Tag Archives: comedy central

Dec. 8 – TV Funhouse – “Christmas Day”

TV Funhouse – “Christmas Day” originally aired December 20, 2000.

When someone hears the title TV Funhouse they probably first go to Saturday Night Live and The Ambiguously Gay Duo, a cartoon Batman and Robin parody that hypothesizes the relationship between the two heroes is more than just friendship. What many aren’t aware of is that the comedic short starring Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert actually originated on the short-lived Dana Carvey Show. Writer Robert Smigel, best known for being the handler of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, is credited with coming up with The Ambiguously Gay Duo, one of the few hits churned out by the Dana Carvey Show. When that show was cancelled, as it was a comically bad fit for network ABC, Smigel went back to writing for SNL and he took his cartoon with him where it would air under the TV Funhouse banner.

Comedy Central, seeing how popular the segment was on SNL, brought Smigel onboard to create his own show for their network. It’s not surprising that he decided to call the show TV Funhouse, as that was his most successful brand (next to Triumph, I suppose). The show would need to find a new vehicle for presenting Smigel’s cartoons though as he didn’t want to just air a block of cartoon shorts. Instead, TV Funhouse ended up being a mix of live-action with puppets with some room for animated segments. The show was hosted by Doug (Doug Dale) who was basically the straight man of the show. He was unfailingly optimistic and just plain nice as the show strived for a children’s programming feel. It was basically Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, but with a grounded host and a target audience of teenage stoners. Playing off of Doug was an assortment of puppet animals, several of which were voiced by Smigel himself. Actual barnyard animals were brought in on occasion as well and there was a reoccurring segment in which Smigel and his team would bring the puppets out onto the streets of New York at night just to riff on random pedestrians.

TV Funhouse ran from December 2000 only until January 2001.

The show was not much of a hit, as it only lasted for 8 episodes. It was a bit tough to produce given the inclusion of live animals which necessitate different requirements on-set. The show frequently went over budget as well, and though the network professed faith in it, it doesn’t sound like many were all that interested in keeping it going since Smigel also described shooting the show as “tedious.” During its brief run though, it did manage to land on Christmas. Every episode of the show had a theme and was titled “Blank” Day. “Christmas Day” made for a pretty easy concept to adopt and certainly fit the mood of a children’s show. It was a subject ripe for parody.

The episode begins with the following disclaimer: The following program contains lambs, and puppet lambs in mature situations. Viewer discretion is advised. Well that sounds like a winner to me! The opening credits are all animated and make the show seem like an earnest attempt at a kid’s show to someone not paying attention. Looking closer and it’s more cynical as the kid’s parents are yanking him out of bed and forcing him to watch “the last cartoon show of the day,” as the song informs, which includes animals that defecate. It’s quite a catchy song though. We’re then shown our host Doug as he rises from bed and takes to the streets of New York where he selects a box with the episode title on it. It’s all live video, but with Doug posing like he’s in a still photograph and pedestrians have to move around him or walk into him. He dawns a festive elf costume, and our episode is underway.

Doug and his AniPals.

Doug prances around the studio in his costume singing a jolly Christmas song. It’s mostly nonsense words, but he pauses to deadpan a line about Christ being born, before resuming. He greets his co-stars, the AniPals, but finds their spirit a bit lacking. A puppet dog, Fogey (Smigel), tells him to shut up, while a rooster, Chickie (Dino Stamatopoulis) says “Bah, hum-cunt!” when Doug expresses his excitement for the holiday. Doug corrects the rooster by telling him it’s “Bah, humbug,” and that it’s a saying from the Christmas episode of Bewitched. He says it in a very sincere manner, as this is the type of humor the show aims for. Doug then explains he’s full of Christmas cheer, and the puppets decide they need some of that shit too. Doug makes the mistake of telling them that Christmas cheer is a feeling you just feel running up your spine, giving the puppets the idea to utilize a spinal tap to extract Christmas cheer from Doug then sell it for a tidy sum.

Sadly, the doctor doesn’t get to join in on the spoils.

We cut to Doug laying on his stomach with his shirt off while a doctor dog puppet (Smigel) informs him the needle he’s about to jab into his spine is going to hurt a whole lot. When one of the dogs asks Doug if it does, he confirms it does indeed hurt, but through a smile. He’s pretty happy to be sharing his Christmas cheer with others as he watches it flow through some tubes. He asks the dog doctor if it’s okay for him to go caroling in an hour and the doctor replies with “I wouldn’t because I would be paralyzed.” Doug can’t feel his legs, but he continues to smile as the animals decide to head back to Chickie’s house to figure out a way to ingest this Christmas cheer, which gives Doug a chance to introduce the first cartoon of the episode.

This isn’t the elf you want around at Christmas.

The short is titled Christmas With Tingles and it tells the story of Tingles, the Christmas Tension. He’s basically an elf and the short resembles a Rankin/Bass stop-motion cartoon, though it’s actually a parody of “Hardrock, Coco, and Joe.” The concept is that Tingles is responsible for all of that holiday tension that comes around each year. He’s responsible for poorly timed bills and dad’s sexual frustrations, among other things. It’s told with a song punctuated with a nasally Smigel singing “I’m Tingles the Christmas Tension.” It ends with a reminder that Tingles will return next year, but must make way for Moples the Day After Christmas Depression. It’s a bit dark, but it’s also pretty funny. The only bad thing about the short is it might be the funniest part of the special and it takes place during the first five minutes.

The Simpsons as naked, featherless, chicken monstrosities.

Chickie and the gang arrive back at the coop only to find a grumpy Mrs. Chickie who just finished wrapping all of the Christmas presents. He tells his wife they need the help of their kid who likes science and she tells him they can find him in his room. This sets off a series of gags in which the gang peek into a room only to find it’s the wrong one. One chick likes wrestling, one likes astronauts, another likes The Simpsons, and someone seems to object to another chick liking Metallica (possibly Napster related given the era). When one of the other puppets asks Chickie how many chicks he has, he confirms 186 and that they’re all boys.

