Saturday, January 31, 2015

Little House on the Prairie Christmas (1981)


I've heard it said that a television series' best Christmas episode is the always the first one produced.  That's not always true but it seems generally true.  However, the eighth season episode of Little House on the Prairie might be the exception to the rule.  A few years ago, I wrote about the first season Christmas episode of LHOP which is an adaptation of O.Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi."  Let me remind you of the outstanding eighth season episode entitled "A Christmas They Never Forgot" and then you tell me which of the two episodes is your favorite.


The Ingalls host a full house this Christmas.

1981's "A Christmas They Never Forgot" begins with Hester Sue arriving at the homestead to share Christmas Eve dinner with the Ingalls family.  As a surprise, she has brought with her Mary and Adam who have just arrived by stage from New York.  This Christmas is a special one with the expanded family and their friends gathered together around the dinner table--there's Ma and Pa Ingalls, Mary and Adam, Laura and Almanzo, Carrie and Grace, Albert, James and Cassandra, and Hester Sue.  After the meal, they notice that a snow storm has made it impossible for the visitors to leave--and everyone begins preparations for spending the night at the Ingalls' home.


Ma Ingalls reminisces about an especially meaningful Christmas from her childhood.

As the children one by one drift off to bed, the adults continue the conversation around the dining table.  Asked about her beautiful necklace, mother Caroline shares a story of a previous Christmas when she was given the piece of jewelry.  We see Caroline's story as she tells it, as a reflection back to the time when she was young--just about Carrie's age, she explains.  The first Christmas after her father died was also the first Christmas she was spending with her new stepfather.  Caroline was still grieving the loss of her father and feeling a bit angry about having to spend this difficult time with her mother's new husband whom she considered a stranger.  As a gesture of good will, her stepfather Fredrick gives the crying young girl a special gift for Christmas--a birthday gift he had received from his friend, Caroline's biological father.  The gift was a men's watch fob with a chain.  Caroline still wears it every Christmas to remind her of her father and the wonderful stepfather she's was lucky to have in her life.


A very special gift helps young Caroline see how she is blessed.


Almanzo remembers when his big brother told him that Santa Claus didn't exist.

As others in the party go to bed and Charles begins stuffing the children's stockings for the morning, Almanzo too begins reminiscing.  The second story we see is Almanzo's memories about a Christmas he never wants to forget.  He shares a story about the year his big brother Royal revealed a stack of hidden presents in the barn and told young Almanzo that Santa Claus didn't exist.  Later, young Almanzo confesses to his father that Royal suggested that Santa wasn't coming because the gifts were already purchased.  But his father very gently explains about the magic of Santa, inspiring renewed spirit in the little one.  Sure enough, that Christmas Almanzo found that Santa did visit just as his father promised, however the naughty Royal didn't receive any gifts!


Almanzo's thoughtful father explains that Santa's sleigh is only so large--it makes sense that Santa might stash toys all over the world ahead of time in order to ensure he meets his Christmas deadline.  This was just the response young Almanzo was wanting to hear.

As the night wears on, the severe snow storm begins to worry several of the adults still gathered, sharing conversation around the dining table.  The barn door has blown off its hinges and a piece of wood crashes into the side of the Ingalls' home.  After making temporary repairs, Almanzo and Charles come back through the front door covered in snow from the outside storm.  This sight reminds Laura of a cherished Christmas memory from years before which she shares with the group.


Mr. Edwards (Victor French) as he enters the Ingalls home, many years ago.

Seeing Almanzo and Pa covered in snow reminds her of the family's first Christmas in Kansas--when Mr. Edwards came to visit.  After a long journey through stormy weather, Mr. Edwards arrived at the cabin with gifts for both Mary and Laura.  Edwards explained that as he was leaving Independence (Missouri), he met Santa Claus on the street.  The elderly, fat Santa was worried about making the trip to the Ingalls' home so he asked Edwards if he'd bring the girls' gifts on his behalf!  That Christmas, Mary and Laura each got their own tin drinking cup, a stick of peppermint candy, mittens, a cookie, and a penny.


The girls are glued to Mr. Edwards' story about meeting Santa Claus in Independence.

