My Week with Christmas Vacation

Christmas 2002

 

 

Monday   --   Tuesday   --   Wednesday   --   Thursday   --   Friday

 

 

This Christmas, I'm doing things the old-fashioned way... I'm inviting an Australian friend to stay with me and watch Muppet Christmas specials for a whole week. And I'm not getting one of those cheap plastic Australian friends like you buy at the mall, no no -- I've got my pal Kynan Barker here, professional comedy writer and Deputy Web Monkey for this very website. 

 

I was raised Jewish, and now I'm an atheist; Kynan was raised Catholic, and now he's a comedy writer. So obviously we have a lot to learn about Christmas, and what better way to do it than to immerse ourselves for a week in the Muppet Christmas Spirit. If you'd like to join us and share our holiday celebration, just print out these pages, fire up the VCR and read along with us. And frog bless us, every one!

 

 

Monday   --   Tuesday   --   Wednesday   --   Thursday   --   Friday

 

     

A Christmas Together

Monday, December 9

 

On the First Day of Christmas, we're beginning our holiday treats with the 1979 special John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. Now, I was an 8-year-old Muppet fan when this special first aired, but Kynan was born in 1978 -- isn't he precious? -- so he's never seen it before. Let's get those halls decked.

 

Danny

 

Okay, so we're supposed to watch this, and learn whatever we can about Christmas. You have to talk through the whole thing and make witty observations.

 

Kynan

 

Right.

 

Danny

 

No pressure, though.

 

Kynan

 

No, that's fine. Hey, look at John Denver's hat.

 

 

    

 

 

Danny

 

Yeah, that's a good start.

 

Kynan

 

Looks like his mother dressed him for the school pageant.

 

Danny

 

He's been art directed. Oh, and look at Scooter, who's a turn of the century paperboy.

 

Kynan

 

Or a Dickensian chimney sweep.

 

Danny

 

Chim chim cherree, Christmas is a jolly 'oliday wif you, John Denver!

 

Kynan

 

They didn't skimp on the puppeteers though, did they?

 

Danny

 

Yeah, there's twelve puppeteers in the credits.

 

Kynan

 

Frank Oz is obviously doing Fozzie here. Look at him, he's acting there. That's lovely. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Announcer  "John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together! Starring... John Denver!"

 

Danny

 

Ooh, ouch.

 

 

 

Announcer  "... and John's special guest stars: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Floyd, Scooter and Rowlf!"

 

Danny

 

That's gotta hurt.

 

Kynan

 

Why are the Muppets the guest stars? They just said it was Christmas "together." And that wasn't Jerry Nelson doing the announcing, was it?

 

Danny

 

No, the Muppets have all gone over to stay at John Denver's for Christmas, so they have to use his sets and his announcer, and they have to be the guest stars. It's kind of like you and me right now. If I came to Australia, I'd be the guest star.

 

Kynan

 

And I could wear the funny hat. Right.

 

 

 

 

Kynan

 

Oh, and there's the 12 puppeteers again, all in the same room. We don't usually get crowd scenes like this on The Muppet Show. What's wrong with John Denver's voice?

 

Danny

 

We were asking that all through the 70's.

 

Kynan

 

No, there's something off about it. There's a weird echo on him, he sounds far away. 

 

Danny

 

Well, he's the only performer in the room who doesn't have a throat mike. 

 

Kynan

 

Ah, that would be it.

 

Danny

 

Which again brings up the question of why they didn't just do the special in London, where the directors know how to mike the humans properly.

 

Kynan

 

It's a good bit, though. Nice Muppet argument here. Oh, but then John has to go and start singing, and we realize that this whole funny Muppet scene is just an introduction for John's opening number.

 

Danny

 

Yeah. You've got to feel sorry for all those poor puppeteers just sitting around and nodding while John sings.

 

Kynan

 

Oh, and then he just walks out the door and into a video paintbox effect. Did he just walk out on the Muppets?

 

Danny

 

No, they're over there, all standing by the wall. 

 

Kynan

 

Oh, there's Fozzie there. And then John just walks away. And the Swedish Chef... John leaves him too. It's drive-by Muppets. What is this?

 

Danny

 

Yeah, you get the feeling that just around the corner is a funny Muppet special, and if you're really patient, you'll get to see some of it.

 

 

 

 

Kynan

 

Oh, there's the Electric Mayhem... no, sorry, enough of you, thank you... This is a song about spending time with people you care about, but he just leaves everyone.

