Tag Archives: seth green

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

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Christmas comes to Quahog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter never fails to disappoint his unloved ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s no Marley.

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

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

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“Look how thin I was!”

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

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

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

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Lois probably slept with the butler this night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This pretty much had to happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dec. 2 – Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special

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First broadcast December 16, 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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Santa is pissed he nearly slept through Christmas.

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

 

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Someone got fired for that one.

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

 

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And whoa this thing got dark pretty quick!

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

 

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

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

 

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Well isn’t this a nice holiday setting!

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

 

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On Robot Chicken, there are no happy endings.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Storm Shadow has never looked better.

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

 

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The question remains unanswered.

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

 

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Nothing says “Christmas” quite like Kano.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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I like where this is going…

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

 

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

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

 

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He really is a stupid looking Grinch.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 


#23 – Robot Chicken’s Half-Assed Christmas Special

MV5BMTQ4NDMzMDg5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODcyNTUzMQ@@._V1._CR31,27,314,421_SY317_CR11,0,214,317_AL_Robot Chicken is the brainchild of veteran actor Seth Green and Mathew Senreich. It’s hard to believe the show has been running for ten years now, but that’s the reality of the world and in that time the show has produced three Christmas specials.

The show is basically an animated version of ToyFare magazine’s Twisted ToyFare Theater that sees popular toys dropped into humorous sketches. The focus is mostly put on turning old action figures, like Mattel’s popular Masters of the Universe line, into puppets to create stop-motion sketches. The integrity of the old toy is retained but it’s often modified to include more points of articulation to create better animation. Other times the show creates its own puppets or finds random toys to repurpose into new ones. Sketches vary in length, but it’s not uncommon for one to last merely a few seconds. In that sense they’re often like micr0-sketches when compared to a traditional sketch comedy program. Usually there’s at least one longer sketch that may last a few minutes that serves as sort of the feature sketch of the episode with each episode only lasting around twelve minutes.

The show is pretty funny, and I suppose it would have to be to have lasted ten years, and the fact that each episode is so short has helped to prevent the show from becoming stale. While it’s rare for all sketches in a single episode to be laugh out loud funny, there’s usually enough there for the show to be entertaining for its short duration.

As a result, it’s hard to really review a single episode like the Half-Assed Christmas Special. And in truth, both of the other two Christmas specials (DP Christmas Special and ATM Christmas Special) are basically just as good. And since these are actually the few shows I do not have a copy of, it’s hard to recall which sketch came from which special, so I’m just going to mention some I remember.

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You better watch out when Composite Santa is on the loose!

Since the show is stop-motion it’s naturally suited to parody Rankin/Bass productions. There’s a sketch that tries to discover who murdered Santa Claus where everything is basically done up at the North Pole Rudolph style, though a cocaine-addicted Frosty is present as well. The anime Christmas sketch features Santa enlisting the help of Goku and his son to save Christmas from Composite Santa, who’s half-Santa half-Frosty, and eventually a showdown with an Akira-esque Mrs. Claus occurs. The origin of Composite Santa is also detailed in his own sketch when a mad scientist tries to create an irresistible holiday character but he turns out to be genocidal.

Hermey from Rudolf shows up in “Hermey’s Dentistry,” where we see Hermey actually knows nothing about being a dentist and fails miserably at that and other professions. He returns to Santa to beg for his old job back and then the sketch turns into a Godfather Part II parody. “Co-opting Santa” sees Kris Kringle voice his displeasure with the Coca-Cola Company for co-opting his image for over 70 years in a very violent manner. A simple, but effective sketch, also features Santa getting mistakenly murdered after he had a sudden urge to drop a deuce while on the job. This simple, but crude, setup and execution pretty much sums up Robot Chicken in two minutes.

Unfortunately, Robot Chicken’s Christmas themed sketches aren’t available in one volume, to my knowledge, so if you want them you have to buy each individual season. Thankfully, Adult Swim is pretty good about broadcasting the specials every year a couple of times around Christmas and I would assume the same will be true for 2015. We may even get a fourth Christmas special if we’re lucky. Individual sketches are also available on Youtube. The Robot Chicken specials are too short to really feature any actual Christmas cheer, it’s basically just a funny use of Christmas imagery. It’s certainly not going to bring about those warm fuzzies other specials will, but they’re pretty good at getting laughs which makes them a unique entry in this top 25.


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