The added touch of the tree only being decorated three feet off of the ground is pretty good.

At the studio, Doug is dragging himself across the floor by his arms since his legs are still numb. He’s been decorating the Christmas tree, but since he can’t stand only the bottom of the tree has anything on it. He’s still happy though as he goes into “Oh, Christmas Tree” while laying at the base of it with the syringe still sticking out of his back.

Xabu is the only part of this show that has stuck in my memory. I think it’s because my sister found him hilarious.

After a commercial break, Doug is unwrapping presents while continuing to sing carols and urges the puppet dog Xabu (Smigel) to join in. Xabu is a dog obsessed with chasing his own tail and can rarely focus on anything but that. Doug keeps singing and Xabu reluctantly joins in before quickly abandoning the song out of fears his tail is getting away. Doug just laughs and introduces more holiday, Christmas, stuff.

There’s no better place to hide a Christmas present than a gun cabinet!

The next segment is a live-action one titled “Places to Look for Your Christmas Presents.” It begins benignly with kids finding Christmas presents in places suggested by a narrator like a closet or drawer. It then gets weird by having the kids look in the oven or under their grandfather’s hat, then gets dark by pointing them towards a gun case, then absurd by suggesting they’re hidden in bread or behind a wall. It was a promising concept, but ultimately this one just doesn’t land as it fails to find a true climax.

He died doing what he loved: getting his father and his dumb friends high.

After that is concluded, we rejoin the puppets as they seek out Chickie’s son who likes science. We first have to endure a few more rooms that aren’t the right one before the group finally finds the chick they’re looking for. Chickie goes in and demands his kid stop working on his science project and help them synthesize their Christmas cheer. The chick first turns it into a powder that the animals happily snort. When they complain it’s not doing anything, the young chick suggests free-basing. He gets set on fire, which the other puppets choose to ignore, as the stuff is prepared over a burner. The resulting smoke created by the burning cheer is enough to get the animals both high and excited as they run off to see if it’s snowing leaving the chick behind to be consumed by flames.

“Oh, Louise, you’ll never guess what happened to us last night!”

This brings about a musical montage of the puppets out and about. They make a snowman and mob pedestrians with Christmas carols all to “Hazy Shade of Winter” by The Bangles. The AniPals continue to enjoy their Christmas cheer and even try sharing it with a real, live, reindeer. Most of the people they harass are good sports and just stand there and smile. One guy tries to talk about Jesus or something and gets shot down. Their mostly cooperative nature doesn’t make for great comedy.

It just isn’t a party until a sheep shits on a rooster.

We’re then taken to a Christmas party. The puppets are joined by many live animals and we even get a nice shot of a sheep’s ass as it drops a deuce. Hank the lobster puppet (Tommy Blacha) is shown chatting it up with a sheep puppet, who I think is named Larry (David Juskow). He’s happy to be there and compliments Hank on the drugs. Chickie, after watching the live sheep poop, decides to cover his tiny, rooster, penis with some powdered cheer and appears ready to bang the sheep. Larry objects because they’re running out of stuff and starts sucking it off of Chickie’s member. You don’t really see anything as it’s just two puppets slamming together, but Chickie sure sounds like he’s enjoying it. The other puppets realize they need to score some more cheer and take off.

Look how cute they are!

Doug is shown still on the floor as he wishes a “Feliz Navidad” to all of the Latino viewers. Xabu is shown with an adorable little santa hat and one has also been placed on his tail. He needs Doug to keep it down as he’s trying to lull his tail into a false sense of security by watching It’s a Wonderful Life and eating rum balls. Doug is optimistic about his foot twitching as he hangs ornaments on the side of his hospital gurney. He announces his leg just went numb again, with a smile, as the AniPals have returned to take more cheer from his spine. Satisfied with what they were able to get, they take off and leave Doug on the floor once again.

Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out – he’s gonna freak out.

It’s the next morning, and all of the puppets are hung over while the live sheep “throws up” in a toilet, angering Larry because he’s too loud. He then finds out from Jeffrey, the duck (Doug Dale), that it’s 10 AM which reminds him he’s late to play Santa at Macy’s. We’re then shown Larry, dressed up as Santa, seated in the store as he urges himself not to freak out. A kitten then climbs onto his lap as Larry does indeed freak out. He sees the kitten as grass and starts eating it. The kitten, which is an actual live kitten, predictably wanders off of the puppet’s lap.

Scumbag!

We’re back to Doug, who has affixed some mistletoe to his silly elf hat and is batting at it like a cat. Doug is hoping this will get him a Christmas kiss to go along with some spine sympathy. Xabu then pops up, still looking festive, and tells Doug to shut up. He saunters under the mistletoe and it’s clear his plan is to get his tail to kiss him. When the tail moves out of the way, he calls it a scumbag and makes a bunch of threats while Doug shrugs and informs us of “another one.”

Dude just dunked Jesus.

This one is “The Harlem Globetrotters First Christmas.” I believe this is recycled from SNL, but anyways, ever see those Globetrotters Hanna-Barbera appearances? This is essentially a parody of those. The Globetrotters decide to use their magic bus to go back in time to their first Christmas, which is THE first Christmas. They come upon Mary and Joseph in search of a place to have their kid and the Globetrotters turn it into a basketball game for the only available room. Loser sleeps in the manger. It’s actually played really straight with a gratuitous laugh track, until the baby Jesus takes over and starts dunking on everyone. The Globetrotters, being unbeatable and all, still manage to beat Jesus, his dad, and the three wise men in a game of basketball, but let them have the room instead. Back in the present, they reflect on their trip to the past. When Curly opens up a bible, he finds it’s been changed as the Globetrotters have essentially replaced Jesus. It even ends with a shot of the Globetrotter pope. It’s not very funny, but it at least finds a way to end on an absurd note.

Church is probably the worst place to be when high.

