Tag Archives: christmas specials

Dec. 25 – Samurai Pizza Cats – “The Cheese Who Stole Christmas”

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Original air date December 25, 1990 (Japan)

Welcome, Christmas Day! Hopefully you’re not hungover from too much Christmas partying last night, and if you are, hopefully it was worth it. By now, Santa should have deposited presents under the tree, if you were good this year, and hopefully he remembered the batteries. It’s been fun, but this post means we are done for the year. Christmas often lingers though into the new year, but once the holiday comes and goes it loses some its luster. Lets not dwell on the holiday coming to an end though, as we still have one more holiday special to enjoy! Maybe. Hopefully…

Samurai Pizza Cats sure sounds similar to another show, doesn’t it? That’s obviously by design as starting in the late 80s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took the world by storm and made lots of people lots of money. The ridiculously named property originated in comics, but once it made the move to television it had to be altered to make it more kid-friendly and toy-friendly. As part of that adaptation, the Turtles were given a favorite food, and since they live in New York, pizza was the chosen entrée. And boy did they like pizza, it was basically all they ate on the show. Given how silly the show was, it’s not at all surprising to find it was ripe for parody, and that’s partly how we got the Samurai Pizza Cats.

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The heroes of the show (left to right): Guido, Polly, and Speedy.

I say partly, because that’s not the show’s original name. Samurai Pizza Cats is a Japanese production originally titled as Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (which directly translates to Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee). When Saban got ahold of it is when it became known by its new English name. Allegedly, when Saban licensed it for global distribution they received either poor or no translations for the scripts so they basically just made up their own lore for the show. The show takes place in a version of Tokyo in which anthropomorphized animals dwell and some (all?) are partly cybernetic, including our heroes. They work in a pizza restaurant by day, but when duty calls they become heroes. The villain of the show is the local prime minister who is corrupt. The palace guard for the emperor is aware of the corruption, but he can’t prove it, so he relies on the heroic cats to stop the evil deeds.

The English script and dub, being wholly original, might cause anime fans to turn up their noses, but for my money it’s actually pretty well done. The show is just full of parody, pop culture gags, and lots of fourth-wall breaking. I didn’t watch this show as a kid (I don’t think it came to the US until 1996), so I’m not super familiar with it, but I was entertained by the script of this episode. Even if I didn’t tell you it was redone when brought over from Japan you would likely figure that out rather easily just by watching it. It’s very American, but it doesn’t try to hide the more anime moments and pretty much runs with it.

Our main characters are a trio of Samurai warriors who look like cute versions of the Ronin Warriors with a dash of Mega Man. They have a real cybernetic look to them and I assumed this was how they went into battle, but they actually add more armor and such when they prepare to fight (accompanied by traditional transformation animation that looks way better than the other animation in the episode). The three cats are Polly Esther, Guido Anchovy, and Speedy Cerviche. They’re joined by Francine who assists them from their headquarters and probably provides some tech support as well. Big Al Dente is the Chief of the Palace Guard and the one conspiring against the villain. He summons the cats when they’re needed. Big Cheese is our villain and is the Prime Minister of Little Tokyo looking to overthrow the emperor of Japan, who is named Frank. He’s supposed to be a fox, but Saban decided he looked enough like a rat to go with that instead. He’s assisted by the Ninja Crows and their leader Jerry Atric (hardy har-har) who he makes use of for his various schemes. And in this particular episode, ruining Christmas is the theme of the day.

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No messing around with this one, it’s Christmas morning right at the start!

The episode begins with a wild intro featuring narration that gives a general overview of the show. The narration is done by Michael Airington who is obviously doing a Paul Lynde impression during the opening song.. It’s a very jovial and announcer-like voice that works for the show. Legend has it that Airington was drunk on the job when he recorded the intro which may have even enhanced his performance. When the episode begins, the actual narrator is far more understated (and voiced by Terrence Scammell). The Pizza Cats are all receiving their Christmas presents as it’s Christmas morning. Guido (Terrence Scammell) seems unimpressed with a comb he receives and Polly (Sonja Ball) quickly jumps in to remind him it’s the thought that counts when it comes to Christmas presents. Speedy (Rick Jones) finds this hilarious and begins mocking her for her pure-hearted point of view. Polly tries appealing to the other female of the group, Francine (Pauline Little), who surprises her by going along with the other two as they shout at her Christmas is about the presents!

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They deserved this.

Lucille (Susan Glover) then enters to remark on what a lovely day it is. Lucille appears to be a sheep, though she has ram horns despite being female. She apparently owns a nearby tea house and Guido and Speedy are quite interested in her. They’re borderline lewd towards her, actually. Polly thinks she has an ally when Lucille enters, but she soon asks for her presents and adds she assumes she has lots and lots of them. This causes the narrator to chime in that yes, Christmas is all about presents, as the other cats look shocked by her response. Speedy and Guido go into their routine as they make each other laugh with each passing comment ending with Speedy pondering if Lucille wants them to take her out to lunch. She is not amused, and actually starts to cry. This causes the other cats to run in terror. I have no idea why, until Lucille basically explodes. Apparently, she has a lot of hardware under that kimono.

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Well, this guy hardly seems threatening.

The setting then pivots to the pagoda of The Big Cheese. It’s all decked out for the holidays as we see the villain awaking rather late on Christmas morning. Big Cheese (Dean Hagopian) arises from his bed excited to see what Santa has brought him. He’s wearing a nightgown and cap and the voice performance, combined with the clothing, gives him an obvious effeminate slant. I feel like a lot of villains were given such a characteristic during this era. He races to his giant stocking and hopes it contains a dance partner as pretty as he is handsome to take to the New Year’s Ball. We see an image of what he’s wishing for and it makes me wonder if in the original translation he was wishing to be the dancer. Instead, he finds a seemingly hungover Jerry Atric (Mark Camacho) who is quite receptive to the idea of being Big Cheese’s date to the ball. He then remarks that’s the last time he indulges in Timothy Leery bird seed, a noted proponent of psychedelic drugs so apparently Jerry here was up doing acid. Big Cheese then starts shaking the old bird demanding to know where his Christmas presents are. He tosses Jerry and he smashes into the screen prompting him to ask that someone please move the camera.

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Is there still time to change what I want for Christmas because I want this clock!

We then get a look at two other characters opening presents, Emperor Fred (Scammell) and Lady Vi (Liza MacRae). Fred appears to be a panda while Vi, his daughter, is a rabbit. She opens her gift and is ecstatic to find it’s exactly what she wanted:  a “Me” clock. It’s basically a cuckoo clock with her face on it. At the top of the hour, a little caricature of her pops out to shout, “Don’t tick me off!” Fred, who is apparently of limited intelligence, seems happy with his gift; a teddy bear that resembles him. Big Cheese is irritated to see the two enjoying their gifts when he received nothing. He heads to the balcony and looks down and sees all of the “extras” enjoying their presents too. He also notes that the producer’s family has a huge stack of presents as well. I love this fourth wall stuff!

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Poor Jerry has to give up his present to try and keep this brat in check.

He then directs his ire back at Jerry Atric. He’s happy to see he’s not enjoying a present, which leads to Jerry trying to downplay the whole present thing as he conceals a gift behind his back. Big Cheese sees it and immediately starts to get angry, but Jerry says it’s for Big Cheese from him and hands it over. This sates his boss, but only momentarily, as he opens the box to find ninja blades or something indicating it was obviously a gift for Jerry and immediately gets upset. He swipes at Jerry, but then goes into a tale about how his Christmases as a kid were just as bad as this one. We see a brief flashback where an excited young Seymour (that’s his real name) is opening a gift from Santa. His dad excitedly says it’s a real boy’s toy, which is a bizarre thing to say. He opens the box and sees a toy wagon hooked up to a toy bull. He proclaims “What’s this bull?!” and tosses it aside. Back in the present, Seymour starts shouting to the heavens about getting even with Santa. Jerry just watches and we hear some of his thoughts as he takes this all in. It seems he knows this is just going to lead to some crazy scheme he’ll have to partake in.

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For someone who has to work on Christmas, Speedy sure looks happy.

We then head back to see what the Pizza Cats are up to. Francine is taking orders and this show is quite adept at coming up with some gross toppings just like the Turtles did (sausage with mint jelly, in this case). Polly is ticked off that Speedy is apparently missing in action (I’m guessing he’s the delivery boy) and is taking it out on Guido. Meanwhile, some attendees at a Christmas market are enjoying some shopping. When a kid asks his mom why dad isn’t with them she says he’s at home waiting for the trickle down theory to take effect. As an econ major, this amuses me. Speedy is also passing through rather casually on his delivery route. He’s making up a song as he does so and seems to run out of words. Soon they spot a figure flying over the market – it’s Santa! He’s oddly in a one-reindeer open sleigh and looks a bit off. That’s because it’s obviously Seymour in disguise with Jerry acting as his lone elf helper. He passes out gifts to everyone which they happily receive.

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That dude is clearly not a rat, and also clearly not Santa.

Speedy sees the patrons greedily grabbing gifts and even gets knocked to the ground in the commotion. Maybe this is the start of him coming around on the whole giving is better than receiving thing? The people find the gifts are all masks, and soon they appear to be in a panic. Speedy takes note and wonders why Santa would do this. At the busy restaurant, a kid comes running in telling people Santa gave them creepy masks that won’t come off. Apparently they’re all stuck on, which is why the others seemed to be in such a panic. Guido and Polly take note as they run outside to try and help the crying mass of children. They can’t get the things off, while “Santa” flies overhead laughing all the way. He reveals that he put superglue in the masks and it’s at this point I realize his helper is not Jerry, but another character named Bad Bird (Michael O’Reilly). While Seymour enjoys his mayhem, Big Al (A.J. Henderson) is watching from the palace through a telescope and is sizing-up the imposter Claus. He recognizes Bad Bird and decides to put in a call to the Pizza Cats!

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So the headquarters for the good guys is just a giant gun. Something tells me that would have been a challenge to bring to toy stores in America.

We then get to see the transformation animation of the Pizza Cats. The three heroes jump into what the narrator refers to as laundry chutes, but they look kind of like pizza ovens to me. This takes them down a tunnel where their armor is put on. Meanwhile, the restaurant itself transforms as well with what is basically a giant revolver rising from the roof. The cats are loaded into it like bullets and then fired out into the sky as a trio of fireballs. The Paul Lynde voice and theme song return for this segment too and it’s quite a hoot. He cackles after delivering his lines as if he’s really amused by them which certainly makes the rumor about him being drunk at recording seem plausible. Francine chimes in with a little rhyme of her own essentially assuring her customers that everything is okay. She’s the one that engages the firing mechanism via a normal-sized revolver of her own.

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Bonus points for the festive heroic attire.

The fireballs fade away to reveal the heroic felines beneath them. They’re dressed in Santa suits and Speedy isn’t too pleased by this. Polly explains they’re dressed this way to restore Santa’s reputation. If the people see Santa-like beings saving Christmas, they’ll feel good about Santa once again. Meanwhile, Big Cheese is spreading more of his sinister gifts around Little Tokyo. This time though, the Pizza Cats drop in to prevent anyone from actually opening them. They first knock Big Cheese from the sky, who takes a terrible tumble along with Bad Bird. They then point out to the crowd of onlookers that this Santa is a fake, and they buy it. They start shouting fake as the Pizza Cats tell them of the nefarious gifts that await them.

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Even the villains in this show are kind of cute, in their own way.

Bad Bird ditches his disguise and goes after the Pizza Cats. He hits them with a bomb that knocks away their Santa costumes. The onlookers are then disappointed to see the Pizza Cats as this confirms they’re not denizens of the North Pole. Speedy shouts out what’s going on, while Big Cheese attempts to escape. When Polly points this out Speedy declares he won’t get away, “Not when I can pull out great props from no where!” And he does, as he produces a sort-of grappling hook that he tosses at Big Cheese to hook on his sleigh. As he pulls the villain towards him, the crowd runs at the sleigh and basically pummels the Hell out of Big Cheese.

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Robot #1. You can see why Speedy didn’t take it very seriously.

Bad Bird winces at the sight of Seymour getting mangled by jilted Christmas shoppers. He then summons another helper, this time it’s Hardy Boy, a robotic humanoid with a party hat. Speedy laughs when he sees the thing and mocks Bad Bird’s order to “Say your prayers.” He then pulls out his blade and jumps at the enemy only for it to blast him with a Christmas cracker that wraps him all up. Polly and Guido rush in to help as the robot fires some rockets their way. He then bends over as his party hat turns into a drill and is apparently ready to skewer the pair. Speedy then gets up and uses his sword to slash open the back of the robot. A big beam of light emerges and the robot falls away to reveal…

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Robot #2 is sort of creepy. I’m not sure why she has a bird beak, but whatever.

Another robot! This one looks like a female super model of sorts, only instead of a nose and mouth she has a small beak. The announcer seems to like her. Speedy is a bit intimidated and remarks that he hopes she’s not teed off. Apparently she is though, as she’s armed with a golf bag. She tees up a ball, and with a mighty swing she sends an explosive flying at the heroes. It rips through Guido’s umbrella and explodes on a nearby pagoda. Polly and Guido are a bit shaken, and then the robot starts launching more golf balls their way eventually sending them into the bushes. She then turns her attention to Speedy, and after some puns about making a point, she tosses a bunch of needles at him. Apparently golf isn’t her only gimmick as she’ll soon take note of Polly and Guido planning an attack. She then produces a giant pea pod, yes you read that right, which also contains giant explosive peas. I have no idea what her gimmick is at this point, but whatever.

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All right, we’ve had our fun and now it’s time to put an end to all of this.

Speedy has apparently had enough. He’s pretty ticked off that Santa’s reputation has been besmirched by these clowns and declares it’s time for the ultimate weapon. Yes, we’ve reached that point in the anime where the hero finally just uses the thing that always works. Speedy takes his sword and gets enveloped in an aura. The announcer even points fun at the whole ultimate weapon thing remarking the special FX guy was wondering when he’d be called upon. The sword basically splits into two better looking swords. With a cry of “Pizza power!” Speedy slices the air which sends energy slashes at the robot woman. She quotes Tweety Bird with a cry about seeing a “puddy tat” before she explodes. Bad Bird gets tossed as a result and he bemoans why they always lose to that sword. Seymour goes soaring by to answer it’s so stunt men have jobs. Speedy then reminds the kids who are watching to always eat their pizza as the trio pose triumphantly.

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Could that be the real Santa Claus? I’m still alarmed by the whole one reindeer thing.

We’re then taken back to town where all of the people are still suffering with their masks. A sight appears in the sky, could this be the real Santa Claus? He has what looks like a rocket sleigh and still just one reindeer, but the people are ready to believe anything. He drops some sparkly stuff on the crowd and soon the masks come off. Everyone is happy and also excited to find out that Santa is real! We then see that he is not, though, as it’s actually Big Al in disguise with Francine along to help. They’re just dropping some kind of glue solvent to get those masks off and Francine even makes a remark about Santa not being real, which is really odd to hear in a children’s show. Disturbing, even! The announcer even runs with it as he wraps things up by saying even if there isn’t really a Santa Claus, at least there are those willing to play the part. Thankfully, this isn’t the note we end on as we then pan to the sky and find the REAL Santa! He’s smiling and laughing and basically mocks the announcer before flying off passing by the moon in the process as he’s contractually obligated to do. And he too has just one reindeer. Clearly, this Santa is fraudulent as well.

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Ho ho! Now there’s the real Santa! And I thought this episode was going to blow the whole thing.

