Monday, December 31, 2012

The Six Million Dollar Man: "A Bionic Christmas Carol"

First aired December 12, 1976

Oscar Goldman: You need any help?
Steve Austin: No, I think I have help.  I ran into an old friend named Dickens, he seems to have some bright ideas. 
Oscar Goldman: Dickens?

Steve Austin (Lee Majors) is getting ready to visit his parents for Christmas.  But his boss Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) has a mission for him.  Steve is assigned to investigate a corporation for the Office of  Scientific Intelligence (OSI).

Steve delivers a Christmas present for Oscar.
The Budge Corporation is working on life support equipment for astronauts.  Oscar says some of the equipment is sub-standard, which could result in deaths or injuries.

Ray Walston as Horton Budge.
Steve meets the owner of the company, Horton Budge (Ray Walston).  He doesn't like Steve and lets him know immediately.  Budge says the equipment problem are merely "minor bugs." Steve says any life support system that doesn't work 100% of the time is unacceptable.  We see Budge drinking some sort of liquid in his office.

Budge hates Christmas (we see him ordering a worker to take down a tree) and treats his employees with general disdain.

Budge tells his workers to take down their Christmas tree.
This is especially true in the case of his chauffeur Bob Crandall (Dick Sargent), who also happens to be Budge's nephew.  We see a conversation between the two and learn that Bob owes money to Budge and is working to pay it off.  Bob's wife Nora (Antoinette Bower) was very ill, so Bob embezzled money from Budge's company to pay for her care.  He is caught, of course, and Budge insists that Bob pay all the money back, with interest.  Budge also demoted Bob from accountant to chauffeur and forces him to work well into the night on Christmas Eve.  Bob would rather be home that night with his wife Nora and their three children.  
Bob Crandall talks to Steve, a Salvation Army Santa looks on.

Steve notices this and offers to work for Bob that night.  Bob appreciates this, but knows Budge wouldn't allow it.  Instead, Steve says he wants to buy some presents for Bob's kids, which Bob allows.

Steve shops for toys;The Jaws game & Steve Austin in the same shot, talk about a 70s Pop Culture moment!

When they arrive at the Crandall house, Steve is surprised to see they have no Christmas tree.  The kids tell him it's been a while since they had one.  Steve uses his bionic strength to get them a tree by breaking off the top of a big pine tree in their yard.

Steve gets a Christmas tree for the Crandalls.
 Back at Budge's company, the workers are testing the space life support system.  Something goes wrong with it and jeopardizes the life of the test astronaut.  Luckily, Steve is nearby and uses his bionic strength to  break open the test chamber and save him.  When Steve confronts Budge about this, Budge dismisses his concerns.  He tells Steve that his factory follows all regulations.  Steve acknowledges this, but tells him they need to do better than the bare minimum.

Budge's house. Yes, it's the Bates' house from Psycho.
That night, Budge gets sick, Bob and Steve go to Budge's home to check on him.  Budge is delirious and hallucinating.  The doctor says Budge has taken an overdose of his medication (the aforementioned liquid).  Steve decides to take advantage of the hallucinationsHe will try to "Scrooge" Budge.

Steve shows Budge his "tombstone".

He borrows a  Santa suit from a Salvation Army bell ringer.  He wears it to Budge's house and takes the old man out for a walk.  Steve (using his bionic powers) molds a stepping stone into a tombstone for Budge.  This shocks Budge a bit and makes him think about changing his ways.

Next, Steve takes Budge into town, where carolers are singing "O' Come All Ye Faithful".  Budge admits their song is pretty and even gives them a donation.

Steve also gives Budge a look at "Christmas Present".  They visit the Crandall's home and overhear Bob worrying about Budge's health.  Nora mentions that Budge didn't show any concern over her health when she was sick.  Budge says he never realized how ill she was.  Bob regrets leaving Budge in Steve's care.  They don't wish ill on Budge or carry any grudges.

Nora & Bob trim their tree.
Next, Budge and Steve listen in on the Crandall children.  Bob Jr. (Adam Rich, who later starred on Eight Is Enough) mentions that their uncle never buys them presents or even bothers to visit them.  His older sister Elsie (Quinn Cummings, best known for her roles in  The Goodbye Girl and Family) says that doesn't mean Budge doesn't love them.  Elsie says he loves them and they love him too.

