Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Christmas (1966)


Remember this Cold War espionage TV drama?
 
The trailers are out and the promotions have begun for the upcoming release of the new theatrical  movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E. starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.  This latest film update of a classic TV series is directed by Guy Ritchie and seems (from the trailer I've watched) to capture some of the sense of humor and retro 1960s fashions and style of the earlier television project.  We'll see.  In the meantime, I thought this might make a good time to reflect back on the third season Christmas episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. entitled "The Jingle Bells Affair."  Did you expect anything less?

It's vintage footage from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade!

This episode's story begins with Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin working as bodyguards for a visiting Russian dignitary, Chairman Georgi Koz.  The very powerful man is in the United States for a visit and to speak before a United Nations meeting in New York City.  It just so happens that Koz's visit coincides with the Thanksgiving holiday and Macy's parade.


Front seat: Kuryakin drives and Solo rides shotgun.  Back seat: Russian Maxim Radish accompanies Chairman Koz.

While the men are stuck in traffic in Manhattan during the parade, we hear the details of the Chairman's visit and his political views.  It's no coincidence that the actor playing Koz resembles Nikita Khrushchev.  Khrushchev was the real-life Russian Chairman at the time of this 1960s sci-fi/fantasy spy series.

I have to be honest--HALF the fun of this episode is looking at the retro film footage of the Macy's parade during the 1960s!


Can you imagine standing on the street at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in the 1960s and then seeing yourself on an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Solo and Kuryakin are escorting Koz around town in order to protect him from protestors as well as potential assassins.  Sure enough, a bomb is tossed at the entourage endangering the visiting Russians.  Bodyguards Solo and Kuryakin successfully protect Koz.  Now the men know there is someone looking to harm the Chairman--and not just the potential for a threat. 


Brush up on your 60s Cold War politics! This episode is a fun trip back in time.

Solo and Kuryakin must investigate the bombing attempt and determine if the assassin is an angry American looking to eliminate the foreign leader or a hardline Communist who wishes to silence the Chairman's current political philosophy of co-existence.


Koz suspects that what he's heard about the abundance of consumer goods in America is propaganda!  Not so, says the store manager at Macy's.

Georgi Koz is undeterred by the assassination attempt.  He has sat in the car all morning during the parade listening to Solo and Kuryakin describe Macy's department store.  Koz wants to see it for himself!  Despite the security risks, Koz wants to tour "the citadel of bourgeoisie expectations."  Koz is doubtful and suspicious of the descriptions he's heard of the affordability and abundance of consumer goods available to the average American consumer.  Skeptical of the successes of capitalism, Koz wants to see it for himself--at Macy's department store.  When does Koz visit Macy's? On the day after Thanksgiving, of course--the first official day of the Christmas shopping season.


Koz marvels at the Macy's store Santa Claus.

Koz's visit to Macy's impresses him.  He's even won over by the store's Santa Claus!  Koz wants to know more about Santa's influence on consumer affairs and asks to visit the Santa school where men are instructed to fulfill the fantasy role.  Despite the obvious security risks, Kuryakin and Solo are obligated to keep their guest happy.  They agree to escort Koz to visit a local Salvation Army mission.


What happens when the leader of the communist world dons a Santa suit, a symbol synonymous with capitalism?

Koz, his bodyguards, and Priscilla, a Salvation Army officer, find refuge after another assassination attempt.

Chairman Koz argues politics with a few of the down-on-their-luck persons at the Salvation Army mission but seems to be enjoying himself.  Koz even puts on a Santa Claus suit in the spirit of the season.  Again, there's an assassination attempt made on the foreign visitor which Solo and Kuryakin successfully thwart.  Koz escapes the spray of bullets that fills the mission's store front windows by escaping out a back exit.  As he flees, he is separated from his bodyguards.


Koz's thick Russian accent brings comfort to a sick immigrant boy.

