Sunday, February 26, 2012

Everybody Hates Chris (2005) Christmas


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.

"Make it funky now"
The TV sitcom Everybody Hates Chris takes its inspiration from the life experiences of comedian Chris Rock.  Rock even serves as the show's narrator.  The first holiday episode is 2005's "Everybody Hates Christmas."

Drew, Chris and Tonya consider what they want for Christmas.
This story takes place at Christmas, 1982.  The only thing Chris wants for Christmas is a personal cassette player but his parents inform him that they need a new hot water heater more urgently. The 13 year-old is asked to make the sacrifice this Christmas so his younger siblings, Drew and Tonya, can still receive their presents.

Remember when Walkmans were all the rage?
Though he’s disappointed that he won’t get a present under the tree, Chris finds he rather enjoys the favor and privilege his mother gives him for being mature about the situation.

"You told Tanya WHAT?!"
Meanwhile, Drew insists on convincing his younger sister Tonya that there is no Santa Claus.  Not only does Drew get punished but his truth-telling makes Tonya skeptical about everything she's ever been told by her parents.

Chris' racist teacher organizes a food drive for the underprivileged
And, Chris’ teacher at school offensively assumes that the Rock family are in desperate need of charity.  She organizes a food drive and repeatedly donates canned goods to the only black kid in school, Chris.

Chris' dad Julius accidentally lets slip about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy at the dinner table.

In the end, Tonya learns that she's grown up enough to know that she was told to believe in Santa Claus so she would learn about the spirit of giving.  She proves how grown up she is by giving Chris one of her Christmas presents: a game of checkers.  But Tonya also demonstrates she's still a little girl by being an ungracious winner, obnoxiously beating Chris at his new board game.

This Christmas episode of Everybody Hates Chris can see viewed on the First Season DVD, disc 2. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Jeffersons (1977)


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.

"Well, we're movin' on up, to the east side.  To a deluxe apartment, in the sky..."

The 1970s sitcom The Jeffersons began as a spin-off of the groundbreaking and controversial series All in the Family.  Though The Jeffersons created five Christmas episodes, the 1977 episode entitled "984 W. 124th Street, Apt. 5C" isn't just my favorite of the series, it is also one of my personal all-time favorite Christmas episodes.


On Christmas Eve, George, Louise, their son Lionel and his wife Jenny, and neighbors Tom and Helen Willis gather together for the holiday.  They are also celebrating Lionel and Jenny's wedding anniversary (they married in the previous year's 1976 holiday episode entitled "The Christmas Wedding").

With slurred speech, the maid Florence explains that the egg nog is "evaporating" and she needs to make more.
On this evening, Louise accidentally discovers that her husband has been secretly delivering monthly cash payments to an address on W. 124th Street in Harlem.  He’s recently sent a Christmas tree and gifts there as well.

George refuses to provide a reasonable explanation for the gifts sent to the Harlem apartment
When Louise questions him about the money and gifts, George provides the most flimsy explanation which sounds like he's lying to cover something up.

Why else would George be sending cash to an address in Harlem?  Is he supporting someone else?
Louise fears the worst: George is keeping a mistress--perhaps even a love child!  Later that night when George slips out of their home to deliver yet another gift to the Harlem address, Louise follows him.

Louise follows George to a dilapidated tenement house.
When Louise follows George to a broken down apartment house, she is shocked to discover George’s actual secret.  George explains he is fulfilling his own childhood promise to help the residents of the apartment where he grew up to not suffer from extreme poverty as he did.  It turns out George has been anonymously giving the residents of the apartment 5C money and support to help them improve their lives.

The family living at the Harlem address explains about their anonymous benefactor
I love this emotional episode because it shows a compassionate side of George Jefferson that we don't usually see.  Poverty so shaped his life that now as a wealthy man he feels obligated to give back and to help others escape the desperation that he knows all too well.  What a wonderful sense of charity--one that exceeds the holiday time, as it's explained George gives monthly support to the occupants of the apartment.  Without realizing they are talking to their benefactor, the family receiving the anonymous support explains that they are using the money to help cover their bills and to pay for the husband's additional education classes so he can earn more money and the family can eventually move to a better place.  It's a feel-good episode that emphasizes helping others--does it get any more Christmasy than that?

