Monday, September 29, 2014

Family Ties Christmas (1983)

Of all the dozens of sitcom adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, this particular episode has been a favorite of TV fans for a long time.  Not only is Family Ties a series that continues to charm watchers but "A Keaton Christmas Carol" from 1983 is a stand out episode.  Why do you think this version of A Christmas Carol stands the test of time?

Everyone in the Keaton family--except Alex--embraces the Christmas spirit this year.

You remember the plot, right?  The episode begins on Christmas Eve with Elyse, Steven, Jennifer, and Mallory decorating the Christmas tree and noticing the beauty of the recent snowfall.  However, Alex doesn't share their holiday spirit--he's not caught up in this "silly sentimental farce."  Although he was asked to get a bottle of cough syrup for his youngest sister's cold symptoms, Alex has forgotten and promises to get some tomorrow--unconcerned that the stores will be closed on Christmas day.  Alex is also not interested in posing for this year's family Christmas photo either.

Alex wants to take a vote--who else wants to skip exchanging gifts this year?

Hearing carolers sharing their Christmas joy, Alex threatens to call the police--even after he recognizes that the group is led by the local minister.

Uttering those famous last words, "Christmas!? Bah Humbug" as he lies in bed, Alex soon finds himself haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  The spirit takes Alex on a little journey to re-visit Christmas from ten years ago.  Alex sees that as a child, he was filled with the right Christmas attitude--he enjoys watching others open their Christmas gifts, he leads the singing of Christmas songs, and it was initially his own idea to begin taking an annual family photo in front of the Christmas tree. 

The Ghost of Christmas Past is embodied by Alex's youngest sister Jennifer.

With the help of re-visiting his past, Alex sees that once upon a time he did enjoy Christmas.

Although Alex wishes he could continue to re-live this happy Christmas from his past, the ghost takes him back to his bedroom in the present.  Immediately Alex is greeted by a second visitor, the Ghost of Christmas Future--this one looks just like his other sister, Mallory.  Alex is whisked away to catch a glimpse of the holiday thirty years in his future--a vision that doesn't look so bright.

This efficient sitcom uses only two of four ghosts that Dickens' original story introduced.

Though they've fallen on hard times, the Keatons exhibit the same cheerful holiday spirit and are grateful for what they have--including a small, brown Christmas tree.

Alex learns in his future he is very wealthy and living in New York while his family is destitute.  His mother ekes out a living taking in other people's laundry, Mallory is pregnant while her husband serves time in debtors' prison, Jennifer sells dirt for a living, and Steven is unemployed--since Alex fired him from his job!  Poor Jennifer can barely speak--she has a severe sore throat from a lingering cold.  Too bad she can't afford to buy herself cough syrup!

Alex's horror in this dark vision of the future resonates with the prediction that he will some day be bald!

On his way to celebrate Christmas in Las Vegas, Alex has stopped by to see his family in order to drop off his laundry.  In line with Dickens' script, present-day Alex is horrified by this vision of himself and his loved ones.  He vows to change his life in order to prevent this future from ever happening.  Sure enough, on Christmas morning Alex has had an attitude adjustment.  The teenager has run to the store for Christmas presents to show each member of his family how much he loves and appreciates them.  And, Alex insists the Keatons pose once more for their annual family photo in front of the Christmas tree.

Alex finally puts himself in the Christmas spirit.

Too bad the only store Alex could find open on Christmas morning was a convenience store--sister Mallory gets beef jerky as her gift!

I have my own theories why this sitcom adaptation of A Christmas Carol still resonates with TV fans.  One strength of this particular episode is that the jokes and punchlines are well written and still sharp after all these years.  Alex threatening to call the police on a happy group of carolers which includes a church pastor is hilarious.  So is Alex's fear of going bald.  Another strength of this sitcom adaptation is that Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge character fits an exaggerated Alex P. Keaton of the future pretty reasonably.  It is not a stretch to see the business-centered, money-focused teen evolve into a lonely, self-centered Scrooge.  But I think the heart of this episode lies in Alex's transformation.  Young Michael J. Fox is thoroughly convincing when he decides to change his future and we see him express what seems like authentic compassion and genuine affection for his family members.  That's a special gift Fox still brings to his roles--and he shows his masterful skill here despite the sitcom's short length format.  It can't be easy to be both funny and heart-felt in less than thirty minutes.  I think "A Keaton Christmas Carol" is an excellent example of how to do both.