Budge hears Bob's kids say that they love him.
Budge overhears this and says he loves the kids.  He says that if he is dreaming, he'll show them how much he loves them when he wakes up. 

Budge comes to his senses & plays Santa for the Crandalls on Christmas morning.
J.A. Morris says:

It's funny that I don't remember seeing this episode as a kid.  I watched this show religiously, I even had several Six Million Dollar Man toys, but somehow missed this episode. 

On the left side of this image, you'll see a Six Million Dollar Man doll.  Of course I had one!

It's a good modern retelling of the Scrooge story.  If Dickens' miser ran a military contract company, he probably would have cut corners and not worried about occupational safety.

Steve brings Christmas gifts for the Crandall children.

Bob Crandall isn't quite as innocent as Crachit was.  He embezzled money from Budge, something Scrooge's employee never did, but we still sympathize with Crandall, considering the scenario.

Steve brings back a tree.
 One thing that makes this episode work is Ray Walston.  He was always one of my favorite character actors, Walston elevates the material here.    

The Crandall kids decorate their tree.

There's one problem with "A Bionic Christmas Carol."  Budge seems to get very sick right away, and out of nowhere.  I mentioned that we see him take a few drinks early in the episode, but all of a sudden Bob is acting like Budge has a life-threatening illness.  

Steve carries a drug-out, hallucinating Budge.

This episode is only available in the U.S. as part of the (very expensive) complete series dvd set.  I got hold of a copy through Interlibrary Loan (yay for libraries!) and you can probably find this episode online if you look hard enough.

Steve & Budge listen on the kids' conversation during Budge's "Scrooge" trip.

I generally enjoyed this episode and fans of this series will appreciate it too.  A Bionic Christmas Carol is a fun, nostalgic Christmas card from the 70s.  

Oscar gives Steve a gift as they wish each other a Merry Christmas.

J.A. Morris' rating:
3 Candy Canes.

Friday, December 28, 2012

SCTV: "Staff Christmas Party"

SCTV (AKA "Second City Television) was a series about an independent television station located in a fictional town called Melonville.  Most episodes presented a day of SCTV programming and lots of behind-the-scenes network politics.  In this episode, the staff Christmas party serves as a wraparound for the network's holiday programming.

SCTV - “Staff Christmas Party”

Maureen Wallace (Catherine O'Hara), SCTV's Director of Public Relations greets the partygoers as they arrive.
Aired December 18, 1981
It's Christmas Eve in Melonville.  The entire staff of the SCTV network has gathered at the studio for a Christmas party.  It's hosted by station owner, Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty).

Johnny LaRue arrives drunk, flirts with Maureen.
Talk show host (and all-around sleaze ball) Johnny LaRue (John Candy) shows up to the party already drunk.  LaRue is in trouble for going over budget on his last project.   He used too many crane shots on a made-for-SCTV movie.  Caballero says LaRue needs to host his show Streetbeef, a show built around "person-on-the-street" interviews.  He begs Caballero to let him take the night off, to no avail.  

Guy Caballero reminds LaRue who's boss. 
LaRue is forced to go out in the streets of Melonville with one microphone and one camera.  It’s a cold, snowy night outside.  No one is out on the streets and all the businesses are closed. 

LaRue gets into a fight with his camera man and he’s reduced to sitting in the snow by himself talking into the boom-mic, looking into the camera. 

LaRue starts to ramble incoherently, until he gets a Christmas visit from the ultimate Streetbeef guest: Santa Claus!  Santa has a very special present for LaRue. 

Great White North:
The McKenzie Brothers, Doug (Dave Thomas) and Bob (Rick Moranis) host the Great White North talk show.  They advise viewers on how to get out of drinking eggnog during the holiday season.  Doug also performs a special "Christmas" version of the Great White North theme song. 

The Sammy Maudlin Show:

Sammy Maudlin (Flaherty) welcomes playwright Neil Simon (Dave Thomas) and Simon’s wife, actress Marsha Mason (Andrea Martin) to his chat show.  They’re promoting their new movie Neil Simon’s Nutcracker Suite, which will air on SCTV on Christmas Eve.  Maudlin and his sidekick William B. Willams (Candy) spend most of the time making jokes about the movie’s title.  They also keep calling Marsha Mason “Pamela Mason”, which makes her very angry.  

Later, we, the viewers, get to see Simon's movie. 

