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It’s not just “Rudolph”: Holiday TV specials are mostly creepy, weird or depressing as hell

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“Rejected for having a unique deformity, Rudolph runs away with another misfit, a dentist elf. Before Rudy can find a toy attorney to sue Santa for discrimination, the big guy settles and makes him head of his sleigh team.”

That is how yours really summarized the plot of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 2004 as a part of a vacation programming round-up for the native newspaper the place I labored as a result of, nicely, it’s true. Even this doesn’t even cowl each offense on show within the beloved particular.

In “Rudolph” Santa stands by whereas Rudolph is bullied and ostracized by his friends and adults alike and informs Donner, Rudolph’s father, that he must be ashamed of getting a child with a glowing pink nostril. Rudolph’s crush Clarice declares that no daughter of hers goes to affiliate with a reindeer with a delivery defect.

Hermey the elf will get booted from the workshop as a result of he has totally different aspirations than engaged on the toy manufacturing unit line. Earlier than the 2 escape the hostile work setting that’s Santaland, the viewers additionally enjoys sexist statements from the narrator, who drops a line concerning the delicate womenfolk.

“Rudolph” stays the usual bearer for vacation programming as a result of it highlights the ways in which almost each single vacation basic – and lots of new ones – are problematic. In some sense one may consider it as the mom recipe of the American Christmas particular.

To those that suspect that that is one other case of a lefty pinko progressive outlet crapping on America’s favourite magical ungulate, know this: I really like “Rudolph.” The particular performs a central position in my annual vacation baking day, holding a spot of honor alongside different Christmas classics of our home, together with “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” our “South Park” vacation particular DVD set and “Bad Santa.”

On the similar time we will acknowledge that the story is as flawed as that Huffington Publish story that kicked off a current on-line rampage suggests. Observing its weird retrograde tone is way from new, and the truth that stated brief twisted the knickers of many a conservative is as mindless as getting indignant concerning the “War on Christmas.”

Sure, “Rudolph” is hilariously steeped in ignorance and, when you have a warped humorousness, comically darkish. None of this stuff wreck its basic standing any greater than Hallmark Channel’s vaguely sinister formulation, which persistently critiques ladies for being formidable and unbiased, prevents tens of millions of viewers from lapping up the sugary silliness of their films. At the least their heroines don’t die, though a few of the hottest guys who they fall in love with occur to be widowers.

The American imaginative and prescient of vacation perfection is a largely unattainable fantasy. Idyllic, universally pleasant small cities unblemished by chilly business or urbanized inhumanity are as a lot of a fantasy as the notion that seasonal heat and cheer can unite the world in brotherhood. Commercials promoting households gathering collectively for the season can really feel like a splinter within the eye for a lot of, many individuals.

So if most of the vacation specials we prize probably the most sometimes incorporate some factor of dying, abuse, cruelty and common wickedness, all of which is someway dispelled by the magic of Christmas, that displays the shadow aspect of the American expectation of holidays. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a logo of the rule of Christmas Americana, not the exception. And that is just fantastic. Cheers to Rudolph.

“Rudolph,” initially broadcast in 1964, forgoes the tragic dying a part of the equation, though there are a number of shut calls (a hapless Yeti tortured into submission underneath the guise of serving to it, utilizing lure dentistry). However numerous specials produced by Rankin/Bass greater than make up for its relative lack of mortality, a few of which have grow to be seasonal broadcast staples.

Take 1968’s “The Little Drummer Boy,” re-airing on cable’s Freeform on Tuesday, Dec. 18. At 7 a.m. and Sunday, Dec. 23, 7 a.m. That is the Rankin/Bass story of the child who impressed that track David Bowie and Bing Crosby would ultimately slay in that unimaginable 1977 mash-up. Because the lyrics don’t fill in his biography, the writers helpfully achieve this by spinning the story of a child whose mother and father have been murdered by the traditional model of ISIS and, whereas wandering together with his pets, finally ends up being captured and enslaved. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum!

Even that doesn’t have something on 1977’s “Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey,” in all probability probably the most depressing rattling vacation particular round. As abused as “Rudolph” might have been, that was cuddling compared to the beatings and bullying Nestor endures for the majority of this particular capturing the true which means of Christmas.

