Tag Archives: nickelodeon

Dec. 14 – Rugrats – “The Santa Experience”

Original air date December 6, 1992

Yesterday, we took a look at the 1992 Christmas special from the third Nickelodeon Nicktoon The Ren & Stimpy Show. Today, we’re basically working backwards and talking about the second Nicktoon to premiere: Rugrats. The Ren & Stimpy Show is probably the most celebrated of the original Nicktoons when it comes to animation circles, but I don’t think there’s much of an argument to be made as to which was the most commercially successful. That honor fell to Rugrats, the Klasky-Csupo original that is still relevant even today. Like Ren & Stimpy and Doug, Rugrats was a show in production basically until Nickelodeon had enough episodes to fill an entire calendar. And it did, because Rugrats aired seemingly all of the time on the network in the early to mid 90s to the point where I feel like I’ve seen each episode from that run a hundred times, and Rugrats wasn’t even a favorite of mine! It was solid though and rarely failed to entertain me as an adolescent, and even as an adult now that has watched the series more than once with my children, I can still say it’s pretty charming. Unlike the other Nicktoons, the success of Rugrats could not be ignored by Nickelodeon and the show returned to production in 1996 followed by a movie in 1998. That film would receive sequels and the show even got a spin-off in 2001 in the form of All Growed Up. And it’s still going today as Nickelodeon airs a new CG version of the series on its network and Paramount+.

Following a successful first season for each Nicktoon, Nickelodeon brought back all three seemingly with the mandate of making a Christmas episode. Two shows debuted a Christmas episode in 1992, though as we saw yesterday, The Ren & Stimpy Show Christmas episode was booted to MTV. Doug would follow with its Christmas episode in 1993. In the years following this episode, Rugrats would become somewhat famous for shining a light on non-Christian holidays. Lead baby Tommy Pickles lives in a mixed-religion household with his mother being Jewish and father some form of Christian. During the show’s hiatus, Nickelodeon would commission two Jewish themed specials for Passover and Chanukah, which was pretty cool. I had some cousins on my mother’s side who were Jewish as the result of my uncle marrying a Jewish woman and I remember my mom actually making it a point for my sister and I to get an understanding of the Jewish religion. Well, the holidays anyways as she bought us a kid’s book or two and even made us watch those specials. I think we even tried to add the Rugrats Chanukah special to our treasured Christmas Tape, but it didn’t record. Probably because we forgot to remove the piece of Scotch tape from the VHS that prevented it from ever getting recorded over. Or, the spirit of The Christmas Tape struck and decided only Christmas specials may appear on it. It’s probably the latter.

Anyway, before that could happen Nickelodeon apparently wanted Christmas to occur so we have “The Santa Experience.” This is one of those rare episodes of the show where both segments are combined into one. Like many cartoons of the era, Rugrats aired in half hour blocks and consisted of two roughly 11 minute cartoons that were unrelated to each other. It often felt like one segment would try to contain the whole ensemble, while the second would focus on just a baby or two with Tommy almost always included. And if you happened to have made it this far in your life without ever experiencing Rugrats, it’s a show about babies. Tommy Pickles (E.G. Daily) is the de-facto alpha baby and most of the episodes seem to occur at his house. He lives with his mom Didi (Melanie Chartoff), dad Stu (Jack Riley), and grandpa Lou (David Doyle). Lou, being a retiree, is seemingly counted on to watch the babies often (despite his narcoleptic tendencies) thus explaining why they always end up at Tommy’s house. The other babies are fraternal twins Phil and Lil (Kath Soucie for both), the cowardly Chuckie (Christine Cavanaugh), and 3-year old Angelica (Cheryl Chase), Tommy’s bully of an older cousin. The babies often go on adventures where they’re relying on their imagination to create the show’s visuals, sort of like Muppet Babies. Often their adventures stem from them misunderstanding something from the adult world with Angelica often pushing them along into a situation likely to get them into trouble or in one where she can take advantage of them.

“The Santa Experience,” revolving around Christmas and all the weird stuff that goes along with the holiday, seems ripe for a Rugrats plot. Tommy, being the youngest, has never really experienced Christmas and his buddy Chuckie, who is 2 and afraid of everything, has some stuff to share about Santa Claus. Meanwhile, the spoiled Angelica is going to see Christmas as the perfect opportunity to get more stuff and if she can ruin things for the babies then that will make her happy too. And for the parents, Didi is pretty obsessed with marking milestones with Tommy and it can be expected that she wants to make sure one of his earliest Christmases is a memorable one. It’s so easy that it’s no wonder why they wrote it!

Tommy has to set his friend straight on this Santa guy.

The episode begins following a normal version of the credits (they did change-up the music, but not really for the better) with an image of snow falling. It’s fake snow because we’re at a mall, and Tommy and Chuckie are waiting in-line with their dads to see Santa Claus. Chuckie is describing Christmas in grave tones and seemingly doesn’t like that the grown-ups all smile more during the holidays. He’s working towards the worst part though: Santa Claus! Tommy, who seemed concerned during Chuckie’s big explainer, laughs when he gets to Santa and tells him that Santa is good because he’s big and fat and brings presents. The kid’s only 1 and he already figured this stuff out.

Angelica is the type of kid mall Santas dread.

The next child is then summoned to meet Santa and Angelica declares it’s her, whether it was or wasn’t I can’t tell. She runs into this makeshift Santa’s village and jumps into the big guy’s lap. We get a closeup of his face as he grimaces indicating that Angelica must have landed on a sensitive area. The Santa (sounds like Michael Bell, who voices Angelica’s dad Drew) then goes into the usual routine and asks Angelica what she wants for Christmas. She tells him that she wants a Luxurious Hair Cynthia doll, which is kind of funny because the defining characteristic of her beloved Cynthia doll is that most of her hair has been pulled out. The Santa seems agreeable to this, but Angelica stops him because she has more. She then lists off a bunch of stuff she wants that’s all designed to sound insane. Something about a nuclear fission game and a real surgical kit are the highlights. As the Santa starts to pushback by telling her that’s a lot, she raises her voice to yell “I’m not finished yet!” You see, the big item she desires is a Deluxe Cynthia Beach House with real working hot tub, satellite dish, entertainment center, and attached garage.

She just shoved that poor elf aside.

She ends her list with a smile while leaving the Santa stammering and unsure of what to say. Obviously, this guy is pretty good at his job and doesn’t want to put that kind of pressure on the kid’s parents as he tries to tell her that’s a very long list of presents. Angelica pushes back and questions why he doesn’t already know this stuff already. He stutters and stammers some more and then Angelic lays a harsh accusation upon him: You’re not the real Santa! She goes for the beard and it’s a fake, a rookie mistake by the department store, and she runs screaming out of the little hut “Santa is a fake! Run for your lives!”

Terrific off-model shot right here. This is the type of thing Klasky-Csupo wouldn’t have been allowed to do on The Simpsons.

We then dissolve on a Happy Holidays banner and find ourselves in the Pickles’ living room. Angelica is opening a “Thanks for Shopping” box that’s apparently full of toys. Phil and Lil ask where she got it and she tells them from Santa Claus. They respond with confusion since it isn’t Christmas yet, but Angelica tells them you just have to know how to work him. Stu, Drew, and Chuckie’s dad Chas (Bell) enter carrying boxes and Drew is concerned for his daughter’s well-being following the incident at the mall. Stu tells him she looks pretty happy to him as we cut to Angelica gleefully ripping open another box and Chas confirms that the store gave her practically every toy they had. Drew is still worried that she’ll be traumatized by the ordeal and it’s not hard to see how Angelica came to be as spoiled as she is with a father like Drew.

The adults just completely ignore the two scared toddlers.

The fathers continue doing dad stuff while Angelica continues rummaging through boxes. She’s extremely dissatisfied with the toys gifted to her and refers to it as a bunch of junk since none of it came from her list. Phil and Lil try to take a peek in one of the boxes and she swipes at them sending them running scared into the kitchen. The boys are seated at the table while Didi appears to be helping Betty (Soucie), the mother of Phil and Lil, with some plumbing under the sink. This is supposed to be a bit of gender humor where the men are just gabbing while the masculine Betty does the manual work. It’s dated.

Best character on the show, right here.

Drew is still fussing over Angelica’s experience while Chas tries to tell him she’ll be fine. He had horrible Christmases growing up and states the best gift he ever got was a rubber glove and tongue depressor. He’s worried for Chuckie and doesn’t want him to have as lame a Christmas as he did. Drew states he wishes he could reaffirm Angelica’s faith in Santa and it’s Betty who chimes in with the idea to rent a cabin up north and have a good old-fashioned family Christmas. Well, not her words exactly, but they sound good to me. Everyone seems enthusiastic at the idea, which is always weird for me since my Christmases always involved going to the homes of grandparents and the idea of just dropping everything to do something else is completely foreign. Didi runs to call a travel agent (and renting a cabin should probably be an impossible task given their proximity to Christmas ) while Stu, who is a bit of a techie, declares he’ll get some lights while Grandpa Lou vows to drink a couple of quarts of eggnog and fall asleep in front of the TV. Now that’s my idea of Christmas!

Angelica is an ungrateful brat, but she is right to complain about getting a Reptar Space Helmet and no Reptar doll.

We return to the living room where Angelica is still upset with the quality of the toys she was given for free. She draws particular attention to a pack of crayons and a Reptar Space Helmet, an accessory for a Reptar doll and not a role play toy, which she tosses aside. In the playpen, Chuckie is playing with some blocks and Tommy his favorite ball while the two resume their Santa conversation. Chuckie stacks the blocks up and then knocks them over to punctuate his description of Santa as someone who breaks into your house while you’re sleeping. Sadly, the blocks do not appear to contain any hidden messages via their orientation. Tommy is still firmly in camp “Santa is Good” and the camera pans over to a dejected looking Phil.

Angelica is so cruel here.

Angelica comes along dragging a massive box of toys and asks Phil what’s up with him? He says he can’t figure out what to get his sister Lil for Christmas, which is a lot of pressure for a toddler. Angelica suggests he get her some crayons for her favorite coloring book which strikes me as a dumb suggestion since I’m sure they already have crayons, but we need this to happen for plot purposes. Phil thinks that’s a great idea, but then gets sad again because he doesn’t know how he can get ahold of a new box of crayons. Angelica is there to wave the box she just got form the store, but when Phil comes running over to grab them she pulls a “Not so fast!” on him. If Phil wants the crayons, he’s going to have to trade his Reptar doll to her for them. He resists at first, but when Angelica declares no crayons for him then, he relents and hands over the doll.

There’s a lot of mopey faces in this episode so far. Didn’t they ever hear “You better not pout”?

Now, you may have thought Angelica just wanted a Reptar doll for that new Reptar Space Helmet she just got, but Angelica is a very cruel child and has other ideas as she spies Lil. In the kitchen, Didi is on the phone with a travel agent and having little luck finding a cabin, which as I pointed out, makes sense. Outside, Drew and Chas are moping on a picnic table as both try to find solutions for their anxiety, Drew wants to restore Angelica’s faith in Santa while Chas just wants Chuckie to have a nice, memorable, Christmas. The two jump up at the same time declaring they have an idea and the gag is they’re supposed to have come to the same conclusion. And they did! Sort of. Chas goes first and says he can dress up like Santa to surprise the kids on Christmas. Drew enthusiastically declares he was thinking the same thing, only when a surprised Chas asks “You were?!” he shoots down the part about Chas playing Santa in favor of hiring a professional actor. Chas seems hurt by this and reminds Drew he played the lead role in their fourth grade rendition of The Wind in the Willows. Drew deadpans, “Chas, you were a tree,” and he points out “I was the willow!” I guess they’re both right.

Not only does she know that she’s a bad kid, she revels in it. Hard to come back from this one, Angelica.

In the living room, Angelica comes upon an unsuspecting Lil and asks her what she’s doing. She’s just sitting on the floor with that coloring book she apparently loves looking a little sad. Angelica confirms that she’s thinking about what to get Phil for Christmas, and Angelica tries to help her think of something by asking what his favorite toy is? Lil then lists off a series of three items starting with blocks and ending with a stuffed alligator that has a missing eye. Angelica says “No” to each one and yells at her after the third suggestion that his favorite toy is his Reptar doll and Lil just smiles and says “Oh yeah!” She’s adorable. Angelica then asks Lil what she could get Phil to go with his doll and we go into the same routine again ending with Angelica calling her a dummy for suggesting a bunch of other things and telling her a Reptar Space Helmet is what she needs. Lil, completely unphased, just smiles and thanks Angelica for the suggestion. We skip the bargaining routine this time and we just see Lil hand over the coloring book in exchange for the space helmet. As Lil walks off, Angelica grabs her Cynthia doll to fill her in on her doings. She outlines this Gift of the Magi scenario and punctuates it with a villainous laugh before confirming out loud “I’m bad, Cynthia, real bad!”

It’s story time with Grandpa!

This is then carried over to Chuckie who insists “He’s bad, Tommy, real bad,” as they’re apparently still debating the merits of Santa Claus. Tommy still insists he’s nice, then Chuckie wishes that he could catch him and show Tommy how bad he is. Tommy thinks that’s a great idea and declares they’ll simply catch him, but Chuckie doesn’t actually want to catch him because that would be scary. They’re interrupted by Grandpa who gathers the kids to tell them about Santa. He gives them the usual rundown, but ends with a dramatic description of what happens to the bad kids: a great, big, lump of coal! He then dismisses it by declaring none of the kids present have anything to worry about, but Angelica looks a bit distressed. Didi then shouts out they got a cabin!

Now she’s having second thoughts.

Later that night, Drew is tucking Angelica into bed, but as he walks out of the bedroom she asks him if it’s true that Santa brings coal to bad kids on Christmas. Drew confirms that’s the case for her without much of a thought as to why she’s asking as he turns off the light and walks out. Alone in her bed, Angelica pulls out Cynthia and tells her she doesn’t care what the grownups say and tries to reassure herself that there’s no way Santa could possibly know about the trick she played on Phil and Lil. Insisting it was a great trick, she drifts off to sleep.

Here comes the coal!

Smash cut to Angelica waking up in the morning. It’s Christmas! She bolts from her bed and runs down the stairs to find her tree loaded with gifts. Her dad appears and assures her they’re all for her and she dives in, but as she rips open the first one she finds a box with a lump of coal in it. She rips open another one: coal! And another: coal! Coal! Coal! Coal! Nothing but coal in each box! Angelica insists that this is impossible and that Santa can’t know about her trick because he’s just a smelly old guy in red pajamas! Santa (Tony Jay) then appears, laughing, but we only see him from a low angle never getting a good look at his face. He tells her that he knows everything and then details that Phil got a new Reptar doll and Lil a new coloring book, and for her he dumps a sack of coal over her. This causes Angelica to wake up from her nightmare screaming. Drew enters to check what’s wrong and she demands he tell her if it’s Christmas. It’s not, obviously, and when she says she needs to see Phil and Lil he sleepily tells her she’ll see them later on at the cabin and urges her to go back to sleep. He shuts off the light and Angelica confesses to Cynthia that she needs to trade Phil and Lil their presents back before it’s too late!

Not pictured are Chas and Charlotte, so are they driving up together with the rest of the kids? That’s an interesting pairing.

That’s normally where the first segment for an episode of Rugrats would end, but since this is a double episode our story continues. They didn’t want it to feel too different though so we get another title card that this time reads: Later That Day. We get a shot of the clan driving up to the mountains. I think this show is supposed to take place in Arizona so I have no idea where they’re actually going or how long of a ride it is. Geography is not my strong suit, but I feel like the implication is they’re heading to Colorado? If so, that’s quite the ride! The adults are singing “Jingle Bells,” and in a sign of the times Tommy is in the front seat of his parents’ mini van. Seemingly all of the adults are in the back, including Phil and Lil’s dad Howard who is making his first appearance of this episode. Missing are the other kids who apparently had to hitch hike their way to the cabin.

No one in their right mind would come down a chimney? Hah! Stupid babies.

Everyone enters the cabin and it sure looks pretty. Angelica immediately goes for Phil and Lil, but before they can talk Betty scoops them up to tell them they’re going to go cut down their first Christmas tree. Grandpa is shown hanging a wreath and manages to strike his thumb with a hammer, which only seems to happen in cartoons, while the dog, Spike, runs past him causing him to fall off a stepladder. Chuckie is still fretting about Tommy’s plan to trap Santa and Tommy reassures him it will work. They then survey their new surroundings to check for all of the places Santa could enter. As Tommy calls them out, like door or window, Chuckie responds with a “Check.” He gets to “chimly” (sic) and Chuckie responds “Chimly?!” and, for once, Tommy agrees with his friend and says “Yeah, no one in their right mind would try to come down a chimly.”

That looks like a standard cordless phone meaning it likely belongs to the cabin. Charlotte must be racking up a massive long distance bill then!

In the kitchen, Chas is show preparing a turkey while we hear the unmistakable voice of Charlotte, Angelica’s mom (voiced by Tress MacNeille) as she’s on the phone with her assistant Jonathan while apparently making cranberry sauce. Angelica interrupts her to ask if it’s okay for her to go chop down a tree with Aunt Didi and Charlotte pauses her conversation to tell her it is before getting right back into it. Stu then interrupts her by saying it’s nice she could join them for Christmas and Charlotte remarks how she loves Christmas for being the season of hope before returning to the phone to shout in a stern voice “We have to crush the competition! Crush them now!” She’s a bit intense.

This sudden sense of conservation on the part of Didi kind of came out of no where.

Betty is shown helping Angelica get dressed for the cold with Phil and Lil as Didi shows up with the axe. Betty confirms she has the permit to cut down a tree while Angelica assures Phil and Lil they’ll have time to talk on the sleigh. We smash cut to Angelica on the sleigh and her scarf has been wrapped around her mouth preventing her from speaking. Betty points out trees to Didi who shoots them down for one reason or another before enthusiastically pointing one out as the perfect tree. When Betty goes to chop it down, Didi jumps in the way as she seemingly has had a change of heart about tree slaughter. Angelica uses this as an opportunity to explain the concept of gift-giving to Phil and Lil with a phony history of how the whole tradition started. As she starts to ramble about the Easter Bunny getting slapped with a lawsuit by Santa over the whole thing, the sleigh she’s standing on starts to slide backwards slowly. Soon it’s soaring down a hill with Angelica screaming, her plans foiled again.

