About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Different World Christmas (1990)

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.  During the month of February each year,  I like to highlight just few of my favorites.

This Cosby Show spin-off follows daughter Denise Huxtable to school at Hillman College where the TV comedy continued despite Denise eventually leaving the school and the series.

In my last review--the one about the 1978 musical Christmas episode of Good Times--I mentioned  my book Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1.  That book includes a discussion of the 1990 Christmas episode of A Different World too because it includes a significant musical moment. Let me remind you about that episode.

Hoping to impress Dwayne's mother, Whitley buys her an expensive collectible as a gift.

In the fourth season episode “I’m Dreaming of a Dwayne Christmas,” it is Whitley and Dwayne’s first Christmas together as a couple and they set off to spend it with his parents in New York City. After they arrive, it seems no matter what Whitley tries to do or say, it comes out the wrong way.

Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison as Whitley and Dwayne. I liked it when they got together on the show as a couple. I think it gave the character of Whitley a chance to expand and grow.

Dwayne's mother is played by the R&B superstar Patti LaBelle. There's a great deal of comedy here in Labelle playing off her reputation as a diva to portray a mother figure with impossible standards.

Whitley is very anxious about making a good impression on the difficult-to-please Mrs. Wayne.  Worrying that her Christmas present is inadequate, Whitley excuses herself from the family celebration to go out and buy another gift.  But Whitley's actions are misunderstood and Mrs. Wayne thinks she's abandoned the family on the holiday.

Mrs. Wayne mistakes Whitley as someone who is spoiled and inconsiderate.
Hit recording artist, Patti LaBelle stars as the intimidating and impossible-to-please Mrs. Wayne.  You may remember that LaBelle portrays Dwayne's mother in several episodes of A Different World besides this one.

Who can you trust if you can't trust Santa?
When Whitley finally returns, the young woman reveals that she was mugged in the subway by a man dressed as Santa Claus, and then a dishonest cabbie drove her all over town in order to raise the fare and overcharge her.

When Whitley finally returns to the Wayne home with a new gift, it hardly seems worth the effort.

With a little help from Dwayne, Mrs. Wayne finally sees the great lengths Whitley is willing to go in order to please her. Assuring Whitley that she need not risk her life during a mugging, Mrs. Wayne accepts the generous gift--even if it's broken.

There's no one like Miss Patti LaBelle.

The highlight of this episode arrives near the end.  At the Wayne family’s Christmas party, Mrs. Wayne favors the gathering with a modern R&B Christmas song, “Nothing Could Be Better,” accompanied with back-up vocals by the rest of the Wayne clan gathered around the piano.  Belting it out like only Patti LaBelle can, this original song was first released on LaBelle’s Christmas album This Christmas in 1990.

Recorded version of "Nothing Could Be Better" from the 1990 album This Christmas.

Casting Patti LaBelle as Dwayne Wayne's mother is a fun bit for the series but having her sing a festive song for the Christmas episode is phenomenal. She knows how to bring the house down!

LaBelle voices Melody, a cartoon version of a partridge in a pear tree in 2001's Santa, Baby!

Fans of LaBelle and her music know that she voiced a delightful character in the 2001 Rankin/Bass animated Christmas TV special Santa, Baby! as well. Click HERE to see my review of that animated favorite again.

Another mention about the music in this 1990 episode of A Different World--the series' theme tune is sung by Aretha Franklin! Although several different vocalists performed the theme over the course of the series, Franklin's version was used when this fourth season Christmas episode first aired.  Give it a listen one more time. Enjoy.

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