 

Danny

 

He's like the host at a really busy party.

 

Kynan

 

Oh, this is nice. I was really hoping for some more footage of John Denver dressed as a Canadian with wooden child ballerinas. You can see why John wasn't known for being a dancer.

 

Danny

 

Yeah, he moves like a dream, doesn't he? 

 

Kynan

 

This is unfortunate. When does this end?

 

Danny

 

It doesn't. The whole special's like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John  "... Miss Piggy?"

 

 

 

Piggy  "John! John! Dear John! How dear of you to come!"

 

 

 

John  "Well, I was told you wanted to see me."

 

Kynan

 

... Here on your porn set.

 

Danny

 

Ooh, yeah, I never noticed that.

 

Kynan

 

The whole set is padded walls, isn't it? That's a bold choice.

 

Danny

 

Piggy's very funny here, though. Check it out. Frank is acting his heart out.

 

Kynan

 

John's not going to sing, is he?

 

Danny

 

No, not in this scene. But it's interesting that you're already having that kind of Pavlovian post-traumatic stress disorder effect. It's not a good sign when you spend the entire special cringing just in case there's a song. 

 

Kynan

 

Frank is feeling the same way, he's trying to act his way out of a song cue.

 

Danny

 

He's cracking John up here... That's excellent. John almost lost it there. I think this whole thing is going to be about Frank trying to take over the John Denver special. It's a heroic effort.

 

Kynan

 

And then John has to walk off on his own into the woods in order to do another song.

 

 

 

John  "... Did you ever hear the story of the Christmas tree who just didn't want to change the show?"

 

Kynan

 

I sure did, I hear it every year. I usually skip it on the CD.

 

 

 

John  "Oh, Alfie believed in Christmas, all right. He was full of Christmas cheer. All of each and every day, and all throughout the year."

 

Kynan

 

Can a tree be a Christmas tree if it's out in the forest? It's technically still a pine tree at that point.

 

 

 

John  "You see, some folks have never heard a jingle bell ring, and they've never heard of Santa Claus. They've never heard of the Son of God, and that made Alfie pause. "

 

Danny

 

Now, it's a tree, though. I don't know how a tree pauses.

 

Kynan

 

It would be very hard to spot.

 

 

 

John  "Did that mean they'd never know of Peace on Earth, and the brotherhood of man? Know how to love? Know how to give? If they can't, no one can. You see, life is a very special kind of thing, not just for a chosen few, but for each and every living, breathing thing. Not just me and you."

 

Danny

 

Hey, there you go. John Denver says that Jews know how to love. That makes it official.

 

Kynan

 

Oh, that's nice for you, isn't it?

 

Danny

 

Yeah, I was worried there for a second. Sweet of him to mention it. I think he's praying for me in this number, though, which is kind of not the point. 

 

Kynan

 

Yeah, the Christians, we'll pray for you. Don't worry about it. It's on us.

 

Danny

 

No, I'd really rather you...

 

Kynan

 

Oh, Lord, please bring peace and love to my friend here, Jew though he is...

 

Danny

 

Stop, stop, you're just making it worse.

 

Kynan

 

Just a little nod in his direction, please. A little something.

 

Danny

 

No, no. Hey, there's Kermit. 

 

 

 

 

Danny

 

The great promise of this special is that as soon as John Denver stops singing, you'll see Kermit.

 

Kynan

 

Ooh, look at that. Every time Kermit crosses and uncrosses his leg like that, that means there's a puppeteer down there, just waiting to give it a little twitch. That's nice.

 

 

 

Kermit  "... Y'know what the really nice thing about Christmas is? It's the one time of year when everyone seems to be part of everyone's family. Everyone's smiling at you, holding out a hand to shake yours... making you feel you belong wherever you are. I guess that's what Christmas is really all about."

 

Kynan

 

John doesn't look too convinced by that.

 

Danny

 

No, I think this song is John Denver the evangelical Christian battling Jim Henson the hippie Christian. Kermit's saying it's okay even if you're not Christian, and John is saying, no, but if we just tell them about Jesus... And Jim is saying, no, no, that's okay... if they're just groovy relaxed people, it's okay... That's the whole special, right there.

 

Kynan

 

Can we fast forward now? I have heard this song.

 

Danny

 

No, it's 1979. There's no such thing as fast forward. 

 

Kynan

 

Oh, I didn't realize.

 

Danny

 

Plus here's the funny Piggy scene. You'll like this part.

 

Kynan

 

What's with the bare brick walls? They couldn't afford walls?

