About Christmas TV History

Friday, February 28, 2014

Good Times Christmas (1977)

Thank you for continuing to support Black History Month.  I enjoy celebrating 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.  All month long I've been highlighting just few of my favorites.

Good Times originally aired on TV from 1974-1979, and was developed by Norman Lear.

The fifth season Christmas episode of Good Times is the third of four holiday episodes produced for the series.  1977's "Penny's Christmas" is worth recalling because it is the first holiday storyline with the young actress Janet Jackson--yes, THAT Janet Jackson--who joined the Good Times regular cast starting in the fifth season.  And, this holiday episode centers around her character, Penny.

Don't call her baby--it's Janet, or Miss Jackson if you're nasty!

In "Penny's Christmas," the Evans family--father James and mother Florida are gone--are looking forward to spending their first Christmas with young Penny, the upstairs neighbor Willona's adopted daughter.

Everyone cracks wise on JJ's skinny Christmas tree. 

Willona answers the door, sarcastically remarking, "It's Tiny Tim!"

Michael and Thelma have been busy wrapping gifts, JJ has gone out and bought a tree, and the building superintendent Bookman is hoping to get invited to the family's party.  However, Penny and Willona are on their way to the department store to do some last minute shopping.  Penny is very excited about the money she has saved in order to buy her new mother a Christmas gift.

It's Santa Claus Lenny--pimped out for the holidays in a rabbit fur-lined Santa coat.

How well do you know your 70s culture?  That urban Santa is played by Dap Sugar Willie, a Philadelphia comedian who made appearances on a bunch of 70s sitcoms.

At the department store, Willona and Penny greet the street-wise, bell-ringing Santa Claus near the entrance.  Then Willona leaves Penny to do her own shopping alone.  Penny finds the perfect necklace at the right price at the jewelry counter--but her wallet has gone missing!  She's the victim of a sneaky pickpocket.

The creep bumps into Penny as he lifts her wallet.  You gotta love the live audience during the taping of this episode--you can hear them sympathetically yelling out to warn Penny about her wallet!

Penny panics while in the store and she doesn't know what to do if she can't give Willona a Christmas gift.  Unfortunately, the young girl decides to shoplift the pretty necklace and the theft is caught by the store's security cameras.  Back at the Evans' apartment, Mrs. Dobbs--the woman from the Department of Family Services in charge of finalizing Penny's adoption--has arrived to meet with Willona for the last of the adoption process.  When Penny is escorted home by the store security, Mrs. Dobbs is no longer sure Willona has created the right environment for the young girl.

The social worker Mrs. Dobbs is played by actress Alice Ghostley.

You may remember Alice Ghostley from her TV roles as Esmeralda on Bewitched and Bernice Clifton on Designing Women, among many others.

Willona is crushed that Penny's crisis has taken place in front of Mrs. Dobbs and promises the girl will be punished.  Willona also begs Mrs. Dobbs to return for the family's Christmas party for the opportunity to show her that Penny does live in a stable, loving environment, surrounded by adults who care for her.  Sure enough, the Evans family Christmas party is filled with love--both JJ and Bookman show up dressed as Santa Claus, looking to make the young girl's Christmas bright.

I think we can all agree that JJ is TV's skinniest Santa.

Mrs. Dobbs seems to be enjoying herself at the party--and drinking round after round of the eggnog.

Willona is on edge all night, hoping to convince Mrs. Dobbs to change her mind about the adoption.  Desperate, Willona considers blackmailing Mrs. Dobbs over her obvious drunkenness at the party in order to leverage her approval.  But Willona gives up on the dishonest plot--and apologizes to Mrs. Dobbs for even thinking it.  All of Willona's worry is for nothing when Mrs. Dobbs explains that she has every intention of finalizing Penny's adoption--the young girl is obviously loved and cared for by everyone at the party.  The good news causes the party-goers to erupt into song as everyone claps and sings a funky version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

The party erupts into celebration.

If you haven't seen it yet--or haven't seen it in a long while--I encourage you to seek out the sixth season, 1978 holiday episode "The Traveling Christmas."  That episode includes a variety show-within-a-show which includes music and dancing with the cast of Good Times--which includes a young Janet Jackson.  Her talent and abilities have come a long way since 1978.  Haven't we all?

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