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Showing posts with the label Comedy

Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas (2016)

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I guess at least one good thing has come out of HBO's partnership with Sesame Street: we got a new Christmas special! It's not as charming and perfect as Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, but what is? It does have a lot of heart and humor.

After a warm opening number about the lights of the season (with brief glimpses of Muppet families celebrating various holidays), we get to the plot pretty quickly. Elmo wants to know why we leave cookies for Santa, so his dad tells him a story.

Apparently, back in an unspecified old-timey time, Sesame Street was an unfriendly place to live. This means we get a ton of gorgeous costume design on 19th-century versions of many of the characters.



Elmo's ancestor moves to Sesame Street just before Christmas and is surprised by how rude everyone is - so mean that Santa never visits. He makes a "friend" by declaring that a girl who stole his ball can keep it as a gift, and that act of selfless kindness starts a chain reaction. A magica…

Robbie the Reindeer: Legend of the Lost Tribe (2002)

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The 2002 sequel to Hooves of Fire is, at least in my opinion, an improvement over the original. The story is no longer tethered to that of an 80's sports movie, and the new elements feel much more inspired and original.

The story this time centers around a "lost tribe" of Vikings, who are essentially dwarves in this world. In a backstory relayed by Old Jingle, we learn the last of their kind were supposedly killed off in a civil war waged when all the Vikings got bored.

Robbie's the only one who's seen any of the Vikings, and no one really believes him. They're more concerned with their failing resort, anyway. Why are reindeer running a tourist resort? Because Santa gives the toys away, so he's got nothing to pay them, obviously.

Meanwhile, Blitzen, who's been in prison since the end of Hooves of Fire, is released and returns to the lodge. Initially, the others throw him out, but he convinces them to let him stay when he promises he can turn the busi…

"Home" for the Holidays (Dreamworks 2017)

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This straight-to-Netflix special spins off of the show Home: Adventures with Tip and Oh, itself a spin-off of the movie Home. It's not awful, but neither is it heartwarming or coherent.

The premise is that Tip (who I remember speaking like a girl and not a stylized stereotype in the movie) realizes that this will be Oh's (her alien friend) first Christmas to celebrate. (I guess last Christmas was the invasion?) So she gets excited telling him about all the fun things to do and see.

There are a LOT of songs in this special. Erin liked more of them than I did, although I admit that the wackiness is strong and fun in some of them.

Unfortunately, everything between the songs is thin pretext to get us to the next song. I'll talk about this more in a moment.

Tip takes Oh into town to see the decorations. On the way, they're sidetracked by a bunch of boys who are apparently recurring antagonists. But now they're filming a "celebrity holiday special" in an attem…

Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire (1999)

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Hooves of Fire is a BBC claymation special about the son of Rudolph joining Santa's team. Rudolph's name is never explicitly spoken due to copyright issues, but there's no ambiguity about Robbie's heritage. The same can be said about Aardman animation - their name isn't on this, but their style permeates the special. Also, this was directed by Richard Starzak, who'd later go on to create Shaun the Sheep.

Overall, I enjoyed this, thanks to some clever jokes and fun designs. That said, the concept was a bit one-note, there were some unfortunate character directions, and the tone needed work. In short, it was good but not amazing.
The special starts with Robbie arriving at the lodge where Santa's reindeer live and train. Instead of glowing, Robbie's nose functions as a sort of navigator. Also, he later learns to bounce off it, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The nose is basically all Robbie has going for him - he's lazy, out of shape, and self-ob…

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure (2003)

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Calling this made-for-TV movie "bad" doesn't really address the magnitude of just how awful it actually is. To even begin to do so, I'll try something a bit counter-intuitive: I'm going to compliment the filmmakers. Perhaps "compliment" is too strong a word - I'm going to acknowledge a possible explanation for the movie that's ultimately generous.

Having just watched through Vacation 2, I am honestly unable to dismiss the following possibility: the movie was intentionally made as bad as possible either as an attempt to mock the audience, screw over the studio, or both.
This is, of course, not the only possibility. Indeed, Occam's Razor would slice through this theory and leave us with a simpler one: that the filmmakers responsible for this mess are so bad at their jobs, they were unable to produce anything better. Those of you who haven't seen this movie are doubtlessly drawn to that explanation. But you don't yet understand just ho…

Blossom: It's a Marginal Life (1991)

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Blossom is one of those shows I remember watching, but I don't actually remember specifics about. It was about a girl, who wore big hats, and her friend? Watching this episode only convinced me that I'm probably better off forgetting it.

It's an incredibly generic-feeling sitcom, featuring the broadest acting imaginable. You're on film, you don't need to play to the cheap seats.

The titular character lives with her father and two brothers, all of whom spend this episode bumbling around to an impressive degree. There's an early subplot about Blossom being a terrible student driver. Her grandfather takes her driving, only for them to just barely luck out of a ticket for driving 7 miles per hour on a main road. The punchline is that her grandfather is a terrible driver too (no one knows how he got to their house, he doesn't seem to live there) and they're all in danger/recklessly endangering others. Laugh track, fade to commercial.

