Part 1 – Part 2
If you’re just joining us, we’re watching the legendarily bizarre 1978 TV special A Special Sesame Street Christmas, which was recently released on DVD. This is part two… don’t forget to read part one!
Joe: On the street, the humans are making ghost sounds, so of course, Oscar assumes that Anne Murray (who just sang a song to him 10 minutes ago) dressed as a Christmas tree is a g-g-g-ghost!
Ryan: She hands him a “may-gic aigg-nog container.” Could she be any more Canadian?
Joe: Yes. The eggnog is made with moose milk.
Ryan: “Best If Used By January 1, Eh?” Oscar looks through it and sees a reenactment of his infancy, when he was a happy-go-lucky baby, with Leslie as his nanny. I call shenanig-uggams! Oscar was never a cheerful baby! Do they expect us to sit back and accept it while they retcon him like this?
Joe: That eggnog container is an unreliable time machine! Leslie Uggams the nanny does a lot of unfortunate baby-shaking, which might explain how Oscar became the way he is.
Ryan: Ah, but Oscar’s not buying it. “I was born a grouch!” he says, and all is right with the world.
Joe: Interesting how it wasn’t the fact that all of his Sesame Street friends were there in the past (including the Mustache Guy) that convinced him it was a hoax. And yet somehow this realization doesn’t deter Oscar’s belief in these half-assed ghosts.
Ryan: Now comes a moment which represents this special in a nutshell: Oscar pulls out an electric guitar and sings “Yakety Yak” until the guitar explodes. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Joe: I just noticed that he reversed some of the lyrics so it’s about messing up your room, not cleaning it. Is this the hidden meaning of Christmas?
Ryan: Or the writer of this special happened to notice that the song includes the word “trash.”
Joe: Also it was cheap.
Ryan: Later, Oscar reads a newspaper, which includes The Joke of the Week for Grouches: “What did one grouch say to the other grouch when he bumped into him on the street?” ‘Watch where you’re goin’, yo-yo.'”
Joe: The other article is about a grouch on the moon, whose first words are “What a crummy place.” So, whoever wrote this special really didn’t bother trying to write any real jokes, even when the script straight-up points out that the next line will be a joke.
Ryan: It definitely has the feel of a first draft that didn’t get finished before the writer left for Christmas vacation. Question: Do we have any reason to believe that Leslie Uggams has romantic feelings for Oscar? No. So does it make sense for Leslie Uggams to gaze lovingly at Oscar from the window over Hooper’s and sing “Look at That Face?” No, it does not. But that’s not about to stop A Special Sesame Street Christmas!
Joe: “Look at that nose…” I’m trying, Leslie!! Also, it seems that the studio was rather, uh, cold that day.
Ryan: What are you — oh. Oh my.
Joe: It’s way worse than the Katy Perry scandal. And we finally know why this special was transferred to DVD quality. I can’t stop looking at Leslie’s sweater, and I presume, neither could most of the five-year-olds watching this special.
Ryan: Now we know what to get Leslie Uggams for Christmas.
Joe: A hat?
Ryan: Um. Two hats, maybe. Eventually Big Bird calls to Leslie, so she snaps out of it and goes downstairs, but we just know she’s going to practice writing “Mrs. Leslie the Grouch” in her diary all night.
Joe: Oscar is now walking around in his trash can, but with his head sticking out of the top. So we’re all imagining him with an extra-long torso. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!
Ryan: And Imogene Coca makes an even more anti-climactic entrance than Anne Murray… She’s just standing in the courtyard and then she turns around to face the camera. Perhaps she’s been standing there for the entire show up to now, just waiting for her cue.
Joe: But there are ticking clocks! That there is g-g-g-g-ghost sounds!
Ryan: I guess that’s a clock on her head, but it looks like a melting cake.
Joe: That is representative of this entire special.
Ryan: Imogene is the ghost of Christmas present, which leads into a song in which various people talk to the camera about Christmas. Henry Fonda appears on the fire escape to talk about Christmas, but he doesn’t seem to know where the camera is, so he just gazes into the distance as he says, “Christmas is still being in my bathrobe at 11:00 in the morning sitting in my easy chair.” But he’s not wearing a bathrobe! He’s wearing a coat over a suit!
Joe: He’s also rambling on about inserting tab A into slot B and needing a 3/4″ wingnut, because it just isn’t Christmas without an incoherent old man mumbling some nonsense words.
Ryan: You know, I always wondered what was behind the door at the top of that fire escape. Now I know: It’s Henry Fonda’s hermit cave!
Joe: Filled with 3/4″ wingnuts! Everyone in this song is singing about what Christmas means to them, and they’re all petty things about getting presents.
Ryan: What is Christmas to you, Joe?
Joe: Christmas to me is opening presents and hating everyone who didn’t buy me stuff. I wrote that as a joke, but it actually does sound like something that would be in this song.