 

Danny

 

It's the theater. It's supposed to be like that. The Muppet Show's like that, too, it's just that on The Muppet Show it's lit properly.

 

Kynan

 

I think this is taped the same way as the dreaded Star Wars Christmas special, it's just bare videotape.

 

 

    

 

 

Danny

 

This is a funny number, but you can see that the director really has no idea how to direct Muppets. He's just throwing puppets at the screen at this point. Put a bunch of puppets into the same shot, and let God sort 'em out.

 

Kynan

 

The puppeteers are working, though. Look at them.

 

Danny

 

Yeah. Oh, did you hear that? Frank just cracked up the crew, and they left it in, cause it was such a good take.

 

Kynan

 

No, I didn't hear it.

 

Danny

 

Wait, I'll rewind.

 

Kynan

 

You can't rewind, it's 1979.

 

Danny

 

Oh, I forgot. Well, I did it anyway. Did you hear it?

 

Kynan

 

Yeah, nice. 

 

Danny

 

Frank is just working his tail off trying to make this special work. This is all about heroism.

 

Kynan

 

Excellent. So what's this, now? Oh, the Canadian walking down the street. Lovely. Just what we need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John  "The season is upon us now... A time for gifts and giving... As the year draws to its close, I think about my living... Oh, little angel, shining light, you set my soul to dreaming... You've given back my joy and life, and filled me with new meaning..."

 

Kynan

 

How can he be so earnest walking down a set that we know is fake? We've seen this set constructed as a video effect.

 

Danny

 

So it's all a sham.

 

Kynan

 

He knows deep down that he doesn't really think that it's okay not to be a Christian -- but he has to believe that he's a good person, so he really is this earnest in the face of video effects because he desperately needs something to cling to. It's those cracks that reveal to us the real emptiness that lies deep within him. Are you writing this down?

 

Danny

 

I'm trying to.

 

Kynan

 

He's rife with contradictions! He's got live deer on the set, because he's such a grainy hippie, but he's wearing a genuine fur coat.

 

Danny

 

And his glasses? They're made of Jews.

 

Kynan

 

Ha. That's terrible. Don't put that in.

 

 

 

 

Kynan

 

Oh, look at that for a shot. An aerial view of Rowlf at the piano.

 

Danny

 

It's the Channel 6 Action News chopper, reporting live from the ceiling. Where are the puppeteers?

 

Kynan

 

They're lying at awkward angles under the piano bench, just for this shot.

 

 

 

Rowlf  "Have yourself a merry little Christmas... Let your heart be light... From now on, our troubles will be out of sight..."

 

Danny

 

This is a good number. This is my favorite one. It's not being anything else right now but what it is. No fakey set, no live deer... There's just a glow around it, like they know how perfect it can be when they do it right.

 

Kynan

 

Also, you can watch Rowlf playing the piano, and you don't have to look at John. 

 

Danny

 

Uh oh.

 

Kynan

 

What?

 

Danny

 

Oh, now they do the number that's supposed to be the Christmas show.

 

Kynan

 

And John dances?

 

Danny

 

It's endless. Do wooden soldiers really look like that, with the big splotches of red makeup on their cheeks?

 

Kynan

 

They must do. That one's a girl. Are they all girls except for John?

 

Danny

 

No, that one's a boy. I think they're mostly boys. It's hard to tell. They were really ahead of their time with the gays in the military thing. 

 

Kynan

 

Ah, now John tap dances. Does the fun ever start?

 

Danny

 

The thing we have to be grateful for here is that the producer of the special and the producer of the album were different guys. 

 

Kynan

 

Yes, keep a healthy separation there.

 

Danny

 

Because the producer of the special is apparently endlessly fascinated with the way John Denver dances.

 

Kynan

 

What's Piggy doing here? I don't get this.

 

Danny

 

She's waiting for the wooden soldiers to come back from what I imagine is supposed to be the great wooden soldier war. I don't know what this war stuff has to do with the Peace on Earth part.

 

Kynan

 

They're defending Our American Christmas against Japanese-produced toys. All those voice chips. 

 

Danny

 

Oh, good for them. Hey, Frank is really working, isn't he? He's gonna save this special if it kills him. He's actually my personal hero right now. Think about it, it's 1979, he's stuck in some rented Hollywood studio. Jim is off with John arguing about how much Christianity to put in. All the other performers are off getting drunk and having sex with the dancers, and Frank has absolutely nothing else to do except figure out a way to make this John Denver special funny. 