As the blizzard rages outside, most of the adults still can't sleep.  Hester Sue offers to share her memories of a previous Christmas she'll never forget.  Hester Sue explains that one Christmas during the Civil War when she was about ten years old, she went to the store with her friend to talk to Santa Claus--but she wasn't allowed in the store because she was black.  Standing outside the store, Hester Sue spoke with two young, African-American boys who explain that Santa Claus was white and he didn't visit black children.  Hester Sue could see through the window that the store's Santa Claus was white but she didn't know if she should trust the boys.


Hester Sue shares a painful memory from her past, a time when she feared Santa didn't visit African-American children.
 
That night, Hester Sue spoke to her parents about Santa Claus coming to visit and they reassured her about Santa.  Later that night, Hester Sue woke up from her bed and saw Santa Claus leaving an angel doll within the branches of the family's Christmas tree.  Not only did she see Santa leave her a gift--but she saw that Santa was a black man!  Hester Sue explains to her friends listening around the dining table that that Christmas was an important one to her--and only years later did she learn that it was her own father who "borrowed" his boss' Santa suit in order to surprise his own daughter.

Young Hester Sue is relieved to find that Santa Claus loves her too!


Charles opens the front door on Christmas morning to find a wall of snow!  They're snowed in.

The episode ends when everyone in the Ingall's house wakes up on Christmas morning to discover that the snow has accumulated over the top of the front door!  Charles grabs his snow shoes and climbs out the second-story loft window to walk on top of the snow drifts to reach the barn.  There he retrieves the family's hidden Christmas presents.  This year, the family observed another meaningful Christmas--because they were together.


This family listens to and shares its treasured memories with each other.  I love that.
 
I think this is an exceptional Christmas episode for several different reasons.  One reason is because of the four stories shared by Caroline, Almanzo, Laura, and Hester Sue.  Loyal readers of this blog know that I love it when Christmas programs are about sharing Christmas memories.  As I've stated before, reminiscing is as much a Christmas tradition as decorating the tree and singing carols--so I love it when our favorite TV characters also engage in remembering.  I've already written about a few of these, including Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory and A Child's Christmas in Wales.  Even the movie A Christmas Story features a voiced-over narrator reminiscing about his past.  


Don't you reminisce at Christmas too?

Hester Sue expresses that THIS is another Christmas she'll never forget because she's with the people she loves.  I love that doubling--that four members of the group tell stories about four holidays they'll never forget, in turn inspiring another memorable Christmas!  That's good TV writing there.


Laura's story segment actually comes from the original 1974 pilot movie for the series.

Hester Sue listening to Laura's story.  Here, Laura's all grown up!

A second reason I find this Christmas episode to be exceptional is that three of the four stories are original material--it's not a rehashing of clips from previous episodes.  Extra effort was made by the people who made this episode to shoot original material.  However, in the case of Laura's memory of Mr. Edwards--the story is derived from clips from Christmas scenes in the original 1974 pilot movie also titled Little House on the Prairie.  So when we see young Mary and young Laura--that's really Melissa Anderson and Melissa Gilbert in 1974--more than seven years earlier!  If they chose to recycle clips from previously shot material, I love that they chose to pull from the pilot movie.


I grew up in the 1970s so this is the book cover art I remember.  Did you ever read the series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder?

If that's not awesome enough, you should know that the Christmas scenes from the 1974 movie (and this 1981 episode) are actually adapted from the chapter "Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus" from the book Little House on the Prairie, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Fans of the original books know that quite a bit was changed when the TV series was created.  Yet--this Christmas story from the book was faithfully recreated in the pilot movie and then included in this Christmas memories episode.  I love that!


Hester Sue also sings a gospel-inspired carol "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" in this episode.  I love that.

A third reason this episode is outstanding to me is Hester Sue's story.  Not only is the story emotional and full of the Christmas spirit but it touches on a crucial part of her character's identity.  She doesn't have to explain how difficult it must have been to have grown up with a sense of self-pride after having been born into slavery. (Her story includes the detail that she lived on a plantation during the Civil War.)  Even though she is told that Christmas is for white people, Hester Sue's parents try to convince her that Santa loves and cares for her and that Christmas is about inclusion. It's extraordinary TV that she's able to share her story about a painful Christmas in a new community that accepts her an an equal and values her contributions and friendship.


