Saturday, January 11, 2020

Night Court: "Santa Goes Downtown"

Premiered January 11, 1984.

It's another typical evening, shortly after Christmas at the New York City night court, the honorable Harold T. Stone (Harry Anderson) presiding.  That is, until a defendant identifying himself as Santa Claus (Jeff Corey) comes before the court on charges of trespassing.   He was found sleeping in a department store after hours in possession of half a bottle of gin.   The man is firm in his belief that he is the "real, true Santa Claus" and the court is in a holding pattern waiting to see if they can get more info on his true identity.

The next case on the docket concerns two troubled teens (Michael J. Fox and Olivia Barash), who were caught shoplifting.  They're runaways and are unwilling to give their real names.  They're also quite sarcastic, causing prosecutor Dan Fielding (John Laroquette) to voice an interest in smacking them around.

Eventually, it's revealed that the teens' first names are Eddie and Mary and they feel that no one cares about them.   This leads our alleged Santa as well as other members of the court to want to prove to them that someone DOES care about them.

Could it be that this is, in fact, the real Santa?  Can he help Harry get the teenagers to know they're loved?

RigbyMel says: 

This is the second episode of Night Court ever produced and it's quite a good one.   The whole "is this or isn't it Santa" plot is hardly original, but it's well executed here.

It's interesting seeing Michael J. Fox in a role other than Alex P. Keaton of Family Ties (which was airing concurrently, also on NBC) and he does a great job as a snarky, angsty teen, who according to our alleged Santa isn't really bad, he's just a bit frustrated. 

The humor in this episode is balanced with seriousness and a touch of pathos.  "Santa" does seem to know a fair bit about each member of the cast adding to the "is he or isn't he" angle in a smart way.

And even though the cast undergoes some changes between this and subsequent seasons, the workplace family vibe is always believable so we get the sense that these people care about each other and the people who come to the court despite their flaws and quirks.

Night Court was one of my favorite sitcoms in the 80s, and it's nice to see that they got this Christmas-y (despite not happening at Christmas precisely) episode right so early in their run. 

This episode is recommended in or out of the Christmas season.

RigbyMel's rating: 


3 and a half candy canes.

J.A. Morris says: 
This is an enjoyable holiday episode of a good series.  Like my co-blogger, I was a regular viewer of Night Court.  I watched "Santa Goes Downtown" when it first aired.  I  remember being pleasantly surprised to see a "Christmas" episode premier in January.

The plot of "Santa Goes Downtown" owes a big debt to Miracle On 34th Street, but that's not a bad thing.  While the belief in Santa's existence is part of the story, the most important point is that the troubled teens need someone to believe in them, and Santa and Harry seem to be the only adults who do.

Santa is portrayed by character actor Jeff Corey.  He's more disheveled than most TV and movie Santa Clauses, but he conveys genuine warmth and empathy towards Eddie and Mary.  It's a funny and touching performance.

I wasn't familiar with Corey.  My research on him shows he had an amazing career as an actor and acting teacher.  Corey's acting career stalled in the 1950s when he was Blacklisted during the Red Scare, which led him to focusing on teaching.  His acting students included Jane Fonda, Leonard Nimoy and Jack Nicholson.  When McCarthyism faded, Corey acted in such films as Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, True Grit, The Cincinnati Kid and appeared in TV shows like Star Trek and The Outer Limits.

"Santa Goes Downtown" is an enjoyable episode and was a pleasant way for me to revisit old sitcom "friends" from my childhood.  It's post-Christmas setting makes for nice "after-Christmas" viewing.

A surprise visitor comes to Night Court!

J.A. Morris' rating: 

3 candy canes

Friday, January 3, 2020

The New Scooby Doo Mysteries: "Nutcracker Scoob"

Premiered December 1, 1984.

“Like, bah humbag, the Ghost of Christmas Past is coming to haunt me!”
-Shaggy, playing Ebenezer Scrooge

It’s Christmas Eve and Scooby Doo (Don Messick), his nephew Scrappy (Messick) and their mystery-solving pals are helping an orphanage produce their Christmas pageant, which will feature performances of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker ballet.

Mrs. Fezziwig, the owner of the home, is grateful for the gang’s help.  Tiny Tina, a resident of the orphanage, is excited when Fred (Frank Welker) helps her put the Nutcracker on top of the Christmas tree.

