Rerun Junkie–Favorite Christmas Episodes

Bah humbug.

Yes, we’re all very aware that Christmas isn’t my favorite time of the year. Too many years working retail and running the holiday gauntlet have put a permanent crimp in my holiday spirit. And that goes for my reruns, too. I find most Christmas episodes to be too saccharine and overly-sentimental. They run that commercialized holly jolly through the society-approval filter and trim it with some moral lessons and it’s just enough to be nauseating.

However, there are a few episodes that have captured my heart, either because they forego these tropes, skewer them, or dress them in a silver pantsuit that’s absolutely to-die-for.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, The Golden Girls– The women are all planning on spending Christmas with their families. The bemoaning of the commercialization of Christmas leads them to exchanging homemade gifts, including Rose’s whittled maple syrup spigots and Blanche’s “Men of Blanche’s Boudoir” calendar, opened the night before they leave. On Christmas Eve, Blanche and Dorothy show up at the counseling center to pick up Rose, who is working a morning shift, only to be held up by a Santa (Terry Kiser), who demands they all celebrate Christmas together. Thanks to Sophia, they’re able to get out of that jam and to the airport, only to see their flights home cancelled. Later, at a diner, the women realize that they already are spending Christmas with family.

The ending is a bit sweet, what with it snowing in Miami and all, but Rose hitting “Surfin’ Safari” on the jukebox instead of a Christmas song saves it. Though I’ve always found it bizarre that they decorated the house, tree included, even though they wouldn’t be there for Christmas, I’m glad they did. They have some really lovely decorations and the tree is gorgeous. And Blanche’s pantsuit is fabulous.

“The Christmas Show”, The Monkees– The Monkees, in their forever pursuit of the next gig, end up getting hired to mind Melvin (Butch Patrick), a disgruntled forty-year old trapped in a twelve-year old’s body, while his aunt is away on a Christmas cruise. Turns out, Melvin isn’t much for Christmas. When the boys try to get him into the holiday spirit, they end up blowing through all of their money and aggravating Melvin to the point that he goes home. It’s only then that Mike realizes what’s been missing the whole time.

It could be a typical “lesson of Christmas” episode, but it’s The Monkees. They don’t do typical. Instead, they do madcap that involves them chopping down their own tree (while apparently stoned), Peter wrecking a department store while shopping for toys, Micky and Davy dressing as Santa and his elf and going down the chimney, a happy ending, and capping the whole thing off with an a capella version of “Riu Chiu”. It’s zany and sweet and the crew getting their time in front of the camera during the credits is a lovely gesture.

“Dear Sis”, M*A*S*H– In a letter home to his sister, Father Mulcahy expresses his frustration in not feeling very useful. Most everyone in camp has the holiday blues, but it seems that it’s hitting Father Mulcahy the hardest as nothing he does is really helpful. He even ends up decking a combative patient (who hit him first, so he had it coming). It’s only during the Christmas party in the mess tent that Father Mulcahy realizes that he has made something of a good impact, first when Charles thanks him for having his mother send him his old toboggan cap, and then later when Hawkeye singles him out during a toast.

M*A*S*H did several Christmas episodes during its eleven year run, but this one stands out to me for several reasons. One, it centers much of the episode on Father Mulcahy, which didn’t happen very often. Two, instead of singing a traditional Christmas song, Hawkeye leads everyone in singing a lovely version of “Dona Nobis Pacem”. And three, the episode ends with one of my favorite lines from the series. As the party is broken up by incoming casualties, the voiceover reading of Father Mulcahy’s letter to his sister says, “You know, sis, it doesn’t matter whether or not you feel useful when you’re moving from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving.”

“The Christmas Story”, Dragnet– A local church’s baby Jesus has gone missing from its nativity scene and Friday and Gannon are on the case. The statue has little monetary value, but it’s sentimental value can’t be measured and the parishioners would be very sad to go a Christmas without it. Being diligent detectives, Friday and Gannon follow a tip provided by an altar boy (Barry Williams) that leads them to a suspect (Bobby Troup), but he only borrowed a friend’s car and got into a little fender bender; he didn’t take any baby Jesus. Dejected, Joe and Bill go to the church to let the padre know they didn’t find the baby Jesus, but they’d keep looking. Just as they start to leave, a little boy pulling baby Jesus in a wagon comes into the church. It turns out that he’d prayed to baby Jesus for a new wagon and promised Him that if he got it, he’d give Him the first ride.

I’m not one for religion. I tend to cringe and shy away when people ram home the “Christ” in Christmas. But this episode is an exception and it’s all in the handling of the case and the ending. Our detectives are pursuing this matter seriously, as they usually do, but the justice is less nabbing a thief and more doing right for a congregation. The little boy who took the statue was fulfilling a promise, something that is more in tune with the holiday spirit than any of the sappy treacle that often gets splattered on the screen.

“Christmas with the Addam’s Family”, The Addam’s Family– It’s the common holiday problem that all sitcom parents face at one point or another: Santa. Pugsley and Wednesday are told by the Addams’s unkind neighbor that Santa doesn’t exist. The family bands together and elects Uncle Fester to play the role to restore the children’s faith. When he gets stuck in the chimney, each member of the clan takes it upon themselves to prove that there really is a Santa.

This could easily be a mediocre, overly-sweet episode, but this is the Addams family. This delightfully loving family is weird and wonderful and only they could pull off a Santa overload with such sincerity.