Anyone else a Green Acres fan?  Tom Lester also plays Eb Dawson.

A fourth reason I think this Christmas episode is exceptional is because it includes a couple of notable guest stars.  I'm a TV junkie so I immediately recognize actor Tom Lester playing Almanzo's father in his story. This same segment also features child actor Jerry Supiran playing the young Almanzo.  His face may be recognizable to those that grew up watch Small Wonder--a TV sitcom that has grown to cult status in recent years.


Young Almanzo played by Jerry Supiran.

While I love love love the first Christmas episode of Little House on the Prairie ("Christmas at Plum Creek"), I'm also willing to claim that this eighth season Christmas episode is at least its equal.  Anyone agree with me?  Do you have other examples of favorite Christmas episodes that were created late in a TV series' run?






Monday, January 26, 2015

Laverne and Shirley Christmas (1978)



Last December, a group of us tweeted during the airing of this 1978 episode on MeTV's marathon of holiday programming. Thanks again to everyone who joined me during the Twitter Party--I had a lot of fun, as usual. Do you follow me on Twitter? I post daily Christmas TV listings, links to new posts on this blog, and other Christmas entertainment updates at @TistheSeasonTV

I've already shared on the blog here about the 1976 Christmas episode of Laverne & Shirley entitled "Oh Hear the Angels' Voices." The 1978 Christmas episode, "O Come All Ye Bums," was created for the series' fourth season. Although both Laverne & Shirley Christmas episode titles are derived from popular carol lyrics, each episode is quite distinctive. The 1976 episode is a variety show-within-a-show that takes place at a mental hospital and the 1978 episode is about the Pizza Bowl's annual charity Christmas dinner.  Let me explain further.


As they sing carols and decorate the tree together, Shirley scolds Laverne for not knowing the correct lyrics to the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  For example, Laverne sings "Three blind mice..." instead of "three calling birds."


"O Come All Ye Bums" begins with Shirley and Laverne decorating their Christmas tree and preparing for the upcoming holiday. A knock at their front door produces Rags, the neighborhood hobo (Laverne calls him a bum--a label Rags himself embraces even after Shirley protests.  I think viewers are supposed to see Rags as destitute--perhaps even homeless--but a friendly, well-known character in their neighborhood.)  Rags has come to Laverne's apartment to ask about her father Frank and the annual Christmas dinner for the needy at the Pizza Bowl.  Laverne promises to track down her father and find out about his plans for the dinner.


At the dept. store, there's a funny physical comedy bit with the girls playing tug-o-war over bargains with another shopper.

Squiggy explains to the children waiting in line that Santa will return after he feeds his reindeer named Donner, Dancer, Smasher, and Blitzkrieg.

Later, we see Laverne and Shirley Christmas shopping at Meckler's department store.  The roommates' attention is drawn to the store's Santa Claus and his assistants.  Lenny and Squiggy are earning extra Christmas money working as Santa's fairy and elf.  Much to Laverne's surprise, her father Frank is working as the store's Santa Claus in order to earn some additional money he needs in order to pay for this year's charity dinner at the Pizza Bowl.  But we know Frank is quick to anger.  After one naughty child pulls on Santa's beard, a ruckus ensues that catches the attention of the store manager.  Sure enough, Santa is fired from his job!


Laverne recognizes her father under the false beard.  He confesses he took the extra job because the Pizza Bowl had a bad year.  He needs extra money to afford to host the charity Christmas dinner.

Recognize the rotten little boy who gets Santa fired?  That's Scott Marshall in the blue hat--the series creator Garry Marshall's real life son.  If you've watched as many 70s episodes as I have, you may recognize Scott from episodes of Happy Days and Mork and Mindy too!


