|FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: THE BESTEST PRESENT (ctv, 1985)|
was it such a misfit?
I really hate to put it in such context, but when For Better or for Worse was at its peak -- about the time this was made -- it had a real edge. That edge is completely diluted in this cartoon. Instead of the honest portrayals of real family struggles, the TV adaption revolves around hugs and adorable things children say, and the snug warmth of predictability.
The tale unfolds when Mike Patterson arrives home from school, soaking wet due to all the puddles he deliberately jumped into. For all this special gets wrong, at least it gets Mike right. Elly is dragging her children to Philpott's Department Store to shop for Christmas presents, and then to a restaurant for supper (because I guess they still said "supper" in Canada in 1985).
"Can we have junk
food?" inquires Mike.
Folks, meet the real Mike Patterson. This character, as he got older, would eventually decay into a bland, vanilla, Deanna-marrying snore of a man. The true Mike, the 80's Mike, half the source of the strip's appeal, was Bart Simpson before there was a Bart. He was awesome while he lasted.
Mike's little moment in the car on the way to the store is even better. He asks his mom if it ever snowed during Christmas when she was a little girl. "Sometimes...." she reminisces, and tells the expected stories about building forts and making snow angels. "Yeah?" Mike responds. "Maybe we'll get some of that this year!" Then he leans in very close to his mother's shoulder, gets The Grin on his face, and says....
They go inside the store and talk and run and clown around until Lizzie drops a stuffed rabbit on the floor, which the camera lingers on. And you better believe the rest of this cartoon will revolve solely around getting whatever that is back.
The famiy doesn't notice the rabbit is gone until they've left the store, eaten at the restraunt and have returned home. Lizzie begins bawling and Elly feels terrible. The weather's too icky outside to go back and get it -- what would happen to her hair?
John, the dad, volunteers to take the trip back to Philpott's and search. He's this selfless because Lynn still loves the real man he's based on; later the strip would be rebooted after Lynn's divorce and poor John would face harsh wrath from above.
While John's looking around, under shelves, making bunny-ears with his fingers on his head while he's describing the toy to retail workers....the rabbit is actually in plain sight on the floor, propped up next to a shelf. John actually walks down this very aisle, stands RIGHT IN FRONT of the rabbit, and still doesn't see it. You fail at life!
John eventually gives up and returns home, and from the look on his face Elly knows he failed (if only she knew how badly). "I don't know what we're going to do!" Elly sighs. "It's irreplaceable! That rabbit was made by my grandmother! She sleeps with it every night!" Lizzie, not the grandmother.
John figures at that moment that he should probably check on Liz in bed and give her a little comfort. So he walks into her room, he sits beside Lizzie, he opens his mouth, and HE SINGS AUGH NOOOOOO
He sings this really sappy lullaby, illustrated by images of him and Lizzie running around and hugging in a field of daisies....and even that wasn't enough for Lynn, who pours on the syrup without mercy when John leaves the room and Lizzie says quietly to herself, "I love you, Daddy," then adorably sucks her thumb and goes to sleep. If I wasn't aware of the fan demand for Misfit Specials every year, I would never sit through things like this. You people owe me one.
Meanwhile, back behind the closed doors of Philpott's, the Scrooge-like night custodian is sweeping up and griping about how shallow the Christmas season is when he finds the rabbit on the floor. Suffering from a lack of company this December, he takes the rabbit with him into his small office and sets it on his desk next to a photo of his dead mother, then starts having conversations with it. (This is not played like he's crazy.)
The next morning, Mike is trying to think of a way to find Lizzie's rabbit. "How do grownups find something important they lost?" he asks his mother. "Well, they usually put an ad in the paper, I guess," Elly answers. "Then that's what we need to do!" says Mike. Elly is skeptical anyone is going to care about a stuffed animal so much that they'd answer, but she's not going to stand in Michael's way. So Mike writes a classified ad in pencil with misspellings galore, plunks it in the mailbox, and then...it's time for a completely unrelated snowing montage!
The next scene is Mike and Lizzie playing in a fort and throwing snowballs at Farley, who sees a beautiful blue bitch and makes a run for her, only to keep crashing into objects. The only real purpose of this scene is to illustrate another song, which also has no business in the special proper.
Back to the actual episode....the curmudgeonly custodian sees the classified ad, and he makes the connection, but his response is "Feh! Lousy kids, can't take care of their toys! Things were never like that in my day!" Looks like Liz will never see her precious bunny again; it's going to remain a conversation object for this weirdo forever.
One transition shot later, the mailman is delivering the Pattersons' parcels. They've gotten a few presents from relatives via mail, but won't open them until Christmas, so they place them under the tree. Farley thinks one of them smells mighty interesting.
Stop tape. This little bit here isn't a hint. It's a blatant giveaway, and this is a problem Lynn had with her storytelling that only got worse in her later years. I remember comics readers being shocked -- shocked! -- that she killed off Farley, despite the sequence of strips earlier in the year where Farley got another dog pregnant and the family kept one of the puppies. When I saw that storyline appear, I knew exactly what was happening next. A strip where the characters age; a dog that's now in double-digits; a sudden puppy that's a near dead-ringer for Farley...a first-grader could have done that math.
It's finally Christmas
morning in Canada-land. The Pattersons open their gifts
and perform weak jokes with them (Elly gets a scrub
brush, then pretends to scrub her back with it, eliciting
laughter). Lizzie gets a giant stuffed giraffe.
"Hey, it's a new friend for you to sleep with!"
Elly subtly suggests.
"Wait, there's one extra present!" says Mike. "That one addressed to Lizzie..." Could it be a Red Ryder BB gun wih a thing that tells time?
NO, IT'S THE RABBIT! And you know what it also is? "This is my BESTEST PRESENT of ALL EVER!" Lizzie says as cutely as possible. Yes, it's the title present too.
Elly and John are
wondering who at Philpott's could know their address (it
wasn't in the ad; how did Mike expect anyone to respond?)
"You're friends with the assistant manager, aren't
you?" says Elly.
That evening, the happy Pattersons are diving into a delicious turkey dinner. And guess what else isn't a surprise? The old man has been invited to the table, ending his holiday loneliness! "Aaaaaaaaaa-wwwwwwwww."
Why didn't it fit in?