If you're anything like me, you grew up with TV as your Christmas nanny. Therefore, you know that some bizarre things happened on television during the holiday season. Christmas ghosts appeared on shows that had zero supernatural elements, angels apparated only to steal the plot of It's a Wonderful Life in order to give the writers a Christmas break. Star Wars lost its mind.That's all par for the course in the world of Christmas television specials. To find the truly surreal, you have to dig deeper. For example ...
On paper, it looked like a good idea. Mr. T and Emmanuel Lewis were two of 1984's biggest stars, and who doesn't want to spend the holidays with Mr. T? Look at those two! They're like a giraffe and a turtle hanging out together, but urbaner. In execution, Mr. T and Emmanuel Lewis in a Christmas Dream was the perfect storm of '80s entertainment -- a show that relied on '70s-era ventriloquist Willie Tyler and his puppet Lester for the jokes and whatever the opposite of a Stranger Danger PSA is for the plot.
Emmanuel Lewis plays a latchkey kid who can't get into the Christmas spirit, and Mr. T plays a street Santa who swoops him up and hustles him around town to metaphorically smack the jolly into him. Which was kind of weird, because '80s kids were told that there were three things they were supposed to avoid: crack, strangers and insider trading convictions. In fact, Mr. T himself sang-talk-rapped-mumbled a whole song about avoiding strangers.
So Mr. T and Emmanuel cavort around New York City singing and dancing and admiring Rockette gams. That in itself isn't too strange, because again, it was the '80s. You could have a tone-deaf tree frog where your voice box should be and you'd still have to sing and dance at the drop of a Rubik's Cube. Nothing, however, justifies the vehemence and passion Emmanuel puts into his hip wiggling.
Along the way, they meet Maureen, who DOES NOT PLAY Webster's mom on the show called Webster. Repeat: This redheaded lady with spiky hair is not "Ma'am" from Webster.
If I didn't know any better, I'd think that NBC pulled a fast one on millions of children who thought they were watching a Webster Christmas special. Then again, in 1984 lots of women walked around with a Ziggy Stardust haircut, so maybe no one minded that Not Ma'am was not Ma'am from Webster. And just so we're clear, I haven't even addressed the most surreal moments from this Ambien sleepwalk of a special yet.
The Most Surreal Moment
When a prestigious choir starts singing, Emmanuel does this head roll loop thing. It's almost like he's a puppet and a puppet master is yanking the string that controls his head. Or he's a snake and the American Boychoir is his snake charmer.
Two, Mr. T doesn't know what to do with his hands while the choir sings, so he faux conducts. You know, like we all do when we hear classical music and we're 4 years old.
Three, and this is the BIG ONE, after telling the story of the birth of Baby Jesus, Mr. T delivers a second speech where he reveals a bizarre obsession.
This is what happens when you let Mr. T write his own dialogue. You get phrases like "The blessed of us must try to save the less of us" and a freakish yet sincere quest to find out if Baby Jesus smiled. Never mind that newborn babies only smile when they're sleeping and farting -- Mr. T isn't concerned with the logistics of infant emotional responses. All he wants is to make Baby Jesus of the past smile, and maybe a time machine to see it happen. One look at the audience reveals how OK everyone is with this fixation.
But that speech was exactly what it took to get Emmanuel Lewis in the Christmas spirit, and for his parents to finally show up to retrieve him from the street Santa. Here's another thing you probably didn't know about the '80s: If you were a small black child, you were in constant danger of getting carried around like a toddler, even when you were freaking 13 years old like Emmanuel Lewis.
"I missed you, Blonde Black Mommy!"
Among the celebrities we lost in 2012 was Andy Williams, an old-fashioned singer who was a treasure among people who value crooning and whiteness. Williams was famous for his version of "Moon River" and his annual star-studded Christmas specials. But in 1984, Andy decided to shake things up a bit. Instead of inviting tried and true performers like Donny and Marie Osmond to sing the classics and wholesomely sip eggnog, Williams wrote his Christmas special around the kids of the NBC lineup. Can you imagine seeing the Cosby kids, Punky Brewster, two of the Lawrence brothers and Alfonso Ribiero in the same room? Dream no more!
The plot was as sinister as it was simple. In order to lure NBC's favorite children to his remote cabin in Finland, Andy Williams promises that they're going to "search for Santa." It's like Ocean's Eleven, but with more overacting and Broadway vibrato. To get them there, Andy sends each kid a personal invitation, written with the the creepiest phrasing since "Baby, It's Cold Outside."
Granted, the Cosby kids probably saw his sweater and immediately felt safe, but it's still pretty weird. Especially because we watch the child actors get traveling permission from the actors who play their TV guardians, not their actual parents. So, for perspective, Soleil Moon Frye and her three actor friends beg George Gaynes, respected Police Academy actor and someone who doesn't have authority over any of these children, to travel to Finland with 50-something-year-old Andy Williams. George Gaynes was from Finland, so of course he didn't mind.
Speaking of terrible noises that hurt your ears, have you ever wondered why the Cosby children lip-synced all those songs on The Cosby Show? It was because Bill Cosby was a fan of quality, and the actors who played his children sounded like people imposters when they sang.
Among the kids going on the journey is The Facts of Life's Mindy Cohn. There she is, sitting in what appears to be an inner city women's shelter with pre-Carlton Banks.
Normally when I see Mindy Cohn and a black guy together, I don't bat an eye, but in the very next shot, Mindy's gone. No explanation, no "Oh, she had other plans with the Scooby gang." Somewhere between the women's shelter and the airport, Mindy Cohn disappears. Did Tootie get jealous and shame her back to Eastland Prep School where she belonged? Did Alfonso literally murder her right after this picture was taken? We'll never know, because explaining the absence of a major character wasn't worth the effort of whoever put this travesty together.
The next thing you know, Andy Williams and his gang of future G-listers are on a plane to Finland. This wasn't a plot point to add depth to the story; they really went to Finland.
Upon landing, the kids and Andy shack up in a cabin for a slumber party and singathon. Apparently, in Finland, all conventions of appropriate personal space between adults and children are irrelevant. Once again, the '80s have forgotten their most important public service announcements.
If you watch carefully, you'll see the exact moment when Lisa Bonet realizes that this whole trip is bullshit.
If you don't have the stomach to watch the song (and unless watching Joey Lawrence Broadway it up is your thing, you don't), this particular number is Andy Williams promising to give each child his love for Christmas. Nothing else, just his love all wrapped up in his own body. Even actual pedophiles know that they should buy presents. These kids are thousandaires, they don't need that kind of love from you, old man.
The Most Surreal Moment
After luring the kids to his cabin with a promise of meeting Santa (and his love), Andy takes the children to a smaller, more intimate house, one that houses Kris Kringle himself. And against all logic and historical folklore, he's right. Santa Claus is real and he lives in this tiny Finnish house and he's us.
Cut to Andy Williams alone, outside, talking to the camera and thanking the good people of Finland for hosting him and the children he was probably digesting at that moment. Did the NBC kids ever meet Santa? We'll never know, because there is ZERO footage of that part of the show on the Internet. Maybe they are Santa, like us, as evidenced in the picture above. Or maybe they hopped the first sleigh out of Helsinki as soon as the old man's back was turned.
All I know is that this show won an Emmy for music because adults in the '80s didn't have ears that worked.