainty little Christmas tree, which was once the top of their regular sized tree, which had been on display in their restaurant for a Christmas party. More important than the tree though, are the ornaments that were on it. Handmade ornaments from the kids which had become precious to Linda disappeared along with the tree. Despite a few leads, the adults were unable to determine who stole the tree so it befalls the children to do something about it.

Louise (Kristen Schaal), despite being the youngest sibling, is often the de-facto leader for these expeditions. She has convinced her brother Gene (Eugene Mirman) and sister Tina (Dan Mintz) to sneak out of the house on Christmas Eve to chase down a lead they uncovered from the police station earlier in the day. Louise thinks she knows where The Bleaken is hiding out, and she’s determined to find out. Because if they fail, her mother will lose her Christmas spirit and without that, well there probably won’t be any Christmas presents.

If you’re going on a walk on Christmas Eve, be sure to bring plenty of walking cookies.

The episode picks up right where the prior one left off. There are no opening credits, probably because this one originally aired back-to-back with the first part so there was no need to interrupt it, though it does feel a little jarring if you happen to catch it without the first part in syndication. The siblings are walking in the dark down a snowy road as Tina is the apparent guide. She is also reluctantly on this mission with her brother and sister which was really only hinted at in part one when she forlornly looked up the stairs to their apartment as the three made their escape. Louise is trying to reassure her siblings that they’re doing the right thing. Gene is mostly fine, though he warns he’s running out of walking cookies, but Tina is not onboard. She doesn’t quite reveal that to her sister, but she does slyly use the family emergency cell phone she brought with them to dial their mother. When she places the phone in her pocket, she speaks rather loudly so she can be heard and announces the street intersection and what’s going on while making it sound like a conversation so as not to tip-off Louise. She’s rather clumsy, and also makes sure to let her mom know this isn’t her idea, but Louise doesn’t pick up on it. At the Belcher home, Linda (John Roberts) is freaking out hearing all of this on the phone and wakes up Bob (H. Jon Benjamin). She apparently doesn’t consider that her daughter would be clever enough to fake call, but make it sound like a butt dial, because she tells Bob that Tina butt-dialed her and she can tell they’ve snuck out.

Shit just got real!

The kids continue their search until they make an important discovery – one of Gene’s ornaments is found in the snow! Emboldened that they’re on the right track, the kids press on, but black feathers in the road portend something ominous. The Bleaken is real, and he really did take their mother’s tree! Louise is determined to find the rest despite the obvious concerns her siblings are sharing. As they walk, Louise and Gene start quietly singing that The Bleaken is going to wish he had never been born, though they aren’t convincing in their threats. Tina just hyper-ventilates to provide a beat for their walking music.

That’s one way to spend a Christmas.

Meanwhile, we check-in with Teddy (Larry Murphy) who was last seen constructing some sort of Santa monstrosity in his basement. It turns out the monstrosity is just a Santa inflatable decoration and he fashioned a crude window in its mouth so he could hide inside. The Bleaken didn’t just take Linda’s tree, it’s also been taking decorations off of the sidewalk and Teddy is determined to find out who is responsible by using himself as bait.

Someone went through a lot of trouble to hide some ornaments.

This kids turn down an alley, but a crater in the road would indicate they can’t continue down the alley they’ve found, but Louise quickly determines it’s not a crater, but an elaborate mural painted on a wall! Gene is correct to make a Wile E. Coyote reference at the sight as his sister inspects it further. She soon uncovers a door, behind it they find a chilling stairwell. At this point, Louise informs her siblings she’s armed, but the choice of weapons is not too comforting: a ruler and a keychain. When Louise introduces each, she has clever suggestions for how they could be used as weapons while Gene makes helpful, non-violent, suggestions like how rulers can be used for measuring. When Tina asks if she has anything better, she deadpans that she has a knife and some mace, but she’s hanging onto those so Tina takes the ruler leaving the keychain for Gene. The kids descend the stairway only to find they lead no where. Tina, suspecting another false wall, walks into a very real wall and lets her siblings know it hurts.

I don’t know how Bob does it.

Bob and Linda are driving around trying to figure out where the kids were when Tina called, but it turns out Tina is bad at directions and the intersection she referenced doesn’t exist. Linda is freaking out and is not particularly helpful, but to Bob’s credit he’s always so patient and tries to assuage her, even when he can’t. He points out two stray dogs “playing to the death” as evidence that this part of town in the middle of the night isn’t dangerous, but thankfully, Linda is more preoccupied with freaking herself out than truly paying attention to her surroundings. They eventually figure out the street intersection Tina must have been referencing, and Bob justifies her getting one of the names wrong on the fact that they haven’t bought her new glasses since she was 6. They get out of the car and soon find the trail of footprints and cookie crumbs and follow it. Meanwhile, Teddy is still in his Santa disguise when a neighbor walking a dog stops near him. The dog defecates at Teddy’s feet revealing to him who is never scooping their dog’s waste, so tonight won’t be a total loss even if he doesn’t find the thief. The smell of the dog poop works its way into the Santa inflatable though causing Teddy to gag.

This is what happens when you complain about the coupon books, Bob.

Louise is certain this is The Bleaken’s lair, even though they can’t find a way out aside from the way they came in. Soon someone enters from above and Louise determines there’s no way out because this place is designed to trap people for The Bleaken! The kids brace themselves against the wall, and when their would-be assailants approach they pounce! Of course, it’s just Bob and Linda who are forced to curl into fetal positions on the stairs. Bob is his ever calm self and doesn’t seem too angry with his children for sneaking out, though he does ask if someone hit him in the face with a ruler. Linda is relieved they’re okay, while Louise wants to know how they got there. They don’t tattle on their daughter, but say someone butt-dialed them. Tina fesses up, but Louise hardly needed her to. Louise doesn’t want to leave though and insists they’re onto something, and it’s actually Tina who makes the important discovery. She notices the stairs shaking and the family lifts them up to find another secret staircase underneath. The kids convince their dad to go along and find out who stole the tree, while he insists The Bleaken isn’t real. Louise produces the ornament they found and references the police map, but Bob doesn’t want to spend Christmas in a creepy tunnel. Unfortunately, he’s married to Linda who isn’t leaving until she finds her ornaments. She tells Bob to take the kids home, but he’s not leaving her so he agrees to press on. He needs a weapon so Tina hands over her ruler. Just to make sure he knows it can be used as a weapon, she strikes him on the head with it. Very helpful.

Fear will bring us together.

We check back in with Teddy whose eyes are scanning the area around him and his pipes are singing a delightful holiday song. To the tune of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Teddy sings about finding the jerk whose gonna get a fight. He sings over the Belcher family searching the catacombs below, but their trek is interrupted when they see The Bleaken! He disappears as quickly as he appeared and Bob wants to go back, but Linda declares this place is like Ikea and there’s no going back.

This should have turned out way worse.

The family presses on until Bob finds a door. He tells his family to stand back as he takes a peek, but then looks over his shoulder to see they are indeed standing very far behind him. Bob then cracks the door open and tells the family it’s not what he expected. When they open it they find it’s a secret, underground, Christmas rave! A bunch of people dance in a large, crowded, room while a DJ spins records from a platform at the other side. And there, on top of the speakers, sits Linda’s beloved Christmas tree and all of its ornaments! She’s more angry than anything upon seeing it and declares they aren’t leaving until she gets her friggen’ tree back!

We’re being deprived of Bob’s butt crack.

The family notices some other decorations that were stolen as the DJ ramps up the volume. Linda orders Bob to get her tree while she plans to give the crowd a piece of her mind. The kids watch Bob try to climb up the speakers and let him know that not much of his butt crack is showing (they’re so supportive) while Linda is able to reach the DJ’s platform and steals his microphone. He puts up a fight, but she wins out in the end. As he searches for the kill switch on the mic, Linda starts speaking to get everyone’s attention. She scolds the party-goers for having secret tunnels and being thieves. One of the men in the audience informs her they have all of the protections in place because they’re unlicensed as this is apparently where everyone who normally parties at The Wiggle Room for Christmas has gone. If you forgot, The Wiggle Room was forced to close as recounted on a new broadcast the family watched in part one. Another raver then shouts they aren’t thieves, but she tells him to go “play Ping Pong with your ding dong,” and points out her tree, which Bob has reached. She tells them she’s taking back her ornaments, but what she can’t get back is her Christmas spirit!

More Christmas stories should have a magic Christmas drag queen.

She is then interrupted by a performance from the newly Christened Miss Triple X-Mas (Todrick Hall), formerly known as Cleavage to Beaver, who performs a saucy number to mark the fact that it’s midnight. The Belchers watch the performance of “Twinkly Lights” with awe as Linda notices Marshmallow and some of her other friends while the kids see The Bleaken dancing around. Louise interrupts him and asks him to confirm that he’s just a guy in a costume, which is the case. She insists they could have taken him, though.

Finally, the thief comes forward!

Linda interrupts the music by grabbing the mic again to reveal she is understanding, and a little embarrassed, but also to apologize because she called the cops! The crowd is upset with her, but they also insist no one stole her ornaments. That’s when Art the Artist (Adam Driver) comes forward. He was at the Belcher Christmas party and was a suspect in the case of the missing tree, but when Bob and Linda spoke with him during one of his nude modeling sessions he convinced them otherwise. It turns out, it was him as he was put in charge of decorating for the party. He didn’t have any money though, so he “borrowed” a bunch of stuff from around town. And to successfully steal the little tree, he first took it and then went out the back door of the restaurant and hid it in the dumpster there while he went and did his session. When the session was done, he came back for it. He goes on to explain the Wiggle Room party is normally so well decorated, and he didn’t want to let everyone down.

Thievery helped Linda realize her Christmas dream.

Linda realizes that she and Art shared a dream – the perfect Christmas party! And Art realized it with some help from her tree. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that the cops are outside. Everyone is upset, but Bob has an idea that may help them avoid getting shut down. He feels like they owe it to the ravers, though he points out he would have never called the cops and it was all his wife’s doing. The only thing he needs is the The Bleaken costume that guy is wearing.

Bob the Bleaken!

Bosco (Gary Cole) and another cop are driving around searching for the secret entrance to the club when they encounter Bob in the middle of the road dressed as The Bleaken. He flaps his “wings” and gets the pair to chase him. Despite them being in a car and Bob on foot, he manages to get away and runs down a street that just so happens to be Teddy’s street. He collides with his friend, who had been struggling to stand up after falling down earlier, and is still hiding in the Santa inflatable and tells him he needs to hide. Teddy says he has just the place as we see the lights from Bosco’s cruiser appear on the street. They drive by and pay no attention to the Santa inflatable and there’s no sign of Bob so Bosco decides he’s had enough and suggests they get some Kung Pao Chicken. When the cops drive away, we find out Bob is hiding inside the Santa suit with Teddy. He thanks Teddy who remarks that he told Bob there was room for both of them. Bob politely disagrees as he’s clearly uncomfortable being smooshed up against Teddy’s back. He then starts to question why they didn’t just go in the house, but Teddy keeps shushing him. When he finally demands Teddy tell him why he keeps shushing him he remarks he thought he heard something, but it was nothing. Bob then tries asking why they didn’t go inside again, but Teddy keeps shushing him some more until Bob gets fed up and leaves. Teddy is upset and tries to get him to stay shouting this could be the best Christmas Eve ever!

Linda has rediscovered her Christmas spirit, and she has spirit to burn.

Back at the club, the rave is back on. The kids are seated on the edge of the stage with their mother’s tree reflecting on the past few days. Louise seems disappointed there was no real Bleaken, but the kids find comfort in the return of their mother’s Christmas spirit. We then see Linda cutting it up on the dance floor as she screams, “I love Christmas!”

It’s also the kind of spirit that lasts all night long and into the morning.

The image then locks on Linda in a triumphant pose and fades to the next morning. The family is back home reunited with the tree and the ornaments and Linda is still dancing, just now in her pajamas. Louise asks how much sleep she got and her dad tells them she never went to sleep. Linda explains someone at the club gave her something which made her feel great, but then finally says she needs to lay down. She faceplants onto the floor and Bob assures the kids she’s fine, though he needs to check her pulse. As the camera moves outside of the apartment to linger on the restaurant we hear Bob confirm she’s fine. Merry Christmas!

Aaaaaand she’s down!

The second half of “The Bleakening” is quite different from the first. Part one is definitely a mystery story, while the second part is more about pay-off. It introduces a few twists and some intriguing moments, but it’s mostly concerned with just answering the lingering questions from part one. The real star of the show is just the cast. It’s never easy to tell how much is ad-libbed and how much is scripted, but there are some great exchanges in this one between the kids and pretty much anything Bob says. There was also never a ton of mystery to begin. Any veteran TV viewer could assume that one of two characters introduced in part one were the thief: Art or Dalton. The fact that Art was voiced by probably the biggest guest star of the episode was all the confirmation one needed. It just became a question of “why” from there and it was hardly surprising it had something to do with the club that got shut down, because why else would we be privileged to such information as an audience?

Teddy’s scenes didn’t always feel necessary, but at least they resulted in a funny exchange in the end.

It’s still a fun journey though, even if the threat of a Bleaken was never a real one. It was still going to be interesting to see how that part would be continuously sold though. The B-plot involving Teddy wasn’t great as it merely existed just so the two could intertwine at the end. On the other hand, it’s always fun to see Teddy in a ridiculous situation, by himself, where he constantly talks to himself. He’s a good character, even if this wasn’t the best use of him, but I enjoyed his awkward exchange with Bob at the end.

This is about as happy as the Belchers are allowed to be on Christmas.

And speaking of the end, this one does end rather abruptly. It’s a bit odd for an oversized episode like this one to run out of time, but then again, Bob’s Burgers isn’t the type of show that’s going to spend much time watching the family have a happy Christmas morning. There weren’t even any presents under the tree. It wants to show us the weird parts, the awkward parts, and then get out before things can get sentimental. As a result, if this one doesn’t make you laugh then it probably won’t entertain you as a Christmas special. There’s just not enough there, but what is there is relatable if you have a mom who loves those crappy ornaments you made for her as a kid or if you yourself are a mom or dad who loves that stuff. I am a dad that does enjoy homemade ornaments from my kids and I do like these two episodes. Are they my favorite Christmas episodes from this show? No, but I’m not going to turn away. Especially during the holidays.

This was Linda’s story, and at least she found what she needed to find in that secret, gay, rave.

If you would like to catch “The Bleakening” this year then like all shows that air on Adult Swim you need only keep your eyes out. It will be aired or has aired and likely more than once. Bob’s Burgers is also syndicated now and can be found on several other cable and broadcast channels and all are likely to air the Christmas episodes between now and the actual holiday. If streaming is more your thing, the series can be found on Hulu and you also have rental options in other places. Like American Dad!, this is definitely a show that’s worth stockpiling Christmas episodes on your DVR all month and then having a nice binge at some point. There isn’t an arc or anything that ties them all together like there is with American Dad!, but they are all pretty funny!


Dec. 12 – Bob’s Burgers – “The Bleakening”

“The Bleakening” originally aired December 10, 2017.

All right, we’ve been at this for a few years now so you probably don’t need much of a primer on Bob’s Burgers, right? The animated sitcom which is shockingly in its 12th season (shocking because it still feels new to me) has become a reliable spot for Christmas fun each and every year. The show seems to pride itself on doing holiday themed episodes. Their bread and butter seems to be Thanksgiving as its canonically main character Bob’s (H. Jon Benjamin) favorite holiday, plus everyone does Christmas and there is no getting the Halloween crown away from The Simpsons at this point. The show will often hit on the lesser holidays too, like Valentine’s Day and Easter, but pretty much every year they do Christmas. And just about every year, their Christmas episode is one of the highlights of the holiday season. I can’t think of a Christmas episode of Bob’s Burgers that failed to entertain me. I definitely prefer some over others, but they’re pretty much all good.

The Season 8 Christmas episode, “The Bleakening,” really shines a light on how Christmas is matriarch Linda’s (John Roberts) holiday. The kids have Halloween, Bob has Thanksgiving, but Christmas is all Linda. It was her over-excitement for Christmas that got the plot rolling in my favorite Christmas episode from this show, “Christmas in the Car,” and its her attitude towards Christmas that gets this one going as well.

Being married to Linda must be exhausting.

This one begins in atypical fashion as it foregoes the opening which means no festive shop-next-door gag and no exterminator gag – darn. All we get is the message “Four days before Christmas” as we enter the bedroom of the Belchers where nothing sexy is happening. Quite the opposite, as Linda wakes up abruptly and immediately forces Bob to do the same. She tells Bob she just had a dream they threw a wonderful, Christmas, party and he could not care less. As he tries to go back to sleep she insists it’s a sign. She’s noticed that there’s a lack of Christmas spirit this year and maybe her dream was telling her that the only remedy for this malady is for the Belchers to have a Christmas party. Bob still doesn’t care so Linda stands up to describe her dream in song. As she does so, the bedsheet wrapped around her becomes a red, festive, dress and Bob is now wearing a tuxedo. She moves to the center of the bed and then off to sing, while Bob just rolls over to sleep. He does contribute some low notes during the song though, so he’s still somewhat of an active participant as Linda dances around and samples rivers of eggnog and describes her ideal party that is definitely out of reach for the Belcher family.

Linda has that crazy look in her eye again.

The next morning, the entire family is seated for breakfast as Linda tells the kids about her dream. Louise (Kristen Schaal) remarks she dreamt her dad had a ponytail and asks if they can just do that instead, so the kids clearly are not onboard with the idea of throwing a sudden Christmas party today. On the news, the family is watching a report on a local gay bar that’s being torn down and is an apparent source of the Christmas blues. Linda, seemingly inspired by this report, heads to the living room and begins sawing off the top of their Christmas tree. As the family looks on perplexed, she explains that it’s needed for their Christmas party while Gene (Eugene Mirman) describes what is being done to their tree as a circumcision. Linda then takes some more ornaments from the tree which are all homemade ones from the kids which she adores and puts them on her new, little, tree. We see quick flashbacks to her receiving the ornaments and the joke is that her reactions are all the same and that Linda will love anything her kids make for her, as all good mothers should.

Later that day, Linda gets her wish as the family hosts a Christmas party in the restaurant. Bob is tasked with handing out Santa Sliders and Teddy (Larry Murphy) questions what the etiquette is for the appetizers as he would apparently like the entire tray (the answer is apparently four). Linda gets to show off her little Christmas tree to some of the locals, the elderly craft store owners who normally hate the Belcher family, who while impressed with the decoration would still rather not talk to Linda.

The Bleaken as imagined by the kids, or told by Teddy, I’m not sure.