We’re back at the house with the AniPals as Hank tries to have sex with a cat. Jeffrey then realizes he’s supposed to be seeing his kid’s recital at church and asks Fogey for help getting there. The turtle puppet informs the gang he’s taking the pipes to get there and flushes himself down the toilet. We then see the show as a bunch of adorable baby ducks waddle around a puppet one. Jeffrey, Mr. Whiskers, Hank, Fogey, and Chickie arrive with Jeffrey blurting out “That’s my kid – he’s the fucking star!” Fogey cautions him to keep it down as not everyone in the church is on cheer as the gang finds a pew to sit on. Jeffrey’s son is playing Jesus in his play and Jeffrey just starts yelling out to him how he shouldn’t do it because it will all end bad. This causes some smoke to appear before him and a duck Ghost of Christmas Past appears as the turtle is rocketed out of a toilet and onto Jeffrey.

Are we getting weird yet? I guess we’re getting weird.

The ghost is a bit confused by the turtle’s method of arrival, but then proceeds. Jeffrey expects to be shown a past Christmas, but instead it turns out the ghost is here to show future, bearded, Jeffrey this Christmas. He mostly just rambles about the beard he’ll have in the future, while future Jeffrey (who is a real duck) just stands and quacks. The AniPals then realize they need to get off the drugs, but Jeffrey questions where they’ll find the strength. Suddenly, a light shines on the stage pointing them to the answer – an egg! With tears in their eyes, the AniPals realize the meaning of the season as “Silent Night” plays in the background.

That heathen Doug, just laying on his ass at Christmas.

Back at the studio, house, or whatever – Doug is back on his feet with the aid of candy cane crutches. They soon buckle under his weight and he falls back onto the gurney. He licks one crutch before remarking, “I’m candy-capped.” The AniPals then burst in to “Silent Night” ready to spread Christmas cheer to their pal Doug. They admonish him for looking at Christmas as just a time for candy and licking and such. They testify, and Doug begins to wiggle his feet a bit and Jesus gets all of the credit. The AniPals sing us into the credits ending this one with faux-sincerity.

Ghost duck and Michael Landis – the true reason for the season.

TV Funhouse is one of those shows you either find funny or you don’t. Most of the humor is either satirical, farcical, or dark. Some of the jokes are supposed to be so bad they’re good, but then some are just bad. I’m mostly fine with this level of humor, my only issue is that some of the segments just don’t land. This show might be better served as a 10 minute production or something. And once you’ve seen a puppet mime sex with one animal, you’ve seen ’em all. I do find Doug charming and Xabu is rather cute. Maybe my biggest laugh was simply when Xabu called his tail a scumbag, simply because I wasn’t expecting it. Smigel’s delivery is just so good too.

Doug has a surprising amount of chemistry with his puppet co-stars, even if they don’t share the screen very often.

When the live animals are onscreen I can certainly get a sense as to why Smigel called the production tedious. They just let the animals wander and it’s obvious they’re being coaxed with food or scents. They certainly help give the show a distinct look, and definitely add to the chaotic nature of a bunch of puppets on a bender, but I don’t know if it’s worth the effort. The idea to convert Christmas cheer into a drug seems like it’s there for shock value, but also feels like a really easy joke. Not much humor arises from it until the final payoff of the goofy ghost duck which is a manifestation of the AniPals tripping. Tingles ends up being the real star, and if you want to experience something from this show this Christmas, maybe just look that bit up on YouTube.

Merry Christmas, every one!

If you need the full TV Funhouse experience though, you’ll probably have to turn to home video. Comedy Central released the entire series, a mere 8 episodes, on DVD awhile back. It’s not terribly expensive and the good news is the show is uncut so you get to hear all of the curse words that the network bleeped out. I don’t think Comedy Central ever rebroadcasts this show, so that’s pretty much your only, legal, way to see it.


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

BoJack-Horseman-Christmas-Special

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.

todd_is_here

“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.

todd_bojack

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.

horsin_around

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.

goober

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.

sabrina_shovel

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.”

sabrina_cookies

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!

bojack_christmas_morning

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. 12 – The Futurama Holiday Spectacular

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Presented by Gundersons!

Back before the advent of home video, when a show aired you either saw it or you didn’t. Miss something all of your friends were talking about the next day and you were at the whim of re-runs until your favorite show hit syndication – if it hit syndication. When VCRs were popularized you had the option of recording television shows for later use, but re-watching a show was a great deal more difficult than it is now. When children’s shows were sold on VHS they were usually obnoxiously expensive costing upwards of twenty dollars for an episode or two. The home video market for television just wasn’t something studios paid much attention to, at least not until DVD made it a whole lot easier, and cheaper, to sell television shows to fans.

Futurama owes a great deal to home video and syndication. When the show originally debuted on the Fox Network it struggled to find consistent air time. Often banished to that time-slot before The Simpsons on Sunday nights, it was the first thing bumped if an NFL game ran too long. Many blame the poor time-slots of the show on its lack of success, because once the show was cancelled and appearing in syndication on Cartoon Network’s adult swim block, it suddenly found an audience. DVDs of the first few seasons sold well enough that Fox brought the series back, as it did with Family Guy before it. The only change was that Fox declined to broadcast the new shows and instead optioned the series to Comedy Central, who would eventually gain control of the first four seasons from Cartoon Network. After four direct-to-video Futurama movies were released, the show returned with “Re-birth” in 2010 and would run for two more seasons totaling 52 episodes.

During its original run, Futurama gave birth to two Christmas specials – “Xmas Story” and “A Tale of Two Santas.” For the return season we were gifted with “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular.” The general opinion by most fans is that the post-cancellation episodes are inferior when compared with the pre-cancellation ones. There are of course those who feel the show came back better than ever, or at least as good as it always was, but I tend to agree with those who feel the post-cancellation episodes were lacking when compared with the others. In that sense, “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular” is similar because it’s not as good as the previous two Christmas specials (I guess I should say Xmas Specials), but it’s still an enjoyable episode with some good holiday jokes and puns.

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The crew preparing for Xmas, with an obvious Gundersons tie-in to keep that joke running.