Koz escapes from the deadly situation and finds himself lured by a woman into her apartment.  Away from his bodyguards, Koz's identity is unknown--he's just a man in a Santa suit.  The woman wants Santa Claus to speak to her sick child and comfort him.  Koz may be upset with how the character of Santa Claus is used to manipulate children with the decadence of Christmas but he's delighted to bring happiness to a sick little boy.  Meanwhile, Solo and Kuryakin are looking into who might be the assassin.  They know that few people were aware of Koz's surprise visit to the mission--it must be someone close to the security detail.  They begin to suspect Maxim Radish--the Chairman's right-hand man.

Chairman Koz is so angry about another assassination attempt, he bangs his shoe on the table.  He decides to abandon his peaceful philosophy of 'co-existence' during his speech at the United Nations.



Heavy politics mixed with tongue-in-cheek humor--this is what we love about The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

We learn that Solo and Kuyakin are correct.  Comrade Radish fears that Koz's interest in understanding capitalism will soften his commitment to the cause of communism.  At the least, Koz is unpredictable and Radish sees this as a threat to his hardline politics.  Radish begins another plot to kill Koz--this lethal attempt will take place during Koz' automobile ride to speak at a meeting of the United Nations.  The limo driver is working in allegiance with Radish.  Illya and Napoleon overhear the schemes of Radish--they are caught and taken captive.  You must see it to believe it--the two men are bound inside a poultry crate along with several live turkeys. 


Santa Koz showers the little boy with consumer goods at Christmas!

The humorous humiliation of Kuryakin and Solo continues until they manage their escape from custody.  I won't spoil it to explain how they escape--it's worth seeing it and laughing about it on your own.  But I will add that Chairman Koz's assassination is stopped because he makes the choice to exit the vehicle before he reaches the United Nations.  He gives in to a request to wear his Santa suit and speak to the little sick boy one more time.  Koz purposefully decides to help improve the life of one little boy over addressing a group of world leaders about political ideologies.  Even TV spy series get the Christmas spirit!

Nikita who? Actor Akim Tamiroff plays Koz.

Although it's not hard to recognize Georgi Koz's similarities with then-Chairman Nikita Khrushchev, there are a few additional clues worth mentioning.  Earlier in the episode, Illya and Napoleon discuss restricting Koz's tour of Macy's department store because of the security risks and Koz dismisses their concerns citing the cancellation of his visit to Disneyland.  Those watching this episode when it originally aired would probably have recognized that as a direct reference to Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the United States in 1959.  Khrushchev was not permitted a visit to Disneyland because of the overwhelming security risks.  And, this episode also includes a scene of Chairman Koz banging his shoe on a table in his hotel when he becomes angered.  This is another obvious reference to Khrushchev who notoriously took off his shoe and angrily banged it on a table at a UN meeting in 1960.  Should I even ask if Khrushchev ever wore a Santa Claus suit?


The real Khrushchev--did he ever watch The Man from U.N.C.L.E.?

   

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Little House on the Prairie (1977) Christmas

 
Little House on the Prairie has several memorable Christmas episodes.  I wrote about the 1974 episode "Christmas at Plum Creek" several years ago.  I've also shared my thoughts on the 1981 episode "A Christmas They Never Forgot."  Click on the titles to see those essays again.  The third season of LHOTP also produced a yuletide episode which may be easy to overlook.  One reason for this is that "Blizzard" was originally broadcast in January of 1977 nearly two weeks after Christmas.  Another reason it may be overlooked is because the episode's story centers around a natural disaster and feels more like a horror story.  Let me remind you of the plot.


Charles and Isaiah at the telegraph office.  They want to get home before the storm dumps several feet of snow.

The women in the community have come together to make the decorations for the community Christmas party.
 
A severe blizzard with strong winds is moving through the Midwest.  The news about the storm travels across the telegraph wires however the warnings don't reach everyone in the blizzard's path. It's Christmas Eve and Charles and Isaiah are making deliveries from shipments dropped off at the train station.  Back in town, the children in school are excited for the day's work to be over for the Christmas holiday.  The teacher Miss Beadle is unaware of the dangerous forecast but senses a storm. She sends the children home early to make it easier for them to walk home.  Meanwhile, the women of the community are waiting for school to be over--they are looking forward to decorating the classroom for the upcoming community Christmas party.


Young sister Carrie (foreground) was the class' special guest on this last day of school before Christmas.

