We’ve had our first flurries of snow, spent way too much money on other people, and have been graced by the first pine-scented kitty poops of the year. That must mean only one thing: it’s that joyous season, the season of terrible television Christmas specials.
I will admit, my house was not the most typical Norman Rockwell house growing up. I’m pretty sure other kids’ Christmas traditions involved repeated viewings of A Pinky and the Brain Christmas Special, or airlifting Baby Jesus into the manger while making helicopter noises. But if there is one thing my mother knew, it was TV Christmas specials. Charlie Brown, Pinky and the Brain, the Biker Mice From Mars.
Of course, there’s always the old claymation standbys – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy. My family even threw the 1985 French short animated film The Snowman into the mix.
And as I got older, there were the Hallmark and Lifetime movies – like Deck The Halls, which stars Steve Bacic (better known as Rhade from Andromeda or Camulus from Stargate SG-1) as a Hawaiian shirt-wearing, cowboy-hat-rocking scruffy Santa, or Santa’s Slay, in which pro-wrestler Goldberg plays Santa, a demon released from his thousand-year curse to be nice to good little boys and girls and out to destroy and kill in various Christmas-themed ways. And for fans of musical theatre, there’s AD/BC: A Rock Opera, Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade’s hilarious Nativity send-up of Jesus Christ Superstar.
But for the true geeks among us, there are two Christmas specials that you just can’t afford to miss.
The Star Wars Holiday Special
You have to see this. Period. If you can manage it. It aired on television in 1978 and was so horrendously awful that it has never been re-aired or officially released on video. Ever. This is like taking all the most beloved characters from a profitable franchise and sticking them into an two-hour variety show directed by someone who had nothing to do with the original franchise.
Oh wait. That’s exactly what they did.
The story is – loosely – the tale of Chewbacca trying to reunite with his family for Generic Outer Space Holiday Day, and the various hijinks and roadblocks that occur in the meantime. Luke, Leia, the droids, and even poor cartoon Boba Fett are dragged into it – and Bea Arthur! Yes, Bea Arthur makes an appearance and for that alone you must watch. The story is cut up with musical numbers and “flashbacks” to (read: stock footage from) the events of the original Star Wars. There’s singing, there’s dancing, there’s cartoons, there’s Bea Arthur, there’s Wookies, there’s Jefferson Starship, what more do you want from your Christmas specials?
Oh yeah, and there’s some kind of message about peace and family and some crap like that.
Christmas Comes to Eternia: The He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special
I’m just going to give you a second to let that sink in.
This animated gem was first aired in 1985, but luckily for you it was released on video not once, not twice, but three times! Okay, well, the last two were on DVD. In fact, the most recent version of it hit stores in October. Bringing you all the best of the eighties in one Yuletide bundle, the story kicks off when Orko accidentally highjacks a spy shuttle and crash-lands it on Earth. He kidnaps – I mean, meets two racially diverse children named Miguel and Alisha and they all truck back to Eternia where the kids teach the good guys all about the magic of Christmas. Meanwhile, back at Castle Greyskull, Horde Prime is afraid that Christmas spirit will be his undoing and sends out Hordak and Skeletor to capture the children before they feed everyone fruitcake or something. Fight fight fight, She-Ra rides a pretty horse, the Manchines show up (seriously, what were we smoking in the 80s? Manchines?), and Skeletor saves the day! No, really, he saves the kids. Because of the spirit of Christmas.
If there is one thing that Christmas specials teach us, deep down inside all an evil villain needs to turn into a good guy is some holly and some mistletoe. Why, turning from bad to good is as easy as taking your first step.
But really. This is just the heartwarming tale of two kids trying to make it home for Christmas Eve, and sharing the joy and love of the holiday with their friends. Who are mostly muscle-bound superheroes who live on a distant planet. Or Manchines. Don’t forget the Manchines.
Okay. Christmas specials aren’t usually great TV. Especially when they’re coming from an established franchise (like, say, Biker Mice From Mars: Chill Zone, wherein the villain Limburger tries to steal the world’s ice and instead his headquarters becomes the new home for the orphans). But they’re generally full of good cheer and an uplifting message, and there’s no other time of year grown adults can watch as many cartoons as they like without being made fun of for it.
So to all my readers, on this festive occasion, I say in the words of Prince Adam, “Though we celebrate it and get presents, Christmas is about caring, sharing and goodwill and its spirit is within all of us.” Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to curl up with some hot cocoa and It’s Christmas Time Again, Charlie Brown, and try to put a jingle bell collar on the cat.
What movies are on your Christmas list this year? Which videos were worn out when you were a kid?