Teddy then asks the kids how the Santa thing is looking this year. As he does, he mentions something called the Bleaken in passing which confuses the kids. Teddy then elaborates that the Bleaken is a vengeful spirit who visits bad kids on Christmas instead of Santa. As he spins a tail, we see basically how the children envision the character who is surrounded by fog and shadows and features glowing red eyes and antlers like a deer. He’s clearly a Krampus-styled entity and the children are pretty captivated by Teddy’s story. Apparently though, the Bleaken works in tandem with Santa, or something, because after gifts are deposited, he steals them. It’s like Santa can’t bring himself to leave coal like we’ve always been threatened with, so he hires some jerk to just take the gifts and keep his hands clean. The kids definitely seem freaked out though, and Teddy might actually be aware of the anxiety he’s causing and tries to dismiss the Bleaken as something his nana probably made up.

I feel cheated out of a proper Burger of the Day.

Jimmy Pesto (Jay Johnston) makes what he thinks is a grand entrance, but no one cares. Bob seems annoyed Linda invited him, but she insists it’s Christmas or whatever as justification. At the bar, Linda is dishing gossip and eggnog to a guy named Dalton (John Early) who has the Christmas blues. He was apparently dumped by his boyfriend, and he lets us all know the eggnog Linda made is terrible as he seems to suspect she spiked it with mouthwash. He requests something else to drink and Linda cracks open a bottle of champagne for him. After he goes, Marshmallow (David Herman) enters with her friend Art (Adam Driver) the artist, and Linda finds his name amusing. Marshmallow sincerely asks him if he wants to leave, but he lets us know that he’s easily amused too and apparently likes Linda. Marshmallow tries some eggnog (“That’s nasty,”) while Linda expresses her condolences towards the pair over the closure of The Wiggle Room, the bar from the news report earlier. Marshmallow questions if she’ll ever wiggle again.

It’s gone!

With the party over, Linda waves goodbye to those still leaving before reprising her song from earlier, “It’s the Christmas of my dreams…” She sings it outside, and a passerby interrupts her. Embarrassed, she returns into the restaurant. Despite that little episode, she’s mostly content with how the party unfolded, but things take a dark turn when Linda notices her little tree is missing! Bob asks the kids if they did anything with it and they deny involvement. Sergeant Bosco (Gary Cole) is called in and he informs the family that there has been a lot of thefts like this going around this year. He mentions it’s all little stuff and casually drops outdoor inflatables in there which gets Teddy’s attention as he has an inflatable Santa that he’s now suddenly worried about. When he asks the detective if he has any leads, he just says “Yeah, some guy. Or girl. Or group of guys…” as he clearly doesn’t really care all that much. Linda just wants her ornaments back though that her kids made when they were young and cute. When Bob suggests they have the kids make new ones, she’s dismissive of the current state of her children which Gene takes offense to (“I’m adorable!”). Linda decides she needs to investigate on her own, but Bob cautions her against going overboard. You know she’s going to go overboard.

The initial list of suspects is pretty thorough.

The next day, a mere two days until Christmas, Linda works on a list of suspects while sitting at the bar. She crosses off those she feels she can eliminate, like Mort (Andy Kindler), but then Bob tells her Mort seemed unhappy about the Santa Slider he had to take so she adds him back. Bob then puts Jimmy Pesto in her mind as the prime suspect, and the two head over to his restaurant to confront him. Linda cuts right to the chase and tells him to return the tree, but Jimmy tells her he has no interest in her tree. He thought they were coming over because they found the fudge he left in their urinal explaining that he wanted them to think someone crapped in it. He thinks the bit is hilarious, but the Belchers aren’t amused. Linda then notices his security camera, but Pesto points out he would never have his cameras pointed at their boring restaurant and Bob takes offense when Jimmy makes up a fake TV show about videos of sad restaurants. The camera though actually reminded Linda that Mort has one at his crematorium next door and maybe it could have caught the culprit in the act.

Nice to see the kids haven’t lost their imagination.

At home, the kids sit around the coffee table apparently making a coupon book for their parents for Christmas, which Bob had remarked about earlier because apparently they get this every year and the kids never honor the coupons. While working, Louise has a thought that maybe the Bleaken stole the tree which leads into another musical segment. This one is pretty upbeat, like a Pat Benatar song, but the visuals are the kids heading for a snowy mountain dressed like extras from Game of Thrones. Louise’s theory seems to be convincing though as the kids make plans for how to fight this Bleaken.

Edith looking mighty suspicious and there’s certainly no love lost between she and the Belchers.

At Mort’s place of business, Bob and Linda are able to get a look at the security footage. Linda thanks Mort for the help and assures him he was never a suspect, which just causes Mort to remark it sure sounds like he was a suspect, but they’re just going to push past that. When he pulls up footage we first see Mort skipping across the sidewalk which he quickly fast forwards past. Linda tells him to stop when she sees something and Mort freezes the frame. It’s Edith and her husband leaving the party and she is clearly concealing something in her long, winter, coat. Proclaiming “Greatest generation, my ass!” Linda and Bob head out to confront the couple.

Art’s commitment to his gig is admirable.

Bob and Linda head to Reflections, the craft store owned by Edith (Murphy) and Harold (Sam Seder). Inside they find no one, but Linda wants to go look in the back. When they push open the door they find an art class and a nude Santa serving as the model. Edith and Harold are surprised to see the pair, but Bob cuts right to the chase and asks them to give Linda back her tree. They’re confused, and when Linda produces the evidence they come clean about stealing a tray of cookies. Apparently they’ve been doing these art classes all week and ran out of food, and nudes need snacks! Linda then notices the Santa model is Art and recognizes him from the party. She confronts him, in song, about an alibi which prompts him to sing in return about having nothing to hide (clearly). They go through a little number and the members of the class back him up on the claim he came there right after the party without a tree (Harold adds he did have a bush though!) and Linda believes him. Dismayed, the Belchers exit the store empty-handed. Well, actually they got their cookies back. Apparently they’re not very good.

Now there’s our proper Burger of the Day!

It’s now Christmas Eve Day, and Linda is still bummed about her tree. Bob tries to get her to focus on what they can control, like running the restaurant, but Linda wants to go back out and question all of her suspects again. Bob is forced to remind her that they haven’t even wrapped presents for the kids yet, and by “they” he means “you” because Linda lets us know that Bob wraps like a blind, drunken, bear (Bob adds that’s how he lives). She decides to give up on the tree, but as she does the kids come bursting into the restaurant claiming to know who stole the tree. This gets Linda all fired up again, much to Bob’s displeasure. When the kids tell their parents that this is the work of The Bleaken, both Bob and Linda laugh them off. Bob then encourages the family to get over it and look forward to Christmas as he unconvincingly tries to sell the kids on how good their presents are going to be. Tina (Dan Mintz), for her part, seems convinced.

Bosco is a man who really sees no benefit to performing the duties associated with his job.

The kids take it upon themselves to visit Sgt. Bosco down at the police station. When they tell him the Bleaken is responsible for the rash of Christmas thefts across town, he flicks water at them and could not be less interested. Louise then notices a map behind Bosco on the wall with a bunch of pushpins in it. She asks Bosco if that map refers to all of the thefts across town and Bosco confirms it is. Well, he confirms that it’s some of them as he got tired of keeping track and possibly ran out of pushpins. Louise then distracts him by asking about some lamps on his desk and when Bosco looks away from her to regard the lamps, Louise whips out a flip phone and snaps a pic of the map. Louise then hastily gets her siblings out of there and once outside shows the picture she took to Gene and Tina. The markers are basically in a circle and Louise theorizes that whoever took the trinkets probably resides somewhere in the middle which impresses both Gene and Tina. She wants to investigate this further and concludes it’s up to them to uncover the Bleaken!

Just a normal family dinner. Nothing to see here!

Back home, the family is seated for a quiet ham dinner. When Bob asks the kids if they like the ham, they reply in robotic fashion and Tina remarks she’ll definitely be sleeping all through the night in her own bed. Bob has learned not to ask questions since he has weird kids and changes the subject to leaving cookies out for Santa. Linda, obviously still depressed about the loss of her tree, says “Oh yeah,” when asked about the cookies and stands up to do so. We then head into a montage of the family getting things in order before bed set to “Carol of the Bells.” Linda unplugs the tree and sighs beside it when she looks at the missing top. The kids put the cookies and milk out then head to bed. We even check in with Teddy who appears to be performing some sort of surgery on his inflatable Santa. Bob and Linda check to see if the kids are asleep, then get the wrapping paper out. Once they leave though, Louise pops out of bed in her clothes and wakes her siblings who are also dressed for adventure. When their parents go into their bedroom, the kids sneak past the stockings and down the stairs. Tina gives one, lingering, look up the stairs before closing the door indicating she’s feeling unsure about this adventure. We then see a shot of the kids walking down the snowy street from the window of their living room as the message “To be continued” is displayed.

Now this is ambitious!

What?! To be continued?! Bob’s Burgers rarely does two-parters, and a Christmas two-parter is especially rare for any show! It is what it is though, so come back tomorrow to find out who stole Linda’s tree. Was it the Bleaken? Maybe Teddy? Could it actually have been Mort? And what about the precious ornaments? All this and more, same Christmas blog address, same Christmas blog…ahh you get the idea.

Come back tomorrow to find out if these stockings get filled!

Dec. 9 – “Robot Chicken’s Santa’s Dead (Spoiler Alert) Holiday Murder Thing Special”

Original air date December 10, 2019

Yesterday, I sung the praises of American Dad! for its ability to give me fresh, Christmas, content seemingly on an annual basis. I should also apply the same to Robot Chicken, for even though it goes about making people laugh in a completely different manner from a more traditional animated show, it does have a solid track record of getting festive each and every December. I didn’t tally them up, but I would assume the number of Robot Chicken Christmas episodes actually compares quite favorably to American Dad!. The main difference though is that while American Dad! is essentially a sitcom, Robot Chicken is basically sketch comedy and sketch comedy doesn’t always lend itself well to such exercises.

As is customary for Robot Chicken holiday specials, this one begins with an homage to the old CBS Special Presentation logo.

The writers of Robot Chicken must have had me on the brain then when it unveiled its latest Christmas special, the insanely long-winded Robot Chicken’s Santa’s Dead (Spoiler Alert) Holiday Murder Thing Special. I’ve now typed it twice and I have no desire to type it again! This episode though is not a typical episode of Robot Chicken. While it’s still largely animated using stop-motion techniques, it actually possesses a narrative instead of just a theme. It’s going to introduce a plot in the early moments and just stick with that until it’s over. This makes doing a write-up a lot more rewarding than the typical episode. I’ve done those in the past, I’m just not convinced they make for good reading material. Feel free to correct me in the comments if you so wish.

Someone killed Santa, and it’s up to Jesus to figure out who among these characters is guilty!

This episode premiered in 2019 and is the most recent Robot Chicken holiday episode as-of this writing. The whole episode takes place on a train and unfolds like a typical murder mystery, only with some Robot Chicken humor tossed in. Tonight, our victim happens to be the big man himself: Santa Claus. Someone has put an end to the jolly, fat, man and answers need to be found so the culprit is brought to justice! Who would kill Santa? A jealous Jesus? Spoiled coal recipient? Overworked elves? The list of suspects may be longer than you think, and we’ve only got 11 minutes to solve the case!

Comet being an annoying chatterbox who confused The Polar Express for The North Pole Express will be a running gag throughout.

Our story begins on The North Pole Express, not to be confused with The Polar Express, as we’ll soon learn. Our conductor is the cheerful Porter (Timothy Simons) who is happy to boast about the train’s zero murder rate. Onboard, a snowman named Snowball (Zahn McClarnon) is seated beside the famed reindeer Comet (Breckin Meyer) who won’t shut up about this train being different from the other famous one. The snowman then moves to sit beside Krampus (Jason Alexander) who openly wonders what happens to their crap when they take a dump on the train causing the snowman to move once again.

Santa is dead. Very dead.

The scream of Porter interrupts Comet and Krampus, who were now seated together, and all rush over to see that he has discovered the corpse of Santa Claus (Seth Green) in another passenger car. He’s clearly been stabbed, many times, but that doesn’t stop Comet from assuming suicide. The passengers insist they need to de-board the train immediately, but Porter says no one is leaving until this mystery is solved. He then turns to the only man who could possibly solve this case: Jesus. Jesus (Meyer) immediately dubs himself Inspector Jesus and boasts that not only will he solve this case, he’ll do it without his powers! Despite Porter insisting to him that’s not necessary and he would actually prefer he use his powers, God takes them away with a blast of light. Jesus smooths his moustache into more of a handlebar variety and begins his investigation by ordering everyone away from the crime scene.

Santa needs better performance out of his reindeer and he’s found a solution.

Everyone is assembled in a passenger car. Jesus paces the room initially and then sets his eyes on Comet. In searching for a motive for the reindeer, Jesus zeroes in on whipping scars present on Comet’s rump. Comet comes clean about the whipping, insisting they all enjoy it, then casually asks Jesus if he’d also like to hear about the drugs. He obviously does and Comet then details how Santa has been shooting up the reindeer with performance-enhancing drugs for years. Apparently, poor Prancer lost his life to an equipment mishap when his legs were torn off accidentally. Santa is shown shoving needles in the ass of reindeer and it would seem that Jesus has stumbled onto a reason for the reindeer to want the big man dead.

Nutsy has reason to get agitated with Jesus.

Reasoning that steroids cost a lot of money, Jesus then turns his attention to a nutcracker by the name of Nutsy Goldberg (Wayne Knight), a Jew, as he “follows the money.” Nutsy takes exception to Jesus calling him out for being a Jew and adds he owes Santa his life. It seems nutcrackers were once a popular Christmas present, until Cabbage Patch came along. We see a kid (Matthew Senreich) removing a nutcracker from his stocking and his mom (Emmy Raver-Lampman) calling out from the other room asking him what Santa brought him and he casually chucks the nutcracker into an open fire and responds, “Fire wood!” It seems Santa was looking out for old Nutsy when it became apparent that no kid would want him and hooked him up as an accountant at the North Pole. Jesus then points out that Nutsy has a mink hat and Nutsy casually comes clean to embezzling here and there, like it was expected of him. Jesus accuses Nutsy of killing Santa when Santa found out, but Nutsy brushes him off and insists he’d never kill off his cash cow. Jesus then shouts back that it would be just like a Jew to kill Santa since they killed him, and Nutsy gets offended and calls him racist. Jesus apologizes and the two have a stare-down.

It’s doubtful anyone misses this act.

Krampus declares the case unsolvable and references the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldberg which causes Jesus to narrow his focus on him. Jesus refers to Krampus as Santa’s mortal enemy, and Krampus calls that an absurd characterization. He doesn’t hate Santa, just kids. He then says how they used to work together as a comedy duo and we see a little flashback to that. When Krampus uses Santa’s setup for a joke to make one about beating children, he storms off the stage in disgust and that’s apparently how that act came to an end.

Snowball and his family during happier times.

Krampus starts strumming his ukulele and singing a song about Santa when he’s interrupted by the train coming to a sudden stop. Jesus heads outside to see a small avalanche has blocked the tracks and it’s there he encounters Snowball. Snowball mentions how this stop is good for the murderer as it will allow the wolves to descend upon the train and desecrate Santa’s corpse thus destroying any physical evidence. Jesus then points his finger at the snowman, who has no problem admitting his disdain for Santa. We then see how the North Pole used to be a paradise for snow people, until Santa showed up and took over. He forced the naturally nose-less snow people to sport carrots and cover their heads all the while polluting the land with his toy factories contributing to global warming. We see a family of snow people being forced off land via a chunk of floating ice as Santa waves mockingly. Jesus accuses Snowball of doing the deed, but he responds with, “Does it matter?” and references the North Pole being lost to global warming. Krampus is there to make a “Global warming bullshit,” remark as we’re definitely supposed to view him as just the worst.

Ginger couldn’t handle just being the featured artist.

Porter then calls out to inform everyone who the real hero of the story is, him, as he shovels the snow off the tracks. Everyone returns to the train and Jesus takes note of the crumbs falling from the gingerbread woman, Ginger (Gina Rodriguez). He confronts her on the train for he spotted crumbs just like that on Santa’s corpse. He accuses her of killing Santa in a jealous rage since he wouldn’t leave Mrs. Claus for her. She confesses to being with him last night, but denies killing him, but does explain how she knows Santa. He discovered her in a night club one night and encouraged her to take her career to the next level. We see Ginger in a recording booth, and Santa shoves the engineer aside and starts rapping at the control deck. She explains creative differences drove them apart. Jesus presses further and she snaps, admitting she hated the guy and indicates she slept with him by complaining about his balls and small penis.

I think this joke predates the reveal on the working conditions inside Amazon warehouses.

As the suspects start feeling the heat, they turn things around on Inspector Jesus. They point out his many reasons to want to kill Santa, while also mistaking his heritage (“Santa was his father?”) which just frustrates him. Jesus then retreats to go examine the body once again, alone. The lights cut out though and when they come back on Jesus finds himself nailed to a cross! Worse, someone has written “BOOB” across his forehead! Removing himself, Jesus races out of the car and sees two candy cane-striped legs disappearing through an opening in the roof. He follows and encounters the elf, Peppermint (Emmy Raver-Lampman), on the roof of the train. The others gather around Jesus as he interrogates the scared elf and we see a permanent marker fall from her hand as she tries to deny any involvement in the murder of Santa or the recent attack on Jesus. It’s at this point Krampus informs us of the poor working conditions experienced by the elves. We see elves being mutilated by the equipment, urinating on the floor, and attempting suicide by jumping out of windows only to land in nets Santa strung up. Peppermint had tried to form a union, but Nutsy adds that Santa hired the Bumble from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to put an end to that nonsense. We are “treated” to a visual of the Bumble curb-stomping a poor elf as an intimidation tactic for the rest of them.

Now that’s just low.

Peppermint is fed up at this point and announces she’s ready to blow the whole thing open. Only she would have, if not for a sniper taking her out! Jesus demands to know who did that, but the other individuals all deflect attention They head back inside and Jesus orders Porter to alert the authorities at the next stop to be prepared to receive a prisoner for he, Inspector Jesus, has solved the case! Utilizing what Jesus refers to as the most exciting flashback yet, Santa is shown in his train car when he went to open the door for some “friends” he thought were paying him a visit. Only their intentions were vile! One by one, each suspect is shown stabbing Santa “For the Watch” style punctuating with Ginger snapping her hand off in Santa’s mouth.

It’s kind of like that Korn video from 20+ years ago.

