Showing posts from November 26, 2017

Boy Meets World Christmas Episodes (1993 - 1998)

After watching a handful of episodes of Boy Meets World, I'm a little confused how the series lasted as long as it did (seven seasons) and why anyone remembers it at all. It's more unremarkable than awful.

The series mainly seemed to revolve around five characters. The title references Corey, played by Ben Savage (Fred's little brother), who feels like a poor man's Shia LaBeouf. His best friend, Shawn, fills in as the requisite "bad boy with a heart of gold", and Topanga serves as Corey's childhood friend/eventual love interest (hell, they get married in the last season). Corey's brother, Eric, is mostly interesting because he's played by Will Friedle, who voiced Terry McGinnis on Batman Beyond (we got far more laughs spotting accidentally ambiguous Batman lines from him than anything intentionally scripted). Finally, there's Mr. Feeny, their mentor who inexplicably winds up teaching at every school and/or college they attend.

The show's n…

Music Review: It's a Pony Kind of Christmas (CD 2016)

It's time for some new installments in my periodic series on Novelty Character Albums! (Oh gosh, I last did these back in year two?)

You can cleanly break this album into two halves, and, in fact, the first half was initially released alone. Part one is mostly versions of traditional Christmas music, and part two is music from the 2016 holiday episode. There's one track that straddles the divide, but we'll get there.

Let's remember one thing up front: ponies do not celebrate Christmas. They celebrate Hearth's Warming. (In fact, the composer clarified this point on his Facebook page.) So it's a little odd to listen to pony voice actresses singing about Christmas.

However, these are some of the sweetest, most fun Christmas songs I've heard in a while, so I'll easily let that go. Many of them are unique or special rewrites of classic Christmas tunes. They aren't written to be Hearth's Warming songs, but they are otherwise completely tweaked to fit…

Wembley Holiday Photo Props

If Christmas were a whale, I think Wembley would be a lamprey, or perhaps some sort of mutant leach. To be fair, they're hardly alone - there are thousands of parasitic companies feeding off our culturally mandated need for material gifts. Wembley isn't even the worse of the bunch. They just happened to make and market this product.

We came across this in a Fred Meyer, incidentally. At least I think it was a Fred Meyer - every year I swear I'm going to do a better job keeping records on where we find clearanced holiday garbage, then every year I fail. That stops now: I hereby resolve to quit vowing to do a better job.

Problem solved. Well, one of the problems. I'm still left with this thing to review.

I think "thing" is the best classification I can give it. This isn't really a toy, and its supposed intent is dubious. It's really another in a long line of low-end joke gifts.

As a cottage industry, gag gifts are of questionable value at their best, an…

Almost Christmas (2016)

As far as sub-genres go, "dysfunctional family at Christmas" may have one of the lowest hit rates out there. Most of the ones that work do so by incorporating alternative genre elements to make the concept fresh: The Lion in Winter, Arthur Christmas, and Fred Claus all spring to mind. Those are technically great Christmas movies about a dysfunctional family over the holidays, but the dysfunctional family isn't the part of the synopsis most people would focus on.

Almost Christmas, on the other hand, embodies the more traditional trappings of the sub-genre through and through. If you were to sit down and make a list of tropes you'd expect to find, you'd wind up checking most of them off. There are the siblings who despise each other, the family member with a drug problem, food getting destroyed, a decoration mishap, a wedged in love story... you get the idea.

The substance of this movie certainly isn't original. However, there is one fairly original element: i…

Book Review: Murder, She Wrote: Manhattans and Murder (1994) and Murder, She Wrote: A Little Yuletide Murder (1998)

Murder, She Wrote: Manhattans and Murder (1994) and Murder, She Wrote: A Little Yuletide Murder (1998)

By Donald Bain

The Christmas episode of the show was fairly lackluster, so I suppose it's fair that the novels match. These two brief books are part of a long-running spin-off series that apparently someone will continue to write until society crumbles. (Seriously, Book 47 is available for preorder.)

The two books have a few things in common. The author can write passable lines of dialogue and narration, but there's no build from scene to scene and the story as a whole is utterly forgettable.

Both books seem determined to raise but refuse to sensitively address social issues (drug addiction and teenage pregnancy, respectively).

Most bizarrely, both books feature a minor subplot about someone asking Jessica to write a true-crime novel about the events going on. Unless this was a running gag in all the books, it seems strange not to reference the first event, given the other sup…

Toy Review: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Santa Clark

First of all, let's get this out of the way: I'm not exactly this movie's #1 fan. That being said, it's become one of the most iconic Christmas comedies of all time, so as both a Christmas geek and a toy collector, I became interested when NECA announced this as a follow-up to their Home Alonefigures from last year.

Still, I had no interest in spending $30 on something I only kind of wanted for the occasional display or holiday toy picture. But while $30 was pushing it, I was willing to drop $15 when FYE unloaded these after the holidays.

To recap from the Home Alone toys, these are in an 8-inch scale and feature removable fabric clothing. Stylistically, they're meant to be reminiscent of Mego action figures from the 70's with realistic modern sculpts.