Childress steals the scene as the funny wino in the apartment's hallway.
Another interesting surprise in this episode is the casting of the wino in the hallway outside the tenement apartment.  The wino is played by Alvin Childress--the same actor who played Amos on The Amos 'n Andy Show in the 1950s TV series.  Childress has significant screen time, approaching George as he enters the hallway outside the apartment and then continuing the discussion as Louise catches up with George before she confronts him about what he's doing there.

Learning his secret, Louise approves and says "Merry Christmas, George."
This episode of The Jeffersons appears on the Fourth season DVD set on the 2nd disc.  It is also available for viewing on my TistheSeasonTV youtube channel, in the 1970s Christmas playlist.

What's your favorite Jeffersons Christmas episode?  What's your favorite Christmas episode about charity?  Please feel free to share your comment below.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Santa, Baby! (2001)


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.


Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass produced some of the most popular Christmas TV specials of all time. Of course, I'm talking about Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974), Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970), Frosty the Snowman (1969) and The Little Drummer Boy (1968) just to name just a few.  The final animated TV special made by Rankin/Bass is Santa, Baby! from 2001.

Young Dakota wants to find homes for her friends in a neighborhood animal shelter.

A young girl named Dakota helps out with her local animal rescue shelter and this year she’s working to find homes for the animals by Christmas.  Her songwriting father Noel is struggling to write more material, putting his heart into it.

Melody Songbird (voiced by Patti LaBelle) is a magical partridge in a pear tree.
A magical partridge in a pear tree named Melody Songbird encourages Noel to do charity work to help him find inspiration for his songs.  Meanwhile, Dakota helps the menagerie of animals find a home before the superintendent Mr. Sweet closes the shelter.

Father Noel (voiced by Gregory Hines) works as a song writer
The original story in this hour-long cel animated TV special is sweet but the best part is the music.  With the vocal talents of Vanessa Williams, Eartha Kitt, Patti LaBelle and Gregory Hines, the classic songs such as “Jingle Bells,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and “Santa Baby” become soulful, jazzy hits that sound new again.  And, the special's original song “Heart and Soul of Christmas” has the potential for popularity beyond the TV special.



Vanessa Williams voices Alicia, the wife of Noel, here singing the classic song "Santa Baby" to her husband, disguised as a bell-ringing Santa Claus on the street.

There are two fantastic reasons that this animated TV special stands out.  One is that it includes Eartha Kitt.  Kitt is the sexy vocalist who originally recorded the 1953 Christmas song "Santa Baby" written by Philip Spring and Joan Javits (see below).  Though this song has been covered many times by many different artists over the decades, including one popular version by Madonna for the very first Special Olympics charity recorded album A Very Special Christmas in 1987.


The audio of Eartha Kitt's 1953 recording of "Santa Baby."

Kitt, Vanessa Williams and Patti Labelle join their voices in a version of "Santa Baby" in this animated TV special as Alicia, Noel's wife, discovers her husband Noel is secretly working as charity-collecting Santa Claus.  Eartha Kitt sings another dance remix version of "Santa Baby" later in the special during the scenes where Noel and his daughter Dakota deliver Christmas presents.

Eartha Kitt voices Emerald, the cat.
Cleverly, Kitt is animated here as Emerald, the white cat owned by Dakota for whom Kitt provides the purrrr--fect voice.  Kitt is also fondly remembered as one of the actresses who portrayed the sexy villainess Catwoman on the 1960s TV series Batman.

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman
The second fantastic reason that this TV special stands out is that it celebrates themes of community and people coming together at Christmas.

