Posts

Showing posts with the label Variety

The Red Green Show Christmas Episodes (1998, 2000, 2002)

Image
I’ve been trying to think how to describe this show to someone who’s never seen it. I suppose it’s a sketch comedy, in that each episode consists of a series of short skits, each generally with a punch-line or six. But it’s closer to a hybrid with a sitcom than any other sketch comedy I know of. There are consistent characters, plots carry from one bit to the next, and there’s even sometimes a hint of pathos, or at least you can become sympathetic towards the characters.

The characters in question are the men of Possum Lodge, both the name for the building and the club. It’s also a show-within-a-show, in that the characters are mostly aware they are being filmed, for the “show” they produce locally, the segments (many repeated in each show) are named on screen, and they directly address the camera. The repetitive structure is also reminiscent of many children's shows. The repeated skits are things like a guess-the-word game, or ‘Handyman’s Corner’, wherein Red builds something lu…

The Liberace Show: The Christmas Show (1954)

Image
Background information on this episode is hard to come by. Wikipedia has some notes on the series on the article about Liberace, but the show doesn't even have its own page. IMDB fares a little better, though not much. We're not actually sure if the year for this is correct - IMDB has it for 1953, but the stamp at the end of the version we saw said '54.

It's not difficult to understand why: very little of what we saw qualifies as memorable. Mostly, it was just Liberace playing the piano. Sometimes he was joined by other musicians. He didn't choose particularly interesting pieces, either, though some of the medleys were fun. But I definitely could have lived without listening to his generic rendition of "White Christmas." Come on - that was already cliche in 1954.

The episode played like a stage show, interspersed with the occasional camera trick. But most of the "effects" were theatrical in nature. The background would light up to display a fak…

The Colgate Comedy Hour: The Abbott and Costello Christmas Show (1952)

Image
Depending on whether you believe the DVD cover or the episode, this is either called "The Abbott and Costello Christmas Special" or "The Colgate Comedy Hour." Personally, I think Colgate should have ponied up the cash to endorse the DVD release, so the titles matched.

In fact, while we're on the subject, I think it's time we brought back giving TV shows directly over to corporate sponsors and letting them fill an hour every week with whatever they think will get the most viewers. Think about it: Google could dump some serious cash into an hour long drama.

Regardless of what you call this, it was an hour-long comedy variety show. There were dancers, acrobats, and comedy. The dancing and acrobatics aged a bit better than the comedy, though that's almost a compliment. Time turns good routines into old ones, after all.

Abbott and Costello were clearly talented, and they did an impressive job selling some bizarre holiday-inspired scenarios. They played heav…

Saturday Night Live Christmas Past (1999)

Image
The name on this thing is somewhat ambiguous - the DVD is simply labeled "Saturday Night Live Christmas", but the special includes the word "Past." I'm going with that, because it's a more interesting name.

I'm pretty sure I saw this compilation when it aired in 1999 (the selection of shorts was really familiar). It's a mix of old stuff, along with stuff that was new when it aired, but is now just slightly less old. In total, there are 18 skits on this DVD, which comes out to around an hour-fifteen. They didn't bother including any extras, which is a little baffling.

The skits aren't all great, but with twenty-four seasons of holiday shows to pick and choose from, they were certainly able to find some entertaining bits. Like most SNL compilations, this makes the show look a hell of a lot better than it's ever actually been.

There are a handful of high points, including "The Lost Ending of It's a Wonderful Life," where SNL …

Lady Gaga & The Muppets' Holiday Spectacular (2013)

Image
Let's take a moment to ponder, in all its complexity and multitude of facets, the phrase, "missed opportunity."

I'm not a fan of Lady Gaga, but I respect her for what she is. I just don't really think she's a singer. It's not that she can't sing - she can. It's just that there's nothing special about her singing, and less than nothing special about her songs. Her music is generic, and her lyrics are gibberish. But that's okay, because - like I said - she's not a singer.

She's a performance artist. And a damn good one, if her popularity is any indicator.

Hell, she's practically a Muppet herself. She should be juggling porcupines with Gonzo - she'd be awesome at that. Why didn't she hang out with Animal or hire the Swedish Chef as a costumer? Her interactions with Miss Piggy should have been legendary, not trivial.

Like I said: missed opportunity. Instead, we got an hour of her singing songs off her new album, broken up …

The Frank Sinatra Show: Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank (1957)

Image
This episode of "The Frank Sinatra Show" was included as an extra on a DVD set of Bing Crosby Christmas specials. I went to Wikipedia to determine what "The Frank Sinatra Show" was, and learned there's no clear answer to that question. It sounds like it was basically a thirty minute segment where ABC gave Sinatra free reign to do whatever the hell he wanted to. Apparently, what he wanted to do this week was hang out with Bing Crosby and sing Christmas songs.

