Pac-Man the videogame was pretty much just a circle eating dots in a maze while being chased by ghosts. Not much story there. So you can't really complain too much when the '82 Saturday morning cartoon--and the Christmas special made in conjunction with it--just don't make much sense. In fact, Pac-Man only has to save Christmas because he sort of ruins it in the first place, bringing down Santa's sleigh because the disembodied googly-eyes of chomped ghosts freaked him out. And who could blame him? To make things worse, it features Santa's reindeer eating Pac-Man's "power pellets" in order to get an instant energy boost. Considering that around this same time Nancy Reagan was putting on her "Just Say No to Drugs" campaign, telling kids that all they need are these little pill-like things that give you energy and strength seems like a bad idea. That's right: Christmas Comes to Pac-Land isn't just a crappy cartoon. It's a holiday gateway drug.
7) He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special
Aside from the always fun He-Man/She-Ra crossover, there's not much that doesn't feel completely forced in this giant toy commercial. Two kids from Earth get stuck in Eternia for the holidays, and their Christmas cheer attracts the bad guys, blah, blah, blah. Even Skeletor learns a valuable lesson about caring, which even at age 8, we knew was horrible bullshit. What a missed opportunity -- it would have been much cooler if Santor had shown up with Elfo and Reindor in the Power-Sleigh and totally kicked Skeletor's bony ass with his Ho-Ho-Crossbow. And then Teela could come in and explain the magic of Hanukkah (to avoid losing the Jewish toy-buying business), they serve roast Orko for dinner, and it's time to deck Greyskull with boughs of holly.
6) Ziggy's Gift
Does the above clip encourage children to befriend meth addicts posing as Santa Claus? That's one of the disturbing questions raised by Ziggy's Gift. The most critically acclaimed entry on this list, this 1982 Emmy winner follows Tom Wilson's cartoon everyman as he tries to raise money for the less fortunate by working as a street corner Santa. With his dog Fuzz by his side, he witnesses how society has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas (it's about robots, right?) as he teaches others about the inner peace that comes from giving. Yawn. There's a lot that irritates about this special, from how the chatty Ziggy of the comics has suddenly been rendered mute to the insipid Harry Nilsson song that runs throughout the show. But the biggest problem is the show's heavy handed morality and its portrayal of Ziggy as a Christlike figure. If I want preachiness my holiday cartoons, I'll watch Linus's soliloquy from A Charlie Brown Christmas, thank you very much.
5) A Chipmunk Christmas
Alvin learns the true meaning of Christmas... but does it really have to take a dying kid to do it? Especially a kid with cholera? Okay, so the kid gets better by the end of the show, thanks in part to the boost that Alvin's harmonica gave him, but still... cholera. One of the most deadly diseases in human history, an infectious gastroenteritis that's spread primarily through fecal matter contaminating drinking water. This does not make us want to sing carols along with small, sarcastic, sweatered rodents.
4) A Special Sesame Street Christmas
1978 gave us two Sesame Street holiday specials, the underrated Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, and this journey into despair. Originally airing on CBS, this is the only Sesame Street-related program not to be produced by Children's Television Workshop/Sesame Workshop. It shows. Essentially a loose remake of "A Christmas Carol" with Oscar the Grouch taking on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the show features such guest stars as Leslie Uggams, Anne Murray, Dick Smothers, Michael Jackson (who has about 10 seconds of screen time) and Henry Fonda (ditto). On paper it doesn't sound so bad, right? Well, check out what happens at the 8:36 mark in the following clip:
Terror, thy name is Ethel Merman. If kids weren't scarred enough from how she casually calls Imogene Cocoa an idiot, they would be once she started belting out "Tomorrow" from Annie (in an act of Internet mercy, the above clip cuts off before Merman's butchering of that Broadway chestnut begins). During all this merriment, you may have noticed a distinct lack of Muppets. That's because the show's producers only ponied up for the rights to feature Big Bird, Oscar and Barkley in the show -- with the rest of the budget probably going to quaaludes for the writing staff.
3) The Smurfs Christmas Special
This one sets its tone early: two kids and their grandfather turn over their sleigh in the snow, and Grandpa dies. And later in the show, the suggested sacrifice of children. Smurfy Christmas! But the worst part has to be the song that the Smurfs sing, Who-ville-like, a few times over the course of the show: "Goodness makes the badness go away/Goodness makes you happy every day/Badness cannot start if there's goodness in your heart/Goodness makes the badness go away." That's not just the chorus; that's the whole damn song. Over and over again. I don't care if it does magically rebuild your ruined Smurf village, that's a little ditty that just makes you root for Gargamel.
2) The Year Without a Santa Claus
One of the more soulless creative decisions in recent memory was the green-lighting of this 2006 remake of the Rankin-Bass classic. Completely devoid of the charm that made the original such a perrenial holiday favorite, this NBC telefilm stars John Goodman as a world-weary St. Nick who contemplates throwing in the towel on the whole Christmas thing. (Which is fitting, since you'll feel the same way after watching five minutes of it). In an effort to save the holiday, his elves Jingle (Ethan Suplee) and Jangle (Eddie Griffin) go searching for folks who believe in the Christmas spirit, while a rival elf played by Chris Kattan tries to contemporize Santa's workshop. Spoiler alert, it all works out in the end. But not before viewers have to endure this:
The only musical sequence from the original Year Without a Santa Claus to be included in the remake, this medley is so over the top that it makes Baz Luhrmann's direction seem subtle. If you can get beyond how both of the famous Miser songs have been mashed up into a medley of pain, or how atrocious Harvey Fierstein and Michael McKean are as the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser, there's still the fact that the rest of the show is completely lacking any soul or entertainment value. It's a 90 minute lump of coal inserted rectally into good people everywhere.
1) The Star Wars Holiday Special
Could any other special have topped this list, other than this strange artifact of the Star Wars craze? Not on this website. And with good reason; this is the pinnacle of ludicrousness. Wookies talking in incomprehensible Wookese for long, long minutes at a stretch. Bea Arthur. Han Solo hugging pretty much everything in sight. Art Carney delivering Wookie Porn. An obviously high Princess Leia, who's singing...something. And Luke Skywalker video-phoning in a performance in which he looks like he's just had his car accident that morning. All this, and the first appearance of Boba Fett...sort of. And my god, it goes on. Just on and on. And on. Forget about the Life-Day plot, because it was laser-thin--this was just a terrible 70s variety special with Star Wars wrapping. Granted, nobody cared that it sucked when it first came out, because it was Star Wars after all--and no one really cares that it sucks now, seeing as how millions of fans own it on bootleg videotape. Love it, loathe it, or probably both--this is utter holiday ridiculousness that just can't be ignored.
Tags: Christmas, Comic Strips, Doctor Who, He-Man, Pac-Man, Peanuts, Saturday Morning, Smurfs, Star Wars