The neighborhood comes together to clean up the garbage and join their voices in song.
This story takes place in the urban center of New York City's Heptune Street (think 'hep' as in 'hip' place to be!)  This neighborhood is filled with people that reflects a multi-cultural population including numerous races and ethnicities.  This attention to detail reflects an inclusive attitude by the creators to reflect a more realistic world and neighborhood for television audiences.  I noticed these details and liked them.

Mr. Sweet and Mrs. Garcia, neighbors on Heptune Street
This diverse population is also reflected in the music, especially the medley of "Jingle Bells" sung in the vacant lot as the neighbors come together to clean it up and decorate for Christmas.  With vocals that include Vanessa Williams, "Jingle Bells" begins as a hip-hop song with rap, blending into an R&B soul tune before becoming a swing jazz arrangement.

The neighbors also come together to repair a building for their friends in the animal shelter
Santa Baby! is available for viewing on DVD.  Have you seen Santa, Baby! before?  What's your favorite Rankin/Bass animated TV special?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Little Bill (2001)


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 or touching Christmas TV story lines aimed at black audiences.  In the upcoming month, I'll highlight a few of my favorites.  If you have a particular episode, special or TV movie that you'd like me to discuss here in Black History Month, please comment below and ask about it.  I'll see what I can do.


One outstanding TV series for children is Nick Jr.'s Little Bill, created by Bill Cosby Jr.
[Cosby also created the 1970s classic Fat Albert Saturday morning TV series.  Click here to see my post on the Fat Albert's Christmas Special.]  Little Bill includes a yuletide episode from 2001 entitled "Merry Christmas, Little Bill."

Siblings April, Little Bill and Bobby looking in a toy store window on Christmas Eve
On Christmas Eve, Little Bill just doesn’t feel the same without his great grandmother, Alice the Great, there with him.  She’s snowed in at an airport in Cincinnati and can’t get home just yet.  So the Glover family goes about their holiday routine--decorating the tree, caroling, and baking cookies--while they wait for Alice the Great to come home.

Snowed in at the airport in Cincinnati, Alice the Great calls home.
Little Bill insists they wait for Alice the Great to come back before they put her favorite ornament, the star at the top, on the Christmas tree.  But as the night grows later, it looks like Alice won't be able to join them on Christmas Eve after all.  Never giving up hope, Little Bill writes a last-minute letter to Santa Claus, suggesting with drawings how Santa may be able to fly Alice home in his sleigh.

Sister April helps Little Bill address his envelope to Santa Claus.
Early Christmas morning, Alice the Great arrives at the Glover home to celebrate with her family.  Little Bill insists Alice sing the song she sings every year as she places the star atop the family Christmas tree.

Alice the Great is voiced by the great Ruby Dee.

This is a very simple yet heartwarming story.  Alice the Great is voiced by actress/activist Ruby Dee.  She's had a tremendous career both on the stage and on the screen.  My favorite movie she's in is 1961's Raisin in the Sun with Sydney Poitier.

Husband and wife, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
Many may know Dee as the wife of Ossie Davis, another actor and social activist in his own right.  The husband and wife were both participants in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and public supporters of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in the 1960s.


Though Little Bill may be a simple series aimed at a pre-school audience, it has its values in the right place.  This story is about a little boy wanting his family to be together for Christmas.  It rarely gets much better than this.  I'll also add that this series isn't too saccharine (or mindless) for the adults in the room to watch along with their children!


I found this episode available for viewing on the Nick Jr. Favorites Holiday DVD at my local library.  I also see it airing repeatedly on television each December on Nick Jr.

What, if any, childen's programs do you enjoy watching along with the young members of your family?  Please feel free to comment below and share it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fat Albert's Christmas Special (1977)


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 or touching Christmas TV story lines aimed at black audiences.  In the upcoming month, I'll highlight a few of my favorites.  If you have a particular episode, special or TV movie that you'd like me to discuss here in Black History Month, please comment below and ask about it.  I'll see what I can do.

"If you're not careful, you just might learn somethin'."