Alex finally gets in on the annual family Christmas photo.

What's your favorite sitcom adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Full House Christmas (1994)

There are quite a few Full House holiday episodes.  I've written about the 1988 episode "Our Very First Christmas Show" before.  That Christmas story included actor Sorrell Booke (that's J.D. Boss Hogg to you and me).  However, when I recall Full House Christmas episodes, this 1994 installment is the one that stands out the most in my memory.  Who could forget the year Mickey Rooney came to spend Christmas with the Tanner family?

What's so bad about a Christmas necktie that doubles as drink holder?

In 1994's "Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen," young Michelle is eager to give her father the first Christmas present she's ever purchased.  When she discovers that her Aunt Becky is intending to give the same gift--one the other members of the family openly mock--Michelle begs her Uncle Jesse to take her back to the store to exchange it.  Although he is cranky, tired of the lack of Christmas spirit in everyone he has encountered this Christmas Eve, Jesse eventually agrees to Michelle's request.

Preschoolers Nicky and Alex think they see Santa Claus trying to harm DJ and Stephanie!

Meanwhile, Uncle Joey has returned from the dry cleaners with his Santa suit, excited to surprise young Nicky and Alex later that night.  Unfortunately, the suit doesn't fit--and the impressionable toddlers overhear Joey moaning and groaning while trying to squeeze into the small sized costume. Terrified of the Santa Monster, the young twins are no longer looking forward to meeting St. Nick!  This hilarious B-story bolsters this episode to make it one of the strongest Christmas stories of the series.

Uncle Jesse is once again impatient with others on Christmas Eve.

When Michelle and Jesse arrive at the joke and novelty shop to return her unwanted Christmas present, the store owner Mr. Dreghorn (played by veteran actor Mickey Rooney) is just closing up and refuses to open the door.  After talking their way in, Mr. Dreghorn doesn't want to bother with making a return--and Jesse tries to convince him to exchange the merchandise.  Pushed beyond his limits, Mr. Dreghorn locks the front door and claims to have pushed the silent alarm for the police.  Yes, Jesse and Michelle are being held hostage on Christmas Eve by Mr. Dreghorn!

Held hostage by Andy Hardy!?

This family sitcom has not exactly created a nightmarish situation.  This madman is Mickey Rooney after all--he's a scamp, not a slasher.  More revealing, Rooney's Mr. Dreghorn has a twinkle in his eye and easily lands all his comical jabs against Uncle Jesse.  (Dreghorn mostly pokes fun of the well coiffed Uncle Jesse--a well-worn source of comedy on the series.  My favorite insult is when Dreghorn refers to Uncle Jesse as Fonzie.  With his slicked back hair, white tee, and black leather jacket--the barb is a solid strike).  Although Uncle Jesse begins to panic, Michelle knows how to read the situation.

Michelle also laughs at Dreghorn's insults lobbed at Uncle Jesse as he fumes about his crisis.

Locked in the store for awhile, Jesse eventually recognizes the police haven't arrived yet.  He tries to reason with Mr. Dreghorn for their release, claiming that the Tanner family is waiting for them to return for the the big holiday celebration to begin.  But Michelle sees what Uncle Jesse doesn't--Dreghorn isn't in any hurry.  Perhaps Dreghorn doesn't have a party he's missing or a large family who are waiting on his arrival?

Their mother Becky reads "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to the twins who just hope the nightmare will end!

Back at the Tanner home, Danny's little talk about Santa Claus with Nicky and Alex doesn't go as well as intended.  After explaining that Santa sees them while they're sleeping and sneaks into the house on Christmas Eve, the boys are more terrorized than before.  Can you blame them?

