On Monday night, ABC will air a special at 7 p.m. called It's Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown, to mark the half-century since A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1965. Then at 8, it will air the special itself.
There's so much about A Charlie Brown Christmas that you'd never see on network television holiday specials now, I suspect. A special that, if not for children, is certainly intended to be accessible by children would never use that "guzzling Irish coffee in a bar on a snow-blanketed night in New York when you just got stood up but you feel weirdly OK about it" Vince Guaraldi music. Mass-marketed entertainment doesn't tend to trust kids' capacity to appreciate either stripped-down scores or the natural blues of winter that much. The kids' chorus singing would be replaced by a Demi Lovato version of "The Little Drummer Boy" or something like that. Pardon the cynicism, but ... wouldn't it?
Watching the special now, its bleakness is palpable and bracing. It opens with Charlie Brown defining his problem in part as, in these words, "I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel." Straight-up dread, straight-up emotional emptiness. When Linus — who is, in many ways, the nice one — tells him, "Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest," it feels like the kind of improvisational brutality in which kids really do specialize.
And that's not his only problem. Charlie Brown says things like, "I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?" I know nobody likes me. That's unvarnished, and while the special will end with everyone telling him "Merry Christmas," you will not really see much evidence in the next 20-plus minutes that they do, in fact, like him. He's sad, for real, and he lives in that feeling, and he uses the word "depressed" to describe it. As with most things in Charlie Brown's life, it is a load that will be temporarily lifted, but never resolved.
He's so desperate for help, in fact, that he continues to pay Lucy five cents to think poorly of him in more sophisticated language. Her solution to his need for "involvement" is to make him the director of the Christmas play, a doomed scenario from the start, no?