This half-hour, animated primetime TV special was based on the characters from the Saturday morning cartoon series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.  Of course, this series was created by actor/comedian Bill Cosby Jr. and often featured an introduction by the actor himself.  Do you remember the show's opening theme song "Hey, hey hey--it's Faaat Albert..."

The nativity rehearsals are interrupted by a knock at the clubhouse door...

In the Christmas Special, Fat Albert and his friends are staging a production of a Nativity pageant in their junkyard clubhouse.

Mr. Tyrone only wants to make money at Christmas time.
The Scrooge-like owner of the junkyard, Mr. Tyrone, wants to tear down the boys’ structure.  Meanwhile, Fat Albert offers a needy family shelter in their clubhouse.  The husband, wife and son Marshall are out-of-towners, their car has broken down and the wife is expecting a baby! 

Hoping to earn some money, Fat Albert goes to work for Mr. Tyrone as a sidewalk Santa Claus
Young Marshall fears he’s a burden to his parents and runs away, forcing the Cosby Kids to lay chase to convince him his parents need him now more than ever.

The dramatic rescue of Marshall after he runs away and ends up falling through the ice!

Fat Albert overhears that Mr. Tyrone has been down since his wife died several years ago.  Can Fat Albert do anything to help him improve Tyrone's outlook at Christmas?  And, what will happen to Mr. Tyrone’s plans to demolish the clubhouse? 

Gifts for the new baby born in the clubhouse
This is a Christmas story with the classic elements of a family that comes together, the arrival of a newborn, and a miser who learns there's more to Christmas than making money when he opens his heart to others.  What makes this classic tale unique is its urban setting and the distinctive characters that make up the Cosby Kids.

Did you watch Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids on Saturday mornings?  Is watching this Christmas special a part of your annual Christmas tradition?








How many of the Cosby Kids' names can you recall?  Dumb Donald, Bill, Russell, Mushmouth, Weird Harold, Rudy and Bucky.  And, of course there's Fat Albert.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Remembering Don Cornelius

"Love, Peace and Soul."  Those are the closing words spoken by creator/host Don Cornelius on the television institution, Soul Train.  Don Cornelius died on February 1st, leaving viewers with a long legacy of Soul Train which was more than just a platform for musicians and dancers but an example of leadership that changed the history of television.

If you haven't seen it yet, you must find VH-1's documentary Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America.  It's worth seeking out. 


 Cast members from 2007's This Christmas dance the Soul Train line.

My favorite scenes in the 2007 theatrical release movie This Christmas are the ones with the whole family together dancing the Soul Train line.  The above clip is from the end of the movie just before the closing credits.  Here, the entire cast comes together to dance--some of the actors are having so much fun, they are breaking character!  This scene reminds me of the power of Soul Train.  It was greater than than just a TV show, becoming a part of all of our lives.

 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Preacher's Wife (1996)


Before her personal life became fodder for the tabloids and the rumors of drug abuse and alcoholism were common knowledge, pop music’s Whitney Houston starred in a Christmas movie that features a stunning gospel music soundtrack.  The theatrical release movie The Preacher’s Wife is a remake of the 1947 Christmas movie The Bishop’s Wife which starred Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven.  The 1996 remake starring Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston and Courtney B. Vance, an African-American update, takes place within an urban city center and a church community thus the soundtrack reflects a more gospel, spiritual sound.

More recently, Courtney B. Vance starred on Law & Order: Criminal Intent

The film’s story centers on the Reverend Henry Biggs, played by Vance, and his wife Julia, played by Houston, during a time of hardship in their marriage and their church.  Though it is Christmas time, Henry is tempted by the generous offer of a real estate developer Joe Hamilton, played by actor Gregory Hines, to sell out his congregation for a new church building.  Enter the charming Denzel Washington, playing an angel named Dudley, who is an answer to a prayer to guide Reverend Henry and help the strained relationship between him and his wife.  Church choir singing and music fill this story line because Julia works as St. Matthew’s choir director and she is organizing the church's Nativity pageant.



