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.
...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.
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.
2 candy canes