They either got a terrific deal on that tree or were raked over the coals with likely no in-between.

We cut again quickly to a new shot inside the cabin of Stu and Betty setting up a fake tree. It would seem Betty was unable to convince Didi to permit her to chop down a tree, but they all look pretty happy so I guess it’s not a big deal. We then see Tommy and Chucky pushing a log in front of the doggy door, seemingly to thwart Santa, while we see other shots of Didi and Chas decorating the tree. It’s sort of a montage in that the characters are speechless save for the low murmur of Charlotte talking on her cell phone. Angelica approaches the twins, but Betty intercepts them and scoops the pair up. Tommy and Chuckie wrap popcorn garland around a doorknob as another trap and seemingly no adults take notice, while Angelica continues to pursue the twins, who are now in jammies. It’s all broken by the sound of Grandpa howling in pain, for as he went to hang a stocking, Spike barked causing him to strike his finger once again with a hammer. Didi then can be heard calling out “Dinner!”

This looks unsafe.

At the dinner table, all of the adults are chatting and it’s like a dull, indecipherable, roar. Tommy and Chuckie are seated together on a chair and further boosted by a pile of newspapers. Apparently, there was no room in the car for high chairs. Chuckie asks Tommy if he thinks the traps will work while Tommy just tells him that he worries too much. Spike barks at Grandpa, who scowls at him likely still angry about the hammer incident. Spike lowers his head submissively while Grandpa smiles and hands the dog a big hunk of turkey. Charlotte is still on the phone and has a fun slip-up where she instructs Jonathan to add a “Santa clause” to a legal document, but catches herself as she meant to say “Sanity clause.” Angelica asks her Aunt Didi if a hypothetical child tried to make up for a bad thing, but was unable to do so in time for Christmas, if Santa would still bring her coal. Didi just dismisses the concern Angelica has by wondering why she’s so consumed with asking about bad kids when she’s such a good girl. She sounds genuine, which just makes it extra sweet since you know she and Stu probably talk about how spoiled that kid is when she’s not around. Stu then points out that Tommy and Chucky are yawning and Betty declares it’s time to put the “young’ens” to bed which causes Angelica to look dejected and say “Oh no!”

Deck the Malls?!

The parents put the kids in cribs, Tommy and Chuckie in one, Phil and Lil in the other, and leave them. Right as they do, Tommy reminds Chuckie that they have to stay awake. Chuckie clearly would prefer to go to sleep and Phil and Lil already have. As he lays back down, Tommy decides he can rest a little while as he waits for Santa to spring one of their traps and he too falls asleep. In the living room, the adults are singing “Joy to the World” and that’s probably the last thing a group of adults in my family would do after putting the kids to bed, but it’s their party, who am I to judge? Charlotte is still on the phone and she’s basically just boasting at this point about her accomplishments and I question if she’s doing any real work. Chas slips away and goes into another room with a Santa suit as Angelica just walks by without even noticing him because she’s still upset about what she did to Phil and Lil. Chas them emerges giddy and dressed as Santa as he takes off somewhere.

I feel like that is supposed to be a Coke can, but they made it coffee for some reason.

Drew is shown on the phone calling The Santa Experience (how did he get Charlotte off of the phone to make a call, there’s no way this cabin has two lines) which is apparently a company that specializes in doing the whole Santa thing. He’s able to confirm that the Santa act he booked is still on. We then find Grandpa doing what Grandpa does best: sleeping in front of the TV. Angelica is there as well, but she snaps out of her funk when she hears a commercial for a seasonal depression hotline encouraging folks to call-in to talk to someone who cares. Angelica draws an odd conclusion from this and dials a number, the wrong one as she just presses “5” over and over, which gets her connected with Cogs Unlimited which is some guy with what looks like a bunch of film canisters behind him, but I assume they’re supposed to be cogs. Angelica demands to speak with Santa Claus, because apparently he’s someone who cares, which confuses the man on the other end. He tries to tell her she has the wrong number, but Angelica being Angelica, screams and demands he let her speak with Santa. The guy then decides to pretend he’s Santa and asks Angelica what she wants. She says that she’s just calling to confirm whether or not she’s on The Good List or The Bad List this year. The fellow, seemingly still a little salty about her screaming at him decides to tell her she’s on The Bad List before thanking her for calling. Angelica buys it and declares her future as a kid is over, which seems rather dark.

It’s not that Santa is in good shape Chas, it’s that you’re in bad shape. You’re climbing up a ladder, for God’s sake! Not a rock wall!

Outside, Chas is struggling to climb onto the roof, but he gets there and remarks that Santa must be in good shape. The background music seems to play this off like a joke on Chas since everyone knows Santa is a fat guy. Is he actually going to go down the chimney? Hasn’t he seen Gremlins?! Stu is then shown opening the front door with a stack of presents in his arms which causes him to not see one of his son’s traps. He trips over the popcorn string and tumbles over the sound of which causes Tommy to wake up and call to the other babies “Our traps!” They effortlessly free themselves from their confines and race out into the living room, but are disappointed to see it’s just Tommy’s dad.

That would make me scream too. I’m surprised the other adults are so nonchalant about Chas’ little stunt.

Chuckie is relieved to find it wasn’t Santa as the four stand around the fireplace. That’s the cue for Chas to come down the chimney and the sight of him in his Santa costume covered in soot causes Chuckie to scream. Tommy reacts quickly by grabbing a fire poker and laying it across the glass door on the fireplace effectively trapping his buddy’s dad who is now screaming in a panic. This is going well. Stu comes over and frees his misguided friend which causes the babies to all run away screaming. Chas comes out calling to Chuckie that he’s not Santa before sadly adding “It’s just me,” as he removes the hat and beard. Chuckie then stops cowering in the corner to look at him, smiles, and runs over to him embracing his leg. Chas picks him up and now a smile crosses his face as the other adults all say “Aww.” I’ll always have a soft spot for old Chas the single dad just trying to get things right and often screwing up.

Well look who showed up. Why doesn’t this ever happen at any of the Christmas parties I go to?

The other babies then come out of their hiding spots relived it was only Chuckie’s dad. Angelica declares there is no Santa and that she’s saved! You know we can’t leave it at that right? Of course not, which is why the doorbell rings. Grandpa answers it and it’s Santa (Neil Ross) who informs the crew there’s a problem with the chimney. Angelica gulps while Drew comes over to welcome Santa into their cabin, clearly thinking this is the guy he hired, but is it?

What a good shot, the wholesomeness here is causing me to melt!

Santa immediately walks over to Tommy and calls him by his name handing him a present. He does the same for Phil and Lil, but when he gets to Chuckie he asks him “Still think I’m so scary?” Which brings him to Angelica, who greets him with a wide smile and thumb’s up. He hands her a pretty large box and she tares into it to find a Deluxe Cynthia Beach House with real working hot tub, satellite dish, entertainment center, and attached garage! She shouts “I didn’t get a lump of coal!” and Santa responds with a chuckle, then adds “Sometimes trying to be good is as important as being good in the first place.”

I don’t know how I feel about Angelica getting a happy ending, but I am glad Phil and Lil got one.

His task done, Santa bids them all farewell as he exits through the front door. Didi declares it’s almost morning and suggests they all open gifts. I’m guessing she means it’s almost midnight, because it would be pretty ludicrous if they all had stayed up all night singing carols. This also only needs to be said so that Phil and Lil have a reason to exchange gifts. How they got them up there wrapped and all is a mystery that still confounds us all to this day. They’re obviously disappointed when they open their gifts for each other, but once the realization hits what each gave up in order to get the present for the other, they smile and hug. It’s at this point Angelica enters the picture with presents of her own. It seems she finally figured out that trading back with Phil and Lil was pretty stupid and still selfish on her part, so she just gifted them back the things she took. They run over and give her a big hug, and even though Angelica cries out “Eww, baby germs!” she does it while looking pretty happy.

Well, on the bright side Barney, I don’t think you have to suffer through many more Christmases given how you live.

Chuckie then finally admits to Tommy that he was right all along and that Santa was a nice guy. At the same time, Chas admits to Drew that he too was right to hire a professional. Drew agrees and is more than willing to give himself credit for the idea, but a phone call interrupts him. It’s some gray-bearded guy named Barney (Tony Jay) and we see he’s in a bathrobe in his home fetching himself some milk and cookies (he lives his gimmick). He says he’s calling from a car phone and tells Drew his vehicle skidded off the road and asks if they can reschedule the Santa thing? We just hear indecipherable screaming on Drew’s part from the other end as Barney hangs up the phone and says “I hate Christmas,” as he sinks into a lounge chair.

It’s impossible to draw a lump of coal and not have it look like a turd.

Drew angrily hangs up the phone as Chas asks him who that was. He starts to complain that the guy he hired to play Santa just cancelled, but as he says it out loud he realizes just what that means and looks shocked. Chas then asks “…who was that?!” as the two look confused on the couch and we hear the sound of sleigh bells in the background. We then find Angelica seated on the floor gushing over her new toy. She wonders aloud if there’s a car in the attached garage. She opens it and there’s something in there all right: coal! Didi even walks over and asks, “Angelica, is that a lump of coal?” Which just leaves Angelica to look stunned.

We then move to an exterior shot of the cabin and pan up into the sky as Santa flies by, with all eight reindeer, laughing “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” and the trail of stardust he leaves in the sky actually spells out the words “Merry Christmas.” And that’s the end of this one. Of course he’s real!

I’m actually a little surprised that Rugrats went full “It’s Santa!” I suppose they had to given they made it seem like he was fake all episode.

“The Santa Experience” is a bit of an odd episode of Rugrats because it’s light on babies, heavy on Angelica. Angelica has other episodes centered around her, but it’s a little surprising that a big double episode like this one would choose to follow her. And in a way, it makes sense that Angelica, who is famously spoiled, would play a big role in an episode about a holiday known for toys. She’s not the nicest kid, and even Arlene Klasky kind of hated the character, and most probably would just assume she’s going on The Naughty List. That would seem a bit mean-spirited for a cartoon though, so we need to get the full Angelica experience here so we can see what makes her bad, but also what makes he redeemable. Placing her in the center of The Gift of the Magi as the reason for why the sympathetic characters are in the predicament they wind up in and giving her the power to make it right is a rather creative solution. Though I don’t know about that conclusion from Santa. Is simply trying to be good equivalent to just being good? Especially when the good deed Angelica is trying to do is really just corrective action for something awful she did. In that, the episode tries to have its cake and eat it too by giving Angelica what she wants, but slipping in a lump of coal that’s really inconsequential.

Chuckie and his dad are so likable, maybe they should have leaned more into this relationship at the expense of some of the other stuff? As an aside, have you seen the Mother’s Day special? That’s a real grab the tissues watch.

The angle with the adults plays about as big of a role as Tommy and Chuckie’s quest to trap Santa. Neither is that interesting as the Angelica plot takes center stage, but it at least leads to the satisfying conclusion with Santa. The cabin was basically just the easiest way to get everyone under the same roof, and honestly, it’s kind of sweet to see this group of friends be so close that they want to spend Christmas together. It’s also rare to see adults openly talk about Santa as if he isn’t real in a show that is unquestionably meant for young children. This episode might have caught some kids in that sweet spot where they still believe, but are also questioning things, and that ending feels like a reassurance. On the other hand, it probably found just as many kids who weren’t yet in that questioning stage and now suddenly are. If I sound a bit obsessive or nitpicky here, it’s because this is the type of stuff I’m careful to avoid with my kids, especially my youngest. I guess what I’m asking is does it make it okay for a kid’s show to present Santa as fake, only to reveal he’s real in the end? That’s something I personally grapple with, but I could be in the minority.

As for other Christmas stuff, there actually isn’t a lot. Most of the adults just sport their regular attire and the same is true for the kids. It would have been nice to see the babies in some ugly sweaters, but I guess they blew the budget on the new backgrounds for the cabin, mall, etc. I like that the episode’s title ties into The Santa Experience of the show and the final reveal of Barney is pretty comical, and also pitiful. Barney’s not long for this world. The bit with Angelica calling the fake help line feels almost cruel, and yet a touch satisfying since for once it’s Angelica who is having the tables turned on her. How much you enjoy that scene of the guy telling her she’s on The Bad List might be a litmus test for how you’ll respond to her actually getting a present in the end. As for that guy, man is he something. Even if a kid was rude to me on the phone, I don’t think I’d have the heart to play Santa and tell them they’re not getting any presents this year.

Note that there’s only one car, the mystery of how the babies got here deepens!

“The Santa Experience” ends up being a solid episode of Rugrats. I don’t think it’s the classic it could have been though. Klasky-Csupo was right to dedicate a full 22 minutes here, but it still feels a little too unfocused. There’s little riding on the non-Angelica stuff, and while I love the Chas/Chucky embrace and the Santa payoff is nice, getting there just seems to take longer than it should. It just needed a jolt of excitement and that’s really obvious when doing a write-up like this as we keep just returning to Tommy and Chuckie having the same conversation scene after scene. Those two never even talk to Phil or Lil in this episode, or Angelica, which is bizarre. Still, if you like Rugrats and you like Christmas shows then this is probably worth watching each year and it’s pretty easy to come by. It’s streaming on both Hulu and Paramount+ and it’s been released on DVD several times which are probably fairly cheap at this point. And you might as well pair it with the other Nicktoons Christmas specials from the 90s. I guess that means I’ll have to do Doug some day.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 14 – Gifts from the Air

For today’s subject, we’re going all the way back to 1937 to talk about the Columbia Pictures Gifts from the Air. This particular cartoon comes from an era dominated by Disney, Warner Bros, and MGM with a tip of the cap to Noveltoons. The Color Rhapsody Theatrical Cartoon Series is not particularly well-remembered outside of…

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

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

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Dec. 14 – Heathcliff – “North Pole Cat”

  Heathcliff, despite being a cat, shares a similarity to a certain cookie. And that cookie is Hydrox, the chocolate and cream sandwhich style cookie often mistaken for an Oreo. When I was a kid, Hydrox was the inferior Oreo, the knock-off, and I suspect that was true for a lot of people. The funny…

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Dec. 13 – The Ren & Stimpy Show – “Son of Stimpy/Stimpy’s First Fart”

Original air date December 19, 1992.

The Ren & Stimpy Show burst onto the scene as part of the original trio of Nicktoons in 1991. The other two, Doug and Rugrats, were fairly gentle cartoons. Rugrats could sometimes get a little blue since the main characters were all babies, but the occasional poop joke was hardly something to get offended by. The Ren & Stimpy Show, on the other hand, was far more crass. It felt like a throwback to the days of Bob Clampett and Tex Avery with its manic pacing and outrageous character animations. It also had its own flair in the form of gross, disgusting, humor. It’s hard to imagine another cartoon in the 90s being more influential on what followed in the world of animation than The Ren & Stimpy Show.

This also came with its own set of problems. Certainly, Nickelodeon had to deal with more letters and phone calls regarding the show’s content than it did probably any other show on its network, but it also had to deal with series creator John Kricfalusi, or John K. The less said about him the better, but suffice to say he was very much a demanding boss and a bit of a perfectionist when it came to the show. This meant the show frequently missed deadlines and John K. also frequently ignored suggestions, or mandates, from the network when things got too risqué. I’m all for standing up for your artwork, but John K. agreed to make a show for kids and there’s some battles worth fighting and some that are not. There’s also been plenty of other things shared about him over the years that are not very kind that I don’t want to get into. At the end of the day, I do think he is a talented cartoonist and without his talents The Ren & Stimpy Show likely wouldn’t be what it was, but there were also lots of other talented people involved in the show’s production and without the likes of some of them the show also wouldn’t be what it is.

This very episode captures some of the dance the creators and Nickelodeon entered into with seemingly every episode of the show. The network wanted something heartwarming, I’m not sure if it necessarily wanted a Christmas episode, and John K. was willing to give them one so long as it was done his way. Hence why we have an episode about a fart. The original title is just “Stimpy’s First Fart,” but the network changed it to “Son of Stimpy.” Television networks have long had an adversarial relationship with the word “fart.” I don’t know why, but it is a thing and that’s why it still surprises me to this day that Salute Your Shorts got to have the word appear in every episode via the opening song. In this case though, I think the network was right as the “Son of Stimpy” title is a bit more mysterious and helps the fart joke land a little better.

“Son of Stimpy” is the first Christmas episode from the show and has the distinction of being done with digital ink and paint. Most of the show was animated with traditional ink and paint, but maybe the Christmas deadline forced the show to move a bit faster. The show was also transitioning from Spumco to Games Animation and that is said to have played a role. The content of the episode actually did not please Nickelodeon so it first premiered on MTV instead. It would eventually be run on Nick, but sometimes in an edited state. I can remember catching the first broadcast purely by accident. I was channel surfing in my bedroom and found it on MTV. I was super surprised to see an episode of the show I had never seen airing on the network and I was so excited that I recall telling my mom right away (who probably didn’t care). And it was a Christmas episode too! The episode also uses the full running time to tell its story without any other inserts, another rarity for the show, and contains several callbacks to the first episode either deliberately or to save time.

That was a juicy one.

This episode begins with an exterior shot of a house inhabited by Ren and Stimpy. A voiceover, John K., tells the audience that this is a story they just made up. Inside, Stimpy (Billy West) is watching TV and the sound effects sound exactly like the ones coming from the TV of the very first episode. He’s motionless except for his eyes dancing around as they take-in some cartoons. Then we get a shot of Stimpy’s butt and it’s done as a still image so it’s rather lovingly painted. Stimpy has a nice, well-rounded, set of buttocks in this episode to likely make them appear inviting, which is important to the plot (trust me). We then hear a noise, a gurgling kind of noise, and Stimpy looks at his butt with some confusion. The still image of the butt returns only now the image is shaking as a rumbling is taking place which leads to a very satisfying fart sound. It has a lot of bass and as far as fake farts go it’s quite lovely! It’s followed by the sound of a balloon letting out air as Stimpy looks satisfied and a puff of greenish-brown smoke emerges and then disappears. Some ominous “Dun! Dun! Duuuuun!” music plays as we get another shot of the the butt, this time with some skid marks added to the floor. Stimpy notices an odor in the air and is soon running in place calling for Ren.