Unlike the first two Xmas specials, this one is a non-canon anthology episode like the Anthology of Interest episodes and the anthology ones that followed. It’s broken up into three segments that focus on three holidays. Only the first one is an Xmas story and the homicidal Robot Santa makes a return in this segment. The second segment concerns Bender’s made up holiday, Robanukah, which he came up with as an excuse to avoid work in the season one episode “Fear of a Bot Planet.” And the third segment is about Kwanzaa with Hermes being a celebrator of that holiday. It also features the return of Kwanzaa-bot, voiced by Coolio, who first appeared in “A Tale of Two Santas.”

Our first segment opens with an ad for Gunderson’s Nuts – they’re “nut” so good, as we pan around the Planet Express headquarters. Inside the crew is decorating for Xmas and Fry is feeling blue, much like he was back in “Xmas Story.” He’s just down because the future version of Xmas is more about survival than good cheer, and we’re soon visited by Robot Santa after Fry asks for everyone to, once again, explain this crazy holiday and do it preferably through song. A little song is sung and we get some visual gags of fruit cake bombs and egg nog molotov cocktails. Robot Santa enters and departs just as quickly, letting them know that to properly celebrate Xmas they need a “tree that’s coniferous.” Also, Scruffy dies.

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The White House Xmas tree isn’t very impressive in the year 3010.

Fry wants to get a real Xmas tree, but Professor Farnsworth explains that the pine tree has been extinct for generations and that they’ll need to head to a seed vault in Norway. Gaining access to the vault is surprisingly easy as the guard, surrounded by barking snakes in a callback to the first segment, is willing to let them in to rummage about. Next door to the vault is the germ warfare vault and Leela expresses concerns about cross-contamination with the seeds. Inside, the guard happily gives them some pine tree seeds and reveals the tree is extinct due to an emergency toilet paper need during the Fifty Year Squirts. Amy notices the seeds have traces of green crud, but no  one is overly concerned.

Back home, Fry plants his seeds and a year later we see he has a sickly looking pine tree for his efforts. Passer-by’s think it looks great, including President Nixon who is immediately advised by Vice President Dick Cheney that he needs to steal it to improve his poll numbers. He apparently does, because soon after The White House is hosting a tree lighting ceremony, and very much like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the sickly little tree suddenly appears a lot more full once decorated. Fry and the gang are there too, so apparently they weren’t too sore about their tree being stolen, but soon the tree grows massive. It was apparently mutated by being stored near the germ warfare containment vault (duh!), and at first Leela thinks it might be a good thing it mutated since it suddenly looks a lot more healthy than it did before. Soon it starts shooting off pine cones, pine cones that in addition to exploding also lead to massive reforestation.

Soon the entire planet is covered in pine trees. Leela, ever the optimist, still believes this could be a good thing and the Professor remarks that global warming has all but been eradicated as a result, and we get our required Al Gore cameo here. The Professor quickly realizes that oxygen levels are climbing dangerously high, and Bender remarks that he hasn’t done anything for awhile and lights a cigar. The air starts to sparkle before it catches fire and we get a view from space of the whole word being destroyed. Robot Santa flies into view laughing about how everyone is dead and tells us to stay tuned for more hilarity!

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Robanukah features six and a half weeks of fembot oil wrestling, let the good times roll!

The second segment centers on Bender’s made-up holiday Robanukah. It’s just after Xmas and Professor Farnsworth remarks they need to destroy all of the Xmas gifts they failed to deliver. Bender immediately gets salty about how they have to celebrate every dumb human holiday but not the robot ones. Everyone is well aware that Bender’s holiday was made up by him to avoid work, but that doesn’t stop Bender from singing a song about Robanukah in a bid to legitimize it. During that song we get a taste of the holiday and it basically takes all of the Chanukah customs and perverts them, most notably by including six and a half weeks of fembot oil wrestling. When Bender finds out they only have enough petroleum oil for four and a half weeks of wrestling, he makes the crew set out to acquire more.

At Mombil, they learn that petroleum oil is all gone, and Al Gore pops in again to reprimand the viewers that he warned this would happen. Bender isn’t satisfied and is determined to find more petroleum oil and he makes the crew head for the center of the earth. There they drill for oil, but the intense pressure kills everyone except Bender. Five-hundred million years pass and Bender, after apparently occupying his time by singing about how great he is, notices his friends have become petroleum oil. He heads back to HQ with his oil friends to find the two fembots still wrestling in oil – a Robanukah miracle!

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It wouldn’t be Kwanzaa without Kwanzaa-bot and beeswax candles.

Our third segment opens with the Planet Express crew arriving at the home of the Konrads and Leela is concerned her chocolate cake may be offensive in some way. They are there for Kwanzaa, and even Barbados Slim shows up shirtless and covered in snow, much to the dismay of Hermes. When everyone is gathered for dinner, it’s decided we need our third song of the episode to explain the holiday featured in the segment, so Kwanzaa-bot bursts in Kool-Aid style to rap about the holiday. The joke of the song is that even he isn’t completely sure about anything concerning the holiday, but he does know they need authentic beeswax candles to celebrate or else they might as well be white. It’s noticed that the Konrads do not have authentic candles, so Hermes takes the crew out to acquire some on the last night of Kwanzaa.

Like the trees and oil, beeswax proves hard to come by and the crew is forced to return to the hive from “The Sting” to get the necessary wax to create their candles. There they find the space bees have been infected by some kind of mite and they’re in some distress. The mites are causing the drones to crash and explode, and the workers are at odds with each other. The queen bee is the only one who appears unaffected, despite the presence of mites on her, and she explains the situation to Hermes. During this, Leela is able to acquire plenty of beeswax but Hermes can’t leave the bees like this, not on Kwanzaa! He explains the meaning of Kwanzaa to the bees, and his message of unity together with the spirit of Kwanzaa causes the bees to embrace each other and the mites to fall off and die. With their minds fully functioning once more, the bees turn their attention to the Planet Express crew. Kwanzaa-bot returns offscreen to save them, and is quickly killed, also offscreen. The bees attack and we fade to black and re-emerge to be wished a Happy Kwanzaa by Hermes who is encased in wax. The camera pans back to reveal the entire crew as wax candles and a curtain falls on the special.