 

Kynan

 

Right. He's bored, he's a bit embarrassed...

 

Danny

 

The director's an idiot... So Frank has no other outlet except just to perform his ass off and try to save the show single handed.

 

Kynan

 

He almost does it, too. Good on ya, Frank.

 

 

 

 

Danny

 

Well, that was exciting. Now let's all sit down for a while and listen to John sing some more.

 

Kynan

 

Once again, all these talented puppeteers just sitting around and lip-synching to the choruses. Tch. 

 

 

 

John  "... Since this is such a very special season, I would like to share with you some of the very special story."

 

Kynan

 

Oh, what's this? Oh dear.

 

 

 

John  "And it came to pass that Joseph went up from Galilee, unto the city of David, which was called Bethlehem, with Mary, his espoused wife, who was great with child."

 

Danny

 

Well, she's not that great. She's okay.

 

Kynan

 

Who decided on this? They're not doing Jesus, are they? Is there a Jesus puppet? Oh, look at that. 

 

Danny

 

I guess Jim lost the coin toss. This is the kind of thing that people would say, "They never would have done this when Jim was alive!" Except they did, check it out. Puppet angels, too.

 

Kynan

 

John really just wants to preach, doesn't he? Kind of throws that Alfie the Christmas Tree sentiment out the window.

 

 

 

 

Danny

 

And now we have to sit around while John sings "Silent Night" in German. Is that it? Hello? Can we go? Is anything funny going to happen?

 

Kynan

 

Oh, and there's a whole audience of kids there. Have they been there this whole time? 

 

Danny

 

Yeah, turns out it's just a TV show.

 

Kynan

 

It's good that they keep the children at a safe distance from the Muppety goodness. Otherwise they might start enjoying themselves.

 

Danny

 

Yeah, these kids look anesthetized. They can't even see the Muppets from there. 

 

Kynan

 

Santa should bring them some binoculars. One each, for everyone.

 

Danny

 

And they all say Merry Christmas... and that's about it. That's the end of the show. 

 

Kynan

 

Produced by Bob Finkel... directed by Tony Charmoli, whoever that is...

 

Danny

 

One of John's minions.

 

Kynan

 

Written by Herbert Baker... oh, and Bob Finkel, the producer, there's a coincidence...

 

Danny

 

Ooh, "Special Material" by Jon Stone. That's cold. That means the Muppet parts.

 

Kynan

 

Well, thanks, Jon! We appreciate it.

 

Danny

 

Thank you, Jon! And thank you, Frank. 

 

Kynan

 

Aha! Look at that.

 

Danny

 

What?

 

Kynan

 

Choreographer: Tony Charmoli! Well, that explains everything, doesn't it!

 

Danny

 

This is what happens when you let the choreographer direct the whole show. 

 

Kynan

 

All that dancing. Well, now we know.

 

Danny

 

So what did we learn about Christmas from this special?

 

Kynan

 

We learned that if you're going to have a holiday party with your friends, then you should have it at the friend's house that already has the lights and scenery all set up, and that knows how to make the sound work properly.

 

Danny

 

It's not really a Christmas Together, is it? 

 

Kynan

 

It's more of a Christmas Next To Each Other.

 

Danny

 

I have a riddle. What do you get when you cross a John Denver special with a Muppet special?

 

Kynan

 

What?

 

Danny

 

You get a John Denver special. 

 

Kynan

 

Ha. If we could just separate out the Muppet parts...

 

Danny

 

Put it through a Christmas Centrifuge, and just skim off all the Miss Piggy scenes and Rowlf playing the piano, and get rid of everything else.

 

Kynan

 

Well, put that in the letter for Santa. We want a centrifuge, binoculars for the kids... and either dancing lessons for John or less dancing entirely. One or the other.

 

Danny

 

And amnesty for the deer.

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow:

How long can Danny and Kynan watch

Mr Willowby's Christmas Tree

before they mention

Robert Downey Jr's drug problem?

(Hint: Probably not very long.)

 

 

Monday   --   Tuesday   --   Wednesday   --   Thursday   --   Friday

 

 

Photos on this page stolen from:

 

Mark Pethick's 

Muppet Christmas site

 

Byron Summers' 

Janice fansite

 

and some John Denver site I can't remember.

Thanks, guys!

 

 

Danny@ToughPigs.com 

 

 

My Week Contents

My Week with Muppet Breakfast

My Summer with Farscape

My Week with Muppets Online