The snow storm quickly turns from a gentle holiday snowfall to a windy, bone-chilling white out.  Most of the children struggle to make the journey home in the blinding snow.  The group of women head over to the school hoping to find the children waiting for them.  Unfortunately, Miss Beadle had sent the children home early.  Now all of the youngest in the community are out in the blizzard.

Miss Beadle feels horrible.  She didn't know that the storm would become dangerous so quickly.

Parents quickly separate into search parties to locate the children in the storm.

The storm is so severe that Charles and Isaiah cease their deliveries to come into the school to find shelter.  Panic begins to spread as it becomes clear to everyone that the storm may be too dangerous for the children to reach their destinations.

The journey for Mary and Laura is made more difficult because they have to help Carrie.
 
Mr. McGuinness needs a lantern to continue the search for his children after the sun goes down.

Some children are found safe not far from the school while others have turned around and returned to the school building.  However some parents are finding that their children didn't take their usual routes home attempting short cuts and other diversions to avoid the worst of the winds.  While the men brave the deep snow, plummeting temperatures, and high winds to look for lost children, the women help Doc Baker prepare to treat cases of frostbite.  A true test of character comes to those sitting in the schoolhouse, waiting for updates about their loved ones and their neighbors.  The teacher Miss Beadle is overwhelmed with guilt as she watches the tragic evening unfold.

Caroline and Mrs. Edwards are beside themselves with worry waiting for the men to return with their children.



Mary, Laura, and Carrie take shelter away from the high winds and blinding snow.

Pa Ingalls traces his daughters' journey away from their usual route home.  He eventually finds his girls safe in an abandoned shed and he helps them return to the schoolhouse.  However, not every family was as lucky.


With renewed clarity, the survivors of the blizzard listen as Charles reads from the Bible.

By Christmas morning, the storm is over and nearly everyone in town is accounted for.  Some families are in need to recovering from their injuries and frostbite.  Others are experiencing tragic loss of life while the survivors are feeling grateful.  It is during this sobering mix of emotions at the schoolhouse that Charles steps forward to read the story of the Nativity from the Bible.  The tragic evening is over and a new day begins. 

While the episode's story clearly takes place at Christmas time and includes scenes of the women making Christmas decorations and Charles' reading of the Nativity story, I think it's easy to forget that this nightmarish snowstorm episode is a holiday one too.  The eighth season episode "A Christmas They Never Forgot" also takes place during a severe snow storm which may cause some to confuse this earlier holiday story with the latter.  However, scary stories have been a Christmas tradition for generations.  Don't forget Charles Dickens gave us a Christmas story with four ghosts and Dr. Seuss' Grinch is a monstrous character.  How many chills and thrills do like with your favorite holiday tales?



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Daily Christmas TV Listings



I'm frequently asked about the year-round, daily Christmas TV listings I provide on Twitter and the Facebook page Tis the Season TV.  (So frequently in fact, I was asked about it while I was putting this post together!?)  The curious usually ask both how I collect this information and why.  I don't have an easy explanation so it may be best if I just detail and explain the whole effort.  I use what airs on television as a primary source, among others, for information about Christmas entertainment.  The information that I present in the daily listings comes from the larger project of searching for, watching and cataloging new Christmas entertainment every day. So I appreciate your questions about how and why I create the daily listings.

What are my daily TV listings?
I typically recommend one holiday episode, movie, or special airing on a nationally broadcast television network every day.  What you may not realize is that on any one day, January through October, there are usually between a half dozen and two dozen listings for Christmas-themed programs airing on television.  These daily listings are almost all Christmas episodes airing in syndication, Christmas movies run year round, and new Christmas episodes from series currently in production.  (For example, Downton Abbey aired their new, fifth season Christmas episode on Sunday March 1st in the US.)  Each day throughout the months of November and December each year, that number of daily Christmas TV listings rises exponentially as nearly every TV network airs holiday programming.

I see the value of what I do--posting one recommendation each day--as a filter.  (Actually, in Nov. & Dec. I usually post multiple recommendations each day.)  I know other people attempt to post complete Christmas TV listings for each day of the year--a nearly impossible task that must be exhausting. However, that's not my goal and no one should read my one daily recommendation as a claim that there are so few holiday-themed programs airing. 