The suspects still aren’t entirely willing to come clean, but Jesus details the evidence even further which includes entrails on Comets antlers and Ginger’s hand still lodged in Santa’s throat. Porter makes the announcement that they now know why they wanted to kill Santa, only for Krampus to interject that he’s wrong. They actually wanted Santa dead because he cheated at fantasy football by using his naughty and nice list to guess which players would get suspended. Jesus then makes the announcement that Santa was killed for the greatest sin of all: giving a shit about fake football! Krampus, angry at Jesus for exposing them, whips out a gun and fires away! The bullet travels in slow-motion passed the shocked faces of the other culprits until it passes right through the nail hole on Jesus’ hand and strikes poor Porter. Jesus retaliates with his magic, some sort of icy blast or something that decapitates Krampus, and then kneels beside the dying Porter. He thanks Jesus for solving the train’s only murder, then asks him if he was happy with his service? Jesus indicates his experience was satisfactory, 3 1/2 stars, and Porter dies.

I knew he wasn’t dead!

The North Pole Express stops at the next station and all of the murderers are taken away. Jesus is quite pleased with himself and does a celebratory dance, only to be shocked when Santa comes out and thanks him! Jesus, confused, asks how Santa could possibly be alive? He explains he was in the locomotive the whole time running a different sort of train (Comet’s voice can be heard calling out “There’s two trains!”), and then informs Jesus the corpse he found was none other than Tim Allen (Tom Root). They share a hearty laugh as we head to the credits which includes a flashback of Santa calling Allen to invite him on the train. He only speaks in those grunts he used to do all of the time on Home Improvement. We also see him in costume as Santa basically assures him he’ll be fine as he walks him into a death trap. A Stoopid Monkey card appears on the screen at the end of the credits wishing us a “Merry Christmas” while the monkey mascot lights a menorah, which is genuinely cute.

Everyone is relieved to find out it was only Tim Allen.

The Robot Chicken special with the absurdly long title is a solid way to spend 11 minutes this holiday season. Turning the classic murder mystery into a holiday special where Santa is the victim is a solid setup and the Clue-like resolution is also appropriate. The Game of Thrones reference for the murder means this sucker is already super-dated, but it’s not a reference viewers need to get in order to find the situation funny as Christmas mascots all shout, “For the Pole!” as they stab Santa. Snowball, who apparently hates Santa the most, stabs him in the crotch. The animation and character designs are fun to take in and there’s plenty of blood and guts, if that’s your thing.

R.I.P. Porter.

Where the special does stumble a bit is where most Robot Chicken jokes have a tendency to fall flat, and that’s just in how obvious the jokes are. Robot Chicken always goes for the easiest joke. When your show is basically the Wario Ware of television and the joke needs to be communicated in about 10 seconds, that sort of thing makes sense. Here they actually have some semblance of time on their side, but they still go for the easy setup and knock down. I did enjoy the “dad jokes” Jesus leaned on which were all just Jesus puns like saying he does Crossfit and pointing out how he’s been double-crossed. They were able to create a fun lead with the character which initially surprised me as I thought Porter was being setup to lead the investigation. I also enjoyed the dig at Tim Allen during the credits.

Aww, how sweet?

If you like the comedy stylings of Robot Chicken then you’ll probably be entertained by this episode. I can see some fans being disappointed in the format as it’s not what’s expected, but the jokes are fairly similar and the staff probably welcomed the chance to just deal with a few puppets and staging areas rather than the usual amount needed to shoot an entire episode. And if you’re unsure, well, it’s only 11 minutes of your life so it’s hardly much of a risk. Cartoon Network is assured to show this one during the month of December, likely multiple times, and Robot Chicken is also available on HBO Max. For the Pole!


Dec. 8 – American Dad! – “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls”

Original air date December 12, 2010.

It was just last year that we finally broke the seal on American Dad!. It surprised me how long I was able to avoid American Dad! year in and year out since it has a wealth of Christmas episodes at its disposal. Last year, the featured Christmas episode was the very first one the show did, “The Best Christmas Story Never Told.” This year, I’m skipping ahead to Season 7 (or 6, it’s confusing) and the fourth Christmas episode the show has done, “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls.” This episode had the distinction of being the only numbered entry in my Top 25 Christmas Specials from last year that had not been covered in some capacity on this blog. This year, I am rectifying that even if it means skipping over a couple of others, but that’s not a big deal because like most sitcoms there is no continuity from one episode to the next.

Except for this one! Actually, this episode is the beginning of a continuity in American Dad! that really only matters at Christmas. And that continuity concerns the Smith’s relationship with the big man in charge of the holiday. No, not Jesus, but Santa. This episode will show why Santa has a hatred for the Smith family and it’s a subject that will be revisited in subsequent Christmas episodes covering the old man’s death and even his resurrection. I think the last Christmas episode the show featured Santa in, “Santa Schmanta,” had him back to his old self at the end. The show doesn’t always do a Christmas special every year since it’s a TBS property that doesn’t always have anything airing around the holiday. Last year, the show was able to return to Christmas with “Yule. Tide. Repeat.,” and that was because they simply delayed airing the season finale three months so it would air in December.

I can’t believe this episode is more than 10 years old.

This Christmas episode happens to be my favorite from the show because it’s just over-the-top and ridiculous in a way that only American Dad! can get away with. Writer Erik Durbin wanted to make it bloody and referenced the movie 300, and he’s pretty much going to realize that dream. We’ve seen plenty of violent Christmas specials from places like Robot Chicken, but the violence is often used for just sheer shock value. Sure, there is definitely an element of that present in this episode as well, but it’s setup and earned over the duration of the show and most of the violence is reserved for the end. Plus, this show dares to imagine Santa as kind of a bad guy. He’s mostly just vengeful here (and with good reason), but the bad guy persona will be explored in greater detail and reinforced in the Christmas specials to come.

It cannot be overstated how much Stan hates Jeff.

The episode opens with the usual intro, only the title of the show is displayed in a candy cane font at the close and dissolved into a snowy sky. Stan (Seth MacFarlane) is in his living room and Jeff (Jeff Fischer) comes running downstairs to express his joy at the imminent arrival of Christmas. He expresses hope that Santa will bring him a polar bear helmet from the movie The Golden Compass and races outside to mail his letter to Santa. Stan is intensely annoyed with Jeff’s presence and thinks he’s an idiot for still believing in Santa Claus. Haley (Rachael MacFarlane) stands up for her husband and says his childlike innocence is one of the things that charms her, but she’s not winning Stan over who insists he will never accept Jeff as part of their family.

Nice clog, Francine.

When they leave they’re replaced by Francine (Wendy Schaal) who comes in carrying clogs. She is in search of a new family tradition and she thought the custom of filling clogs with presents was a good idea since Barbara Walters recommended it and she slept with a married, black, senator (“She doesn’t drive in the slow lane”). Stan doesn’t care as he’s excited about giving Steve his Christmas present this year: a gun. Francine is strongly against the idea of Steve having a gun, despite Stan’s protests that they’ve been unable to bond over anything else, and makes Stan promise not to give Steve a gun for Christmas.

Merry Wednesday!

We hard cut to Stan shouting “Merry Wednesday!” and presenting Steve (Scott Grimes) with a machinegun. Steve is a bit unsure if he’s ready for such an item, but his father’s insistence seems to be working. Jeff then pops into Steve’s room to enthusiastically declare that he’ll go shooting with Stan and Steve, much to Stan’s annoyance. He tells Jeff he can’t come since this is a father-son bonding thing and punctuates it by telling Jeff he’s not a part of their family. He closes his eyes and tells Jeff he wants him gone when he opens them. The camera shifts to Stan’s point-of-view as he opens his eyes and we see Jeff still standing there smiling like a dope.

Roger must go to great lengths to get drunk this Christmas.

The family alien Roger (MacFarlane) is out shopping for booze. He expresses to the clerk at a liquor store (Clancy Brown) that he needs something strong for his eggnog. When the clerk tells him most people use bourbon, Roger snaps at him with desperation in his voice that he can’t get drunk and needs something stronger. The clerk says he merely was checking to make sure and then leads Roger to the side of the counter and the two huddle down. He begins to tell Roger a tale about a legendary four-armed, nine foot tall, blind man who lives at the top of a nearby mountain, but has to stop his story when another patron interrupts them inquiring about seasonal beers. Roger tells him he’s ruining the story, and the guy goes away allowing the clerk to finish the story and present Roger with a special map leading to this man’s location. The customer then interrupts again to ask if the store sells watch batteries causing Roger to leap in the air, in slow motion, and slap the guy telling him to “Get out.”

Time to be a man, Steve.

Stan and Steve head off to try out Steve’s new gun. Stan gives him a lesson in handling a firearm describing it like making love to a woman, “First you inspect it to make sure she’s clean. Then, you grab her by the butt and jam the magazine in. If it doesn’t fit, make it!” Steve sets up to fire his new “toy” at some tin cans. When he fires the gun, he has little control over it and hits a nearby road sign causing a bullet to ricochet and strike Steve’s glasses, just like in A Christmas Story. He pleads with his dad that this isn’t safe, and Stan surprisingly agrees with him as he picks up the shot glasses.

Whoops…

We hard cut to a store parking lot, and Stan has just bought Steve safety goggles. Now they’re safe! He instructs Steve to take aim at a nearby snowman and Steve riddles the snow being with bullets. The snowman then starts to gush blood before falling apart to reveal a Santa had been standing behind it smoking a cigar and drinking a coffee. He’s filled with bullet holes and falls over face first into the bloody snow at his feet. Stan and Steve rush over with Steve freaking out about shooting a mall Santa. He then asks his dad, “Is he…?” and Stan interrupts him by finishing the question, “Is he dead?” by deadpanning that, yes, this guy is very dead. Stan casually loads the corpse into his car, while Steve continues to freak out. He assures him everything will be fine, they’ll just take him home and use Stan’s CIA resources to check his prints.

That won’t be necessary, Roger.

Roger reaches the top of the mountain the clerk instructed him to climb and finds an old, downed, airplane and a stereotypical redneck sitting on a porch outside the plane. Roger introduces himself and explains he’s looking for a nine foot tall, blind, moonshiner with four arms. When the man says he is the one he’s seeking, Roger is confused as he’s definitely not any of those things he expected him to be. The man has Roger take a sip of his shine and then Roger hallucinates the man into the creature he expected. He then introduces himself as Bob Todd (Erik Durbin) and goes into a long explanation of what people refer to him as. Roger politely endures this explanation from Robert Toddford Williams, then humbly requests to purchase some of his shine. When Bob Todd tells him he has no use for his money, Roger gets down on all fours preparing to pay for his booze in another fashion. When Bob Todd explains that he’ll teach Roger how to make it, he cheerfully hops back to his feet remarking “You had me in the palm of your hand there. In another second, it would have been the other way around!”

She’s right to be mad, Stan really should have put down some trash bags first or something.

At the Smith residence, Stan and Steve are preparing to head inside to check the fingerprints of the corpse when Francine arrives home. Stan instructs his son to act casual and compliments his wife on her appearance and Steve awkwardly follows suit. She’s flattered though, and the two head inside to check the CIA database. Stan can’t find anything on the guy, which puzzles him, and then gives an “Uh oh” as they look outside to see Francine has found the bloody mess of a Santa in the back of the family SUV.

Francine acts like someone who has done this before.

The family convenes in the living room and Francine expresses her displeasure with Stan. Steve starts crying about a boy shooting a man and his hysterics get Haley’s attention. She’s shocked to find out what happened and asks if anyone has called the police. It’s then Francine who says this isn’t going to ruin their Christmas and they’re all heading out to the woods to bury the corpse. We then cut to the family doing just that, and Francine is angry with the family for not letting her smash the guy’s teeth and cut off his hands. When they look at her with shock, she asks “Well you want to get away with murder or not?!”

Donkey Todd.

On top of the Chimdale mountains, Roger is ready to make some shine. He’s dressed like a hick in overalls and a crooked, bowl cut, wig and even has some janky teeth to go along with it. Bob Todd gives him a hit of the shine, and he morphs back into the mythical nine foot tall creature. The sequence of preparing moonshine is done-up like a game of Donkey Kong. Bob Todd chucks barrels and amusingly provides all of the sound effects, while Roger has to leap over them and get to the woman at the top of the still. He does, and gives her a big kiss only for the effects of the hallucination to ware off and reveal he’s smooching a raccoon. Bob Todd proclaims his training complete, for he has smooched the raccoon, and hands over some jugs and tells Roger to get to it.

Maybe that wasn’t your garden variety mall Santa.

Back at the Smith home, Stan is wrapping gifts in his study when he finds an elegant looking scroll with a message written on it, “I noel what you did in the woods.” We then see Francine preparing a turkey and she finds a scroll too, this one reads “Your goose is cooked.” Steve finds one by the fireplace that says “Your nuts will roast on an open fire,” while Haley has one stuffed in her bong that says, “THC you in Hell.” The family race to convene in the living room to show off what they found. As they wonder if they have a snitch in their midst, the television interrupts the family to provide some important plot details. A calendar salesman, who makes calendars featuring cats for lesbians, is asked what month it feels like and he says October as the Christmas cheer appears to have been sapped from the population. The reporter, Terry (Mike Barker), even punctuates it by suggesting it feels like someone killed Santa Claus.

They’re cute when they’re armed.

The family, now in a bit of a panic, decide they need to dig up the corpse and confirm if it’s Santa or not. They exhume it, only to find it’s empty except for the bloody remains of Santa’s suit. A note, not unlike the ones the Smiths already received, is left behind letting them know that Santa is pissed. As they stare in shock, an arrow whizzes past Stan’s head to lodge in a nearby tree. As they look up, they see an elf riding a reindeer armed with a bow and arrow. He laughs (Dee Bradley Baker) in a comical voice and tells them Santa can’t be killed. He’s home in the north pole recuperating, but he’ll have his revenge before dawn of Christmas morning. He then beckons to his reindeer, Mimsy, and the two fly off leaving the Smiths to comprehend what they just saw. We then see a quick scene from The North Pole of Mrs. Claus casually knitting while Santa is shown recuperating in a rejuvenation chamber of sorts.

Hick Roger is here to save the day!

Stan tries to dismiss the elf as the antics of a “midge,” but then the family uses the correct term of “little people” which is nice since they used the hurtful term in the prior special. The arrow dissolves into light though confirming once and for all that Steve did indeed fire upon the real Santa. As they wonder what to do, Roger appears still in his hick attire. He carries on the persona for a bit, then drops it as everyone seems confused. He tells them they can hide out in the mountains with him, then cracks a Deliverance joke at Ned Beatty’s (R.I.P.) expense.

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas Eve here?!

Atop the mountain, the family is introduced to Bob Todd who is happy to have guests for Christmas. As the sun goes down, the family heads inside to sing carols. The group looks setup to play carols jug-band style, and even seem excited about it, but the sound of sleigh bells startles them before they can begin. They open the door to see it’s just Jeff, driving up in his van. Stan is pissed at the sight of his hated son-in-law and Haley says she told him where they would be so they could spend Christmas together. Jeff enters the house and Stan angrily tells him to shut off the sleigh bell sounds coming from his van. When Jeff says his van isn’t making that noise, the family looks to the sky and sees Santa and his army descending upon them! As they fly towards the mountain summit, a metal version of “Carol of the Bells” by August Burns Red serves as the herald for Santa’s army.

He’s here!

Stan is now even more pissed at Jeff because it was he who wrote a letter to Santa telling him where they’d be so he knew where to deliver his present. Stan tells him to leave in hurtful terms insisting that Jeff is not, and will never be, a part of this family. The family doesn’t have time to get angry with Stan though as Bob Todd opens up a weapon’s locker and arms everyone. Steve is handed a gun and is unsure if he can ever touch one again, but it’s Francine who slaps him around and orders him to go outside and commit murder. He does as he’s told and takes the weapon, jamming the magazine into it as his father showed him earlier while referring to it as Linda. Stan, Steve, and Bob Todd then go out to defend the homestead while Haley and Francine are left to fire from the windows.

The Smith men finally found a way to bond.

Outside, the battle commences and Bob Todd apparently hates Santa. He calls him a butt licker, which is a strange insult coming from him because Bob Todd looks like the kind of guy plenty willing to go ass-to-mouth (probably with a raccoon), and starts blasting elves from the sky. Stan and Steve fire from behind a bunker and Steve questions his dad if it’s weird that he has a boner? Stan replies “It would be weird if you didn’t,” as the two, pretty cheerfully, lay waste to the reindeer and elves in a perverted bonding experience.

The perfect setting for some mother-daughter time.

Inside the hull of the downed plane that Bob Todd calls a home, Francine and Haley have a similar heart-to-heart about Jeff in between machinegun fire. Francine assures her daughter that her father will come around, eventually, it will just take some time. She references how long it took for him to adapt to Roger and adds “And the other one.” We hard cut to Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), the fish, in his fish bowl at home to basically acknowledge his lack of a part in this episode.

He told you that he’d be back again some day!

Outside, Bob Todd is chucking molotov cocktails and Santa’s minions unleash a behemoth snowman. Bob Todd blows it up with a full barrel of flaming moonshine, only for presents to burst from the corpse each one containing a miniature snowman ready to attack. Inside, the girls are out of ammo and Roger suggests they use these oversized candy canes he has as weapons, they just need to sharpen them with their mouth first. All three suck the end of the candy cane, and Haley is the first to produce a pointy tip. Roger compliments her on her ability to do so while Francine struggles, but insists she can do it!

Nice to see Rudy make an appearance.

Jeff shows up behind Stan and Steve and asks if he can help. Stan tells him he can shield him from the arrows and die. Santa (Matt Mckenna) emerges from his sleigh and lights a cigar on Rudolph’s nose as he surveys the battlefield. He then calls out to Jeff telling him that he’s been a good boy and that he doesn’t need to die with the Smiths. Everything stops as everyone turns their attention to Jeff. Santa tells him he has the present he requested, the polar bear helmet from The Golden Compass, and urges Jeff to come stand by his side. Jeff quietly leaves Stan and Steve and walks towards Santa as Haley calls out to him urging him not to side with Santa. Stan tells her to let him go, using this act as a way to illustrate how Jeff was never a part of their family.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Jeff receives his gift and happily puts it on his head as an elf smashes Stan in the back of the head with a club knocking him unconscious. Santa then grabs an ornate looking rifle and sets his sights on the unconscious Stan. Jeff, wearing the spiked helmet he just received as a gift, apologizes to Santa for what he’s about to do and then rams his head into Santa’s kidney area. The fat man howls in pain and doubles over as Jeff races over to Stan and drags him into the house. Santa calls to his elves who immediately bandage his wounds with wrapping paper.

Now he’s bonding with his son-in-law, Stan is on a roll!

