A SPECIAL SESAME STREET CHRISTMAS
Available at Wal-Mart and on Amazon.com
Ryan Dosier - Back in 1978, Sesame Street was pretty much at the heyday of its quality, with writers who understood how to balance humor with education and charm with wit. Need proof? Then look no further than 1978's Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, a masterpiece from Jon Stone and Joe Bailey that takes the entire Sesame Street cast and perfectly utilizes them in a primetime Christmas special. It truly shows that when all the minds of Sesame Street, from Jon Stone to Jim Henson to Caroll Spinney to Will Lee, all came together, it truly was the perfect set up.
And then there's A Special Sesame Street Christmas, the other Christmas special from 1978 that utilizes some elements from Sesame Street. Notice how careful I was with my wording there, because the things that make this a Sesame Street Christmas can almost be counted on one hand: Big Bird, Oscar, Bob, Maria, David, Mr. Hooper, Barkley, and the Sesame Street location. That's it. None of the writers are the same, Jon Stone was not involved at all, no other Muppets, nothing. Instead we get Leslie Uggams trying way too hard, Anne Murray for no reason, Imogene Coca for even less of a reason, a terrifying Ethel Merman, Michael Jackson for literally two minutes, someone named Dickie Smothers, and I think Henry Fonda for some reason. I'm not kidding.
The back story for why this special was made is as confusing as the special itself, but basically Bob Banner, the guy behind The Carol Burnett Show, Candid Camera, and a lot of Perry Como specials in the 70s somehow rented the Sesame Street set and literally only five of its cast members and decided to throw random celebrities and even more random songs at Dickens' A Christmas Carol and see what happened. The result is hands down the strangest Sesame-associated thing you will ever see. It is pure 1970s schmaltz loosely wrapped around a story of Oscar the Grouch going through what Scrooge went through with completely out of place musical numbers in between.
Leslie Uggams inexplicably lives on Sesame Street now and Bob, Maria, David, and Mr. Hooper are seemingly required to do her bidding. Anne Murray and Leslie Uggams both sing really inappropriate 1970s love songs to Big Bird and Oscar, Michael Jackson pointlessly gives Oscar a book about ghosts, Oscar believes a magic eggnog container shows him the past, Ethel Merman calls Imogene Coca an idiot, Dickie Smothers is a person, Henry Fonda gets a paycheck by saying one line, Oscar sings "Yakety Yak" and later swoons over a cat with a broken leg, and shockingly none of it works. It is bizarre, hilariously awkward, and just plain weird.
If you haven't seen this special I don't know if I would recommend spending $10 just to get the DVD, but it really is a trip. You'll be constantly wondering how and why this was made and how much Sonia Manzanno, Will Lee, Bob McGrath, Northern Calloway, and Caroll Spinney regretted signing that contract. The dialogue is cringe-worthy for our favorite Sesame friends, and Leslie Uggams just never stops squawking long enough for them to be funny. The special is like watching something you care about burn: you wish you could pull it out of the flames but you have no choice to just watch it go.
The DVD itself is almost as hilariously strange as the special. The cover art is a good indicator of this, with the random afroed Michael Jackson and lo-res shots of Big Bird and Oscar straight out of the special. Legendary Entertainment Alliance really really tries to capitalize on Michael Jackson's image because the only bonus feature worth mentioning is the beyond weird, amazingly bad self-described "Brand Spankin' New Super Duper Bonus Track" Your Imagination with Michael and DJ Oscar. Honestly... there are no words for how bizarre this is. The DVD makers took one soundbite of Michael Jackson's appearance in the special and remixed it into some pop/disco/ear pain hybrid. It's just... so strange. So unnecessary. But thank goodness they did it... because I'm sure my face was priceless the entire time I was watching it.
In the end this DVD really is not worth your time. If you're a Sesame completist with an penchant for extremely rare appearances or specials, then you might as well spend the $10 to get this in your collection. However, if you're a Sesame Street fan who actively tries to avoid awful specials starring Leslie Uggams and Dickie Smothers, then put your $10 towards Sesame Street Old School: Volume 3 instead. At least then Sesame Workshop gets your money and you get an incredible DVD set. With A Special Sesame Street Christmas on DVD all you get is confusion, disappointment, and perhaps a little nausea.
For further reading, please, please check out ToughPigs' hysterically perfect review of this special written by their founder and Muppet Wiki founder Danny Horn.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org