The more holiday-ish pl…

Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (2011)

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There's something I find especially frustrating about specials like this. The production values are high, the design and animation and voice acting all well done. But the writing is idiotic, so it's still a boring, tedious slog.

Unlike the specials affiliated with the Dreamworks movies Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda, I went into this one never having seen any of the movies in the franchise.

Although I hesitate to admit it, the only things I didn't find dull as a dead tree discarded for trash pickup were some of the Scrat sections (you've seen the prehistoric squirrel obsessed with acorns if you've ever seen a trailer for one of these films). The silent animation was decently paired with Christmas music. Of course, I also hated those sections because a character being beat up constantly through no fault of their own is a form of animated "comedy" that I particularly despise.

The story opens with Manny (the mammoth. Get it?) hauling ou…

Will and Grace: A Gay Olde Christmas (2017)

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Despite being off the air for a decade, Will and Grace was recently resurrected by NBC. Let this be a lesson to you - never assume the monster is dead. Even if you think you saw its body, even if there's no conceivable way it could have escaped alive... always be ready.

The Christmas episode is sort of a dream sequence/flashback to four characters in 1912 played by the cast. There's a brief frame story involving the actual characters and the bathroom of a historical society, but none of that's actually relevant.

The dream sequence is set at Christmas. Karen's alter-ego is a poor Irish immigrant raising a large family in a dilapidated apartment owned by a rich landlord (Will). Jack is a sailor boarding with Karen, and Grace is married to Will.

The plot basically boils down to Will wanting to throw Karen out at Christmas until Jack sleeps with him to change his mind.

That's... that's it. It's stretched out to fill thirty minutes and padded with jokes about I…

Family Matters Christmas Episodes (1990 - 1997)

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I remember this show, of course. I think everyone who grew up in the nineties at least remembers Family Matters.

What I hadn't remembered was that Family Matters is actually part of the Mypiot Cinematic Universe, which is to say it's a spin-off of Perfect Strangers. Harriet Winslow was a series regular on Perfect Strangers before getting her own show, along with her husband, Carl, who'd appeared in a handful of episodes.

And speaking of Carl... he's played by eternal police officer actor, Reginald VelJohnson, who played a similar character in the perennial holiday favorite, Die Hard (assuming they're not, in fact, the same man).

But any discussion about Family Matters is ultimately going to fixate on the series most famous character, Steve Urkel. Arguably television's most famous nerd, Urkel represents the personification of the stereotypical nerdy character years before Big Bang Theory would whitewash the concept and build an entire sitcom out of the idea.

Un…

Full House: Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen (1994)

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Can you sense it? Sitting there, reading this on your computer screen or your smartphone, can you sense the relief embedded in every word I type?

There's no great mystery - it's simply the sense of freedom that comes with the realization that, in all probability, I will never again find myself watching another episode of Full House in my entire life.

Of course, I've said that before. About once a week, since the early 90s, the thought has echoed through my head. Sometimes I've feared otherwise. Woken up in the dead of night in a cold sweat with the thought of an episode hanging over me. Then, after decades, I felt the weight of existential dread as I realized I'd have to watch and write up the Christmas episodes.

But with those out of the way, it should be smooth sailing here on out.

Sorry - I'm getting off track. Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen is a holiday episode from the series's eighth and final season. And, despite the rather ominous introduction written a…

Perfect Strangers: A Christmas Story (1986) and The Gift of the Mypiot (1988)

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Despite not having seen an episode since the early nineties, I actually remember Perfect Strangers fairly well. I recall the main characters' names, their relationships, and even the plots for several episodes. All that's a roundabout way of saying I was a little worried going into this - I have some lingering positive associations with this show from my childhood, and I was more than a little worried they were about to be shattered.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn't the case. Overall, I found both these holiday-themed episodes enjoyable. More significantly, Lindsay - who's never seen an episode before and is thus free of the clutches of nostalgia - agreed.

All that being said, it's worth taking a moment to acknowledge the show's problematic aspect: Balki Bartokomous is an immigrant played by a white American using a heavy, intentionally absurd accent. He hails from the fictitious nation of Mypios, but for all intents and purposes he's Greek. A…

Full House: A Very Tanner Christmas (1992)

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You know what I want? More than anything? I want a cut of this episode where every time they cue up the laugh track, we instead hear sounds of people weeping. Sobbing. Pleading for mercy.

Because I honestly think that would be far more synchronous. It's what we, as the audience, are feeling after all.

This episode was set in season six of the show, and I found it far more trying than the one we watched from season 2 (which was already pretty awful). The central plot seems to revolve around DJ and her high school boyfriend, Steve, who's just been accepted into a crappy college in Florida.

That's all the way across the country, which leaves DJ shaken. He's excited, since it means he actually got into a school, but she's convinced it means he's not serious about their relationship. This escalates when he gives her a sweatshirt bearing the school's name for Christmas. Meanwhile, she spent a fortune on a leather coat he wanted. They have a fight, he accuses her…

Full House: Our Very First Christmas Show (1988)

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This was tough.