And that’s how this festive episode concludes. The machinations of this show are pretty straight-forward. The bad guy devises a scheme, the heroes arrive to face-off with he and his minions, they get beaten back, but then emerge victorious when the leader unleashes his ultimate power. It’s very similar to Power Rangers or Ronin Warriors in that regard. However, what elevates this program really is the script and performance of the voice actors. Now I’m guessing there is an offbeat quality to the original show, but I also get the sense that when the non-Japanese writers got ahold of this thing they felt it was pretty ridiculous, and it shows in their approach. Maybe that is offensive to fans of the original incarnation of the program, but it’s hard to deny a team of samurai cyborg felines that work at a pizza restaurant isn’t ridiculous on its own. The script was genuinely funny, and while there are certainly numerous bad puns, the show has this self-aware approach that actually makes those puns land in an ironic fashion. It’s silly and it’s fun. The only change I might have made was to not go with the title Samurai Pizza Cats. Because the 90s was full of sincere TMNT knock-offs, the parodic nature of this program doesn’t come through in that title. It probably should, given the silly-sounding title, but as I said the 90s was full of crap cartoons that make this one plausibly sincere. I know I and some of my friends dismissed it for that reason as a result.

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Gah! One reindeer! Are we sure he’s the real deal?!

For a 90s anime, this show is pretty consistent in terms of visual quality. I love the character designs as they strike a nice balance between cute and sleek. There is a nice melding of traditional Japanese settings with this cybernetic twist. The choice to dub Big Cheese as a rat is rather odd though as he clearly looks like a fox to me, but I guess that doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme. The animation itself is somewhat limited as the characters are so complex it would be hard to have them in motion all of the time. As a result, there is a lot of standing around with just mouth flaps moving and extremely fast and exaggerated motions when the characters actually need to do something. This is par for the course with anime so it’s nothing to be surprised by. I enjoyed looking at this one, and I might even watch some more.

As for a Christmas episode, I was expecting there to be some lesson imparted on our heroes. They held a very cynical view of the holiday, all except Polly, and their selfishness was never really punished. I guess they didn’t get any superior presents and they did get blown up, but Polly suffered too. Speedy did witness the greed of the townsfolk and obviously didn’t enjoy it. They also had to defend the good name of Santa and weren’t looking for a reward beyond that so I guess that’s good. Not everything needs a moral, and I suppose the offbeat nature of the program means this one in particular doesn’t need to say a whole lot.

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There may not be a ton of traditional Christmas cheer in this one, but they did sneak in this nice, festive, image just before the end.

If you wish to take in a viewing of Samurai Pizza Cats the easiest way to do so is via Amazon Prime Video. It’s free for anyone who has a Prime membership so no additional purchase is necessary. It’s also not exactly a well-protected IP so if you don’t have Prime you can probably find it without issue for free elsewhere. The show was also released on DVD, if physical media is still your thing.

And that’s a wrap for this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot! I hope you enjoyed soaking in the holiday via Christmas specials, good and bad. I enjoy doing it and I plan to return to it again in 2020! For now though, enjoy the day and get all of the Christmas cheer you can tolerate for tomorrow it ends. Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!


Dec. 23 – Missing in Action Christmas Specials

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The closest the original DuckTales got to Christmas was this TV spot.

When you do an annual advent calendar-styled countdown of Christmas programming, you start to realize the brands you can rely on and what you cannot. It can be a challenge to find 25 worthy topics, so in order to prevent a time crunch every fall I keep a list of specials I can source from. Throughout the year if I stumble across one I’ll add it to the list. Sometimes I’ll think I’ve found something only to find out it was a misleading title such as the episode “It’s a Thunderful Life” of the not well-remembered The Terrible Thunder Lizards program. And then there are times when I’ll find a special and I’ll view it, only to find there’s nothing to talk about. It’s not good, nor is it really bad, it’s just bland and forgettable.

Inevitably, I’ll take a look at my list at various times throughout the year and I’ll be surprised at an absence. I’ll then seek out the special I think I’m looking for only to be reminded that, “Oh yeah, that show never had a Christmas episode.” One of my top offenders each year was DuckTales. The original run for that show ran for over 100 episodes and never broached the subject of Christmas, even though Scrooge McDuck debuted in a Christmas comic book! Disney was new to television with that series and also new to syndication. Television stations typically don’t like syndicated programs to feature seasonal episodes since they don’t want to have to worry about when the episode airs. Who wants to see a Christmas episode in May? It’s an overblown issue though, which is probably why many syndicated shows would toss that aside and go with whatever stories they wanted to tell. The new version of DuckTales rectified this problem, as we saw way back on December first, which is why I’ve decided not to include the 87 version in this post.

In the spirit of this phenomenon, as it were, I want to highlight the cartoons that decided against doing a Christmas episode. These are the shows I’m most surprised by, and some of them have tripped me up more than once. I’ve looked through the episode list for these programs repeatedly looking for key words like Santa, Christmas, presents, or even snow. Alas, I guess when it came to Christmas and these shows, it just wasn’t meant to be.

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Despite their numerous rescues, the Rescue Rangers never saved Christmas.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Hot on the heels of DuckTales came Chip ‘n Dale:  Rescue Rangers. This show took the comedic duo who harassed Donald Duck and Pluto on numerous occasions and gave them their own show where they solved crimes a d helped those in need – quite a turn for the former mischief makers. They were paired with some newcomers in the inventor mouse Gadget and the cheese-obsessed Monterey Jack. Zipper the fly completed the group and they were often tasked with solving crimes or rescuing someone. The show was another direct-to-syndication affair with a 65 episode order that premiered in the fall of 1989. And like DuckTales, there was no Christmas episode for these adventurers even though one practically would have wrote itself. The diminutive heroes often found themselves helping kids, so helping a kid get on Santa’s good side could have been a plot. Or having the Rescue Rangers just plain save Christmas from a Grinch-like villain would have worked fine. Seeing the Rangers ride around in Santa’s sleigh would have been a great and festive way to end an episode. Pretty much all of the Disney Afternoon programs that followed would get a Christmas special. The only one off the top of my head I think did not is Gargoyles. I also don’t think many of the shows based on film properties (e.g. – Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Timon and Pumba) had Christmas episodes either. Alas, we’ll just have to make due with the classic Disney shorts Toy Tinkers and Pluto’s Christmas Tree if we want to see the chipmunks in action around the holidays.

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There is a ton of TMNT Christmas merch out there, but surprisingly no television special to go with it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a marketing bonanza in the late 80s and into the early 90s. The show basically existed because Playmates needed it to in order to sell toys, which is how many cartoons from that era came about. And it was a great vehicle to do so as the Turtles often had new vehicles and inventions to make use of and there was always a new mutant to battle who could quickly become an action figure. That merchandizing tie-in aspect of the show makes it a bit of a surprise it didn’t bring along Christmas, the time of year when more toys are sold than at any other point. Playmates could have been handed holiday versions of the Turtles and other characters in which they’re wearing festive sweaters or are even decked out like Santa and his elves. There could have been a mutated reindeer friend for the Turtles, maybe one with a radioactive, glowing, red, nose! A sleigh that is rocket-propelled and drops bombs or a gnarly snowboard for Mikey to hit the slopes with. Plus, there was a Christmas story all ready to go in the comics in the form of the Michaelangelo one-shot issue from Mirage in which Mikey busts up an illegal toy-smuggling ring. That episode would be adapted for the 2003 cartoon and titled “The Christmas Aliens,” but it amazes me it took over 15 years for that to happen.

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Yes, it would be silly and possibly stupid to have Goku face-off with Santa, but I bet it would be a lot of fun!

Dragon Ball

One of the longest running anime ever has produced hundred of hours of television, and not once has Christmas been relied upon to drive an episode. Dragon Ball and its many iterations has been entertaining kids and adults since the mid 1980s. It’s known as much for its action as it is for its silly and sometimes juvenile sense of humor. It’s that aspect of it that seems to make it ripe for a Christmas special. An ignorant Goku could have been introduced to the concept of Christmas by one of his friends and found the custom confusing. He could have ended up giving weird gifts, or doing something selfless and noble, either would be in-character. I think a somewhat comedically dark ending with Goku out in the wilderness seeing Santa and blasting him with a Kamehameha could have been entertaining too. Maybe the episode ends with him roasting a reindeer after Santa fled in panic with Goku clueless over what he had just done. These are all more Dragon Ball-styled plots. A Dragon Ball Z or Dragon Ball Super plot would obviously involve Goku challenging Santa to a fight. Santa would either be super powerful, or super not with Goku accidentally really hurting him in a slapstick kind of way. Maybe following such an injury, Goku has to take over as Santa for a night which has comedic potential as well, so much so that I’ve basically talked myself into wanting this. And it all ends with Oolong getting a stocking full of women’s underwear on Christmas morning. Now that’s a sentimental sort of ending.

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Goofy has experienced Christmas via Mickey and Goof Troop, but he never got to star in a holiday short of his very own.

Goofy

In the 90s, Goofy received his own show. It was basically an animated sitcom, and it put Goofy in the role of a single father. Goof Troop was a surprisingly poignant show and a different take on the character than what we were used to seeing. Goofy had shown a domesticated side on occasion in his old shorts, but nothing really like this. Goof Troop received it’s own Christmas special, and the characters returned in the same role for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas years later with a different Christmas outing. That’s good that Goofy got multiple looks at it because he was the lone holdout back in the days of the cartoon short to not have a Christmas episode. Donald Duck received Toy Tinkers, while Mickey and Pluto both got to star in Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but Goofy got nothing. That’s why when packages of cartoons were shown with Mickey’s Christmas Carol on television the Goofy short often shown was The Art of Skiing, a quality short for sure, but not a Christmas one. Goofy comically trying to setup a tree or decorate a house seems like a great way to use his brand of physical comedy. It could have even been in the form of one of his classic “How to” shorts such as “How to Prepare for the Holidays.” Goofy playing Santa, Goofy cooking a turkey, Goofy wrapping gifts – it’s almost too easy! Maybe that’s why it never happened?

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This show was just a commercial for Nintendo products so it’s surprising that they didn’t add in the wonder of Christmas at any point.

Captain N: The Game Master

Captain N was possibly the only show more cynical than Masters of the Universe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it came to hawking merchandise. It was basically an animated commercial for Nintendo as the main character, Kevin, sported a Nintendo controller as a belt buckle and armed himself with a zapper. His allies in the show were all stars of their own video games like Kid Icarus and Simon Belmont and they even made the Game Boy a character later on. Maybe the showrunners felt that doing a Christmas episode would be too on the nose, but I think it would have fit the mold just fine. Imagine all of the Nintendo products that could have been piled under that cartoon tree. I’m not saying it would have been good, as this show is pretty terrible to revisit, but it may have at least featured some ironic humor. At the very least, we could have seen Dracula’s castle covered in snow or found out if a Game Boy can function during a blizzard.


Dec. 22 – BoJack Horseman Christmas Special – “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”

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Original release date December 19, 2014.

Netflix has officially arrived! For the first time we are doing a Netflix-only Christmas Special at The Christmas Spot. I know the streaming company has been waiting patiently for such an honor, and I would like to thank them for the “Christmas Bonus” they sent my way to get this up.

Netflix has changed the way we consume content. While television once operated on a weekly schedule in seasonal formats now it basically arrives like an avalanche at all times of year. Netflix was first just in the business of loaning out DVDs by mail to consumers providing a new way to rent movies as opposed to heading out to Blockbuster or whatever local rental place may have been nearby. Now Netflix is a content producer and it unleashes it all upon viewers via its on demand streaming network. If the mark of a true success is imitation, then Netflix is one of the greatest success stories engineered by humanity since streaming services keep popping up like weeds all around. And for the most part, all of them resemble Netflix with little deviation. The only one to really start doing anything different is Disney+ which is trying to bring back the weekly release schedule. So far so good for Disney, but it will be interesting if consumers demand that Disney give into “The Binge” and force a change.

One of Netflix’s earliest success stories in the field of animation is BoJack Horseman. The show was created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and stars Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aaron Paul with both Arnett and Paul also receiving Executive Producer credits as well. The show takes place in a fictional version of the US in which humans live alongside human-animal hybrids. The show almost never explicitly draws attention to that fact as character’s just accept everything at face value and the various different species all seem to interbreed, though there aren’t any weird hybrids that I’ve noticed. The main character is BoJack Horseman, a former actor who starred in a Full House styled sitcom in the late 80s/early 90s in which he played the lead role of the Horse who took in three orphans. Titled Horsin’ Around, it’s understood the show was terrible, but it’s BoJack’s only claim to fame and even though it made him fabulously wealthy he’s really depressed over the fact that it’s all anyone will ever know him for.

The show recently released the first half of what will be its sixth and final season. Most Netflix shows rarely reach a sixth season so it’s not a surprise the show is set to wrap-up soon, but it comes with some bad timing since the employees at production company Tornante Television recently voted in favor of unionizing. Almost immediately, another Tornante program was cancelled by Netflix and with BoJack set to end in January it’s possible Netflix will distance itself from Tornante, which is a real shame. While the shows are a bit ugly, they’re quite smart and the minimalist animation works for the material since this is more of a sitcom styled show as opposed to some wacky, animated, adventure.

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“Joy to the world, Todd is here. He drank up all your beer!”

One thing I do enjoy about Netflix is its propensity for Christmas Specials. It seems like every Netflix original has a Christmas Special so when a show doesn’t it’s actually surprising (looking at you Disenchantment). BoJack Horseman is no exception as the show’s Christmas Special arrived not long after season one in the form of BoJack’s Christmas Special – “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish.” The character of Sabrina refers to a character from Horsin’ Around played by the fictional actress Sarah Lynn. This episode is basically just BoJack and his house guest Todd watching a Christmas themed episode of Horsin’ Around for their amusement, and because the two have no one else to spend Christmas with.

The episode begins with BoJack (Will Arnett) being rudely woken up by Todd (Aaron Paul) who has burst into his room singing Christmas carols while wielding a giant candy cane. He also boasts, as part of his song, that he’s pretty loaded and BoJack is quite grumpy about being woken up. He doesn’t care that it’s Christmas, and mostly just wants Todd to leave. He informs Todd he didn’t get him anything, but that’s no problem as Todd reveals he used BoJack’s credit card to buy himself a new hat for Christmas, which looks exactly like his old hat.

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Todd is eager to watch some bad TV with his buddy BoJack.

Todd then brings up the subject of watching a Christmas edition of Horsin’ Around as a way to celebrate the holiday. BoJack, who normally never turns down an invitation to watch Horsin’ Around, isn’t onboard as he states Christmas Specials are just manipulative pieces of trash that aren’t worth watching. Todd insists that this is the best way to spend the holiday and eventually BoJack relents. They both sit on the edge of BoJack’s bed as Todd inserts the DVD into the player to get things started.

We’re then treated to the entire opening credits of Horsin’ Around. It’s at this point I realize this episode of BoJack Horseman is probably going to largely be an episode of Horsin’ Around. After the cleverly cheesy credits finish, the sitcom begins with the Horse sitting down for breakfast. His oldest daughter, Olivia (Alison Brie), is making breakfast while son Ethan (Adam Conover) reads the newspaper. We soon learn this behavior is out of character for Olivia as BoJack’s character points it out. Anytime a bad joke is uttered there’s an over-the-top laugh track from a “live studio audience” to really make this feel like an 80s sitcom. Olivia is angling for a leather jacket for Christmas so she looks cool on some dude’s motorcycle. Ethan, by comparison, points out he sees no need for fashionable attire and would prefer some functional, warm, socks. He’s supposed to be a nerdy character with a dash of Michael J. Fox’s Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties.

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The cast of Horsin’ Around (left to right): Olivia, the Horse, Sabrina, and Ethan.

Sabrina (Kristen Schaal) soon enters and the Horse sees her as a vessel for some holiday cheer since she’s the youngest of the three orphans. BoJack explains Christmas and the concept of Santa to the girl who has no concept of anything, which is laughable even for an orphan, but the show plays it straight. Sabrina is the sassy young girl character, basically Michelle from Full House, and she’s armed with a catchphrase that she gets to use twice in one scene – “That’s too much, man!” It’s actually a clever little piece of writing as she first uses it as a catch phrase then repeats it when she finds out Santa is always watching. One guy in the “studio audience” really seems to like it. Ethan then tries out his catchphrase, “Yowza-yowza-bo-bowsa!” to no reaction from the other characters or the studio audience. The Horse then tells the kids their Christmas will be a thousand times better than the ones they’ve had before. Since they’ve never had a Christmas, Ethan points out a thousand times zero is still zero prompting the Horse to deliver a playful noogie while imitating an Italian mob boss, a joke the show will return to.