There’s a pretty clear juxtaposition being portrayed between Ren and Stimpy here.

In another part of the house, Ren (John K.) is seated in a lounge chair in a bathrobe and fez hat reading from a book. The juxtaposition of the naked, cartoon-watching, farter and this very dignified Ren is obvious. Stimpy excitedly tells him in a quiet voice that something happened while he was watching TV. Ren can’t even begin to act like he cares, but he asks Stimpy what happened. Stimpy proceeds to tell him that something came out of his butt, it made a sound, and it smelled funny. Ren repeats everything Stimpy told him as if he’s gathering an understanding of the situation, then deadpans “You’re an idiot.”

You can’t force these things, Stimpy.

Stimpy is distressed that Ren doesn’t believe him, but then decides to just make another one! He moves into the center of the room and starts trying to push something out of his butt. There’s some groaning and obvious straining as Ren even moves into the danger zone to see what happens, but Stimpy’s butt just ends up deflating. Ren kicks at the remains of Stimpy’s cheeks, then tells him he has an overactive imagination and to leave him out of his stinky fantasies! It’s an interesting approach to the situation as when Stimpy originally approaches Ren we think he’s calling him an idiot for not knowing what a fart is, but now it seems clear that Ren too has never farted. I should point out for you continuity nerds, Stimpy did fart in a previous episode when they were in the bathtub together during “Big Baby Scam,” but this is a show that really has no continuity.

The absurdity of boogers being freaked out by Stimpy talking to farts is not lost on me.

As Ren leaves Stimpy to his stinky fantasies, Stimpy claims to himself that Stinky is real as he has apparently named his fart now. He then perks up as he declares he’ll find him! Stimpy then walks around the house calling out for Stinky in an operatic voice. He giggles with embarrassment seemingly acknowledging that we’re watching him act a bit silly – it’s cute. He checks in a few places before getting the idea to consult his Magic Nose Goblins he leaves under the bench for the piano. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, Magic Nose Goblins are Stimpy’s boogers. Before this episode, I don’t think they were ever personified, but here Stimpy is able to ask them if they’ve seen Stinky. When they press Stimpy for info on who Stinky is, he describes the fart as he did to Ren. One of the “goblins” figures out what Stimpy is looking for and whispers to the others “He talks to farts,” in a manner that expresses he views this behavior as extremely odd. The other boogers then just tell Stimpy they haven’t seen Stinky as they seem eager to get rid of him now. He leaves, but in doing so sits up and slams his face into the underside of the bench seemingly killing his booger buddies by mistake.

It’s not often we can say this, but here Ren does mean well.

Unable to find Stinky, Stimpy slips into a depression. He’s just seated in a darkened room as Ren tries to cheer him up. He pulls out a TV Guide-like magazine and reads off some of the programs Stimpy usually likes only for Stimpy to reply sullenly with an “I don’t care.” This setup is very similar to how the Commander Hoek and Cadet Stimpy cartoons begin, only Stimpy doesn’t get excited about that show or Muddy Mudskipper. Stimpy and Ren’s eyes then well with tears as their mouths quiver with sadness. Ren emotes frustration, and even anger, to the camera, but approaches Stimpy in calm, measured, tones about snapping out of this funk. We find out he’s been moping for 3 years now, which is certainly a long time to miss a fart.

The poor guy just wants his fart back, how can you not relate?!

Ren then dangles a new catnip mouse for Stimpy who makes an “Ehhh,” sound of annoyance that’s amusing to me because he sounds like future Billy West character Zap Brannigan. Ren tries cheering him up by jumping into his litter box and encourages him to drop a big, stinky, one into it. Hearing the word “stinky” causes Stimpy’s eyes to fill with tears again as he says “Stinky” in a longing tone. He then wails and starts sobbing forcing Ren to march over angrily. “So that’s it, you’re still crying about your imaginary butt stinkiness!” Stimpy insists in sad tones that Stinky is real and Ren tries, once more, to be supportive. He tells him he needs to get over this fantasy and says he’ll help him and that they can do it together, but Stimpy just replies once more with “I don’t care.” That’s the last straw for Ren, who has been uncharacteristically supportive and understanding throughout the scene. He stamps his feet and shouts at Stimpy. He tries to muster up one of his usual go-to insults for the cat, but he’s basically choked with anger and can just get out “stupid” over and over. Declaring “Who needs you!” he storms off leaving Stimpy alone and sad.

It’s oddly inviting.

It’s nighttime. Stimpy is laying wide awake in bed staring at the ceiling while Ren is on the other side asleep, his back towards Stimpy, with a smile on his face (this brief shot of Ren is cut from the DVD release, presumably because the DVD uses the Spike TV tapes which probably cut it for time). We move to a close-up of Stimpy’s eyes which once again fill with tears. He lets out a sigh and rolls over giving us a nice shot of his round buttocks covered in a purple blanket. The camera pans over to the window where someone is watching. It’s Stinky! He’s a brownish puff of gas with a face and arms. He’s looking through the window with longing and the camera zooms in on Stimpy’s sparkling butt cheeks. Opera-style chanting fills the soundtrack and Stinky looks so very sad. He lowers his head and drifts away as the snow begins to fall.

Ren’s trying everything to get Stimpy “in the mood.”

We cut to Stimpy in the doorway of the house calling out for Stinky. He has a scarf wrapped around his head and his face and hands are blue from the cold. Ren comes out to urge him to come inside. He says that Stimpy has been out there for months and tells him to come help him with the tree, our first hint at Christmas. Ren suggests he can string the dingleberry garland (gross), but Stimpy gives his “ehh” response again and Ren switches tactics by pointing out the mistletoe over their heads. He leans into Stimpy with a flirty, expectant, expression which might be the pair’s most gay portrayal up to this point in the series. Stimpy doesn’t react at first, and then his eyes widen with surprise. Did Ren maybe touch a sensitive area? Stimpy then explodes at Ren, “Gosh darnit, Ren! Is that all you can think of?!” He lectures Ren further saying that Stinky is lost out in the cold and finishes with a “He needs me.” And Stimpy leaves Ren, who cries for Stimpy to come back, but is ignored. Falling to his knees, he utters a prayer for Stimpy telling a higher power he can hold off on the pectoral muscle implants he presumably prays for usually, just bring Stimpy home!

It certainly would be a festive place for a fart to live at Christmas.

We’re then taken to The Naked City. Stimpy is roaming the streets calling out for Stinky in the dark and cold as the snow continues to pile up. We get a shot of Stimpy’s feet sporting crude shoes as he walks through the snow. A Santa on a street corner cries out “Ho ho ho,” as he rings a bell looking for donations. The cadence of his call changes abruptly like he stepped on something, or maybe someone placed a cold hand where he wasn’t expecting. We then see that Stimpy is behind him checking the fat man’s buttocks for Stinky, but finding nothing, he walks off.

This won’t end well.

Stimpy’s feet are shown again only now his shoes have been worn revealing purplish feet, one toe has a nail sticking out of it. Stimpy has posted signs reading “Have You Smelled Me?” with an image of Stinky on it, which is odd since he never really saw him. We cut back to his feet, now blocks of ice, as he continues his search. He tries filing a missing persons report at a police station, but the cop just throws him out. He smashes into a brick wall, but the scent of something stinky wakes him (this sequence is missing from the Paramount+ version). We see him again clawing his way down the sidewalk towards the smell, but it’s just a manure salesman (Mr. Horse) and Stimpy drops to the ground. A car parks on his head for good measure, and then lo and behold, Stinky shows up! He takes a seat on Stimpy’s ass and wishes he never left home, but Stimpy doesn’t hear or smell him since he, you know, has a truck parked on his head.

It’s tough being a fart.

Stinky then moves on and squeezes in between two guys seated on the ground sleeping back-to-back. One is just in a coat and underwear and they’re clearly meant to be un-housed individuals. One of them notices the stench of Stinky first, then the other who cries out for someone to light a match. They both stand up and start waving a lit match and poor Stinky is terrified. He lets out a tiny scream and is forced to flee to a sewer as the two men give chase.

There’s a lot of sad crying in this episode.

Back at the house, Ren is singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” through tears as he digs out Stimpy’s present from under the tree. He then goes to give it to Stimpy and we see his face, but it turns out it’s just a picture of Stimpy (the DVD version cuts out the tease and jumps straight to the gift next to the picture frame). A ring of the doorbell gets Ren’s attention and on the other side he finds Stimpy, only he’s completely encased in ice. They go into their reunited routine from the very first episode, only Stimpy can’t respond to Ren’s cry of “Pal” because he’s frozen.

It’s our first Christmas miracle.

Ren brings Stimpy into the living room and sets him up by the fire. The ice is gone and Stimpy is shivering in a blanket with his feet in a bucket of hot water. Ren has decorated for Christmas and he’s done a rather admirable job as he looks on Stimpy with glee in his eyes. He tells Stimpy to relax and kisses his forehead as Stimpy’s tongue pops out of the blanket. A ring of the doorbell causes Ren to leave and, at first, it looks like no one’s there. Then a familiar odor wafts into Ren’s nostrils. At first he’s repulsed, but then smiles as he reaches down off camera for something.

Take a big whiff, Stimpy.

Ren returns to the living room to tell Stimpy he has a visitor. Stimpy responds with his now customary “I don’t care,” forcing Ren to thrust his finger under his nose. As he sniffs Ren’s finger, a look of recognition crosses his eyes. The brown cloud then appears and Stimpy is on his feet crying out in joy “Stinky!” Stinky returns the cry with a “Dad!” and the two embrace to some uplifting music the show is returning to from the first episode, only the embrace is punctuated with a fart sound.

The moment we’ve been waiting for?

Stimpy, through happy sobs, declares that now he and Stinky can be together forever. Stinky’s face hardens and he pulls away from his father’s embrace to tell him, “No, dad, we can’t.” He explains that he’s a man now, and a man has needs, but when he asks Stimpy if he understands the cat just angrily shakes his head “No.” Stinky then gets an idea and tells him to wait here. He goes to the door and opens it and tells Stimpy he wants him to meet his fiancé: Cora.

She’s quite a…catch.

The bride to be is a rotting, mostly decomposed, fish. Stimpy takes one look at her though and declares her beautiful as the fart and garbage embrace, I guess. Ren and Stimpy embrace too and cry out “Memories!” We cut to a wedding, where Stimpy is marrying Stinky to his fish bride. For the first time, he uses the word fart when addressing Stinky so at some point he learned what he is. The two kiss, then head inside Ren’s nose for their honeymoon hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door that suddenly appeared on Ren’s nostril. The camera pans out and Ren looks pretty unhappy about this arrangement, as Stimpy tosses cat litter at his face in place of rice and tells the camera that he just loves happy endings!

“I now pronounce you fart and wife!”

And that’s the end! Nick wanted a heartwarming tale and it got one, albeit a subversive one that only could come from The Ren & Stimpy Show. Stimpy searches for his missing son so the two can be reunited for Christmas. It sounds like a nice and pretty standard holiday premise when you ignore that his son is a literal fart. It’s a bizarre and crazy premise that really puts Stimpy’s stupidity on full display. I suppose, in a sense, it’s funny to think about how we create and pass gas that vanishes quickly and for an idiot like Stimpy he might not comprehend that. Mostly, it feels like a challenge from the show to see if the audience can be moved to feel empathy for an actual fart and the one who dealt it.

A fart is having sex with the corpse of a fish in Ren’s nose right now. That’s a lot to process.

As is customary for the show, there’s tons of visual gags and gross images. There’s numerous shots of nice, round, butts that do look inviting given the cold climate throughout. The show almost made me want to climb in between those two gentlemen in the alley as Stinky did, but not quite. Ren and Stimpy’s relationship is also really interesting here. Ren is shown to be far more understanding and permissive of Stimpy’s depression when normally he’d just lash out with anger. He eventually gets there to a point, but it’s actually depicted rather well as it’s very easy to grow frustrated when trying to talk someone out of a funk. We all try our best not to act like Ren did in the end, but it can be trying. And then we have the obvious romance angle. The show flirts with that here and there before and after this episode, but the depiction of the pair under the mistletoe is definitely the most obvious call out to the two being a romantic couple that we’ve ever seen. Of course, the sequel show would make that plainly obvious to mostly disastrous results. Don’t confuse me for saying Ren and Stimpy being out of the closet is disastrous, that show just happens to be not funny and isn’t worth watching. The fact that it isn’t cut from the episode is rather brave on the part of Nickelodeon considering this debuted in 1992. Not on Nickelodeon, but that’s even pretty brave for MTV. And it would eventually jump to the kid’s network.

Watching Stimpy suffer is not really a whole lot fun, but then he’s also suffering because he misses his fart. It’s hard to know how one should feel, but I think that’s the point.

Ultimately, this episode leans so far into telling it straight that it’s not as funny as it perhaps could be. There are funny moments, for sure. Stimpy describing a fart without knowing what one is works as probably the best scene in the whole episode. The dismissive nature of his booger friends and some of the closeups definitely warrant a laugh. After that though, once Stimpy slips into depression, it’s fairly short on laughs and is really committed to telling this sad story that ultimately has a happy ending. Only I don’t think it succeeds in actually getting the viewer to care about Stinky. I think I identify more with Ren’s frustrations than Stimpy’s depression, which is probably not what the episode wants. Though I do think that aspect of it exists because the staff must have known there would be viewers like me and at least we have something to latch onto via Ren. Because of that, I never know how to feel when this one ends. Am I happy for Stimpy? For Stinky? I guess. I’m relieved it’s over because I don’t enjoy seeing Stimpy suffer like this, but the payoff isn’t there. I think if this one wasn’t as long as it is then it would work better because at some point it just feels sadistic with how it treats Stimpy. Stimpy is a character easy to laugh at when the pain inflicted upon him is physical, but not emotional.

There’s really not a ton of Christmas in this episode, but I think there’s enough.

“Son of Stimpy” is not the only Christmas episode the show created as there is also “A Scooter for Yaskmas.” That one is actually very similar in tone to this one as we basically just see Stimpy suffer, though in that one he creates some of that suffering by desiring a physical object. Both have their moments, but also neither one is a Christmas special I feel required to return to every year. I think others feel differently as “Son of Stimpy” seems to be well-received by the fanbase, so what do I know? If you want to embark on a journey of father and son reuniting for Christmas then this one is available to stream on Paramount+ and was also released on DVD many moons ago. That set is very easy to acquire and contains some classic episodes so even if your response to this episode is tepid like mine that DVD is still a worthwhile purchase. Unfortunately, both versions are edited to some degree. The one on Paramount+ omits the sequence where Stimpy enters the police precinct and gets thrown out, while the DVD version cuts out a shot of Ren sleeping in the bed and his giving a gift to a picture of Stimpy. For the DVD, I think both edits were just made for time as the source video is from Spike TV and their broadcast. With Paramount+, I think their version is the one Nickelodeon aired which apparently didn’t like featuring a cop assaulting Stimpy. Given the two choices, the DVD version is superior, but it continues to be frustrating how hard it is to find truly uncut episodes of The Ren & Stimpy Show.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

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

Well fellow cartoon Christmas enthusiasts, we’re in a new and interesting place today. We’re coming in for the second part of a two-part story we started looking at yesterday. In the first part of “The Bleakening,” the Christmas special from Bob’s Burgers which originally aired in 2017, the children of Bob and Linda Belcher were…

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Dec. 13 – The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials

Five years ago The Christmas Spot did its first advent calendar countdown to Christmas and the theme was “The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials.” With that list, my approach wasn’t entirely forthright. I really had a list of 20 specials that I deemed worthy of such an honor and I devoted the back five to…

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Dec. 13 – How to Grinch

Christmas has a number of characters that instantly come to mind at the mere mention of the holiday. The big man, good old S. Claus, is likely number one. Whether you know him as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, or something else, Santa Claus has dominated the holiday for decades now. Other characters commonly associated with…

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Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012 Turtle Figures Collection 6-Pack

I guess it’s been a long time coming that I touch some 2012 TMNT action figures.

Playmates Toys has been the master toy license holder for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for as long as I’ve been aware of TMNT. In the 80s, the toy line produced by Playmates was excellent: fun sculpts, imaginative characters, crazy set pieces, and tons of vehicles. It was a great companion to the animated series airing on television five days a week and it was a huge reason the TMNT franchise became as big as it did. As the property cooled off and moved on from the old show, Playmates was the one constant that remained. When the turtles jumped to live-action for The Next Mutation, Playmates went with them. When they came back in 2003 with a new animated series, so did Playmates. And it’s been that way for over 30 years now with no end in sight.

Right now in 2022 we’re living through a dry spell for TMNT multimedia. The comics are still going strong, but there are no new episodes of a TV show airing on television and no feature film is set to hit theaters this year. Often times when a toy maker enters into an agreement to be the master license holder for a property there are various stipulations in the agreement that need to be satisfied in order for the agreement to remain valid. One such common stipulation is that new product has to be shipped at set intervals since whoever actually owns the property (in this case, Viacom) stands to make money on units sold and wants its property to remain in the spotlight with consumers. I don’t know if such a clause exists in the license that Playmates holds, but it would certainly explain the vast amount of reissues that have been shipping over the past two years. Rereleases of the vintage figures showed up at Walmart last year while new variations on the Classic Collection figures from 2012 have been available at comic shops and as part of some bizarre two-packs with Cobra Kai. For fans and collectors, some of these reissues have been welcomed, but some have not. The quality has been suspect at times while other releases have left fans scratching their heads wondering just who actually wants some of this stuff?

If you like gimmicky packaging then Playmates has you covered.

I’m mostly in the camp that doesn’t place much value in the recent Playmates releases, but one such bundle did finally get me to pull the trigger. The 2012 animated series that aired on Nickelodeon is one of the blind spots for me as a toy collector. Prior to that series, I had dabbled in basically every line Playmates released. I also watched that 2012 series as it aired and really came to love it. I saw the toys on shelves at various big box retailers and I thought they looked fine, but I just never felt compelled enough to pull the trigger. It was a line aimed at kids, and the Classic Collection did arrive that same year and largely scratched my itch for new TMNT product, so I felt comfortable passing on it. Now though I’m re-watching the series with my kids and I’m being reminded how good it is and Playmates made it really easy to grab some of what I had missed.