Have Mercy!  By this 8th season episode, Uncle Jesse's mullet is gone.

Michelle urges Uncle Jesse to invite Mr. Dreghorn to come home with them for Christmas.  Sure enough, the lonely old man was just looking for some company on Christmas Eve.  Uncle Jesse has to apologize for his behavior as well--finding blame in everyone else when he lacks the Christmas spirit.  You're not surprised by a happy ending, are you?

What--no holiday armadillo suit in your closet, Joey?

Nicky and Alex are eventually coaxed into welcoming Santa when Joey has the bright idea to dress up in a pink rabbit costume.  Who could be afraid of the Christmas Bunny?

Dreghorn joins the Tanner family for a merry Christmas--or was it?

Of course, if you want to read the tone of this Christmas episode as a horror story--locked in and held hostage by Mickey Rooney--I think you should go ahead and make yourself happy.  Diff'rent Strokes for different folks, right?  Wait--no, that's another sitcom.  Sorry.  But if you like Christmas horror stories, you probably already know about Mickey Rooney in the cult favorite Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker.  This 1991 camp Christmas classic features Rooney in the title role with a few twists that will leave you wanting to see Deghorn played a bit more ambiguously dark.  If you haven't yet seen SNDN 5--what are you waiting for?


Monday, September 8, 2014

Christmas TV Movie Recommendations

I was recently asked to recommend a few Christmas TV movie titles by a new friend.  I've already blogged several times about Christmas TV movies--let me remind you about those topics.  Click the links below to see those posts again:
General information about which TV networks air new Christmas TV movies each year.
The landscape of Christmas TV movies in 2013.
Another essay about Christmas TV movies--with links to fourteen Christmas TV movies I've reviewed.  (That blog post is 2 years old--I've reviewed more TV movies since).  You can always use the SEARCH box, found along the right side, to locate episodes, specials, and movies from the archives.

Another note: I frequently write about theatrical release Christmas movies because most of us watch these movies after their initial theatrical run at home--either broadcast on television, recorded for home entertainment, or on an electronic device we use as a television.  Since the original request was for Christmas TV movie titles, I'll limit my recommendations here to feature-length, made-for-TV entertainment.

When I first gathered together a list of noteworthy Christmas TV movies, the list ended up being about one hundred titles.  Clearly, that's too much--so I've limited my recommendations to titles that currently air on TV or are already released on DVD.

I like to start with the classics.  Christmas is always the best time to reflect on the past.  Remember the 1971 TV movie The Homecoming?  It was so popular that network execs hired all the young cast members back and created the TV series The Waltons.  Another movie made in the 1970s that reflects back on earlier times is the unforgettable story The House Without a Christmas Tree from 1972.  A nearly forgotten classic is 1964's Carol for Another Christmas-- found airing on TCM at holiday time for the past two years.  This most unusual adaptation of Charles Dickens' book A Christmas Carol is a Cold War interpretation, penned by Rod Serling. I know--see what you're missing!

Who is your favorite TV movie Ebenezer Scrooge?

Speaking of Charles Dickens' classic book...did you remember that the critically acclaimed, 1984 version of A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott was originally made for TV?  1999's A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart was also a TV movie.  Have you seen the version adapted from the successful Broadway show, 2004's A Christmas Carol: The Musical starring Kelsey Grammer?  I can't help it, my favorite TV adaptations are 1979's An American Christmas Carol starring Henry Winkler, and the comedy A Diva's Christmas Carol, from 2000, set inside the music business industry.

The Dream Team, Schneider and Wopat, are together again in Christmas Comes to Willow Creek.

Can't stand seeing Fonzie as Ebenezer Scrooge?  How about country music legend Dolly Parton spinning fairy tales in 1986's A Smoky Mountain Christmas? Looking for more country stars--how about Christmas Comes to Willow Creek starring John Schneider and Tom Wopat, from 1987.  Looking for less country stars?  Consider watching 2003's A Carol Christmas starring Tori Spelling, William Shatner, and Gary Coleman.