I select my recommendations based on popularity of series, quality of story, and rarity.  I usually try to avoid recommending a program airing in the middle of the night.  When a review I've written for my blog is a popular one, I will often recommend that program so my followers can see it again.  People sometimes ask me to let them know when specific Christmas programs air, and I try to accommodate those requests as well.  In the past, I have rarely recommended movies such as Christmas Vacation and Bad Santa, not because they aren't awesome but because they were easy for viewers to find on TV year round--weekly, in fact.  I also usually skip over recommending Christmas episodes of series that air in syndication on multiple networks at the same time.  If it's easy to find a specific series' Christmas episodes on TV, I usually recommend something that airs less often.

That should explain why I favor the diginets and their Christmas TV programming.  Many of these sub frequency networks air older programming featuring classic Christmas TV episodes.  Yes--I'm speaking of MeTV, AntennaTV, RetroTV, Bounce, GetTV, ThisTV, and more.  Not only is the programming on these networks classic TV but sometimes these series aren't easily found on DVD or by streaming. 


My Twitter home page: @TistheSeasonTV


Why do I post daily TV listings?
Well, some people find it entertaining to watch Christmas episodes and movies all year long.  It's there--why not watch it?  I also know it can be quite a challenge to only watch your favorite holiday programs during the month of December each year.  There is, quite frankly, an overwhelming amount of holiday programming airing while we are all busy preparing for the holiday and spending time with our loved ones.  Many of us don't have the time to re-visit that favorite Christmas episode of Golden Girls or Little House on the Prairie in December.  Lucky for us, these stories and more air year round!

While I'm motivated to provide valuable information about holiday programming, the reality is I already collect this information for my own purposes.  I carefully scrutinize the daily Christmas TV listings because I record and watch all the new holiday TV programming that airs year round.  As best as I can tell, there are between 130-150 new holiday TV programs created each year and this number grows each year.  While the majority of new Christmas episodes premiere in Nov & Dec each year, many (and a growing number of them) are released throughout the year.  Television networks no longer conform to the Fall Season and Winter Replacement schedule structure anymore.  Series runs are much shorter--few series make 20 (or more) episodes a season anymore.  It's becoming far more common that series produce 6, 8, 12, or 15 episodes per season now.  That opens up the networks' schedule to air more programming--and Christmas episodes are now frequently debuted in April or August just as they are in December.  I watch these new Christmas episodes year round to summarize them and add them to my database of Christmas entertainment.  This database was the foundation of my book Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and TV Movies (2010).  After several years, I'll release an updated edition.

Do you watch these TV listings each day? is another frequently asked question.  Most likely not.  I've seen them before and I've written about them for the encyclopedia.  However, while I'm recommending a Christmas episode of The Waltons or All in the Family, I'm probably watching a new episode of another series to either add it to the database or eliminate it.  (I spend a lot of my time watching movies and programs to add to the database and other programs to see if they are indeed Christmas or not.)  My work never ends.


You can't write three books on Christmas entertainment without watching an awful lot of TV!


How do I collect information about daily TV listings?
This is where it gets very complicated.  My process, quite frankly, is always changing.  I use searchable, on-line TV listings websites--like TV Guide.com.  The key is searchable--I'm only looking for Christmas programming amongst all possible listings.  In the fifteen years that I've been doing this, most of the on-line TV listing websites have eliminated searches from their systems.  Or worse, set up the search box to become a Google search of their entire website.  This is not helpful for my purposes.

When I find a searchable on-line TV listings website, I know to check it because any search is only as good as the data entered in the system.  For example: will typing the word 'christmas' in the search box produce a list of TV programs airing in the upcoming week limited by having the word 'christmas' in the title?  does the search produce actors named Christmas in the results? does the search produce results from an episode, movie or special's description? etc.  Remember I said that my process is always changing?  That's because each of these on-line TV listings websites--including TVGuide.com--are always "updating" their systems which usually eliminates the search capabilities indefinitely.  So I'm frequently moving from website to website, or using several at the same time.  I warned you it was complicated.  I'm currently using Time/Warner Cable's on-line TV listings which search by both title and description.  As of today, those results are more complete than what TVGuide.com gives me.  Next week?  Who knows.

