“A Very Brady Christmas” (1988)

I’ve already written at length about the numerous ill-fated attempts at recapturing the ol’ Brady Bunch magic during the 70s and 80s, but now, it being the holiday season and all, I suppose I should talk about the one that didn’t result in profound embarrassment for everyone involved. That would be 1988’s A Very Brady Christmas, a one shot TV movie that ended up being among the most watched programs of the year. Like drinking an entire punchbowl of eggnog, it’s sweet and goes down easy, but leaves you feeling kind of nauseous.

The movie opens with Mike and Carol Brady, living in empty nest bliss in the same house as the original show. Alice shows up at their door one day, weeping over being dumped by her husband, Sam the Butcher, for a younger woman, in what we can assume was revenge for her running off to Hollywood and engaging in a passionate affair with Rip Taylor. Bereft of family or other friends, she stays with the Bradys, donning her old uniform and going back to work, because evidently being a housekeeper is the only thing that gives her life meaning.

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“Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa” (2002)

Christmas is a time for peace, togetherness, and upholding traditions. Tradition is especially important when it comes to holiday season entertainment–despite Hollywood putting out at least one new Christmas movie every year, most of us prefer to watch It’s a Wonderful Life for the 150th time, or continue the endless debate over whether Alastair Sim or Reginald Owen played the best Ebenezer Scrooge (answer: of course it was Alastair Sim, don’t be silly). We don’t want to get to know new characters when we could be wrapping ourselves in well-worn but still cozy blankets instead.

New Christmas specials sometimes turn out to be cute little gems, like 1999’s Olive, the Other Reindeer. Some, like the previously reviewed Christmas in Tattertown, are quirky failures. Then there is Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa, which aired once in 2002, and was never seen again. Disappearing into obscurity immediately after the credits rolled, it was recently rediscovered thanks to YouTube.

The best that can be said about Rapsittie Street Kids is that it’s original. You will almost certainly have never seen anything like it before, nor will you ever see anything like it again. In fact, it’s so original that you’ll think you dreamt it, because surely nothing this grossly incompetent could have possibly been deemed acceptable for primetime network viewing, let alone be promoted as the first in a series of original holiday specials.

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“A Chipmunk Christmas” (1981)

Mention the name “Kardashian” to someone, and they might sneer in response, or rant about how they’ve made a fortune for doing little more than being rich and attractive. How dare this family find something they’re good at, and capitalize on it? Surely it wasn’t until they came along that America was fascinated with (and often threw money at) a person or concept that seemed absurdly simple, and maybe even a little dumb.

Well, folks, I’d like to tell you a little story about a man named Ross Bagdasarian. You might know him better under the name “David Seville.”

Bagdasarian, a struggling actor and singer/songwriter, found success in 1958 with the novelty hit “Witch Doctor,” and was evidently so tickled by the sped up vocals used for the “backup singer” (which was Bagdasarian himself) that he released an entire song done in that fashion, the holiday classic “The Chipmunk Song.” It was a smash, even winning three Grammy Awards, and still in heavy rotation today (and certainly easier on the ears than, say, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” or “Dominic the Donkey”).

Bagdasarian parlayed the success of “The Chipmunk Song” into a handful of other singles, and a short-lived cartoon. When Bagdasarian’s son, Ross, Jr., inherited the Chipmunk media empire, he took it to even greater heights, producing albums like the legendary Chipmunk Punk (featuring covers of the blistering anti-authoritarian screeds “My Sharona” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”), a Saturday morning cartoon that aired for more than seven years, direct to video releases, and, well into the 21st century, a live action/CGI film series that by all accounts is atrocious, yet still made more than a billion dollars at the box office. You read that right, I wrote “billion.” With a B.

All this, because a guy thought a recording of himself singing in a squeaky voice was hilarious. That, my friends, is how you take nothing and spin it into gold.

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“Christmas in Tattertown” (1988)

The 80s may have been a golden era for pop music and horror movies, but what no one looks back on fondly is the animation it produced. Up until the release of The Little Mermaid, even Disney movies were stuck in a rut of dreary, washed out palettes, populated by dull, unmemorable characters. Saturday morning cartoons were an especially dire affair–I direct you to Saturday Supercade, a collection of shows based on arcade games in which more care was taken on the intro than on the shows themselves.

A renaissance in children’s programming was on the horizon, but there were a few stumbling blocks along the way. One of these was 1988’s Christmas in Tattertown, Nickelodeon’s very first original program and created by none other than Ralph Bakshi. Now, you might think, huh, Ralph Bakshi, creator of Fritz the Cat, the first x-rated animated movie, and Coonskin, a blaxploitation cartoon strictly for adults. That’s an interesting choice for Nickelodeon to work with on a kids’ show. And yet, Bakshi was at the helm of more family friendly fare at that point, with the reboot of Mighty Mouse, a precursor to the quirky, animation style Ren & Stimpy  would later make famous.

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