The 4 Craziest Moments in the History of Christmas Specials
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 ...
Mr. T Reveals His Weird Obsession
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!"
Andy Williams Lures Famous Children to Finland
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.
Rich Little's Christmas Carol
For our younger readers who might not know who Rich Little is, think of him as the Tyler Perry of white people. Only instead of inventing dozens of original characters, he made his living doing impersonations of celebrities. So in 1978, Rich Little and HBO decided to combine two unlikely bedfellows: Little's gift for mimicry and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Every main character was played by Little playing a celebrity. Confused? I don't see why. Here's Rich Little as W.C. Fields as Ebenezer Scrooge:
And here's Rich Little as Richard Nixon as Jacob Marley:
Rich Little as Truman Capote as Tiny Tim, Rich Little as Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Rich Little as Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker as Mrs. Cratchit -- and so on. The whole thing was a showcase for Rich Little's favorite impressions, none of whom lived in the Victorian era or England or pop culture's imagination outside of Match Game episodes. When Little trots out his Johnny Carson bit, he actually delivers it directly to the camera in monologue form. It's like the world's longest SNL audition tape.
Here's Rich Little as W.C. Fields as Ebenezer and Rich Little as Humphrey Bogart as the Ghost of Christmas Past watching Rich Little as Groucho Marx as Fezziwig sexually harass his employees.
By the time Rich Little as Peter Falk as Columbo as the Ghost of Christmas Present climbs into Rich Little as W.C. Field's as Ebenezer's bed, you've pretty much given up hope on logic. Oh, did you pick up that all three ghosts are detectives for some reason?
And did we mention that Bob Cratchit is Rich Little playing Paul Lynde? THE PAUL LYNDE. If you tipped over the Hollywood Squares cubes into a Victorian set, then rained down vodka and cocaine snow on all the actors, this Christmas special is what you'd get.
The Most Surreal Moment
At the end of the special, the real Rich Little looks into the camera and thanks the "actors," who then each thank "Rich Little" in character in turn. I'm so confused by this point that I don't even know where to use my sarcastic quotation marks "anymore."
ALF's Series of Unfortunate Events
If there's anything we at Cracked want you to remember, it's that ALF was the saddest show that has ever aired, and that's including M*A*S*H and What's Happenin', Anne Frank? If Christmas episodes were people, this hour-long Christmas special would be Sylvia Plath. Now is also a good time to once again point out how often ladies of the '80s enjoyed short red hair:
The story begins with the Tanners leaving their suburban home for an old-fashioned Christmas in a log cabin. ALF alfs it up by pulling some alfian hijinks, namely opening all the Christmas presents and telling everyone what they got, then repackaging them with his name as the giver. To which the Tanners respond with their usual sensitivity:
You're right, Willie Tanner. The little alien whose planet was tragically destroyed doesn't understand the customs of Earth's religious celebrations. But by all means, continue berating the orphan stranger with your halting, ineffective speech.
While ALF leaves the cabin in shame, a very depressed African-American gentleman stops by to see if the Tanners need anything from town. It turns out that Mr. Foley is the owner of the cabin and he's on his way to the hospital to pass out toys to sick kids, but also that maybe his wife died? We're not sure. Mrs. Tanner asks if Mrs. Foley is "better" and he gives her a stare that could reverse global warming.
Mr. Foley waits until he's behind the wheel of his truck to drop the "My wife is dead, you idiot" bomb. If you're keeping track, we're minutes into the episode, and we've got one vicious tongue lashing and a dead lady in the mix. Meanwhile, ALF the diptard ends up locked in the back of the trunk with the toys for the sick kids at the hospital. You know where this is going, don't you? ALF is about to get touched by an Aidsgel. At the hospital, Tiffany, the terminally ill loner child, thinks ALF is a doll and she picks him as her Christmas Eve gift. You can tell she's really sick because look at her face:
We never learn what terrible disease has afflicted this child, but we do know that she won't live to see another Christmas and that she draws her self-portrait with angel wings, which is pretty presumptuous of her, if you ask me. We also never find out why her parents aren't with her on Christmas Eve. It's enough to knock the joy right out of you. As if ALF hasn't suffered enough.
Recognizing a fellow orphan with little future, ALF hangs out with Terminal Tiffany until she falls asleep. IMMEDIATELY after leaving her room, ALF gets stuck in an elevator with a pregnant woman who IMMEDIATELY goes into labor. Alf pulls that baby out of her human vagina like a champ.
Which makes me wonder if little Tiffany has already died and her spirit was reincarnated in this woman's infant. It's something to think about as we move on to the next traumatic episode of the night. ALF gets himself back in the toy wagon with Mr. Foley when he overhears a terrible conversation: It seems Mr. Foley has donated his life savings to the hospital. The doctor who declared Tiffany a goner only moments before relies on his intuition to figure out why:
Mr. Foley is going to kill himself! This is terrible! Dr. Feelbad knows that this guy is suicidal but has nothing but bland platitudes to offer. Even the most cold-hearted of us would extend a Christmas dinner invitation to a guy who just lost his wife. And Mr. Foley isn't letting any time pass before he gets the deed done. IMMEDIATELY after leaving the hospital, he stops on an icy bridge to make the plunge of death. Thank God ALF is there to stop him.
The Most Surreal Moment
At first, Mr. Foley doesn't want to listen to this strange doll that's been following him around all day. Then he figures something out.
This little anteater-looking puppet must be Santa Claus himself. Mr. Foley comes to this conclusion after ALF reveals that he's an alien from another planet, an explanation Tiffany embraced right away. Mr. Foley the grown man takes a look at this furry little thing and concludes: Santa Claus. Fine, whatever gets you off the ledge, ding dong.
Foley comes to his senses and takes ALF home to the Tanners. There, our alien friend spills the beans on his evening, presumably as a form of PTSD therapy. Christmas morning rolls around and the Tanners bop back to the hospital to visit Terminal Tiffany, who -- surprise! Isn't dead yet. YAY! What a relief! Merry Christmas to all and to all a good -