We then shift settings with the Horse going to work. He apparently works at a law firm and as he approaches the secretary, Tracy (Nicole Sullivan), the two exchange some playful flirting that takes a bit of a creepy turn when the Horse makes a comment about his underwear. The Horse is trying to get ahead on work stuff with his boss, Mr. Liberatore (Stanley Tucci), so he doesn’t have to work on Christmas. He then starts speaking ill of his boss to Tracy as she makes gestures trying to quiet him. When he realizes what’s going on he says “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” but he’s actually not, rather he’s been on speaker the whole time and heard everything. He’s not too upset though and informs the Horse a Mr. Goldstein is coming in on Christmas and if Horse wants to make partner he needs to show that kind of initiative. When the Horse points out that Goldstein is Jewish, Mr. Liberatore reacts with surprise and then remarks under his breath that the boys at the country club won’t like that. He then tells the Horse he can spend Christmas morning with his kids, but he expects him to come to work that afternoon. As the call ends, the Horse hangs his head in despair.

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Get that Goober out of here, man!

Back at the house, Olivia and Ethan are reading magazines on the couch. When Olivia remarks that it’s too quiet, and Ethan agrees, that’s the cue for the wacky neighbor character to come bursting in unannounced. He’s known as the Goober (Fred Savage), and he’s essentially a male version of Kimmy from Full House who also has a crush on Olivia, so I guess that makes him a bit like Urkel too. He’s dressed as Santa and he tells the kids the Horse invited him over to help make Sabrina’s Christmas a magical one. When Horse and Sabrina enter, she sniffs out the disguise immediately and quite literally since he apparently wears a very fragrant cologne.

Todd interjects with an “Oh, Goober,” which earns him the ire of BoJack who appears to be getting into this episode of Horsin’ Around. When Todd points out as much, BoJack gets defensive and asks why they’re doing this again. Todd remarks that it’s tradition to watch bad TV at Christmas, and when BoJack disagrees Todd states “Things don’t become traditions because they’re good, BoJack, they become good because they’re traditions.” BoJack points out you can’t sound smart just by repeating things backwards, but Todd uses the same technique in response which further frustrates BoJack. Todd then changes the subject by saying he can’t believe Groober went and molested a bunch of Laker girls. BoJack, who is quite protective of his former show, gets upset and points out that Goober did no such thing, the actor who played Goober did those horrible things. BoJack then takes a swig from his flask as Todd points out this is nice. He disagrees and tells him to shut up and resumes Horsin’ Around.

Goober drops the act and goes with the old line that he actually works for Santa and can put in a good word. Sabrina has the whole gift thing explained to her again, and she starts asking for mundane items. The Horse really wants her to aim big though, so she does by asking Santa to return her dead parents to her for Christmas. Cue the sad music and dejected postures. Todd then tells BoJack he’s a really good actor which just annoys BoJack. This somehow leads to an argument about Die Hard and how John McClane’s cop helper (played by Reginald VelJohnson) was the cop from Family Matters, according to Todd. BoJack explains it was just the same actor and the cop characters are from different cities. Todd counters with Witness Protection and BoJack just screams into his pillow in frustration.

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How do you tell a kid who is acting perfectly they’re not getting what they want for Christmas?

Back on TV, the Horse can’t believe he has to work on Christmas and he ends up demonstrating some dance moves for Olivia in the kitchen. Sabrina then enters after shoveling the walk and we see she’s doing her best to be extra good so Santa will get her what she wants for Christmas. The Horse tries to explain how the Santa thing works, but Sabrina doesn’t get it and still clings to the notion that Santa can return her parents. When she leaves, the Horse voices his concerns to Ethan and Olivia as he tries to figure out a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve him telling Sabrina that Santa isn’t real. When Olivia asks if they’re sure Santa can’t raise the dead, Ethan has the line of the show, “On Dancer, on Prancer, on Necromancer.”

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You don’t! You just trick them into being bad so they experience the horrible guilt for an entire year!

The subject of tricking Sabrina into doing something naughty so that Santa doesn’t bring her anything is then raised by Olivia, but the Horse insists he can’t play such a trick on her. As he repeats himself over and over we eventually cut to Sabrina watching over a plate of cookies. The Horse explains they’re for Santa and needs her to guard them. He leaves her alone and then he and the other two watch from behind the door as Sabrina resists the temptation to eat the cookies. Olivia scolds the Horse for not leaving some milk as no one wants to eat cookies without milk!

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Sabrina doesn’t look too happy with her gift.

Christmas morning arrives and Ethan is quite happy to receive sensible winter socks. Olivia excitedly opens her gift and the Horse teases she’ll need it for when she rides on that motorcycle, only she opens the box to find a helmet. Sabrina opens her gift and finds a playset she had initially asked for before she was provoked into thinking bigger. She’s disappointed, and as it looks like she’s about to cry that smart ass Ethan chimes in with a “And cue the water works in thirty, twenty-nine…” prompting BoJack to hit the fast forward button on the remote. When Ethan’s absurdly long countdown is concluded, Sabrina discovers a letter on the tree that’s apparently intended for her. She somehow knows that, but then reveals she can’t read! She hands the letter to the Horse who reads it aloud for her. It’s a letter from her parents in Heaven, and they’re sorry they can’t be there, but they love her and all of that stuff. This only makes things worse as Sabrina gets angry and reminds everyone she wanted her parents, not a letter. She then tells everyone she hates Santa, and Christmas, and a bunch of other stuff as she storms off to her room.

The Horse enters Sabrina’s room for the big talk. You know, that contrivance that ended basically every episode of Full House. It progresses like the usual sappy talk but then takes an odd turn when the Horse admits that Santa is made up after he becomes frustrated with Sabrina’s misunderstanding of the whole scheme. He tells Sabrina that Santa comes from good intentions, but since he’s fake he can’t bring her parents back. Sabrina takes it all in stride, and really she should since a few days ago she had apparently never heard of this Santa fellow. Then the conversation takes a dark turn. As the Horse explains how he never expected to be in this situation, but wants to express that he’s happy he ended up this way, he basically says he’s glad her parents are dead. Sabrina then shockingly agrees, and the two hug it out. The Horse then gives her a present from him, some pencils with her name on them which was her initial gift request. She reveals in the moment that she can’t even read her own name, which is rather sad since my three-year old can pull that off. Sabrina then heads back downstairs, but before the Horse follows he calls his boss to tell him he won’t be coming in at all today. Mr. Liberatore is proud of the guts the Horse displayed in calling him and gives him a promotion to partner in return because it’s Christmas! He also says Goldstein can work somewhere else if he wants to work on Christmas prompting the excitable member of the studio audience to scream, “Fire that Jew!”

horsin_around_endBack downstairs, Sabrina is happily playing with her new pony toy and her pencils. Olivia asks the Horse how he got her to come back down and he returns to the Italian mob boss voice and says he “Made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.” They have a laugh and Ethan tries his catchphrase again. He once again gets no reaction from the studio audience, while the actors look embarrassed for him. Olivia then compliments the Horse on his idea for writing a letter from Sabrina’s parents. He tells her he didn’t do it while she and Ethan deny responsibility. The camera then pans to the star tree topper and we hear a “Ho ho ho!” as the episode within the episode ends.

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That’s a lot of beer for a half hour show.

Todd then expresses confusion to BoJack about who wrote the letter. He points out the laughter at the end suggests Santa wrote it which further confuses Todd as he asks if Santa is real in this fictitious world. BoJack then gets frustrated and says they were all on cocaine when they made the show. BoJack then says he can’t believe he wasted nine years of his life on that show. Todd tries to cheer him up and points out two episodes in particular in which Sabrina befriended a black person and Ethan learned a valuable lesson about not staring directly into a solar eclipse. He then says he liked spending part of his Christmas with BoJack and wishes him a Merry Christmas. He gets up to leave when BoJack points out there are eight other Christmas episode of Horsin’ Around. He somewhat shyly asks Todd if he wants to watch more. Todd finishes off his giant candy cane and then pulls out another as he’s eager to watch more. They climb into bed to and Todd then asks if they can do other Christmas things and lists them off:  get a tree, make snow angels, drink eggnog, etc. BoJack says no to everything except drinking bourbon as the credits hit.

No one would watch an episode of Full House and call it a well-written show. However, there is an artform to writing intentionally bad scripts with sincerity. That’s why this episode of BoJack Horseman ultimately works. Horsin’ Around comes across with an authentic earnestness that makes it believable as a corny sitcom. The bad jokes are ironically funny and the character archetypes are well-executed parodies to the point where they feel natural. The only joke within the joke I felt got old was the one audience member who would shout out the obvious. That part felt like a Family Guy gag, but I’ll admit he got me with his “Fire the Jew!” remark so I guess he proved his worth in the end.

And speaking of the end, that final conversation between the Horse and Sabrina helped make the episode. Seeing the two stumble into a conversation that included the phrase “I’m glad your parents are dead and never coming back,” is well-executed dark humor. They play it so straight leading up to that point and after that it works as a piece of shock humor without feeling cheap. It helps that Todd and BoJack, who interject little comments all episode, don’t even react to it and draw attention to it further selling the show’s attempted sincerity by implying that its audience is totally accepting of it.

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The ending with Todd and BoJack ready for more is surprisingly sweet.

The Todd and BoJack dynamic from season one is on full display here. It’s a pairing that worked really well in the show that is sadly no longer really a part of the later seasons. Todd annoys BoJack and appears to be a leach since he just lives in BoJack’s house rent free. The relationship is more like the other way around though as BoJack needs Todd around to hide from his own demons and provide a distraction. It gives him an easy target too as he can blame some things on Todd rather than himself. During the episode Todd’s candy cane gets progressively smaller while beer cans pile up around BoJack. It’s a nice piece of visual comedy and there is some genuine sweetness to the episode’s end with both characters eager to watch more Christmas specials.

Since this show is basically a dark comedy, there aren’t many genuine Christmas feels to find and exploit. Horsin’ Around is almost so effective at evoking bad sitcoms that it almost pulls off a sappy Christmas vibe, but that ending turns it upside down. We never get a glimpse of Santa besides Goober and there’s just a little holiday decorating going on in Horsin’ Around. The scenes in BoJack’s bedroom contain little or no Christmas flair, aside from Todd’s candy cane, so this isn’t the sort of special you turn to expecting something sugary. It does provide some laughs, but not really laugh out loud moments. If you’re the sort of person that prefers Bad Santa to It’s a Wonderful Life then this is probably for you.

If you want to catch the BoJack Horseman Christmas Special then your best and most convenient option is Netflix. The show was also made available on DVD and Blu Ray so you have that option as well. Comedy Central did show the first season and I am unsure if they have the rights to the Christmas episode. It doesn’t hurt to look I suppose and if I come across it I’ll update this post. The show as a whole is worth exploring so I do recommend this episode. It basically exists outside the show’s usual continuity and I think it’s more rewarding for those who have at least watched the first season, but there’s enough good character work here that I think you could just drop in and enjoy it as well. It’s not for everyone though.

 

 

 


Dec. 21 – Nerds and Monsters – “Zanti-Clops”

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Original air date August 27, 2014 (how festive).

I was doing a lot of different things in the year 2014. It was a busy one, but one thing I was not doing was watching Canadian children’s animation. Which is why I had zero knowledge of the cartoon series Nerds and Monsters before today. Nerds and Monsters, from what I have read and the little I have seen, seems to be a show about four kids who have somehow become stranded on an island of monsters. The children are the nerds, though one of them is a jock, and the monsters are just monsters. The kids clash with the monsters since their culture is foreign to them and maybe some of the monsters want to eat them or something.

Nerds and Monsters ran for 40 episodes before wrapping-up in 2016. During its brief existence it won several Leo Awards and a Canadian Screen Award. It would seem it was a quality show based on those accolades, not that awards are necessarily the best way to measure the quality of a piece of art. The show aired in a variety of places outside of the United States, where I reside, though Hulu did pick it up eventually, though it no longer is shown there.

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This is not a show I ever really heard of, but it’s an interesting pairing.

Each episode of Nerds and Monsters comes in at a fairly typical 22 minutes without ads. Each episode is broken up into two roughly 11 minute shorts and it was during the show’s twentieth episode that a Christmas special was run. It’s called “Zanti-Clops,” and as you probably could have guessed, is about the monster version of the holiday with the Santa stand-in being a monstrous cyclops. The kids will learn about this holiday and have to judge it for themselves and surely some culture shock will take place that hopefully leads to laughs.

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Let me tell you a tale of a kid-devouring, poop leaving, magical being known as Zanti-Clops.

The episode begins with the leader of the monsters, Zarg (Brian Dobson), regaling the monster children with the tale of Zanti-Clops. He summons a small monster named Tiny Stink to sit on his knee as he begins his little story. Tiny Stink is clearly an homage to Tiny Tim for he’s missing a leg and has a crutch instead. Zanti-Clops is the monster version of Santa who enters your home and takes your unwanted junk. In return, he leaves the monster children with a pile of magical, green, dung which resembles the poop of Roger the alien from American Dad!, only green instead of gold. Monsters apparently prize dung, or at least the dung of Zanti-Clops, as this is a desirable outcome for them. The catch though is if they sneak a peek at the monster he’ll eat them in retaliation. Tiny Stink claims this is how he lost his leg when he glimpsed the monster’s shadow and he’s genuinely grateful to Zanti-Clops for only taking his leg. With the story over, Zarg barks at the kids to get them to scatter and it’s only now that I notice his festive hat is meant to resemble the magic poo.

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The main cast, as far as I know: (left to right) Becky, Lyle, Dudley, Irwin, and Stan.

On a beach, the human children are going about their evening. Becky (Tabitha St. Germain), the only girl in the group, is examining a bug with her magnifying glass until a tortoise eats it. She ends up breaking the magnifying glass and is heartbroken as a result. Lyle (Brian Drummond) a little monster kid, comes running over to share the tale of Zanti-Clops with the kids. They are surprisingly not grossed out by the inclusion of poop in the story and are really receptive to the idea. Irwin (Vincent Tong) has an action figure with a pair of busted legs he’d like to get rid of and Stan (Ty Olsson), the jock, would like to get rid of his football as it’s become deflated (he thinks the engine is busted).

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The only cartoon where kids literally get dumped on.

The only kid not onboard with this Zanti-Clops thing is Dudley (St. Germain). Dudley is apparently the holiday killjoy as he doesn’t believe in magical anything. He views the promise of death if Zanti-Clops is spotted as being rather convenient despite Lyle’s protests. His insistence on Zanti-Clops being a myth causes Lyle to cry and run away leaving the other children angry with him. He then details why he doesn’t believe in such nonsense as sometime ago he really wanted a specific protractor for Christmas. We’re shown a flashback of him doing lots of chores in order to make sure he was on the nice list, one of which involves him falling into a toilet only for his dad to come sit on it and apparently defecate upon his son. This show really likes poop jokes. When Christmas morning came, Dudley received many toys, but rather than get the metal protractor he wanted he instead received a plastic one – the worst thing ever!

He pulls out the device and waves it around as a symbol of what believing in magical things can do to you. The other kids are sympathetic, but  don’t allow it to dissuade them from participating in this holiday tradition. Dudley shouts out a warning as they run off and tries to snap the protractor for added emphasis, only he’s too weak so Stan does it for him.

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I know what I’m putting at the top of my Christmas list this year!

