November 19, 2012

Christmastime Is Weird: Watching A SPECIAL SESAME STREET CHRISTMAS, Part 1

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , , , — Ryan Roe @ 10:31 am

Earlier this month, the legendary TV special A Special Sesame Street Christmas was released on DVD.  Tough Pigs’ own Joe Hennes and I sat down to watch it. How’d that go?  Keep reading for the first of a two-part commentary to find out!

Ryan: Hi, Tough Pigs’ own Joe Hennes!

Joe: Hello from the other side of the living room, Ryan Roe!

Ryan: Are you ready for Christmas?

Joe: It’s early November, so YES!

Ryan: Great! Now, are you ready for A Special Sesame Street Christmas?

Joe: What is this strange A Special Sesame Street Christmas you speak of??

Ryan: It’s the legendary Other Sesame Street Christmas Special from 1978. This thing evidently came about because variety show producer Bob Banner handed Children’s Television Workshop a stack of cash and asked if he could borrow their set and a few of their actors for a while. Then he hired some guest stars, including Leslie Uggams, because when Leslie Uggams is involved, it has to be good.  The special has been locked in Santa’s vault for years, but now, for some reason, it’s on DVD!

Joe: It’s especially strange because as far as we can tell, this is not a Sesame Workshop licensed product. There are no copyright or trademark notices anywhere, it’s not distributed by Sesame Workshop’s regular home video partners, and it is also so, so, so cheaply made.

Ryan: But the DVD cover design is a total knockoff of the current line of Sesame DVDs, from the placement of the Sesame Street logo to the arc of color to the round, Dunkin’ Donutty font. It’s not so much a Christmas miracle as a Christmas bamboozle that this thing exists.

Joe: The DVD cover looks like a bad Photoshop job, the special features are laughable (more on that soon), and the back cover has a terrible! overuse! of exclamation! po!ints!

Ryan:
It’s a “Must-Have!” according to goldeneraflix.com. That’s a dubious-sounding source for legitimate critical praise as it is, but try going to that website.  There’s nothing there!  Nor is there anything at the other two websites with blurbs quoted on the back of the DVD.  I suspect that the producers of this disc registered those URLs, made up those blurbs, and then forgot to actually create the websites. And no man or reindeer can convince me otherwise.

Joe: Are we sure those aren’t websites from 1978?  Because having an internet review before the existence of the internet is actually pretty impressive.

Ryan: Enough of this nonsense. Joe! Let’s watch this thing!  Right now!

Joe: Okay, just stop shouting at me!

Joe: Oh boy, the Sesame Street gang is decorating their Christmas tree, which is in the middle of the street for some reason, in the middle of July. That’s Christmas to me.

Ryan: In the Thanksgiving special, they’ll cook a turkey in the bathroom of the Fix-It Shop. Hey, we can hear the Sesame Street theme song in the background, which was not included on the Old School DVDs.  Further proof that this release is 100% illegitimate.

Joe: It’s a Christmas miracle!!!  Bob, Mr. Hooper, Maria, and David are decorating the tree with a bunch of people we’ve never seen before, including my new favorite Sesame Street resident, “Guy with Mustache.” Where did those people come from? Do they live on the Street too?

Ryan: Meanwhile, there’s no sign of Susan, Gordon, Olivia, Luis or Linda. They saw the script and flew south for the winter.

Joe: I think one of the kids is the ice skater who totally shows up David and Gordon in the intro to Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.  [Edited to add: It totally is!  Christmas 1978 was a good holiday for that kid.]

Ryan: Why isn’t “Ice Skater Kid” listed as one of the guest stars?  Speaking of guest stars, here’s Leslie Uggams to say hello, and to tell us who else we can expect to see!

Joe: Ethel Merman!  Sorry, I meant, “ETHEL MERMAAAAN!!”

Ryan: Anne Murray, who already looks uncomfortable!

Joe: Imogene Coca (neither of which is an actual name)!

Ryan: Henry Fonda!

Joe: Henry Fonda’s scene is so captivating. I can’t wait to see him eat ice cream in the middle of winter later on.

Ryan: Dicky Smothers! Apparently they could only get one Smother Brother.

Joe: And the one they did get is the straight man.  Oh boy.  And hey, there’s Sesame Street savior Michael Jackson!

