|CHRISTMAS EVE ON SESAME STREET (pbs, 1978)|
Why was it such a misfit?
I used to think, like most people, that Sesame Street would always be with us, but now....I'm not sure. The world is changing, and if all of Earth's history is any indication, it's only going to keep changing. At the time this was made, Sesame Street was the epicenter of every kindergartener's life. Part of this was because it was just that well-made, and part of it was because there weren't many options for people this young on TV in the 70's. Now toddlers are a gazillion-dollar industry and several dozen corporations are screaming for your 3-year-old's attention at any given second.
What's to watch now? Sofia the First, Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, Doc McStuffins, Peppa Pig, entire 24-7 preschool channels, and this is assuming you can pull Junior away from his tablet and the millions of simplistic apps designed to suck him in and keep him poking for hours. There's not much room for Sesame Street anymore, and to make things worse, the show is way past its prime. It's been reduced to a half-hour and new episodes are paywalled by HBO. Henson is long dead and so is any attempt at cleverness or intelligence, replaced with marketable cutesy characters. This essay sums up everything I want to say about Elmo, which saves me some typing.
Christmas Eve on Sesame Street is a flashback to a much simpler time, a time when children's TV MEANT this show, and (unthinkable in our modern times) the show was a nonprofit operation that took that responsibility seriously.
This special has the longest opening credits sequence of anything I've seen: eight entire minutes. There's no closing credits, so everybody involved was mentioned at the beginning. The opening scene is the Sesame Street characters at an ice skating rink. Big Bird skates with a little girl. The Count prepares to jump over three barrels, but instead skates right by them while counting "THREE! THREE barrels! Ahh, ahh, ahh" to the annoyance of those watching his "stunt." Ernie and Count play hockey with Bert's missing shoe while Bert whines that his foot is cold. It's amusing enough, but it just goes on and on. This is the only real flaw in the special -- it's frontloaded with filler. This part could easily be trimmed if they wanted to run this special on commercial television, not that they ever did.
Oscar the Grouch is also there, skating around in his can with only his green furry legs visible. Big Bird says he can't wait until Christmas Day when Santa arrives and all the people of Sesame Street will get presents from him. Oscar is skeptical, for one specific reason: "How do you think that fat man is supposed to get down our skinny chimneys, WHILE carrying that big sack full of toys? Never thought about it, did ya?" Since Big Bird is kind of dim and easily confused, these words are going to cause panic for him for the rest of the hour.
When Big Bird returns to Sesame Street, Kermit the Frog is sitting on a barrel near his nest. Worried that Christmas might not actually happen, BB nervously asks Kermit if he knows how Santa can possibly fit down all those chimneys. "Hmm," begins Kermit. "How he fits down....all those chimneys. Yeah, that is the question. Let us look at it from another angle.....um.....returning to the first angle....um...." Kermit never thought about it either and doesn't have an answer for him.
"Well, we gotta find the answer QUICK! It's Christmas Eve!" Bird exclaims.
This is followed by a series of short vignettes where Grover asks random kids how Santa gets down the chimney. These things were a staple of the Sesame Street program at this time, and for good reason: when you've got writer's block, all you have to do is put an ad-libbing puppet in front of a kid and have nature make the comedy for you.
"How does Santa get
down the chimney, carrying all those presents?"
Big Bird tells Oscar he's figured out how Santa must do it. "He takes that big belt around his waist and ties it REAL TIGHT!" Oscar responds with "You have got to be the stupidest [SUBWAY TRAIN BLOWS PAST AND OBSCURES LONG STRING OF OBSCENITIES] bird I've ever met!!" No kidding. This was back when Oscar had an edge.
Cookie Monster is so awesome in this. He's writing a letter to Santa Claus, but he keeps pausing each time he realizes he can make the number of cookies he's asking for bigger. "Twenty cookies.....NO! FORTY cookies!!" In the process, he gets so ravenously hungry that he eats his entire pencil without realizing it, one bite at a time. Then he's finally ready to write the letter, but now he has no idea where the pencil went.
By the way, if you ever have the time to waste, I encourage you to fall down the rabbit hole of old Cookie Monster videos on YouTube sometime. It'll be a blast, I promise.
Bert and Ernie are trying to figure out what to give each other for Christmas. Bert is in the tub when he finds Ernie's rubber duckie, the one he's famous for singing to. It's fallen in the tub again, and Bert remarks that Ernie needs something to rest the duck in when he's not using it. Meanwhile in the other room, Ernie finds a paper clip on the floor and recognizes it as being from Bert's collection of rare paper clips: "It's a 1957 Acme!" If you don't remember, Bert had a lot of weird interests.