Inside the plane, Jeff takes Stan into the cockpit to tend to his wound. When Stan comes to with his head bandaged, he expresses his surprise at Jeff’s actions. He’s shocked that Jeff would do something like that for him, but Jeff corrects him that he didn’t do it for him, but Haley. He then tells Stan that he actually thinks he’s an ass, and Stan is impressed with him for the first time ever. He then tells Jeff that they should go out there and die as a family. They open the door to the cockpit and survey the carnage as their family tries to fight off a horde of tiny elves with a wholesome score behind them to celebrate this moment as a magical Christmas one. The two then join the fray as it appears the family will soon be overcome by Santa’s minions.

Now there’s a festive image!

Outside, Santa is puffing on his cigar when he notices the sun rising. He curses, then calls off the troops. They all retreat and fade away into Christmas dust as they apparently only had until dawn of Christmas Day to do the deed (I wonder who filled in for Santa all night with his regular job?). The family emerges, battered and bloody, from the home. Jeff remarks that this means he probably won’t be getting any more Christmas presents, and we hear the voice of Santa chime in, “You’re damn right you jerk!” Francine catches a note from Santa which contains a threat for next year. She’s actually delighted since it looks like her family has found a new Christmas tradition! We then hear from Bob Todd who survived the massacre. He drags over the corpse of a reindeer explaining how it tried to turn into dust, but he was having none of that. When Stan remarks he’ll get some nice venison out of that deer, Bob Todd tells the family he’s going to prepare a Christmas feast for them, but first he’s going to make sweet love to this reindeer corpse. He and the family wish us a “Merry Christmas!” as the camera zooms out to show the bloody aftermath.

The aftermath.

“For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” lives up to its promise of being a bloody, violent, Christmas special to the point that I’m surprised they didn’t opt for a pun with the title and use “slay” instead of “sleigh.” It’s almost an anti-special, since the family kills Santa and all, but it’s conclusion is pretty standard holiday fare as the Smiths learn the meaning of family. Family isn’t just blood, it can also be who you choose, and Stan finally accepts the fact that Jeff is married to his daughter and is indeed part of his family. And it does put an end to some of the venom from Stan that he reserved for Jeff previously, though he’s still allowed to think of him as an idiot. I like the natural setup of the episode with Stan attempting a last ditch effort to bond with his son over guns, and that leading to the tragedy of Steve accidentally murdering Santa (though I described it as an accident, I can’t overlook that he did willingly fire a machinegun in a crowded parking lot and chances are he was going to kill or wound someone in the process). There’s some great misdirection, from the reveal of Santa being shot, to Francine’s insistence on covering up the crime, and Jeff’s turn that are all quite funny. Another joke is rarely far away with this show as it’s often line after line of funny.

A new family tradition is born.

The violence is the star though as the last several minutes of the episode are devoted to a bloody battle of man and elf. There are numerous shots of reindeer getting shot out of the sky intercut with the expected Saving Private Ryan moments of limbless elves wandering among the fallen in a daze. Their search for their limb ended by another relentless volley of machinegun fire. The violence is juxtaposed with casual conversation from the family as they sort out their business adding to the humor, while Bob Todd is mostly allowed to just be a homicidal maniac. The portrayal of Santa as a vengeful blowhard is entertaining, but as I mentioned in the lead-in, we won’t really see a full-on villainous turn for years to come. Here he’s justified in hating Stan, and the whole family played a role in covering up their crime. You just wouldn’t expect the classic interpretation of Santa to be so bloodthirsty.

Merry Christmas from the Smiths!

The violence contained in this one obviously means it’s not a Christmas special for everyone. It’s not something I’d show my young kids at this juncture, but it is one that I get a laugh out of! Even though I’ve seen this one probably more times than any other American Dad! Christmas episode, it’s still the one I look forward to returning to each year the most. These days there are a lot of anti-Christmas specials, but this one might be the best.

If you’re looking forward to spending Christmas with the Smiths this year then you should have a few options at your disposal. The show is shown daily on Cartoon Network during its Adult Swim block and it will certainly air this, and a bunch of other Christmas episodes, this month. The show is also available to stream on Hulu and available to rent or own in various places. My advice is if you have a cable subscription just load-up the DVR with American Dad! Christmas episodes and have yourself a nice, festive, binge. It’s what I’ll be doing all month!


Dec. 4 – Family Guy – “Christmas Guy”

Original air date December 15, 2013

In the fall of 2013, beloved family dog, Brian, met his demise. Brian was an extraordinary dog capable of communicating in English with his family members who was often seen walking on two feet. Despite that though, he met a rather ordinary end for a dog when he was unceremoniously struck by an automobile. Life goes on though, and the Griffin family to which he belonged turned to a new dog: Vinny. Like Brian, Vinny was a remarkable specimen as he too could speak English and chose to walk on two legs, plus he functioned as an Italian stereotype and even appeared to have connections to the underworld. The audience latched onto Vinny, and while no one could replace Brian, we all accepted that these things happen and the best thing we can do for Brian is to never forget him.

Of course, that was all bullshit. No one cared about Vinny and Brian Griffin was as unlikable as basically every other member of the Griffin family at the time of his death. And these deaths never stick, so no one was surprised when the show brought Brian back a mere two episodes later as part of Family Guy’s Christmas episode that year.

This episode takes place during the short-lived Vinny era

Brian Griffin had once been one of the few voices of reason on Family Guy. Despite the fact that he was a dog, he seemed like the most real of any of the Griffin family and many of his problems seemed to stem from the fact that he existed in this unreal world. He seemed to deal with the craziness of being Peter Griffin’s dog with booze and therapy and he seemed to delight in needling the youngest member of the family, Stewie, who was always threatening to kill someone or take over the world, but Brian saw through his bullshit. The two were foils and didn’t seem to really like each other, which is partly what made their team-up episodes, like “The Road to Rhode Island,” so successful.

After Family Guy’s cancellation and return to television, Brian underwent a change. Instead of being the voice of reason, he was made a narcissist who manipulated women and was happy to stand on a soap box and lecture folks on things he had no business speaking on. He took on the role of uninformed liberal capable of regurgitating popular talking points with no subtext. In short, he became insufferable as basically every character on the show took this route, just via different means.

In a show basically devoid of charm (and that’s by design), about the only charming aspect would become the Stewie and Brian relationship. Once adversaries, the pair are now best friends. They understand each other and accept each other’s deficiencies. Their relationship seemed to be solidified in the Season 8 episode “Brian & Stewie” in which the two get trapped in a bank vault over a weekend. Since then, not only is Brian Stewie’s best friend, he’s probably a better father to him than Peter and there’s genuine warmth between the two. This being Family Guy though, their relationship can’t just be sweet so the writers also added a weird subtext where Stewie appears to desire sex with Brian. Why can’t we just have nice things?

I have long since ceased to care about Family Guy as it’s not a show I particularly enjoy. It is a frequent contributor to Christmas though, and “Christmas Guy” felt like an episode worth revisiting. We get to relive the era of Vinny and a story about a baby just wanting to get his best friend back for Christmas is certainly a sweet way to approach the holiday. And it should be better, and definitely shorter, than the other major Brian and Stewie Christmas story “The Road to the North Pole.”

They’re getting ready to celebrate Stewie’s “first” Christmas.

The episode begins with a lovely exterior shot of the Griffin house covered in snow and all decorated for Christmas. Given how inept Peter (Seth MacFarlane) is at virtually everything, I am amazed at how well the decorations look. Maybe that’s just the one thing he’s good at? The family is inside watching television and it’s a version of Home Alone with capable robbers. It’s an observational piece where the robbers enter a house and immediately take note of things like toy cars on the floor and frozen stairs so as to avoid them. When the Kevin character appears at the top of the stairs, they just shoot him and he tumbles down the stairs, dead. We then find out that the family is gearing up for the annual Christmas Carnival that takes place at the mall. Lois (Alex Borstein) is particularly thrilled about celebrating Stewie’s (MacFarlane) first Christmas by sharing the carnival with him. Upon saying that, Stewie says “Again?” which is a clever way for the show to acknowledge that no one ages. I think the one-year-old Stewie has celebrated Christmas a dozen times at this point. This also sets up an awful cut-away joke about how Peter enjoys teasing the clerk at Tiffany’s into thinking he’s actually going to buy something. The joke is that no one in their right mind would believe Peter because he showed up wearing Sbarro wrappers for shoes.

Stewie and Vinny were able to form a fast bond in Brian’s absence.

An exterior shot of the mall lets us know the family has already made the short journey. Stewie is decked out in an elf costume and Vinny (Tony Sirico) makes a few comments on it causing Stewie to ask him if he only uses adjectives sarcastically. Vinny, predictably, responds with sarcasm. The family soon notices that there’s no Christmas Carnival, or really any sign of the holiday for that matter. Stewie suggests whoever is responsible will suffer for it and Vinny makes a smart comment that “tough don’t sell in curly-toed shoes.” Stewie suggests to Vinny that he go buy more cologne setting up another worthless, but at least brief, cut-away.

Lois approaches a security guard to inquire about what happened to the carnival. She addresses him as sir, and he tries to correct her by saying “officer,” but she puts him in his place with a “No, it’s sir, and barely sir.” After the guard hangs his head in shame, he explains he doesn’t know using the term small cog to describe his role in the decision making process. This prompts Chris (Seth Green) to comfort his father by saying “See dad, you’re not the only one with a small cog,” clearly referring to his dad’s penis. Both Lois and Peter respond in unison saying “I told you that in confidence!” so apparently husband and wife are both disappointed in the size of Peter’s penis.

SNL did it better.

Stewie then asks if Santa was killed by Muslims, intentionally mispronouncing the word Muslims. This sets up yet another cut-away as Peter declares he hates being disappointed. This one is Peter in a restaurant commenting on the quality of the coffee, only for the server to tell him it’s Folger’s and call him an idiot for liking it. There’s a tag at the end about how Folger’s is only worth drinking if you’ve been tricked into it. I’ll give them a little credit here as when I saw the joke setup I thought they were just going to have Peter play Chris Farley’s character from the same bit on Saturday Night Live.

It just wouldn’t be a Family Guy Christmas without a little Meg torture.

We’re shown another exterior shot of the Griffin house only it’s nighttime now. Peter and Lois are in bed discussing the events of the day. Lois is worried about Stewie as he seemed so disappointed in the carnival’s cancellation. She remarks he’s been acting out all week and Peter brushes off her concerns with a “He’s a baby, how bad can he be?” We’re then shown the family seated for a meal and Stewie is loosening the cap on the salt shaker. Meg (Mila Kunis) takes it and goes to sprinkle some salt on her food only for the top to fall off completely and out pops a giant snake! It bites her and she instantly swells up to gargantuan size.

We change scenes, and get this, there’s another exterior shot of the Griffin’s house to mark the change! Back to daytime, and the family is once again watching TV so we get another Christmas movie parody joke. This time, it’s Miracle on 134th Street and a guy is shown running to his car in a panic because he left his phone in it. The miracle, and the joke, is that the car has been left undisturbed and his phone is fine. Vinny then enters to say he talked to a bunch of guys and a girl (allowing for him to be casually misogynistic) and found out that the mall’s owner cancelled the carnival and he is none other than Carter Pewterschmidt, Lois’s father. Vinny is then shocked at this twist letting out an exaggerated “Oh!” He then takes his leave as he has to get the “Ohs” out as he keeps saying it over and over. Off camera, we hear them gradually decrease in intensity.

Peter resolves to dealing with Carter, but first has to ask Lois if he’s The Little Caesar’s guy. She responds in a manner that suggests this is a frequent question from Peter and he’s relieved to know that Carter is not, in fact, The Little Caesar’s guy. He then likens Carter’s attitude towards Christmas to a gluten-free Santa, setting up yet another cut-away of a Santa waking a kid up in the middle of the night to ask about what the cookies were made out of. It’s yet another dud of a joke.

Peter and Carter do have an odd chemistry when paired-up.

We then setup the next scene with an exterior shot of Pewterschmidt Industries. Carter (MacFarlane) is seated at his desk filling out some paperwork only pausing to flip off the window washer outside because he dared to make a sound. His secretary then calls to tell him the guy who’s face is on all the money is here to see him and Carter hastily cleans up his papers and welcomes the obvious fake in. It’s Peter, who demands Carter bring back the Christmas Carnival! Carter declines telling Peter he hates Christmas because everyone assumes a rich guy like him will give them expensive presents while giving him nothing in return. Peter vows to return Carter’s Christmas spirit to him and then asks if he can take something home with him from his office. Carter tells him no, and he replies with an “Aww, too bad, because I was gonna pick you!” Carter then confirms that Peter is a weird guy.

Stewie, up to his old tricks.

Exterior shot of the Griffin house! This time, from a different angle though. Seriously guys, we don’t need to see an exterior shot of a building before every scene! Especially a familiar setting like the home of our main characters! Anyway, Peter is struggling to zip-up his coat and refusing Lois’s help because he’s a man-baby. Vinny is there to comment on how crappy it is to have a father who hates Christmas. He then goes off on a tangent about how his old man drowned in a bird bath thanks to a cop, but left directions to “Kick Jimmy in the sack. Go Eagles.” When Lois offers condolences, Vinny brushes them aside and tells everyone his dad was a scumbag. Lois and Peter then start discussing the issue at hand, but they’re in front of a window so obviously we’re supposed to ignore them and see what happens outside. Stewie appears, and he rips down the neighbor’s decorations and molests a snowman before apparently setting off a nuclear explosion that destroys everything in sight. Lois talking about her dad’s disgust towards Christmas leads to another cut-away, this time of Carter going down Santa’s chimney on June 16th in a “how do you like it?” joke. It’s not funny.

I seem to remember jokes at the expense of Carter’s balls in another Christmas episode.

We get another repeated exterior shot of the Griffin house. We didn’t even change settings this time! We’re still in the same place! Did they really need to kill this much time? Peter and Carter are in the kitchen and it’s not explained why Carter would bother coming over. Peter is trying to put Carter in the Christmas spirit by showing him how to write a Christmas letter. He informs Carter it’s acceptable to embellish, so Carter reads the letter and the embellishments are all ridiculous like Peter becoming the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Peter tells him to read what he wrote about him only to find out the only truthful thing in the letter is Peter noting that Carter bought a tiny stool for his balls. The camera zooms out so we can see the stool in use and Carter is pissed because he doesn’t want people to know that.

Now that’s unsettling.

We then get an exterior shot of a generic hotel and Peter and Carter are seated on a bed. Peter has a carton of eggnog and tells Carter this will put him in the holiday spirit. Cater tells Peter he hates eggnog, but Peter won’t take no for an answer. It then gets really uncomfortable as Peter forces the nog on Carter and it’s clear this is intended to be a parody of a sexual assault or violent, degrading, piece of pornography. Carter ends up covered in frothy, white, eggnog and Peter starts filming him and instructs him to degrade himself in various ways. It ends with Carter sitting up and telling Peter “You know, I still don’t like Christmas, but I kind of like what we just did.” Apparently, Carter has some odd kinks.

I bet you can’t guess what’s next! Exterior shot of the Griffin house! Peter and Carter are standing outside the bathroom and Peter tells Carter that Christmas is the one day a year where you masturbate like any other but then feel shame afterwards. He goes into the bathroom for a very short duration, and then comes out hanging his head sadly with his shirt untucked. Carter tells Peter that none of this is working and as he explains Vinny casually walks by causing Carter to interrupt his ranting to remark “Huh, different dog.” Peter confirms this and adds that he’s Italian or something too. Carter then goes back into his rant and Peter tells him he had no idea that Carter was Jewish. Carter, shocked at the suggestion, asks if that’s how he’s coming off and Peter confirms as much.

Carter Pewterschmidt: Not Jewish

Smash cut to the exterior of the mall only now it’s all decorated for Christmas! There’s even a giant banner promoting the carnival with Carter wrapping an arm around a seemingly uncaring Jesus. Inside, the place is fully decorated now and Peter is excited to see the Chinese carolers from A Christmas Story are there singing their rendition of “Deck the Halls.” Peter then tells the audience their beloved holiday classic is extremely racist, which is a gross exaggeration and ruins the observational joke. They could have just had Peter give a disapproving look or something and it would have been funnier.

Is there a sadder place to cry?

Vinny then asks Stewie what he’s going to ask Santa for Christmas. Stewie isn’t sure, but once he’s seated on Santa’s lap and faced with the question he looks to his family and the camera pans from each member and rests on an empty space beside Meg. Stewie then starts sobbing and tells Santa he just wants his friend back. When he explains in further detail, Santa deadpans “You want me to put a dead dog under your tree,” and it doesn’t come off like a question. Stewie confirms this, though immediately after he sees a kid walk by with his parents and a new bike and he adds “and I’d like a bike,” with a whimper.

Vinny’s interpretation of Brian.

After yet another exterior shot of the house, we see Stewie all alone watching television. It’s another holiday parody, A Year Without a Santa Claus or Sex and there’s just some uptight dad bitching to his kid about his wife being busy all of the time. Vinny then enters the picture wearing glasses and a sweater. When Stewie asks what he’s doing, he corrects him by saying he’s Brian and does an Italian version of Brian’s “catchphrase” of “Whose leg do you have to hump to get a dry martini around here?” Stewie is not impressed, but Vinny says he put a lot of thought into this gimmick by reading up on politics and even outlining his own novel “Wish it. Want it. You blew it.” He reads some of it to Stewie and it’s just another vessel for Italian stereotypes that goes on too long. He then tries to cheer Stewie up with an early Christmas present, but the box contains a severed foot. Vinny says that was supposed to go to someone else, and we cut to a group of gangster types getting ready to celebrate the death of Johnny the Foot something, only their gift contains a train. They then go into a schtick of trying to figure out who the train refers to getting more and more specific and it just goes on and on and is never funny.

Vinny then gives Stewie his real gift which is a bowling shirt. Vinny says it’s a versatile garment that can be worn for any occasion, as long as it’s at the beach or adjacent to a beach, but Stewie seems unimpressed. Vinny then decides they should head to the toy store where Stewie can pick something out for himself. They do just that and Stewie is still in a mood since the toy store before Christmas is usually picked over. Vinny tries cheering him up by pointing out there’s tons of good stuff and demonstrates with some bronze, sheep, bookends that shine a sad light on Vinny’s childhood.

Yeah, there isn’t much mystery here.

Stewie soon notices someone familiar in the store. He follows the kid only to realize it’s him! Vinny is angry and hungry, so he goes to punch a sandwich while Stewie investigates further. Vinny then returns with a black eye and an angry, personified, sandwich. Stewie asks Vinny for his help, but he’s not really sure what he’s after. When Stewie says he needs help stealing something Vinny is suddenly all-in. Stewie explains the other Stewie is him from the past. He time-traveled to the future to get a new Jolly Farm game he couldn’t wait for. Stewie asks Vinny to distract him so he can steal the time travel device in the other Stewie’s backpack. Vinny assures him he knows just how to distract another Stewie.