Neil Simon’s Nutcracker Suite:

Judd Hirsch (Levy) stars as Neil Madison, a Neil Simon-esque playwright, Marsha Mason (still played by Martin) plays his wife Jennifer.  They check into a New York hotel on Christmas Eve, where Neil intends to write a play that will feature Jennifer as the star.   

Neil & Jennifer encounter Richard Dreyfuss (Moranis) in the Nutcracker Suite.
He’s written several movies with her in mind, but never a play (this closely mirrors what Neil Simon had done for Marsha Mason in real life).  The hotel is overbooked, they have only one suite available: The Nutcracker Suite.  

Neil tries to calm Jennifer.
When they get to the room, Neil sits down at this typewriter and starts writing a new play.  

Neil takes a "reflective pause" while writing a new play for Jennifer.
He falls asleep and wakes up at midnight to find the Mouse King, a human-sized mouse, helping himself to food in the fridge.  

Neil is helped by the arrival of the Nutcracker Prince, played by Alan Alda (Flaherty). The Mouse King is winning the fight, until Neil tricks the mouse into leaving (Cheez Whiz in the hallway!).  

The Nutcracker Prince boxes with the Mouse King.
The Nutcracker Prince thanks Neil for saving his life and invites him to his suite.

Once there, Neil meets the Sugarplum Fairy and the Snowflake King, played by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine (actually Catherine O'Hara and Thomas), respectively.  They will give him the inspiration to finish his play and give it to Jennifer for Christmas.  

The Sugarplum Fairy (O'Hara) complains to Neil about being a Sugarplum Fairy.

Dusty Towne's Sexy Holiday Special:
Next up, it's time for singer/comedian Dusty Towne's first-ever tv special.  Dusty's guests are comic-actor Divine (Candy) and Solid Gold dancer Marcie Odette (Martin).  

Dusty Towne (O'Hara) opens with a Christmas song and an opening monologue filled with sexual innuendo.  

Odette follows with an "interpretive dance" built around "Deck The Halls." Then Dusty performs a medley of Christmas songs with new, lyrics, most of which consist of sexual puns.  

Divine shows up next.  After a brief exchange of banter, they play a music video that features Divine performing Elvis' "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me".  

Dusty closes the show with a reading of a sexually charged version of "Twas The Night Before Christmas" called "What A Night Before Christmas". 

We cut back to the staff party, where Lola Heatherton (O'Hara) leads the staff in singing "White Christmas" in front of a chroma-keyed Bing Crosby. 

Lola Heatherton performs a "duet" with Bing Crosby.
Plus, we get a promo for SCTV's upcoming Liberace Christmas special!  And a commercial for "Frank Incense". 

J.A. Morris says:

I'll admit that it's hard to be objective here.  I remember catching some of this episode when it first aired in 1981 (on the first day of Christmas Vacation!).    
Dave Thomas as Liberace
Around 1987 or '88, I taped it during a "Nick At Night" Christmas marathon.  It became a Christmas Eve tradition for my parents and I to watch Sammy Maudlin, Neil Simon's Nutcracker Suite and Johnny Larue.  Every year the picture quality on that tape a little fuzzier.  Thankfully, it was released on DVD in 2003.  

Orson Welles (Candy) blows up on the set of Liberace's special.
It's a great Christmas episode, one of the best.  SCTV featured one of the best comedy ensembles of all time.  They're all great here, in every role they inhabit.  I still laugh at "Neil Simon's Nutcracker Suite" and Dusty Towne's horrible puns even if I can recite the whole episode by memory at this point.     

Liberace backs up Ethel Merman (Martin) on "Silent Night"
But one problem with this series is that much of what it parodies is now out-dated.  The Liberace promo and the Dusty Towne show are brilliant send-ups of variety specials that were omnipresent at the time.

The Nutcracker Prince arrives in the Nutcracker Suite.
If you're under 40, you probably don't remember those variety shows.  There's a running gag on the show about "Jane Russell's Cross Your Heart Bra" that won't make any sense if you don't remember the early 80s.  Also, who remembers Marsha Mason or Pamela Mason today? 

Edna Boil (Martin), sings at the Staff Christmas Party, backed by her husband Tex (Thomas) on organ.
But you don't need to know who they were to appreciate the Nutcracker Suite sketch.  Sammy Maudlin and William B. are brilliant characters, both personifying the schmaltzy phoniness of show biz.  And Candy is brilliant as Johnny LaRue.  His bit was taped on location in the freezing streets of Edmonton, Alberta.  Much of his dialogue was made up on the spot.  It's a hilarious, acting tour de force by the late, great Candy. 