When the holiday season approaches each year, I begin searching individual network's TV listings for Christmas programming.  I've learned that the on-line TV listings websites become--how shall we say--"less complete" during November and December each year when networks pack their schedules with holiday programming.  But this isn't too difficult since much of the new Christmas programming is concentrated within a limited number of networks: Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Lifetime, ION, UP, PBS, HGTV, TNT, and the three major networks, among others.  Of course, I also follow as many TV networks as I can on Facebook and Twitter which acts as another filter to help me catch holiday programming.  Sometimes networks or production companies contact me directly.  THAT certainly helps me quite a bit, as you can imagine.

Now, share with me how YOU find what you want to watch at Christmas time each year!



Monday, February 23, 2015

Moonlighting Christmas (1985)


 
This review is part of the Classic TV Detectives Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog AssociationClick HERE to check out this blogathon's complete schedule.  Today is Day #1 during the three-day event.  Please be sure to check out all the other participating blog posts.  A show of your support for these blogathons can be demonstrated by leaving a comment here and at the other participating blogs.  Thanks!


 
As a Christmas entertainment writer (and blogger), the focus on my subject matter is typically limited to individual episodes, TV specials, and movies.  Some TV series create several Christmas episodes during the run of the show--some series create none.  One of my disappointments occurs when a much-beloved series or even a critically-acclaimed series makes a mediocre (or worse) Christmas episode.  However that's not the situation with the 1985 Christmas episode of Moonlighting.  Not only is "Twas the Episode Before Christmas" an extraordinary holiday story but the episode is as good as any other in the innovative series.


Several days before Christmas, Miss DiPesto is busy doing her laundry and singing along to The Crystals' "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" from the classic 1960s Phil Spector Christmas album.

Indulge me while I review the episode's plot.  The Blue Moon Detective Agency's quirky secretary, Miss Agnes DiPesto (played by Allyce Beasley), unexpectedly finds herself in the care of an abandoned baby.  Leaving her apartment door ajar while she strolls down the hall to do her laundry, Miss DiPesto returns to find a surprise waiting for her.  What she doesn't know is that a neighbor upstairs in her apartment building has been murdered.  Joseph was in the witness protection program after he testified against a dangerous racketeer.  Now that Joseph has been located by the thugs, his murder has been made to look like a suicide.  And, Joseph's wife has escaped the apartment with their baby.  Running for her life, the wife has left her baby in Miss DiPesto's open apartment hoping the baby's anonymity will help to save his life.  Miss DiPesto brings the baby into work with her the next day and Maddie and David set out to investigate who has abandoned this adorable baby.


Maddie & David.  Despite the constant bickering, viewers just want them to get together.

Of course, the detective series Moonlighting was never really about the cases or the investigations.  The plot was always secondary to the relationships, especially between detectives David Addison and Maddie Hayes, played by Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd.  The rapid-fire banter between them should remind you of Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in the 1940 movie His Girl Friday--as should the sexual tension.  The defining characteristics of this TV series include self-reflection--the characters never seem to forget that they are starring in a TV series--and an overload of dialogue filled with pop culture references, jokes, misdirections, aside comments, and yes--resistance to the inevitable romance.  So the joy in watching Moonlighting is always in the details and not really the plot.


Smirky David Addison (Willis) is running a 1-900 telephone business out of the offices at Blue Moon.  He's turned the holiday season into a commercial enterprise with a Santa Claus hotline, much to the dismay of his partner Maddie.



Miss DiPesto is able to convince Maddie that sharing Christmas with a baby helps one to forget all the bad stuff happening in the world.


The conceit of the plot is that Hayes and Addison's investigation reveals that the elements of the original Christmas story are present here as well.  The three agents from the Department of Justice all share the same surname of King.  Joseph's wife's name is Mary and their focus this Christmas is on a baby.  And when Miss DiPesto and the baby go missing, David is inclined to look for a star in the Christmas Eve sky to locate them.  David is convinced he's trapped in an allegory!


