Previously, I wrote about five of my all-time favourite holiday TV episodes in which the spirit of the season is explored through terrific witty writing, directing, and performances. These shows were memorable because they knew how to combine the seasonal warmth with the perfect touches of humour, heart and originality.
Here is a list of five TV episodes which are the exact opposite of all that. These TV shows display a lack of creativity to be sure, but to make it worse, they’re crass, lazy and cloying. It takes a special amount of skill to suck the joy and feeling of togetherness out of the season, but these lumps of broadcast coal managed to do just that.
The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
When it was released in the summer of 1977, Star Wars was a movie that re-awoke the child within anybody who went to see it. No matter how old they were, Star Wars ignited a person’s youthful imagination and sense of wonder and adventure. The Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired on CBS on November 17th 1978 nearly crushed and destroyed all that over the course of two hours.
The special begins with Han and Chewie in the Falcon, flying to Chewie’s home planet, Wookiee Planet C, so he can celebrate Life Day with his wife Malla, son Lumpy, and dad Itchy. For some reason we then meet Art Carney as Saun Dann bantering with an Imperial officer in Carney’s trading post shop. The officer has been sent to the Wookie planet by Darth Vader where soon, another officer and several Stormtroopers invade the Wookie home, terrorising poor Lumpy (who just screams and squeals over the entire two hours of this thing. Seriously. HE. NEVER. STOPS). Even while this is happening, Malla has time to watch a cooking show hosted by Harvey Korman as Gormaanda, a blue-haired lady space cook, and Itchy tries out some virtual reality very adult content where Diahann Carroll as Mermeia, purrs lines like, “I exist for you. I am in your mind as you create me. Oh, yes… I can feel my creation. I am your fantasy. I am your experience. So experience me. I am your pleasure. So enjoy me.” Needless to say, Itchy greatly enjoys this.
Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 show up to communicate with Chewie’s family occasionally, while we cut back to footage of Darth Vader from the original Star Wars. At one point we even revisit the classic Cantina bar, where Golden Girl Bea Arthur is in charge and sings to all the aliens to get out. Richard Pryor had better luck controlling these creatures than Bea does.
One memorable aspect of this horrible special is the animated cartoon which introduces us to the scheming, two-timing Boba Fett, sent by Darth Vader to infiltrate a mission Luke and Han are on. Not only is this short memorable because it’s the first appearance of Fett, it’s also the only thing in this show that actually tells some kind of story. For that, we must be grateful. Unfortunately, we’re deposited right back into more awfulness as Chewie and Han finally make it to the Wookie home, where the Wookies then walk across space(!) in red, wool overcoats, where this thing ends with Han, Luke and the droids all reunited. Leia leads them all into a song celebrating Life Day to the melody of John Williams’ Star Wars theme. After hearing this, I understand why this was never included on any of the soundtrack re-issues.
There’s more I can say about this bizarre and grotesque show but other people have done it better than me so I won’t. Sure, holiday specials can be dumb (South Park and Married With Children have made some) but at least those were fun. The Star Wars Holiday Special is neither, and even worse it almost – almost! – erases some of the sense of wonderment Star Wars brought to the world just one year prior. For that reason alone, this holiday special deserves every bit of scorn it’s been subjected to.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: We Wish You a Turtle Christmas (1994)
I’ve never gotten into TMNT so I’ve never watched an episode of the show. I was ten seconds into watching this special and I knew my life-long choice to avoid these creatures and anything associated with them was the right one. The special begins with some of the turtles breaking into a reggae-style version of that Fa-La-La-La song only this time, they’re singing about pizza. Then they delve into two (!) rap style songs about buying a gift for someone or something named Splinter on Christmas Eve.