The next morning, they all awake to find their junk has been replaced with majestic piles of dung. They’re all really excited to have this unique dropping, and Lyle comes back to show off the dung necklace he fashioned using the poop from past visits from Zanti-Clops. Dudley is the only kid who did not receive anything, but he also may not have put his junk out for Zanti-Clops to take. He’s still skeptical and thinks Lyle just came into their rooms, stole their junk, and took a shit as thanks (my words, not his). Lyle doesn’t understand how Dudley could remain unconvinced and wants to prove to him Zanti-Clops is real. The only way Dudley will be convinced though is if Lyle takes him to the cave at the top of the island’s mountain where Zanti-Clops apparently lives.

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I’m not an advocate for bullying, but it wouldn’t bother me to see Dudley get punched.

Despite his fear of being devoured, Lyle agrees to take Dudley up the mountain. And he literally has to take him for Dudley just stands still with his arms folded across his chest. He rides atop Lyle’s head through a cactus patch and has to be pulled up the steeper part of the mountain via a rope tied around Lyle’s waist. Eventually they reach the cave at dusk and find it’s empty. Dudley is ready to gloat and lets Lyle know he’s more than happy to say “I told you so,” at the sight of the empty cave. As the two walk out, Lyle hears the unmistakable sound of pain-deer, the screaming creatures that haul the sleigh of Zanti-Clops. They spot the monster flying through the sky and realize they went to the wrong cave.

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He’s real! He’s really real!

Once they get to the right cave, Lyle is too scared to enter. The two see it’s full of bones and junk forcing Dudley to concede that Zanti-Clops is real. He’s not willing to concede that he’s magical though, and just thinks he’s some monster running a junk for poop scheme. For some reason, he demands they have their junk returned and goes running in to confront the monster. Zanti-Clops (Lee Tockar) sees him and moves on him fast. The monster grabs Dudley and is prepared to eat him until Lyle comes running in. He has his eyes closed so that he doesn’t see Zanti-Clops and explains to him that Dudley doesn’t believe in magical beings. Zanti-Clops encourages Lyle to open his eyes. He’s apparently nicer than we’ve been lead to believe.

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And he’s also a monster with a reputation to uphold.

Zanti-Clops thanks Lyle for believing in him, and then turns his attention back to Dudley. Despite all that has transpired, Dudley is as stubborn as ever and perhaps foolishly brave. He tells Zanti-Clops he thinks he’s just a criminal, and explains his past holiday grievance while waving his busted protractor around. Zanti-Clops happily takes it from him, as it’s now junk, and seems to lose interest in convincing the kid the world possesses magic in it. Instead, he tells them a fact of his own:  if they tell anyone they saw him he’ll come for them and eat them! That’s enough to get the two to run away screaming.

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Looks like the little jerk got his Christmas…I mean, Zanti-Clops wish after all.

Dudley and Lyle return to the beach and see the other kids. They’re all in awe of the fact that their junk was returned to them in perfect working order. Dudley is confused, but Lyle knows this is the work of Zanti-Clops. Irwin then gives Dudley a big present he found outside his cave. When Dudley opens it he tearfully pulls out the protractor he always wanted. He proclaims that he believes, and soon the kids see Zanti-Clops flying overhead. They shout out their thanks, but Zanti-Clops screams back that they saw him and now must be devoured. He swoops down in his sleigh and the kids run away in terror. Elsewhere, some monster children are singing in a circle a festive, Zanti-Clops song which is capped off when a massive pile of green poop drops into the center of their circle. The end.

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And more poop.

So this one is a bit gross. I would expect a monster version of Santa to possess some nastiness about him, but I wasn’t expecting him to leave shit behind for other kids. It feels like a very 90s sort of gag, especially in a post Ren & Stimpy world. Where as Ren & Stimpy were able to be both clever and gross, a monster Santa that literally just craps is hardly what I would consider clever. I also found it odd that his poop really looked like Roger’s and it’s hard to believe one wasn’t influenced by the other. There’s not much of a holiday message here, besides advocating for the belief in magical beings, but I get a sense that sentimentality wasn’t something this show desired to achieve.

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How can you not love this guy? Just look at all the fun he’s having!

Some of the stuff in this episode was fairly amusing though. The Stan character is comically dumb and most of his jokes don’t land, but a couple did get a smile out of me. I would have liked to see more of the monsters as the opening scene had promise, but after the concept of Zanti-Clops is introduced we basically leave the monsters behind. The pain-deer legitimately got a laugh out of me, though I was disappointed Zanti-Clops only got to have two of them. Dudley is an easy to dislike character, a know-it-all with a very smug attitude. He’s the kind of character you want to see get punched. He doesn’t really get any comeuppance though, just some momentary fright. He even gets what he wanted in the end. I would have preferred if the final gag in the episode was Dudley holding up his precious protractor only to get nailed by that massive pile of poo.

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He may not be Santa, but Zanti-Clops knows you’re supposed to fly past a moon at least once. He even doubles up on this by flying past the north star as well.

The plot may not have been too clever, and the jokes just okay, but the production values otherwise are actually really good. This one comes from Slap Happy Cartoons Inc. and it’s a really nice looking piece of animation. There is some flatness to the characters, but the color palette is wonderful and I mostly liked the designs of the monsters. Zarg, in particular, had a My Pet Monster vibe to him that I appreciated and Zanti-Clops was nice and ugly. By comparison, the humans were less interesting and mostly fit into old clichés. The only one I did enjoy was Dudley, mostly because they successfully made a child seem punchable, which is impressively awful. The voice cast is also really good and I genuinely enjoyed all of the performances present here.

Once upon a time you could have viewed this on Hulu, but no more. Fret not though as this entire series is free to stream on YouTube in nice quality. I suppose it’s not available for purchase and that’s why it’s so freely available. Or it could be because it has no broadcast contract, in particular in the US, so there’s no one to make a claim against it. If you like monsters and want something a touch gross, this is fine. It’s paired with a winter themed episode that is also quite disgusting so I’m guessing that was the show’s M.O. It’s short enough that it warrants a look even if it’s just curiosity bringing you in.


Dec. 17 – Family Guy – “Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas”

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Christmas comes to Quahog.

So it’s come to this. We’re doing Family Guy. I don’t mean to come across as a snob or some animation elitist (after all, we already did Robot Chicken), but I don’t care for most of Family Guy. That wasn’t always the case. When the show originally aired on Fox I actually liked it quite a bit. And when it came to Cartoon Network I watched it almost every night. The absurdist humor, often relying on shock or surprise, was refreshing for a moment. It came at a good time as The Simpsons was coming off of its high and network animation was kind of flailing. The show was rather ugly and that first season was a bit rough, but I have mostly positive memories of seasons two and three and I have the DVD sets somewhere in my house.

Then, of course, the show made a surprising comeback. DVD sales and Cartoon Network ratings gave Fox enough confidence to order a new season. That new season premiered in 2005, and 14 years later Family Guy appears to be going strong. What changed for me over the years? Well, shock and random humor gets old. The show fell into the trap where it needed to top itself. Have Peter unexpectedly fight a chicken for five minutes? Well, then you to need bring him back and have the fight last for eight minutes! The characters gradually got meaner and less likable. Everyone dumps on Meg to the point where it’s not funny and it feels like there is no joke that is too low. The cut-away gags have become parody at this point as the show apparently decided to double-down when South Park called them out on how lazy those jokes were way back when.

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Like probably a lot of folks, there was a time when Family Guy really appealed to me, but those days are long gone.

It’s not all terrible though. The Stewie and Brian pairing still seems to work and often brings out the best of the show. I’ll give those a watch anytime I notice them. I also still really enjoy the show’s inaugural Christmas episode, “A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas” and the double-length “Road to the North Pole” has its moments as well. That gives me some reason for optimism as we tackle today’s episode, “Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas.” This episode is pretty modern having premiered as part of Season 16 on December 10, 2017. There’s still a chance this could go very wrong, and the title implies yet another parody of A Christmas Carol. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that one of television’s least imaginative comedy series would turn to Dickens for a Christmas special, and I’m not. The only surprise is that they held off until Season 16 to do it.

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The Pawtucket Brewery all covered in smog and snow for Christmas.

The episode opens with the standard credits, so this one isn’t scoring any bonus points for a festive intro. We’re immediately taken to the Pawtucket Brewery where Peter (Seth MacFarlane) works. Angela (Carrie Fisher, in her final appearance on the show) is trying to inform the workers that they’re getting out early on account of Christmas, but Peter keeps interrupting her by playing Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” on an old boom box. This happens three times before Angela just gives up on her speech and tells everyone to go home. As Peter races out, his coworkers turn into the cast of Dazed and Confused. The Matthew McConaughey character is present. When Peter inquires what he’s doing for Christmas, it leads him into a parody of McConaughey’s Lincoln car commercials (remember those?) immediately dating this episode. In the parody, he’s driving around aimlessly with two teens tied up in his backseat (he’s embarking on a “slay” ride). The joke ends with a voiceover saying “Lincoln – What are we doing?” which is a typical way too on the nose joke that this show is frequently guilty of.

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The family is rolling with nontraditional clothes, always a plus.

The setting shifts to the home of the Griffins and everyone is decorating while they await the return of their patriarch. Lois (Alex Borstein) is hanging stockings and points out they always hang a stocking for son Chris’s stillborn twin who was to be named Tmas (thud). Brian (MacFarlane) takes this opportunity to inform the family what he got them all for Christmas – volunteering at a homeless shelter. Chris (Seth Green) and Meg (Mila Kunis) immediately protest while Stewie (MacFarlane) is surprisingly chill with it. Lois resumes her old identity of thoughtful parent and says it’s a lovely gift and will be good for the kids, then punctuates it with a tasteless remark about watching the homeless shit through their pants. Meg fills stockings with Kanye Canes, and it’s another joke that goes on way too long and was never funny. The voiceover from the Lincoln commercial returns to announce the “Family Guy Christmas Special” and again asks “What are we thinking?” I’m thinking you’re having trouble filling out 22 minutes.

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Peter never fails to disappoint his unloved ones.

The family then moves to the lawn when Chris spots Peter’s car speeding towards home. They’re surprisingly giddy about him coming home, but he just speeds by spraying mud on them. Lois lets us know he’s heading for the bar, while Stewie points out he actually had to go out of his way to do this.

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This Norm MacDonald bit is probably the best sequence of the episode.

At the bar, Peter is enjoying some cold ones with his pals Quagmire (MacFarlane), Cleveland (Mike Henry), and Joe (Patrick Warburton) and watching Norm MacDonald (himself) read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on television. MacDonald gets hung up on the word ‘Twas and keeps getting sidetracked as he tries to read the story. This is actually solid writing for MacDonald which makes me wonder if he did it himself or if the writers just know Norm well enough to do him right. The bit ends with Norm getting fired and goes into a joke about what Cleveland is doing for Christmas (it’s bad, and will pop up again). Peter then announces he wants to get home before the over-enthusiastic carolers arrive. He’s too late as the carolers enter and quickly overrun the bar, converting Quagmire in the process. They’re depicted almost like a singing horde of zombies. It’s not very funny, but at least it’s not offensive, and that’s basically the bar we’ve established here.

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A gag that’s pretty similar to one from the first Christmas special in which Lois keeps asking Peter to do stuff he doesn’t want to do.

At the Griffin home, we’re “treated” to a long fake commercial for those laser lights people project on their homes at Christmas. This feels like low-hanging fruit. The commercial doesn’t really make fun of the product and instead turns into a joke about blind people. Peter then arrives home and is eager to watch some Patrick Swayze movie, but before his ass hits the couch Lois informs him he has some chores to get done. He literally freezes in place in mid-sitting motion as she reads of a list that begins rather mundanely, and then ventures into absurd territories finishing with her requesting he move the house a few inches. Peter groans and asks if he can do some of it tomorrow, but Lois tells him he can’t because they’re volunteering at the homeless shelter. Peter is angry when he finds out he’s expected to go leading to a fight between the two and Chris fearful that the divorce is finally coming. Lois tells Peter she’s sick of his selfishness and then takes the kids to Newport to spend Christmas with her parents leaving Peter home alone with his Swayze movie. He then does a cut-away about taking a too full bath which doesn’t even come close to landing.

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That’s no Marley.

After a rather lovely exterior shot of the Griffen house in the snow, we find Peter inebriated on his couch watching a Patrick Swayze Christmas movie of some kind. He confesses his love for Swayze, then passes out. As he does, a burst of light fills the room and moves beside the Christmas tree. An ethereal voice beckons him to wake up. Peter opens his eyes and questions if the voice belongs to Santa, only to find out it belongs to Patrick Swayze (Don Swayze, Patrick’s real life brother, provides his voice). Peter is confused as this is 2017 and Swayze is long dead prompting Swayze to ask him if he ever saw Ghost? Swayze tells him he’s here to restore Peter’s Christmas spirit. Peter then goes into his Roadhouse gag from many episodes ago, and Swayze joins him.

After the break, Peter is shown gushing over the ghost of Patrick Swayze and even remarks he wants to run through his hair. Swayze indulges him and Peter is shown prancing like a deer through a brown meadow. He comes out of it to find himself at his home in the year 1970-80-90 when President Richard-Reagan-Clinton was in office. This is actually a clever joke at how these long-running animated series in which the characters are frozen in time have to keep reevaluating when they were born.

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“Look how thin I was!”

Inside the home, Peter and Patrick watch as a young Peter wakes up on Christmas morning. He plays with his new toys, and his mom brings him a plate of cookies for breakfast. Peter remarks how he really had the Christmas spirit back then and wonders how he lost it. He then directs our attention to his friend Holden who enters the room. Peter makes a comments that this is when he could talk, then ponders what happened. We then see him later in life at an airport trying to get to a bathroom. A little girl keeps shouting “Hold it in” and he eventually collapses  on Peter’s floor repeating the phrase until it becomes “Holden.” Peter tells Swayze this is a Game of Thrones joke and says he’d think it’s funny if he hadn’t died before the show premiered.

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Carter’s house is looking pretty nice. Why wouldn’t Peter want to spend Christmas here?

Patrick then takes Peter to the present, as he is playing the role of all of the ghosts apparently. First stop is weather man Ollie Willaims’ (Phil LaMarr) home who just yells at his kid. Next up is the home of Opie (Mark Hentemen), Peter’s co-worker with a severe speech impediment and possible brain injury that results in him mostly being unintelligible. He’s dressed up as Santa and gives his kids presents, then leaves and reappears with his kids apparently completely unaware it was him despite how preposterous that is. He then moves to the window and watches an old man reunite with his family as the theme from Home Alone plays. He then starts to sing it and subtitles appear that just say “Home Alone Theme – We think,” – isn’t making fun of brain damage fun? They then go to Cleveland’s house where Cleveland and his family revisit the joke from earlier of them listening to an R&B record in which it takes the African American singer a ridiculously long amount of time to get through a single syllable. It’s still not funny. Peter remarks that at least they’re together as a family, and Swayze informs him he knows one family that is not.

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Lois probably slept with the butler this night.

We’re taken to Newport, where the rest of Peter’s family is enjoying a meal from Boston Market. Lois’s Dad, Carter (MacFarlane), then mocks the family for doubting the quality of Boston Market, which I guess is a complement to the venerable chain? He then tells them they need to call his grandmother, Nana Pewderschmidt. He puts her on speaker phone and she’s speaking in German. I bet you know where this is going. Carter ends the call once she predictably starts complaining about Jews and then declares it’s time for figgy pudding. As they sit down for dessert, Meg questions her brother if they should call Dirt. Chris thinks she means Dad, but she corrects him that she means Dirt who she describes as some fat guy that sleeps with Lois. Lois is shown having an awkward exchange with a butler, and Peter informs Swayze that she’s using her flirty laugh. He tells Swayze it’s a subtle laugh, and you need to really know her to notice it. We then cut back to Lois who is now grabbing the butler by the face and demanding to see his penis. Cut back to Peter who is still trying to explain the subtlety of the situation. Before he can get more upset he shouts “Oh no, they got Joe!” and the carolers from earlier burst in and now they have both Joe and Quagmire in their ranks.