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Al Gore is a reoccurring presence throughout the episode, and even gets to close the show.

Al Gore emerges, still as a floating head, to assure us, the viewers, that the crew will return next year in all new episodes. We get one final send-off from Gunderson’s, and the holiday special is ended. In re-watching it for this post I will say this episode is funnier than I remember. It still suffers from too much fan-service as many jokes exist just as a call-back to an older season (“My ice cream man-which!”) which just feels kind of lazy. There’s still plenty of witty dialogue and exchanges between characters, but the anthology format sacrifices pay-off as the stories are forced to be quick and concise with less room for everything, including jokes.

As a Christmas special, “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular” is mostly underwhelming because only a third of it is devoted to Christmas, and a bastardized version of the holiday at that. And with most of the Xmas parody handled by the past episodes, there’s little left for the show to tackle here. The inclusion of songs is the easiest form of parody, but they sometimes feel too much like padding as not a lot happens in these short segments. The best Futurama episodes are able to be funny while telling a meaningful story containing characters we genuinely care about. I suppose killing off these characters in three separate segments is kind of a play on holiday specials itself, but it’s not really as funny as it could be. It’s cool that they found room for more holiday lampooning, and not just Christmas, even if the Kwanzaa jokes felt a bit too easy. There’s always room for more holidays, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s the most obvious aspect of this special that makes it stand out. Criticisms aside, this one may do little to evoke the Christmas spirit, but it’s still a worthwhile inclusion in your annual holiday viewing.

If you want to watch this one this year, Futurama is shown on Comedy Central and they will play the crap out of the Christmas episodes (as of this update, the episode is scheduled to air Thursday December 21 at 5:20 PM EST). The show is also now syndicated on the Syfy channel and that channel is also set to air the Christmas specials this year. Syfy is showing a Christmas Eve marathon of Futurama including all of the movies and ending with the three Christmas specials. This one will be last to air at midnight, right when Santa is arriving!


#8 – South Park: Mr. Hanky, The Christmas Poo

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“Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo” (1997)

You can always count on South Park for something perverse, and it doesn’t get much more perverse than a talking piece of Christmas shit. South Park has made quite a few holiday specials, and no holiday has received more attention than Christmas. South Park’s Christmas specials contain some of the usual suspects like Jesus and Santa Claus, but creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker apparently felt they needed their own Christmas mascot so they created Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo.

Mr. Hankey is the star of the show’s very first Christmas special which aired during the first season. Mr. Hankey is presented as a benevolent spirit of the holidays who packs more Christmas cheer into his tiny, little body than any man, woman, or child. Mr. Hankey is the star of the episode, but the plot centers around Kyle who feels left out at Christmas because he’s apparently the only Jewish kid in town. His mother flips out at Mr. Garrison for casting Kyle as Joseph in the school Christmas pageant which snowballs on Garrison as everyone apparently has a problem with some aspect of Christmas. The Jews want to ditch the nativity, the Christians want Santa out, the hippies want to stop the slaughter of trees, and so on.

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Mr. Hankey in Mr. Mackey’s coffee is probably the best gag in the entire episode, or worst, depending on your point of view.

Meanwhile, Kyle views Mr. Hankey as the solution to the town’s problem because he brings presents to all good girls and boys (so long as they eat their fiber), regardless of religion. It’s just that few in town are willing to embrace a piece of crap as a new Christmas mascot. Kyle starts seeing Mr. Hankey everywhere as a personified dookie with a Santa hat, which leads to some disgusting but hilarious gags, while everyone else just sees a regular old mookie-stink. Kyle ends up getting committed, only for the kids to find out Chef believes in Mr. Hankey, and the special actually wraps up in a pretty typical Christmas special sort of way, when you ignore the talking poop.

It’s funny, it’s ridiculous, but South Park actually does a pretty nice job of highlighting how non-Christian kids must feel at Christmas time. There’s a heart here, which is part of the humor as Parker and Stone prove to the viewer that we too can love a piece of poo. “Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo” can be found on the season one box set of South Park and also the “Christmas Time in South Park” DVD, which I reviewed previously. The special, along with every other South Park Christmas special, is almost certainly guaranteed to air on Comedy Central this year so check your local listings if you want to catch it. And lastly, every episode of South Park is available to stream on hulu if you want to watch it that way.


#12 – Futurama: Xmas Story

Futurama: "Xmas Story" (1999)

Futurama: “Xmas Story” (1999)

Ahh Futurama, the satirical show from the 30th century. Futurama is a great television show with wonderful animation, fantastic writing, and an exemplary cast of voice talent. The show is arguably at its best when it’s taking something familiar from the present and giving us a wild futuristic take on it. One such example is the season two episode “Xmas Story” where we see what Christmas has come to in the year  3000.

The episode opens with the Planet Express crew taking a ski holiday and Fry is frustrated by all of the changes that have occurred in the thousand years he was frozen. This causes him to reminisce fondly on Christmas, which causes confusion as no one knows what Christmas is but they soon figure out that Fry means Xmas. Xmas in the year 3000 is a horrible event due to man creating a robot Santa over a hundred years ago which was defective and determined everyone was naughty. Now every year this robot Santa goes on a rampage and slaughters anyone dumb enough to be out on the streets. Fry is disheartened by what has happened to his favorite holiday, but at least the gift-giving still remains part of the tradition. He sets out to get Leela a present, and settles on a parrot that gets away. By staying out and trying to recapture his gift he ends up attracting the attention of Santa. Leela goes out to save him and the two have to elude Santa if they hope to stay alive.

Santa Claus is gunning you down!

Santa Claus is gunning you down!