Agents Reuben King, Jim King, and Saul King.  The three Kings from the Dept. of Justice.

In this Christmas story, Joseph's wife is named Mary.  Addison's allegory complex is further triggered when Mary offers him a Camel cigarette, completing the Middle Eastern reference.

The running gag is made funnier when no one besides David seems to recognize or place any weight on the details adding up to the familiar Nativity story.  Recreating familiar elements from the first Christmas story has been overdone before on television shows but here it is played for the lightweight gag that it is.  And since it matters to no one except David, the joke is stretched even farther.  These plot points take place within an episode that has other strong ties as well--David and Maddie share not one but at least three solid scenes of their bantering, and Maddie fears Mary may be her husband's murderer for much of the episode helps to balance the episode's story throughout the hour.


David Addison ends up coming down a chimney dressed as Santa Claus to confront and confuse the bad guys at the end.

Another fun detail is that the dangerous bad guy Leonard is played by comedian/actor Richard Belzer.

For me, the highlight of this already strong episode occurs in the last five minutes of the episode.  David finally thinks he's put all the elements together from this story--it must be the Christmas episode!--except there's no snow.  Just then snow begins to fall on Maddie and David in the agency offices and they hear people singing. 


Where's the celebrating coming from?
 
Following the sound of voices' caroling, David and Maddie push through the agency's doors and exit the room.  They walk behind set walls, camera equipment, lighting stands, etc. to find an open sound stage full of the Moonlighting cast, crew, staff, and their families singing "The First Noel."  As many as perhaps one hundred voices are raised in celebration as fake fluffy snow continues to fall on all the participants and the camera raises on a crane to capture it all.  For four minutes, we watch the group sing several verses of the poignant Christmas song. 


"...Noel, noel, noel, noel.  Born is the King of Israel..."

TV viewers get a behind-the-camera glimpse at a more intimate yet self-reflexive Christmas greeting from those who help create their holiday entertainment.  The stars of the show join the carolers and the camera continues to pan the crowd of singers as the children can’t help but begin to play in the snow as it piles in their hair and gathers on the floor around them.

Most of the children in the group seem to be having fun.



The camera even finds someone in the crowd who brought their four-legged member of the family!

If you’re fortunate enough to watch this episode on the second season DVD, you can also listen to the commentary track with actress Allyce Beasley (Agnes DiPesto), episode director Peter Werner, and producer Jay Daniel identifying their own family members and some of the other cast and crew appearing on camera in the crowd.


In the end, Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd give their greetings and wave, "Merry Christmas, everybody!"


This musical Christmas moment is a very personal touch of the holiday spirit from a large group of people.  It’s so touching, I’m surprised this hasn’t been repeated by other TV series’ casts and crews in the years since.  While other series have memorably broken the fourth wall to express their holiday greetings, this one is certainly the most elaborate and the most memorable.



I know the 1955 Christmas episode of The Honeymooners includes a scene at the end when the cast breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience and express their Christmas greetings.  So do Christmas installments of The Beverly Hillbillies, Full House, Family Matters, Home Improvement, and many more.  Do you have a favorite example?


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Boondocks Christmas (2005)



I enjoy honoring Black History Month (BHM) on my blog because there are so many excellent Christmas episodes, specials and TV movies with exceptional African-American cast members.  There are also many outstanding and touching Christmas TV story lines aimed at black audiences.  This month I'm highlighting just a few of my favorites.




The TV series The Boondocks is a provocative, thoughtful animated series based on the comic strip by Aaron McGruder.  The series was created for Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network, intended for more mature audiences.  But you know that--you've seen it before, right?  Let me remind you about the absorbing 2005 holiday episode, "A Huey Freeman Christmas."


Huey knows his values are not readily accepted by the mainstream--even his views on Christmas.


Huey is invited by his culturally sensitive teacher Mr. Uberwitz to direct the school's Christmas play.  Looking to protect his artistic vision, Huey insists that he have complete creative control over the project.


Mr. Uberwitz meets the show's co-producer, Quincy Jones.