Hallmark Channel fans love their Debbie Macomber Christmas TV movies.

If you're looking to watch a Christmas TV movie based on a popular book (other than one written by Dickens), you might be interested in ones based on Truman Capote short stories.  (The best TV adaptation is Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory from 1966 starring Geraldine Page--but it's not on TV or DVD).  But you could watch 1997's A Christmas Memory starring Patty Duke and One Christmas from 1994, starring Henry Winkler and Katherine Hepburn.  These two movies are adapted from two separate Capote short stories set at Christmas.  If Truman Capote isn't your bag, maybe you like to read popular author, Richard Paul Evans.  The best of the several Christmas TV movies based on his books is 1995's The Christmas Box starring Richard Thomas.  And, Debbie Macomber has had several of her much beloved books made into TV movies including 2009's Mrs. Miracle, 2010's Call Me Mrs. Miracle, and 2011's Trading Christmas.

Look for all the entertaining pop culture references in this fun 2002 TV movie.

If you're looking for something more fun for the whole family, you could try 1986's The Christmas Star starring Ed Asner, 1984's The Night They Saved Christmas with Jaclyn Smith and Art Carney, and It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie from 2002. 

I feel like I've barely scratched the surface but there are plenty of titles here to explore.  If you own a copy of my encyclopedia Tis the Season TV, then you can look up any of the titles mentioned above for more information.

If you don't already know, every day I post Christmas TV listings in two places: on Twitter @TistheSeasonTV and on the facebook page Tis the Season TV.  If you're looking for more suggestions on Christmas TV movies when they begin airing in November and December, those are the two places to find it.

What Christmas TV movies do you recommend to people who ask?  Share with me in the comments below.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All I Want for Christmas (1991)

The recent passing of actress Lauren Bacall was a sad day this summer. I've always admired her chutzpah both on screen and off. Bacall continues to live on, her legacy being a long career in film which will undoubtedly entertain for generations to come. Did you remember that Bacall was in the 1991 theatrical release movie All I Want for Christmas?  This movie may not have provided Bacall with a role that made critics' lists of highlights of her career.  However, her presence in the film brought some class and warmth--a lasting legacy worth noting.

The misleading movie poster usually includes the tagline: How Far Would You Go to Make a Wish Come True?

Is watching All I Want for Christmas a holiday tradition with your family?  The story's premise is certainly catchy: an adorable little girl named Hallie makes a Christmas wish for her recently divorced parents to get married again. After her mother Catherine (played by actress Harley Jane Kozak--remember the movie Arachnophobia?) announces that she plans on marrying her nebbish boyfriend Tony, Hallie regrets not telling the Santa Claus at the department store that she meant for her parents to marry again--to each other!  Hallie's older brother Ethan decides to correct the situation by planning an elaborate scheme to force his emotionally distant parents to spend time together, hoping that the physical nearness will bring about a romantic change of heart.

If this plot sounds familiar, that's because several similar Christmas stories have been created since All I Want for Christmas' debut.  As you can imagine, a Christmas movie about divorced parents reuniting has all the potential to be a popular, heart-warming fantasy.  If All I Want for Christmas sounds like a familiar title, you're right--it was used again in 2007 for a made-for-TV Christmas movie, and of course, it's also part of two holiday song titles, the novelty tune "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" and the Mariah Carey hit "All I Want for Christmas is You."  Unfortunately, I think the 1991 film is easily lost among holiday entertainment because its title is not descriptive enough.

While All I Want for Christmas is not exactly an overlooked gem--it's not quite charming enough to be considered among the classics--one of its strongest features is its amazing cast. Yes, Lauren Bacall is in this movie as the children's wealthy but loving grandmother, Lillian Brooks. Bacall has quite a bit of screen time however my favorite scene is when she entertains at a Christmas party with her granddaughter Hallie, singing the holiday standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside" as a duet.