Their seasonal spirits are dampened when millionaire Winslow Nickelby (Welker) and his cat Snowball (Welker) arrive.  The orphanage used to belong to Nickelby and he intends to buy it back, which would leave the children with nowhere to live.

Mrs. Fezziwig refuses to sell, but Nickelby says he’ll take it over “one way or another.”  Fezziwig assures the kids she'll never sell their home to Nickelby.

Later, while Scooby and Shaggy (Casey Kasem) are rehearsing a scene from A Christmas Carol,  they’re interrupted by a “spirit” who calls itself the Ghost of Christmas Never!  The ghost chases the gang outside into the snow.

When they go back inside the orphanage, the gans discovers that the stage and all its holiday decor have been trashed.  Daphne (Heather North) finds a lapel pin in the wreckage that bears the inscription “WN.”  Everyone guesses that WN must stand for Winslow Nickelby and they decide to pay him a visit.

Scooby and friends overhear Nickelby say that his uncle left a valuable gem in the orphanage.  While Nickelby has no legal rights to the orphanage, he says that his “friend” will force the orphans to leave their home.  This leads Shaggy to believe Nickelby is “in cahoots” with the Ghost of Christmas Never.

The gang decides that the emerald is the key to discovering the identity of the ghost and saving the orphanage.  When they search for the emerald, they find the ghost instead!  The Ghost of Christmas Never disappears with the emerald, which makes solving the mystery at hand even more difficult.

Will Scooby and his friends solve the mystery and save Mrs. Fezziwig’s orphanage?  Is Nickelby connected to the Ghost of Christmas Never?  Will the ghost’s activities ruin the Christmas pageant?  Will Nickelby find the spirit of Christmas in his heart and let the children stay in the orphanage?

J.A. Morris says:

I mentioned in our recent review of this series’ Halloween episode that its regular cast only featured Scooby Doo, Shaggy, Daphne and Scrappy.  This episode includes Fred as a guest star, but not Velma.  So Velma fans, consider yourselves warned.

Just like the Halloween episode, “Nutcracker Scoob” is a typical episode of Scooby Doo, except that it takes place at Christmas.  Lots of Christmas episodes feature references to A Christmas Carol and music from The Nutcracker ballet.  This episode features both, you can't get much more Christas-y than that!

The stakes are upped a little bit too.  I don’t remember other Scooby villains who wanted to force orphans out of their home!  Perhaps that was added to make Winslow Nickelby even more Scrooge-ish.  Nickelby and the Ghost Of Christmas Never are good antagonists for the gang and the orphanage.

Speaking of Scrooge, this episode features lots of references to A Christmas Carol and other works by Charles Dickens. Fezziwig, the name of the orphanage’s owner, was young Scrooge’s mentor.  Tiny Tina is a good stand-in for Tiny Tim.   Nickelby takes his name from Nicholas Nickelby.  However, Nickelby does not get visited by three spirits, “Nutcracker Scoob” features only one ghost.

“Nutcracker Scoob” includes the usual Scooby Doo chase scenes, with the added fun of the Christmas setting.  That means the chases involve skis and horse-drawn sleighs!

I especially liked the sleigh that looks like the Mystery Machine.

Plus, the chases and other scenes are accompanied by holiday tunes like “Deck The Halls,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” and “Jingle Bells”

We try to avoid spoilers here, even for 35 year-old episodes.  I won’t spoil the detail the ending of “Nutcracker Scoob,” but since it was part of a Saturday morning animated series, and it’s a Christmas episode, I don’t think it’ll come as a shock that a happy holiday will be enjoyed by everyone before the episode is over.

It’s worth noting that this is the final episode of The New Scooby Doo Mysteries.  It’s also the last appearance of Fred (as a grownup) until 1998.

I enjoyed this Christmas episode, but I would’ve enjoyed it more if Velma had been around. Otherwise, “Nutcracker Scoob” has comedy, action, good villains and it should provide solid Yuletide entertainment for everyone.

 J.A. Morris’ rating:

3 candy canes.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

A Special Sesame Street Christmas

Premiered December 18, 1978.

It's Christmas time on Sesame Street.  Its residents Big Bird (Caroll Spinney), David (Northern Calloway), Mr. Hooper (Will Lee) Maria (Sonia Monzano) and Bob (Bob McGrath) are in a celebratory mood.  They're joined by singer-actress Leslie Uggams, who is visiting for the holidays.

However, Oscar the Grouch (Spinney) hates Christmas and lets everyone know his opinion.  The others are tired of his attitude, he's starting to get in the way of having a good time.  Oscar seems determined to ruin Christmas for everyone.