Huey takes the project very seriously and sets up a production team worthy of Hollywood.  He even brings in Quincy Jones as his co-producer.  (Yes--it's the real Quincy Jones who voices the character here!)  After finding his classmates goofing off during rehearsal time, Huey fires them and begins casting A-list Hollywood stars for the roles.


The casting process--what about Will Smith? Is he available?

Although Mr. Uberwitz is worried about the cost of hiring Denzel Washington for the role of the third wise man and Angela Bassett as Mary, Huey reminds his teacher that he has complete creative control.  Huey is also convinced that his play "The Adventures of Black Jesus" will revolutionize elementary school productions for all time.


The Santa Stalker strikes!

Uncle Ruckus explains to Riley that the real Santa isn't going to return to fix his mistake as long as he's under the threat of violence.  That makes sense.

This episode also contains two minor story lines.  Huey's brother Riley is seeking violent revenge against the mall's Santa Claus.  Calling himself the Santa Stalker, Riley wants justice for a previous transgression when Santa didn't bring him what he asked for at Christmas.  The physical assaults on the mall's Santa become so disruptive that Uncle Ruckus is hired to replace Santa Claus.


In a wonderful bit of satire, Jazmine voices her worship of the all-powerful, loving Santa Claus from the pulpit at church.

And, Jazmine has adorably confused the holiday role of Jesus with Santa Claus as she embraces "the reason for the season" this Christmas.  In church, Jazmine recites the lyrics from the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as a sacred list of Santa's powers.  One of my favorite lines in this satirical episode is Jazmine's warning "Beware of false Santas"--a biblical sounding quote to alert Riley that Uncle Ruckus is now working as the mall's Santa Claus.


Huey spends many late nights writing his play and long hours during the day rehearsing, blocking, and staging his theater masterpiece.

Back to Huey's play.  The production of "The Adventures of Black Jesus" seems to be going well as Huey finely crafts his unique vision for the stage.  The PTA however has threatened a boycott since all the school children were fired.  Then, Huey is called in to speak with the principal.  In the horrible double-speak known to show business, the principal claims to love everything about the production yet he has just a few notes about changes.  When Huey is told that his play can't depict a black Jesus, he once again demands complete creative control over the production.  This time however, the principal tears up Huey's written contract.  Huey appeals to his co-producer, Quincy Jones who disappointingly explains that these things happen in show business.  The uncompromising Huey Freeman decides to walk away from his production, leaving it up to Mr. Uberwitz to decide to make the changes himself or cancel the show.


Curious about what happens to Huey's production?  You'll have to watch the episode to see for yourself.

What I love about this Christmas episode is that it is wholly original while it also tips its hat to Christmas TV's past.   The uncompromising Huey Freeman has a message he wants to express in this stage production that he labors to see come to life.  His message is about the misunderstood origins of Christmas as well as racial identity.  Both are serious topics to be taken up by such a young man, especially one in an animated series.

Children dancing instead of rehearsing the Christmas play?  Where have I seen that before?

He's no Charlie Brown!
 
At the same time, the story is told with constant reminders of another, more familiar animated TV special about another Christmas play director--yes, A Charlie Brown Christmas.  In "A Huey Freeman Christmas" --see even the title points back to the classic!--we hear piano music in the background playing "O Christmas Tree," his grandfather explains that Linus' dialogue in the Peanuts TV special is the true meaning of Christmas, Huey's classmates dance instead of rehearsing the play, Huey even has a bad attitude about what others' say he should be feeling at Christmas.  While all these references evoke the original 1965 animated TV special, in one scene Huey goes so far as to scream, "Do I look like Charlie Brown?"  Message received.  This Christmas episode of The Boondocks is both paying homage to everyone's favorite animated special while it also uses it to juxtapose the wishy-washy Charlie Brown against the uncompromising, strong Huey Freeman.  I love its originality.  Huey's stage production and this Christmas episode both acknowledge the past while creating an updated, provocative story for contemporary audiences.  I love it when Christmas entertainment is smart as well as emotionally satisfying.  Is this Christmas episode of The Boondocks on your annual must-see list?