Hallie and Ethan plot to get their parents back together at Christmas time. (Thora Birch and Ethan Embry).

Recognize young Hallie?  This is an early role for actress Thora Birch who eventually would star in the cult classics American Beauty and Ghost World. Her brother Ethan is played by Ethan Embry, another child actor who has been lucky and successful enough to continue acting as an adult.  In addition to Harley Jane Kozak as mother Catherine, the father's role as Michael is played by Jamey Sheridan, a very recognizable face on television including Law & Order: Criminal Intent and the critically-acclaimed Homeland.

Jamey Sheridan played Vice President Walden on the first and second seasons of Homeland.

SNL-alum Kevin Nealon as the boyfriend, Tony.

Tony, Catherine's fiance that the children wish to dispose of, is played by comedian/actor Kevin Nealon.  He's a very convincing loser boyfriend. And, in small but endearing roles are SCTV-alum Andrea Martin, and Renee Taylor from The Nanny.  Last but not least in this list of noteworthy cast members is Leslie Nielsen who plays the Macy's department store Santa Claus.

This 1991 movie isn't Nielsen's only turn at playing Santa Claus--remember 2000's Santa Who?

All I Want for Christmas may never top your list of Best Christmas Movies, however it is an enjoyable story that is made even more entertaining by a stellar cast.  Come holiday time when you hear the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside," perhaps you'll once again recall Lauren Bacall and her one-of-a-kind spirit. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Christmas TV Party 2014: Travis Van Hauen

Christmas TV Party 2014: Travis Van Hauen

1) What is the first Christmas special you remember watching? 

Rudolph (I just loved watching the stop motion specials) and  A Charlie Brown Christmas

2) Name one Christmas program/movie you enjoy watching all year round. 

Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Love at the Christmas Table and Debbie Macomber’s Trading Christmas

3) Name one overlooked, or under-appreciated Christmas program. 

Bob Hope’s annual Christmas Special

4) Send us to 3 places on the internet.

5) What are your 3 favorite Christmas episodes of a TV sitcom or drama? 
I am going to expand this to many different categories.

*Favorite made for TV movies: 
Debbie Macomber’s Trading Christmas (Hallmark)- What happens when a widow finds out her college daughter wants to do her own thing for Christmas, she decides to trade homes with a successful writer (currently with writer’s block) for the holidays to be near her daughter…..of course there are some issues. Combine great acting with dialogue, music & chemistry and this is makes for an entertaining and relaxing movie. 
Love at the Christmas Table (Lifetime)- when a lifetime of holiday traditions, community and holiday spirit combine for a great romance story that really knows how to develop the story. Great acting and music!
Tie between – The Christmas Card,  A Grandpa for Christmas,  3 Day Christmas & Hitched for the Holidays 

*Favorite classic sitcom or short story episodes: 
The Twilight Zone  Night of the Meek
The gift that keeps on giving: He's best known for 'The Honeymooners' (which had a classic holiday episode of its own with ''Twas the Night Before Christmas'), but Art Carney is also the star of this 'Twilight Zone' gem, in which he plays drunkard department store Santa Henry Corwin. Fired after arriving for work late and sloshed, Henry wanders into an alley and finds a bag filled with gifts. The spirit of the holiday is one of the few bright spots in Henry's life, and as he begins handing out the gifts, he realizes the bag is able to produce any gift a recipient requests. After a brief jail stint that ends with Henry changing the mind of his mean, skeptical former boss, he continues handing out gifts until one of his giftees points out that Henry has taken nothing from the bag himself. All he wants? To continue playing Santa every year, a wish that's granted when he finds an elf with a reindeer-driven sleigh waiting to whisk him off to the North Pole.

M*A*S*H  Death Takes a Holiday
The gift that keeps on giving: Series star Mike Farrell wrote and directed this touching episode, in which Father Mulcahy organizes a Christmas party for the local children, and we learn that stuffy Charles Winchester is actually a big old softie who's been hoarding his fancy chocolates not for himself, but to gift to the kiddies. The tearjerking heart of the episode, however, involves a soldier who's mortally wounded, prompting Margaret, Hawkeye and B.J. to do anything they can to keep him alive until Dec. 26, so his family won't have to remember Christmas as the day their father/son/husband died.