Here's the thing - this is bad. Really bad, even. But, if I'm being totally honest, it was slightly less awful than I expected. That doesn't mean I liked it. In fact, I hated it. But I think I understand why the show caught on.

This was, in short, quite a bit better than the episode of the rebooted "Fuller House" we saw earlier.

That's not thanks to the writing. Although this one at least had some structure (Fuller House couldn't even manage that), the jokes were flat, and the emotional beats were hollow. It wasn't the characters, either - there was nothing about them that was in the least bit rounded.

But... and it kills me to even give them this... I think this was well cast. DJ and Stephanie, in particular, were able to hit their marks (again, more than I can say for their counterparts in the new series), and the two actresses were adorable. The adult actors also managed to come off as somewhat charming, despite that the dialogue a…

Saving Santa (2013)

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Saving Santa is a 2013 direct-to-DVD computer animated movie that's something of a paradox. I suppose that's appropriate, since the movie is about "a time-traveling elf," but that's not the kind of paradox I'm referring to - I'm talking about the writing, which is at once utter crap and impressively nuanced.

More on that in a moment. First, the plot.
Bernard D. Elf, astonishingly only the second-worst-named character in this movie, wakes up late for an appointment showing off his new invention to the North Pole's tech company. He races across town and gets them to watch, but in the process momentarily blacks out the elf city's power.
The time the grid's down is just enough for Neville Baddington (and that'd be #1) and his evil package delivery company to determine the cloaked location of Santa's operation. Unaware they're on their way, Bernard heads to his day job, shoveling reindeer dung out of Santa's stables.
No, really.
Wh…

A Christmas Prince (2017)

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A Christmas Prince is Netflix's new tween-friendly movie that proves the internet giant is capable of competing in the crappy made-for-TV realm typically dominated by Hallmark. Personally, I kept hoping a few characters from A Princess for Christmas would show up in cameos, but no dice. Maybe they can make a sequel where their nations go to war or something - I hear shared cinematic universes are all the rage these days.

You should be able to figure out at least sixty percent of the movie from the title, but I'll throw you a bone. The movie opens to a montage of New York just before Christmas. I often find myself wondering if there are film companies that send people out every time it's snowing in Manhattan in December and start filming for the sole purpose of selling that footage to productions looking for generic shots of flakes falling in Rockefeller Plaza. There must be, right?

Amber, the movie's protagonist, dreams of one day making it big, but for the time being…

Cheers: A House Is Not a Home (1987), Christmas Cheers (1988), and Love Me, Love My Car (1992)

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These aren't the first episodes of Cheers we've looked here - five years ago, I reviewed the season one episode, The Spy Who Came in for a Cold One, which hadn't aged well. It took us a while, but we finally got around to what I believe are the series' other Christmas installments, all of which held up better in our opinion.

A House Is Not a Home (1987)
Although this episode was set in the summer, it features a Christmas celebration, so check off another example of Christmas in July (well, technically May, but I'm still counting it as a use of the trope).

This was actually a fairly significant episode, plotwise, coming right before the season finale culminating in Diane's departure. In this one, she buys a house without asking Sam, then spends the first act convincing him it was a good idea.

Just when he's finally on board, they meet the previous owners, an elderly couple who spent their whole lives there. Diane is devastated by the thought they're someh…

Elf: The Broadway Musical

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There are only a handful of movies and specials that we've watched over the years that Erin and I have felt strongly enough about to review separately. Elf is one of those films. I don't like it much; Erin does.

Now I can embrace my dislike of the movie more than I allowed myself to in that article because I have seen what the story can be instead.

It turns out, I like Elf a lot once you remove Will Ferrell, the more juvenile/gross humor, and the poor musical choices.

You know the story more or less, right? Human raised by elves goes to meet his father in New York, misunderstandings ensue, everyone learns the importance of family, love, and to be open to magic and wonder.

In the touring production I saw this year at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, Buddy was played as sheltered but enthusiastic. He wasn't dumb; he wasn't the butt of every joke; he just didn't understand a lot about human society. And he was so dang genuine and kind that he won over everyone aroun…

Malcolm in the Middle: Christmas (2001), Christmas Trees (2003), Hal's Christmas Gift (2004)

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Malcolm in the Middle probably owes its existence to The Simpsons. While the characters and premise aren't the same, there's a notable similarity in the show's energy, humor, and tone. The characters on Malcolm in the Middle feel animated, in a similar way. That's not to say they're shallow - I don't think that's the case for either series - merely that their emotions are exaggerated to the same degree.

This isn't the first live-action show I've seen try and capture this kind of tone. The recipe for success seems to be pretty straightforward - good writing and a commitment to the premise. Shows that try to wink at the audience while building a surreal world usually come off hokey; ones that explore their world and characters honestly have a chance to create something great.

Malcolm in the Middle revolves around a family of four (eventually five) sons, their irresponsible father, and their very angry mother. The series started airing in 2000, when I…