Work it, Stewie!

Vinny then intercepts Stewie after he’s made his purchase. He asks the past Stewie if he’s ever done any modeling, and Stewie says “not professionally” clearly ignoring the events of the episode “The Son Also Draws.” Vinny continues to butter him up and Stewie actually starts stripping away layers as he poses allowing for the current Stewie to steal the time travel device from the backpack. He retreats to a storeroom and Vinny soon appears telling him he should probably hurry up as the other Stewie is changing into tap shoes for some reason. Stewie explains he intends to travel back in time to save Brian, causing him to realize this will undo his family adopting Vinny. Vinny, now realizing he was duped into helping Stewie significantly alter his life for the worse, seems a bit sad at first, but then lightens the mood by saying “Hey, I’m man’s best friend, not some stupid baby’s!” He gives Stewie a smile and then sits like a traditional dog would allowing Stewie to pat him on the head and assure him he’s a been a good dog (I do love it when the dog characters on this show behave like actual dogs for brief moments). Vinny then stands and announces to a Georgette that he’s coming home and walks out of the scene causing Stewie to ask aloud to himself “Who the hell is Georgette?”

A genuine moment of sweetness for Family Guy.

Stewie then hops on the time travel device and we’re taken back to the past with no establishing shot – it’s a Christmas miracle! Stewie and Brian are setting up their street hockey game and Stewie realizes he forgot his kneepads inside. He awkwardly informs Brian of this suggesting he was using them for some depraved sex act, before running inside. Future Stewie then appears and as the car destined to kill Brian screams around the corner, Stewie is able to tackle Brian and spare him. He then starts celebrating Brian’s un-death, which confuses Brian. Stewie goes on to explain he traveled from the future to save him, for when Brian died a little piece of him died as well. Brian is still confused since he just witnessed Stewie destroy his time machine, but Stewie explains how he ran into a past version of himself in the future which reminds him that he needs to send the time device back. We then see Past Stewie angrily waiting in the toy store as he says aloud to himself he’s starting to think Vinny wasn’t a real modeling agent. He then makes it creepy by adding “and I don’t think that other guy was a real Penis-Butt Inspector!”

So long, Future Stewie.

As Stewie finishes his explanation to Brian, he starts to fade away. By changing the past, he’s erased his own timeline. He’s not sad though, but rather happy to have saved Brian. His “dying” words are “Merry Christmas, Brian,” which must be a little confusing to Brian since I don’t think they’re near Christmas in his timeline. Right as he vanishes though, the now present Stewie returns (conveniently with a new hockey stick after the ones he set down in the road were run over) and asks Brian who he was talking to. Brian replies, “A pretty awesome guy,” with a warm smile, only for Stewie to mock him by suggesting he marry the guy. He punctuates the jab by hitting Brian in the balls with his hockey stick and then does circles around his writhing body chanting “Stew-S-A” over and over.

Right in the balls.

A final exterior shot of a snowy Griffin house ushers in our final scene. The family is celebrating Christmas by opening their presents. Chris got some oven mitts and an unfunny joke is attached to it. Brian then gives Stewie his Christmas present and it’s a picture of the two of them in Christmas attire with the caption “Friends Forever” underneath. Stewie tells him it’s wonderful, and Brian informs him that Stewie gave him the greatest gift of all and that he’ll elaborate further some day. Stewie then looks concerned and questions Brian if they’re pregnant? Brian corrects him, but then adds that Stewie’s his best friend and he tells him he loves him. Stewie begins to respond warmly, but then gets stern and informs Brian that he’s been making creepy eye contact with him all morning and that he wants it to stop! Smash cut to credits!

Stewie’s gift.

Well, that was a mostly unfunny romp through the Christmas season with some genuine sentimentality tacked on at the end. The episode was a rather unique setup for Family Guy as it was like two, distinct, stories that occurred consecutively rather than at the same time like a traditional A and B plot. We had the first half of the episode which was devoted to Peter trying to get Carter into the Christmas spirit, and then the second half which was all about bringing Brian back. If the writers were just trying to disguise the fact that they wanted to resurrect Brian for Christmas then they did a good job as the episode did not point in that direction at all, until Stewie climbed onto the mall Santa’s lap with less than 10 minutes remaining. Stewie’s grief was handled well though and I did like his interactions with both Vinny and Brian. This being Family Guy, they found ways to punctuate those tender moments with jokes. They didn’t always land (like the weird sandwich bit), but they didn’t take away from the moment, but rather just cut out some of the overripe sweetness of those moments. I did like how they teed up a warm closing scene only for Brian to just completely botch it which felt like the right note for a Family Guy Christmas episode to end on.

Aside from that though, the first half of the episode was a real slog. Almost none of the observational humor Family Guy strives for really landed, but they sure kept trying! The Home Alone parody was all right, but the others were lame. The eggnog scene was gross for multiple reasons, and none of the cut-away jokes accomplished anything aside from eating up time. And what is up with the need for exterior shots before every scene?! The Griffin house did look nice, but I didn’t need to see the same shot over and over! The only thing I did like was Carter finally coming around on Christmas because he was afraid of people mistaking him for a Jew.

In the end, this was a somewhat sweet story about a kid and his dog.

This Christmas episode of Family Guy ends up being memorable because it’s the episode where the show brought Brian back, even though he hadn’t been gone very long. Only one episode separates this one and “Life of Brian,” his death episode, so it’s easy to question if the show didn’t let Brian stay dead long enough to really sell the gag. It’s also Family Guy though and no one watches it for anything more than a sequence of jokes. The actual characters are rarely of any importance. Were fans happy to have Brian back? Did they like Vinny? Did they even care he died? I don’t know, but I do think it was a fun storyline to run with and they wrote themselves a nice out of Brian’s death. Aside from that detail though, this isn’t much good. You’re still better off with watching the inaugural Christmas episode from Family Guy if you must, and I think I enjoyed the Patrick Swayze one more that we looked at a couple of years ago.

If you want to watch “Christmas Guy” this holiday season it should be relatively easy to track down. I think. Adult Swim used to air every Christmas episode from the show this month, probably more than once, but lost the rights to air Family Guy this year so now it’s on the Disney family of channels. I’m assuming channels like FXX will schedule the Christmas episodes like they do for The Simpsons, but it is a bit of an unknown. The show is available on DVD and to stream as part of Hulu, which is probably the easiest way to watch it. If you enjoy Family Guy, and it’s fine to do so, then you probably like this one more than I do and will enjoy it. If you’re someone who does not care for Family Guy then you’ll likely hate this so seek holiday cheer from other sources.


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. 1 – American Dad! – “The Best Christmas Story Never Told”

img_1104Oh hell yeah, it’s time for Christmas posts! Welcome back for the year 2020 as The Christmas Spot comes at you with 25 days of Christmas posts! 2020 has been a crazy year with a lot of new normals tossed our way, but at least each year the calendar gets turned over to Christmas and for close to one month things seem consistent with prior years. And like year’s past, we’re turning this place into an advent calendar and looking at 25 festive topics. Most of which will be like this one, a write-up of a beloved or not so beloved Christmas television special. It may be one from the past, or it may be relatively current, but one thing is certain and that’s it will be Christmas. I have nothing against the other seasonal holidays occurring around this time, it’s just that Christmas is my jam and I want to share my enthusiasm with all of you.

For this year, we’re turning things over to an animated sitcom that has become fairly reliable when it comes to Christmas. American Dad! premiered after the Super Bowl in 2005 and immediately found itself in the shadow of Family Guy. That’s because the show is co-created by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and at the time it premiered it was being billed as the Family Guy replacement. This was during the hiatus for Family Guy following its cancellation, though the show would eventually return. As such, it felt like many Family Guy fans were immediately dismissive of American Dad! because it wasn’t the show they wanted. They wanted more Family Guy, not an imitation. You would think things would improve following the revival of Family Guy, but instead fans of that show once again seemed to look down on American Dad! as now that their beloved show had returned, what need of this new one did anyone have?

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Like Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers, American Dad! has become a reliable source for Christmas specials over the years.

Which was unfortunate, because American Dad! had very little in common with Family Guy. I suppose it resembled Season One of Family Guy to a point as both shows were influenced by the classic sitcom All in the Family. While Family Guy only borrowed from that show a little, American Dad! was practically a reimagining of that program in animated form. The show was co-created by eventual show-runners Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman and once the pilot was basically sold to Fox, MacFarlane backed away as he was soon pulled back into Family Guy duty. The show was conceived as a liberal’s answer to the Bush era political climate of the time. The conservative leading man, Stan Smith (MacFarlane) would be positioned opposite his young adult daughter Hayley (Rachael MacFarlane), a college-educated liberal, and rely on the conflict inherent in that relationship for several plots. Stan was presented as boorish and unfailingly patriotic, and as a member of the CIA he took national security very seriously to the point of suspecting anyone with brown skin as being a terrorist. Hayley was often the voice of reason, though also saddled with the usual college stereotype of being lazy and more interested in getting high than actually working to promote change in the political landscape. She would be paired with a boyfriend turned husband, Jeff Fischer (Jeff Fischer), that Stan hates which is basically the same relationship Archie Bunker had with “Meathead” in All in the Family.

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In this episode, Stan is going to learn the true meaning of Christmas and we’re going to learn about Roger’s past, seen here laying face-down in a mix of snow and vomit.

Eventually, the show found a niche and relied less on the Stan/Hayley dynamic. The rest of the family would play a more prominent role in furthering stories. Francine (Wendy Schaal) is portrayed as a stay-at-home mom and is the caretaker of the house and kids. She began life in the show as being a stereotypical conservative ideal, but over the years has developed her own quirks and failings, making her feel like a more fleshed-out character. Son Steve (Scott Grimes) has been molded into being Stan’s opposite ideal for a son. He’s a geek who likes comics and Dungeons & Dragons, but also is emotionally Stan’s opposite as he’s sensitive and comfortable with expressing his “non manly” emotions. As is the case with all MacFarlane shows, there’s a talking animal and in this one it’s a goldfish named Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker) who is a former German athlete trapped in the body of a fish. He’s mostly just there to make observations and the family often ignores him. By far, the big breakout character of the show is definitely Roger the alien (MacFarlane), who saved Stan’s life years ago and as reward is being kept safe from the government in the Smith household. He begins the show as an Alf knock-off, but the writers eventually found another role for him and that’s as an alien of many personalities. He often leaves the home in disguise and will even live other lives as he devotes himself to the roles he plays. He’s also literally the show’s worst character as he’s a sociopathic narcissist and will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. In that aspect, he somewhat resembles Cartman of South Park fame.

For what Wikipedia considers the show’s third season (it’s complicated), a Christmas episode was commissioned. It would be the first of several, as the very conservative Stan and his family naturally lend themselves well to the holiday. The episodes have become some of the show’s finest as they’re pretty big in spectacle and only seem to grow more and more outlandish. There would be a continuity established as well as the Smith family becomes the enemy of Santa. Because the show’s broadcast schedule is a bit erratic, not every year brings with it a new Christmas episode, but it’s certainly something I look for each year.

Since I have never covered American Dad! before in one of these countdowns, it would seem the best place to start is with that first Christmas special. “The Best Christmas Story Never Told” premiered on December 17, 2006. Some places consider that Season 3 of the show, though it would appear it’s production Season Two. Writing of the episode is credited to Brian Boyle with staff writers Laura McCreary and Erik Durbin also receiving credits. Boyle is also executive producer on the series, but has received a written by credit on several other episodes, including the 2014 Christmas episode “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas” which interestingly is similar to this one as it presents an alternate reality for Stan at Christmas.

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The Smith family ready to bask in the glow of the town Christmas tree.

While I do think American Dad! is quite different from Family Guy, it does amuse me that this inaugural Christmas episode begins the same way as Family Guy’s first Christmas episode. The whole family is gathered in the town square for the annual lighting of the town Christmas tree. Stan is quite jubilant about the whole thing, while Roger is face-down in the snow and booze (and vomit) since Christmas makes him feel like a failure. It’s here Roger’s origin is retconned a bit, possibly for the first time, as he reveals he’s been on Earth for over 40 years. In other words, he had a lengthy existence before meeting the Smith family. Stan doesn’t care and implores him to acknowledge the holiday. When it’s announced the lighting has been cancelled at the last minute due to the town being unable to celebrate a secular holiday on town property, Stan gets angry as a crew moves in to demolish the place. Stan rages it’s the liberals and atheists telling them how to celebrate their holiday, and when a passerby tries to reason with Stan, Stan laments he can’t wait for The Rapture. As Stan tells them they’ll be left behind, Francine tries to smooth things over by telling the other family they’re free to use their pool after they’ve been raptured, provided it’s not boiling. Francine then suggests they go to church instead and Stan dismisses that suggestion on account of church being boring. He then declares he needs to go someplace where he can learn the true meaning of Christmas – the mall!

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Take note of the little person working the camera.

Stan contentedly looks on as his kids sit on Santa’s lap and ask him for toys. He remarks that this is what Christmas is all about and as he does so the show decides to use a regrettable slur for little people and even has Hayley, who should know better, use it casually as well. The kids then implore their father to get something for Roger for Christmas, but Stan doesn’t want to since Roger isn’t Christian. Roger has no say at the moment for he’s passed out in a baby stroller. Stan then takes sight of The 99 Cent Depot and decides he can spare a buck for Roger.

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I bet you expected Stan to react this way to “Happy Holidays.”

Stan heads to the register and asks for one of the store’s wares. The clerk hands him a cassette of disco’s greatest hits from 1974-1980 and Stan deems this satisfactory. When the clerk tells him it costs $1.07 due to taxes, Stan suggests they change the store’s name, but the clerk points out that’s not his decision. Stan smiles and is satisfied with that response, but when he wishes the clerk a “Merry Christmas,” (you know where this is going) and gets a “Happy Holidays” in return his mood changes. Angry, he demands that the clerk acknowledge his holiday, but the same excuse about the sign is not enough to sway Stan this time. He pulls out a gun to demand action and we cut to Stan being tossed outside by security. When he calls back to remind them he had a gun, a gift-wrapped gun is tossed to him.

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Did you take note of that little person two pictures ago?!

At the Smith household, Stan is still visibly outraged by the “liberals” who are destroying Christmas. The family tries to reason with him, but he’s more than a little stubborn. Stan then rhetorically asks the family who is to blame for all of this, and they respond with exhaustion in their voices because this is something Stan must remind them of often, Jane Fonda. Apparently Stan blames Ms. Fonda for spreading liberal ideas through her protests against the war in Vietnam and it’s not something he’s about to let go of. A ring of the doorbell gets Stan’s hopes up momentarily as he thinks carolers have arrived. He opens the door to the costumed group, but finds out they’re only here to spread awareness of the Holiday Rapist and hold up a flier. This is the tipping point for Stan as he demands they refer to him as the Christmas Rapist. He slams the door and sets to destroying the festive decorations in the house, including tossing most of them through the living room window. Steve begins to cry that Daddy destroyed the toys Chinese kids made for him while Francine scolds Stan for his behavior. She tells him he’s sleeping on the couch tonight which Stan tries to protest by pointing out the now missing window and the presence of the Christmas Rapist on the loose.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past has been assigned Stan Smith this year. Unlike other ghosts, she apparently works alone on Christmas.

Stan is shown sleeping on the couch (in his suit, for some reason) looking a bit cold when a woman materializes beside him. She’s quite fairy-like I suppose, and when she wakes Stan he snaps open his eyes and shouts “Holiday Rapist!” and dives behind the couch before quickly correcting himself with “Christmas Rapist.” The woman then explains, in a faux British accent, that she’s the Ghost of Christmas Past (Lisa Kudrow) and she’s here to help Stan lean the true meaning of Christmas. He soon brightens up and the ghost takes him all the way back to 1970.

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The idyllic Christmas of Stan’s youth.

There the two peek into the Smith home where a young Stan is opening his Christmas presents. Stan is amazed that they’re really back in 1970 and the woman reassures him by mentioning how things are different. One of those mentions is Jane Fonda, who is presently filming to movie Klute nearby causing Stan’s eyes to narrow in a menacing fashion. He then takes off running, much to the bewilderment of the ghost, who just calls for him to come back, dropping the accent. When he doesn’t obey, she just starts grumbling to herself about how this is her first turn as Past and she already screwed it up. Apparently, she used to be a Tooth Fairy. She then reveals to us her name is Michelle, and mentions she should have just stayed with some guy named Chad.

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Jane Fonda on the set of Klute. Fonda, and the other celebrities of this episode, were offered to voice themselves, but all turned the show down. I bet they would have said “Yes,” to The Simpsons.

Stan is able to track down the filming location for Klute and watches as Jane Fonda (uncredited, but sounds like Wendy Schaal) is filmed feeding a cat, and then herself. She explains her decision to eat the cat food to the director which just irritates Stan even further. Stan is grossed out and remarks “You are so dead,” to himself.

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In order to find Stan, Michelle is going to need Francine’s help.

Back in the present, Michelle appears in Francine’s room and splashes her with water in order to wake her up. She explains to Francine what happened, and when Francine gets mad Michelle asks rhetorically if she blames mothers who lose their kids at the mall. When Francine gives her an “Are you serious?” look in response, Michelle answers the question emphatically herself with a, “No! No, you don’t!” Realizing what Stan is up to, Francine reluctantly drags herself out of bed and heads for the bathroom. When Michelle expresses her impatience, Francine tells her she isn’t going back to that filthy decade without some Purell.

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Stan makes an important discovery, and we find out Donald Sutherland is a real creep. Maybe that’s why he declined to voice himself.

Filming wraps for the day and Stan keeps close as Fonda retreats to her dressing room accompanied by Donald Sutherland (Chris Diamontopoulis). It’s while watching these two interact that Stan realizes it was Sutherland who put those liberal ideas into Fonda’s head. He then corrects himself that Fonda isn’t his target and that he must instead kill Donald Sutherland! Sutherland immediately confronts him as he was apparently standing beside Stan, but he’s a bit clueless and asks Stan if he’s here to give Fonda her massage. Stan decides that he is indeed here to do just that remarking that it would be rather nice to do so. Sutherland then leaves him to it and as Stan closes the door to Fonda’s dressing room we hear him announce his arrival and tells her to finish her cat food.

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Roger, about to make a life-changing discovery.