There's some quipping between songs, but no real story. They exchange gifts - each gives the other a Christmas album they recorded - and then go caroling in a grey sound stage that's supposed to be an English street... I think. That section was pretty odd.
The outside set was blatantly fake: elements were less developed than you'd want to put in a live stage performance. I suspect it would have been less conspicuous in black and white - this episode was filmed in color, though I can't imagi…

Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas (1977)

Image
From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

The last, and possibly the most famous, of Crosby’s Christmas specials. Between the time that it was filmed and the time that it aired, he passed away.

It takes some inspiration from that first 1961 special: Crosby and family are invited to England by a distant relative for the holidays, and it’s mostly an excuse to have a group of British stars pop in and out. One of them plays 3 or 4 different characters, half of them in drag. That’s… slightly odd. I’m guessing there’s a reference that we’re missing.

This special is filmed on an actual set, which is a nice change, although it feels sort of like it should have a laugh track. The fact that it doesn’t actually adds an odd poignancy, because it’s unclear whether some things are intended to be funny. Crosby seems markedly older, but also more invested in his songs and scene partners.

Early on you get the scene that you’re watching the special for, if you’re w…

Bing Crosby and the Sounds of Christmas (1971)

Image
From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

The third Bing Crosby special we watched, and it’s a doozy. At least I guess this one had a coherent theme.

This time around, Crosby is joined by his second wife and kids. I’m glad the trend of show business families performing together has gone mostly out of style. It just feels so forced. Just cast some dang kids! Also appearing are Mary Costa and Robert Goulet.

Everyone’s on deck for a boring opening number, in some of the ugliest costumes yet. The lighting design and set work are pretty decent though. There’s an interesting tension here between the idea of “live” television and scripted. Obviously this is all pre-recorded and a lot of it is lip-synced, but certain cuts and set moves are purposely intended to mask the fact that you’re not watching live.

Robert Goulet sings a boring, but booming, “Do You Hear…”, and then he and Crosby do an extremely odd extended song/sequence based loosely on an O’Henry …

The Bing Crosby Show for Clairol (1962)

Image
From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

I laughed aloud very early on in this one, but it wasn’t at a joke. It was the announcer talking about the sponsor, Clairol: “The natural look, so appealing in a woman.” Different times.

This special, unlike the first, is in color. The DVD we had gives it a slightly fuzzy quality, but it’s definitely in color. I’m not sure anyone told the set designer, though. Most of the special takes place in a featureless gray void which is rather depressing.

There’s two credited co-stars for this special: Mary Martin and AndrĂ© Previn. Ms. Martin switches back and forth between charming and tedious, but Previn, a pianist and composer, is fairly amazing. Too bad he doesn’t get to do more here.

We open with a long, illogical sequence full of dancers in decent costumes doing mediocre choreography in front of that ugly gray void. Bing has a number I can’t recall, and then Mary Martin sings for far too long about nothing. Rea…

The Bing Crosby Show (1961)

Image
From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

This is a very very weird TV special. A lot of it is just impenetrable references and stylistic choices that made sense in the context of the day… maybe. It’s in black-and-white, and the definition on the DVD we watched was really sharp. Almost too sharp, it often emphasized the weaknesses in the writing to be seeing the actors so clearly. It opens with a rousing song about judgement day, and then proceeds to ignore the fact that it’s supposed to be set at Christmas for the next hour.

It’s mostly about Crosby wandering around England in search of distant relatives, making thin excuses for cameos by British singers and actors. He looks sort of dazed or drunk, often glancing off-camera as if for a cue card. However, I think this is generally just part of his shtick.

We start up the main sequence with a long sequence in a tea shop, with a selection of songs and lazy choreography. Some of the jokes are almost c…

Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

Image
This is a collection of four of Bing Crosby's Christmas specials. I'm not going to go into detail about the individual content of each episode here - we'll do that in separate reviews. Instead, I wanted to talk a little about the experience of watching this as a whole.

I'd expected the experience to be tedious, which I suppose it was at times. Not what I want to discuss right now, though. It was also occasionally funny, interesting bizarre....
Not the subject, either.
What I want to talk about is a narrative that you can't help but notice watching this thing. The specials on this collection were from 1961 to 1977; that means he was nearing 60 when the first of these aired. His days as a major movie star were behind him, and his fans were aging. I'm sure a lot of the guests in his first special were famous at the time, but damned if I've heard of many.
Crosby almost always has a sort of laid-back style to his acting and singing, as if he knows it doesn'…

Phineas and Ferb's Family Christmas Special (2011)

Image
Phineas and Ferb's second Christmas special was quite a bit smaller and less ambitious than their first. I also liked it quite a bit more.