If Frank can't afford to feed the needy at the Pizza Bowl this year, the gang decides to come together and help raise funds themselves.  Carmine, Laverne, and Shirley stand on a street corner in downtown Milwaukee to carol and collect money.  Unfortunately, the gang occupy a busy street corner--one where a bell-ringing Santa Claus and a Salvation Army band are also fundraising for charities.


Carmine, Laverne and Shirley have the best of intentions with their fundraising effort.

But the police are called in to calm the musical melee.


Recognize the tambourine shaking Sister Sarah?  That's actress Lynne Marie Stewart who also plays Miss Yvonne on Pee-Wee's Playhouse.


There's stiff competition between the three groups for the attention of people passing by on the sidewalk.  Eventually, the escalating noise levels between the three groups attracts the attention of a police officer.  Laverne, Shirley, and Carmine, who don't possess a license to solicit money, are required to stop fundraising.  How will they ever be able to afford to feed the needy this year?


Rags (played by character actor Hamilton Camp) brings spam, someone else brings a can of corn, and another brings a banana! Violá--it's Christmas dinner!

On Christmas Eve, Frank is troubled because he feels that he's let everyone down by not being able to host the annual charity Christmas dinner.  When Laverne arrives, she's accompanied by the neighborhood's needy who have all brought one food item with them! Although they won't be feasting on turkey and all the traditional fixings, Rags and his group remind everyone at the Pizza Bowl that they look forward to Christmas dinner each year as a time to spend with their friends--not for the meal itself.


Lenny and Squiggy save the day--it's a Christmas miracle!

After everyone feels the warmth of friendship this holiday, Lenny and Squiggy arrive at the party bearing a roasted turkey and stuffing.  It turns out a local butcher offered to give Lenny and Squiggy a complete Christmas dinner as long as they agreed to never date his daughter again.  Everyone is happy this Christmas season!


Realizing the spirit of Christmas is about being together and not about the trappings, everyone lifts their voices and sings "O Come All Ye Faithful" at the Pizza Bowl party. 

I think my favorite scene of this episode is the closing tag.  Shirley finds Laverne sitting under the tree early Christmas morning eager to exchange gifts.  The friends rip open the wrapping on their gifts at the same time--to uncover identical gifts.  Each roommate has given the other an autographed, framed photo of Elvis Presley.  Although both women are very happy with the new 8x10s of their singing idol, Shirley responds, "At least I spelled 'Presley' correctly." This classic punchline cracks me up every time I hear it.


Best friends exchange identical gifts--it's funny every time!

Are you interested in joining a twitter Christmas party in July?  Since Christmas programming airs year round, I'm thinking we should be able to find something fun to watch during the month of July that we can all watch together and comment on at Twitter.  Are you interested?  Leave your comments below.




Tuesday, January 13, 2015

CHiPs Christmas (1979)

Are those quotation marks necessary?
 
I've been enjoying watching episodes of CHiPs every weekday on MeTV over the last several months.  But when I read our guest blogger's essay about BJ and the Bear from last week, I was reminded that one of the episode's guest stars, Pamela Susan Shoop (she played Alison in "Silent Night, Unholy Night"), also appeared in another Christmas episode in 1979--in "Christmas Watch" on the TV drama CHiPs.  What an exciting Christmas Shoop must have had that year!


CHiPs officers listening to the story of the stolen bell.


Who would steal from these cute kids?

Let me walk you through this yuletide episode.  The California Highway Patrol officers are reminded by Sgt. Getraer that they should be on high alert for thieves over the holidays.  Sure enough, a local church reports that their youth group had raised funds to purchase an antique bell for the belltower.  When the precious delivery is made, a man and a woman claiming to be from a contractors service convince the youth group leader that the bell needs further repairs and offer to fix it before the Christmas Eve service.  Later, the reverend discovers the church and its parishioners have been ripped off.  Officer Poncherello feels badly about the church's loss and promises to work hard to find the thieves.


Recognize Rev. Warmer?  That's actor William Schallert.  Just last year, I blogged about his appearances in the Christmas episodes of The Patty Duke Show and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

TV viewers follow the couple responsible for stealing from the church.  We see that they have several cons going this Christmas.  Another theft we see them work is to pass themselves off as potential buyers to private owners looking to sell their vehicle.  The "husband" checks under the hood and asks to take a test drive while offering his driver's license and several credit cards to the owner to hold as collateral.  When the couple never returns the automobile after the test drive, the police discover the ID and credit cards are fakes.

