Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The X-Files: "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas"

Premiered December 13, 1998.

It's Christmas Eve, somewhere in Maryland.  FBI Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) has called his partner Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) to a stakeout of an abandoned mansion.  Scully is a bit annoyed, since she has lots of Christmas presents to wrap. 

Mulder tells her that on December 24, 1917, two star-crossed lovers named Maurice and Lyda killed each other in a suicide pact.  Their ghosts haunt the mansion every Christmas Eve.  In fact, every couple that has lived in the house since then has all died tragically on Christmas Eve.  Scully doesn't believe in ghosts and dismisses Mulder's story.  

Once they enter the house, Scully notices a clock that is keeping perfect time.  They investigate further and notice a fireplace where the fire has just been extinguished.  The agents notice a creaking under the floor boards, so Mulder lifts up the boards and discovers two dead bodies.  Scully and Mulder realize that the bodies bear a strong themselves!  

When Scully runs out of the library, a door slams behind her.  Mulder opens it and discovers the doorway has been bricked over, trapping him.

Suddenly, a man (Ed Asner) appears and asks Mulder what he's doing there.  He analyzes Mulder, telling him that his quest to learn the truth will drive him insane and that he tolerates Scully's skepticism because he's desperately lonely. 

Elsewhere in the house, Scully encounters a woman (Lily Tomlin).  She says that Scully's life must be "awful," since she spends so much time with Mulder chasing after things she doesn't believe in.  The woman states that the only pleasure Scully gets out of life is proving Mulder wrong.  

Scully and Mulder soon learn that the people in the house are the ghosts of Lyda and Maurice.  Will Mulder and Scully make it out of the mansion alive? 

RigbyMel says:

I remember seeing this creepy and festive episode of The X-Files back when it originally aired.  It made quite an impression on me then and holds up well 20+ years later.  There are also some aspects of the episode that have an unexpected and interesting resonance in light of references to the 1917/18 flu pandemic and our current ongoing coronavirus situation. 

"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" is a Christmas cracker of a ghost story as well as a meditation on loneliness during the holiday season or otherwise.  It's also essentially a 4 person play with the not-necessarily benevolent spirits played by the delightful Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin wrecking pop-psych havoc upon Mulder and Scully's own loneliness and their fears about their worst impulses.  The quality of the acting makes or breaks an episode like this and all 4 actors are definitely up to the task. 

The Christmas season is literally the darkest time of the year and so we often celebrate with lights and warmth and feasting to counteract the darkness.  However, that darkness also manifests in the sense of loneliness and melancholy that many experience during the season. 

Moreover, there is a wonderful tradition of ghostly tales and stories associated with the holiday season with which "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" slots in nicely.  There are even some direct references to the granddaddy of all ghostly Christmas tales, A Christmas Carol -- we see a clip of the Alistair Sim version of the tale on Mulder's TV late in the episode.  Also, corpses under the floorboards really takes the whole tombstone with your name on it thing on it to another level in terms of Christmas Yet To Come!

Although Maurice and Lyda's analysis of our heroes has some truth to it, the ghosts miss the fact that ultimately Mulder and Scully's friendship/partnership is more important to them than their flaws as individuals.  When Mulder and Scully are able to actually communicate (in pools of blood) they are able to overcome the ghosts' head games and make their escape from the haunted mansion.  Their ghostly encounter leaves them with a new and deeper appreciation of their friendship and for the spirit of the holiday season.  They even exchange gifts with each other -- aww! 

I also guarantee that you will never hear Bing Crosby's version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" in quite the same way after watching this episode.  

This X-Files episode is heartily recommended -- but not for the faint of heart. 

RigbyMel's rating:

4 candy canes! 

J.A. Morris says:

I'm mostly in agreement with my co-blogger here.  The X-Files was a show I usually watched when it aired and I remember enjoying this episode when it premiered.  

I'll echo what RigbyMel said about the light and darkness that are both present during the holiday season.  "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas" begins in an extremely dark place, with a story of two lovers who took their lives on Christmas Eve.  However, at the end of this episode, Mulder and Scully realize that there is more goodness than darkness in the world and that having each other (even if they drive each other crazy at times) is better than having no one.  

I'm a big fan of both Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin and they're great in "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas."  Both actors bring the perfect amount of humor and horror to their characters and they play well off Duchovny and Anderson.  

One thing I noticed while re-watching this episode:there are few traditional Christmas symbols to be found here.  No Christmas trees, no Santas, no wreathes, no Nativities.  We get a quick glance at Mulder and Scully's Christmas gifts at the end, but that's it.  Yet this is most definitely a Christmas episode in every other sense.  

During its run, The X-Files generally had two types of episodes:(1)"The Monster Of The Week" Episodes and (2) Episodes that built on the big conspiracy that lurked in the background of the series.  I always preferred the "Monster" episodes and this holiday episode certainly falls into that category.

"How The Ghosts Stole Christmas" is recommended to all fans of Christmas entertainment who like a little bit of darkness and horror to go with their eggnog and hot chocolate.  It's especially recommended for fans of Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner.  

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 candy canes!