There’s a twisted sort of ending put on the episode, where they all sing a bastardized version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and the Professor takes off his clothes. The episode is full of one-liners consistent with the best of Futurama. There’s a recurring gag about the Professor mocking 20th century notions of modesty (hence the nudity mentioned above) and lots of Xmas puns repurposed for the 30th century version of the holiday. John Goodman guest stars as Robot Santa and provides a nice menacing voice for the robotic terror. There’s also a B plot featuring Bender posing as a homeless robot for free booze. He’s able to round-up a posse of homeless robots, including Tinny Tim, and they go on a robbing spree. It’s a typical Bender plot and also typically funny.

“Xmas Story” is a classic Futurama episode at this point, considering it’s over fifteen years old now. It’s probably the best holiday themed episode the show ever did, and it produced some good ones. Re-runs of Futurama air frequently on Comedy Central and “Xmas Story” will probably be featured this year as Comedy Central is pretty good at rolling out their various Christmas specials as the holiday approaches. If not, then it can be found on the season two DVD set of Futurama.


#4 Best in TV Animation: South Park

imageViewers have been going down to South Park for nearly 20 years. That’s pretty incredible considering its humble origins, and if it weren’t for The Simpsons, we would likely all be marveling even more at the show’s longevity. More so than any other series featured on this list, South Park has demonstrated a willingness to change with the times in natural, almost seamless, ways. Originally the show focused on its four main characters:  Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman. These four eight-year-olds got into trouble, cursed like sailors, and often found themselves being confused about the world around them. Even though it’s a comedy, it sometimes felt like a more authentic coming-of-age series than most programs that aim to be just that. Being constantly puzzled by the actions of the adults around them while more or less trying to act like them often reminds me of how I was at that age, when profanity was a new and exciting tool to make use of. Over the years, South Park has taken on a more satirical tone often poking fun at current events, politics, and celebrity culture. Throughout all of this, it’s remained one of the funniest programs on television.

By now most people are aware of the origins of the show. College students Trey Parker and Matt Stone experimented with a crude form of stop-motion animation that utilized paper characters as opposed to puppets or clay and created a short work depicting a fight between Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus. This short would be remade with Jesus taking the place of Frosty and would eventually lead to Comedy Central making them an offer to produce their own series. Ditching the pain-staking stop-motion process for computer animation that mimicked it helped to create the show’s signature look. The look of the program back in 1997 when it debuted could probably be classified as crude, but has improved by leaps since though the show has never abandoned its signature style. Improvements in technology mean Parker and Stone can now create great looking content in as little time as a few days. This quick turn-around makes South Park unique in the world of animation, and in non-live television in general, in that fairly recent events can be satirized rather quickly.

The show often looks to pop culture for its humor.

The show often looks to pop culture for its humor.

Part of the charm of South Park is that not only has the style changed with the times but characters have grown and changed throughout the years as well. Cartman is the most obvious as he’s gone from an annoying little twerp to a true sociopath with some homicidal tendencies. Randy Marsh has gone form a well-meaning father to become more of a narcissist with some (admittedly cliche by animation standards) moronic tendencies. Mr. Garrison has gone from a closeted homosexual, to transgender woman, and back again (I think?). Characters that initially existed for shock value, such as Big Gay Al when it was still rare to see homosexuals on television, have been discarded before they ceased to be funny any longer.

Perhaps most remarkable is how South Park has primarily remained a two-man show. Sure, Parker and Stone now oversee their own studio with a full staff but the two of them still write virtually all of the material for the show and do 90% of the voice work. It’s somewhat surprising they’ve been able to resist the urge to simply hand the show off to some underlings while sitting back to collect checks. Most shows that last this long see full turnover in their writing staff. Larry David didn’t last half as long with Seinfeld, for comparison.

While the show has become more intelligent, there's still plenty of gross humor to be found.

While the show has become more intelligent, there’s still plenty of gross humor to be found.

This isn’t all to say that South Park is a perfect show. There have been plenty of moments where the show seemed to be running low on creative ideas. In its lowest moments, some may have considered what the show would look like with new voices contributing content but Parker and Stone have shown an ability to bounce back. The show has yet to truly hit rock bottom, but it’s probably safe to say its best years have past. So much of the program relies on shock value and after so many years there’s little the show can do to shock its viewers. When Cartman first sought revenge against Scott Tenorman by tricking the boy into eating his own parents I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Now seeing the character casually murder someone brings a much smaller reaction. Characters have been vomiting and defecating on each other for so long that the gags are neither truly funny or gross at this point. And of course the show’s longest running gag of Kenny dying each episode has long since been abandoned when that ceased to be funny.

When the show is firing on all cylinders though, it still proves to be very funny. Last year’s season premiere which lampooned the NFL and crowd-funding sites was poignant with its observational humor and seems almost funnier now in light of recent events with the NFL and Roger Goodell, in particular. The show has been so good for so long that viewers just have great expectations. When South Park sets out to poke fun at the latest celebrity scandal it almost needs to go for the less obvious joke. To liven up the last two seasons the show has opted to adopt a more serialized format with plot lines lasting multiple episodes and callbacks being inserted. It’s a change I don’t think many saw coming, but it’s one that has worked to make even the lesser episodes feel more important.

By far, the show's greatest source of humor rests in its celebrity "guest" stars.

By far, the show’s greatest source of humor rests in its celebrity “guest” stars.

It remains to be seen how long the show will run for. Recently the season orders have been cut in half as Parker and Stone find it too daunting to create a full season’s worth of programs. Prior to that, the show had operated with two-part seasons occurring in the spring and fall so that Parker and Stone could have more material to work with. Clearly, it’s become more of a challenge for them to keep the show fresh but both insist that South Park is a part of them and the end is not yet in sight. This can only be considered a good thing for those enjoying satirical humor with their animation. The show has progressed from being about some potty-mouthed kids with an accident prone friend to something that’s actually pretty intelligent and cleverly produced (though the show is not above the occasional dumb or crude joke). And unlike most shows on this list, there’s still room for it to grow. Maybe in ten years we’ll be talking about South Park as the greatest animated comedy of all-time. Who could have predicted that back in 1997?