6 figures for 50 bucks – can’t argue with the value!

The latest bundle of figures from Playmates centers on the 2012 series. For 50 bucks you get a fancy box decked out to resemble the Shellraiser from the show that contains six, carded, action figures inside. If you’ve been following the Playmates reissues this kind of packaging has become common as they’ve done movie turtles, toon turtles, and even sports turtles in this same style. Once I saw these sets arriving in the hands of collectors I felt comfortable to grab one myself. Some of the others have been rather lackluster, like Bebop having solid black legs and the movie turtle reissues lacking the soft, rubbery, form of the vintage versions so it was hard to predict just what the 2012 reissues would look like. And in general – they’re fine. They’re pretty standard reissues and largely get the job done, but they do have their issues as well.

First of all, the box is pretty neat. It comes in a rather plain, white, slipcase with green font and a Playmates logo on it that basically just exists to protect the inner box. The interior box is fairly sturdy and the art looks great. There’s a turtle on 3 of the sides while Donnie is on top in the gunner position. The turtles are designed to resemble the toys and not the show and there’s even a handle on top of it should you feel the need to bring this to your buddy’s house. Each end is taped closed so you’ll have to break out a knife to get into it if you don’t want to rip tape off. Once opened, the figures can be found stacked 3×3 with some tissue paper wrapped around them. All 6 cards arrived in good condition. They’re the standard blisters from the line sold at retail only the cross-sell on the back has been updated to feature just the six figures in this set: Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, Splinter, and Shredder.

While I had to warm up to the look of the CG in the show, the actual designs for these turtles clicked with me right from the start.

Let’s talk about the turtles first. They were the main reason why I decided to grab this as the other two figures were almost irrelevant to me. Like past Playmates lines, these turtle figures are more inspired-by the show they hail from and are not aiming to be true recreations. They’re all generally much rounder in appearance and each turtle is a unique shade of green, as Playmates often does. Leo strikes me as the most neutral as far as his shading goes while Raph is definitely the darkest of the four as his shade of green skews more blue. Michelangelo has a lot more yellow mixed into his coloring while Donnie comes across as more pale. Each turtle has their own unique mask with the traditional color assignments while the kneepads and elbow pads are brown. There is an ever so slight variation to the shade of brown for each turtle and each one also features athletic tape around the wrists, hands, fingers, and feet. Leo’s tape is an off-white while the other three brothers all have brown tape, except the hand tape which is the same across all four. Raph and Mikey’s tape is a pretty close match in shade to their knee and elbow pads, while Donnie’s is noticeably lighter. Each turtle also has a unique belt for storing their weapons with both Leo and Donnie having a shoulder strap.

I’m not going to display them with the box, but I suppose I could.

These versions of the turtles are actually not the 2012 releases, but the updated 2016 reissues. The main difference between the two is that Playmates re-sculpted the feet to resemble the show. These turtles have the all-white eyes of the 2012 release, but the eyes are painted to be much larger and extend outside of the actual sculpted portion. They don’t look as clean, and the paint in general isn’t great. There’s a lot of slop around the masks on my Leo and Donnie while Mikey’s doesn’t appear to be painted all the way to the edge of the sculpted part of the mask. Mikey also has some of the white from the teeth on his chin. Donnie is by far the worst of the four though as his mask was not painted well at all. The rear of the mask is almost all green plastic with much of the purple applied to the top of his head by mistake. It’s a bummer. To my surprise, the gold on his belt buckle is rather clean so he at least looks passable from the front.

That is a brutal attempt at painting Donnie’s bandana.

I never expected the paint to be much to write home about as it’s the sculpt that interests me most with these guys. It’s a very fun look for the turtles and it’s a look I much prefer to that of the actual show which tended to give the characters these blocky looking muscles. Each turtle is individually sculpted which is actually pretty standard for Playmates. They probably expect to sell so many of the base turtles that they’re willing to sink more money into each one. The texture of the turtle flesh is well done with some featuring bumps, scaling, and cross-hatching to add a touch of realism to otherwise unrealistic designs. Somewhat unique to this iteration of the turtles at the time is the fact that each turtle had a distinct shape. Donnie is the tallest at about 4.625″ with Mikey the shortest at an even 4″. Donnie’s head also has an egg shape to it (fitting) with Raph being close to his shape while Leo and Mikey have comparably wide heads. Raph also has a unique crack in the plastron of his shell near his left shoulder. Donnie is the only turtle with a closed mouth expression which is a bit of a surprise since his model in the show had a gapped-tooth smile. They’re all good sculpts and I’m very charmed by them. The only thing holding them back is the paint and some of the materials as the belts have a very plastic look to them and the accessories do as well, which we’ll get to.

I would caution against storing Mikey’s weapons in such a fashion.

One thing Playmates has never been known for is articulation, and these guys are mostly more of the same. They’re certainly more articulated than some of the past iterations of the brothers, but obviously way less than the Classic Collection. Each turtle has the same articulation: ball-head, shoulder ball-hinge, elbow hinge and swivel, wrist swivel, thigh ball-hinge, knee hinge and swivel. What is present at least works all right. The elbows bend about 90 degrees while the ball-hinges at the shoulders and thighs allow for a wide range at both. The only thing I don’t like is the peg in that shoulder hinge which is pretty ugly and really odd. I also wish they had articulation in the ankles as that would really help in posing, but I’m also not surprised to see such a thing missing.

Everyone comes with extra, unpainted, weapons because that’s how Playmates likes to roll.

The accessories for these guys are also pretty standard. Each turtle comes with his signature weapons: swords for Leo, sai for Raph, bo staff for Donnie, and nunchaku for Michelangelo. The weapons are cast in colored plastic. Leo and Raph’s weapons are gray while Donnie’s is brown and Mikey’s is a more orange-brown. They look okay, but it would have been nice to see some paint. Mikey’s ‘chuks are also all plastic, and while they are flexible, stress marks will quickly form on the chain portion if they’re bent and stored in his belt. All four turtles store their weapons on the rear of their shell and it works fine excepting the issues with Mikey’s ‘chuks. Raph’s right hand also features a wider gap between his fingers so he can do the sai grip with the blade between his fingers just fine. In addition to the standard weapons, each turtle also has a weapon rack with extra stuff. Leo has a much longer, tachi-like blade here while Mikey has his chained sickle offshoot which his nunchaku basically transformed into in the show. Donnie has the bladed variant of his bo here as well and Raph has some strange, broken, sai where each is missing one of the side points. Raph also has some hooked weapons, Donnie a chained weapon, Leo various kunai, and Mikey multiple styles of shuriken. The other three also have their own shurikens and Leo also has what looks like a chisel or something. I like the variant weapons that Don and Mikey feature, while the extra large sword for Leo is cool too. Mostly though I assume people display their turtles with their traditional weapons and that’s probably what I will do as well.

Oh yeah, can’t forget about the other two…

If this contained just the four turtles, I’d be fine with it. 50 bucks for four figures in a specialty box is a decent value in 2022, but we do have two other figures to talk about. First up is Master Splinter. Unlike the turtles, he is a straight re-release of the 2012 figure and he basically looks the same. He’s about 4.5″ tall so he’s a little shorter than Donnie despite being taller in the show. He’s also pre-posed like the classic figures with knees bent so he’s actually taller, but functionally not. He’s also way more basic than the turtles. Remember how I said Playmates seemed inclined to sink more money into their turtles? Well, they’re definitely not for the supporting characters as Splinter is barely more engineered than his vintage counterpart. He just swivels at the neck and elbows with ball-hinges at the shoulders and thighs. There are no knee or elbow hinges or even wrist swivels. He does have one additional point of articulation and that’s a swivel at the tail which comes unassembled in the box.

I guess he’s just always going to be looking up.

If Splinter is to be a statue then he’s going to have to make up for it with the paint and sculpt, and unfortunately that’s really not the case. The paint is fairly clean on this guy, but I’ve never liked the mix of white, brown, and black on his face. His legs and body are also gray which seems odd, but they’re not really visible so I guess it doesn’t matter. His left eye doesn’t appear to be aligned properly so he’s a bit goofy looking. I also wish Playmates used a different shade of white for his exposed teeth as they just blend in with the white fur around his mouth. He does have wraps on his forearms which are gray while the exposed fingers and tail are pink. He has one arched foot which is annoying, but he at least can use his tail as a third leg. The kimono is soft plastic, but aside from the black buckle there’s no paint on it which is a bummer. He looks like a toy wrapped in a fruit rollup. His lone accessory is his walking stick which is cast in a semi-translucent green plastic so it at least looks interesting. Otherwise though, he’s a dud and not something I would have bought outside of this set.

Eh, I guess he kind of scales with the turtles.

Our last figure is the sworn enemy of Splinter and the turtles: The Shredder. He’s better than Splinter, but not as good as the turtles. Like Splinter, he’s a 2012 reissue which is a bit of a bummer because Playmates would do a version 2 that was much better. He is at least sized appropriately at a tick over 5″ and his chest is broad and barrel shaped. He’s also fairly on-model with the show. Like the rest, the paint isn’t great. The chest, sleeves, thighs, belt and part of the boots are painted and it’s all fairly uneven. His eyes are also painted white and look pretty terrible. The armor bits not painted are cast in gray plastic and they look fine. The forearm blades are retracted and Playmates declined to include an extended variation which is also a bummer, but true of the 2012 release as well. I do like this look for Shredder as he’s quite menacing, this just isn’t a great interpretation of it.

Shredder at least has some size, but those statue-like legs are just so bland.

The articulation for Shredder is also lacking. His head is locked down to just a swivel while the shoulders and thighs are the same ball-hinge joint the turtles have. He also has hinged elbows and a swivel at the wrist and waist but nothing at the knees. It’s odd to not have at least have a boot cut and I feel like with better articulated legs I could deem this one acceptable. I do applaud Playmates for putting the shoulder pauldrons on hinges so that Shredder has more range at the shoulder, but that’s about it. He doesn’t make up for the lack of articulation with his accessories either as he just comes with a sword and a pair of shuriken. The sword fits rather loosely in his hands which drives me nuts, plus I don’t know if he ever used a sword in the show. I’d much rather he just have extendable blades for his forearms. The updated Shredder Playmates released had a removable helmet, cape, and hinged knees and the forearm blades were sculpted to be extended. He couldn’t retract them, but I’d rather they be extended than not.

Let’s sneak in a comparison before we put a bow on this one. Everyone likes to compare to the ’88 figures, so I’ll switch things up by comparing 2012 Leo to 2003 Leo (left) and 2007 Leo (right). It’s a shame that when Playmates added painted weapons to the 2k3 line that it didn’t become standard for all future lines.

This boxed set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures mostly does what I want it to do. I don’t particularly care for Shredder and Splinter, but at least Shredder has decent shelf presence. I mostly just wanted the turtles and I do like these sculpts and designs, I just wish my Donatello in particular had been painted better. I’m torn on if I prefer the 2012 versions to the updated 2016 ones too. I like the new feet, but dislike the wider eyes on these ones. Still, it probably would cost me more than 50 bucks to acquire a set of 2012 releases so I’ll take the trade-off. By getting these I’m also more likely to dig out more of my vintage stuff to better display my collection. As for the rest of this line, I don’t know if I’ll add to it. I do like the Metalhead that was released, but nothing else comes to mind. Maybe I can talk myself into that 2.0 Shredder. Otherwise, I’m content to let it be unless NECA or someone else wants to take a whack at the 2012 series with more of a collector mindset. I would certainly welcome an alternative to the Revoltech releases, but for now, this should suffice.


Dec. 21 – Count Duckula – “A Christmas Quacker”

Original air date December 24, 1990 (IMDB) or December 26 (Wikipedia)

In the 1980s, Nickelodeon didn’t have a lot of animated content. That’s probably surprising for today’s adolescents, but that’s how the network was in the old days. That was due in large part to the network first prioritizing educational content, and then wanting to make sure whatever it aired couldn’t be found on another channel. And if you’re going to produce original content, live action is often far cheaper than animation.

Things would obviously change, and one of the first animated shows Nick would air was Danger Mouse. The British import satisfied the network’s desire to have something that couldn’t be found on broadcast, but it didn’t really satisfy the desire to have an actual, good, show. Sorry Danger Mouse fans, but I don’t like your show. Danger Mouse eventually got the boot, but network president Geraldine Laybourne was still interested in working with Cosgrove Hall Films on a new show. That show would be Count Duckula.

Duckula is a vampiric waterfowl who happens to lack teeth.

The character Count Duckula first debuted as a villain in Danger Mouse. That character had a fun design, but would not be suitable as a lead for a children’s show. In order to lead his own show, Duckula would have to be toned down a bit. As the lore goes, the Count Duckula from Danger Mouse was basically killed off somewhere. His servant, Igor, then needed to create a new Count Duckula through an elaborate reincarnation process requiring blood. He ended up being a vampire created not by blood, but by ketchup as the opening song covers leading to him being a vegetarian vampire who shuns his teeth by literally tossing them out. Since he doesn’t have a thirst for blood, Duckula is instead motivated by a relatable item: money. As well as fame. Despite living in a castle with servants, he’s apparently broke and is forced to travel the world in his teleporting castle seeking out get rich quick schemes and such. His adversary, Dr. Von Goosewing, is basically a vampire hunter that either doesn’t believe that Duckula is harmless or he doesn’t care: a vampire is a vampire. He’s out to destroy him, but frequently is thwarted.

The intro to every episode makes sure the audience knows that this isn’t your typical blood-sucking vampire.

Count Duckula would last about six years from 1988-1993 and totaled a syndication-friendly 65 episodes. Despite it actually overlapping with the original Nicktoons, I can’t remember actually watching Count Duckula past 1989 or so, nor can I recall what timeslot it occupied. And even though it was co-produced by Nick, it’s not a Nicktoon and I assume that’s because it preceded the Nicktoons concept. There was no need to grandfather it in since Nickelodeon didn’t own the rights to the show or character as once their broadcasting rights expired at the end of 1993, Count Duckula was gone from the network. Apparently, despite being gung-ho for the show initially, Laybourne ended up not liking the cartoon. It ended up being a testing ground of sorts for Nick when it came to original animation and I presume had the network president liked the show then the network probably does more to keep it around. Maybe then it would have been a true Nicktoon. As far as I’m concerned, it basically is the first Nicktoon which makes it a rather important piece of cartoon history.

As part of the broadcast third season, Count Duckula celebrated Christmas. Even though a show starring a vampire duck that also incorporates other famous monsters into it feels more like a Halloween thing, there’s still room for Christmas. And since the inhabitants of Count Duckula’s world all appear to be birds, we get to see what Santa would like if he had feathers and a beak.

Santa appears to be an eagle or a buzzard, which begs the question, “If Santa were a bird, what kind of bird would he be?”

The episode begins with a festive title card that dissolves into an actual moving picture. “The Nutcracker Suite” is played as narrator Barry Clayton does his best Vincent Price impression to welcome us in. We look at the cold castle home of Duckula and find Santa Claus (Jack May, I think, only the main cast is credited to their main characters) getting ready to go down the chimney. He mostly looks the part, but he has a crooked beak extended from his face and over his beard. At first glance I thought it was a nose and that Santa was actually human. He’s accompanied by one, lone, reindeer who appears to be Rudolf given that he has a round, red, nose. He kind of looks like Brain from Inspector Gadget, only brown and with antlers.

He may be dressed like Santa, but Duckula embodies the “receiving” aspect of Christmas and not so much the giving.

Inside the castle, Duckula (David Jason) is excited about Christmas and is roaming the halls as Santa. His faithful servant, Igor (May), is doing the same though with much less enthusiasm as he lets us know he much prefers Halloween. Igor is basically the show’s killjoy as he intended to resurrect Duckula as a bonafide vampire and resents this vegetarian lord he got instead. In the bowels of the castle, Santa is seen crawling around. He remarks that every year he spends a few hours delivering presents to the whole world, then the remainder of the night trying to navigate Castle Duckula in order to deliver presents here.

The birds of this world are apparently of the Donald Duck variety in that they can’t fly, as this is surely not the quickest (or safest) way to the top.

Outside the castle, the crow brothers are shown scaling the wall dressed as little Santas as well. These guys are often shown trying to break into the castle, only to rarely succeed. They think there is treasure inside and are apparently unaware that the castle’s owner is broke. Or Duckula is ignorant of actual treasure somewhere inside. They’re singing “Jingle Bells” until one crow brother (Burt, I think) remarks to the lead crow (Ruffles?) about this bringing about warm, fuzzy, feelings inside. It would seem our dim-witted bird thinks they’re bringing presents to Duckula, while the lead brother has to remind him they’re just dressed as Santa to sneak in and steal everything. Once the dimmer brother understands, they resume their scaling and their song.

In this show, the vampire hunter is actually the bad guy.

Flying nearby is Dr. Von Goosewing (Jimmy Hibbert). He’s flying a blimp and also dressed like Santa (everyone is just so festive) and butchering “Jingle Bells.” Most of the lyrics he makes up are borderline unintelligible. He’s in a festive mood though because he has a present for the “wampire” inside and he’s pretty proud of himself for coming up with some ingenious plan. He doesn’t explain it for our benefit, but obviously this isn’t a sincere Christmas gift. He exits the blimp and decides to enter the building as Santa would. In the background, we see the lone reindeer working on a snowman while he waits for his master’s return.

So many Santas…

Elsewhere in the castle, Duckula is marching along and singing “Jingle Bells” as well. We then see Nanny (Brian Trueman), Duckula’s massive, hen, caretaker, also dressed as Santa and also singing along. We then pivot back to Igor and he’s just muttering “Bah, humbug.” All three characters collide at an intersection and Duckula is confused to see they too are dressed as Santa. It would seem one of them plays Santa every year, and all thought it was their turn this year. Nanny confirms for Duckula that Santa is expected soon while the crow brothers outside pause at a window thinking they had been spotted. They weren’t, but Santa opens the window the lead crow was beside which knocks all of them from the castle wall. Santa, thinking he had finally found the exit, sees that he was wrong and resumes his journey oblivious that he just murdered a murder of crows. Inside, Duckula asks Igor what that sound was as the crows crash down to Earth, but soon decides he doesn’t really care.

He does look cooler with fangs.