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I think we all expected this, or something like it, at some point.

Peter is then returned to his home, alone. He declares that Swayze hasn’t scared him, and he soon finds himself transported into the movie Ghost. It’s the infamous pottery wheel scene, only Peter isn’t playing Demi Moore’s part, but is actually the pottery. Swayze is there and tells him he’s now the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as he handles Peter’s malleable anatomy. And then we’re off to the future to find Quagmire, Joe, and Cleveland seated at the bar mourning the loss of their friend. Quagmire informs us that Lois had to sell everything to afford the funeral, and he unhappily displays the underwear he bought off of her. Peter is oblivious to who they’re mourning and for some reason assumes it’s a guy named Benjamin.

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Meet Lance. They don’t really do anything with him so there isn’t really a joke here. Lois just found someone a lot more attractive than Peter once he was out of the way.

Patrick then takes Peter to former Griffin household to drive the point home. Lois calls up to her husband to come downstairs pointing out how he’s out of frame. This allows Peter to get excited thinking he may have finally lost weight, but when a guy named Lance comes down instead he declares he must have finally worked up the courage to leave Lois. We now get to see the kids and the first to come downstairs is Chris who declares he’s going to Colombia. He doesn’t mean the school and means the country where he’ll be smuggling drugs in his rectum. Meg then comes downstairs and declares she’s going to Yale and Peter surprisingly gets ahead of the joke and knows she got a job with a lock maker. A very plump Stewie emerges to say he’s going to brown…some sausages for breakfast. Peter is happy his kids got Ivy League puns, but he wants to know where Brian is.

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Peter as a ghost dog fart. You read that correctly.

Swayze then takes Peter to a cemetery where a very old Brian is sleeping beside a tombstone. Peter still doesn’t get it and Patrick has to point out it’s his grave. The born date on the tombstone references the previous 1970-80-90 joke from earlier. He died five years before this moment when his Milf on a Shelf accidentally set his Christmas tree on fire with her cigarette. A ghost Peter then appears and we find out that this ghost is actually a dog fart. You see, people who lose their Christmas spirit and then die become dog farts for all eternity. He then disappears, but Swayze assures him he’ll reappear soon since Brian is a dog of 13. And sure enough, the ghost of Peter does return and warns Peter about his fate. More ghosts appear and they all have something gross to tell him about Brian’s rectum. They surround Peter and spin around causing him to collapse to the ground crying out he doesn’t want this to be.

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Peter using Instagram porn stars as a way of telling what day it is definitely works. He’s the type of guy that probably sends lots of awkward messages to such girls on a daily basis.

Peter then finds himself back at home on Christmas morning. He checks his phone to find that all of the porn girls he follows on Instagram are wearing Santa hats in their pictures which is how he knows it’s Christmas. He names a few of them and refers to them as thirst traps.

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There’s a pair of additional surprises under the tree this year.

We then return to Newport where everyone is opening presents. Meg declares everything is perfect, while Lois seems a bit blue. Chris informs us that every time Carter bends over they can see his genitals which horrifies Stewie. Peter then bursts in looking a bit disheveled carrying a sack full of hastily bought presents. Meg reacts by calling him Dirt, so that clears up some confusion from earlier. He distributes a bunch of awful gifts which his family actually enjoy. Meg is shocked to be given a gift of any kind from her father, who apparently has never bought her anything. Peter and Lois embrace, and then the ghost of Patrick Swayze appears. Peter asks him if there’s anything he can do for him, and Swayze says “Well, there’s one thing in Heaven that Chris Farley won’t do for me,” which leads into Peter and Swayze reenacting the Saturday Night Live bit where he and Farley danced to “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” as part of the infamous Chippendales sketch.

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This pretty much had to happen.

As the two gyrate and Peter loses his clothes, we see the rest of the family can’t see Patrick or hear the music. Lois instructs them all to just keep opening presents as Peter will eventually tire himself out. Carter then resumes handing out the gifts and everyone grimaces when he bends over. The licensed track returns as we move to an exterior shot of the Pewderschmidt compound. In an effort to fill time, a subtitle appears confessing the writers unironically enjoy the song. They then confirm this is being done to fill time as the episode ends with a festive rendition of “Jingle Bells” over the credits.

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The family’s reaction to Peter’s nearly nude dancing seems a bit overdone. This type of behavior from Peter should be expected.

I had the lowest expectations going into this one. Not only is it an episode of Family Guy, but it’s also a parody of A Christmas Carol. That should mean disaster, but it’s mostly fine. The vast majority of the jokes don’t land. This is a show that believes in quantity over quality as it’s just joke after joke after joke. And there’s no subtlety to any of it. Some of the jokes made me groan, but there were at least a few clever ones. I don’t think anything made me laugh out loud, but there were at least a few that made me smile. The show loves returning to jokes from earlier in the episode and even from previous episodes. This approach can be rewarding, but when the joke wasn’t very funny to begin with it doesn’t really work.

One thing I did enjoy was the use of Patrick Swayze. I was a bit alarmed when he showed up initially as I expected some really tasteless dead celebrity jokes to follow, but they really didn’t go for any of that. Since he was voiced by Swayze’s brother, it’s reasonable to assume that nothing in this episode would have offended the actor. It felt more like a love letter to Swayze as the character of Peter has shown an affection for him in the past. The ending scene of the duo reenacting the Chippendale’s sketch from SNL was actually more sweet than funny, which I enjoyed. It was a rather nice way to end the episode.

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This is a rather fun shot for the episode to go out on.

Family Guy has never been a show that’s all that enjoyable to actually look at, but I do like the seasonal settings in this one. The show has an honesty in how it portrays snow, which is more gray than white as it quickly gets dirtied by the environment. The homes of both the Griffins and Pewderschmidts are tastefully lit and the interior shots are warm and festive.

“Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas” was merely all right. If I were to find myself in front of the TV watching a lineup of Christmas episodes on Adult Swim I’d probably watch this one. If I were actually seeking out a Christmas episode of Family Guy then I’d still definitely turn to the one from Season 3. My expectations for this show are so low at this point that when an episode doesn’t leave me disgusted it feels like a victory. I suppose that’s not a glowing recommendation, but you could do worse.

If you wish to catch this one on television this year, just keep your eyes open. Family Guy airs all of the time on cable and one of the many networks that airs the show will likely show this one multiple times this month. Of course, we’re getting late in the game here so if you missed it, well there’s always Hulu or various streaming services where you can either rent or buy the episode. I wouldn’t pay money for it, but I’m also not you. I suppose if you’re a fan of Family Guy then you probably like this episode just fine and you’re also probably irritated with me at this point. And that too, is fine.


Dec. 11 – A Flintstone Family Christmas

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Original air date December 18, 1993

The Flintstones got its start back in 1960 and for many years it was the standard for prime time animation. It was really the only prime time animated show for decades and has now been firmly supplanted by The Simpsons in almost every conceivable fashion. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, being new to sitcoms, treated The Flintstones as if it were just another sitcom in many ways. A lot of the characters and gags were borrowed rather liberally from The Honeymooners (though Joseph Barbera wants us to think that wasn’t intentional) and the show made use of a laugh track. It also followed adult characters navigating social situations, work, and marriage. Really, the only thing making it feel animated was the setting of Bedrock, a stone age location populated with people, dinosaurs, and other creatures long extinct.

The show was pretty stand-alone in terms of approach, but in season three it added a new character:  Pebbles. Like any other sitcom, this meant Wilma had to go through a lengthy pregnancy captured on film before finally having a baby girl. Not long after, neighbors the Rubbles welcomed Bamm-Bamm via adoption, and suddenly the show started to skew young. Sponsor Winston cigarettes was out and in came Welch’s, maker of jelly and grape juice. Ratings began to slide and the show eventually came to an end, but it would find extended life in children’s timeslots for years to come. The 166 episode total may seem minor considering The Simpsons has gone well beyond that mark, but it’s still a healthy total and represents a long run.

In the 1980s the show was resurrected via spin-offs and specials. The brand also remained pervasive in grocery stores via cereal and vitamins which still exist to this day. The franchise was still popular enough in the 1990s to receive a prime time animated Christmas special titled A Flintstone Family Christmas. Airing on December 18, 1993, it depicts Fred and Wilma as grandparents waiting to welcome their family home for the holidays. Pebbles has married and had children with Bamm-Bamm, essentially making Fred and Barney family officially. It made use of a lot of voice actors that had become prevalent in shows of the era, and it’s a bit of a trip to hear them work on The Flintstones.

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Fred is all about Christmas in this one.

The special begins with Fred (Henry Corden) decorating his home for the holidays while Barney (Frank Welker) looks on. Fred is putting lights on his house that just look like rocks that apparently light up. The source of power for these lights is a tank of water with an electric eel inside. When Fred drops the wire into the tank, the eel goes to work lighting up the display. It soon explodes, changing Fred’s holiday greeting to read Fatso’s House. Fred’s neighbor, Mr. Gravelberry (sp?), shares his disapproval of Fred’s light show, but nothing is going to take Fred out of his holly jolly mood. Not even the paper, which contains stories about drive-by stonings and other non-Christmasy happenings.

Betty (BJ Ward) and Wilma (Jean Vander Pyl) are wrapping gifts when Fred and Barney come inside to find out the kids are on their way home from Hollyrock. Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm have two little ones and Fred can’t wait for them to see him play Santa in a Christmas parade. Wilma lists off all of the things they have to do before the kids get there and usher the boys out to pick up some stuff.

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Well that certainly doesn’t look like a jolly, old, elf.

As Fred and Barney leave a store with a rather large prehistoric turkey, a street Santa gets their attention. He’s soliciting donations, at least that’s what they think when they approach him only to get held up. He takes their belongings, and as he runs away it becomes obvious this Santa is actually two children with one standing on the shoulders of the other. He apparently didn’t get far as Fred and Barney are shown at the police station picking their mugger out of a Santa line-up. Wilma and Betty think it’s rather funny when they see it was just a kid that mugged them, but Fred is insistent that this kid needs the book thrown at him.

A social worker named Stella Stalagmite (Didi Conn) then enters to tell us all about the kid, Stony (Christine Cavanaugh). He’s a cave-less child, which horrifies Wilma. No one wants him, and they’ve tried appealing to all of the major religions too, but no one can get this kid to fly straight. Fred finds out it was a stick and not a gun that the kid was holding when he held them up, and becomes irate when Wilma suggests they bring him home. The two argue, with Fred insisting there’s no way this kid is coming over to his house, which can only mean one thing…

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Fred is rather protective of his television which appears to be powered by magic.

Stony is indeed brought home to the Flintstone residence and is amazed by what he sees. He’s very polite and complementary, but Fred isn’t buying it. As the Rubbles head off to make dinner, Fred is left alone with the kid who marvels at his big screen TV. Stony rewires it so that Fred can get all of the channels illegally and some all cave girl network pops up on the screen. Unlike most Flintstone gags featuring modern tech in a stone age world, there’s no explanation for how this TV works. As best I can tell, it’s just a regular TV in a stone box. Fred is interested in this racy channel at first, but soon changes the channel insisting they watch what he wants to watch. The remote is at least low tech as a little bird flies out of it to manually change the channel to It’s a Wonderful Stone Age Life. Fred declares it’s his favorite movie, while Stony isn’t impressed. We then get what’s probably going to be the prevailing message of this special when Stony imagines himself entering the movie only to have the main character to tell him to beat it, “We don’t want to think about your kind at Christmas!”

Stony relays his distaste for the holiday to an incredulous Fred. He doesn’t understand how a kid could dislike Christmas and declares him defective. Wilma has to break up the fight, and suggests that they go get a Christmas tree. Fred wants to wait for the grandkids, but when Stony offers to get them a tree for only 20 bucks Wilma insists they should let him do it so that they can demonstrate their trust for him. Fred reluctantly gives Stony a twenty, and he takes off and reappears quickly with a fully-decorated tree. Fred can’t believe it, but then Barney re-enters the picture and immediately recognizes the tree as his own.

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Will nothing go right for Fred and the gang? Stay tuned!

As Wilma fits Fred for his Santa suit, Pebbles calls with bad news. It seems she and the family are stranded at O’Harestone (this is already like the fifth “joke” that’s just the name of something from the real world with “stone” added onto the end of it) and she isn’t sure when they can make it home. This bums Fred out and Stony tries to cheer him up. They get into a little conversation about Stony not understanding what he did wrong, Fred gave him a 20 and he produced a tree. Wilma reasons the kid is just acting in the only manner he knows how, while even Barney sticks up for him as he apparently hooked him up with the cave girl channel too. Fred then tells Stony he just wants him to try and enjoy Christmas, and it seems like our special is turning hopeful. They then pile into the car to make what Wilma calls their “Christmas rounds.”

The next segment is a montage set to an original song. If I had to guess, I would say it’s titled “It’s a Merry Christmas in Bedrock This Year.” During the montage, the gang is shown caroling while Stony solicits donations to himself which Fred puts a stop to. They then deliver cookies, and we get our shot of Stony looking thoughtful on the kind gesture. Fred tries to show the boy how to figure skate, which ends in pain for Fred, and then they all gather for a picture and Fred puts the kid on his shoulders.

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The best character in this special.

When we exit the song, Fred and Wilma are taking Stony to see Santa Claus. Fred expresses to Wilma that he’s getting through to Stony, while Stony sits on Santa’s lap. He tells him how he used to have a red suit like that, until the pants ran away. This sets the Santa into a sad story about his own life. He admits he’s not the real Santa and then adds how he feels like he’s under tremendous pressure to tell the kids who see him that they’ll get what they want for Christmas, even though he’s powerless to make it so. While he tells his story, Stony swipes a handful of candy canes from Santa’s sack. Fred approaches and tells the Santa to brighten up and hands him a homemade ornament. Santa does as he’s told, and Stony is apparently warmed by Fred’s holiday spirit and slips the candy canes back into the sack.

The family then heads to pick out a tree. Wilma eyes an eight-footer, but Fred is scared off by the price. Stony tells him he needs to get a good tree for his grandkids’ first Christmas, but Fred remarks he can’t print money and they walk off. This gives Stony an idea as he tells the salesman to hold the tree. We then see him hosting a table game. He has three turtle shells and is taking money from people to see if their eye is quicker than his hand. When a very large man insists Stony cheated him, he runs off seeking the help of Fred. He insists to Fred, with a tear in his eye, that he didn’t cheat the guy and Fred stands up for him. This doesn’t go so well for Fred as the big guy grabs a Christmas tree and hits Fred over the head with it.

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A hospital bed for Fred – what’s next?

The tree did enough damage that Fred needed to be hospitalized. As he lays in a hospital bed with Wilma and the others at his side he openly wonders how this Christmas could get any worse. Mr. Slate (John Stephenson) then enters to tell Fred he’s taking him out of the parade. He can’t risk Fred’s health and have Santa die in the middle of the thing. Fred is heartbroken, and as Stony looks on he starts to feel sorry for himself declaring this is all his fault. He then spies Slate’s car waiting for him outside and a smile crosses his face as he apparently has another idea. When Mr. Slate returns to his car, he orders the driver to head to Flintstone’s house so he can retrieve the Santa suit. As the car drives away we see it’s Stony who is behind the wheel.

Stony brings the suit to Fred’s hospital room, and upon hearing what he did to his boss, Fred flips out. He takes off with Stony in tow and we see that Stony locked Mr. Slate in Fred’s bathroom. As he shouts for help, he gets the attention of the police who soon show up as Fred arrives. When Fred goes to free Mr. Slate from the bathroom, the door falls on him and out comes Mr. Slate. The cops order everyone to put their hands up, and all three do with Fred’s coming from underneath the door.

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Jail – that’s what’s next. It ends up being a nice time for a heart-to-heart about Christmas though.