In the middle of all this, Maria rescues an injured stray cat in the alley.  She and Leslie decide to name it "Tiny Tim" after the character from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  Oscar doesn't like the cat because it tried to steal trash out of his can the previous month.

Leslie gets an idea.  She will give Oscar the "Scrooge" treatment and try to get him to change his ways. She recruits Anne Murray to pretend she's the Ghost of Christmas Past...

...Imogene Coca to be the Ghost of Christmas Present...

...and Dick Smothers to portray the Ghost of Christmases yet to come.

Can these "ghosts" work their magic in time to save Christmas and make Oscar little less grouchy for the holiday?

Plus, musical performances from Leslie Uggams, Anne Murray and Ethel Merman!

J.A. Morris says:
People who grew up in the 1970s and 80s remember Christmas Eve On Sesame Street, the Emmy award winning special that (deservedly) became a classic and was rerun for several years on PBS.  A Special Sesame Street Christmas was produced the same year but was never rerun and quickly forgotten (until its DVD release).  Upon watching it for this review, I can understand why.

It's an odd special, it feels more like a Leslie Uggams variety special, with Sesame Street actors as guest stars.  Some of the celebrity cameos are strange and random.  Michael Jackson appears onscreen for less than 5 minutes, yet his face is slapped on the DVD cover.  Screen legend Henry Fonda gets even less time.

If you're a fan of Oscar the Grouch, you'll enjoy this special.  Oscar is hilariously mean to all the entire cast.  Carol Spinney does a great job, the highlight being a funny performance of the Coasters' "Yaketty Yak."  I don't think I've ever seen Oscar "play" an electrical guitar anywhere else.

Tiny Tim the cat is certainly cute and sympathetic and serves as a nice contrast to Oscar.

Ethel Merman's appearance is memorable if nothing else.  She tells Imogene Coca that she "looks like an idiot", which is a strange thing to say in a special aimed at children! Merman's performance of the song "Tomorrow" belongs in the "over-the-top" showbiz hall off fame.  She certainly gives it her all though!

Anne Murray has a good voice, but her performance of "You Needed Me" (which topped the music charts the year this special was produced) feels out of place. Same goes for some of Uggams' songs.

On a positive note, I like the ending of the show.  Uggams and Merman join the Sesame Street folks in a medley of Christmas songs.  This means we get a brief duet of Merman singing "Winter Wonderland" with Oscar!

And I have to say that Maria and David look pretty cool in 1920s clothes during the "Christmas Past" scene.

A Special Sesame Street Christmas is more of a curiosity than essential viewing, but it's recommended to everyone who watched Sesame Street in the 1970s and especially recommended if Oscar was your favorite character.

J.A. Morris' rating:


2 and a half candy canes.
RigbyMel says: 

A Special Sesame Street Christmas is interesting but ...odd.   The writing feels very uneven.  As J.A. says above, there is some dialogue that seems inconsistent with Sesame Street's message of kindness and tolerance.

Plus in wacky 1970s variety special fashion, the celebrity cameos are random as all get out.  Henry Fonda shows up on a fire escape in a bathrobe to expound about Christmas morning for a grand total of maybe 30 seconds.  Michael Jackson literally walks across the set, hands Oscar a book about ghosts and leaves.

We get a couple of Broadway songs that have tangential (at best) relationships to the story, such as Ethel Merman's memorable performance of "Tomorrow."  Anne Murray sings her hit song "You Needed Me" to Big Bird, which seems wildly out of place as it's a romantic love song.

The special is also odd in that although it involves some of the regular human cast (Maria, Bob, David and Mr. Hooper) in addition to Big Bird, Oscar and Barkley the Dog (Toby Towson), it does NOT involve important contributors such as Jim Henson and Frank Oz, which may have contributed to the issues the special has with tone.

That being said,  Caroll Spinney does a great job as Oscar and Big Bird.  Casting Oscar in the "Scrooge" role makes a lot of sense, and Tiny Tim the Kitten is adorable. 

In doing some research about the special,  I found that others have compared it to the Star Wars Holiday Special, because of its weird 70s variety special format, celebrity cameos, and the fact that it only aired one time on a major network.  Both also maintain a cult following.

A Special Sesame Street Christmas has its moments, and the cast gives their all, but I can't really give this a strong recommendation unless you're a hard-core fan.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 candy canes