In the living room, Duckula is bored waiting for Santa so he proposes to Igor they exchange gifts now. Igor is happy to oblige, strangely, and Duckula is happy to receive a present. Until he opens it, that is, and discovers Igor got him new vampire teeth. He’s disappointed, but Igor requests he oblige him this one time since it is Christmas and Duckula tries them on. Immediately he starts talking like a normal person would with those cheap, vampire, teeth found at stores around Halloween and he’s none too pleased. He does wish Igor “Happy Christmas,” and makes the old buzzard quite happy. He hands over Igor’s gift as well, an obviously wrapped axe, which Igor seems pleased to receive or he’s just still beaming about the teeth.

In case you’re wondering, Nanny’s arm is always in a sling. I remember zero plot details from this show despite watching it as a kid, but I did remember the sling thing for some reason. Probably because it bothered me as a kid not knowing why her arm (wing?) is in a sling.

Duckula then picks up another gift that’s intended for Nanny. When he calls for her to enter she comes crashing through the wall, which is kind of her thing. She then scolds Duckula for speaking with his mouth full, on account of the teeth, so he spits them out and ends that little piece of amusement. She’s elated though to receive a gift from Duckula, making it seem like this isn’t a regular thing, and is so excited she almost forgets to open it. Duckula has to encourage her a bit, but when she does she seems disappointed. It’s a book, and she declares she already has a book (she’s not very bright), but Duckula tells her this is a great one and tells her to read the title. It’s actually a comic book about a character named Tremendous Terence. It’s actually The Very Big Tremendous Terence Adventure Book and Duckula tells her she’s very lucky. It soon becomes apparent that this isn’t really a gift for Nanny, as Duckula takes the book from her hands and enthusiastically declares he’s Tremendous Terrence’s number one fan. He then declares she’s too busy to read it now on account of having to prepare Christmas dinner so he’ll just borrow it for a bit. What a jerk? We then get a quick glimpse at Von Goosewing as he tries to navigate the same tunnels as Santa. He remarks to himself that his Christmas gift is at risk of becoming an Easter Egg if he can’t find his way out of this place soon.

This better not lead to a bad case of amnesia.

Back in the den, Duckula is reading the book aloud to a very enraptured Igor. As he reads it, we see the pages of the comic as the camera pans over the panel and Duckula provides narration. He reads the characters in voices, which is a nice touch. It’s a generic story of a space ace thwarting evil aliens, but Duckula is entertained tremendously while Igor is most certainly not. Nanny then enters the room to share some pudding she’s made, only it falls off her plate and bounces across the floor striking Duckula in the head. It continues on and smashes through a window, which the crow brothers had reached and soon take another terrible tumble.

Like many toothless cartoon characters, Duckula gains teeth whenever he smiles.

Following his little bump on the noggin, Duckula is apparently in a daze. He starts to imagine himself in the Tremendous Terence book where he needs to help his hero save Santa from some aliens. The visuals become a comic book with only Duckula partially animated. This must have really knocked down the cost of this episode. As the story moves along though, other characters start to animate. Either this is intentional or they just kind of lost track of the rules. The camera does shake a little as it pans across the page, which is a nice touch since it does make it feel like someone is just holding a book in front of it.

This corny finger pointing joke might actually be my favorite part of the comic sequence.

While Igor and Nanny argue over who is responsible for Duckula’s concussion, the story of Daring Duckula and Tremendous Terence is laid out. Duckula is a space pilot in this story as they go after some aliens who have abducted Santa. Daring Duckula navigates a swarm of pudding, the same that concussed him, and is quite modest when taking praise from Terence. Despite making himself a rather talented pilot, Duckula narrates that he crash lands on the home planet of the Dribulons, the evil aliens they’re pursuing. Once there they find themselves trapped in a net and are to be sent to the Igulon, the most feared being this side of Betelgeuse!

This passage is just fantastic to hear. Print does not do it justice.

The heroes are taken to the Igulon, which is Igor in purple pajamas with yellow polka dots. Duckula remarks he looks familiar, but is apparently unable to make the connection in his present state. They then go into a schtick as Igulon states they’re just in time for dinner and Duckula is eager for some grub. When Igulon tells him that he is on the menu, Duckula is at first fine with that until he realizes what this means. The only thing missing is an incredulous, “WHAAAAT?!” Igulon recites a bunch of fancy dishes that are fun to hear and read (this is presented as a comic book, after all, complete with word bubbles) concluding with duck a la orange (he also intends to consume Santa and Terence). Duckula then tries to convince Igulon that he’d taste lousy, and Igulon surprisingly seems agreeable to this notion. He then suggests a pre-meal bit of entertainment, and Duckula whips out a banjo and starts seeing his own rendition of “Camptown Races.”

The artists really did a great job making this entire section look like a print magazine.

Igulon is not amused and corrects Duckula. He intends for the entertainment to be their battle with the Nannoxx! At this point, almost everything is fully animated as Igulon explains that if they survive the Nannoxx he’ll allow them to be cooked before he consumes them. What a generous guy? A gong is sounded summoning the horrible Nannoxx, which as you probably guessed is just Nanny only she’s all green and polka-dotted as well. She surprisingly enters through the door and immediately scolds Duckula for calling her horrible. Igulon orders her to kill the heroes and she marches over and places all three of them, Terence, Santa, and Daring Duckula, in a giant bear hug.

Sleep reading is a thing, right?

The bear hug is the catalyst for snapping Duckula out of his pudding-induced coma. He has apparently been reading the book, but in a concussed state, or something as he’s holding it and readying it frantically while Nanny squeezes him. Duckula soon notices he’s not in the story anymore and reacts with confusion. He rambles to Nanny and Igor about what had happened and thinks they saved him. Igor is thoroughly confused and as Duckula comes to realize it was all some weird hallucinatory episode he starts to laugh like a mad man. I mean, duck.

Santa and Goosewing being lost in the bowels of Castle Duckula probably could have chewed up more screen time than it did.

In the chimney system, or wherever they are, Santa is peering down another chasm unaware that Goosewing is right behind him. He bumps into Santa and both fall down the chute only to find it ends in the fireplace. At long last, they’ve located the exit! Their falling down the chimney stirs up quite a bit of dust and soot, and when the smoke clears Duckula is happy to see Santa, and surprised to see Goosewing. When they question what he’s doing there, he states he’s there to deliver goodwill since even a creature such as Duckula deserves something at Christmas. Santa seems to take this at face value as he laughs and declares that he’s happy to hear that from Goosewing. Goosewing hands over a present for Duckula and Santa declares he brought some too. Duckula is happy, because he’s like a child and loves getting presents, but Goosewing is frustrated when Duckula turns his attention to Santa instead of opening the gift he brought.

At least they managed to find their way out.

Santa then pulls out a gift for Igor, which is clearly another axe. The old bird doesn’t seem to mind. Nanny gets a big box, which she doesn’t open, and then Santa asks if Duckula has been a good boy this year. He says “Yes,” and Igor sneaks in “Mmm, ’tis a pity,” which is a good line as Santa hands over a gift for Duckula. He rips it open only to find it’s the same Tremendous Terence book he bought for Nanny. Most episodes of this show feature Duckula doing something self-serving where he gets his comeuppance in the end, and the Christmas episode is no different. Santa is confused that Duckula doesn’t seem to want his gift, but before Duckula can figure a way out of this awkward situation Goosewing rips open the gift he brought and asks if anyone wants Christmas crackers?

Duckula does speak with an American accent so that might explain why he doesn’t know how to properly tug on a Christmas cracker.

Nanny is excited to see the crackers so Duckula offers to pull one with her, but he makes it clear that he gets the present inside. The two then try to pull it apart, while Goosewing plugs his ears, but the thing won’t “crack” since Duckula is gripping the middle portion of the cracker and not the end. Frustrated, Goosewing grabs and yanks on the sides causing it to explode rather predictably. The explosion sends Goosewing rocketing through yet another window, where once again the crow brothers lurked and are soon knocked from the wall.

I think we all knew this was coming.

Duckula remarks that was one crazy cracker as Santa announces it’s time for him to go. Duckula wishes him a “Happy Christmas,” as Santa walks away. Apparently he wants nothing to do with the chimney of Castle Duckula. Nanny wishes him the same while Igor sneaks in one last “Bah, humbug,” for good measure. The scene pivots to outside as snow is falling. Santa drives away in his one reindeer sleigh as the narrator returns. He implores us to have “A very, merry, Christmas out there. Whatever you are!” The only surprise is there’s no moon in sight for Santa to fly in front of.

And Santa flies away with nary a moon in sight.

“A Christmas Quacker” is definitely a mixed bag. I enjoy the look of this series and I think the animation is rather well done, even if it’s sometimes minimal. And by minimal I don’t mean the comic book portion as that is certainly not the usual for this show. That whole section though felt like filler. There were a couple of decent and funny lines during that segment, but it was also pretty dull. Apparently there just wasn’t enough material to mine from the awkward gift exchange inside and Santa’s journey through the complicated chimney system of the castle. I like the recurring gag of the crow brothers, but I feel like more could have been done with Goosewing. They also could have just brought in more recurring characters from the show to pad this thing out, rather than roll with the comic thing. It just felt out of place in a Christmas episode because, other than the goal being to save Santa, that portion of the episode was pretty much devoid of Christmas.

The main cast is what makes this show work with Igor being my personal favorite. Look at his little hat, he’s got the Christmas spirit after all!

What this show does offer is British humor and a wonderful cast. Jack May is especially impressive as Igor (and I think Santa) as I loved pretty much every line that character spoke. Nanny is charming as well since she never misses a chance to reprimand Duckula for doing something wrong. Our title character is almost the least interesting since he’s basically just a spoiled child at Christmas, but I do love his design. The scenery is also rather lovely and we get some snow and even a decrepit Christmas tree. There’s no Christmas message really, other than I suppose those who give gifts with the wrong intentions come away with nothing in the end. Well, I suppose Duckula did still get a book he liked, he just wound up with two.

“The Christmas Quacker” is not an easy thing to come by these days. If you live outside of the UK then it’s not even available on DVD and it’s not syndicated on any US channels. It is, however, streaming for free on YouTube via the official Count Duckula channel. If you remember the show from when you were a kid, or are just curious, I actually do suggest you give it a look. These free channels on YouTube feel like they’re not long for this world as various streaming platforms hungry for exclusive content keep cropping up. For now, it’s there, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?


Dec. 6 – Christmas in Tattertown

Original air date December 21, 1988.

Nickelodeon in the late 1980s was a network on the rise. Cable was expanding to more and more households each and every day and Nick was able to seize the youth market almost from the get-go. Prior to that, broadcast networks dominated children’s programming, but restricted it to certain parts of the broadcast schedule. And they were basically the same from channel to channel as the networks battled over the youth market while confining it to just a small portion of the schedule. Nickelodeon basically ditched all of that as it would aim its programming at children from 6AM to 8PM every single day. The problem though, was there just wasn’t much programming out there that wasn’t already locked into an exclusive deal on broadcast. That’s why, in the early days, Nickelodeon relied a lot on syndicated and outdated shows like Lassie, Dennis the Menace, and Flipper. The network didn’t have the resources to produce it’s own content or compete with the broadcast networks for the latest and greatest, but as it’s profile grew so did its coffers.

In the late 1980s, Nickelodeon explored the idea of doing animation. And when it did so, it decided to go after a guy who knows an awful lot about animation: Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi had established himself as a director of feature-length animation in the 60s and 70s with an adult audience in mind and was probably best known for Fritz the Cat, the first X-rated animated film. An X rating back in the 1970s didn’t mean what it does today as Fritz the Cat is actually more like an R-rated film, but that fact didn’t stop some of his detractors from calling him a “pornographer.” He directed several other features and had basically established himself as the anti-Disney of animation.

What you were originally supposed to see alongside a Nicktoons logo.

In the late 80s, Bakshi was overseeing the animated series Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, and it was likely his work there that caught Nickelodeon’s eye. Nickelodeon had been acquired by Viacom in 1986, which itself had been spun-off from CBS as part of a mandate from the FCC banning networks from owning syndication companies, but it’s probably no coincidence that Mighty Mouse was a CBS show and likely helped get Bakshi into talks with Nickelodeon. Bakshi pitched Junktown, later changed to Tattertown, which was an idea he had been sitting on since he was a kid. The network liked it enough to commission a pilot and would from there offer him a deal for 39 more episodes. Then Bakshi got into trouble with Mighty Mouse as a sequence in an episode where Mighty Mouse snorts a flower was accused of being a reference to cocaine use. It made enough noise that it’s alleged Nickelodeon got cold feet and backed out of the deal and the pilot for Tattertown, which was re-titled Christmas in Tattertown, is the only remnant of the deal.

Tattertown was supposed to be about a girl who gets sucked into another world inhabited by garbage that walks and talks.

Tattertown should have been the first Nicktoon and would have launched in either late 1989 or sometime in 1990, which would have been before the eventual launch of Nicktoons in 1991. The irony in all of this, is that the sequence in Mighty Mouse that caused so much trouble can be traced back to a director on Bakshi’s staff: John Kricfalusi. Kricfalusi was adamant the sequence not be cut from the cartoon and Bakshi eventually sided with his decision. That decision obviously backfired, and Mighty Mouse ended up getting cancelled eventually. Kricfalusi would then go on to found Spumco, and his first major project would become one of the original three Nicktoons: The Ren and Stimpy Show. Obviously, Kricfalusi couldn’t have known at the time how lucrative a decision that would be for him to defend that one scene in a cartoon, but it sure did work out pretty well for him in the end. Now lets never speak of him again.

Likely what would have been the show’s logo.

Christmas in Tattertown aired in December of 1988 and was re-broadcast around the holidays into the 90s. Despite Nickelodeon having the broadcast rights to the pilot of its would-be Nicktoon, it doesn’t own the production outright. Bakshi retained ownership of it and either had a deal in place each year with Nick for it to air, or their original agreement provided the rights for a time that likely no longer is in place. Because it is a single, not particularly well-remembered, holiday special, it hasn’t been officially made available. The only way to see it is either via an original tape or via someone’s own recording made with a VCR. Geoffrey Darby, who was a screenwriter at Nick on You Can’t Do That On Television and the original host of Double Dare, has a YouTube channel with just five videos. One of those five though, is Christmas in Tattertown. It sounds like, based on his write-up with the video, he just found a copy of the special in his home or office and put it up for people to see. It has a counter running at the top of the screen for the entire duration and there are even blank spots in the video, presumably for commercials. There is also, on occasion, tracking info from the VCR he likely used to upload this thing which just makes it a really interesting viewing experience. There are other versions on YouTube that are of better quality, some even with commercial bumpers, but there’s a certain time capsule aspect to the one uploaded by Darby.

Miles the sax, voiced by the always awesome Keith David.

Christmas in Tattertown begins with an introduction. Keith David is our narrator and he introduces us to Debbie (Sherry Lynn), a little girl who found a strange book in her attic and got sucked into Tattertown along with her stuffed dog and dolly Muffet (Jennifer Darling). This either would have been the intro for all of the Tattertown shows, or it would have been livened up a bit, maybe with a true theme song or something. The origin is told through stills during the opening credits, and if you’re into animation you may see some familiar names in the credits here and at the end. When Debbie gets pulled into her book is when the actual animation kicks in. Tattertown is an animated world full of discarded items. Once an inanimate object is brought to Tattertown, it becomes sentient and personified. Most of the designs have a very classic, animated, style to them. We’re talking noodle limbs, big eyes, and constant motion. The jazzy soundtrack befits that style as well and this is a world where Bosko would fit right in.

Muffet is a character with some unexpected complexity.

Once Debbie arrives in this new place, she is dismayed to find her dolly has run away. Muffet is a baby doll that bizarrely seems to have a five-o-clock shadow. She basically has a Homer Simpson mouth. She’s also the bad guy of our tale as we find out she basically hates everything that has to do with being the doll of a young girl and Tattertown is a world of new beginnings for Muffet. Upon realizing she’s alive, she begins to cry with joy which is a nice touch to add some sympathy to this character who will be a bad guy, in the end. Debbie chases after her, and some puppet characters welcome us to Tattertown as a title card drops down.

After all of that, we officially meet David’s character, Miles, a saxophone. He gives us a rundown on Tattertown and we get to see some of the occupants until Muffet and Debbie go racing by. Muffet wants nothing to do with Debbie now that she’s alive, but Debbie still wants her to be her dolly. Muffet tries to clear a plank fence, but can’t leap over it allowing Debbie to grab her by the ankles. She pulls, causing Muffet’s legs to stretch and the fence to bend until Debbie eventually loses her grip. Since this is a rubbery, cartoon, world, Muffet behaves like a rubber band that was stretched and released and goes soaring through the night sky towards a far off city.

There’s something suggestive about that look Debbie is giving Harvey here. This is a Bakshi cartoon, after all.

Debbie takes a seat on the sidewalk to lament how Muffet “got away again,” which serves to remind us that this was a pilot and we’re probably to assume that Debbie has been in Tattertown awhile. Or has been here before. She scolds her dog companion and then sees her friend Harvey (Adrian Arnold) picking a fight with someone much bigger than he. Harvey is basically one of those non-descript animal characters from the 1920s the Warners from Animaniacs would be based on. Is he a bear? A dog? I don’t know. He’s mostly black with a red nose and big eyes. He also has a busted arm as he shadow boxes until one rips off. Debbie calls him over so she can sew it back on and he chats her up about Muffet. This leads to a story from Debbie about how she got Muffet for Christmas, or it would have gone into a story if Harvey knew what Christmas was. Debbie is shocked to find out this fact as she assumes there must be some Christmas stuff amongst the denizens of Tattertown. With Harvey’s limb re-attached, the trio set out to see if they can round up some old Christmas junk.

This spider probably makes people much younger than me think of Cuphead.

Elsewhere, Muffet is enjoying herself and going a little nuts until a stray alarm clock smashes her in the face. She looks over to a nearby building where a bunch of characters are just throwing stuff around. A spider named Sidney (Charlie Adler) is descending from the ceiling with another dolly in his clutches. Strangely, he only seems to have six limbs, but I bet he’s based on some cartoon from the 30s that looked the same. He apparently intends to eat this other dolly and that’s why the other creatures are throwing stuff. Muffet enters and screams for them to stop and to let the spider do his business. When they ask who she is, Muffet refers to herself as Muffet the Merciless and declares that she’s taking over Tattertown. She’s pretty convincing too as all of the other characters flee, except Sidney who seems to take a liking to Muffet. He drops his prey and follows Muffet out the door, while the dolly that was to be eaten is able to dust herself off and blow a defiant raspberry at his back.