Edith Prickley (Martin) and Lola Heatherton get sentimental & weepy talking about the movie Holiday Inn.
"Staff Christmas Party" is must-watch viewing in my house every Christmas and it's also one of the best episodes of a great series.    

Season's Greetings from Sammy Maudlin!

J.A. Morris' rating:
4 candy canes

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blackadder's Christmas Carol

First aired December 23, 1988

"In the reign of good Queen Vic, there stood, in Dumpling Lane in old London Towne, the Moustache Shoppe of one Ebenezer Blackadder -- the kindest and loveliest man in all England." -Opening narration.

"In the feeling good ledger in life, we are rich, indeed!" - Ebenezer Blackadder

Ebenezer Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson, who plays all the members of the Blackadder family in this special) is, as the above narration says, the kindest and most charitable man in London.  He is constantly donating money and offering assistance to poor citizens who visit his mustache shop.  Blackadder is assisted in his shop by a man named Baldrick (Tony Robinson), who is a bit of a dim bulb, but well-intentioned.

"Congratulations, Mr Baldrick! Something of a triumph, I think — you must be the first person ever to spell `Christmas’ without getting any of the letters right at all."
On Christmas Eve, the mustache shop is inundated with people seeking money, food, or anything they can get.   Blackadder's tree is a mere twig. "Yes, but size isn’t important, my friend — it’s not what you’ve got; it’s where you stick it."

His business has earned him 17 pounds and a penny for the year.  Baldrick suggests that Blackadder would have made more money if he wasn't so gullible.

"Yeah, I just wish we weren’t doing so well in the bit-short-of-prezzies-and-feeling-a-gullible-prat ledger."

Shortly thereafter, a woman named Mrs. Scratchit (Pauline Melville) gets Blackadder to pay her £17  for a matchbox (£1 per match).  A neighborhood boy takes the penny to go buy gin.

"Mrs Scratchit, you have the body of a weak woman, but the mind of a criminal genius!"

Blackadder's shrill niece, Millicent (Nicola Bryant) pops in and walks out with all the presents and the Christmas Twig.  The Mr. Bumble-esque beadle (Denis Lill) from the local orphanage takes their bowl of nuts on behalf of the unusually rotund orphans in his charge.

"Oh, I just thought I pop round, you know, just on the off chance. Well, you know, Christmas is a time traditionally connected with presents…"

This is followed by a visit from Queen Victoria (Miriam Margolyes) and Prince Albert (Jim Broadbent), who are having a "Christmas adventure" in which they (unconvincingly) disguise themselves as common folk to "go out amongst the people to reward the virtuous and the good."

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria discuss their plans for a "Christmas adventure"
They have heard of his kindness and ask him for a £10 donation.  All they have left to give is their Christmas turkey, which is taken by the royals.

Queen Victoria: "Give us ten pounds for the virtuous old lady next door."

Blackadder heads off to bed, resigned to the fact that they'll have a "thin Christmas".  But Baldrick remembers something he forgot to mention earlier:

Oh by the way ...
 "‘Night ‘night. Oh! By the way — I forgot to mention: When you were out there… …there was this enormous ghostly creature coming here saying, “Beware! for, tonight, you shall receive a strange and terrible visitation!” I just thought I’d mention it.  It come through the wall, it said its piece, and then it sodded off.

Sure enough, when he is sleeping, Blackadder is visited by the Spirit Of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane).

"How do you do? Just doing my usual rounds, you know: a wee bit of haunting, getting misers to change their evil ways. But you’re obviously such a good chap, there’ll be no need for any of that nonsense!"
The Spirit tells Blackadder he makes the rounds on Christmas Eve, convincing "misers to change their evil ways".  The Spirit has just stopped by to say hello to Blackadder, since he is such a good man.  But when he mentions that Blackadder's descendents were evil, Ebenezer wants to hear about them.

Ebenezer Blackadder is shocked to learn that his ancestors were bad and wants to know more
The Spirit shows Blackadder visions of  Edmund, Lord Blackadder, who lived during the Elizabethan Era.  Edmund is always scheming and manipulative of Queen Elizabeth I (Miranda Richardson) and her advisor Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry).