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Rugrats: "Chanukah"

Premiered December 6, 1996.

Chanukah has arrived and Tommy Pickles (Elizabeth Daily), his cousin Angelica (Cheryl Chase) and their friends are a bit confused about what's happening.  Tommy's family lights candles and he gets a present every night for several days and he wonders if every night is his birthday.  

Their grandfather Boris Kropotkin (Michael Bell) is appearing in the local synagogue's play, which is titled "The Meaning Of Chanukah."  Boris is playing Judah Maccabee, the hero of the Chanukah story.  King Antiochus, the villain of Chanukah, will be played by Boris's longtime rival Shlomo (Fyvush Finkel).  Boris and Shlomo have known each other since their childhood in Russia and Boris feels Shlomo lords his successful business over him.  
of the miracle of the oil associated with

Tommy and Angelica's grandparents eat latkes, which symbolize Chanukah's miracle of the oil.

When Tommy and friends see Shlomo's photo next to the phrase "Meaning Of Chanukah," they become confused and believe Shlomo is "the meanie of Chanukah!"  This makes them worry for Boris' safety.

Angelica doesn't want to attend the play, because it will cause her to miss A Very Cynthia Christmas, her favorite holiday special, which airs at the same time as the pageant.  Her Aunt Didi (Melanie Chartoff) insists she attend the play, but Angelica conspires to find a way to watch the Cynthia special.  

Didi's husband Stu (Jack Riley) is not Jewish, but he wants to show respect for the Kropotkin family's Chanukah traditions.  With this in mind, he builds a giant light-up Menorah and plans to show it off at the Chanukah play.  

When the family arrives at the synagogue, Boris and Shlomo immediately start arguing.  The play gets more complicated when another cast member named Lowell Armstein (Alan Rachins) arrives. 

Lowell thought he'd be playing King Antiochus, but the Rabbi (Ron Liebman) tells Lowell he will be playing "the Village Kvetch."  This frustrates Lowell, since he planned to perform a monologue and brought along music to accompany him. 

Angelica sneaks away to search for a TV, so she can the Christmas special.  She's thwarted when an adult finds her and deposits her in the synagogue's nursery with Tommy and the other kids. 

Will the Rugrats learn the Meaning Of Chanukah?  Will the feud between Shlomo and Boris ruin the Chanukah play?  

J.A. Morris says:

Let me state up front that I've been aware of Rugrats since their inception, but I haven't watched many episodes from beginning to end.  But I've always liked what I've seen of the show.  "Chanukah" is fun holiday episode that provides a nice introduction to Chanukah and the traditions related to the occasion.  

I appreciated the resolution to Boris and Shlomo's conflict.  Boris was jealous of Shlomo's successful business.  We learn that Shlomo was jealous of Boris' family, because he and his wife never had the time to be "blessed with children."  Since his wife is now deceased, Shlomo wonders if there's a point to traditions if your loved ones are no longer around.  I won't spoil the ending, but since this is an episode of a Nickelodeon series, it won't be shocking to learn that "a Chanukah miracle" occurs.  

Angelica would rather stay home and watch a Christmas special instead of going to the Chanukah play.  On a (possibly) related note, when Stu is driving to the synagogue (with the giant Menorah on top of his car!) he winds up getting stuck in a Christmas parade! 

I believe these are references to the fact that during the holiday season, many people forget that other traditions exist and that not everyone celebrates Christmas.  I would hope "Chanukah" taught younger viewers of Rugrats to understand this and to respect other peoples' beliefs.  

On a lighter note, Lowell Armstein adds some humor to the episode.

I'm glad this episode exists, if for no other reason than because the world could use for more episodes/specials/movies that focus on occasions that aren't Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This episode also makes me want to watch more episodes of Rugrats, and not just their many holiday episodes!

"Chanukah" is funny, touching and educational.  It's a great introduction to Chanukah and it gets my highest rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 dreidels!

RigbyMel says:

I've enjoyed watching assorted episodes of Rugrats over the years,  but the Chanukah episode was new to me. 

This episode does a good job of telling the story of Chanukah through the eyes of babes.  In point of fact,  it actually tells the basics of the Chanukah pretty well for adults too.  

I like the way we see the babies imagining themselves in the telling of the story -- including Tommy's great line "A maccababy's gotta do what a maccababy's gotta do" (which plays on the name of Judah Maccabee -- the hero of the original Chanukah story).    

I also like the pop up Old Testament stories we see when the babies imagine reading the Torah in secret while Grandma reads the story.  

One of the appeals of Rugrats for me has always been the wordplay based in childlike (mis)understanding of language.  For example, the babies decide that Shlomo is the "meanie of Chanukah" and determine that he should take a nap rather than bully Grandpa Boris.  The "meanie of Chanukah" bit is also great in that it plays on the whole "meaning of Christmas" schtick of many a holiday special.  

Speaking of holiday specials, bratty Angelica's plan to use the babies' mission to protect Grandpa Boris as a means to watching her Cynthia Christmas program is humorous.   

