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Dec. 8 – TV Funhouse – “Christmas Day”

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

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

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

TV Funhouse ran from December 2000 only until January 2001.

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

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

Doug and his AniPals.

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

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

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

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

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

The Simpsons as naked, featherless, chicken monstrosities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look how cute they are!

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

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

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

Scumbag!

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

Dude just dunked Jesus.

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

Church is probably the worst place to be when high.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, every one!

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


Dec. 17 – Metalocalypse – “Dethmas”

metalocalypse

The boys of Dethklok (left to right):  William Murderface, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Nathan Explosion, Pickles, and Toki Wartooth

A show that felt like it was made for, Metalocalypse was an animated show on Adult Swim about a fictitious death metal band and their misadventures. And yet, it was a show I could never get into. It began in 2006 as I was exiting college and heading into “the real world” in which I had a brutal commute and long working day. As a result, I was forced to abandon my night owl lifestyle which meant I missed out on a lot of the Adult Swim programming that began during this era. Even when things calmed down for me and I attained some normalcy, I never really returned to Adult Swim for no particular reason and I slept on this show, despite numerous friends telling me it was something I needed to watch. I saw an episode here and there, it just never stuck. It was also kind of annoying to watch on cable since the script for each episode is loaded with profanity so there’s a constant stream of bleeps when shown on television. This is a show best enjoyed on either home video or via an uncensored streaming platform.

“Dethmas” originally aired December 6, 2009. Unlike a lot of these simply animated programs on Adult Swim, Metalocalypse is a half hour formatted show (for season 3 only). It was the brainchild of Brendon Small, a musician himself who is probably best known for the show Home Movies, and Tommy Blacha. Only someone familiar with the European metal scene could dream up this show, and it’s pretty incredible that it received a green light from Cartoon Network given how niche the subject matter is. It ended up being one of the longer running shows for the network, finally coming to an end in 2013 with a one-off special. In total there were 63 episodes produced, and this episode was part of the show’s third season.

Dethmas tree

Christmas is coming for Dethklok.

The show opens with the band watching television. They’re watching the news (and the anchor is voiced by Mark Hamill) coverage of their “friend” Dr. Rockzo (Tommy Blacha) who has been arrested for stealing from a homeless charity to fund his cocaine addiction. Dr. Rockzo looks like an 80’s David Lee Roth if Roth were a clown strung-out on cocaine. Toki (Blacha) is given some grief by his band mates over his friend’s relapse, but Toki is quick to point out he’s severed all ties with the clown. The conversation then shifts to the upcoming Christmas holiday, and William Murderface (Blacha) wants to put on a Christmas special, but the rest of the band tells him that’s lame. He gets pretty pissed off and vows to go it alone. Nathan Explosion (Brendon Small) reveals that their moms sent them a DVD for Christmas, and the band reluctantly watches it. It’s pretty easy to tell which woman on the video is related to which band member, with the most obvious being Murderface’s grandmother who looks exactly like him except she’s obese and rides a scooter. Murderface is quite taken by Skwigelf’s mother, a buxom blonde who briefly exposes her undergarments Sharon Stone-style. The video ends with the revelation that the moms are coming for Christmas, and the band is not happy.

dethklok moms

The Dethklok mothers, and one grandmother.

The band is then shown lounging in a hot tub still complaining about their mothers and Christmas. We’re shown a brief montage of what happened last time the ladies visited, which apparently included a drunken game of Twister. They vow to not let their moms drink this time. Murderface then meets with his business partner, Dick Knubbler (Small), and he’s not happy that the rest of the band won’t be joining them. He informs Murderface that he won’t have any creative input, and when asked why, he lists out other failed business ventures by Murderface which included exploding pyro devices and a cologne of his own urine. They need to secure some financing though, and it’s going to be hard with just Murderface.

rockzo claus

One horrifying Santa.

Dr. Rockzo is also shown being released on bail. He’s told to stay out of trouble and get a job. Conveniently, Toki, being the only member of the band who seems to love Christmas, heads off to the mall to see Santa and that’s just where Dr. Rockzo ended up getting a job (as Santa). Rockzo is able to get Toki to take him back to the home of Dethklok where he continues to go through cocaine withdrawals. Murderface also receives a phone call from Knubler letting him know his proposed ideas for the special (he wanted tits and murder) have been rejected. Worse news, they only found one sponsor:  The Christian Church. When Murderface questions if aligning himself with the Church would be considered selling-out, the various yes-men on the line suggest it’s fine and he cheerfully goes along with it.