"And, look, there’s a surprise present for you inside. It’s a novelty death warrant, and you give it to a friend."
Edmund is a lying scoundrel who gains wealth and power by any means necessary.  Ebenezer begins to wonder if Edmund was doing something right.

The Spirit then shows Ebenezer scenes from the Regency featuring the behavior of his grandfather, Mr. Edmund Blackadder, Esquire, butler to Prince Regent George (as played by Hugh Laurie).

"Right, Balders…  I’m sick of getting no presents and the Prince Regent getting the lot, so this is the plan: We play our traditional game of charades, and, when he gets bored and asks for a story, you come out here, stick the dress and the hat on, and then knock on the door. I’ll take it from there. Have you got it?"

In this era, we witness Blackadder and Baldrick trying to steal the Prince's collection of Christmas gifts.  A poor old woman shows up and asks for the gifts and George gives them to her.  Blackadder chases her down and steals the presents for himself.  Upon seeing this, Ebenezer says of his grandfather "his behavior, as you say…disgraceful. But, he actually got the presents!"

Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent
Next, in an attempt to undo the damage he fears he may have done, the Spirit shows Blackadder what the distant future will hold for his  family.

Husbands: Hail Queen Asphyxia, Supreme Mistress of the Universe. Asphyxia:
…and hail to you, my Triple-Husbandoid. I summon you here to group-greet our swift imperial navies home.
 Approach, Grand Admiral of the Dark Segment and Lord of the High-Slung Bottoms of Zob!
Apparently, if he is bad, Blackadder will become ruler of the universe, with Baldrick's descendent as his slave.  But if he behaves kindly to his fellow humans, he will end up poor and the slave of Baldrick.

"For God’s sake, Baldrick — if you’re going to wear that ridiculous jockstrap, at least keep your legs together!"
The visions of past and future convince Ebenezer Blackadder to change his ways ... for the worse!

 He wakes up Christmas morning and punches Baldrick twice as a jumping off point for his new-found nastiness.

Ebenezer makes Baldrick a fist for Christmas
 Millicent shows up with her fiance Ralph, Blackadder is cruel to them and tosses them out.

"Oh, my dear Millicent come for her dinner. …And she seems to have brought the fish course with her."
Ebenezer throws several more people out of his mustache shop before the night is over.  His newfound bad attitude will lead to the acquisition of wealth and power for himself and future generations of Blackadders...or will it? 


J.A. Morris says:
 Blackadder's Christmas Carol was my introduction to the BBC's Blackadder series and it's a good gateway to the characters.  It gives us a "reverse-Scrooge" scenario.  A good, generous man is visited by a Spirit, wakes up on Christmas morning and decides "that bad guys have all the fun."  I would like to think that Mr. Dickens himself would appreciate this parody.  If you watch through the end of this special, you'll see that its message is not quite as cynical as it first appears.

Instead of presents, Lord Melchett and Edmund Blackadder exchange insults for Christmas.

If you haven't seen this series, please check it out.  Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson were always hilarious as Blackadder and Baldrick, respectively.  They were assisted by one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time.  Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent and Robbie Coltrane are all stars in their own right and they're all great here.

In this version of the story "Scrooge" buys the "prize turkey" for himself

This special can be found on dvd and also streams on Netflix (as does the entire Blackadder series).

Blackadder give the Spirit a "medicinal" beverage.

Blackadder's Christmas Carol is one of the best parodies of this story and it's all the funnier since (like the original) it's set in the Victorian Era.  Highly recommended!

J.A. Morris' rating:
4 candy canes


RigbyMel says:

The Blackadder series is one of my favorite British tv shows ever and this snarky Scrooge-in-reverse takeoff on A Christmas Carol is laugh out loud hilarious.   Ben Elton and Richard Curtis' acerbic script is very well rendered by very talented comedic actors.   I particularly enjoy the over the top ridiculous performances of the various royal personages.

Queenie (Miranda Richardson) and Nursie (Patsy Byrne) with paper chain Christmas decorations
 I still laugh out loud each time I watch this episode and it is a nice antidote to the sometimes overly-treacly Dickens adaptations floating around this time of year. 

RigbyMel's rating:
4 candy canes (or should I be giving naughty Mr. Blackadder a lump of coal?)

Closing credit card with bonus Christmas message courtesy of Baldrick