The Andy Griffith Show  The Christmas Story
The gift that keeps on giving: Barney Fife (Don Knotts) as Santa is but one of the delights of this simple, sweet episode. Most of the action takes place in the Mayberry jail, where, after department store owner (and resident Scrooge) Ben Weaver demands that Andy lock up local moonshiner Sam Muggins, Muggins' family, as well as Andy's, gather to celebrate the holiday with Sam. After witnessing how Sam and Andy and their broods can turn the jailhouse stay into a warm, inviting celebration, Weaver gets himself arrested so he can be part of the fun, and he ends the holiday by getting a nip of Sam's hooch himself.

*Favorite recent (approx. last 25yrs) sitcom episodes: 
Home Improvement – Yule Better Watch Out  (this series has many good Christmas episodes but this was it’s first).  Tim competes in the neighborhood Christmas light competition. Mark writes his Christmas list to Santa, but Brad and Randy tell him Santa is dead but a mysterious Santa gives him his wish. Brad and Randy participate in a Christmas play as meager parts. 

Frasier- Perspectives on Christmas (this series also has many good Christmas episodes but this one comes from many differing views).  Christmas is approaching, and everyone in the Crane household has been having a miserable time. Martin has volunteered to play the part of a wise man in a local church pageant, and one of the requirements is to sing "O Holy Night", which contains one dangerously high note. He has not told Daphne, but she detects he is keeping something from her, and knowing that he was expecting the results of a recent physical examination, she fears the worst. Niles gets trapped in the Elliot Bay Towers elevator and has to climb out, completely ruining his brand new suit. Frasier takes a phone call from Roz's mother, who will be visiting for Christmas, and advises her to be sympathetic to Roz about her pregnancy weight gain, unaware that Roz has not even told her mother she is pregnant yet. Roz, of course, is absolutely furious when she finds out.

Tie between 3rd Rock from the Sun Jolly Old St. Dick, 30 Rock Ludachristmas and The Office Christmas Party

from the 1971 Christmas episode of Gunsmoke with guest star Jack Elam.

*Favorite Christmas Themed Drama Episodes: 
Little House on the Prairie: Christmas at Plum Creek 
The Closer: You Have the Right to Remain Jolly (2011) 
Monk: Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa (2005) 
Psych: Christmas Joy (2008) 
Eureka: O Little Town (2010) 
Gunsmoke: P.S. Murry Christmas (1971) 
Chuck: Chuck Versus Santa Claus (2008) 
Moonlighting: 'Twas the Episode Before Christmas (1985) 

*Favorite animated Christmas themed shows: 
Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation: The brothers and friends try to save Christmas For Danvill. Great music and jokes. 
Curious George- A Very Monkey Christmas : It is Christmastime but George and The Man In The Yellow Hat have a problem. They must both find out what each other wants for Christmas. 
Justice League- Comfort and Joy:  Members of the Justice League celebrate Christmas

*Favorites Animated Christmas Specials (classics) 
A Charlie Brown Christmas 
A Garfield Christmas Special (1987) 
A Chipmunk Christmas (1981) 
The Smurfs Christmas Special (1982) 
The Snowman
Frosty the Snowman 
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer 

*Favorite recent Christmas specials 
Jingle All the Way (Hallmark) 
Disney’s Prep & Landing 
Robbie the Reindeer 

*Our “guilty pleasure” Christmas specials (some have been panned by media but hold special memories for us) 
Casper’s First Christmas
Christmas Comes to Pacland 
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
Yogi’s First Christmas 
Flintstones Christmas Carol 

*Christmas Collection DVD ( a collection of Christmas toons, skits or episodes) 
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas 
The Carol Burnet Show: Christmas with Carol
Saturday Night Live - Christmas

Monday, August 4, 2014

Christmas TV Party 2014 Summary

1954's White Christmas

Did you check out all the responses by our party participants?  In case you were late to the Christmas TV Party this summer, here's your chance to catch up.  Below is a complete list of links to each of our guests who participated in July/August.  If you regret never sending in your responses--or are just now discovering this networking opportunity, it's not too late to join in the fun.  Read the original introduction and email your answers to me.