Ryan: And now we’re back to the street gang, trimming the tree with aggressive enthusiasm.

Joe: Oscar is all “Bah, Humbug!”, and everyone already knows how this terrible special is going to end.  Oscar is hunched behind the railing to 123 Sesame Street, and for some reason, every time he ends a scene, it looks like he’s going down stairs.  Like he’s a mime pretending to be on an escalator.

Ryan: Oscar gives the humans a dirty old jogging shoe, and rather than throw it back at him, Mr. Hooper happily thanks him for it and puts it on the Christmas tree.

Joe: Little known fact: The jogging shoe is a Hanukkah tradition. Oscar disappears down into the basement, which is Big Bird’s cue to appear.

Ryan: Yeah, now that you mention it, I’ve never seen those two in the same place at the same time. You don’t suppose… Anyway, the other Muppeteers were probably over in England on the set of The Muppet Show this week, celebrating Christmas with hot toddys and rum tum tiggers, because Caroll Spinney seems to be the only puppeteer in this special.

Joe: Barkley shows up later, so we have evidence of a second puppeteer, but he must be kenneled for the first half of this special.

Ryan: Puppeteer? What are you talking about? Barkley is a real dog. Big Bird has just come back from buying a Christmas present for Leslie Uggams on behalf of all the grown-ups, which raises a number of questions: Why is Leslie Uggams hanging out on Sesame Street?  Why did everyone chip in to buy her a present when they didn’t buy presents for each other?  Why did they trust a six-year-old to buy a good Christmas present?

Joe: I like that Big Bird brings the present in on a sled, which is dragging on the pavement, making a screeching sound.  All of the adults are covering their ears, and it’s one of the only gags that really land in this special. Well, one of the only intentional gags.

Ryan: Oh, that screeching sound was the sled? I thought Ethel Merman had started singing already.

Joe: Big Bird is explaining that it’ll snow soon. Because late December without snow looks a lot like July, as we all know.

Ryan: Oscar tells Leslie Uggams — who calls him “Osscah” — that he never misses any of her shows. He never sees any of them, so he never misses them.  GET IT?!

Joe: But… that means he misses them all…

Ryan: It’s like how I never stop doing push-ups. I never start doing push-ups, so I never stop! HAW HAW!

Joe: Oh, go back down your tiny stairwell, Oscar.

Ryan: What do you think is in Big Bird’s gift box?

Joe: A rump roast!

Ryan: Well, it can’t be a horse… Oh, it’s an ugly hat!

Joe: To be fair, what do you get for the overacting singer who has everything? Now Leslie is singing a song about all of the terrible gifts she’s gotten.  She’s super ungrateful.

Ryan: Everyone else chimes in with tales of bad Christmas presents, which they just happen to have with them!

Joe: Big Bird’s gift is a beak muffler, which keeps his mouth shut. Take a hint, Big Bird!!

Ryan: David’s cousin Eddie sent him a mustache comb. What’s David complaining about? He has mutton chops right there that could use a good combing!

Joe: Just move the comb two inches to the left, David!!  If I was going to buy David a Christmas present, I’d totally buy him a mustache comb for his chops! It seems like the perfect gift.

Ryan: Leslie puts the hat on Mr. Hooper as they sing, which is a sneaky way to get rid of it.

Joe: And now it’s snowing!! What a happy ending! I feel like we all learned an important lesson about the true meaning of Christmas.

Ryan: Yeah, me too. We’ve had some laughs, sung some songs, and shared in the holida– oh, there’s more?

Joe: There had better be more.  I was promised unsatisfying celebrity cameos, and by gum, I want my unsatisfying celebrity cameos!

Ryan: The jerks driving the snow plows have left giant piles of snow on the street for the gang to shovel, so they call “reinforcements”… in the form of Barkley???  A dog can’t hold a shovel!

Joe: If cartoons have taught me anything, and they haven’t, it’s that dogs are really good at digging in fast motion.  Everyone’s freezing to death, so Oscar brings them some hot cocoa.  But it’s not cocoa, it’s ice cold lemonade!!! Oh Oscar, you are evil incarnate!

Ryan: Their noses were so cold, they couldn’t smell that it was lemonade and not cocoa! And also they were blind.