Or at least the Home Alone figures were. Clark features a more cartoonish looking head, which I found a bit disappointing compared to the earlier figures I picked up from this company. To be fair, the Weird Al f…

We Bare Bears: Christmas Parties (2016)

The past seven years have seen a renaissance in TV animation, largely thanks to the success of Adventure Time and its peers. Nostalgia for 60s, 70s, and 80s science-fiction and fantasy lies at the core of most of this wave. We Bare Bears differs in that respect. It's far closer to Yogi Bear, Winnie the Pooh, and perhaps even the Berenstain Bears. Sometimes, it even reminds me of old edutainment shows; as though the characters are about to teach us about geography or math.

They don't, incidentally. When the show does communicate a point, it's usually about subtle cases of systemic racism, the difficulty of interacting with a society that views you as an outsider, or - in at least one case - the toxic nature of male entitlement in perceived romantic situations.

If all of that sounds a little heavy, rest assured the show mixes in three or four parts comedy to one part moral. Throw in some surprisingly affecting drama, and you wind up with something that feels like a kid'…

Sid the Science Kid: Sid's Holiday Adventure (2009)

Sid the Science Kid is an animated show for preschoolers, so there are specific questions you might need to ask before judging it.

Question 1: Is it at all interesting for adults without kids?

I enjoy a lot of children's television, but this is not a show that holds any value for adults who don't deal with children, except on a technical artistry level. The show is produced by the Jim Henson Company, and the animation is actually generated in real time from motion capture and digital "puppeteering."

This allows them to film fast and give the characters a lot of physicality. On the other hand, it doesn't always translate to fine control. for example, I noticed one secondary character manipulating a prop in a particularly clunky way.

Question 2: Is it interesting for the target group?

I haven't polled anyone, but it's won some awards. I was rather struck with how real the kid characters' dialogue seems: the kids respond too literally or somewhat vague…

Chewy Snowday Gingerbread Spice Granola Bars

I suppose you could argue that these are winter-themed more than Christmas, but I'm not sure what else you associate gingerbread with.

The bar itself, despite being rather sticky, did not have as much visible icing as the box cover might lead you to believe.

The taste is somewhat gingerbread-ish, with a strong sense of synthetic spices. I suppose it's reminiscent of gingerbread, if gingerbread were liquefied and used along with corn syrup to glue together a bunch of oats and rice crisp-ish things.

I generally like this brand of granola bars, but there's something about this that doesn't really work for me. Too much "natural flavor," not enough actual flavor. At least the package is very sparkly and has some dumb jokes on it.

MacGyver: The Madonna (1989)

MacGyver has achieved a sort of immortality, though it's fairly limited in scope. The show revolves around the title character's skill for whipping up solutions to his problems using scientific know-how and odd combinations of everyday objects. His name has become synonymous with this trait.

As far as I can tell, that's all the who is remembered for. If this episode's any indication, that's probably for the best.
To be fair, this almost certainly isn't a typical episode of the series, which sounds like it changed quite a bit from season to season. This one's from the latter half of the show, after budgets were cut. And even then, it's less bad than ridiculous.
If you've seen other action shows from this era, you've got an idea what you're in for. The show is ostensibly serious, but it's family-friendly to the point of absurdity. Moralizing and inoffensive social commentary permeated the episode from beginning to end, all without saying …

Fresh Off the Boat: The Real Santa and Where Are the Giggles?

Here's what I knew about this show going into the first Christmas episode: It's a sitcom about a Taiwanese family in America, and it's based loosely on an autobiography. I had read this piece about the author's...let's say complicated... feelings about Hollywood back when it came out.

Here's what I know now: It's about a family with three young sons, the dad owns a restaurant, they're friends with their neighbors, and on a certain level it's nice to see that today a sitcom that doesn't star white people no longer has to be exceptional to succeed.

Apparently the first season of this show was more Wonder Years-esque and focused on Eddie (the young version of the chef whose autobiography I mentioned above), but there wasn't a Christmas episode in that season. Both these episodes are more about the youngest brother, Evan, and his relationship with his mom, Jessica.

The Real Santa (2015)

There was a lot of decent humor in this episode. I loved Je…

Toy Review: Yubi's Figurines

Before I delve into today's review, I want to set the stage, because I feel it's especially important to understand where these came from.

What you're looking at is the entirety of Target's Christmas section on January 3, 2017. Just out of frame were the roving bands of scavengers searching the wasteland for bottled water.

Among a handful of superhero ornaments missing limbs, fabric decorations, and bows no one wanted, I came across these three items:

Originally priced at $3.99, they were marked down to $0.39 each. These are drawn from a few different sets released as "Yubi's Figurines". Santa and Heatmiser are of course from The Year Without a Santa Claus, while the house is from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Each property contains four figurines total, and there are several other movies the company has licensed. If they'd had any others, I'd have grabbed those, too, but these three were all that survived the purge.