Thanks to everyone who participated and to all who left comments.  I was entertained and amused all month long with everyone's replies--I hope you were too!

Original introduction to Christmas TV Party 2014 and Joanna Wilson's answers

Dinsdale Kringle at Santas Working Overtime

David Hofstede at Comfort TV

Caffeinated Joe at Caffeinated Joe and My Third Parent

Drew Flowers at Christmas Movies and Music

Cathie Nowicki

Linda M. Young at Flying Dreams

Dixon Hayes at TV When I Was Born

Jeff Fox at Name That Christmas Special

Rob Martinez at The Nights Before Christmas

Donna Bock

J.A. Morris at Holiday Film Reviews

Johnny Holmes at Radio Once More

Stubby at Stubby's House of Christmas

Randall Buie

D.X. Ferris, author of Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff and Dave Years

Mitchell Hadley at It's About TV!

Jim Inman

Helen Holmes at Radio Once More

Stephen Lind, PhD at Washington and Lee University

Amanda By Night at Made for TV Mayhem

Juniper Sage

RigbyMel at Holiday Film Reviews

Amanda M. Prok

Ronda Roxbury

Jakki at Tis the Season and Christmas Movies and Music

Dan Budnik, co-author of Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash Horror Odyssey

Jeff Haggar at Classic TV Sports

Dominic Caruso at 1701 Press

Net at It's A Wonderful Movie

Brady Bunch in 1969

Maryam Sarshar

Cheryl at The Stylish Studio

Jim Fanning at Tugley Wood

Travis Van Hauen

Friday, August 1, 2014

Christmas TV Party 2014: Jim Fanning at Tulgey Wood

1957's Desk Set
Christmas TV Party 2014: Jim Fanning at Jim Fanning’s Tulgey Wood 

1) What is the first Christmas special you remember watching?
Like just about everyone has said, it was Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer.

2) Name one Christmas program/movie you enjoy watching all year round. 
I don’t know about a specifically Christmas-themed movie, but I have at least two favorite films with Christmas scenes in them (that makes them Christmas movies, doesn’t it?) that I often watch at any time of a given year. One is probably on the list of a lot of Christmas fans: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). The Christmastime (Winter 1903) scenes are so beautifully done and are the emotional heart as well as climax of the story; no wonder it is at Christmastime that Papa decides the Smith family will stay in their St. Louis home instead of moving to a strange city. The other is the sparkling Desk Set (1957) starring Katherine Hepburn as a TV network research librarian and Spencer Tracy as a computer inventor. This sophisticated workplace-rom-com features a Mad Men-type office holiday party that is a joy to behold, offering a decidedly different take on merrymaking then one might see in something like, oh, I don’t know, say Meet Me in St. Louis. The filmmakers also take dramatic advantage of the jovial Yuletide setting to bring the story up short by revealing that the “villain” of the movie—the electronic brain, EMERAC—will be installed after the holidays, threatening the jobs of Hepburn and her close-knit team. 