Stan then follows Sutherland and Fonda out to a restaurant, Elaine’s, but is prevented from entering since he’s not on the list. He then goes around the back to sneak in with the restaurant staff while stashing his gun in his pants. Once he disappears inside, we see some waiters come out for a smoke break. One of them is clearly Roger in disguise. When the other waiter asks if he got the part he tried out for he replies, “No, they were looking for someone more flesh-colored with a nose.” The other waiter tells him to give up on his dreams and leaves him. As Roger sits dejected, he notices something in the snow. It’s the disco tape that fell out of Stan’s jacket before he went inside. When Roger reads the title he announces it’s from the future! And since he’s an alien from outer space, he deems that plausible.

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The encounter that will doom Christmas.

At the restaurant, Stan is finishing up in a restroom when a hairy-looking dude emerges from a stall. Stan notices the man is smoking marijuana, and Stan admonishes him for doing so. The guy doesn’t seem bothered by it, and goes on to introduce himself as Marty, Marty Scorsese (Grimes). When Stan begins to gush and says he loves his films, Marty is shocked and assumes Stan has seen his film of a guy shaving. Stan is amused, but then assures him he’s going to be great, but that he’ll never win an Oscar if he’s hooked on drugs. Marty agrees, and starts humorously removing all of the drug paraphernalia on his person which includes many bags, joints, and even a bong in his pants. Stan is touched, and the two have a nice, men’s room, hug.

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The artists don’t usually get to draw dinosaurs so let’s throw ’em a bone!

Meanwhile, Michelle has overshot her magic and taken Francine back to the Jurassic period. They observe some cute little dinosaurs running past before a T-Rex eats them causing the two to scream before Michelle gets them out of there. You can’t play around with time travel and not show a dinosaur at some point.

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Stan assuming his cool, assassin, pose.

Feeling quite satisfied, Stan returns to the task at hand:  killing Donald Sutherland. He spots Sutherland and Fonda having dinner and when Sutherland suggests Fonda get involved in politics, he offers to talk about them over a drink at “my place.” Stan counters as he pulls out his gun with, “Let’s talk about it over your brains. Maybe all over the place?” Before he can pull the trigger, and before anyone seems to notice him, Michelle and Francine appear and pull him aside. The two express their anger with Stan, and when Francine says they won’t allow him to kill Jane Fonda, Stan corrects them to point out he’s now targeting Sutherland, the lanky, Canadian, Kiefer-spawning bastard! That doesn’t matter much to Michelle and Francine as they’re not about to let Stan murder anyone and they quickly take him back to the present.

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Something clearly went wrong.

Or do they? When the trio arrive, they find the Smith living room looks different. It’s drab, with cinderblocks for furniture and Communist posters on the wall. When Francine calls out for Steve and Hayley, a Russian man comes down the stairs firing a shotgun at them. They quickly run out into the street and find the country is now under the dominion of the Russians! Michelle gets to turn all glowy and dramatic as she informs Stan that he destroyed America! Francine then pauses to pee beside a car as she’s been holding it in since the 70s.

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A monument commemorating the birth of this new, Russian, empire.

Michelle then does some sleuthing on some tablet she has to try and figure out what happened. She knows Stan did something, but he insists he did nothing that would change the past. She has him go over what he did while in 1970 and when he gets to the part about meeting Scorsese in the bathroom Michelle gets a hit. It seems by getting Scorsese off drugs, he never went on to make Taxi Driver. And since he didn’t make Taxi Driver, John Hinckley never became obsessed with actress Jodi Foster and thus never attempted to impress her by assassinating President Reagan. Since Reagan didn’t survive an assassination attempt, he lacked the good will to beat back Mondale in the presidential election of 1984 and upon becoming president, Mondale would hand the country over to Russia. Stan then realizes that in order to stop Russia from overtaking America, he needs to travel back to the past and film Taxi Driver. When Francine objects to point out how crazy that conclusion is, Michelle steps in to say Stan is right as she’s apparently just as crazy as he is.

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Roger and his precious tape.

As those three set out to right Stan’s wrong, we check-in on Roger who’s about to make his first million selling disco songs to Clive Davis. He’s been milking that cassette he found like Biff from Back to the Future Part II and having a good time of it. He celebrates his fortune by heading to a nightclub and shouts at the sky for his mom to see him now! He then tells her to stop looking while he snorts some cocaine, and then tells her she can look again as he resumes dancing.

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Stan Smith is not a Robert DeNiro fan.

On the set of Taxi Driver, Stan is watching as Robert DeNiro (Diamantopoulis) rehearses. DeNiro is talking to himself in the mirror and Stan objects. He instructs DeNiro to talk at himself in the mirror and not at the mirror, which DeNiro finds absurd and quits. Francine is pissed at Stan for driving DeNiro away, but he assures her it’s fine since they only need Hinkley to fall for Jodi Foster. Michelle, once again, goes along with Stan who is now delighted he can make Taxi Driver with the leading man he thinks would be best:  John Wayne.

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Ever wonder what Taxi Driver would look like with John Wayne in the lead role?

At a showing of the finished film, Stan, Francine, and Michelle find John Hinckley in the audience and observe him watching the film’s climax. In it, Foster’s character is tied up and about to be set on fire by Native Americans doing an inflammatory dance routine. Wayne shows up in his cab and emerges, old and fat and with a mohawk under his traditional cowboy hat. He shoots all of the Native Americans and rescues Foster as a boom mic comes into the shot and knocks over a background, indicating they shot and edited this thing rather poorly. When it’s over, Francine immediately starts asking Hinckley what he thought and when Francine suggests that Foster was pretty hot he acts disgusted. Realizing their plan failed, Michelle identifies one last resort.

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Roger did not take Larry’s advice and switch off speaker phone.

In 1981, Regan is staying at the Hilton and he’s about to be shot. Only now, he’s not. Meanwhile, high above Roger is partying away when his phone rings. It’s someone named Larry, who informs Roger his last album only sold 90 copies and that disco is dead. He’s broke. Roger can’t believe it and when he asks how he could be broke when he has a bunch of investments and race horses, he then says “I thought you were feeding them?!” indicating there was some confusion over what to do with the race horses once purchased. Roger then tries to kill himself by jumping through the window of his penthouse, but that glass is pretty damn thick and he just gets knocked out.

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It’s time for Stan to get nuts!

At ground level, Michelle has spelled it out for Stan that in order to save Christmas (remember, this is a Christmas episode) he needs to shoot his idol, Ronald Reagan. Stan insists he can’t do it, but he’s reminded he needs to do it if he wants Christmas back. Stan reasons they could learn Russian and be happy, though he also laments he’ll probably miss a lot of elevators at first while he learns how to say “Hold the door,” in Russian. He then reminds Francine that they’ll be fine as long as they’re together as a family, indicating that maybe he has learned the true meaning of Christmas. Or at least one of them. Michelle then informs him there’s no guarantee Hayley and Steve exist now, and if he really wants to save Christmas and his family, he’s going to have to shoot Reagan. Stan reluctantly agrees, and when Michelle reminds him that he just has to “wing him” Stan laughs and thanks her for reminding him indicating that he was probably going to shoot to kill.

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If you’re doing A Christmas Carol, even loosely like this one, you still have to have this scene.

As Reagan is shown leaving the hotel. Stan makes his way through the crowd like a crazy person. He pulls out his gun and then starts shouting “Merry Christmas!” over and over as he opens fire. The screen goes white and then fades to reveal Stan and Francine asleep in their bed. Francine wakes up and immediately wakes Stan who runs to the window and opens it. He sees a paper boy outside who looks almost exactly like the kid on the cover of Paper Boy for the Nintendo Entertainment System. When he asks the kid what day it is, he responds that it’s Christmas and Stan then barks at him to get off his lawn!

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Stan mostly puts Christmas back together.

Downstairs, Stan has boarded up the broken window and re-setup the mangled tree. The gifts are re-wrapped and Hayley and Steve come down the stairs overjoyed to see that Christmas is back. Roger then comes into the room drunk explaining that Christmas reminds him how he created disco and then lost all of his money. The family laughs at him and then Stan is summoned into the kitchen by Michelle. There she thanks him for bailing her ass out by giving him a gift. He opens it to find a shiny, new, Glock. Michelle says she had just enough time to hit the mall last night for it, and when Stan questions how she got it so fast apparently bypassing the waiting period, she reminds him that he only shot Reagan. He never hit James Brady, and thus there was never passage of The Brady Bill which means guns are as easy to buy as a stick of gum. Stan is delighted and mugs for the camera with a “Best Christmas ever!”

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Roger no longer needs to be depressed that he hasn’t accomplished anything in his time on Earth, now he can lament that he lost his fortune when disco died. Also, his genitals are located near his armpit.

This is a pretty great early episode of American Dad! Stan is very much the conservative whack-job throughout and it’s obvious that the absurd War on Christmas notion is what drove the writers to craft this plot. It’s also possible they worked backward from the premise of what if Stan had to shoot his hero in order to save Christmas? The show is jam-packed with jokes as almost every sentence Stan utters is a joke of some kind. They’re just understated jokes, which is one of the main differences between American Dad! and Family Guy. Family Guy seems to rarely trust its audience with knowing what is and isn’t a joke and everything is practically screamed at the audience. American Dad! is far more confident, and while it does get absurd and thrust things into the forefront at times, it rarely feels obnoxious.

Since Stan is essentially an easy target, there are some jokes in this episode that could be considered easy, maybe even lazy. Even with those though, the show goes the extra mile to add a spin to make them seem less conventional. A perfect example is Stan’s argument with the clerk over his holiday greeting. The episode makes a point of demonstrating that Stan can be agreeable and even sympathetic to the plight of the working man who has to do as he’s commanded when the clerk makes the comment about not being able to change the name of the store from The 99 Cent Depot to The $1.07 Store to account for tax. Stan accepts that, but he can’t accept the kid saying “Happy Holidays” even though he’s directed to by his boss who can and probably will fire him for saying anything else. And because Stan’s a maniac, it has to escalate to Stan pulling a gun for added comedic effect.

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Coming up with a plot that involves Stan finding the true meaning of Christmas thus saving the holiday doesn’t take a ton of creativity. Having Stan replace John Hinckley Jr. as Reagan’s would-be assassin? Now that’s genius!

If the episode did begin with the premise of Stan shooting Reagan to save Christmas, then the writers also did a good job of making that happen. While American Dad! mostly behaves like a sitcom, it’s not afraid to get fantastical and do some crazy stuff. Granted, so many shows have done a variation of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life that weren’t particularly crazy, but it’s still quite a leap to have your characters time travel. This show will get way more fantastic in that regard, but this episode is largely able to rise above the notion of being an adaptation of that holiday classic without really feeling like one. Normally I hate to give time to anything that indulges in the trope, but American Dad! makes it work quite well.

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Lisa Kudrow is pretty wonderful as Michelle, The Ghost of Christmas Past. The show gives her a lot to work with and her personality meshes well with the character.

The only downside with this episode is that it’s actually pretty light on Christmas. It begins festive enough, but once we jump back in time it’s actually easy to forget that this is a Christmas episode of American Dad! It manages to hang onto its premise though and that’s Stan needing to learn the true meaning of Christmas, which the episode defines as basically family time. It’s actually a surprisingly warm conclusion for a show not afraid to do cynical or dark endings. Of course, there’s a touch of the show’s cynicism in the ending since Stan has created a world in which guns are even more accessible. This probably isn’t my favorite Christmas episode from this show, but it’s definitely a good measuring stick for all of them. And since I’ve managed to avoid American Dad! (not intentionally, it just happened that way) while doing this countdown for years now, you can safely assume it will return next year as there’s a lot more I can turn to.

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“Best Christmas ever!”

American Dad! currently airs on both TBS and Cartoon Network almost daily. As a result, you should have no problem finding an airing of this episode at some point this month, and probably more than once. And if cable isn’t your thing, the show is streaming on Hulu and also available on physical media and for digital purchase all over the place. This should be an easy one to find and it comes recommended.


Dec. 7 – Bob’s Burgers – “Father of the Bob”

 

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“Father of the Bob” originally aired on December 7, 2014. And as always, there was a delightful Christmas pun in the title sequence.

Bob’s Burgers has somewhat quietly become the best animated show on the Fox Network. Better than the modern version of The Simpsons, and better than Family Guy. It might be the ugliest of the three, but it more than makes up for that with its characters and plots. Bob’s Burgers looks like just another animated sitcom about a family of five on the surface:  the Belchers are short on money, but not on problems. Where the show really separates itself is that it’s never really operated like a conventional sitcom. The members of the family all get along and seem to like each other. There are very few plots centered on conflicts within the family. Rarely do parents Bob and Linda need to discipline the kids or worry about their performance at school. And all three kids are quite weird, and yet no one in the family pokes fun at each other. Well, the kids do point out Bob’s flaws at times, but it’s often in an observational manner as opposed to trying to make him feel bad about himself. This is a family that is incredibly tolerant of each other, almost to a fault as Bob can be a push-over. They rarely say “I love you,” to each other, but it’s obvious that they do in a very natural way that just doesn’t need stating.

 

And, of course, the show is incredibly funny. It’s also incredibly dedicated to holiday themed episodes in a way that few shows are. Every season you can almost guarantee there will be a Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas episode. Sometimes the holiday is just sort of happening in the background, which it kind of is in today’s episode, and other times it’s very much the focus of the episode. It’s certainly great for a website like this one so don’t be surprised if Bob’s Burgers ends up showing up here on an annual basis as well.

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This episode is going to take us back in time more than once.

“Father of the Bob” is actually one of the more melodramatic episodes in the show’s history. It contains a plot revolving around Bob and his father, Big Bob, and how the two struggle to get along with each other. It’s one of the more conventional plots the show has done when compared with its contemporaries, but it still finds ways to impart its unique brand of humor to the story and it largely utilizes the kids to do so.

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A young Bob crafts his first gimmick burger.

The episode opens with a flashback to thirty years prior. On a snowy Christmas, a young Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) is handling grill duties while his dad is at a doctor’s appointment. He’s talking to the burger as he personifies it with a high-pitched voice, something he will carry with him to adulthood. He then presents his burger to patron Henry (Carl Reiner). He dubs it the Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger as it has chives and little fried pickles for wheels, making it simulate a car. Fellow patrons Max (Jordan Peele) and Pete (Nick Offerman) look on as Henry decides if he wants to eat this thing as he had ordered his usual:  a tuna melt. As he looks it over, Big Bob (Bill Hader) returns from his appointment and we find out it was for a prostate exam. His remark, “So that’s what a prostate exam is,” is met with a “I think it’s fun if it’s a surprise!” from Max reminding me that there’s almost no way I can capture all of the good lines that are going to be featured here.

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Little Bob presents his masterpiece to Henry, the Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger.

Big Bob takes notice of the unusual burger being presented to Henry. As Bob enthusiastically describes it to his dad, Big Bob just looks disgusted. He seems even more irritated when he finds out Henry ordered his usual, but Bob tries to tell Henry he’ll like this. Big Bob reminds him you don’t tell the customer what he wants, but Henry suggests he’s willing to try this and thinks it looks okay. Big Bob then immediately makes a hypocrite of himself by telling Henry he doesn’t want that burger and tells him he wants a tuna melt. He dumps the burger into the trash and remarks that’s the last time he leaves Little Bob in charge.

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Turns out, this isn’t a happy Christmas memory.

In the present, it’s Christmas Eve and the family has been invited to Bob’s father’s annual Christmas party taking place at his restaurant, Big Bob’s Diner. Bob is reluctant to attend, but the family hasn’t been in seven years so he feels obligated to do so. The problem is he and his dad can only seem to co-exist for 15 minutes before things inevitably take a turn for the worse. As he explains this phenomena to Teddy (Larry Murphy), while the kids pray to Santa, we see a montage of times when 15 minutes elapsed and Big Bob said something condescending to his son. Linda (John Roberts) poo-poos him and is ever the optimist insisting that the magic of Christmas will bring them together, but Bob insists they only stay for 15 minutes and then get out of there.

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In the present, Bob has upped his game and worked Christmas puns into his gimmick burgers.

As the family drives over, the kids Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) all find out via discussion that none of them have secured a Christmas present for their father. They’re obviously running out of time and need to think of something fast. Their hope is that their grandfather might be able to bail them out in some way.

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Santa Pete is the first to welcome the Belchers to Big Bob’s holiday party.

As the family enters Big Bob’s Diner we’re introduced to Big Bob himself. He looks like an older, heavier, version of Bob and seems to be a rather low key kind of guy. He gives the kids their expected five dollars each, and Louise whispers in his ear they have an arts and crafts emergency brewing and Big Bob tells her they’re welcomed to nose around in the basement for stuff and the three head down there. Bob and his dad struggle to make small talk and it soon becomes apparent that Big Bob is understaffed, what with it being Christmas Eve and all. Linda thinks this is an excellent opportunity for the two Bobs to have a heart to heart and she insists that Bob help his dad out in the kitchen. Bob is extremely reluctant to do so, but he’s too good a person not to help his dad out or he just can’t say “No” to his wife.

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Christmas seems to have a lot of baggage for the Bobs.

We’re then a shown a Christmas from 20 years ago. A bunch of patrons are in the diner and Big Bob is preparing to give his son his Christmas present. He has something under a sheet, and he calls for Little Bob to come into the dining room. As he does, he looks really on edge as his dad goes into a little speech. He tells him from now on the diner will be Bob & Son’s diner and he shows him a piece of the new sign, which is still unfinished. As he shows him menus and goes on and on Little Bob says “No” to the offer. Big Bob can hardly believe it, and Little Bob unloads about how he could never work for his dad and that he won’t ever let him change the menu. The restaurant patrons are all really uncomfortable, and Big Bob eventually tells him to get out. As Bob storms out, he tries to come up with a new gimmick burger to mark the occasion, but isn’t satisfied with any of the stuff he’s thinking of on the spot.

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Bob awkwardly discussing the items in the kitchen with his pops.

As the Bobs settle in, Linda helps with waitressing though she clearly has no idea what the layout of the restaurant is and is forced to just call out orders to see who claims them. In the basement, the kids are rummaging through their grandfather’s stuff and trying to figure out a present for their dad. Tina seems to think she can turn her grandfather’s desk chair into something neat, while Gene decides to make drums out of some cans of beans. Louise proposes they have a competition to see who can make their dad the best present. It’s to be called the Missile-Tonies.

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A bean bath – why not?

Upstairs, the clock is ticking as Bob struggles to make small talk with his dad stumbling into an awkward discussion about range hoods. Downstairs, Tina finishes her chair present which just has a bunch of stuff taped to it. She’s rather proud of herself and dishes on her siblings. Louise seems to be unnerved by Tina’s bragging as she constructs a pyramid out of mouse traps. Meanwhile, Gene has lost focus. He emptied the bean cans into a cardboard box initially to make his drum kit sound better, but now he’s decided he just wants to bathe in the beans. He strips down to his underwear and climbs in requesting some sliced ham for his eyes.