Ryan: Imogene offers Oscar a fish, but he doesn’t want it because he hates fish. But ten minutes ago he was talking about eating mackerels!
Joe: All Oscar talks about is eating fish! He’s a Scrooge and a liar!
Ryan: The original title of this show was A Special Sesame Street Fishmas.
Joe: Sounds more like a Hanukkah special to me. Oh boy, here comes the best line in the entire special!
Ryan: Oscar is still staunchly anti-yule, and everyone is despondent. Ethel Merman wanders in, obviously lost, and sees Coca: “Imogene, what’s the matter? You look like an idiot.”
Joe: She really does.
Ryan: Ethel Merman knows the perfect way to lift everyone’s spirits: She belts out “Tomorrow.”
Joe: Ethel Merman, looking very much like Cesar Romero’s Joker, gets to sing whatever she damn well pleases. At whatever volume she pleases.
Ryan: TAMAR-RAOWW! TAMAR-RAOWW! My favorite part is when she forgets the words, but the music keeps going so she just smiles until she catches up.
Joe: “One-Take Merman” is what they call her.
Ryan: How long do you think Ethel was on the set? Ten minutes?
Joe: I don’t think she was even on the call sheet. Ethel just wanders into buildings and sings Broadway standards.
Ryan: The actors have not been given any direction on what they should do while Ethel bellows this song. Maria in particular just stands there grinning awkwardly.
Joe: That’s exactly what I was doing here on the couch.
Ryan: Everyone feels great! Fade out, and Ethel Merman heads out to sing “Maybe This Time” in the Banana Splits Christmas special. Hey, who’s this kid in the next scene?
Joe: I think it’s that Jackson boy. Tito’s brother.
Ryan: Well gosh, it’s Michael Jackson! Before Bad, before Thriller, and way before his appearance in the modern cinematic masterpiece Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls.
Joe: He’s reading a book called Everything You Wanted to Know About Ghosts, But Were Afraid to Ask. I have a feeling he thought it was a different, similarly titled book.
Ryan: This scene is obviously what inspired his 1996 long-form music video Ghosts. Oscar rudely asks Michael if he can have the book, and Michael gives it to him. But it’s unclear whether he’s in on Leslie’s conspiracy, or if he just happened to be walking on Sesame Street with a book about ghosts.
Joe: I like the logic of why people see ghosts, according to the book. It’s because your mind isn’t busy enough. So why not try cleaning or picking up a hobby or something? It’s as if it was written by a mom as a trick to get her kids to do their chores.
Ryan: It’s a well-known fact that ghosts hate stamp-collecting. They’re jealous because they can’t lick the stamps.
Joe: And as quick as he appeared, Michael disappears back into the loving arms of Bubbles the Chimp (off screen).
Ryan: Without even singing! Mr. Hooper sings in this special, but the world-famous pop star doesn’t. And then it’s time for our next special ghost star. It’s the Ghost of Christmas Future, played by Dick Smothers. Say, where’s David’s mustache comb now?
Joe: Does this mean there’s no Tommy Smothers in the future??? That makes me sad. The Ghost of Christmas Future says, “When was the last time you saw an outfit like this, huh?” and Oscar says, “The last time I flew over Cleveland?” As a native Clevelander, I am going to put it to rest for everyone wondering if this is actually a joke. No, it is not. It makes no sense in the least.
Ryan: But Joe, you dress like this all the time.
Joe: Only when you can see me from an airplane…? What…?
Joe: So, in Christmas Future, Oscar is such a jerk, he drives everyone away from Sesame Street. Including the cat, which we’re gonna go ahead and assume they mean that it’s dead.
Ryan: That cat was on its last legs anyway. But there’s hope: Dick tells Oscar that if just one person believes in him… deep enough, and long enough… and song-cue enough…
Joe: And here’s Leslie, right on song-cue, to sing her favorite tune from Snoopy the Musical.
Ryan: Soon she’s joined by Giant Bob in the foreground.
Joe: Large Bob is large! And David believes in making it a threesome, which is still a strange lyric.
Ryan: Yeah, I can only assume that word was more innocent when the song was written. On the other hand, it’s from the 1970s, when nothing was innocent. But if three whole people, why not four? Like Maria! And more! And more! Except there’s nobody else there. Even Mr. Hooper went home to watch the Lawrence Welk Christmas show.
Joe: This is the saddest intervention I’ve ever seen.
Ryan: And the most underwhelming crane shot.
Joe: Zooming back to reveal all of four people.
Ryan: Suddenly Oscar is like, “Hey, let’s take care of that cat!” and Leslie Uggams hands him the cat, which seems kind of dangerous because it’s a living animal and Oscar is actually a puppet. At least she didn’t try to hand it to Bert.
Joe: It’s a terrible, terrible idea, and the only one who seems to know it is the cat.