Sister Theresa finds the little boy Lukas after he's struck by lightning in The First Christmas.
3) Name one overlooked, or under-appreciated Christmas program.
I’m tempted to say The Box of Delights, a phantasmagorical mini-series produced in England and shown in the US as part of the PBS Wonderworks anthology series. Based on a popular British book, this fantasy-adventure—full of 1980s special-video-effects—centered on schoolboy Kay who while home for the holidays encounters a mysterious man who entrusts to him a small wooden box with magical powers, taking the boy on all manner of enchanted escapades. 
But instead I’d like to single out a special from Rankin/Bass, the producers of such holiday favorites as Rudolph, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, et al. First shown in 1975, The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow is a charming, low-key tale of a blinded shepherd boy taken in by the kindly Sisters of the Abbey, led by Sister Theresa (the voice of Angela Lansbury). One of the few Christmas TV specials that doesn’t deal with Santa Claus, this unique show is understated in its spirituality, which still comes shining through with the miracle that occurs during the village children’s performance of the Nativity pageant. Produced in the signature style of Rankin/Bass’s “Animagic” (articulated puppets who come to life in stop-motion animation), the upbeat and touching musical features a lovely rendition of “White Christmas” by Angela Lansbury.  One of the reasons this special may be so little known is that when it’s recalled at all, the needlessly complicated title throws everyone off. An understandably confounded audience has called it everything from The First Christmas to The First Snow to That Show about the Nuns and the First Snow. The title is not only confusing; it’s inaccurate in that the focus is not the first Christmas (except in the pageant).  (Interestingly, the special was to have originally been titled The First White Christmas, but legal problems with the use of the Irving Berlin song as part of the title may have been the reason for the change.) Whatever the title is, however, this gentle TV gem is worth seeking out. 

4) Send us to 3 places on the internet.
A fun site from writer Joe Torcivia about classic film, TV, comics etc. Check out Joe’s in-depth, multi-part history of Gold Key comics.   

Yowp and Tralfaz 
This is a two-fer. The historian simply known as Yowp writes in his Tralfaz blog about animation, old time radio and classic show biz, while in his Yowp blog he extensively covers classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

This blog is mentioned on Joanna’s hit parade at right but is always worth actively promoting. Historian Rick Goldschmidt celebrates the history and heritage of Rankin/Bass, creator of those unforgettable Christmas specials.

5) What are your 3 favorite Christmas episodes of a TV sitcom or drama?
I’ll skip dramas, though there are some very good examples, including the Christmas episodes of Mad Men (especially The Christmas Waltz), and “The Best Christmas” from the fifth season of The Waltons. (The Homecoming is of course an excellent show but that was a Christmas special, the inadvertent pilot, for The Waltons, so I personally don’t consider it part of the series proper.) But on to the comedies!  Very difficult to choose only three because so many good series have good Christmas episodes—All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show, Frasier, Roseanne, Everybody Loves Raymond… I even love the I Love Lucy Christmas ep, which is really just a clip show. 

But here are my top tinsel-time picks:

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: “Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid II”
This is hands-down my favorite of all TV holiday episodes. I watch it every single year. The MTM Show creators, Allan Burns and James L. Brooks brilliantly use the newsroom setting in this first-season episode, as Mary Richards realizes that she actually has to work on Christmas Day. Prevented from returning to her hometown because of this TV vocational reality—the news doesn’t stop for holidays—Mary is cheered by her Minneapolis friends and co-workers who she increasingly comes to think of as family. This comedy series always had a poignant edge, and no more so than in this heartwarming episode.

The Lucy Show “Together for Christmas”
Spending their first Christmas together, the blended family of widower Lucy and divorcee Viv find that sharing conflicting traditions (gifts opened on Christmas morning vs. Christmas Eve, turkey vs. goose for the feast, etc.) is as likely to ruin a holiday as enhance it. Years ahead of such now-common fare as Modern Family, this Yuletide episode of the second of Lucille Ball’s three hit shows (this series was wonderfully done in its first two seasons or so) is an annual favorite of mine, given its comedic conflict and its moving resolution, brilliant pulled off by one of TV’s greatest teams, Lucy and Vivian Vance.

Family Ties “A Keaton Christmas Carol”
I usually avoid Christmas episodes that are parodies of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, simply because it’s so overdone, overly familiar and just lazy. This Family Ties favorite, which I saw for the first time last Christmas because of its easy accessibility on Netflix, is a rare exception. Perhaps this well-done Christmas Carol re-do is particularly appealing because the Scrooge-theme fits well with the character of Alex P. Keaton, and the always excellent Michael J. Fox is both comedic and moving in his renewed appreciation of his family at Christmastime.)