 

A favorite scene from this movie is when Dudley and Julia are ice skating together and the two characters share a bit of Hollywood chemistry on the screen.  Did you know Whitney’s mother, Cissy Houston makes an appearance in this movie? She plays Mrs. Havergal in the church choir.

There's chemistry between Dudley and Julia--will Henry be too busy to notice?
This re-make of the black-and-white movie classic is made extra special by the inclusion of gospel music performances by chart-topping musical artist, Whitney Houston.  She not only sings several gospel songs with the church’s choir including the holiday favorite ‘Joy to the World’ but she also performs in a scene in Jazzie’s nightclub singing ‘I Believe in You and Me.’  In the movie, this is sung to the piano accompaniment of recording artist Lionel Richie.  Of course, Houston also sings several songs that appear on the movie’s soundtrack that play under various scenes in the story.


The song I Believe in You and Me by Whitney as performed at Jazzie's nightclub

By now we have all heard the sad news of Whiteny Houston's tragic and untimely death.  She leaves behind a rich legacy of music and performances.  She will surely be missed.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Rugrats Kwanzaa (2001)


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 or touching Christmas TV story lines aimed at black audiences.  In the upcoming month, I'll highlight a few of my favorites.  If you have a particular episode, special or TV movie that you'd like me to discuss here in Black History Month, please comment below and ask about it.  I'll see what I can do


Though the bulk of my writing concerns itself with Christmas-themed entertainments, I have also researched Kwanzaa programs as well.  As I state in the introduction to my encyclopedia, Tis the Season TV which includes Kwanzaa entertainments in its listings, I have chosen to add Kwanzaa entertainments because the cultural holiday, which is celebrated December 26-31 each year, centers on the many of the same themes as Christmas.  Ultimately, Kwanzaa, like Christmas, is about families coming together to celebrate their traditions.  Both holidays reflected in our television entertainments are broadcast in December each year.

The long-running Nickelodeon animated children's program Rugrats is known for it's special holiday programming.  In addition to this Kwanzaa installment, they have also generated several Christmas episodes as well as Chanukah, Easter, Passover, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and more.  There are even two feature-length movies that include the Rugrats babies and two spin-off animated series.

Susie Carmichael with her rugrat friends
In A Rugrats Kwanzaa, the story centers on Susie Carmichael and her family celebrating the cultural holiday.  Susie's  Aunt T has come for a visit and wants to share Kwanzaa with the rest of the Carmichaels.  Because of this special occassion, Susie invites her baby friends over to learn about Kwanzaa with her. 

"I'm no good at being great" cries Susie
Susie misunderstands the purpose of the celebration, fearing she’s not good enough to participate.  As the kids listen to Aunt T’s stories about famous African-Americans and Susie's family members, it becomes clear that this celebration is about honoring the greatness in us all. 

Aunt T (voiced by Irma P. Hall) comes to visit for the holidays and shares her tradition of celebrating Kwanzaa
Not only is this Rugrats episode entertaining but it is informative about the meaning of Kwanzaa as well.  One of my favorite things about this is the exciting voice cast of Susie's family members--characters which we don't see a whole lot of in the regular series.

In the 1980s, Cree Summer played Freddie on A Different World
 Susie is voiced by Cree Summer, an actress who some of you may remember from the 1980s Cosby Show spin-off A Different World.  More recently she has been working as a very successful voice actor for animated series.


The character of Aunt T is voiced by Irma P. Hall, an actress who received great acclaim for her role in the Coen Brothers 2004 remake The Ladykillers.


This Kwanzaa episode is easily available for viewing on the Rugrats: Turkey and Mistletoe DVD.  It is one of the bonus episodes contained on the disc.  I found several copies of this at my local library.  It is also on the Rugrats: Holiday Celebration DVD which is available at Netflix. 

Which is your favorite Rugrat?  I can't help it, I like Chuckie.  Which is your favorite Rugrats holiday episode?