Does Muffet symbolize America or something? Interesting framing device.

Outside, Sidney expresses interest in Muffet as he’s always wanted to take over Tattertown. Muffet asks for more clarity on just what this place is, and Sidney suggests he take her to The Deadster Zone. Miles chimes in to tell us that the Deadster Zone is a place for war toys and televisions, basically unsafe stuff, and it’s represented as a giant drummer soldier with other toys zipping around it. Sidney introduces Muffet to “the guys” and asks her what she thinks, seemingly proud of himself. She is unimpressed and declares she’s seen gelatin with more backbone than these guys. Most of the stuff appears to be discarded ammo, there are personified rockets or something, as well as Frankenstein-like devices that appear to be a mish-mash of various appliances. Muffet goes into a speech/slash rant about taking over Tattertown and finds herself on a stage in front of an American flag. The other beings are shown cheering for her, some falling apart as they do, while Sidney literally melts onstage he’s so impressed.

Back in Tattertown, Debbie has everyone searching high and low for Christmas stuff. Harvey runs across an individual that looks a lot like a Christmas wreath and is hawking cigars on a street corner. Harvey takes exception to someone selling cigars in his town and is ready to throw down, but Debbie sees the wreath-guy and snatches him up in a hug, accidentally separating Harvey’s head from his body. She runs off overjoyed to have found a Christmas item, while Harvey pops his head back on and does a stylish pose to show everyone he’s okay.

She found some Christmas.

Debbie takes a seat and remembers how at Christmas her family would hang a wreath on the door and how the snow would flutter off of it whenever they opened and closed the door. She gets a little emotional, which confuses Harvey. He then asks her to tell him just what Christmas is and Debbie soon has an audience to listen to her tale. She explains the gist of the holiday, mostly as a kid interprets it, which means she mostly talks about presents. The other characters like this story (who wouldn’t?) causing Debbie to declare that they’ll have a Christmas of their own!

I wish there was more from this pair in this cartoon.

Nearby though, a fly spy for Muffet is watching and he takes off back to the Deadster Zone to inform his new boss of this development. Muffet is shocked and enraged at the idea of Christmas coming to Tattertown and throws a mini temper tantrum over the idea. She then summons two of her lackeys, Tad and Wendell, to spy on Tattertown. Tad is voiced by someone doing a John Wayne impression and he is some sort of device with a machine gun for a nose. Wendell is voiced by Charley Adler doing an effeminate voice. He looks like a blue desk lamp attached to a car battery and he’s plugged into Tad so they have some kind of co-dependent relationship. Is this Nickelodeon’s first unofficial gay relationship? I suppose these things technically lack a gender, but they sure seem like a couple.

This guy may not be much of a tree, but he’s still better than Christopher.

Harvey is shown leading Debbie to a comic and book store in search of some old geezer named Tannenbaum. Once inside, they’re accosted by a book of the 1930s, with NRA emblazoned on the cover, that opens up and a bunch of 30s era gags are allowed to jump out. They soon find Tannenbaum, who is a pathetic looking, potted, evergreen tree with a bowler hat and the voice of an old Jewish man. It’s pretty weird to give such a voice to a Christmas tree, but Bakshi or someone must have though it was a funny thing to do. Debbie wants him to be their Christmas tree, but he wants no part of it, until Debbie mentions there will be no competition so he’ll essentially be the best tree in town. That’s apparently all it takes to get the tree interested, which is a bit odd since he was ranting about needing to run his store. It makes me wonder if she was supposed to whisper something to him about compensation, which would fit the mouth flaps just as well as competition, and someone nixed it since that would be a bad look for this seemingly Jewish character to want to get paid.

Wreath boy here is acting like he doesn’t want in on this, but you know he does.

Tad and Wendell are making their way through Tattertown when Tad is forced to stop abruptly because Wendell stopped to admire a flower. He declares it beautiful, while Tad is annoyed and accuses Wendell of somehow blowing their cover before annihilating the flower with his machine gun nose. Wendell sheds a few quiet tears and then simply places a new flower in its place. They then come upon Debbie instructing the townsfolk on how to decorate a tree. Tad tells Wendell he’s going to waste them right here and now, but Wendell gets one look at Tannenbaum with the wreath guy attached to him and falls in love. He starts running towards the tree while Tad warns him he’s going to overload him since he’s apparently gushing with power now. He does indeed overload, causing the two to go spinning into the tree where they become entangled alongside the wreath. They provide a warm glow though and the townsfolk are transfixed. Meanwhile, the wreath hopes the other tough guys don’t see him like this further implying my suspicion that Tad and Wendell are to be read as gay.

Gross.

Muffet is then showing getting ready to enjoy her favorite dish: tobacco pie. She retrieves it from a safe, and it’s disgusting looking. It’s basically a pie slice with brown filling and cigarettes poking out of it. She gets startled by her fly lackey though and drops it near some creature that looks like a pellet stove. He eats the pie, then squirts out a gray liquid, as Muffet looks ready to cry. The fly comes baring bad news, which only fuels Muffet’s rage and sadness. The news is presented in the form of a Christmas card from Tad and Wendell showing them on the tree. Muffet needs a minute to pout and despair about how exhausting it is to be surrounded by all of these “lower lifeforms.”

Muffit Claus.

Sidney sees and hears Muffet’s tantrum and scoffs at it privately. He decides he would be a better ruler of the riff raff and puts on a crown and robe that apparently belongs to Muffet. She sees him, and suddenly he’s not so confident any longer. She shoves him into a bathtub full of…yellow water…and speaks down to him in a threatening manner. She then pulls him aside and slaps a new outfit on him. It’s clearly a reindeer outfit, though Sidney doesn’t know that, and when Muffet disappears behind a sack of clothes she’s reaching into there’s no surprise when she emerges as Santa Claus. Muffet intends to bring destruction to Tattertown disguised as Santa, and Sidney shall be her mount. She rides him off the roof, and thanks to the fly character holding onto his costume, he floats! Then he does not as flies are not known for their strength, and the trio plummet towards the ground as Sidney screams and Muffet appears delirious. She rounds up the other junk and beckons them to join them on their flight to Tattertown, as Sidney seems to fly just fine now, declaring that Muffet Claus is coming to town!

There’s a dark side to Debbie.

In town, Debbie is trying to teach the others about Christmas carols when some lumberjack robot walks up to their tree intending to chop it down. Debbie stops him, much to the relief of the old tree, and laments how they still don’t understand what Christmas is all about. Through tears, she describes Christmas as a day when people basically stop working and being bad, and set everything aside for the good of the day. The robot somehow sheds a few tears himself, and then when Debbie finishes resumes the cutting down of the tree causing her to smash him with a fist!

She may be new to playing Santa, but she knows what’s expected of her.

The townsfolk then see all of the commotion up in the sky. Debbie, naturally, thinks it must be Santa, but Muffet soon corrects her. As Muffet launches her attack, the beings of Tattertown are actually excited and Debbie is so happy to see her dolly coming back to her. This just makes Muffet even angrier, and as she directs her forces to rain destruction upon Tattertown a red blur crosses her path. It’s the real Santa! He doesn’t appear to be showing up with any purpose in mind, except to wish everyone “Merry Christmas,” but Muffet takes it as a challenge. She turns around and instructs her minions to target Santa, but when one dumb missile smashes into another, a plane assumes that Muffet wants them to attack each other! They’re not very bright, so that’s what they do essentially putting on a fireworks show for all of the onlookers. Everyone loves it, including Santa, but he has work to do and tells Muffet he can’t stay and play with her and takes off leaving Muffet alone with Sidney. She decides she doesn’t need any help and plans to resume her assault on Tattertown solo.

I’m not really sure why the big guy showed up.

On the ground, Harvey is really impressed with the dogfighting he just witnessed above. He tells Debbie that Christmas is quite a show, and then asks when they can eat? Debbie, frustrated that she can’t convey what Christmas is all about, channels her inner Charlie Brown when she declares “It’s all wrong!” She marches over to a big phonograph and makes a last ditch effort by playing “White Christmas” as sung by Bing Crosby. It’s a bit shocking they had enough money in the budget to license this recording, but it has the desired effect Debbie was looking for. Characters are shown crying and embracing as Crosby’s gentle croon fills the air. It even gets to Sidney, who puts on the “brakes” causing Muffet to go crashing through the roof of a nearby jail. He pulls out boxes of soap flakes and starts spreading them from up in the sky mimicking snowfall.

It may not be real snow, but it gets the job done.

In the jai cell, Muffet angrily sits. She pulls out a stocking and empties its contents on the ground, it doesn’t appear to have anything good in it, but when she holds it up it soon magically fills with presents. A tear comes to her eye as she appears close to breaking, until Debbie looks in on her from outside the cell and declares she can be her dolly again! This makes the grumpy expression return as we freeze on this moment for a beat. Miles then comes in to wrap things up as a literal curtain closes on the special with Muffet’s curses ringing loudly in the background.

And that’s how Christmas came to Tattertown. It’s a special that certainly has style and is very evocative in both looks and sound with classic animation. The actual sound quality isn’t great, but that likely has at least something to do with how this special has been preserved these past 30+ years. It would have been interesting to see how this series would have looked once it moved past the pilot. I imagine it would have had to have become a bit more static than what is presented here, but I assume it would have been able to keep enough of the charm it was going for. I also assume Nick would have made Bakshi drop the tobacco references. They’re a bit weird to see, and even though it’s only the bad guys who glorify it, I doubt the censors at Nick would have left it in. It’s the type of thing they won’t pay to have removed from a pilot, which is likely why it’s here.

Muffet left feeling miserable on Christmas.

The actual story and characters though leave a lot to be desired. The pacing of this thing is just odd. It’s trying to hit conventional Christmas special beats, but with little or no setup or transition. It’s just one thing after another and comes across as very disjointed. Debbie is quite bland and most of the scenes featuring her were pretty dull. There’s a little something to Harvey at least, but his character isn’t explored enough in this one pilot episode to leave a mark. Muffet certainly dominates to both the benefit, and detriment, of the episode. She’s very over-the-top, and Jennifer Darling’s performance is part of that. I think she does a good job developing Muffet, it’s just that there’s too much of her and by the end the character has been stretched way too thin. The character is turned up to 10 too often, so the final few rants have no impact and the character becomes annoying. It’s also just a weirdly imagined character – a doll that doesn’t want to be a toy and just wants its own autonomy. That sounds like a noble cause, but the special needs the character to be a villain so it then just makes her evil thus destroying any sympathy the audience could have felt for her. Muffet should be the protagonist, but Bakshi apparently wanted to just toss a curveball at us for the sake of doing so, or he’s just a bad story teller.

At least we got to listen to Keith David.

Christmas in Tattertown is definitely an interesting relic and a fun exercise in “what could have been?” Being the first Nicktoon would have been huge for Tattertown, regardless of how successful the actual series ended up being, but apparently it wasn’t meant to be. As a Christmas special, it’s not very good. It’s interesting to look at, but hardly remarkable. It’s story is nothing new and no one ends up learning anything about Christmas in the end. As mentioned earlier, the only way to see this is to find it on YouTube or in other places online. There’s no official release and there likely never will be at this point. I suppose it’s a shame there isn’t a high quality version readily accessible, but it’s also not a great loss either.


Dec. 24 – The SpongeBob Christmas Special

Original air date December 6, 2000

When I listed out the best Christmas specials over a week ago, I included the stop-motion A SpongeBob Christmas. And I stand by that as that special is pretty great. Before there was A SpongeBob Christmas, there was The SpongeBob Christmas Special. Confused? Well, there are only so many ways to title a Christmas special. To make things a bit easier (or more complicated) it’s also titled “Christmas Who?” This was a milestone episode of sorts for the now long-running SpongeBob SquarePants as it introduced Patchy the Pirate and his parrot Potty and told the story of how Christmas came to Bikini Bottom. It was also the first double-length cartoon for the show as most episodes are split into two segments. It’s probably not quite double-length though due to the live-action segments featuring Patchy, but you get the idea.

Meet the president of the SpongeBob fan club, kids!

SpongeBob Squarepants was created by the late Stephen Hillenburg, who got a lot of coverage on this blog in 2020 since I went back and revisited Rocko’s Modern Life, a show he was intimately involved with. It was due to the success of that show that Nickelodeon took a chance on a cartoon headed up by Hillenburg himself. Other veterans of Rocko joined him on SpongeBob, including Tom Kenny and Doug Lawrence, and his show has largely eclipsed the former in terms of popularity. It’s probably become Nickelodeon’s most recognizable show at this point and I’m not even sure another show could really challenge it for that title at this point.

Do you like alternate titles, because we’ve got one here.

In spite of SpongeBob’s popularity, the show has mostly been a blind spot for me. The show just came at a time when I wasn’t watching the channel, and even though I have kids of my own now, they’ve yet to really latch onto anything on Nickelodeon. Maybe they will in time, though with everything moving towards a streaming format I’m less certain of that. Even though SpongeBob SquarePants isn’t my childhood, I can recognize it for what it is: a pretty solid comedic cartoon. I see a lot of influences from past cartoons in it the few times I watch it, and I’ve never really had much of a reaction to it beyond that.

For today’s special, we’re heading to the home of Patchy the Pirate located in the unfestively warm California (I have a cold weather bias when it comes to Christmas).

Even though I’ve seen very little of SpongeBob SquarePants, I still really enjoyed the stop-motion special so I’ve always wanted to check out this one. It just took me going out of my way to make sure I saw it. Thankfully, I have cable still so I didn’t have to go out and buy this thing, and with 2020 just being a tenacious pile of misery, I actually welcomed Nickelodeon’s Christmas in July programming during the summer. That’s how I finally experienced the first SpongeBob Christmas special. Maybe it’s not the authentic, December, experience it was meant to be, but it also meant I got to re-experience it later in the year too thanks to the wonders of DVR!

The bird is the real star.

After a festive rendition of the show’s theme, the special begins at the home of the president of the SpongeBob fan club: Patchy the Pirate. Played by Tom Kenny, Patchy is happily preparing for Christmas in the not idyllic setting of southern California. Even though there’s no snow to speak of, Patchy’s house is pretty well decorated and he’s got his parrot, Potty (voiced by Hillenburg) by his side as well. Patchy is a pretty conventional looking pirate, while Potty is an intentionally obvious puppet. Patchy is welcoming, like a classic holiday special would be, though he has an antagonistic relationship with his parrot. He’s in the process of making cookies, and isn’t eager to share the dough with Potty.

R.I.P. Potty…

The segment is pretty long and probably overstays its welcome. There’s some visual jokes, like a predictable bubble pipe joke, but little truly lands. I did like that Patchy flips his eyepatch up to read a letter, revealing a perfectly functional right eye, and dons a pair of glasses with the right lens blacked out. The setup for the introduction of the cartoon is created when a letter received by Patchy asks about Christmas in Bikini Bottom, prompting Patchy to tell the audience that the dwellers of Bikini Bottom didn’t always celebrate Christmas. Before we can get to the cartoon though, Potty has to consume the cookie dough, and explode. It leads to the very bizarre image of Potty’s dismembered head suspended in the air while Patchy looks on with amusement. Poor Potty, Patchy is the asshole in this segment and yet it’s the bird who gets blown up.

Well Sandy, if you’re going to live underwater you should expect to get wet now and again.

The actual cartoon begins with SpongeBob (Kenny) outside the home of Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence). Sandy is a squirrel living in the outskirts of Bikini Bottom, and being a squirrel, she needs oxygen in gas form to breath, so she lives in a bubble. SpongeBob is looking to infiltrate the bubble to drop some karate moves on her. I assume this is supposed to be a good-natured prank as SpongeBob doesn’t have a mean pore in his body.

Turns out, oak trees make pretty nice Christmas trees!

As SpongeBob prepares to enter the bubble, he notices Sandy lighting up a tree with lights. Mistaking this for fire (he’s not very smart), SpongeBob grabs a bucket of water and races inside only to douse Sandy herself. She’s rightfully annoyed, but soon realizes that SpongeBob has never seen a Christmas tree before. Not only has he never seen one, he’s never even heard of Christmas before. We then receive a montage of Sandy explaining Christmas to SpongeBob. We don’t actually hear what she’s telling him and can only see her pantomiming various parts of her lesson, most of which appear to have nothing to do with a discussion on Christmas (that’s the joke).

I love Squidward’s energy here.

SpongeBob is quite taken with the whole concept of Christmas (and who wouldn’t be?) and races over to The Krusty Krab to inform the others what Sandy has taught him. There he regales Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), and Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) a tale of Christmas with emphasis on Santa Claus. Mr. Krabs thinks it’s pretty great to hear about a guy who will give you whatever you want for Christmas and he’s eager to write a letter to the jolly, fat, man. Patrick is equally excited and sets out to write a letter to Santa as well.

SpongeBob is shockingly literate.

Squidward is the lone holdout. He finds the story preposterous and refuses to participate. SpongeBob tries to talk him into it, but he’s not coming around. All the while, Patrick keeps interrupting their conversation because his piece of paper has split in half. After he requests a new page a few times, we see what’s causing the problem. Patrick is sitting down with the pencil in between his legs pointing up. He then presses the paper down against the pencil in order to write on it. I’m now curious if he often has problems with the written word in other episodes.

Is he an inventor? I’m so confused by the existence of this competent machinery.

After the letter-writing is over, SpongeBob shows Patrick the machine he’s come up with to deliver the letters to Santa. They place each letter in a bottle and the machine fires it up to the surface of the ocean. It (shockingly) works just fine, and SpongeBob starts sending the letters to the surface. For his gift, he just wants to bring Christmas to Bikini Bottom, but the others want something more material. Patrick wishes to have more paper, and the message in his bottle is clearly ripped in half, while Mr. Krabs wants a pony…with saddlebags full of money. He gets it!

This is probably going to ruin the life of some castaway.