Stony and Fred are then shown being taken to a jail cell. They’re in pin-striped suits and Fred looks pretty mopey. Stony tries to cheer him up by telling him it’s not so bad, but it’s not getting through. He imparts some advice to Fred as well, like don’t slow dance with Bubba or play Marie in the prison play. Fred has had enough of Stony and draws a line on the cell they share and orders Stony not to cross it. Stony gets back on Fred’s good side when he produces some crumb cake he smuggled into prison (he doesn’t elaborate on how he snuck it in). When Fred asks why he did that he explains when you live on the street you never know where your next meal is coming from so you always try to save something. He even gives Fred a bigger chunk of the cake which leads into the sappiest moment yet where the two have a heart-to-heart. Stony explains he just wanted to help Fred out since he helped him out with that big guy at the tree lot. Fred explains that Stony’s intentions are good, but his methods are not.

As the two have their happy Christmas moment, which includes the both of them resigning themselves to spending Christmas in jail, the cell door opens and in comes Mr. Slate and the social worker from earlier. Slate has the Santa suit and slams it on Fred. He cleared up the charges and still wants Fred to play Santa in the parade. As Fred struggles to get the beard over his head, the social worker takes Stony out as she assumed the placement with the Flintstones isn’t working out. As he’s lead away, Fred is dragged by Mr. Slate as he calls out for Stony.

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The Flintstones have had a lot of different reindeer stand-ins over the years.

Fred is at the parade sitting in Santa’ sleigh, which is pulled by six giant birds (why not 8?), when Wilma, Betty, and Barney show up. They’re glad to see him out of jail, but Fred is depressed over Stony being taken away. The parade starts and the birds pull him along and as he heads down the street he realizes something is in his hat. It’s a star-shaped Christmas card that Stony slipped inside his hat, and as Fred wishes the lad a merry Christmas, he sees Stony getting into the social worker’s car. He then snaps the reigns and orders the birds to fly. They sail over the parade and over the mayor’s car (the mayor, by the way, looks just like Fred but with a moustache) which Mr. Slate was riding in. He shouts out “Flintstone!” as he often does at the sight of Fred abandoning the parade.

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Gotta have this shot.

Fred soon catches up to the social worker’s car and reaches down to pluck Stony from the rear seat. He tells the social worker Stony has a home and the two fly off into the required Santa in front of the moon shot. They head home, where Pebbles and the gang are waiting for them. They’re singing a Flintstone’s version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while Stony shows the babies his turtle shell game. Fred then approaches to tell them it’s time for the family tradition where the newest member of the family puts the star on the tree. Stony hands over the babies thinking that honor falls to them, but Fred hands him the star instead. Bamm-Bamm lifts the boy on his shoulders and Stony places the start on the tree, an amber rock with a firefly inside of it. Fred then remarks to Wilma that this is the best Christmas ever, and everyone sings about wanting chocolate pudding. A “Merry Christmas!” lets us know this one is over.

This is a mostly serviceable Christmas special starring The Flintstones. I don’t have tremendous affection for The Flintstones, but I will say that as a Flintstones special this is rather weak. There aren’t any good puns and the stone age technology isn’t very creative at all. The writers seemed to think just tacking the word “stone” onto the end of everything serves as a joke all by itself. The special at least doesn’t repeat the trope of Fred having to find a new appreciation for Christmas, as we’ve seen him do in other Flintstones Christmas specials (he’d even play Scrooge the following year), but that’s a low bar to clear.

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Can I get a “Looky what he can do?”

As a Christmas special though, this isn’t terrible. Stony coming around to see the good aspects of Christmas and feel accepted by his new family happens pretty quickly and conveniently. Having the Flintstones adopt another kid certainly makes them look good, though I don’t think Stony every shows up again (not that much follows this special). When the gang all return in 1994 for A Flintstone Christmas Carol, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm are kids again so it obviously takes place at a different time. Both specials essentially mark the end of The Flintstones as a prime time network attraction and it’s possible they only exist to cross-promote with the film which came around the same time.

Visually, this one looks like a 90s cartoon. It’s in-line with the level of quality that would show up in other Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The characters are on-model, though they have exaggerated 90s flourishes to their actions. It’s actually refreshing since a lot of Flintstones animation was re-purposed and reused often. The sound design is also of a similar quality as most of the voices fans were familiar with were still around to voice these characters. And Frank Welker does a pretty good Mel Blanc impression as Barney Rubble.

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Exit on everyone singing, and that’s a wrap!

If you like The Flintstones then you’ll probably think this is okay, but may also feel let down. The Flintstones premise was never very creative making the only charming aspect of the show often the little gags tossed in which usually revolved around some animal appliance. This special is missing that as what is present just isn’t funny. It’s a heart-warming Christmas special though, so if you’re just looking for some Christmas feels it will probably get the job done. And at only 23 minutes, it’s not like it hangs around too long.

If you want to add this to your viewing this year, your options are a bit limited. The video-on-demand service Boomerang still shows episodes of The Flintstones, but it’s a paid subscription service. The special was sold as a manufacture-on-demand DVD with A Flintstones Christmas through Amazon as A Flintstone Christmas Collection and that might still be the case. That’s how I came upon it. Just taking a look, it appears it’s no longer available from Amazon, but third party sellers have it for less than 5 bucks. Warner Bros. doesn’t appear too protective of the property these days, so if you want to watch it without spending any money it’s not hard to find.


Dec. 10 – Merry Christmas, Super Dave!

 

img_0265There are a lot of cartoons that have come and gone in my lifetime, many I forgot even existed until something jars my memory. Earlier this year we lost comedian Bob Einstein. Einstein is probably best known for his role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but twenty years ago he was best known for his character Super Dave. Super Dave was essentially an Evel Knievel parody, a daredevil who is really bad at his profession. He would attempt wild stunts and wind up getting hurt quite frequently. He would show up on late night shows and in television specials and he even made appearances on WWF’s Monday Night Raw.

In 1992 Super Dave was given an animated series on the upstart Fox Kids Network. Titled Super Dave:  Daredevil for Hire, it captured the character’s follies in animated form with an added plot device of Super Dave being a hero as well. It was produced by DiC and Bob Einstein was onboard to both voice his character and to end each episode with a live-action segment which usually recycled one of his old stunts. The show only lasted 13 episodes and I mostly remember it as just being the show that came on after X-Men, which basically spelled the end of my cartoon viewing on a Saturday morning. Sometimes I watched it, sometimes I went on to do something else. I never got attached to it, and the most memorable aspect of the show for me was the opening credits as I probably sat through them before turning the TV off. The show premiered on September 12, 1992 and blew through its episodes rather quickly. Fox still kept it on the air though through August of 1993.

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Bob Einstein’s self-absorbed Super Dave Osborne had a pretty nice run for himself.

The penultimate episode of the cartoon series was dedicated to Christmas. I could not find an original air date for “Merry Christmas, Super Dave!” but I would assume it likely aired in November or December of 1992. If the episodes aired in order, then it would have premiered on December 5, and may have been shown again on the 19th or 26th. It’s a bit surprising to see a show of only 13 episodes get a Christmas episode, but I’m not complaining. The episode is going to have Super Dave save Santa, a rather conventional and predictable plot, but since Santa flies high over the world there is certainly a chance for our hero to suffer a terrible fall and experience tremendous pain. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

 

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Gotta toss in the obligatory episode title image.

The episode begins with Super Dave (Bob Einstein) testing out his latest stunt with his stunt coordinator/sidekick Fuji Hakayito(Art Irizawa). He’s going to be shot out of a canon dressed up as Santa with a sack of toys, apparently to deliver them to some kids as part of the stunt. It’s to take place that night, making this stunt feel like a “Fireworks Factory” kind of thing. Fuji fires Dave out of the canon and he misses the target, which was an oversized chimney. He lands harmlessly on a net though and he informs us that he never uses nets, but this practice run is important. He then tries to remember how to get off a net and then recalls his training. He basically does a tuck and roll to get off of it, only to find out the net is probably 100 feet off the ground. He takes a terrible fall, and the sack of toys follow to add some additional pain. A large robotic Santa basically laughs at him, annoying Dave and prompting him to demand Fuji shut it off. He questions Fuji why the net wasn’t the standard 6 feet off the ground, and Fuji replies he just didn’t have time to set it up. Then he whips out a controller and hits a button producing the proper net. It appears under Dave and bounces him in the air (they call it a net, but it and the other net are more like a trampoline) into the higher net. He then ping pongs off the two apparently stuck in a loop while the robot Santa remains active to continue its mocking laughter.

 

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That seems like a bit of an overreaction at the sight of a grown man dressed as a baby.

Super Dave and Fuji are then shown at the mall. Fuji is disguised as a baby and Dave is pushing him in a stroller because Fuji wants to meet Santa, but they think he won’t want to meet an adult man. Dave is embarrassed to be doing this and tells Fuji there’s no way anyone will think he’s a kid. A woman then, basically on cue, stops to comment on the cute baby and informs Dave that he looks just like him. Dave then removes the woman’s glasses and buffs and polishes them before returning them to her face. She then looks at Fuji and screams in what ends up being a pretty solid gag.

 

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Santa is a bit confused by this apparent child.

Dave and Fuji then approach Santa. First they’re inspected by an elf (possibly voiced by Kath Soucie, the credits aren’t great on this show) who mispronounces Fuji’s name as Fooey, but it sounds like a baby’s name I suppose. They then meet Santa and “Fooey” hops on his lap and starts reading from a rather long list. Dave then reminds Fuji that Christmas isn’t a time for selfishness, and Fuji remarks to Santa the secret password that he just wants peace and junk. Santa (Frank Welker) is so taken by Fuji’s selflessness that he reaches into his sack and pulls out some special Super Dave high-bounce sneakers. Dave himself then lodges a protest at Santa giving away his merch for free. A guy’s got to watch out for his bottom line, you know?

 

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The characters enjoy breaking the fourth wall in this show, something I did not remember.

Dave and Fuji return to the Super Dave compound to continue preparations for the night’s festivities when they receive a phone call. The call is concluded quickly with the phone exploding, and Fuji and Dave explain the phone was Fuji’s invention made to speed-up calls. They also remark it serves as a convenient way for them to explain the plot of the episode to the audience, as they both turn and mug for the camera.

 

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That sure looks painful.

Dave then heads to a payphone, as he was apparently instructed during the call. Santa has been kidnapped, and Dave needs to deliver the ransom of 10 million dollars which he apparently has with him in a briefcase. On the other end of the phone is the kidnapper (Welker) and he’s going to send Dave all over the place to I guess make it harder for any law enforcement to track him. First, he needs to head to the docks and find Alphonso and compliment him on his pretty, pink, dress. Dave heads to the docks and finds a large ship and calls up to a guy on the deck. He assumes this man is Alphonso and compliments the dress. The problem is the guy isn’t Alphonso and he’s not wearing a dress and as thanks for the compliment he drops a giant anchor on Dave’s spine. While he’s on the dock in pain, Dave looks up to see the real Alphonso staring over him. Rather than compliment him on his dress, he gives him some advice on how to improve his appearance (focusing primarily on the man’s hairy feet). Alphonso tells him he needs to head to a junkyard to find little Willy with a gold tooth before departing. Dave says he’ll do that once feeling returns to his legs before the dock gives out and he falls into the water.

 

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Now feels like an appropriate time to point out that Super Dave is not terribly smart.

Dave does indeed head for the junkyard and there he’s confronted by a rather nasty looking Doberman. He assumes the growling beast is Willy and he reaches into the beast’s mouth in search of a gold tooth. As he’s doing so, the real Willy (Charlie Adler) emerges from behind. Dave at first pays him no mind, but then he notices the gold tooth. He then grabs the ID on the dog’s collar to see his name is William. The dog yanks him offscreen to inflict violence upon old Dave and Dave narrates that the dog is chewing his bones and burying him. Ouch.

 

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Our villains of the episode.

After recovering from his dog bites, Dave heads to his next destination which is a warehouse or hangar of some kind. There he’s confronts by the main kidnapper, Alphonso, and Little Willy who display a bound Santa for Dave. They demand to see the “dough” while Dave demands to see Santa and this goes on for a bit. Dave finally opens the briefcase though after confirming via his radio set with Fuji that there’s a tracking device inside. When he shows the contents of the briefcase to the crooks though, he finds that Fuji only placed a tracking device inside. When Dave demands to know where the money is, Fuji remarks he thought it would be safer with him at the compound. Dave ducks into his shirt to chew him out some, but our surprisingly patient kidnappers aren’t too pleased and take Dave prisoner as well.

 

img_0258Dave and Santa are then bound together inside the warehouse. We get a brief look at a pair of reindeer also tied up as the crooks rig the place with explosives via a trail of gunpowder to a large stockpile of the stuff. Fuji shows up with the money to free them, and the crooks take the money and run, but not before first setting the gun powder on fire (to a festive holiday song sung by Willy “We wish you a big explosion!”). Fuji tries to put it out as it slowly burns its way towards the explosives, but he has no luck. Dave demands Fuji just untie them first, and then the three set to trying to think of a way to get out of this mess. Dave asks Santa if anything in his sleigh could put out the fuse, but Santa says no and lists stuff in his sleigh that wouldn’t work like dolls, toys, and some weird device a kid named Fooey wanted. Fuji then asks if it’s the hydraulic, attenuated, nuclear, super-charged, magno-rectifier he wanted. Santa just says “Whatever,” before informing him that it took his elves a year to build. When Fuji is asked what the thing does he says it’s for putting out explosions. How convenient?

 

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The device that will save us all. I question the need for it to be nuclear powered.

Fuji retrieves his gift from the sack on Santa’s sleigh and turns it on. It’s a boxy thing that has two cartoonish hands that extend from it. They simply put the spark out by pressing down on it with a finger, and Super Dave looks at the camera with a “Really?!” expression. Super Dave then informs Santa he can go deliver the presents now, while he goes after the crooks. Fuji tells Dave not to worry and that he already took care of the crooks. We then see them being loaded into a police wagon outside a car lot called Tricky Dick’s. When Willy asks the cop how he knew the money was stolen he informs them because they’ve never had a President Fuji and displays a bill which has Fuji’s likeness on it.

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It just wouldn’t be Christmas without more pain.

Dave is happy with his sidekick for once, and once again tells Santa to get a move on. Santa tells him that he’ll need their help since he’s getting a late start as he heads for his sleigh. Dave says they’ll never get anywhere fast enough in that old thing, when Fuji tells him his wacky Christmas gift has another function. It apparently transforms into a rocket sleigh and Dave excitedly jumps in to pilot it. He fires it up and the thing shoots straight up in the air before crashing back down to earth leaving Dave a charred mess.

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Of course Fuji and Dave are getting a ride in Santa’s sleigh!

Santa then informs them that his sleigh is more than adequate, and the trio board it and take off. As they fly through the air, we have it confirmed that this Santa is the same as the mall Santa from earlier (which the viewer probably knew, but apparently Dave and Fuji did not). Dave had previously told Fuji the mall Santa was just a helper and probably a pool man, which the crooks even repeated before they left, so he feels a bit stupid. Santa then gifts Dave a pair of Super Dave high-bounce sneakers which Dave is surprisingly quite happy to receive. Santa then demands payment for them which catches Dave off-guard, but he’s reminded that he’s just doing what Dave instructed him to do. We’re then wished a merry Christmas and as the trio fly away Dave lists off all of the injuries he incurred during this adventure.

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The shot that ends most Christmas specials.

We’re then taken to a special Christmas greeting card. It’s a Christmas song sung by Super Dave set to the Twelve Days of Christmas that mostly just lists off misfortunes incurred by Dave throughout the show. It features clips from past episodes and lasts about a minute. It’s cute. We’re then taken to the live-action segment of the show, which involves a gag where Super Dave tries to hold onto a pickup truck and keep it from driving off for thirty seconds. He can only manage to do it for 15. When the announcer instructs the crew to get that truck out of there it takes off and Dave’s arms, which were still bound to the bumper, stretch to a comical length. And that’s the end.