"We saw the ad in the newspaper about selling your fancy blue station wagon.  Can we take it for a test drive?"



"We'll be back in a few moments--WE PROMISE!" 

Making the crime even more crippling, the "husband" waits several hours after stealing the auto and then calls the private owner on the telephone posing as a police officer.  Sure that the owner has already called the police, the thief requests that the owner come to the local police department and identify the car thieves.  When the owner leaves her home, the car thieves break in and empty her residence of its valuables and Christmas gifts too!  What a nightmare.


Pamela Susan Shoop plays Alice Piermont, half of the criminal couple that is responsible for ruining Christmas for so many.

Before the inevitable car chase at the end of the episode, there are a few minor stories as well.  Three inebriated men in a car pull up to the CHiPs station house fuel pumps and ask the officers to fill up the gas tank!  Turns out the men have just left an office Christmas party and are too drunk to really know what they are doing--or where they are doing it.  Yes, they are removed from the vehicle and taken somewhere to dry out.  Later, the driver of the vehicle returns to the station, now sober, and thanks Ponch and John for stopping him before he hurt someone. TV junkies may recognize that quite a few cop shows include a Christmas storyline about drunk drivers behind the wheel after leaving the office holiday party.


Drunk driver pulls up to police station and asks for a fill-up.  Oh boy!


Of course, Officer Grossman is "supervising" the decorating of the tree.



Ponch's Christmas improves once his mother arrives.

There's also a story line about Ponch missing his family this Christmas.  What he doesn't know is that his fellow officers have made arrangements for Ponch's mom to come to Los Angeles from Chicago to spend the holiday with him.  After her arrival, she gets to see how important his work is to the community he serves.  She also witnesses her son return the 15th century bell to the children at the church on Christmas Eve--but you knew that was going to happen, right?


Although there isn't enough time to install the bell, each child in the congregation is offered the chance to ring it at the Christmas Eve service.

Although "Christmas Watch" is a typical episode of the series, it is nice to see the Christmas episode pull at the heart strings.  (Maybe "typical" is overstating it.  There WASN'T a fiery explosion during the car chase at the end).  One of the thrills that I enjoy in watching this series again is identifying all the guest stars.  This episode doesn't disappoint with actors William Schallert and Pamela Susan Shoop.  It was a happy Christmas in 1979, wasn't it?


Thursday, January 8, 2015

BJ and the Bear Christmas (1979)

One of the participants from last summer's Christmas in July blogathon recently spoke to me about sharing his passion and sense of humor for the Christmas episode of the unforgettable TV series BJ and the Bear. Please welcome Dan as today's guest blogger. Daniel Budnik writes about all sorts of things. He is co-author of Bleeding Skull: A 1980s Trash Horror Odyssey. Many of his movie reviews are up on BleedingSkull.com. He is currently at work on a book tentatively titled Low Budget Action Films of the 1980s. He is also working on a murder mystery, which is fun to think about but tough to plot. At the moment, he isn't on social media but that will be rectified soon. He'll keep you posted.


Has anyone seen B.J’s rig? It’s big and red and has a chimp inside.

BJ & The Bear
“Silent Night, Unholy Night”
Original Airdate: December 15, 1979



Tom Spencer (Ted Danson) is an attorney who has been collecting incriminating information in a diary on a corrupt Sheriff named McCandles (Dana Eclar). Right before Christmas, McCandles finds out about the diary and sends some men to search Spencer’s office and his home. Tom contacts his wife Alison (Pamela Susan Shoop) and asks here to bring the diary from their home to the Federal building downtown and pick up their two kids on the way. Ali is nine months pregnant and almost set to give birth. But, she says sure. Christmas at the Federal building might be fun. McCandles sends his men after Ali and he will do whatever he has to in order to protect his name.


Attorney Tom Spencer is played by actor Ted Danson.



The face of a woman who just realized that Ted Danson is on the other end of the line.