The other townsfolk get involved too and soon the surface of the water above Bikini Bottom is full of letters. Squidward is still holding out, and SpongeBob and Patrick get set to making the town look merry for Christmas via song. It’s called “The Very First Christmas,” and it’s plenty catchy. It’s not as good as “Don’t Be a Jerk,” but it’s fine. During the song, we see SpongeBob and Patrick chop down Squidward’s coral “tree” to set it up in town and decorate it with glowing jellyfish. Patrick is a natural fit for the top of the tree as the star.

Time for an image blitz because there’s a lot going on. First, SpongeBob and Patrick chopping down Squidward’s…tree?
At least they made it look nice.
Mr. Krabs coming in with the high notes.

When the song is over, Squidward is relieved that he can now peacefully go to bed. Only he can’t, because the entire town is outside his house to sing another song welcoming Santa. It’s basically “Jingle Bells” only with the words changed to reflect their Santa-eagerness. Time passes though, and as Squidward sleeps peacefully the folks outside sing all night to no avail. When the morning comes, everyone is still there, but there’s been no sign of Santa. The crowd angrily turns on SpongeBob, who shrinks before their gaze.

So who told them they should all stand outside and wait for Santa? Maybe that’s why things start to go wrong from here.
I admire that one fish in the front row still looking pretty hopeful.
This is how I felt right around noon of every Christmas Day for much of my youth.

Squidward rises to the misery, and is delighted! When the crowd leaves, he races outside to taunt SpongeBob about how wrong he was about Santa. SpongeBob doesn’t put up a defense and just stands there looking miserable. Squidward snaps a photo to remember this moment, and for some reason he gets off by putting his ass in SpongeBob’s face and slapping it. The cartoon literally tells us he’s being a jackass by superimposing an image of a donkey over him.

Squidward, feeling pretty god damn fabulous!
I don’t think SpongeBob can possibly be drawn any sadder.
Whoa Squidward! This is trending towards harassment here.
You’re lucky SpongeBob didn’t give you any advice on where to shove that thing. Don’t you feel like an ass now, Squidward?!

With Squidward’s antics mostly over, SpongeBob hands over the gift he made for him. SpongeBob was concerned that Squidward would be the only member of Bikini Bottom to not receive a present since he didn’t write a letter to Santa so he made him one instead. SpongeBob drags himself away leaving a stunned Squidward to stand there alone holding his gift. He opens it to find a clarinet that SpongeBob had made himself and instantly feels bad. Meanwhile, SpongeBob is miserable as he begins to take down the Christmas decorations he put on his own house as well as Squidward’s.

Raining underwater? It’s a Christmas miracle!
Looks like someone’s been hiding a secret Santa fetish…

Uncharacteristically, Squidward decides he needs to make things right. He goes home and puts on a Santa costume. I have no idea why he had such a costume in his house, but hey, it’s needed for the plot! He calls out to SpongeBob from his roof, before falling, leaving SpongeBob stunned with silent glee.

What’s with that look, Squidward? What did you think would happen?

Squidward gets SpongeBob to snap out of his trance long enough to tell him he’s here to thank SpongeBob for bringing Christmas to Bikini Bottom. He has to endure a pair of hugs from SpongeBob, but the exchange goes well for Squidward as SpongeBob heads back to his house. Feeling pretty good about himself, Squidward turns to enter his own home, but a little girl is standing in his way. She asks for her gift, and SpongeBob then reappears to encourage “Santa” to bestow a gift on this deserving young girl. Not knowing what else to do, Squidward ducks into his house for a present and ends up giving away a monkey wrench.

Squidward was not prepared for this contingency.
And he especially was not prepared for this!
Everyone seems to take their crappy gifts in stride, like this woman who wanted a new hairstyle, but instead was gifted a bowl of mashed potatoes.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve Santa Squid’s problem. A line of citizens has formed outside of his house and they all want a present. He goes in and out of his house getting items and gifting them to the people outside. They’re never what is asked of Santa, but the fish receiving them make do with what they have. They all seem to leave pretty happy, but they also leave behind an empty house for Squidward.

More or less how I feel every year when Christmas is over. Only there’s more stuff, a lot more stuff, in my house thanks to my kids.

With the crowd gone, Squidward removes his costume and wonders why in the world he just got rid of all of his personal belongings just to make SpongeBob happy. Oh Squidward, you just got caught by the Spirit of Christmas! A knock on the door comes from SpongeBob, who excitedly tells Squidward all about Santa, apparently oblivious to the fact that it was Squidward he encountered and not the real Santa. He mostly keeps repeating that Santa has a really big nose, though Squidward seems to take this all in stride.

Apparently someone was watching.

When SpongeBob finally returns home, Squidward notices a letter has been left outside his door. It’s from Santa! It thanks Squidward for bringing Christmas to Bikini Bottom, though makes no excuse for why Santa passed them by. Squidward can hardly believe it, but sure enough, up in the…sky?…is Santa in his sleigh. He’s portrayed with a live-action actor, played by Michael Patrick Bell, and he does a lot of “Ho ho ho’s” and waves. Squidward thinks he’s going insane and returns to his empty house. He breaks out his lone material possession, the clarinet SpongeBob gifted him, and seems to enjoy insanity. Above, we see Santa fly in front of a setting sun.

Santa, surprisingly being played by someone not named John Goodman or Ed Asner.
Squidward’s just taking it all in stride.
Hey look! A twist on the old moon shot!

At Patchy’s house, the special is over. He’s acting out some sea wreck thing and we interrupt him. He finds a present from a reassembled Potty has been left on his head, a nest full of wrapped eggs. Patchy doesn’t seem too interested and is more focused on the mistletoe hanging in his home. He stands under it hoping a woman will magically appear and give him a kiss, but instead Potty comes soaring in to do the honors. The episode ends with Patchy basically running from the sex-crazed puppet. The special ends on an external shot of Patchy’s ranch with a “Happy Holidays” message spelled over it.

A last bit of chaos at Patchy’s house lets us know we’re done.

The SpongeBob Christmas Special is a pretty satisfying piece of Christmas comedy. It starts with a solid premise, and then does a good job of playing with the viewer’s expectations. Squidward was setup to be a Scrooge, and I even found his choice of pajamas to be very Scrooge-like. I thought for sure we were going full parody when he went to sleep on Christmas Eve, but instead we got something very different. Squidward had to learn on his own that wishing misery upon others really doesn’t bring about good feelings in himself. It was sweet to see him affected by SpongeBob’s sadness, and he actually had to learn about Christmas the hard way when he gave all of his stuff away to maintain his ruse. I liked that he wasn’t rewarded with anything material in the end, he just did what was necessary (albeit, in a comedically exaggerated fashion), and found the true meaning of Christmas within himself.

When I saw this outfit I thought we were going full Scrooge. I’m glad I was mistaken.

The odd part of the special is the fact that Santa apparently planned all of this? Did he decide to fulfill SpongeBob’s wish through Squidward? Or maybe we’re supposed to assume that SpongeBob’s unorthodox way of getting everyone’s letters to Santa was simply a flop? SpongeBob did wait until the last minute to get those letters out and Santa is only capable of so many miracles.

The part of the special that didn’t add much for me was the live-action component. I just don’t find Patchy all that funny. I’m also not 7, so maybe it’s just not for me. The cartoon was entertaining, just that component felt a bit long. It doesn’t ruin it or anything, I could just do without.

The Christmas card ending; a tried and true classic.

This Christmas special isn’t as good as the one that follows, but it’s plenty entertaining for an annual viewing. And I feel confident in saying that anyone who likes SpongeBob probably enjoys this episode too. If you have cable, this one should be very to easy to view even this late in the game. It’s possibly available for streaming on Nickelodeon’s website, and it may even air today! It’s also available on various holiday themed DVDs and as part of the second season of the show. It’s also available digitally because it’s SpongeBob, one of the most accessible shows around. If you have yet to view it this year then find 20 minutes today and rectify that.


Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

After taking a trip to the past with Rocko’s Modern Life during the spring, it seems only fitting that I also take a look at the Rocko’s Modern Life movie from 2019: Static Cling. To be fair, the term “movie” is definitely used loosely when applied to this piece of media. Static Cling was originally conceived by Nickelodeon as a one hour TV special with commercials so the running time is a tidy 45 minutes. It’s basically a double-episode, but considering Rocko’s Modern Life had never had a special before it’s easily the longest story the show ever committed to.

The special was announced in 2016 by Nickelodeon and it rejoins the original cast, alongside series creator Joe Murray, and gives fans a look at what Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui), Heffer (Tom Kenny), Filburt (Doug Lawrence), and the rest have been up to since. The theme of the special is change as it’s a very metta look at how audiences grapple with the loss of something from their past and seek out nostalgia binges to fill that hole left behind. The special will drive that point home quite literally by having Rocko, who has been lost in space since the events of “Future Schlock,” return to an O-Town that has long since ridden itself of his favorite cartoon: The Fatheads. Rocko is forced to confront this new O-Town and adapt to a new modern without his binky and he finds it impossible. Conversely, he has to watch his two best friends adapt just fine as Heffer and Filburt become immediately enchanted by modern technology. A clerical error by neighbor Ed Bighead (Charlie Adler), whose life has apparently been bliss since Rocko and his friends were blasted off into space, causes the mega-corporation, Conglom-O, to lose all of its paper value thus plunging all of O-Town (since Conglom-O owns everything) into a depression. Rocko is able to convince the head at Conglom-O, Mr. Dupette (Adler), that a way to help the company out would be to produce a new Fatheads TV Special. The only problem is that series creator Ralph Bighead (Joe Murray) hasn’t been seen or heard from in years.

Alternatively known as Static Cling: The Rocko Special.

The early bits of the special unfold in a predictable, but still entertaining, manner. Rocko and the gang are shown adjusting to modern life and the classic opening segment from the TV show is even redone with modern technology now harassing Rocko. There’s also a nice bit of the boys taking in a gritty reboot of Really Really Big Man that’s an obvious parody of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Even though the special is basically mocking those who have been begging for this show to return for the last 20 years, there’s still a ton of fan service throughout as basically every character of note returns for a cameo, at the very least.

Some of the jokes the special makes are rather easy, but they’re also the type of jokes that pretty much have to be made.

Static Cling was commissioned as a Nickelodeon TV Special initially, but the network wound up passing on it and selling the rights to Netflix. This caused a rather significant delay in getting the special in front of fans. Nickelodeon never offered up a reason why it chose to option the special to Netflix, but many speculate it has to do with the character formerly known as Ralph Bighead. A major plot device in the special is that when Rocko eventually finds Ralph, he finds that Ralph no longer identifies as male and has taken the name Rachel instead. The reaction of Rocko and his friends, and basically everyone in town, is very positive as they basically congratulate Rachel and that’s that. Rachel’s father, Ed, is the only one who has an issue with it resurrecting his line “I have no son!” from the Season Two premiere. Nickelodeon was reportedly supportive of the idea to add a transgender character, and it certainly fits the theme of change, but it’s not the best look for the network that it chose to pass on airing this. Maybe the network found it could make more by selling the distribution rights to Netflix, but how much would the pay-out have been affected if Nickelodeon chose to premiere it on its own network and then pass it off to Netflix? Probably not a lot and it’s a shame it didn’t see this as an opportunity to make a positive social statement.

The re-done opening credits gag will likely be a favorite part for many fans.

The look and sound of Static Cling is quite similar to what fans remember from the show, but also a bit different. Cartoons just aren’t made in the same manner they were back in the 90s so Static Cling doesn’t necessarily look like a 90s cartoon. It’s obviously all digital and a bit more “clean” to look at. Some of that Rocko’s Modern Life grime has been lost and this is overall a far less gross version of the show than viewers are used to. Not that Rocko’s Modern Life needed to be gross in order to be funny. The only big change I felt a bit jarring is that Rocko’s fur is a deeper shade of beige than it was before. As mentioned before, basically all of the cast returned to voice the main characters and the side ones as well. Pretty much all of them still sound the same, though Tom Kenny’s Heffer is a bit higher and is the most notable difference.

The Chokey Chicken has undergone a makeover.

Rocko’s Modern Life was able to garner itself a reputation for adult humor during its life as it sometimes found itself censored after airing. Fans hoping for something as titillating as “Leap Frogs” or the infamous moo-milker gag might be a little let down by Static Cling. The Chokey Chicken does get to have its original name restored (it’s mascot has also been slimmed down as it’s become health conscious in this new modern setting) and Really Really Big Man’s magic nipples get some screen time as well. The only borderline lewdness I picked up on was just an emphasis on Mrs. Bighead’s ample bosom. There’s a scene where a fence divides her and Rocko and her breasts hang over it right in Rocko’s face, though he doesn’t seem to notice. She even reaches into her cleavage to pull out an object, though that’s the kind of gag I feel like the original show could have got away with anyway (and maybe did).

Static Cling does an excellent job of giving these characters a reason to exist in the 2010s. The foundation is solid, though I found the last fifteen minutes or so started to drag for me. A lot of the best humor and gags occur early in the special and it doesn’t help that the Rachel Bighead plot feels very similar to Ralph’s debut in “I Have No Son.” It was both disappointing and predictable to see Ed Bighead serves as the conflict once again for Rachel and the character just re-learns the lesson he had already learned back in that old episode. Maybe it could have been more interesting if the opposite had occurred and it was Bev Bighead that took issue with Rachel? Anything to make it feel less redundant would have likely helped, though maybe it didn’t feel redundant to someone who hasn’t seen that episode in 20 years.

It shouldn’t be glossed over that the inclusion of Rachel is a pretty eventful change, and one that should be celebrated.

Ultimately, Static Cling does have something to say and it’s a worthwhile message. It’s examination of modern fandom and nostalgia is pretty on point, and the overall message that change is necessary is a statement worth saying. The fact that it also contains a positive portrayal of a transgender character is also great as that’s a minority that is still under-represented. It never stoops to cheap trans jokes too, which is a plus, as the production did seek input from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) during production. It’s also hard not to enjoy Static Cling for the reason it seems to not want the viewer to enjoy it for and that’s just the pure nostalgia trip one gets from interacting with these characters once again. I have no doubt that because of it’s approach to comically infuse cartoon characters into a modern society that Rocko’s Modern Life could make a full comeback and be just as funny in 2020 as it was in 1995. It’s perhaps the cartoon from that era that has aged the best. It doesn’t seem like Joe Murray is interested in a full-blown comeback, but at least we got a little taste of what life would be like for Rocko in the 2010s.


Rocko’s Modern Life Season 4

It’s an accepted part of life that all good things must come to an end. Bad things have endings too, but the only endings that are usually painful are the good things. And for Rocko’s Modern Life, it certainly was a good thing that ended perhaps before it needed to. After 52 episodes (100 segments) creator Joe Murray felt it was time to move on. It should be said that it was more of a personal decision in that he just didn’t have anything more to say with the show. He even stepped back some taking on the role of executive producer for the final season allowing Stephen Hillenburg to assume the role of creative director. Murray encouraged the network, Nickelodeon, to continue the show without him, but the network decided not to renew it for a sixth season. This was pretty typical of Nickelodeon as it often didn’t go beyond this type of episode count with its Nicktoons, or really any shows. As a result, Rocko’s Modern Life is one of those shows that feels like it went out on top. There were likely many more stories that could be told with these characters, but they’ll have to remain untold.

The fourth season of Rocko’s Modern Life continues to explore the setting of O-Town and life in the 90s for the main cast. Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui) once again is forced to tackle the mundane and the insane like managing conflicts between friends, rude neighbors, love, ghosts, and even a bout a hypnosis. His gluttonous best friend, Heffer, (Tom Kenny) takes on the role of co-star for many segments and even gets to assume a larger role at times than the star. Filbert (Mr. Lawrence) returns as a married turtle and will get to experience fatherhood this season while the Bigheads (Charlie Adler) are still around to make life miserable for neighbor Rocko.

A theme of the final season seems to be an emphasis on side characters. In this one, Rocko teaches Heffer’s mom how to drive.

The fourth season might be the best looking season of the show. I don’t know if anything changed on the production end, or if it was a case of the masters being better stored, but the DVD release really pops. The colors are deeper than they were on the first three seasons and the animation is quite fluid. It’s perhaps not as gross as the prior seasons, and that could be Hillenburg’s influence as creative director this season. There’s still moments that are somewhat gag-inducing, but it’s definitely not a defining characteristic.

Seeing Heffer, Rocko, and Filbert as O-Town High students doesn’t make much sense, but it does give us one of my favorite scenes from the show involving Filbert and some potato chips.

On the flip-side, this season seems to feature less continuity. We’ll see Filbert become a father in the early season episode “From Here to Maternity,” but afterwords his life doesn’t seem to change a whole lot. There will be times the gang goes to his trailer and it looks like he lives alone. I understand not wanting to be restricted by this development (it would be tiresome to write into every episode who is watching the kids), but there is a disconnect. Similarly, the dog Earl taken in by Bev Bighead seems to disappear this season and there’s a confusing flashback episode in which Rocko, Filbert, and Heffer are depicted as high school students even though Rocko moved to the US during adulthood. These aren’t really things that prevent one from enjoying the show, I just liked the continuity on display in the past seasons since so few cartoons contain such.

This season seems to feature a couple of movie parodies, including this obvious Ghostbusters one.

The show is still wildly funny in many places. I think a lot of fans consider season three of the show to the peak for it, but it’s hard to find any real drop-off with season four. “Sailing the Seven Zzz’s” might be the show’s funniest episode. The plot concerns Ed Bighead and his somnambulism in which he thinks he’s a pirate and makes nights miserable for Rocko. Heffer and Filbert see this as an opportunity to mess with him, and it gets pretty wacky. And speaking of Ed, he basically assumes a starring role in several episodes of this season. My favorite might be “Closet Clown” where we find out Ed enjoys playing a clown, but hides it from everyone. It’s yet another episode of the show that might be dealing with a sensitive subject, such as closeted individuals, but doing it in a very funny, natural, way.