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An actual “stunt” is included as well.

Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire is not a particularly well-animated show. It’s one of DiC’s lesser productions, but I wouldn’t call it ugly. It’s just fairly simple, which isn’t surprising since it’s pretty weird that it even exists. The daredevil craze was well past its expiration date come the 1990s and Super Dave was known, but not exactly a household name. The show has some laughs to offer, though they’re not found where I expected them to be. The physical comedy bits are what I recalled most from the show, and they’re fine, but I mostly found the show amusing when it breaks the fourth wall or when Dave is shown being pragmatic. Though the joke of Fuji essentially being a deus ex machina might have been overused.

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This show has its moments, like this Santa robot that basically mock’s Dave during his practice run.

As a Christmas episode, this is pretty by the numbers. Super Dave is a hero, so having him save Santa is expected. The actual rescue was a bit weird with a lot of padding by having Dave need to go on a scavenger hunt of sorts. It was not at all surprising to find the real Santa was the same as the mall one, which Dave had dismissed. Visually, there’s not a ton of Christmas to be found outside of the opening stunt sequence and the mall. And speaking of that opening stunt, I was shocked the episode didn’t return to it. I figured it was going to be a bookend and we’d see Dave’s actual Santa stunt go comically wrong in front of an audience. I feel cheated! It really was a “Fireworks Factory” after all!

 

Interestingly, there appears to be two versions of this episode: the original and an edited one. The edited one features changes to the Fuji character to de-emphasize his more racial features, namely his eyes and even a re-recording of his speech. The skin tone may have been altered as well, or that could just be a difference in quality between the two videos I found. Most of my images come from the edited one as it was of a better quality, but you can see the changes in the images above. Art Irizawa, who is Japanese-Canadian, played the character in live-action and voiced him here in both versions. Apparently, an Asian-American Child Psychologist by the name of Kenyon S. Chan voiced complaints about the character. I found a story on the subject from the LA Times. It mentions the character will be changed for Season Two, but that never came to exist. I’m guessing they went back and made these changes for the summer rebroadcasts and maybe in anticipation of making it appear the same as the next season.

In the end there isn’t much of a Christmas message or lesson to impart. Santa even took Dave’s advice and decided to charge for the special sneakers. I’m fine with it though, not everything needs a moral. The additional song at the end is appreciated as it does inject a bit more Christmas spirit into the thing. The live-action finale though feels out of place since it didn’t involve Christmas at all. Maybe they should have just ended this episode with the song and a merry Christmas from the real Super Dave?

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Not a lot of people remember this cartoon which means it’s easy to find for free online, but in poor quality.

If you want to watch this one this year it probably won’t surprise you to hear it’s not readily available anywhere. No DVD release was ever done and streaming platforms don’t see any value in paying for it. Plus with Einstein no longer with us there’s likely even less reason for anyone to attempt to profit off of this cartoon. The good news is since no one cares about it then no one is punishing piracy. If you want to watch it, just google it. You’ll even find it on YouTube with a few bumpers and commercials as well. And honestly, sometimes those are better than the actual show.


Dec. 9 – The Real Ghostbusters – “Xmas Marks the Spot”

 

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“X-Mas Marks the Spot” originally aired December 13, 1986

The 1980s sometimes feel like they belonged to the Ghostbusters. That’s because, for me, the Ghostbusters were always around. The film came out when I was but a wee baby, but by the time I had a real interest in television The Real Ghostbusters (not to be confused with the Filmation series) was airing in syndication every afternoon on ABC. To go along with that series were numerous toys and action figures. Some were roleplaying toys and many came with a vial of actual slime – something my mother still can recall the smell of because she had to clean up so much of it. My first big Christmas present I can recall was the much sought after Ghostbuster’s Fire House. It had a whirling pole the figures could ride down and even featured room for Ecto-1 where it could burst forth from behind the double red doors just like it did on TV.

 

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Every weekday at 4:30 you could find me in front of the TV watching this one.

Being a cartoon about ghost hunting, The Real Ghostbusters naturally lent itself quite well to Halloween. There are dedicated Halloween episodes of the show, but almost any episode works. The show ran from 1986 until 1991totaling 140 episodes when it finished up under the title of Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters. Along the way Lorenzo Music was replaced by Dave Coulier as the voice of Peter Venkman, a truly horrible decision at the time. Arsenio Hall, voice of Winston, also left the show and was replaced by Buster Jones. The show was a DiC production with Saban providing the music including a redone version of the popular song from the film. The pilot, which the opening animation sourced, was animated by the famed TMS Entertainment production company in case you ever wondered why it looked so much better than the actual show, which actually looks pretty good all things considered as DiC basically shopped it around so TMS did some episodes as well as Toei Animation.

The inaugural season for The Real Ghostbusters was a tidy 13 episodes which ended with a Christmas episode. Proving that the Ghostbusters could handle Christmas as well as Halloween, “Xmas Marks the Spot” premiered on December 13, 1986 and would be the last new episode of the show for almost a year when season 2 premiered in November. While it may seem like Christmas is an odd fit for the property, there is one rather famous story that features ghosts prominently thus serving as the entry point for our special.

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Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston made-up the team with Slimer also soaking up a great deal of screen time.

Yes, that story is A Christmas Carol. You don’t need me to recap it, nor do you probably need me to remind you that adaptations of that tale are the bane of Christmas specials. It’s been done, though in 1986 that feeling may not have been as pervasive as it is today. The Real Ghostbusters at least gets credit for approaching the old tale from a different perspective. It’s also a bit peculiar as it’s going to treat that story as if it’s fact. Essentially, the Ghostbusters are going to somehow stumble through time and bust the ghosts meant to turn Ebenezer Scrooge around. Scrooge is apparently really important to the existence of Christmas, and the Ghostbusters will have to mess around with time to undo their mistake and ultimately save Christmas.

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Nothing like a blizzard to set the mood.

The episode opens with the four Ghostbusters driving home from a job in upstate New York. The snow is coming down and visibility is poor, and so are spirits. Winston (Arsenio Hall) in particular is dismayed to be working on Christmas Eve and Ray (Frank Welker) is apparently responsible for a job not going well (something about a cat needing to regrow its fur). When Winston looks to find someone to share in his disapproval of working Christmas Eve he tries Peter (Lorenzo Music), but Pete couldn’t care less about Christmas. They soon arrive at a fork in the road and the strange thing is none of them can recall seeing it on their way in. Egon (Maurice Lamarche) tells Ray to take a left and as the Ecto-1 heads through the snow we see the turnpike sign has been knocked down and partially buried in snow.

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No one is particularly happy with the current predicament, but Winston is especially ticked to be working on Christmas Eve.

Eventually, the Ecto-1 gives out and the Ghostbusters are forced to resume their journey on foot. For some reason, they decide to strap on their proton packs. Winston once again tries to get Pete to share in his misery, but Pete shrugs him off. As Pete walks off, Ray explains to Winston that Pete doesn’t really like Christmas because his dad was always away as a kid. Egon says his apparent careless attitude towards Christmas is likely a coping mechanism and Winston adds once you spend so long pretending you don’t care about Christmas, you start to believe it.

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Not without my proton pack!

As the four walk, a strange vortex appears up ahead. They don’t seem to notice it, but they do notice the sudden gust of wind that tosses them into a snowbank. Once they emerge from the snow they’re surprised to see a village down below. Oddly, it’s very old looking, but they reason their must be a phone there somewhere. As they head off into town, we see a man with a boy on his shoulders head into a meat shop. The shopkeeper addresses him as Bob Cratchit (Lamarche) and he’s here for his Christmas duck. The shopkeeper hands over what looks like a Christmas sparrow, but Cratchit and his son don’t let it bother them as they head home. Once gone, the shopkeeper remarks to a woman in the store that Tiny Tim is always so optimistic and expresses regret that his father is stuck working for someone like Ebenezer Scrooge.

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‘Tis a fine bird, Master Cratchit!

The Ghostbusters are walking through the streets of this village apparently trapped in time, but don’t seem to pay it any mind. They hear a cry up ahead and look up to a ghost draped in chains emerge from a home and speed off into the night. Continued cries from inside prompt them to run in. They head for the bedroom and inside they find an old man in bed and three ghosts: a female, a large bearded male, and a grim reaper like apparition. The Ghostbusters open fire while the ghosts reprimand them. They don’t care though and soon trap the ghosts.

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Just 3 ghosts that need bustin’, nothing to see here.

A jubilant man jumps up and celebrates at the vanquishing of the ghosts. This old man (Peter Renaday) is positively delighted until Peter hands him a bill. He then sours on the Ghostbusters and initially says he won’t pay, but Ray threatens to set the ghosts free so the old man acquiesces. He tosses Ray a coin and at first Peter is ready to demand more money. Ray points out it’s an 1837 coin in mint condition and Peter seems to think it’s satisfactory upon hearing this. With the man not in possession of a phone, the Ghostbusters take their leave. Meanwhile, the old man heads for his window while talking to himself. He reveals what most likely already figured out, that his name is Ebenezer Scrooge, and feeling confident that he overcame the ghosts he declares war on Christmas!

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Oh shit, they just bailed out Scrooge!

The Ghostbusters, having failed to find a phone anywhere, return to the Ecto-1. To their surprise, the engine fires up and they head back to presumably take a right at the fork in the road. They end up back home in New York City and upon arriving Ray says he and Winston will take Pete with them to get a Christmas tree. Janine (Laura Summer) scoffs when she hears that and even gives them a “Bah! Humbug!” which surprises Egon. Slimer (Welker) even voices his displeasure at the prospect of a Christmas tree.

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The one true holiday classic.

Ray, Winston, and Peter head for Fifth Avenue where they can apparently purchase a tree. Along the way they find everyone is not in much of a Christmas mood and when Winston wishes some random guy a “Merry Christmas,” he gets a “Bah! Humbug!” in return. When they get to Fifth, Ray is shocked to see no Christmas decorations at all. Instead, the visage of Scrooge is everywhere and there’s even books for sale penned by Scrooge himself about how he vanquished Christmas by defeating the three ghosts. A bystander (Marilyn Lightstone) even clues them in when she hears Ray talking about the ghosts. At this point they figure out what happened and quickly realize they need to get back to the firehouse before Egon places the three ghosts in the containment unit. Peter, on the other hand, doesn’t think this new present is so bad.

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It’s at this point Ray informs the viewer they just killed Christmas.

The three get back to the firehouse, but they find out they’re too late. Egon had just emptied the trap dumping the ghosts into the containment unit. The only way to set them free is to free all of the ghosts also locked up in there. Egon, even though he knew something was up, is still surprised to find out from Ray that they went back in time and captured the ghosts of Past, Present, and Future. Ray is the one to break the bad news that they may have just killed Christmas.

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She may hate Christmas now, but Janine has not lost her affection for Egon.

As pedestrians on New York’s streets scream humbug at each other, the Ghostbusters are inside trying to figure out how to right this wrong. Peter recaps what happened (because this is the scene coming back from a commercial break) while Egon reveals a way to fix this. He explains he can open up a crack in the containment unit allowing him to enter. Once inside, he’ll have to find the ghosts and free them. The problem is, time is of the essence. It seems the past and present, as a result of that vortex, are operating simultaneously so time is passing in both. They can’t just go back to the point in time at which they trapped the ghosts. Confusing, isn’t it? Janine doesn’t see why they care about Christmas so much, and Winston uses her attitude to show Peter how he was acting, though he insists he wasn’t that bad.

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Egon’s got some work to do.

Ray thinks it’s crazy for Egon to go in alone, but because of the time constraints Egon says it must be this way. The other three are to head back to Scrooge, for if Egon can’t find the real ghosts, they’ll have to play the parts. As they leave, Egon informs Janine he’ll need her help with this. With hearts in her eyes, she excitedly agrees though she insists she’s doing it for Egon and not Christmas.

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Venkman’s convincing attire.

At Scrooge’s home, the old man is already working on his novel while the Ghostbusters get set up on a rooftop. Peter is up first and he’s dressed as some sort of Tooth Fairy or something to play the Ghost of Christmas Past. He swings in through Scrooge’s window and knocks him over causing his glasses to fall off. Even without the glasses, Scrooge isn’t convinced by Venkman’s disguise and is confused why the ghost would return after what transpired earlier. Peter activates some flares and a flashlight he’s wearing on his head to complete the ensemble. He then produces a Viewfinder which is apparently going to serve as Scrooge’s window into the past.

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Janine’s view of the containment unit.

At headquarters, Egon is basically dressed up like an astronaut with Slimer and Janine looking on. He has some ray gun pointed at the containment unit that’s on blast. It will allow for a small opening, I guess, while Egon’s suit will allow him to assume a molecular state that will grant him passage. The key part being he can only stay in that state for an hour. If he’s not back in time he’ll be trapped forever. He heads in and Janine heads upstairs to watch on a monitor. Inside the containment unit is basically like the movie Tron, at least the entering part. Slimer notices the ray gun machine is overheating, but he fails to get Janine’s attention leaving him to blow on it in a futile manner.

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Always good to have a Viewfinder on hand in case you find yourself stuck in the past.

Venkman is apparently having an all right time at convincing Scrooge he’s a legit ghost. The Viewfinder is loaded with pictures of a boarding school that Scrooge either recognizes as his own school or he’s just old enough to confuse it for his actual school (that seems more likely). Meanwhile, Venkman is pushing him around in circles in a wheelchair and claiming they’re flying. He’s clearly running out of breath. Scrooge describes how he was left at school by his father who had no time for Christmas, but Scrooge didn’t mind because he always had his books and things. Venkman takes a seat and explains how Scrooge’s view of Christmas is wrong, and thus realizes his own attitude has been wrong this whole time as well (aww). He’s dismayed to learn that Scrooge hasn’t quite been convinced of Christmas’s worth though, and takes his leave the same way he came in though not without some difficulty.

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The innards of the containment unit are not particularly inviting.

Inside the containment unit, which now just looks like floating rocks, Egon searches for the ghosts. Janine is able to watch on a monitor and communicate with Egon via a headset. Slimer is still trying to keep the machine from breaking apart, but it won’t matter if Egon can’t find the ghosts. Meanwhile, Winston is swinging around the rooftops of old England dressed as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Ray isn’t sure they can keep this up for much longer.

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Success at last! Present looks rather pissed.

Inside the containment unit, Janine urges Egon to give up, but of course he finds the ghosts at the last minute. He tells them to follow him and they say nothing and do as they’re told. At this point, many of the other ghosts have realized Egon is in there. This being the season finale, several ghosts from earlier episodes are shown and they start chasing Egon. This was probably rewarding for viewers who saw all of the episodes, though the only one I personally remember is Samhain, the Halloween ghost.

Janine heads downstairs and sees Slimer holding onto an open window and the ray gun machine about to blow. Egon then emerges with the ghosts just as the gun explodes. He closes the containment unit and returns to a more traditional state of being. He then implores the ghosts to jump in his trap citing he has no time to explain. Surprisingly, they agree.

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Ray’s costume has a real D.I.Y. vibe to it.

Back in the past, Ray is dressed in a sheet and trying perhaps too faithfully to play the role of the Ghost of Christmas Future. He’s not speaking so Scrooge and he are essentially playing Charades. Egon arrives, still in his astronaut suit, and he races inside shoving Ray aside. He frees the ghosts then informs Scrooge what is to befall him this night. For his part, Scrooge seems dismayed that he has to endure another round of ghosts so maybe their work will be easier than usual. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Mona Marshall) then steps in to take things from the top. On the roof, the Ghostbusters get a minor lecture from the Ghost of Christmas Present (LaMarche) and he asks Pete if he too learned a lesson. Apparently, this whole time travel thing occurred because Pete had lost faith in Christmas. Well, it worked and Peter is totally onboard now. Present then uses his ghostly powers to send the Ghostbusters home.

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Scrooge isn’t exactly thrilled to find out he’s got more ghosts on the way.