Over the years, …

Un conte de Noël (2008)

Un conte de Noël, or "A Christmas Tale," is a French movie about a dysfunctional family reuniting for the holiday due to Junon, the matriarch, contracting leukemia, the disease that killed her firstborn son, Joseph. She's hoping to avoid this fate herself, but for that she needs a bone marrow donor. There are two candidates: her middle child, Henri, who's something of a drunken failure, and Paul, the mentally ill son of her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, who despises Henri.

What else can we throw into the mix? Well, her other surviving son's wife has been loved from afar by her husband's cousin, Henri's girlfriend seems to take great joy in watching him get beaten up, and there might be some sort of ghost wolf wandering around the house.
Of all the movie's unanswered questions, I regret not finding out more about the ghost wolf the most. Is it the spirit of Joseph? Or maybe it's the matriarch's mother's ghost. It's unclear.
Also unclear …

Spirit - Riding Free: Lucky and the Christmas Spirit (2017)

I have never seen the Dreamworks animated movie Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron, but Wikipedia tells me that the point was that it was about a horse whose rightful place was running free, untamed by man. So I'm not sure why the Netflix spin-off series follows a girl who befriends a wild horse (also named Spirit) such that he follows her around and hangs out in town all the time. Seems... wrong.

But hey, there's money in dolls that ride horses.

We also couldn't figure out when this takes place. The lack of cars, one-room schoolhouse, and prevalence of farming seems to imply a vague "frontier" time, but the clothing and the writing seemed plausibly modern. Based on this episode, we decided that it could take place anytime between the 1880s and the 1980s, but if someone pulled out a cell phone, we wouldn't be that surprised.

The episodes seems to follow the lead girl, her friends, Spirit, and the friends' horses as they go on inoffensive Babysitters-Club…

Toy Review: Nifty Inflatable Mistletoe

Before we begin - before I say one more word - I need to clarify something. The use of the term "Nifty" in the title is only in service to accurately providing the branding for the item I am reviewing. It should not under any circumstances be viewed as a descriptor.

Because, dear reader, the object I am discussing is not nifty at all, nor is it rad, far-out, hip, or mod. No, I fear it is instead quite square.

First, some background. This was found in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the after-Christmas "men's gifts" section of a Fred Meyer last January, when it was marked down by 90%. "Marked down from what?" I'll pretend you asked.

From twenty dollars.

I'll let that sink in for a moment. Twenty. Goddamned. Dollars.

I know what you're thinking - you're thinking I paid two dollars for this for the express purpose of mocking it in a review. You're thinking I'm going to say that it's below the level of quality you'd expe…

Back to the Future: Dickens of a Christmas (1991)

I don't remember this series, but I recall the era it comes from well enough. Prior to Batman: the Animated Series, cartoon shows - particularly those adapted from live action movies - were mainly cheap cash grabs produced by networks trusting a lack of alternatives would force their audience to tune in regardless of quality.

Yup, even with no recollection of this particular show, this brings back memories of Saturday mornings spent staring blankly at the TV in the idle hope something worth seeing would air.

This series ostensibly picks up after the movies left off, following Doc Brown and his family, along with Marty, as they adventure through time. I assume Marty was lobotomized earlier in the season because his intelligence level is significantly lower here than in the movies.

The animation is extremely toonish - this is closer to Looney Tunes than anything resembling realism. The tone is spastic, trusting on a barrage of slapstick gags to keep kids engaged.

A few actors repri…

Book Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holidays Spirits
Les Standiford, 2008

Premise: The story behind the story of A Christmas Carol.

This historical Christmas book included both some really interesting parts and a few things that I've read a dozen times by now. Overall it was pretty enjoyable. If you are a literary type and you want to read only one Christmas history, this would be a great choice.

The best parts were Dickens' personal and professional history, including the details of the development of the story and the publication business of the time. There are some details about attempted plagiarism that were especially entertaining.

I enjoyed the portrayal of Dickens' attitudes about Christmas and the impact of A Christmas Carol. The author's affection for both the book and the history is very clear, and the writing maintains a good balance between compelling writing and educational material.

Peppermint Twinkies and Holiday Cupcakes

The things we do for your amusement. Seriously, I have a soft spot for Hostess Cupcakes and will occasionally treat myself. These special holiday pastries are... less of a treat.

Do you like sugar? I mean, REALLY like sugar? These are at least a cheap source.

The boxes were both fine, if generic. Both adequately conveyed the "holiday" aesthetic, although I'm still trying to scrub the cupcake mascot from my brain.

The Twinkies are pretty - a nice dark red color. They look moist and sweet, and I was intrigued by the promise of peppermint.

Unfortunately, the peppermint was more of a hint than a full flavor. Mostly the cake still just tasted of the corn syrup/imitation vanilla that is characteristic of mass-produced cake.

I also found it slightly disturbing that the case felt slightly greasy in my fingers, yet dry in my mouth.

I mean, I still ate it, but it concerned me.

The cupcakes were even more of a straight sugar-shot to the arteries. The cake was heavier on that "…