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Things are not going well.

In the kitchen, the clock ticks 15, and Bob begins to panic and is trying to make his escape. Right on cue, his dad takes a look at the order slip Bob just finished and asks if it’s supposed to be grilled cheese, because it looks like his son prepared burnt toast. His passive aggressive approach would drive any son mad over time. As Bob tries to leave, Linda sticks her head into the window to see how things are going and Big Bob sarcastically responds they’re learning how to make grilled cheese forcing Little Bob to laugh awkwardly. Linda tells them Henry has ordered the usual, which sets Little Bob off. He declares he’s going to make Henry the burger his dad tossed out when he was 14. Big Bob declares he won’t allow any gimmick burgers in his restaurant, and then he critiques his son’s pantomime of driving a car.

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And they’re only getting worse.

As the Bobs each prepare their meal for Henry, the kids hit a snag in the basement. Tina’s chair has too much stuff taped to it and falls over, knocking over Louise’s structure of mousetraps. Gene’s box breaks open and out come the beans (and according to Gene, a small amount of pee) all over the place. Out of options, Louise instructs Tina to find a gift fast and she settles on a snowglobe. Louise pulls some newspaper out of her grandpa’s desk to use as wrapping paper and this will have to do.

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Linda tries to conjure up some Christmas magic through song, but it isn’t working.

Upstairs, Linda refuses to serve Henry either Bob invention. She instead implores the restaurant customers to sing, but no one is having it. Both Bobs decide to present their food personally as they elbow each other out of the kitchen and place their plates before Henry. The poor old man is obviously confused and conflicted. He doesn’t want to get dragged into this fight between father and son, nor does he want to upset either of them. He’s struggling to find a solution that will placate both, but it becomes obvious that won’t happen. Ultimately, he’s lured in by Little Bob’s creation and takes a bite. He loves it, and as Bob gloats before his dad. A sullen and defeated Big Bob removes his apron and plays the guilt card. He unenthusiastically thanks Bob and Linda for coming to his party as he quietly leaves the restaurant.

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Poor Henry is caught in the middle and he can’t resist the call of Bob’s burger.

Bob isn’t quite ready to stop savoring his victory, but the patrons of the restaurant aren’t too happy with him. Bob realizes he needs to do something as his kids emerge from the basement and Gene is still covered in beans. Linda urges Bob to go after his father, who has ducked into the gay bar across the street. She insists she can handle the orders and the kids will help out, and Bob is forced to relent when the kids give him his present. The newspaper they chose as wrapping paper ended up being a review of Bob’s Burgers his dad kept downstairs. It was the first ever review for the young restaurant (it was a rather neutral review) and Bob is touched and surprised his dad had kept it. Pete, who owns the bar next door, then comes in his Santa suit with a cowboy hat. He instructs Bob to put it on and come with him.

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When a Santa presents you a cowboy hat and commands you to come, you come.

Bob finds his dad alone at the bar in a cowboy hat. He sits down beside him and tries to apologize, but his dad isn’t particularly interested in conversation. He flees his son to the dance floor and Bob gets a lesson in boot-scooting from Pete and joins his father. He then starts to ask his dad what he’s doing here, and he explains he always comes here for line dancing. Before Bob can finish his next question, Big Bob assures his son he’s not gay, he just likes dancing and hanging out with his friends. Big Bob relentlessly points out how badly his son is dancing, and Bob uses that to segue into an explanation for why he blew up earlier. He’s sick of his dad always criticizing him. He apologizes though for blowing up at him, in the past and tonight. He shouldn’t have embarrassed his dad like that in front of his customers, and he sounds genuinely sorry. He thought his dad never supported him, until his kids found the review he had kept. Big Bob admits he’s a tough person to get along with, and the two more or less reconcile before heading back over to the diner.

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A defeated Big Bob wants no part of a conversation with his son.

As they stand outside they watch Linda and the kids taking charge of the situation. Big Bob tells his son he has good kids; weird, happy, kids. He also tells his son that he’s a good father, and Bob seems genuinely touched. They then go to enter the restaurant, but Gene and Louise have locked the door and taunt the two. Tina, being the elder daughter, unlocks the door and lets them in. Linda is happy to see the two have reconciled declaring it Christmas magic and the other patrons are happy to see the two. Big Bob wishes everyone a merry Christmas and the episode ends with Linda’s “Christmas Magic” song she’s been going into and out of all episode.

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Those Belcher kids and their schemes.

“Father of the Bob” is a simple, effective, Christmas episode. It doesn’t necessarily have a special message, but it tells a tale of how a son can feel unappreciated by his father and shows how that can come to a head. Bob was basically in the right to reject his father’s offer of partnership, and right to be angry with him over the gimmick burger, but blowing up and publicly embarrassing him was probably the wrong way to go about it. It’s certainly not the way to do things if you want to continue to have a positive relationship with your pops, but these things can happen when a father is tone deaf to his kid’s emotional needs.

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Gene and his beans are possibly the most memorable part of this one.

Bill Hader is pretty great as Big Bob. He brings a gravelly, grumpy, grumble to the role and I almost didn’t recognize his voice. We see how Big Bob is towards Linda and the kids, which is somewhat warm, and that he’s capable of love. He’s just not great at showing it to his son. It helps keep the audience on Little Bob’s side without full-out hating Big Bob. Nick Offerman, Jordan Peele, and Carl Reiner are also great in their roles. Henry’s conflict over which entrée to eat is probably the best scene, while Peele’s Max has some great lines sprinkled throughout. And the kids tend to steal their scenes when involved. Their B plot is simple yet outlandish given the direction they take it with Gene’s bean bath being a funny, yet cringey, moment since someone is going to have to clean that up. The two plots are tied together neatly, and the climax between the Bobs feels authentic as opposed to manufactured.

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Seeing Bob try to figure things out with his pops around the holidays proved compelling, which is something this show doesn’t often try to do.

“Father of the Bob” may be a touch sentimental and melancholy, but it’s quietly become one of my favorite Christmas specials. I think I still prefer the prior season’s Christmas special, “Christmas in the Car” (which I covered 2 years ago), a little better, but this one is right there. It helps that there’s plenty of Christmas imagery in the episode, so even if it never gets to the actual holiday it still feels like a true Christmas special.

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A hopeful image accompanies the credits.

“Father of the Bob” will likely be shown on Adult Swim more than once this season along with most of the other Christmas specials from Bob’s Burgers. You can also stream the series on Hulu, or purchase the episode as part of season five on physical media or by itself digitally. In short, this is a rather easy one to catch and it’s definitely worth your time to do so this year.

 


Dec. 2 – Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special

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First broadcast December 16, 2012.

This is going to be a bit of an experiment. These recaps the last few years have basically focused on cartoons or live-action shows in which a story is told over some duration. I have so far avoided sketch shows, not purposely, but it’s definitely been in the back of my mind that doing a write-up in this style is a bit more challenging with a sketch show. It’s like reviewing or recapping several micro episodes of a TV show.

And when it comes to micro-sized entertainment, Robot Chicken should be the first show that comes to mind. Each episode is about 11 minutes long and contains an irregular number of sketches within that 11 minutes, some of which are literally just a few seconds long. Most of these are animated using stop-motion techniques with action figures in place of true puppets. Often these action figures require modification to animate in a more desirable fashion and when that is needed clay appears to be the medium of choice.

img_4139Robot Chicken is the brain child of Seth Green and Matthew Senreich. Green, as the most visible star associated with the brand, often handles a lot of the voicing duties and appears to get a lot of help from his Family Guy co-stars as well. Senreich, along with writers Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root, are veterans of ToyFare magazine which would often contain a comic in its pages called Twisted ToyFare Theater that is basically Robot Chicken in print form. Those sequences were popular, so it’s not that surprising to see the concept was taken to television where Robot Chicken has had a presence on Adult Swim since 2005.

Robot Chicken has been an ally to Christmas from almost day one. There have been several holiday editions of the show and some themes have sprung up. Santa Claus is a reoccurring character in these shorts and he is, I believe, always voiced by Seth MacFarlane. The show will often poke fun at classic holiday specials or just do something nerdy and goofy like pit Goku from Dragon Ball against a Christmas villain. There’s elements of shock humor to go along with the mostly nerd humor and shorts often get pretty violent for comedic purposes. It’s not a show for everyone, but it’s certainly aided by its brief runtime so when an episode misses the mark it’s usually not around long enough to truly stink up the place.

In 2012 Robot Chicken debuted its ATM Christmas Special, which I assume stands for Ass to Mouth because that’s the sort of humor the show goes for. Even though the show is on Adult Swim, it may have been difficult to actually get that phrase into the episode title and it’s a bit cheeky to make it an acronym anyway.

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Santa is pissed he nearly slept through Christmas.

The special opens in festive fashion with a parody of the old CBS Special logo that leads into a story about Santa (MacFarlane). It seems Santa forgot to schedule a wake-up call as he wakes up late for Christmas. It’s a scramble to the work shop where a ranting Santa takes his anger out on the poor elves. Santa is done as a doll, while most of the elves look like claymation and doll parts or something. The scramble continues to the sleigh and the reindeer are all messed up prompting Santa to fire the elf attendant, who cries, as Santa leaves.

 

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Someone got fired for that one.

From the skies Santa and his assistant chuck presents rather than do the usual infiltration thing. They’re depicted more like bombs as they cause all kinds of destruction, including claiming the life of a poor homeless man. A satellite image from space shows Earth with little tiny explosions dotting the surface. Santa makes it back to the North Pole relieved he pulled it off until he finds a lone present he missed. He vows to make the delivery and races to the home where it apparently belongs. I guess because time’s a factor, he opts to use the front door rather than the chimney, but it’s locked. As Santa pulls and wrestles with the door knob, the scene changed to reveal this is all a nightmare and Santa is at home in bed choking his wife. Some elves race in and use a cattle prod on him to subdue him, causing Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Banks) to declare she hates Christmas.

 

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And whoa this thing got dark pretty quick!

We then smash cut to the real opening credits, which largely depict the short we just watched, but everything is in red. There’s also some clips of shorts still to come as we head into our next skit.

 

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This guy is angry at Jewish people for making him work on Christmas. That’s the joke.

A Chinese man is shown on the phone at a restaurant. He’s talking to his wife, but we only hear his side of the conversation. He’s bemoaning that he can’t come home and celebrate Christmas because a Jewish family is there and is just hanging out after their meal. We can see them at a table in the background. The man then declares he hates Jews, which is apparently the punchline of the skit.

 

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Well isn’t this a nice holiday setting!

We then jump to a living room setting on Christmas. A delighted Christmas tree (Henry Winkler) is busy declaring how lucky it is to have been adopted by this family. It’s a happy, warm, Christmas setting that ends with a little girl hugging the tree. Then we cut to a woman dragging the browning tree out the front door. It is completely unaware of what is about to happen and the woman tells the tree they’re going on vacation. It’s pretty excited and remains so as she leaves it on the curb for the garbage man to collect. As the tree is tossed into the truck, it insists it’s not garbage, but then it sees the father and daughter watching from a window as they close the curtains.

 

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On Robot Chicken, there are no happy endings.

The tree is taken to a toilet paper factory, and several weeks later we see what became of it. It’s toilet paper and sitting on a shelf in a grocery store. The image of the tree on the packaging is capable of talking and narrating the thoughts of the still sentient plant as it openly hopes it mostly gets used for boogers or urine. Then it recognizes something offscreen, and it’s the mom and daughter of the family who threw it away. It’s actually happy to see them, until the mother declares they’re having Indian food for dinner.

 

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Check it out! He had a big foot! Laugh!

We then get a brief skit of some kids looking at the stockings over the fireplace. One is huge, and they declare “No fair,” as the camera pans to reveal it belongs to Big Foot Danny, a kid with a really big foot.

 

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Well, at least he’s not choking her this time.

Back to Santa, who is seated in a lounge chair with an apparent broken leg. Mrs. Claus comes in to give him his Christmas present:  a candy cane (get it?). Santa is excited and he stands up to test it out and, finding it’s an actual oversized candy cane, collapses to the ground as the cane snaps apart. He then scolds the woman for making a cane out of candy and expecting it to work. The skit ends with Santa wondering if he broke his tibia while I worry for the well-being of Mrs. Claus.

 

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I guess Justin Bieber jokes were still funny in 2012. I guess.

In a warmly lit den by the fire decorated for Christmas, Justine Bieber (Lucas Grabeel) prepares to play us a song. He’s joined by Santa on guitar and a snowman on drums. He then rips into the song, which is probably titled “Fuck Christmas” because that’s what he mostly says. It’s an aggressive, angry, tune that gets its point across. The scene ends with two executives watching this unfold. One remarks they should have just stuck with David Cassidy, while the other enthusiastically declares that Bieber is a true artist.

 

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It’s Santa vs Jason Bourne! The fight you never wanted!

We’re then taken to a more desolate location. It’s Jason Bourne, a convincing looking doll, and he turns his head dramatically to spot someone closing in from behind. It’s Santa Claus, and there are no words spoken as Santa pulls a sharpened candy cane from his coat. The two fight, and the choreography is actually pretty intense. Bourne gets the better of the Kringle though, ending the fight by stabbing Santa with his own candy cane.

 

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How did you expect it to end? The guy is beyond elderly!

Santa is then shown laying on the ground coughing up blood. He remarks that Jason is a hard man to find and pulls out a Christmas present. Okay. Bourne takes it as Santa bleeds out and dies and seems to react enthusiastically to receiving a copy of the board game Parcheesi.

 

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Hey kid, I know how you feel as I had the same reaction to this joke.

A quick skit of a Lego family at Christmas runs. The kid seems unhappy to have received another block for Christmas and reacts with mock enthusiasm. That’s it.

 

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What are you supposed to get a ninja for Christmas? Robot Chicken seeks to answer that very question.

At G.I. Joe headquarters, some of the Joes are sitting around trying to figure out what to get Snake Eyes for Christmas. These appear to be actual toys from the toy line. They don’t know what to get him because he never tells them what he wants (he’s mute, in case you were unaware) and we see a cut-away to last Christmas when they just gave him a coffee mug that says “I Heart Ninjas.”

 

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Storm Shadow has never looked better.

Scarlett (Banks) declares she knows what Snake Eyes really wants, and we cut to the Joes surrounding a building in a snowy environment. They enter and it’s revealed to be the home of Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes’ rival. He’s in his usual white ninja suit, but also is sporting a pink bath robe. The Joes attack, but they get their asses handed to them.

 

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The question remains unanswered.

On Christmas morning, Duke (Skeet Ulrich) approaches a seated Snake Eyes and tosses his present at him. It’s another mug. Meanwhile, we can see the rest of the Joes have all been beaten up pretty bad and look rather miserable. Snake Eyes, even though he’s wearing a mask, seems perplexed by the hostile treatment.

 

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Nothing says “Christmas” quite like Kano.

We’re whisked away to a store where a woman is in the embarrassing position of having her credit card declined. The clerk can’t do anything about it as she bemoans how tough life has been for her and her two boys since their father passed away. The man behind her overhears the clerk say her name, Mrs. Cage, and it causes him to remember. The man is Kano, of Mortal Kombat fame, and a thought bubble appears over his head showing him rip the heart out of Johnny Cage post match.

 

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I knew he was an asshole the moment I first laid eyes on him!

Feeling guilty, Kano helps the woman to her car and accepts an offer to join them for Christmas dinner. At the Cage residence, he uses his somersault maneuver to hang Christmas lights, and when saying “Grace,” he puts on a yamaka as a joke and everyone has a good laugh. As he helps Mrs. Cage put the kids to bed, he confesses he can’t hide from her anymore. He apologizes for what happened to Johnny and gives the widow a gift. She opens the box and is confused. Kano claims it’s Johnny’s heart, but Mrs. Cage informs him it’s not a heart. We then smash cut to Johnny Cage on a beach in a tropical environment relaying how Kano ripped out his appendix by mistake to a group of bikini-clad women. He then grabs one and the skit ends before the orgy can commence.

 

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Possibly Robot Chicken’s most popular character is The Nerd.

In our next sketch it’s Christmas morning at The Nerd’s (Green) home. He awakens excitedly in a festive red onesie and races downstairs only to find that Christmas has been stolen. His parents give him the bad news, but he takes it fairly well. That is until his mom reveals during “Pretend Christmas” what the thief made off with:  a 1985 AFA Graded Snake Eyes action figure.

 

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I like where this is going…

Despondent, The Nerd takes to the streets to find the whole neighborhood has been victimized. He finds a group of people forming a circle and one man explains it’s a vengeance circle as they’re asking The Spirit of Vengeance to violently punish the asshole who stole their stuff. He’s then told by another that he’s mistaken and this is the wrong circle, the vengeance one is nearby. This forces things to click inside The Nerd’s brain. What Christmas story involves a burglary followed by the victims holding hands and singing? He then turns around to gaze at a nearby mountain where the thief is still in the process of getting away!

 

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When you’re down and out and in need of encouragement, look to Larry Hama.

The Nerd heads off after him, and as he climbs the mountain he bemoans his choice in clothing. As he ponders giving up, he looks to Snake Eyes for help. Since Snake Eyes is mute, he doesn’t offer anything encouraging when he appears in a cloud above The Nerd’s head. Larry Hama appears though in a similar vision to encourage him to continue. The line he feeds The Nerd is corny and unoriginal and The Nerd calls him out on it. In a bit of self-deprecation, Hama remarks how he spent his career writing comics that were essentially toy commercials and is able to spur The Nerd along by threatening to read him an excerpt from his unfinished novel.

 

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He really is a stupid looking Grinch.

The Nerd makes it to the summit where he confronts the thief – The Grinch! He moans when he sees it’s not even the good Grinch from the cartoon, but the Jim Carrey Grinch. Grinch (Green) tells him it doesn’t matter, but then The Nerd uses his anger over the film ruining the “greatest cartoon ever” to motivate him to kill this Grinch. Declaring he doesn’t care about his presents, he simply kicks the sleigh (with Grinch in it) off the mountain. He then turns around to see Max whom he refers to him as the little Stockholm Syndrome dog. Max has something for The Nerd, his precious Snake Eyes toy! Only now it has teeth marks which are sure to affect the grading.

 

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And now he’s dead and likely about to get raped.

Back at street level, one of the neighborhood men drags the Grinch’s corpse over and happily displays it. The same man from earlier rejoices that The Spirit of Vengeance answered their prayers. Another man then questions if The Spirit of Vengeance would like them to rape the corpse. The first man declares why not? – it’s Christmas! And that’s how our special ends; with a rape joke.