Meanwhile, ex-Vietnam vet, stalwart truck driver and Hunk of the Long Haul, B.J. McKay (Greg Evigan) and his chimp named Bear are hauling a load of turkeys. If the viewer knows the mechanics of an episode of BJ & The Bear, they know that sooner, rather than later, B.J. and Ali will meet up and go head-to-head with McCandles. But, it’s Christmastime, so maybe B.J. can call in a special friend? And, it being Christmastime, B.J. just might have to help birth a baby in his truck.


Stay calm, ladies. The gentlemen have arrived.

On October 4, 1978, a 2-hour TV movie premiered on NBC called BJ & The Bear: The Foundlings. It introduced America to the truck driving, chimp filled world of hunky hero and ladies’ man B.J. McKay. It also introduced B.J.’s nemesis, super-redneck Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins.) The movie was a Glen A. Larson production and no one seemed to know the psyche of the American public around that time better than the recently deceased Mr. Larson. He was two months ahead of Every Which Way But Loose, which featured truck driving Clint Eastwood and an orangutan. And, he was three months ahead of the premiere of The Dukes of Hazzard, when redneck sheriffs would become all the rage. Obviously, there was nothing B.J. and his best friend Bear could do but become huge hits.  In February of 1979, the first season began. Then, the show returned for a full season in September of 1979. 21 glorious episodes, including "Silent Night, Unholy Night." An episode that follows the formula that the show had established with one big difference.


Bear frees captive turkeys! Film at 11!

The basic formula of BJ & The Bear is this: B.J. and Bear are out and about, trucking. They live in the truck. It is their home and their livelihood. They meet up with someone in distress (or are dragged into a situation) and save the day. Usually, the person in distress is a lovely young lady and B.J. gets a little smooch time with her. I always wonder, when I watch the show, if this is a program about a trucker who helps people out because he’s a hero or a trucker who likes the ladies so much he’ll help them out for a few smooches and some squeezing. I never can tell. “Silent Night, Unholy Night” however, falls squarely into the latter camp. When B.J. meets Ali, it is not a cute moment. She is nervous. She tries to pass a car on the highway and almost hits B.J. Her car bursts into flames and B.J. rescues her.


Post-auto explosion, pre-sweet Christmas friendship.

At first, B.J. is obviously charmed by this woman but in a different way than the other ladies in the show. (Heck, there is a flashback episode called “B.J. Sweethearts” which is clips from previous episodes showing him romancing ladies.) Ali has a husband, two kids and a third on the way. B.J. wants to help her get to her kids (who are at a school party.) Unfortunately, the McCandles’ problem is building. He knows B.J. has Ali. The cops begin to mass up on the big red truck and the people (and chimp) inside.


If you can’t find time to sing kids some carols while saving the day, you’re not much of a hero.

 Even though the tension is mounting and the slightly unhinged McCandles is approaching--even though the sun has gone down and it is starting to snow--B.J. has time to sing “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire)” to the kids at the party. After that, when Ali’s kids are made safe, the chase is on. And, yes Virginia, B.J. does drive through a police roadblock causing huge explosions in the cold, cold night. But, it’s necessary. They’re on their way to visit a friend of B.J.’s who can help.


No one threw a Christmas party like Glen A. Larson and B.J. McKay.

Captain Cain, played by the late Ed Lauter, is that friend. Cain is a very by-the-books mega-stern police officer. He had appeared in three previous episodes of the show (including several episodes of the spinoff The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.) Cain agrees to help Ali and B.J. But, McCandles is crazier than anyone thought. And a final chase ensues, ending in--SPOILER ALERT--Ali giving birth in the back of B.J.’s cab. Suffice it to say, everything turns out OK. And, although the episode has all the chasing and shooting and fighting of normal episodes, this one has priorities elsewhere.


Santa Cain!

“Silent Night, Unholy Night” seems far more interested in Ali and B.J. and their relationship together then in all the action. McCandles is a presence in the episode. But, much of the time he is represented by police cars in the darkness lurking around. McCandles and his cronies are used in the same way that the Navy boat (captained by Ed Lauter) in the Magnum P.I. episode “Operation: Silent Night” was used.  They add tension to a story that, if it wasn’t there would be, basically, B.J. drives a pregnant lady to a school, picks up her kids and then takes her to her husband, Ted Danson. (McCandles isn’t even part of the climax, which is the birth.)