Christmas Time in South Park

Christmas Time in South Park (2007)

Christmas Time in South Park (2007)

South Park famously began as a video Christmas card, so it should come as no surprise that the television series (which just concluded its 17th season) has spawned many Christmas specials of its own.  Series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone actually haven’t done a new one since 2004’s Woodland Critter Christmas, but still have output seven Christmas specials which have been conveniently compiled for the DVD release Christmas Time in South Park.  The first run of Christmas specials for the show actually felt connected to one another as they all explored the spirit of Christmas:  what is it?  What does Christmas mean?  Of course, this being South Park, don’t expect a lot of feel-good and overly sentimental holiday themes as is found in most Christmas specials, though surprisingly some of these episodes echo their tamer counterparts and some even have a good heart at the center of the story.

Lets talk about these episodes, and specifically, the DVD release of Christmas Time in South Park.  The DVD case and menus echo those Little Golden Book releases you may remember from your childhood.  The menus are animated and the characters will berate you for taking too long to select a feature.  The cursor of your DVD player, naturally, is represented by a smear of Mr. Hankey leavings.  All seven Christmas specials are featured in chronological order.  Unfortunately, all seven are also censored like their season release counterparts (for South Park’s older episodes, uncensored versions do not exist as no one anticipated there being a huge market for full seasons of TV shows) which means you’ll be hearing beeps whenever the characters utter a colorful phrase.  Also missing, is the short that started it all:  The Spirit of Christmas.  This seems like a huge and careless omission to me.  Why go through the effort of putting out a compilation of Christmas specials and leave out the very first one? My only guess is that the studio felt that The Spirit of Christmas was too strong a selling point for releases like South Park:  The Hits and its inclusion would harm other DVD sales.  Quite possibly, it was just forgotten as this DVD was slapped together quickly to cash-in on the holiday season.

The first Christmas special, and the one that introduced Mr. Hankey to the world.

The first Christmas special, and the one that introduced Mr. Hankey to the world.

At least there are still seven, mostly excellent, Christmas episodes for your viewing pleasure.  The first being Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo.  This was South Park’s first Christmas special and apparently Parker and Stone wanted to create a new Christmas icon for the world they created so they turned to a talking piece of shit.  Parker and Stone hold nothing back when it comes to Mr. Hankey.  He’s disgusting, and they don’t want you to forget that so we get bits of him leaving poo trails everywhere he goes and even bathing in Mr. Mackey’s coffee, while he sips it.  The framework of the episode is Kyle feeling excluded from all of the Christmas excitement on account of him being Jewish.  Simultaneously, Kyle’s mother (the Jewish community) is upset about the inclusion of the nativity in a school Christmas play.  Her complaining to the mayor sets off a chain reaction where in response the devout Catholics in town demand to see Santa removed from the play, hippies want to get rid of Christmas trees, epileptics demand the removal of Christmas lights, and the virgins (presumably) want to get rid of mistletoe.  The show is clearly poking fun at all of the people that get uptight over Christmas, and Mr. Hankey is called on to save the day.  That the town needs to listen to crap in order to see the error of its ways is probably a commentary on something too.  Everyone thinks Kyle is insane for seeing and believing in Mr. Hankey, until the boys find out Chef does as well.  Once everyone believes, Mr. Hankey reminds everyone that Christmas is a time to be nice to one another, forget about all of the bad stuff in the world, and bake cookies.  Kyle is released from the nut house, and Kenny lives to see the end credits for the first time.  It’s a wacky Christmas special, that may still be the show’s best, with tons of gross-out and hilarious moments.

Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson! is the second season’s Christmas special and it’s subversive in a different way.  Rather than try to be absurd and gross people out with singing poop, Parker and Stone decided to use an unlikely character and have him saved by Christmas.  Enter mass-murderer Charlie Manson, faithfully depicted with a swastika tattooed on his forehead.  Cartman and his mom are heading to Nebraska to visit family for Christmas, and the boys have been invited along.  Kyle is allowed to go presumably because his family is Jewish and couldn’t care less that it’s Christmas while Kenny’s family is sending him on a  mission to bring back leftovers.  Stan’s mom is the only one who has a problem with her son being away from the family at Christmas, so Stan sneaks out and tells the Cartmans that his family is dead.  When the boys get to Nebraska (after a long and torturous car ride full of singing) they find that a house full of Cartmans is a horrible place to be as all of them basically act just like their own Eric Cartman.  They soon find out that Cartman has an incarcerated Uncle Howard, as he breaks out of jail and (stupidly) returns to hide-out in his parent’s basement.  He brings along his buddy, Charlie Manson, whom the boys are ignorant of.  When no one will take them to the mall to see Mr. Hankey, Manson offers to do it himself to avoid sitting and watching Christmas specials all day.  At the mall though, he watches a poop version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and begins to see the light.  He gets his tattoo altered into a smiley face, and takes the kids home, but not before attracting the attention of the local police.  They’re soon all trapped in the house as Uncle Howard takes the family hostage.  Manson, now full of Christmas spirit, convinces Howard to surrender and even reminds Stan that Christmas is a time for family.  The episode ends with the characters from the episode in Manson’s jail cell wishing him a merry Christmas, Charlie Brown style.  As Stan reminds us, this is some pretty fucked up shit right here.

If you don't like his special, he has some balls you can suck.

If you don’t like his special, he has some balls you can suck.

Season Three’s Christmas special is Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics.  It’s just a collection of songs, some traditional and some new, sung by the characters of South Park.  It’s kind of a love it or hate it episode, and one I’m not really fond of.  However, Mr. Hankey instructs the audience during the intro that if we don’t like it we can suck his tiny little balls.  As small as they may be, I don’t want to suck any poo balls so I’ll cease to speak of this episode right here.