There are a few segments that don’t work as well as others. “Dumbells” gives Gladys the Hippo (Adler) a starring role alongside Rocko in which she gets addicted to the thrill of the childhood prank ding, dong, ditch. It’s okay, but not really an interesting way to shine a light on a one-note character from prior seasons. “Wallaby on Wheels” is another episode where Rocko is trying to impress a girl (he seems to finally be over Melba) that feels a bit too familiar. The same could be said for one of the broadcast finale segments, “Turkey Time.” That one is depicting Rocko’s introduction to Thanksgiving and he invites a turkey home for dinner not realizing the intent is to serve it for dinner. It plays a lot like the episode where Heffer brings an elk home for the same reason. “Turkey Time” then gets extra redundant when everyone in town finds out about Rocko having a party and invites themselves over, which is the same plot as “Rocko’s Modern Christmas.” It does feature one of the racier jokes in the season though when Heffer brings out a turkey for the party and Rocko’s living room is basically decked out like a strip club.

Closet Clown is a funny episode, but might also be scratching the surface of a bigger societal issue.

Speaking of racy jokes, you can’t have a discussion about Rocko’s Modern Life without a discussion of censorship. This season contained one episode that was essentially banned after its initial airing and that’s “Heff in a Handbasket.” In it, Peaches returns whom viewers should remember from “To Heck and Back.” Peaches is the lord of the underworld and he’s tasked with acquiring Heffer’s soul, since he outwitted him before. It’s nothing too salacious and it’s a very silly episode where Peaches rigs a game show designed to steal Heffer’s soul, only Heffer is so stupid that he keeps messing it up. It’s a funny episode, so it’s a shame it got kicked off the air, and I guess it got the boot simply because part of it is set in a version of Hell.

Unlike a lot of cartoons, Rocko’s Modern Life did get a proper series finale. The segment “Future Schlock” is the intended finale, though the Thanksgiving episode aired after it to line-up with the actual holiday. Most of the episode takes place in the future when Filbert’s kids find a banana in the refrigerator of Rocko’s abandoned house and bring it to their eldery-looking (but only 38 year old) father to find out why anyone would put a banana in the refrigerator. Much of the episode from there is a flashback, but I enjoy the fact that it displays Filbert’s contempt for Heffer which is something that seemed to be rising with each season (though Filbert in general got a bit nastier, see him try to sacrifice Rocko for a wig in the segment “Rug Birds”). The show ends with the whole gang getting mistakenly blasted-off into space and the Netflix special Static Cling from 2019 actually picks up where the episode leaves off and you’ll definitely hear my thoughts on that before the summer is through.

The plot for the final episode is set in motion by an old banana.

The DVD for the fourth season of Rocko’s Modern Life is a lot like the other three. It’s essentially just the episodes presented in broadcast order. It would have been nice if they could have been arranged in production order for this season, since it has a proper ending, but it’s not a big deal. The only special feature is a video recording of a fan event from 2012. Hosted by voice acting legend Rob Paulsen, it’s a gathering of the main cast of the show for a reading of “Wacky Delly Part 1” and it’s quite a bit of fun. After the script is read, they also talk about the show and share their thoughts on everything. It’s crazy to think this was recorded 8 years ago at this point, but everyone sounds great and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

If you liked Rocko’s Modern Life or have all three seasons up to this point, then there’s absolutely no reason not to own season four. It’s a little different, but still plenty hilarious, wacky, and silly. Some characters get more of a spotlight shined on them so if you had a favorite side character from before then maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their inclusion here. There’s just a great chemistry between the characters in the show and the people behind the image that shines through. Joe Murray and his team can be proud that they created a cast that could work in almost any setting because they’re interesting, funny, and even sympathetic. Reliving this fourth season has me wishing even more than I already was for more content down the road. I don’t know that any will ever come, but it doesn’t hurt to hope.


Rocko’s Modern Life – Season 3

The third season of Rocko’s Modern Life originally aired from 1995-1996.

My rewatch of Rocko’s Modern Life really could not have gone better. I suppose it would be better if it wasn’t during a pandemic, but what can you do? The show has been a delight, and while I felt Season Two was pretty much on par with the first season, I think an argument can be made that Season Three is the best one so far.

In case you need a refresher, Rocko’s Modern Life is a cartoon created by Joe Murray that managed to amass a team of extremely talented people, many of whom went on to create more wonderful television. Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui) is a wallaby from Australia trying to navigate the 90s. Season Two saw him deal with thorny issues like immigration as well as some health problems. Money is often tight and his job as a clerk at a comic book store hardly feels secure, but somehow he gets by. The show is able to mix in real world problems with insane lunacy. The phrase “insane lunacy” sounds redundant, but for a show like Rocko’s Modern Life the redundancy feels very appropriate.

For an adult, few things are more relatable than car trouble.

For Season Three, the show tackled more real world issues and even managed to strengthen its continuity somewhat. The relationship between Rocko’s best friends, Heffer (Tom Kenny) and Filburt (Doug Lawrence) added a combative element to the mix to differentiate the two. They’re pals through and through, but the two get on each other’s nerves and they frequently fail to see eye to eye with Rocko often getting stuck in the middle. And for Filburt, Season Three was a big one because he gets engaged to longtime girlfriend Dr. Hutchison (Linda Wallem) in “The Big Question” which is immediately followed by “The Big Answer” where the two tie the knot. The Bigheads are still around as well and get their own shorts to shine and the show even tackles its first musical with the eco-friendly “Zanzibar.” That one, interestingly, is immediately followed by the show’s first dialogue-free short “Fatal Contraption.”

Season Three of the show never fails to be funny and the gags are really upped for this third season. The show’s first Halloween episode “Sugar Frosted Frights” has a lot of horror-themed gags and it’s paired with another spooky episode, “Ed is Dead.” One of the show’s funniest episodes is also present in this season in “Fish-N-Chumps.” The boys go fishing, only to find themselves in turn being fished, and all the while Filburt drives Heffer nuts with his enthusiasm for a new watch. Tom Kenny does some excellent ad-libbing with a captain character who features two peg legs, peg arms, and even peg eyes (Family Guy totally ripped him off)! My favorite might be “Fortune Cookie” though, if I have to pick a most funniest episode since it features the incredibly quotable fortune that Filburt receives, “Bad luck and extreme misfortune will infest your pathetic soul for all eternity.” There’s an episode where Bev (Charlie Adler) is accidentally given a new nose which reveals to her that her husband stinks, a crazed tour guide stalks Rocko and Heffer on a trip to France, and there’s even a famous nude scene in “Camera Shy.”

I don’t think there’s a more outrageous scene in the show’s history than this.

Rocko’s Modern Life is rarely short on laughs, but what sets it apart from its peers is the infusion of real world problems. None demonstrate that better than “The Big Answer” in which Filburt and Dr. Hutchison find out that planning a wedding is awful, especially when your guests don’t get along. It’s a great episode because in the end they realize it’s their day, no one else’s, and they do what works for them. “Old, Fogey, Froggie” deals with getting old, and uses Mr. Bighead (Adler) as a way of exploring that subject. It’s a subject few children can relate to, but one I sure can.

We get another look into what gets Bev’s motor running: novelty noses.

Season Three is also the season where the show got metta before that was even something in style. “Wacky Delly” is a two-parter all about making cartoons. For this one, Ralph Bighead (Joe Murray) returns after airing the final episode of his cartoon The Fatheads and is eager to explore other, more respected, avenues for his art. The problem is the network he works for basically owns him and he owes it another cartoon. Rather than make something his heart isn’t into, he cooks up a plan to have Rocko and his friends make the cartoon for him assuming it will be so terrible the network will terminate his contract. Instead, the show is a huge hit forcing Ralph to go to extreme measures to sabotage it. He has a reckoning eventually, realizing his cartoon making is totally legitimate art and can be quite satisfying. It certainly feels almost autobiographical on the part of Joe Murray as Rocko was never his first choice to bring to life and it’s an episode many cite as the show’s best.

If you ever wanted to know how to make a cartoon, “Wacky Delly” has you covered.

It was also quite interesting to see the show branch into activism for its third season. I mentioned it earlier, but “Zanzibar” is not only the show’s first musical, but it’s also very much about environmentalism. The subject came about naturally, according to Murray, and the musical format was settled on to make the message of the episode not feel so preachy. It’s almost painfully relevant today, but at least the songs are quite catchy and pleasant so it hopefully won’t bring you down too much.

A new hero for environmentalists every where: Captain Compost-Heap!

Over the years, Rocko’s Modern Life has become somewhat infamous for its humor aimed at adults. These are the gags that when looked back upon viewers are shocked they even made it into the show. While there was no major act of censorship after the fact with Season Three, there’s still plenty of humor that’s a little blue. There’s an episode titled “Schnit-heads,” which is a surprising title all by itself. It features Heffer getting caught up in a sausage cult. Sadly, the phrase “sausage fest” is never mentioned. “Fortune Cookie” also features a segment that took a long time to get approval from Nickelodeon in which Really Really Big Man’s nipples go berserk. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds. Plus the whole time he’s trying to talk a bird down from a statue who’s threatening to defecate upon it. And the show even features some death in the episode “Bye Bye Birdie” when Heffer kills Filburt’s bird, Turdy, by sitting on it. Rocko and Heffer then try to hide it from Filburt in a Weekend at Bernie’s manner. Possibly the best piece of awkward humor arises in “An Elk for Heffer” in which Heffer is informed he needs to bring an elk home for dinner as part of a growing-up ritual with his family’s wolf pack. Heffer then goes out and finds an elk for a date not realizing the whole intent of the arrangement is to actually hunt and kill an elk and provide dinner for his family.

Heffer thinks he’s found love, but turns out Elky here is actually a racist. Maybe the show should have let the wolves consume her…

As far as physical releases go, the third season is also superior to the previous ones since it contains better bonus material. While I was hoping for actual commentaries on the episodes, there are what the DVD refers to as selected scene commentaries. It’s a misleading label as the feature is really just Joe Murray going over his thoughts and feelings on the third season of the show. He covers a lot of ground in the short run time and it’s definitely worth a watch and is more informative than the character portraits from the Season Two set. Again, it’s not what I was hoping for, but I did enjoy it.

The third season of Rocko’s Modern Life is simply the show at its best. I continue to be charmed and amazed by the quality and it truly is a show that can be enjoyed by all ages. It’s been a real hit in my house where I’ll watch it with my young kids and even watch it with my wife after they go to bed. I don’t know what the fourth season can do to top this one, but I look forward to seeing how it tries.


Rocko’s Modern Life – Season Two

rocko_season2

The second season of Rocko’s Modern Life premiered on September 25, 1994.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my reintroduction to Rocko’s Modern Life via the show’s first season. Rocko’s Modern Life was a favorite of mine as a kid, and if you had asked me to rank the Nicktoons back then it would have gone something like this:  The Ren & Stimpy Show, Rocko’s Modern Life, followed by who cares? Those two cartoons were so far above the others that they didn’t feel worth mentioning. Sure, Rugrats and Doug were fine for what they were, but they weren’t appointment viewing for me. And after a few years, none of them were as I felt I had aged out of them. I was a young, dumb, kid though and upon revisiting such works I’ve come to find that, if anything, I’ve aged into a show like Rocko’s Modern Life.

What separated Rocko’s Modern Life from the other shows was that emphasis on the mundanity of life itself. Rocko was challenged by simple tasks such as laundry, household cleaning, commuting, work, and all of those others things we as adults have to deal with that we really take for granted as children. Rocko’s difficulties encountered with these tasks are obviously exaggerated for comedic effect, but like all good comedy there is still an element of truth to all of it making the show arguably more relatable for an adult than it is a child.

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Like Season One, Season Two of Rocko’s Modern Life is surprisingly topical in 2020.

When it came to Season One of the show, I was delighted by the humor aimed at adults. I remembered the Milk-O-Matic gag as a kid in which Heffer, a steer, is masturbated by a mechanical milking machine and knew there was humor in this show that really only older kids and adults would understand. That type of humor is more of a shocking variety of humor, what I had forgotten is the more nuanced approach such as the episode where neighbor Bev Bighead tries to seduce Rocko because her husband doesn’t make her feel attractive. It’s a pretty adult concept to try to base a cartoon intended for children around, and it’s even affecting in turning Mrs. Bighead into a sympathetic figure. And yes, there’s still plenty of physical comedy in that episode and all of them.

As I approached Season Two of the show, I was hoping for more of that style of story-telling:  mature in concept, but accessible for all via the physical comedy. And for the most part, Season Two really delivers. It starts off with a heavy hitter in the two-part “I Have No Son” in which we learn the Bigheads have an estranged son named Ralph (Joe Murray) who long ago disappointed his father by not accepting a job at Conglom-O where Ed worked. A father being so ashamed and disappointed of his son that it causes him to disown him is a pretty heavy subject for the show to tackle because it’s also a very real thing that happens. Ed looks down on Ralph for his wanting to be a cartoonist, but you can substitute that with pretty much anything and the episode would still work. And even though Ralph has found tremendous success with his cartoon The Fatheads (which is clearly inspired by his parents), he still hasn’t earned his father’s approval.

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The story of Ralph Bighead kicks off the second season.

The premiere is a pretty weighty episode to kick things off, but it manages to handle the delicate material with the show’s usual brand of humor. It does struggle a bit to fit it all into one episode and the resolution feels a bit rushed, but it’s still quite the achievement. The rest of the season will balance the absurd wackiness of Rocko’s world with actual real world issues and problems. Bev Bighead has to break the glass ceiling, so to speak, and go to work in one episode and another deals with Rocko having to thwart immigration officials who want him deported for an expired green card. That episode might actually hit too close to home for some given the current climate surrounding immigration in the US. A particularly heartfelt episode is “Tickled Pinky” in which Rocko deals with the fear of surgery when he finds out he needs to have his appendix removed. It turns into a story where Rocko meets a personified version of his appendix, named Pinky, via a dream. Rocko, in a bid to cheer up Pinky since he’s essentially about to die, takes Pinky out to essentially check off a bucket list of experiences for Pinky to enjoy before his time is up. It’s surprisingly sweet and it left me wishing I had thought of this episode when my own little boy had to have his tonsils removed.

Season Two is also not without its dose of more crass humor. The episode “Born to Spawn” basically deals with Filbert’s (Mr. Lawrence) desire to mate, though that part of it isn’t spelled out. It’s pretty funny though with that context in the back of your mind. In “Hut, Sut, Raw” Rocko, Heffer (Tom Kenny), and Filbert go camping and leave the confines of a modern camp ground to rough it in the woods. The DVD is censored to remove a scene where Rocko picks berries off of a bush, only to have a bear scream and run out from behind it implying that Rocko just picked one the bear’s “berries.” The final cartoon, “Eyes Capades,” revisits the old white lie of Rocko’s eyesight going bad due to too much “jacking.” In the context of the episode, the jacking is Rocko practicing for a jackhammer competition that’s basically figure skating on a jackhammer, but it’s obvious the episode is playing off the notion that masturbation in a young boy can cause blindness.

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This is the season that features the Christmas episode basically making this a “must buy” for Christmas nerds like me.

A welcomed trend established by Season Two is that this show, unlike many other cartoons, actually has some semblance of continuity. Past episodes are referenced and new characters like Ralph will show up in later episodes at peace with his parents. The cartoon “Short Story” contains the most references when Really Really Big Man details Rocko’s good deeds and accomplishments for him in a bid to build him up. The episode “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” (which has been featured during The Christmas Spot) is the first episode to really bring the whole cast together when Rocko attempts to throw a party that everyone in town wishes to attend. It’s really satisfying to see the writers opening up the world of O-Town and incorporating a lot of these side characters.

In terms of missteps, there are few. The animation is as good, if not better, than the first season and the performances by the voice actors are all tremendous. Especially considering how much screaming is sometimes required of them. There are three oversized episodes in this season, which are episodes that dedicate both halves to one story and they are:  “I Have No Son, “Rocko’s Modern Christmas,” and “Cruisin’.” Of the three, only “Cruisin'” felt like it didn’t really need the extra time. It’s a bit of a weird episode in which Rocko and Heffer take Heffer’s grandfather on a cruise for old people (or rather, they got stuck on the boat by accident) and the ship enters the Bermuda Triangle making all of the old people young and the two young people old. It gives Grandpa a do-over with an old flame, a relatable and pretty adult plot, but one that struggles to remain interesting.

b-52s

Kate Pierson (left) and Fred Schneider (second from left) of the B-52’s were brought in to re-do the theme song. Their version would remain for the rest of the show’s run.

In terms of personnel, much of the folks involved with the first season returned for the second. Stephen Hillenburg was around to oversee everything as showrunner and creator Joe Murray still received several writing credits and remained involved. Doug Lawrence, also known as Mr. Lawrence, stepped back from directing, but still has a few writing credits. Some of the newcomers include directors Alan Smart, Pete Michels, and Howy Parkins. All would make future contributuons at Nickelodeon while Michels would go on to direct several episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy. Voice of Rocko, Carlos Alazraqui, even received a writing credit for “Gutter Balls,” one of two writing credits he’d receive on the show. Considering that episode has four credited writers, I’m assuming he must had ad-libbed something that was considered large enough to warrant a credit. The only major change between seasons is the theme song which was reworked by Pat Irwin and re-recorded by Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider of the B-52’s. It’s still fine, though I miss the swank of the first season’s theme.

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The pilot of the show is contained on this set and is notable for featuring a yellow Rocko.

The DVD release of the first season of Rocko’s Modern Life had the dubious honor of not containing any bonus features. Joe Murray was quite willing to contribute to these releases and for Season Two Nickelodeon at least made some effort to add a little extra, though not much. The original pilot of the show “Trash-O-Madness” is contained here. It’s not much different from the episode that made it to air, but it’s cool to see the original version of the show. There’s also a collection of segments hosted by Murray where he shares the ideas behind the show’s core characters while also demonstrating how they’re drawn. He doesn’t reveal any bombshells or anything, but it’s worth a look. That’s, unfortunately, all that there is for bonus material which means there’s no commentaries and no options to view the episodes uncensored.

Rocko’s Modern Life is a great cartoon series and I’m happy to say the second season is just as good as the first. The show definitely embodies that 90’s spirit of being a bit manic, loud, and certainly gross, but it also includes a surprising amount of heart and relatability as well. In some ways, it’s the perfect children’s cartoon because there’s plenty here to entertain a 7 year old while also keeping mom and dad engaged. And pretty much all are guaranteed to find something to laugh at as well, or be charmed by, or both! I’ve enjoyed it enough that I definitely intend to binge Season Three and report back here on how well I think it compares with the first two seasons, so stay tuned!


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