Back home, the Ghostbusters are delighted to see that Christmas has indeed been saved. They gather round a punch bowl that looks like it’s just full of water and Pete is the one to propose a toast to Christmas. Winston remarks how he thought the tale of Scrooge was just a story (are we now trying to convince viewers it was real?) and he wonders aloud if other apparent works of fiction could be real. On cue, a booming voice is heard from outside and it unmistakably belongs to Santa Claus (Welker). He’s shouting out commands to the reindeer and giving a hearty laugh. Peter mugs for the camera and gives a “Why not?” while Santa goes into his routine, “Merry Christmas to all,” with the Ghostbusters finishing the line, “…and to all a good night!”

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Where we find out this whole episode was basically Peter’s fault for not liking Christmas.

And thus ends a rather unconventional adaption of a A Christmas Carol. It probably is a little confusing for younger viewers who may have walked away thinking the story of Scrooge is true. If it also convinced them that Santa is real as well then I suppose the deception is worth it. It is a clever way to marry a brand like the Ghostbusters to Christmas. It’s definitely a bit contrived, especially the subplot surrounding Peter, but not annoyingly so.

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Well, Christmas is saved, time to get our drink on!

Then again, I also have fond memories of this show. The personalities of the individual Ghostbusters all entertain me. Winston is the everyman and we’re supposed to identify with him the most. Ray is the more emotional one which is why he gets to deliver the dramatic news that they killed Christmas. Egon is the brain who is intrigued by everything, often reacting to things with a “Fascinating.” Peter is the one given the sarcastic remarks, much like his film persona, and Lorenzo Music’s performance is basically legendary. He’s just so good at deadpanning Peter’s lines that they don’t even have to be that well-written. This episode was light on Slimer, which is probably for the best. In hindsight, I’m surprised he didn’t join Egon or something in searching for the ghosts, but I don’t think he would have added much.

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This show was always pretty good at making the ghosts actually scary.

Visually this show has always been solid. I often associate the turn in children’s animation occurring with the Disney Afternoon, but The Real Ghostbusters is no slouch. It’s miles ahead of the likes of He-Man or Transformers and overall I found this one engaging from a visual sense. Peter’s methods of duping Scrooge were clever and visually amusing, as was Ray’s awful costume. Seeing the inside of the containment unit was probably thrilling for viewers as well. I don’t recall this episode specifically, but I recall other episodes that took place inside the unit as being among my favorite when I was a kid.

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I have to give this one credit, the concept is pretty unique and certainly on-brand for the show.

As a Christmas special, this one gets the job done. It may go the lame route in adapting A Christmas Carol, but it’s unique enough to get away with it. The episode has Pete learn about the importance of Christmas, though in a mostly superficial sense. There isn’t some grand meaning assigned to the holiday, we’re just supposed to accept that it’s good and people should like it. That’s fine, as not everything needs to get too preachy. The big question, of course, is should you watch this? If you like the Ghostbusters, then why not? It’s fine. It won’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it may make you laugh and is at least visually entertaining.

If you wish to watch “Xmas Marks the Spot” then your best bet is to either purchase it digitally or on DVD. The show used to stream on Netflix, but sadly it was removed this year. It’s on Volume I of the DVD release which contains 30 episodes and is probably worth it to fans of the show. If you have young kids who either liked the movies or enjoy spooky stuff in general, then you may get enough enjoyment out of it to justify the purchase. It shouldn’t set you back much should you choose to go that route.


Dec. 8 – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – “I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger”

 

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Original air date November 25, 1995.

Late in the summer of 1993 the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR) were unleashed upon the world. The build-up had been going on all summer with the Fox Kids Network running promos and print ads steadily to build-up momentum, and like a good little consumer, I was there for the premiere. The show became an immediate hit and soon supplanted X-Men as Fox’s highest rated children’s program. In my network, it first started airing weekday mornings which was a trying time to watch television as getting ready for school took precedent over everything. It eventually was moved to afternoons in the coveted after school timeslot and would also be shown Saturday mornings as well.

At this point, the story of the Power Rangers is probably well-known, but lets recap, shall we? Haim Saban is known for being notoriously cheap when it comes to television production, but he’s also been incredibly successful when it comes to children’s programming. Power Rangers is like the perfect Saban show because he owned the property and was able to create episodes on the cheap by splicing in footage from the Toei produced Super Sentai series, as well as other Japanese productions. Basically, there was footage of characters battling monsters in brightly colored costumes which was largely the domain of the Super Sentai program. And then you had the teens portrayed by American actors who were canonically the heroes under the masks. Except they weren’t. Their stuff was newly shot in the US and done on the cheap. It was so bad that three of the original cast members were let go when they stood up for higher wages with the original Red Ranger, Austin St. John, winding up homeless for a time shortly after leaving the show.

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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was inescapable in 1993.

As the show became hugely successful, the budget expanded, though still few extra dollars went to the non-union, agent-less, young actors playing the main characters. Instead, they were able to reshoot some of the stuff produced in Japan so that characters like the villainous Rita Repulsa could appear alongside the American actors and even have her mouth movements better sync with the English dub of her voice. The main series ran for three seasons and included a brand new feature film as well before the show spun-off into new iterations like Power Rangers Zeo and Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, among others. It’s still ongoing with over 800 episodes produced thus far.

When the show arrived, it largely caught my attention due to the intense marketing. Leading up to it, I had formed expectations for the show which it did not meet. I remember thinking the main characters, who received their powers via dinosaurs, would be part dino when in their ranger form. I had visions of a Power Ranger losing his or her helmet at some point to reveal some hybrid dino-human visage beneath it, so I was a little disappointed to see the show was just a campy martial arts thing. I still found it captivating, especially the Green Ranger arc. More than the actual show though were the toys. Produced by Bandai, the Power Rangers action figures were huge at about 9″ tall. They were the first toys I ever saw with finger articulation, and the assortment of monstrous bad guys were pretty fun too. Best of all, was the Megazord which consisted of five prehistoric robotic beasts that combined into one robot, similar to Voltron.

Liking the Power Rangers quickly became taboo in my age group. It’s rather funny to look back on because the show was hugely successful and likely everyone at school claiming the show was for losers were all going home and watching it. As a result, I rarely discussed the property with friends in a sincere fashion and did so only to make fun of it. And for kids that didn’t watch it, my friends all had strangely specific critiques and jokes to make at the show’s expense.

The toys were so popular they were nearly impossible to find. I know I requested a bunch for Christmas of 1993, but ended up with nothing. Not that I’m complaining, as that was the year I got a Sega Genesis and Mortal Kombat, but I never did get much for Power Rangers stuff. I remember being immensely excited when I found one, lone, villain at Toys R Us. It was some kind of mouse-rhinoceros hybrid. It was pretty lame, but being the only toy I saw in person I had to have it. Eventually, I would have luck finding the morphing action figures (which have been re-released recently) which were neat, but not as cool as the large-scale figures. I never did get that Megazord, or the Dragonzord, which is what I really wanted. I carried around a clipping of an advertisement for it from some catalog for months, but it was to no avail.

As for the show itself, I actually was somewhat honest when I told my friends I wasn’t into it. I didn’t watch it regularly, but certain arcs would pull me back in like when the show introduced the White Ranger. I think I rented the movie, which was probably my last real experience with the show. It was usually on a little early on Saturday, and I liked my sleep.

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Tommy calls upon the power of Christmas to make this little girl happy.

“I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger” arrived as part of the show’s third season when I wasn’t a regular viewer. I’m pretty sure I never saw it before watching it for this post, but I was looking forward to doing so very much. MMPR is super campy and corny with fun martial arts sequences and some pretty kick-ass costumes. I was willing to embrace the corn and was looking forward to just going with it, but unfortunately the Christmas episode is apparently not the best way to jump back into the show. I suppose I should have seen it coming since Christmas tends to bring out the side of a children’s show that is extremely cheesy. Sentimental, sweet, with usually some sort of lesson to impart – that’s a Christmas episode in a nutshell.

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A hopeful misery has taken over the group at the start.

The episode opens at the youth center or whatever the main hangout is referred to as. Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) and Aisha (Karan Ashley) are leading a bunch of children in singing Christmas carols. Aisha is the choir coach while Kimberly plays guitar. It’s a nice way to kill some time for a Christmas episode. When the song ends, we get all of our plot setup in rapid succession, while also making time for some Hanukkah music too. Kimberly is sad she isn’t spending Christmas with her mom while a little girl named Becky (uncredited role) is blue because she misses her dad. Tommy (Jason David Frank) tries to raise her spirits and everyone wears looks of concern. Our other Power Rangers, just to get it out of the way, are Billy (David Yost), Rocky (Steve Cardenas), and Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch). Of which, only Billy is really called on to deliver much in the way of lines. Poor Rocky hardly gets to say or do anything.

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These are definitely the kind of cops that will help you finish a six-pack rather than confiscate it.

Bulk (Paul Schrier) and Skull (Jason Narvy) enter the scene and they’re now police officers. I vaguely recall this being a development on the show as the two first started off as a dimwitted duo of bullies. They’re still pretty slow and everyone should probably be terrified they’re able to meet the standards of Angel Grove’s police force. They’re here to supervise and apparently play Santa and helper later.

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Zedd be scheming because villains never take off at Christmas.

Elsewhere, the evil Lord Zedd (Ed Neil, Robert Axelrod as the voice) has decided he hates Christmas (I assume this isn’t a new development for him). He and his minions have a crazy new plan to ruin Christmas for everyone that involves sending the evil Rito Revolto (Danny Wayne, Bob Pappenbrook voice), who looks like he was ripped from a Megadeth album cover, to Santa’s work shop and take it over. Meanwhile, the rangers are all farting around and being mopey about their situations. Tommy helps Kimberly hang some mistletoe, and Skull takes the opportunity to smooch her. That’s some pretty shitty behavior for a cop.

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Santa has been laying off the cookies this year.

Revolto does as he’s commanded and storms the North Pole. There, a rather skinny Santa (Robert von Fliss) is the overlord to a bunch of little people, only one of which gets any lines (Romy J. Sharf, though dubbed by Wendee Lee). They meet virtually no resistance from Santa and his followers, aside from the customary pointing out of their presence on the naughty list. Zedd apparently intends to have the gifts switched and this will somehow lead him to gain control of the world’s children. He doesn’t go into great detail and he really doesn’t need to.

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It’s nice to see Alpha decorated the place for Christmas.

Tommy gets a notification from Zordon (David J. Fielding, Robert Manahan voice) that something is up, and everyone gets to look serious and dramatic. They head to Zordon’s base where Alpha 5 (Donene Kistler, voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz) is busy getting all flustered and the floating head of Zordon gives the rangers an update on what Zedd has done at the north pole. He also introduces an interesting wrinkle. Santa’s workshop possesses some kind of magic around it that will negate their ability to use their morphing powers. If you think something like that is going to stop the Power Rangers though, you’re sorely mistaken.

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A real convincing looking north pole.

The plain-clothed rangers head to the north pole and scope out the situation. Amongst a set that looks like something you would find at a mall, they spy from the door way Revolto and his forces. They reason that since their powers won’t work here that Revolto’s probably won’t as well. Even assuming that, they still reason storming the work shop could put Santa and the elves in danger so it’s agreed that stealth is probably the way to go.

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All right, so stealth isn’t their strong suit.

Kimberly and Aisha are then shown to have snuck into the work shop and are hiding behind some presents. They get the attention of the head elf and pull her aside to let her know help is here and to get the lowdown on the operation. They then just throw themselves out there and get Revolto to chase them outside. There they join up with the rest of the Power Rangers and gang up on Revolto, who is disappointed to find his powers aren’t working. Zedd sends Goldar (Kerrigan Mahan) to assist, but he just walks into an ambush. No powers, no problem, as the Rangers demonstrate they are true ninjas and a master of their environment, so naturally they turn to snowballs. Goldar and Revolto are forced to retreat, but the elves have some Home Alone-inspired traps awaiting them as they trip on some trimmings. The weird bird monsters Revolto brought with him are felled by marbles and the elves seem quite proud of themselves to have contributed in some way.

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Take that, evil-doers!

The bad guys get warped back to Zedd and Rita (Carla Perez, Barbara Goodson voice) by Alpha 5 in a pretty bundle for him to get upset over. At the youth center, Bulk and Skull have taken on new personas as Santa and his reindeer helper. Bulk, who’s fake beard is full of candy canes, is thoroughly miserable while Skull doesn’t seem to mind the gig too much. He hauls the next kid to Bulk over his shoulder and it gives me a real A Christmas Story vibe given how rough the two are with these kids. The kid unfurls a comically long list for “Santa,” and it’s a bit funny because all of the stuff he’s reading aloud to Bulk is clearly not written on the list. Zedd and the gang also partially get into the spirit when a gift shows up from Santa. It’s filled with old junk he had either withheld from them years ago, or stuff he took from them? I don’t know, but Revolto gets into the spirit by giving Goldar a present. They seem to be enjoying themselves, but Zedd and Rita react as if they’re about to get violently ill.

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A neat little package to wrap things up.

At the north pole, Santa needs some help to avoid a full-blown Christmas catastrophe. The rangers are happy to pitch in wrapping toys and everything seems to have come together in time. Santa then gives the rangers a big old sack of toys to bring to the youth center. They warp in, which is pretty bold of them if they’re trying to conceal their identities. The kids descend upon the sack of toys like a pack of wild animals. Becky is cheered up to see Kimberly has returned and didn’t abandon her. We then get to wrap up those plots from earlier in predictable fashion. Becky, who just wanted her dad for Christmas, gets her wish as her dad shows up. And as a result, she wants nothing else from Santa so she gets to thank him (Bulk, that is) instead allowing Bulk to finally understand the meaning of Christmas. Kimberly’s family shows up too, because Christmas, and she and Tommy finally get to share a kiss under the mistletoe. The choir is reconvened for some more singing, and the whole gang delivers a hearty “Merry Christmas!” to end the episode. And then during the credits, a bonus scene between Revolto and the elves is shown where it’s questioned if he has the capacity for goodness inside of him, and it’s determined he does not.

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How cute.

“I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger” is a pretty by the numbers Christmas special for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Despite the pun in the title, there is no White Ranger, or any actual ranger, in this one at all. This episode was possibly entirely shot for the show and perhaps that’s why the morphing powers were explained away since they didn’t have a good chunk of battle footage to drop in that would make sense given the different settings included here. Which is disappointing for someone like me who wanted to just jump-in for a nostalgic blast of MMPR, but all I got was the corny stuff and none of the action.

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These kids are monsters.

It’s not a total loss though. I found the character of Rito Revolto to be pretty entertaining. He also looks cool as his costume is pretty interesting, though I don’t know why half of him is camouflaged. The stuff with Zedd and the villains was also amusing in a silly sort of way. They’re classic inept villains that revel in doing evil which rarely fails to amuse me on a surface level. Everything involving the actual Power Rangers is pretty dull though. It’s clear to me that they’re the worst part of this show. Bulk and Skull are fine and I didn’t mind my time spent with them, but the kids add nothing.

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This thing wraps up with the only way it can.

In spite of that less than glowing review, should you still wish to partake in this one you have quite a few options. By far the most accessible is via Netflix which has the entire MMPR era of the show available to stream. The quality isn’t very good, but this is a show that’s never been known for having much money spent on it. The series is also available via physical media DVD and a cursory look online suggests getting Season 3 used won’t set you back much. If you want it new, then you’ll have to pay a bit. You can also buy the individual episode on Amazon for 2 bucks. If you just want to indulge a bit in the show though, I wouldn’t recommend this particular episode. There are also free means out there as well that aren’t hard to find, and serve as a nice way to take some screen captures since Netflix makes that hard. If you’re a big Power Rangers fan, you’ll probably watch this during the holiday season, and if you’re not then you probably won’t and you won’t be missing out on much if that’s the case.


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.

 


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