Season Four brings us A Very Crappy Christmas and it could basically be re-titled as The Story of South Park.  That’s because in it the boys actually create and animate The Spirit of Christmas just like their creators.  Following the events of the first two Christmas specials, the people of South Park now understand that Christmas is a time for being merry and spending with one’s family.  The commercialism is gone, and the boys are pretty pissed off about not getting presents so they go looking for a strangely absent Mr. Hankey.  They find their favorite piece of crap has been MIA because he now has a wife and turds of his own.  As the boys lament the absence of what they perceive to be the Christmas spirit, they get the idea to make their very own Christmas special.  The mayor, who needs the commercialism to spur the economy, agrees to fund their little project.  Nothing goes right, but when Kyle channels his own inner Christmas spirit (and the Rankin/Bass feature Twas the Night Before Christmas) he gets everyone back on track.  Most of the episode is a parody of Twas the Night Before Christmas while also containing numerous in-jokes for longtime South Park fans.  In the end, they’re able to show the town The Spirit of Christmas and everyone realizes that Christmas is about one thing:  presents.  Everyone starts shopping immediately and the town’s economy is saved.  Yay!

The Hankey family expands in A Very Crappy Christmas.

The Hankey family expands in A Very Crappy Christmas.

Season Five was the first to not feature a Christmas episode, but season six restored order with Red Sleigh Down, a parody of Black Hawk Down and the conclusion of what I see as the Christmas story started in season one.  In it,  Cartman desperately wants some slick new toy but realizes he’s been far too naughty to hope to get anything from Santa so he goes all out to be nice at the last minute.  His scheming leads him to believe that if he helps Santa bring Christmas to Iraq that will be enough, so he enlists the help of Stan and Kyle (Kenny’s been dead all season) and eventually Mr. Hankey in order to do so.  Mr. Hankey is thrilled at Cartman’s Christmas spirit and agrees to help by taking the boys to the North Pole aboard the Poo-Choo Express (it’s just as disgusting as you imagine).  Santa agrees that Christmas should be brought to Iraq, and the boys watch from the North Pole as Santa’s sleigh is shot down by an RPG over Iraq.  Now feeling guilty and terrified by the prospects of no more Christmas presents, the boys enlist the help of the one man who can save Santa:  Jesus.  They all take Santa’s back-up sleigh to Iraq where Jesus becomes a one-man death machine as he takes out numerous soldiers to save Santa.  Their escape goes wrong when Jesus is shot from behind and dies in Santa’s arms.  They’re able to escape, but not before a vengeful Claus does finally bring Christmas to Iraq.  Back in South Park, the townspeople have been distracted by the speech impediment of Jimmy who’s attempting to recite The Twelve Days of Christmas, an episode-long gag.  Santa lights the town tree and addresses the crowd telling them that Christmas should be a day to reflect on the sacrifice one man-made to save Christmas:  Jesus.  And with that, the spirit of Christmas is modified once again in the South Park canon to be a day dedicated to Jesus.

Santa and Jesus team-up in Red Sleigh Down.

Santa and Jesus team-up in Red Sleigh Down.

With the spirit of Christmas now fully defined, Parker and Stone decided to take the boys on a Christmas adventure to Canada, of all places.  The new Canadian Prime Minister has decided that all Canadian born children be returned to Canada, which means Kyle’s adopted brother Ike is required to go.  Kyle enlists the help of his friends to go appeal to the Prime Minister, though they’re all reluctant to risk missing Christmas.  They go anyway, and in Canada they find a world not unlike Oz where the locals instruct them to “follow the only road.”  Just like The Wizard of Oz, the boys encounter other Canadian citizens looking to appeal to the Prime Minister about something, while the villainous Scott, from the Terence and Philip special, makes a return.  In the end, they discover the new Prime Minister is actually Saddam Hussein in hiding, and his new laws are overturned while the boys do in fact miss Christmas.  Cartman is unable to see the bright-side in Kyle getting his brother back, while Stan laments on missing out on a Christmas adventure, oblivious to what just happened.  It’s Christmas in Canada is not one of my favorites, and it’s probably the weak link on this DVD, though I do know more than one person who finds the episode hilarious.  I think I would like it more if it had more to do with Christmas.  It’s not really a Christmas special, just an episode that takes place during Christmas.

"It's Critter Christmas, dude, it sucks ass!"

“It’s Critter Christmas, dude, it sucks ass!”

This brings me to the last episode on the DVD, and so far, the last Christmas episode South Park has done:  Woodland Critter Christmas.  Seemingly out of ideas for a Christmas special, Parker and Stone decide to just completely subvert the idea of a Christmas special.  In this episode we have an innocent sounding narrator tell the story of a boy trying to help a group of talking woodland critters so that they can have a merry Christmas.  The critters are intentionally made to seem sterile and innocent while the episode is also intended to appear to be a cookie-cutter Christmas special with little thought or effort (the main character has no name, all of the animals names are just the name of the animal with a long “e” sound at the end, such as Deery the deer, Rabbity the rabbit, and so on).  Of course, the catch is that these animals are trying to bring about the birth of their lord and saviour.  Porcupinie has been impregnated by their god, but a mean old mountain lion wants to kill her, so the boy (Stan) is enlisted to help.  He succeeds by killing the mountain lion, who also happened to be a mother to three cubs, only to find out the critters worship Satan and the porcupine is set to deliver the anti-christ.  The tables are turned and soon Stan is left trying to prevent the coming of the anti-christ and he’ll receive help from Santa and a little thing called abortion.  Woodland Critter Christmas basically sets out to be the most obscene Christmas special one could dream up.  It’s almost as if Parker and Stone just wanted to top their prior specials in terms of shock-appeal and perhaps because they haven’t thought up a way to top this one is why we haven’t seen any new Christmas specials from South Park.  If this is the type of thing you can laugh at, then Woodland Critter Christmas should do the trick.  It’s ridiculous, but also pretty damn hilarious.

These specials are a big part of my memories growing up, even into college.  It seemed like each one was a topic of conversation when it originally aired because people generally couldn’t believe what they just saw.  South Park has had a lot of moments like that over the years, and for whatever reason, Christmas seems to bring out the best in it.  I love the sappy, sentimental Christmas specials that dominate the air during this time of year, but sometimes it’s nice to watch something that is decidedly less reverential towards the holiday season.  South Park does the trick, and Christmas Time in South Park is a convenient release and a suitable way to get my laugh on during the month of December.


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