The Most WTF Things That Aired on TV During Christmas 1988

The Most WTF Things That Aired on TV During Christmas 1988

Remember 1988? With every passing year, the likelihood that you don’t increases, either by youth or memory loss, so let us fill you in. It was a wild time, a year of war, worms and Guns N’ Roses. It was the year Bubble Tape was invented. Try to imagine a Bubble Tape-less world. That was most of the ‘80s.

As the year came to a close and the march toward the ‘90s advanced ever onward, the networks, as was their custom, threw the most unhinged shit they could think of onto the airwaves to give families something to do between courses of Waldorf salad and deep-fried turkey.

‘The Little Match Girl,’ NBC, December 25, 1988

We know what you’re thinking: Sure, it’s a Christmas story, but a little dark for modern television, isn’t it? But the 1987 made-for-TV version is “disguised beyond recognition,” starring the youngest Cosby Show sibling as an orphan whose sole purpose in life is to cheer up rich people and light magical matches (an activity the L.A. Times review noted “looks far too attractive. Parents, be warned”).

‘The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus,’ CBS, December 24, 1988

This 1985 Rankin/Bass joint is about Santa being found as a baby by an immortal wizard who gives him to a lion to raise, inciting an extremely deadly war between factions of otherworldly creatures, and almost dying himself before the Council of Immortals grants him eternal life. For some reason, it never quite reached Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town levels of popularity.

‘Santa Claus: The Movie,’ ABC, December 24, 1988

Man, people were obsessed with Santa’s origins and mortality in the ‘80s, but that’s only a small part of 1985’s Santa Claus: The Movie. The rest of the plot is a The Office-like competition between elves that involves hilariously dangerous toys (a very ‘80s concern) and lollipops that make people fly (a much more ‘60s device because they’re definitely LSD).

‘A Claymation Christmas Celebration,’ CBS, December 23, 1988

Claymation was another big Christmas special theme in the ‘80s, including this 1987 musical medley by lauded claymator Will Vinton. It consists of short vignettes featuring characters singing Christmas carols who absolutely should not be, including doo-wop camels, self-harming church bells and “a walrus couple doing an interpretive ice ballet while several luckless penguins watch.” That’s a real thing and not one of Tchaikovsky’s fever dreams.

‘A Hobo’s Christmas,’ CBS, December 20, 1988

That’s right, kids: In the ‘80s, you could still say “hobo,” although the hobo in question is of the old-fashioned train-hopping, bindle-swinging variety. Did they still have those in the ‘80s? Whatever the case, this 1987 movie is about an elderly, um, traveler who decides to visit his abandoned son for Christmas. He’s initially allowed only one day with his grandkids, but he decides to give up the hobo life for good because it was that easy the whole time.

‘A Smoky Mountain Christmas,’ ABC, December 18, 1988

This 1986 made-for-TV movie stars Dolly Parton in a Snow White x Christmas mash-up, except the dwarfs are runaway orphans who broke into her cabin and she’s a country music star who doesn’t want to be found so they decide to keep each other’s secrets, as if that’s not a huge crime on Dolly’s part. It was directed by Henry Winkler and also starred Lee Majors, Dan Hedaya, René Auberjonois and John Ritter. Who do you think they owed a favor to?

‘China Beach’ ‘X-Mas Chnbch VN ‘67,’ ABC, December 21, 1988

China Beach appears to be a more explicit M*A*S*H knock-off, being “set at a military evacuation hospital during the Vietnam War,” and to be fair, there weren’t enough of those. We’ll never know because it’s not available for streaming, which means we’ll also never know what was going on with this episode, which featured “orphaned children, a baby chimpanzee and an armed Santa Claus.”

‘Murphy Brown,’ ‘Murphy’s Pony,’ CBS, December 11, 1988

Orphans were another very hot 1988 Christmas topic. In Murphy Brown’s very first holiday episode, three orphans show up at the station with a note that their mother wishes to gift them to Murphy, social services conveniently and batshittingly keep her on hold all day and then just let her take them without filling out any paperwork whatsoever, and their mother reappears and is allowed to reclaim the children she abandoned to a stranger she saw on TV. There’s also a very awkward Judaism gag.

‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas,’ FOX, December 24, 1988

Considering the ‘80s were MTV’s heyday, it’s not that bizarre that Dennis Miller would host a clip show of the era’s rockers performing Christmas songs. What’s weird is that anyone wanted to watch it (though it did lose out in the ratings to The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus).

‘A Very Special Christmas Party,’ ABC, December 22, 1988

Since 1987, A Very Special Christmas has released compilation albums of Christmas songs by modern stars to benefit the Special Olympics, which is wonderful… and very different from trotting out the team for Mike Tyson to lead in a singalong of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” They also got to work out with Danny Devito and learn about the devil from Arnold Schwarzenegger, because this was also a Twins promo. We can’t imagine why this didn’t become an annual tradition.

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