Ernie thinks about how Bert would be very upset if he lost any of the clips from his collection, and decides what Bert needs is a paper clip collection box (naturally, Mr. Hooper sells things like this). BUT Ernie doesn't have the money for something like this, and neither does Bert. Yes, they're about to do the old O. Henry plotline. Bert comes to Mr. Hooper and pawns his paper clip collection for a soap dish to hold Ernie's duck, and Ernie comes about a second afetr Bert leaves to trade in his precious duck for the paper clip box. Hope that works out okay. I mean, I'm sure it has a good chance, but you never know, do you?
Kermit has returned with
the results of the survey the Muppets took among the
children. "Uh....the answers weren't definitive.
Let's see here....Santa goes on a crash diet and loses
200 pounds....there's several kids who believe they have
rubber chimneys....one little girl thinks Santa sneaks in
with the rest of the relatives and hides in the laundry
Back to Cookie Monster: he now has the bright idea of using a typewriter to write his letter instead. "Dear Santa, me don't care what kind of cookies you bring me, you just surprise me, K?" He pauses to ponder what kind of cookies Santa must have. And in the process, he becomes crazily hungry again and begins ripping out the typewriter keys to shove them in his mouth. He actually devours the entire typewriter piece by piece, ending with the ribbon, which he sucks up like spaghetti. Now he realizes has nothing to write with again.
Good thing this is 1978 and not anywhere in the 21st century. If CM tried to eat a computer, he might get electrocuted.
Big Bird's still worried Santa won't be able to visit him. Maybe Big Bird's friend, Mr. Snuffleuphagus, can crack this mystery. Bird tells Snuffle to try climbing into a trash barrel -- if somebody as immense as him can squeeze all four legs inside, surely Santa can as well. Snuffle manages to cram all his legs in at once, but not without a lot of tucking (man, I feel sorry for the actors inside that thing).
"Well, Bird, maybe Santa can get in....but how does he get OUT?" Now BB is twice as confused.
This is followed by Oscar the Grouch's solo song, "I Hate Christmas!" It's terrific. "Here comes Santa, girls and boys / Well, who needs that big red noise? / I'll tell him where to put his toys / I HATE CHRISTMAS!" Just so we're clear, Oscar adds "If you want the truth, I ain't so crazy about Thanksgiving or Labor Day either!"
It's late on Christmas Eve, and Bert and Ernie are about to go to bed, but they're so enthusiastic about the presents they gave each other, they just have to open them now. This leads to closeted despair when they notice both gifts are for the things they already sold. They're trying to bring up the nerve to tell each other what they individually did, when just then there's a knock on the door. Mr. Hooper comes in with Christmas presents for both Bert and Ernie. You can probably guess what they are -- Hooper's not cruel.
Bert has his paper clips back and Ernie has his duck as well, and they both sing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" to each other. What would they ever do without Hooper? Guess they'll find out in a few years.
Cookie Monster now has the perfect solution to getting his wish list to Santa: he'll simply call him on the phone.
"Let's see....what should me ask him for?" he ponders while staring at the reciever. "How about....two....round.....chocolate fudge....OMMNOMMNOMMMM!!!!" Just when you think you've got this bit figured out, the phone actually still works inside Cookie Monster, so he stands there bewildered with a cord hanging out of his mouth while a deep voice inside his belly says "HO HO HO! HELLO? HELLOOO?"
Gordon is busy hanging the
stockings when Cookie Monster comes up to him and spins
his tale of woe. "Me try to write letter to
Santa...but ME EAT PENCIL...."
"THAT A GREAT IDEA!
YEAHYEAHYEAH! Santa leave me cookies, and ME leave
him....NECKTIE! OR....SHAVING CREAM!"
Cookie Monster stares at the camera while a sound effect plays that indicates his brain just exploded.
Big Bird decides there's only one way to find out if Santa can get down his chimney or not: he has to wait on top of the roof until Mr. Fat 'n Jolly shows up. The end result is that no one can find Big Bird now, and all of Sesame Street runs around looking for him.
Maria pounds on Oscar's
can, knowing he had something to do with it. "BIG
BIRD'S RUN AWAY BECAUSE OF YOU!"
Big Bird is now fast
asleep and looks quite frozen. He doesn't hear the sleigh
bells, nor does he notice the shadow slowly creeping up
to his face.
"Oh, this is
hopeless," Big Bird thinks. "I'd better get
inside and warm up."
Santa came! The stockings are crammed with goodies, and the area under the tree is bursting with presents! He made it anyway! Who would have guessed? Big Bird missed his chance to discover the secret, but he's grateful everything turned out okay.
Well, almost okay. There's no tree anymore.....because Cookie Monster ate it.
Why didn't it fit in?
Does Mary Lou Retton like it?
Mary Lou Retton LOVES it! "It's SUPERcharged!" she said. I think that means it's good.