“Operation: Silent Night”, Magnum P.I.– While ferrying Magnum, Rick, and Higgins to their various destinations before he catches a flight home to New Orleans, T.C.’s chopper crashes on a deserted island that the Navy uses for target practice. Though Rick is convinced they’re all going to die, everyone else is pretty confident that they’ll get off the island soon enough. T.C. works on the chopper while Higgins forages for food and Rick and Magnum gather firewood for a signal fire. They end up discovering a downed Japanese WWII plane, which Higgins salvages to create a boat, which later sinks. Rick falls in a bog that he thinks is quicksand, which causes him to imagine his own funeral. T.C. despairs over his inability to fix the chopper and as such, he’ll miss his flight home. And Magnum, who was going to play Santa to some orphans, dons the outfit once again and provides the group with a Christmas tree to boost their spirits. All the while, the guys are unaware that off-shore, a Navy commander (Ed Lauter) with no Christmas spirit is about to bombard the island for practice.

What I love about this Christmas episode is how it’s so tangentially related to Christmas. There are obvious Christmas references and elements (Magnum dressed as Santa is hard to ignore), and there’s even a Scrooge in the form of the Navy commander insisting that his crew do drills on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. But the episode isn’t dressed up in garland and lights and bows. There’s no heavy-handed true Christmas spirit bashing us over our heads. It’s four friends coming together in a difficult situation not because of some of magical holiday emotion but because that’s just what they do. There’s also the nod to another December holiday celebration. In addition to Christmas, T.C. also celebrates Kwanzaa, which he educates Higgins (and the audience) about.

Okay, I might have gone on a little long, but don’t for a minute think that’s because I’m having a change of heart about Christmas or Christmas episodes.

Oh no. Does my heart look three sizes bigger to you?

Advertisements

Rerun Junkie–Reboots of Reruns

Reboots of TV shows aren’t new. The New Monkees, The New Adam-12, The New Odd Couple, The New Gidget, The New Perry Mason, which aired while the old Perry Mason, Raymond Burr, was starring in Ironside, which would later be rebooted in 2013. Oh, and there’s reportedly another Perry Mason reboot in the works. From Dragnet to Kojak, Love Boat to Fantasy Island, Dark Shadows to Mission: Impossible, reboots have always been a thing.

I’ve changed my stance on reboots somewhat. As much as I would love for the people in charge to stop dipping into the pop culture well of yesterday and instead invest in fresh ideas written and performed by those not necessarily straight, white, cis, and mostly male, I’m no longer screaming about the originals that are being rebooted as being untouchable and sacrosanct.

Why?

The reboots are not for me.

If the reboots were for me, they’d just put the reruns on. I mean I love shows that went off the air before I was born. But. Why can’t they be redone, updated, and polished for a new audience? It worked for Battlestar Galactica. The original ran only one season, written off as a hokey Star Wars rip-off, though it was followed by the single-season sequel Galactica 1980. The reboot ran four season, garnered quite a bit of attention and acclaim, and created quite an enthusiastic fanbase. I never got into it as I prefer my Cylons shiny and the bad guy to have a purple light bulb for a head and wear a disco cloak, but even I know that we were all blessed having Richard Hatch back on our TVs on a somewhat regular basis.

I cried foul when it was announced that Hawaii Five-O was being rebooted. But it’s in its ninth season now. The only episodes of it I’ve watched pertain directly to the original (the remake of “Hookman”, Ed Asner’s character from “Wooden Model of a Rat” coming back, their take on “Cocoon” for the season 9 opener) and while I appreciated those episodes and the fact that show goes out of its way to pay such homage and respect to the original, I’ve never felt compelled to watch it on the reg. It’s not for me. But other people enjoy it plenty.

To me, it’s actually a good example of a reboot. The love for the original is plainly visible. The important elements are intact. The stories and cast have been updated, the characters tweaked, but at their core, they’re very familiar.

The reboot of Magnum PI appears to be going in this direction, which makes sense since the guy who developed it also developed the Hawaii Five-0 and MacGyver reboots. I watched the first few episodes, and I think the respect is very much there. No, Magnum doesn’t have a mustache (though there was a mustache reference in the second episode), but he’s still a handsome and charming war vet turned private investigator and all-around do-gooder and at his core, that’s who Magnum is. There is an unfortunate lack of short-shorts, though. We’re being denied man thighs.

But that’s a personal complaint.

Also greater than the mustache is that this Magnum is Latino. That’s one nice aspect that reboots can provide. Diversity. Yes, there’s always squawking when a male character is recast as a woman (Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica, Kono on Hawaii Five-0, Higgins on Magnum PI), which tells more about the squawkers than it does about the shows. But let’s be real, kids. Television, particularly action and sci-fi shows, are largely sausage fests. There’s nothing wrong with women cast as known characters provided that the characters reflect the change.

Getting non-white actors in those classic roles, too, opens up a world of storytelling provided the change is reflected. There are now new dimensions added because the characters aren’t working what’s considered the default. The reboot of One Day at a Time features a Cuban-American family. Back in the ’80s, The New Odd Couple (not to be confused with the 2015 reboot of The Odd Couple) featured a Black duo played by Ron Glass and Demond Wilson. Reboots also offer the opportunity to create new characters that could be played by non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-cis actors.

Reboots aren’t going away. So long as they can be viewed as a pop culture lure to draw in old fans while creating new, something with a vague scent of money to it, they’re going to keep getting the green light. And some of them are going to be positively horrid bombs that spit all over their source material and they should be rightfully shunned.

But others won’t be. Others will end up being pretty okay. And if we can’t enjoy them, then we should leave them to those that do because we still have the originals.

And if they ever need a consultant, I’m available.