Ryan: Now it’s time to sing a medley of Christmas songs, with all the random people we saw earlier! Including everyone’s favorite: Mustache Guy!
Joe: He looks like Bob Zmuda’s boring brother.
Ryan: He keeps popping up in this special, and now he gets the privilege of sitting next to Ethel Merman for the closing medley. Who is this guy?
Joe: There’s a weird juxtaposition with the guy behind the weird 1970s mustache holding the cat who wants nothing more than to get away from this horrible TV special. And then Barkley shows up to ruin everyone’s carpet.
Ryan: In the wide shot we see Oscar and Big Bird and Barkley, which means they DID get more than one puppeteer!
Joe: Or Caroll Spinney is JUST THAT GOOD. Ethel Merman and Oscar dueting “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” is the most surreal thing to ever happen on Sesame Street.
Ryan: I think you mean “WAAALKIN’ in a Winter WonderLAaAaAaAaAND.”
Joe: And the credits roll, and we don’t recognize a single name after the main cast. Written by Tom Dunsmuir? Directed by Russ Petranto? Who are these people, and do you think they’re still working at various fast food restaurants and convenience stores to make ends meet?
Ryan: Frank Biondo, the camera operator! I recognize his name, from every Sesame Street thing ever. But yeah, they even spell Barkley’s name wrong. And with that, our magical hour comes to a close. So here’s a question: Is this special actually bad, or is it just really weird?
Joe: Well, Michael Jackson was Bad, but I don’t think that’s what you meant.
Ryan: The special is also Off the Wall.
Joe: It’s pretty terrible, but I laughed my ass off during this entire special. So it’s secretly, though unintentionally, brilliant.
Ryan: Yeah, I probably laughed as much at this as I ever do at Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, which is the obvious comparison, but for different reasons.
Joe: That one is just flat-out brilliant, no debate necessary. A Special Sesame Street Christmas really makes you work for the enjoyment.
Ryan: Also, the characters in this show are pretty selfishly motivated, especially when you compare it to Christmas Eve. In that one, Bert and Ernie sacrifice their favorite possessions for each other, Big Bird freaks out that the residents of 123 Sesame Street won’t get anything from Santa, and Linda teaches a bunch of kids how to sign a song as a gift for Bob.
Joe: What do you think is the overall lesson to be learned about the true meaning of Christmas from this special? Leslie Uggams should wear a bra? Always listen to dead celebrities?
Ryan: In this special? Everyone gets ticked off because Oscar’s being mean to them, so instead of ignoring him and having a good time, they force their values on him.
Joe: So, A Special Sesame Street Christmas is pretty much the Spanish Inquisition.
Ryan: No one expects the Special Sesame Street Christmas!
Ryan: Okay, so we should mention the special features.
Joe: Yes, which are, no joke, the best special features of any DVD ever. Okay, that’s kind of a joke.
Ryan: So, you have your “Merry Missletoes Bonus Tracks,” which are some guys singing Christmas songs while animated snowflakes fall on the screen.
Joe: “Missletoes”?? That’s either a bad pun or a typo.
Ryan: A check of the back cover and a Google search reveal that it is a typo. The Merry Mistletoes are a group that does Christmas songs. Missile-Toe, I believe, was one of the Decepticons from Transformers.
Joe: Speaking of typos, the other bonus feature is “Hoiday [sic] Groove Moves w/ Michael & DJ Oscar.”
Ryan: And what a bonus!
Joe: It’s an obvious attempt at creating new material featuring Michael Jackson, since he appears on the DVD cover but only in the special for about a third of a second.
Ryan: Tiny Tim the cat actually has more lines than Michael Jackson does. So here’s how you make a DVD bonus feature: 1. Take a freeze frame of Michael Jackson and a photo of Oscar the Grouch. 2. Edit Michael Jackson’s few lines of dialogue to make it sound like a song about the joys of imagination. 3. Throw some fuzzy pink confetti animation in the background. 4. EVERYBODY DANCE
Joe: If there is a god, and if he’s reading ToughPigs, I hope he includes this track on every playlist of every club in the world. And seriously, I love love love the fact that this exists. It’s a ridiculous club mix featuring samples from one of the most obscure moments in Sesame Street history. It’s loud and flashy and bootleg and oh so bad. It really is the greatest Christmas gift anyone could have given me.
Ryan: I only wish they had done a companion piece featuring Henry Fonda rapping about the beauty of wingnuts.
Ryan: Anyway, that’s the DVD! Any final thoughts?
Joe: This special has convinced me to hold the Christmas spirit close, and truly celebrate the holiday with good will toward men and a song in my heart. Because if I don’t, my friends will convince some sad celebrities to dress in ridiculous costumes and sing terrible songs at me. Also, g-g-g-g-ghosts are scary!
Ryan: Happy Hoidays, Joe!
Joe: Merry Misseltoe, Ryan!
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by Joe Hennes and Ryan Roe