Moreover, in terms of wordplay,  Angelica's explanation that Chhhhh-anukah (with extra phlegm) takes place between "Misgiving and Christmas" is delightful and a really good illustration of how this Jewish celebration tends to get lumped in with the other traditions floating around in the ether this time of year.  

Rugrats "Chanukah" may well be the very best pop culture explication of Chanukah aimed at children available.  It's sweet and gentle telling of the tale has heart and humor and manages to be educational without being didactic.   I'd heartily recommend it to anyone  --  young or old -- who enjoys holiday programming.  

RigbyMel's rating: 

4 dreidels!    

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Real Ghostbusters: "The Revenge Of Murray The Mantis"


Premiered November 2, 1987.  

It's the day before Thanksgiving in New York City.  At their headquarters, the Ghostbusters are cleaning their Ecto-1 car so it'll look good when they drive it in in New York's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Peter Venkman (Lorenzo Music) is looking forward to the parade, since he thinks it'll be a great place for him to meet women.  

Later that evening, a work crew at a warehouse is rushing to finish a balloon in time for the parade.  They're being supervised by Anne Lawson (Amy Hill), one of the organizers of the parade.  It's a balloon of Murray The Mantis, star of a cartoon series where he protected a garden from bad guy bugs.  Anne is glad the balloon will be ready, but she gets a bit unnerved when she learns the warehouse used to be a morgue.  

At the parade, Egon (Maurice LaMarche) and Ray (Frank Welker) are excited to see the Murray balloon, since they're big fans of the cartoon.  Venkman, on the hand, has never heard of Murray or his show.  

The parade is going well until suddenly, the Murray balloon turns into an actual giant Praying Mantis!

It wrecks the parade and sends spectators fleeing in terror.  The Ghostbusters snap into action and attack the big bug.  Ann informs them the Murray balloon was made in a building that was once a morgue.  Ray figures that the balloon must have picked up "death force energy" from the old morgue, which made it come to life.  

After chasing the mantis to Central Park, the Ghostbusters realize they won't be able to defeat Murray by themselves.  Winston Zeddemore (Arsenio Hall) says if they want to take down Murray, they'll need help from "the Big Guy "- The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!  The Ghostbusters stopped Stay Puft from destroying New York (as seen in the Ghostbusters movie) and he's been held captive in their containment unit ever since.  

If they release Stay Puft, he might be able to help them beat Murray.  However, there's also a possibility that he could destroy the city.  Is it worth the risk?  

Will Murray The Mantis ruin Thanksgiving?

J.A. Morris says:

This is a solid Thanksgiving episode of a good 1980s cartoon.  In earlier reviews, we/ve talked about how the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade is just a big as part of Thanksgiving Day as turkey, pumpkin pie and cranberries.  "The Revenge Of Murray The Mantis" puts its entire focus on the parade and we don't get the usual Thanksgiving tropes like culinary disasters or annoying relatives.  

The story here is pretty basic Ghostbusters stuff.  A parade balloon comes to life, animated by "death energy" and the Ghostbusters jump into action to stop it.  The addition of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man makes the episode feel more connected with the original theatrical film, something you can't say about every episode.  Slimer, another ghost who appeared in the movie also helps them control Stay Puft.  

When I was a kid, there always seemed to be balloons that featured characters who had fallen into obscurity and my only point of reference for them was the Macy's parade.  Linus The Lion Hearted is a good example.  I believe Murray is meant to represent cartoon characters who have faded from public memory, since Peter Venkman has never heard of Murray or his old cartoon.  

The Real Ghostbusters featured a great voice cast and they all do fine work here, even if they don't sound much like their movie counterparts.  Frank Welker does double-duty as Ray Stantz and Slimer

If I had any problems with "The Revenge Of Murray The Mantis," it's that the series' low budget undermines the story, especially its action scenes.  The episode features a fight between Murray and Stay Puft, two giant monstrous characters.  However, we don't really ever see both characters in the same shot.   The closest we get to seeing Murray and Stay Puft onscreen simultaneously is when Ray watches them through his binoculars.  I understand it's a cheap cartoon from more than 30 years ago, but it's still disappointing.   

"The Revenge Of Murray The Mantis" is an enjoyable tribute to the Macy's parade that features likeable characters, fun action scenes and great voice-acting.  It's recommended to all fans of the parade and especially recommended to Ghostbusters fans.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 pumpkin pies.

RigbyMel says:

I remember watching a fair bit of The Real Ghostbusters back in the mists of the 1980s, partly because my youngest brother was really into the show, but I have no memory at all of seeing this Thanksgiving themed episode until checking it out in recent years.  

The action essentially boils down to the Thanksgiving day parade being interrupted by a kaiju battle between the possessed Murray The Mantis balloon and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  High concept!

I like the balloon/kaiju mayhem idea very much but, as J.A. Morris points out above, I do feel that the low-rent animation makes the overall impact a bit...underwhelming.  

Still, "The Revenge of Murray The Mantis" is enjoyable enough to appeal to Thanksgiving day parade and Ghostbusters fans alike, even if it's not a "classic."

RigbyMel's rating:

2 and a half pumpkin pies.