Joe: Also stupid. Also poorly written. Everyone’s finally getting fed up with Oscar’s bad mood. I wonder why it took them so long?

Ryan: One nice thing about not having any other characters around is that Oscar gets to be the Muppet star of this production. It’s really A Special Oscarme Street Grouchmas.

Joe: Wow, you have no idea how much I want a real special with that title.  Leslie Uggams is straight-up angry at Oscar for not liking Christmas.  To be fair, the holidays often bring out the worst in people. But usually it’s being around family that does it.

Ryan: Someone doesn’t like Christmas? UNACCEPTABLE.  Leslie reacts so strongly to Osscah’s belief system that she’s getting pretty grouchy herself. Now Maria comes out of 123 Sesame Street holding a scruffy-looking kitten she picked up in an alley somewhere.  He’s broken his leg… I bet it was an ice-skating accident.

Joe: Maybe the kitten was trying to keep up with that ice skating kid from Christmas Eve.  The kitten comes equipped with a cast and bell, because it’s really important to hear when your crippled cat is coming near.

Ryan:
Leslie and Maria try to come up with a name for the cat. Leslie stares at the tree for inspiration, and you think she’s going to say “Santa Claws” or “Frosty the Snowmeow” or “Angels We Have Purred on High,” but then she and Maria both scream “TINY TIM!” at the same time.

Joe: Maria: “I can’t believe we came up with the same name!” Nobody can, Maria. Nobody should. The kitten needs to eat, so of course, Maria and Leslie head directly to the nearest trash can. What??

Ryan: Oscar recognizes the cat as the one who tried to steal mackerels from him recently. He’s holding a grouch grudge, and he’s completely prepared to let Tiny starve to death. Then he sings a trashy version of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” and it’s one of this special’s few saving graces that he starts at the sixth day and only sings it once.

Joe: It bothers me that he doesn’t do a variation on “Five gooooooolden rings.”

Ryan: Ba-dum bum bum.  Leslie has an idea about how to teach Oscar to appreciate Christmas. She says he reminds her of somebody named Scrooge, but I’m pretty sure this whole special is a ripoff of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.

Joe: That would explain Oscar’s sunglasses and cane.  Oscar was laying it on pretty thick to get them to make that Scrooge connection.  I’m surprised it took them this long.

Ryan: Later, in Hooper’s Store, Leslie appears to be gluing a bunch of trash to the wall, and Maria is really excited about it. Big Bird says it won’t work, to which Leslie snaps, “Now, Big Bird, I read you the Dickens story!”

Joe: IT’S BOUND TO WORK! THIS PLAN IS FOOLPROOF!

Ryan: Yeah, Big Bird. So shut your Dickens mouth!

Joe: Of course, nobody wants to dress as the Ghost of Christmas Past, so they do what any normal people would do: Enlist Anne Murray.

Ryan: I know all the celebrity guests got a roll call at the beginning, but it’s so weird that no one gets an introduction when they enter. Anne Murray just wanders into Hooper’s, and proceeds to sit on the counter and sing a love song to Big Bird — who, again, is six years old.

Joe: And poor Caroll Spinney has to keep his arm in the air for about 18 minutes during the most boring song ever that isn’t even about Christmas.

Ryan: After a while, Big Bird gets bored and starts looking at something else. As does the audience.

Joe: So does Anne, who ends up singing most of the second half of her song to Bob.  We didn’t even mention the creepy Santa Claus that she brought into Hooper’s store. It looks like Chucky’s dad.

Ryan: And somehow Oscar has programmed it to deliver a yucky message in his voice. That guy goes to great lengths for a joke.

Joe: He goes to great lengths for non-jokes too, apparently.

Ryan: Anne volunteers to help them “drum a little Christmas spirit” into Oscar, at which point Leslie grabs a tape measure and starts groping Anne’s arm, at which point Anne looks like she’s already regretting her decision.

Joe: As anyone would.

What are Leslie and her Sesame Street pals up to? Will they manage to teach Ebenezer Oscar the true meaning of Christmas? Will Michael Jackson and Ethel Merman meet under the mistletoe? Click here for part two to find out!

Click here to complain about your presents on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe and Joe Hennes



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