This is essentially a half-episode, which is a format the series is used to: most Phineas and Ferb episodes are broken into two unconnected 11 minute shorts. This differs from the norm in that it's a standalone: there's no "second short" following it. My guess is it was produced to be aired along with the much longer special from the prior year (with commercials, they should fill out an hour together).

The plot to this episode is intentionally thin: the boys are putting on an old fashioned Christmas TV special in the middle of summer. While this ostensibly uses the show's normal formula, it doesn't really commit to it. The sequences with Perry and Doofenshmirtz are far shorter, and Candace's attempt to bust Phineas and Ferb is tacked on. I don't think this is a problem: in fact, it demonstrates the writers'…

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All (2008)

Image
This had a fairly simple premise which seems like it should have worked better than it did. It's basically a parody of a traditional holiday special, featuring a string of guest stars and songs. You can feel Colbert's genuine love of the format shining through his cynical exterior, but that's a part of the problem here.

Part of me wonders if this would have worked better if it were hosted by the "real" Colbert instead of his TV personality. Don't get me wrong: I love The Colbert Report, but that character only makes sense in that world. Removed from politics, the character feels flimsy, and the jokes lose some of their edge.

It's still funny, of course, but it's nowhere near as strong as most episodes.

The music is all original, mostly parodies of Christmas songs. It's pretty good, but nothing that makes me want to track down the MP3's. There are some great jokes, as you'd expect, but it ultimately adds up to good, not great. This special…

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)

Image
I suppose even the Muppets can have an less-than-stellar special. This is far from terrible, but not actually all that good either. Really, the big problem is there aren't enough Muppets.
Whenever the Muppets are on screen, the energy picks up, the jokes are actually funny, and the acting improves. When the camera is focused on John Denver and legions of bland back-up dancers, it's dull as dirt. Now I generally like John Denver, or at least don't dislike him. But here he's incapable of acting like a human being, and he looks sort of like a robot. Plus he keeps adding boring religious stuff in between scenes of Muppets being sweet.
Also this isn't particularly well directed or well shot. Or even well structured: this special flirts with the idea of having a plot, but ultimately abandons it for ill-thought out musical numbers.
It's not all bad: Rowlf and Kermit both get in pretty songs, the opening Twelve Days of Christmas is classic, and Miss Piggy gets in some…

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Image
Is this really as bad as you've heard?  Yeah.  It might be worse.

If you haven't had the pleasure, this is a variety show featuring a surprising number of cast members from the movie.  Most of the established characters get a scene or two, although Chewbacca has a larger role.  It's his family celebrating "Life Day," after all, and he's trying to get past an imperial blockade to get home in time.

Of course the real stars are Chewbacca's family, who are given extended scenes in which they go about their lives, talking and arguing without translation.  When they bother to call humans, we find out - again and again - that they're worried Chewie won't make it back.

Around this riveting frame story, we get a number of short "comedic" bits, as well as some "musical" numbers (yes, those quotation marks are called for).  A few of the musical acts aren't awful - Jefferson Starship's number is fine.  The there's the Diahann…

More About "A Muppet Family Christmas" (1987)

Image
I find it baffling that this isn't better known.  Everyone seems to remember The Christmas Toy, Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, and John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, but most seem to have blocked this one out.

It's a shame, too, because this is phenomenal.  Incorporating characters from at least three Muppet productions (debatably more - the Muppet Babies get a nod at one point), this thing is made for longtime fans.  It's just buried in decades of references and continuity.

It's a massive crossover event, sort of a Secret Wars for the Muppet-verse.  Seeing the Sesame Street characters engage in small talk with Doc from Fraggle Rock is awesome, as is seeing Rowlf have a discussion with Sprocket.  When characters come together to sing a medley, the amount of thought that went into determining who gets what verse is kind of astonishing.

My favorite scene comes when the Swedish Chef gets a look at Big Bird and realizes there's a potential for t…

A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)

Image
Remember how in my review of The Muppet Christmas Carol, I said it wasn't my favorite Muppet holiday thing? This is my favorite Muppet holiday thing. In this rarely seen television special, the Muppet gang is headed to Fozzie's mother's house for Christmas.  Much singing is done.  I watch this entire hour with a big silly grin.

(FYI: Because of rights issues, in the United States three full songs and two partial songs have been cut from all video releases.  Don't believe anyone who tells you this doesn't impact the quality of the special; there are plot points in those songs!  I found a full copy on YouTube. )

The special plays out like a fantastic extra-long episode of The Muppet Show: loosely connected vignettes and songs, and only one human to be seen.  There are ten full songs, plus a medley of eleven more.  There's no new music for this special: it's all classic holiday songs, except Pass It On from Fraggle Rock, and Together at Christmas from The Ch…