 

Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special is certainly a sight to behold. The animation is pretty great, even when the source “puppets” are old G.I. Joe toys. I like the little through-lines with reappearing Santa throughout and the G.I. Joe sketch being sort of referenced further in the finale. The big Grinch parody was saved for last and it feels like the right spot for it. I like the self-realization of The Nerd becoming aware that he’s in a Christmas special, and even though internet nerd anger is pretty stupid, I did take some joy in this character hating on the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard Grinch while praising the superior Chuck Jones cartoon.

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There’s a tendency of the show to rely on shock humor, like a homeless guy getting decapitated by a Christmas present, but when that’s your thing it’s hard to remain shocking.

Some of the other stuff hasn’t aged super well. The “I Hate Jews” sketch, in particular, doesn’t play so well. It’s brushed off because a lot of the folks involved with this show are Jewish, and I suppose someone in a similar situation could empathize to a point, but it still felt like poor taste and just shock humor. And rape jokes are just kind of “meh” at this point. It’s another line that’s supposed to create a laugh out of shock, but the show is often so crass that it loses the ability to be shocking. I expected those people to want to desecrate the corpse of The Grinch thus negating the punch of the remark.

 

This special is loaded with guest stars who all do a pretty nice job. MacFarlane is involved with the show so often that it hardly feels right to even consider him a guest star at this point. Elizabeth Banks plays a few characters, and I was surprised to hear the voice of Henry Winkler. Larry Hama’s part isn’t acted all that well, and it was clearly shot on the cheap (maybe even wth a cell phone or something), but his willingness to basically poke fun at his own career helped to sell the moment.

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Henry Winkler’s Christmas tree is the type of character the show’s dark blend of humor works best with. Although the sketch still ended with a poop joke.

The stuff with Santa was mostly enjoyable, though the Bourne sketch wasn’t particularly funny (even though it looked great). I’m not much of a fan of G.I. Joe so that sketch fell a little flat for me. I did find the Mortal Kombat one pretty amusing, if a tad predictable, and the Christmas Tree was tragically funny as well. Overall, there were some laughs found in this tidy little Christmas special and they mostly outweigh the duds. It doesn’t stick around long enough to suck, and by positioning the best short at the end it actually does leave you wanting more. Had it ended on G.I. Joe or the stupid Bieber song I probably would feel different.

If you want to catch this special this year just keep an eye out on Adult Swim. They’re practically guaranteed to air this and the many other Robot Chicken Christmas episodes at some point this month, often even reserving some for Christmas Eve.

 


Dec. 21 – Rick and Morty – “Anatomy Park”

img_2952Rick and Morty is Adult Swim’s latest hit. Premiering in December 2013, it appeared to be just another Adult Swim cartoon, but come the season 3 premiere it seemed to really take off. That was the episode, you may have heard, that involved a certain flavor of discontinued McDonald’s McNugget sauce that went viral. It caught the attention of McDonald’s, who seeking to capitalize on the spotlight, re-released this sauce in limited quantities and geeky fans did what geeky fans do – they went nuts.

As a result of that debacle, Rick and Morty seems to have engendered a bad reputation. Or rather, its fan base has. Some of that is due to lead character Rick, a super scientist of extreme, almost god-like, intelligence who also happens to have real character flaws. He’s a user and an abuser, but he’s almost always right and the victor of each episode causing some fans to view him in a positive light. He’s really not supposed to be though and viewers should be laughing at him, not with him, as the saying goes. He’s kind of like a Walter White, or if you want to get real nerdy, a Raistlin Majere before that character had his redemption arc.

Is it the show’s fault when its fans act stupid in its name? Yes and no, but I lean more towards the “no” side. Ignoring the drama, Rick and Morty is just a really fun, inventive show created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. It’s ugly, cynical, gross, and strangely captivating. It took me a little while to get into it, but that was mostly because the Rick character and his constant burping and drooling just kind of grossed me out. I don’t know what it is about his constant burps, but it just makes me queasy and I’m not usually the type who is turned off by gross humor. I got over it though, and once I did I got pretty well hooked. This is the kind of show I can just drop in and out of and usually have a laugh. There is some connective tissue between episodes, but in general you don’t need to keep up with it to know what’s going on and to enjoy an episode by itself.

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Are you ready for a Jurassic Park parody at Christmas?

At its core, Rick and Morty is like a deranged Mr. Peabody and Sherman with a touch of Back to the Future. Rick is the old man and a super genius. Morty is his neurotic grandson. Together they go on interdimensional adventures where sometimes Morty learns a lesson, and sometimes he does not. Sometimes they stay home and watch television and don’t even bother with the adventure. They have a some-what combative relationship. Morty is a need for Rick and the why is a bit of a deep dive I don’t want to go on right now. For Morty, Rick is a presence who exerts controls over him. Sometimes he’s a means to an end, and usually his ends are like most teenaged boys, and sometimes he wants to go on crazy adventures, but usually he does not. Do they love each other? It’s hard to tell. Sometimes the show will tease genuine affection on the part of Rick only to reveal it was a farce and sometimes it does but leaves the interpretation open. He’s probably not a truly repugnant grandfather, but he’s certainly not the best.

Rounding out the cast is Morty’s family. Rick lives in their garage and the home is owned by his daughter Beth (Sarah Chalke), a failed doctor who had to settle for veterinary work. She embodies some of her dad’s poorer qualities, like alcoholism and likely depression, and she’s in a rather loveless marriage to Jerry (Chris Parnell). She and Jerry got pregnant young and had a shotgun wedding and never really figured out if they were even in love, though they seem some-what dependent on one another. Jerry is a meek and insecure individual and he loathes Rick and the influence he has over their son. Summer (Spencer Grammer) is Morty’s older sister and is a fairly typical teen. She tries to ignore the dysfunction of her home life, but sometimes she gets pulled into one of Rick and Morty’s adventures.

“Anatomy Park” is the show’s third episode and it’s lone Christmas episode to this point and it originally aired on December 16, 2013. What starts off as a fairly conventional sitcom plot, turns into an outrageous Jurassic Park parody. It also gets rather dark and uncomfortable for a sitcom Christmas special, but that’s Rick and Morty for ya!

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Jerry’s parents have arrived and they’ve brought an unexpected guest.

The episode opens with Jerry, dressed in a festive sweater, getting angry at his family for being too attached to their various electronics on Christmas. He makes them all put their tablets and phones into a stocking, and when Summer refuses he threatens to create a Facebook profile. He tells them his parents are due over any minute for Christmas dinner and it’s revealed they haven’t been by in several years. The rest of the family seems indifferent. Meanwhile, Rick shows up with a gross looking Santa. When Gerry questions who this guy is Rick says his name is Ruben (Jess Harnell) and every Christmas Rick takes him in and gives him a full check-up as some kind of charity case. Jerry isn’t buying it, and the only thing Ruben can say is “Pearl Harbor” while the rest of the family seems charmed. Rick and Ruben disappear into the garage and Jerry’s parents then turn up with an unexpected guest. Leonard (Dana Carvey) and Joyce (Patricia Lentz) have brought Jacob (Echo Kellum), a young african american male, along for Christmas dinner. They don’t really explain who Jacob is, and when asked they explain they’ve had a spiritual awakening of some kind and are focused on experiences and living while in the twilight of their lives. This seems to please Summer and Beth, but Jerry is just confused and anxious.

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Rick also has a festive surprise guest.

Rick pops back in to greet Jerry’s parents, but mostly to take Morty with him to the garage. Once there we see Ruben, naked on a table save for his tattered Santa hat, who Rick says is in bad shape. He’s speaking rather hastily and pushing Morty along who is growing increasingly concerned and panicked as Rick outfits him to look like a poor man’s astronaut. Rick doesn’t explain what’s needed of Morty, and only barks out important instructions as he shoves him into a device and then shrinks him into a tiny syringe. As he jabs the syringe into Ruben, Beth pops in to ask where Morty went and Rick explains he’s busy.

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The episode is a parody of Jurassic Park, but Anatomy Park is also clearly a parody of Disneyland. And the show is not above going for the easy jokes here.

Morty finds himself injected into Ruben’s body and there he finds Anatomy Park. Rick has constructed a microscopic amusement park inside the man’s body and he introduces it in grandiose fashion as Morty walks around and takes it all in. He seems impressed and strangely not panicked, until he arrives at the liver. It’s a scary place, and Rick fills him in on Ruben’s alcoholism and mentions you have to be in a pretty bad place to let someone build an amusement park inside of you. Rick needs Morty to find Dr. Xenon (John Oliver) as something has gone wrong. He first encounters Poncho (Gary Anthony Williams), a crazed military man who freaks him out. Dr. Xenon, some kind of a sentient germ or something, shows up though and welcomes Morty and also introduces his fetching young assistant Annie (Jackie Buscarino) whom Morty takes an immediate liking to. With them is Roger (Harnell) who resembles Steve Irwin. Dr. Xenon explains the security systems have gone haywire as a giant, yellow, xenomorph-like creature bursts onto the scene.

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Our “heroes” of Anatomy Park. Most of them will die.

Back home, the rest of the family is seated down for dinner. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves except Jerry, who is still really thrown off by the presence of Jacob. When he pushes the issue, his dad fesses up to what’s going on. Seeing as they’re getting older, Leonard and Joyce are focusing on the connections that will last beyond their years: their spiritual one. Less important is the physical, which is what brought Jacob into their lives. Jerry gets rather worried and asks if Jacob is their lover and is relieved when his dad says, “No.” That was a bit of a fake-out though as he explains that Jacob is actually his mother’s lover, he just likes to watch and often while wearing a Superman costume. Jacob acts like this is not the least bit awkward and the rest of the family seems amused by it, except Jerry.

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Beth and Summer seem to enjoy the hearing the truth about Jacob.

Inside Anatomy Park, the others run from the creature and flee into the lungs. There they’re joined by a cast member of the park dressed like a dog (Rob Schrab). When he removes his mask he is immediately chastised by Dr. Xenon; apparently breaking character is forbidden. As they look around the lungs, Morty decides to bounce around and have some fun, until they’re attacked by tuberculosis. The little black beings descend like spiders and Poncho opens fire, which rips holes in the lungs causing Ruben to cough. The dog-guy gets caught in a cough, but Morty grabs his hand and requests his name (it’s Alexander), but another cough causes him to go shooting out of Ruben peeling the skin from his bones. He splatters as phlegm on Rick’s face.

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Fare thee well, Alexander.

Rick then starts to pass along advice to our adventurers and prepares to cure Ruben’s TB, until he flat-lines. Proclaiming he can’t cure death, Rick starts to advise Morty that things are going to get dark so he should try riding Pirates of the Pancreas, which is a ride he designed and is really proud of (he insists it wasn’t white-washed and the pirates get really rapey). He also adds that getting them out of the dead man alive is the priority, but why not treat yourself too? Morty is not amused by Rick’s logic.

After the business with Rick is concluded, Dr. Xenon seems ready to eulogize his beloved park, but Morty shuts him up and insists they find a way out. Dr. Xenon explains, rather frankly, the way out is through the digestive tract and Morty insists they head there while Poncho is annoyed he’s supposed to listen to “some 12-year-old.” Dr. Xenon then warns Morty that what has happened to Anatomy Park is the work of an inside job, and cautions him about Annie in particular who was written up for her work at the churro stand. Undaunted, Morty tries talking to Annie where he awkwardly tries to explain he’s not 12, but 14, and it doesn’t go well prompting Rick to make a comment at his expense.

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Dr. Xenon is the only one who seems to enjoy this endless ride.

The group is then shown on the digestive tract ride, which is styled after It’s A Small World and apparently goes on for miles. They’re then set upon by gonorrhea, which rises from the brown water in a rather threatening manner. Dr. Xenon cautions that if they don’t move it won’t see them, then says “whoops” as he mistook gonorrhea for a T-Rex. Their boat is soon capsized, and they’re forced to swim away in the nasty looking “water.” They arrive “on shore” while the penile gonorrhea looms. Poncho then recalls Dr. Xenon saying the chamber was filling with gas and lights a match. With a cool parting line about a burning sensation, he tosses the match at the grotesque monster causing an explosion and destroying it.

At home, the family is gathered in a drum circle all except Jerry who is moping in the corner. Beth offers some consoling his way, but he knows she’s enjoying this. A teenaged boy then shows up and we find out it’s Ethan (Daniel Benson), Summer’s boyfriend. He’s pissed that Summer hasn’t returned any of his texts, but that’s because Jerry took her phone. Summer gets angry in return while Jerry demands to know if he is indeed Summer’s boyfriend which just causes Jacob to step in and defuse the situation suggesting that Jerry needs to get closer with his family.

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You don’t want gonorrhea. You really don’t want gonorrhea.

Back inside Ruben, the “heroes” of our story have reached the end of the digestive tract. They need to gain access to the enlarger ray or whatever it is that gets them out. Before that happens, Morty notices a weird, black, slime creature poking out of Poncho’s backpack. It’s bubonic plague, and it turns out Poncho is the traitor who released the TB virus earlier. He grabs Annie as a hostage and explains he hates working for Dr. Xenon and a lot of people would pay for the plague if he smuggled it out (damn, Ruben had a lot of shit going on in his body). Morty attacks, likely wanting to impress Annie, and Poncho tosses him aside but he does release his hold on the girl. The plague breaks free though and bites him. He loses his balance, and plunges to his death off of the catwalk they’re all standing on. Roger then lets them know they need to go, as the retaining wall they built for Ruben’s bowels is about to burst. As they run, Roger’s foot gets caught. He tells them not to worry, then goes into a long-winded speech about telling his wife what happened to him as the damn breaks and he’s killed by poo.

In the livingroom once again, Jacob is trying to counsel Ethan who is a very angry and troubled young man and the source of his anger is Summer. Jacob works his magic and of course the scene ends with Summer and Ethan in tears making an uncomfortable display of affection in front of everyone. Everyone is pleased, and Joyce is apparently turned on as she and Jacob begin making out while Leonard ducks into the closet to observe from a distance. This causes Jerry to finally blow and declare he hates this, and he’s immediately reprimanded by his mom. Declaring he hates Christmas, Jerry takes his leave.

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Ruben is going to go for a little ride.

Inside Ruben, the three living beings are for some reason taking in a show. It’s a parody of Great Moments with Lincoln, only it’s hosted by an animatronic Ruben. Dr. Xenon is enjoying it while Morty and Annie make out. Rick asks Morty to shut the radio off so he doesn’t have to listen in when Jerry bursts into the garage. Apparently they can’t get out via the digestive tract any more, and something Jerry says about his relatives gives Rick an idea. He has Jerry get him some dynamite and as he cuts open Ruben and shoves the explosives inside him Jerry decides to leave. Rick then tosses the cadaver in his spaceship and takes off, telling Morty he needs to get to the left nipple.

Dr. Xenon explains they can take the bone train and goes into a bit about it that Morty gets irritated by. When they get to the platform Dr. Xenon explains that one person will have to stay behind because the train doesn’t have an autopilot. He lets that hang in there an uncomfortable length of time before conceding he was a dick for doing that. Since Anatomy Park was his responsibility, he’ll be the one to stay behind. Before they can say good-bye they’re beset by ecoli and Morty and Annie jump into the train. As Xenon releases it he realizes it does actually posses an autopilot, but then claims he wanted to die heroically, but he’s not convincing.

The train takes Morty and Annie to where it needs to, while Rick deposits Ruben into space. There he enlarges the body well beyond its normal proportions (he’s a super scientist, after all) and Ruben floats over the United States. There the news picks up on this giant Santa and we see how everyone is reacting with relative calm at a giant, naked, Santa in the sky. All except a poor lumberjack who had the misfortune of being where Ruben’s penis made land.

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Saved by hepatitis!

Morty and Annie are preparing to flee through the nipple duct, when they’re attacked by the big yellow guy from early in the episode. Before it can get to them though they’re saved by Hep C in true Jurassic Park style. It gives the duo a thumbs up, which just confuses Morty as the two are rescued by Rick who can only admonish Morty for losing Dr. Xenon Bloom as Ruben explodes.

On earth, the explosion causes blood to fall from the sky. The family was preparing to head out for some holiday fun, without Jerry, but instead are forced to retreat in terror. There Jerry gets to comfort them assuring everybody things are going to be all right because the TV said so. He returns their tablets and phones and encourages them to relax. In the garage, Rick is a bit down that Dr. Xenon is dead claiming he was the only one capable of building an amusement park inside someone. Annie then chimes in that she thinks she learned enough from him and that she could possibly do it. Rick, apparently convinced, immediately shrinks her and puts her away for later use, which disappoints Morty. Rick assures him he dodged a bullet citing a “floppy vagina” but Morty doesn’t see the problem there. The two then head into the living room and find the family absorbed in their electronics. Rick goes on a rant about it being Jesus’s birthday and they’re all being self-absorbed, but no one cares and Jerry mugs for the camera. In a post credits scene, Rick is on speakerphone with Annie and her new team of developers as they build a new Anatomy Park. They question Rick’s design for Pirates of the Pancreas, causing Rick to hang up on them. The camera pans and we see it’s Ethan they’re inside and when he questions what’s going on, Rick goes on a rant how they’re building a monument to compromise inside of him. The episode ends when Ethan asks who’s paying him.

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It’s kind of like the Macy’s parade, but bigger and with more penis.

“Anatomy Park” is a vehicle for awkward humor that ties in the Christmas holiday. It wants to turn the holiday upside down, and is fairly successful at doing that. The holiday gathering with Jerry’s parents is basically a B-plot. After the reveal of Jacob’s relationship with Jerry’s parents is out-of-the-way, it’s fairly typically paced with the beloved outsider sort of usurping the holiday spotlight from the disgruntled patriarch. It runs out of steam, but those scenes are few and brief so it doesn’t overstay itself. The Jurassic Park parody is where the meat of the story lies, and it’s punctuated fairly well. The plot points aren’t afraid to “go there” with the poop jokes and such, but it’s really driven by the dialogue more so than the actual comedy bits. There are so many little jokes interwoven into the dialogue and I would be doing it a disservice by regurgitating them all here. Suffice to say, while this isn’t as outlandish an episode as it appears at first blush, it’s still very entertaining and I always like it when Christmas gets a little dark.

“Anatomy Park” should be an easy special to come by this holiday season. Adult Swim will likely show it multiple times, so if you were keeping up with the various holiday viewing guides you probably have seen it by now. And if you like waiting until the last minute (or first), Adult Swim is running “Anatomy Park” at midnight on Christmas Eve/Christmas morning. If you prefer to watch without commercials, Adult Swim streams it and it’s also available as part of season one on Blu-ray. I recommend just getting that as the whole season is full of laughs and it’s definitely worthy of a purchase.


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