Sheriff McCandles. His name is almost Christmassy.

One of the joys of the episode is that, in and amongst this chaos and Christmas chicanery, it’s obvious that B.J. is crazy about Ali. (And she might be crazy for him.) But, unlike all the other episodes with all the other ladies, Ali is not about to leave Ted Danson. We see these big smiles on their faces as they talk to each other. But, there’s no intimation of romance. It’s just two strangers thrown into a dangerous situation who have become platonically infatuated with each other. And it’s cool. The look on Greg Evigan’s face when he tells a police officer that he just delivered a baby is priceless. The falling snow makes it even better. It is this element of the episode that lends to its conclusion being semi-bittersweet.


B.J. McKay, Amateur Gynecologist. Service with a smile.

A moment of BJ & The Bear background: in Season 1, it was B.J. and Bear. Lobo and his cronies crop up three times (especially in the backdoor pilot episode “Lobo”). But, it’s mainly B.J. and his chimp pal. In Season 2, they introduce (at least for about half the season) the truck stop Country Comfort. The truck stop has a group of regulars at it (including Andre the Giant and Janet Julian). It kind of gives B.J. a home. (Although, if he travels the country and lives in his truck, one would think he wouldn’t get there often.) The beginning and ending of “Silent Night, Unholy Night” takes place in Country Comfort. At the start, it’s a tree trimming contest. In the end, it’s the annual Christmas party.


Bittersweet endings at the Christmas Party.

So, the final sequence in this episode involves B.J. arriving with Bear at the Christmas party. They’ve been through hell and back but they’re ready to party and people there love them. But, then Ali arrives. And B.J.’s face lights up. But, she can’t stay. Obviously. She just gave birth to her third child and Ted Danson is waiting. But, they say goodbye and it’s very sweet, feels very genuine. The episode ends with a melancholy B.J. walking into the festive Christmas party. It’s a sort of flip on Dr. Banner leaving a person he’s befriended on The Incredible Hulk and heading off down the street. Normally, B.J. is either with the gal or leaves the gal in a state of McKay-induced bliss. This ending is a melancholy twist that fits the tone of the episode. One could watch “Silent Night, Unholy Night,” almost a midpoint in the show’s run episode-wise, to see what BJ & the Bear did well when it was at its best.


B.J. may have lost Ali but Janet Julian is in that party somewhere.

My relationship with this show is complicated. I did watch it when I was young. But, I was very young, maybe 7 or 8. So, my tastes were not the best. Three years ago, I acquired copies of the episodes and watched the show all the way through. And, even though some of it is kind of dumb, some of it can be mediocre, some of it is repetitive and the music can drive one to drink, it works. Part of it is The Power of Mr. Evigan. He’s a charmer who plays the part of the hero well. Bear is fine too. But, the show has an innate Goodness to it. Much of which comes from the main TV Drama Law from back in the day, which is that no matter how bad it gets, by the end, things will be OK. It’s something to shoot for in your average day, I think.

In the past three years, I have watched the series through 4 times. (I sometimes watch it as I work.) It’s not a guilty pleasure because I don’t believe in those. Life is short and there’s a lot of work to do. Fill up your down time with things you love. A guilty pleasure is something you do when you should be doing something else. And it’s not Comfort TV. I would guess that The Brady Bunch is the only thing I watch that I would call Comfort TV. I can put that on in the background and read or listen to music or whatever--seeing the Brady family on TV brings me comfort. BJ & The Bear is more than that to me. Unfortunately, what it is precisely, I haven’t figured out yet. I do know that this Christmas episode is excellent. A good hour of TV and an excellent representation of the show with some nice twists. I wish I was at the Country Comfort Christmas party scrapping with Andre the Giant, having a martini with Bear and talking to Janet Julian. Thanks, Glen and Greg and Bear.


The heart of the episode. The joy of Christmas.