The mothers have also arrived, and no one is happy. The moms want the boys to take them shopping, and we get a brief sequence of Explosion trying to find a parking space at the mall which ends in a car accident. Meanwhile, Dr. Rockzo has escaped and has managed to score some cocaine. He happily prances around the park announcing his score to the world while waving his drugs around in a plastic bag until he runs into a cop.

murderface view

Murderface doesn’t seem to mind at least one of the Dethklok moms being there.

Murderface and Knubbler are forced to meet their sponsor, an unnamed priest voiced by Small. He wants to put on a very Christian production and Murderface appears more onboard than Knubbler who can’t stop swearing in the priest’s presence. When he returns to the homestead, he finds his band mates in Christmas sweaters completely miserable. This allows Murderface the chance to convince his bandmates to join the special with him as it’s something they can do with their mothers to get them off their backs. He also claims it will be brutal, which is a blatant lie, but is needed to get Explosion onboard. We then get a montage, framed by Rockzo’s coke habit, of the band and their moms getting ready for the special. A lot of the images show the band forcing their moms into manual labor to get the set constructed.

murderface special

This will not go well.

When the special arrives, it’s actually a fairly wholesome experience. Hosted by Murderface and Knubbler, they do the nativity in which the baby Jesus defecates repeatedly and the audience seems to enjoy the impromptu poop jokes. The priest seems pleased as well, and the scene shifts backstage where Murderface’s grandma is on the hunt for booze. She finds a door comically chained and locked and claims to smell alcohol behind it. Rockzo is also there, and he’s managed to gain access to the backstage area. Toki, getting ready for his prized Secret Santa portion of the special, finds all of his gifts are gone and he immediately blames Rockzo. Meanwhile, the rest of the band is watching the special unfold on live television from the green room, and Explosion sees who the sponsor for the show is and immediately gets pissed.

rockzo job

At least Dr. Rockzo got to enjoy himself.

On set, Murderface and Knubbler are dressed in tuxedos and are seated in a living room setting. A knock on the door prompts them to speculate on what surprise awaits them on the other side, in true corny Christmas special fashion. It’s the mothers, and now armed with booze are completely smashed. They stumble onto the set rather clumsily. Explosion is next, and he simply punches Murderface in his murder face and drops an f-bomb, which does not go over well with the priest. The other band mates storm in and they’re just as pissed, and Dr. Rockzo is there as well. He collapses onto the couch and Skwigelf’s mother begins giving him a handjob. Toki also gets crushed by a giant cross on set along with Murderface’s grandmother, which Murderface seems to enjoy. With the whole special in disarray, the priest attacks Murderface and begins choking him out as Knubbler is forced to hastily wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

“Dethmas” is a silly Christmas special, which you probably expected. It seems absurd for this show to even have a Christmas episode, but the setup works and it’s amusing to see the band get suckered into a Christmas production. It’s a very crass special, with tons of profanity and even the other F-word is used at one point, which surprised me. The context was that Murderface and Knubbler looked “sissy” while hosting their special. It makes sense in that context, since it’s coming from an aggressively macho metal band member, though I do wonder if it would have been used if recorded today. Rockzo and his cocaine addiction also gets a lot of play for laughs, though by the end of the episode I was mostly over that. Him getting a handjob during the special though made up for it, as that visual was quite amusing. I’m guessing Adult Swim wouldn’t let them get away with animating anything more salacious, such as oral sex, as the positioning of the characters suggests maybe that’s what they originally intended to have happen.

dethmas ending

Not the ending shot the Christian Church was banking on.

I did enjoy the portrayal of each band member and their response to the holiday incoming. Toki was the cute one who genuinely likes Christmas and Santa and all of that stuff. He just wants to give his buddies gifts and be merry. Meanwhile, Nathan Explosion hates Christmas, but he also keeps finding a silver lining in the holiday suggesting the Christmas Spirit could be a murderous ghost or something. Pickles (Small) and Skwigelf mostly can’t be bothered with the holiday, though their attitude towards it is closer to Explosion’s. Murderface just wants to make money off of it and enhance his star. As the least charismatic member of the band, it makes sense that he always has an inferiority complex and is willing to sell-out for additional fame.

If you think your holiday needs a satirical dose of Heavy Metal, then “Dethmas” should do fine. It’s actually fairly light on music, but the atmosphere is still there. It’s also easy to come by. If you just want to stream it, Adult Swim will let you watch it on YouTube for a couple bucks. You can also pick it up with the rest of Season 3 on DVD. If you go that route it will probably set you back around $25 if you want it new, less if you’re willing to go used. You can also purchase it digitally through Amazon for $2.99 an episode. There’s also the chance Adult Swim airs it this month. The network is usually pretty good about airing its Christmas Specials though it favors shows still in production so it could get passed over. If you want to see this one though, you have no shortage of options.


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