When they do manage to find a gift with only two hours before stores close, they rap about wrapping (ha-ha!) the gift. Next thing you know it’s Christmas morning and I find out that Splinter is this talking Asian rat creature. This Splinter must be a big deal because he receives twelve gifts from the Turtles which of course means he has to list them off in that “12 Days of Christmas” song. Thankfully, that song is almost five minutes long so when it’s done, thankfully so is this special. After ordering a pizza, the Turtles end the special with one more song. The final title card informs me that this thing was made in 1994, about three years after The Turtles were relevant. Do you think Megan Fox or Will Arnett saw this thing before they agreed to star in Michael Bay’s TMNT updated movie? My guess: no.
Jeff Dunham’s Very Special Christmas Special (2008)
One has to admit that Jeff Dunham is a very talented guy and he does bring laughter and happiness to a lot of people, and these days there’s really not much more you can ask for. Having said that, the reason Dunham sells out huge stadiums is to see his puppets complain about things people wish they could complain about – but can’t. This special begins harmlessly enough with a thirteen minute story about his daughter putting gas in the car for the first time. But then out comes curmudgeonly old puppet Walter who makes jokes to Jeff about how his wife and daughter are turning him “gay,” and how there’s no Caucasian holiday but should be dammit! Dunham’s audience cheer wildly at these jokes and then out comes Achmed, “I keel you” the Dead Terrorist to sing “Jingle Bombs.” Dunham aims to be a PG-rated Andrew Dice Clay and sure, it’s all very politically incorrect, while Dunham seems to believe that because these views are coming from puppets, their casual racism and homophobia is acceptable. Ugh. Have you ever asked yourself who are the kinds of people that happily elected Trump as president? Here’s your answer.
Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (2014)
Internet memes getting their own TV specials – oh, fun. Here we have Grumpy Cat starring in her own (and only) TV special-movie which aired on Lifetime in 2014. Grumpy Cat (voiced by the usually otherwise terrific Aubrey Plaza) experiences Christmas with a new owner, a 12 year-old girl named Chrystal who can actually hear Grumpy Cat’s thoughts. Any kid with any sense would return Grumpy back to the pet shelter where they got them but not here. For some reason, a Home Alone-ish plot device is also introduced where Grumpy has to save a dog she hates and has to rescue Chystal from the mall on Christmas eve. Specials like Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever which are made from Internet memes only demonstrate that these things should like, stay on the internet. I suppose we should be glad Lifetime didn’t air The Gangnam Style Christmas Special that year too.
The New Kids on the Block Christmas Special (1990)
I’ll bet the Wahlberg brothers wish they could forget all about this thing but ha-ha, they can’t because I just watched it and now I’m going to write about it. When Santa who greets the New Kids with a “Ho-Ho-Ho, homeboys,” shows up in New York with a bagful of gifts to hand out, he discovers that Donny is not feeling the festive spirit because he’s worried that the gang won’t make it to Boston on Christmas eve.
Donny meets a young fan during rehearsal (not much security in that place) and actually lets the young fan bring him and the other New Kids to a Bronx shelter, run by the fan’s older sister. When she sees them, one of the New Kids actually says to her, “I think we’re your Christmas presents”. If that’s not enough, when the sister sees the New Kids walk across the hall she actually says to the person on her phone, “Things are hard all over”. Like, wow!
Want more? The makers of this special aren’t content to let the animated versions of the pop-stars be featured throughout – they do some weird thing where floating balloons of the real-life New Kids appear on screen every few seconds in their oh-so-dreamy poses and smiles. They also occasionally cut to real-life New Kids female fans who scream and hold up blankets which read “New Kids 4 Life”.
Of course, the New Kids save Christmas for everybody by helping out at the homeless shelter/orphanage by having the city’s girls bring in over 1000 blankets (none that have “New Kids 4 life” on them though) to help out the less fortunate, and the cartoon New Kids get smooches from all the babes while the real life New Kids just get more of those dumb photos of themselves flying over the screen – until the end of this thing where we see the real New Kids in concert and the pretty much female audience are shown wailing and crying.
I know how they feel.