I’m not a practicing Catholic, but I do believe confession is good for the soul, so here’s mine: I have this weird (and well documented) thing for cornball Christmas specials.
Why? I blame the ‘80s. I spent about 43 percent of that decade watching TV. And with only four channels to choose from (my parents refused to get cable) I had to rely on whatever the networks aired and hope for the best.
Sadly, that hope was often misplaced, especially around the holidays when networks would broadcast very special holiday episodes that might as well have been cooked up by a nefarious cell of Santa-hating atheists, such was their power to make Christmas look lame.
And yet, as Alf is my witness, I loved them. No, I hated them. No, I loved them. No, I tolerated them. Anyway, here are my most memorable holiday special dumpster fires from years past. You’ll find, I think, a healthy mixture of horrible wonderfulness, beautiful misery, agony, and ecstasy. Happy holidays, kids.
Beverly Hills 90210
Brandon, Brenda, Dylan, Kelly and the rest of the 30-year-old teens celebrated many Christmases during their original run, but none were more infamous than the episode that took the angel motif from It’s a Wonderful Life and beat it to death with a stick. The episode concludes with two off-screen angels (helpfully represented by stock footage of blinking stars) intervening to prevent the bus-riding teens from colliding with a rusty garbage truck. After this aired in 1992, I remember turning to my sister and saying, with utmost sincerity, “What?” 24 years later, I still don’t know.
I know, I know. It’s Alf and Alf was always lame, so of course the Christmas episode was too. True. But hear me out, because this two-parter (remember those?) found a way to make a show about a wise-ass alien puppet incredibly depressing (while still using a laugh track). Basic plot: The Tanners go to a cabin for Christmas. Alf gets lost and mistaken for a stuffed animal. Hilarity ensues, right? WRONG! Alf winds up in the hands of a very sick young girl and learns an important lesson about how the grim specter of death is never far away. And… scene.
He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special
Welcome to the wonderful world of Eternia, where every character is on steroids and the wearing of loin clothes is enforceable by law. In this yuletide special, a couple of ragamuffins from Earth are kidnapped and end up in the hands of the evil Skeletor. Things looks very grim indeed because Skeletor is one mean S.O.B. But then he has a change of heart and decides he wants to protect the kids from the elements as they traipse through a blizzard. Why? Does he have an even more sinister plan? Is he going to harvest their organs? Nope. He’s been transformed by the magic of Christmas. Oof. Not believable, Skelly, totally out of character. It's as if a misogynist suddenly started respecting women. That's not that a bad idea, but just doesn't seem very likely.
Star Wars Holiday Special
For decades, it was just a rumor: A Star Wars Holiday Special featuring all the main actors partaking in jaw-droppingly lame variety show skits about “Life Day”? No way could that be true. But then the Internets happened and people started to sell old VHS copies on eBay and the world bore witness to the horror that is four wookiees grunting at each other with no subtitles. And that’s just the first 15 minutes. Stick around and watch Bea Arthur do standup, Carrie Fisher sing, and Chewbacca’s father enjoy virtual reality wookiee porn. I’m not joking. People really made this. It exists and no list of worst Christmas anything can be complete without it. Like the Grand Canyon, it has to be seen to be believed.