At one level his keeper takes out his rage on the younger donkey by going full Tom Brady on him and flinging him into a chilly forest in the midst of a snowstorm, the place he hits a tree and a number of branches on the best way down.  Nestor’s horrified mom breaks out of the secure, finds her son and protects him from the freezing winds and snow together with her personal physique, freezing to dying within the course of and making Nestor an orphan on prime of the whole lot else.

Every little thing works out as a result of Nestor turns into the Uber for the Virgin Mary, carrying her and main Joseph safely to Bethlehem. He returns to his abusers a hero, and is just overjoyed when the secure grasp liable for killing his mom lifts him aloft with satisfaction. And as an alternative of mule-kicking his and his mother’s abuser within the throat, Nestor is just happy to be of service.

You possibly can get up this heart-warming Christmas basic on AMC, the place it’s airing on the mornings of Friday, December 21 and Monday, December 24.

After which there’s the fantastic 2004 masterpiece “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” which, like “Frosty” and “Rudolph” and “Nestor” and “Little Drummer Boy,” was impressed by a hilarious hit track about Santa’s reindeer operating down and killing a drunk aged lady.

It’s a very crappy hit track which in flip birthed another horrible songs included within the hour-long animated tribute set to air Wednesday, December 19 at eight p.m. on The CW. Within the music, Grandpa’s response to his longtime mate’s demise by Christmas misadventure is to proceed having fun with his soccer and beer “me-time” as if nothing out of the strange had occurred.

Within the particular, Paw-Paw dons a white prime hat and tuxedo to sing a quantity about grandma spending Christmas with the superstars — as in Elvis and different lifeless celebrities — “since that reindeer ran her down that fateful night.”

Clearly the Rudolph Controversy, which is now a few weeks previous, is an inflated deal drummed up by conservative media and amplified by speak exhibits such as “The View.” Throughout a current episode Whoopi Goldberg roused the viewers with a efficiency of the music’s lyrics within the fashion of a preacher from the pulpit by means of asking what the large deal is, since Rudolph is an American hero.

In fact he’s.

However the brouhaha surrounding what’s both a tongue-in-cheek remark about an outdated plotline or an instance of liberal over-sensitivity misses the purpose. What’s actual about this time of yr is the difficult stew of emotions it evokes in all of us. Like a midwinter storm, it’s magical to behold from the security of a heat place, however to be caught in it with no shelter in sight is a depressing expertise. A blanket of snow is gorgeous, and for some time we will overlook that it hides lifeless matter and dirt beneath it.

If the vacations are each issues, so are its specials — thankfully, for pundits and speak exhibits a minimum of. Apart from, with rage being as well-liked a taste as cinnamon or peppermint, the excellent news for the killjoy business is that actually any particular might be interpreted in a method that may offend anybody. Even the legend of “Rudolph” was brilliantly reinterpreted as the origin story of a violent mob boss by the late nice “MADtv.”

Take “Frosty the Snowman,” for instance, the 1969 basic story of a magical snowman who brings enjoyable to girls and boys. Or, if seen from one other perspective, it’s the story of a snowman possessed by a demonic hat. Earlier than the mayhem he causes round city is full, Frosty almost succeeds in luring just a little woman to her dying earlier than he’s defeated by a heroic man who locks him in a greenhouse.

However 1966’s “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” airing on NBC on Christmas Day at eight p.m., is actually a right-wing fantasy if you consider it. The Grinch, excessive on his peak,  is Donald Trump, assisted by a loyal if droopy-faced companion we will solely guess is an avatar for Lindsey Graham or perhaps Ted Cruz.

The residents of Whoville are all socialists, particularly Cindy Lou Who, a.okay.a. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Pretend Information. The Grinch correctly and soberly removes all of their wasteful indulgences and cancels the large Christmas social gathering. A peaceable protest that gums up the works till, just to close them up, the Grinch will get his #MAGA on since Christmas arrives all the identical. In the long run, everyone falls in line to worship The Grinch and be rewarded with jobs and roast beast, presumably cooked to the feel of shoe leather-based as the great lord meant.

Or, as described 14 years in the past, it’s the story of how “a green ectomorph jacks Whoville’s gifts. Then, feeling a heart attack coming on, he’s moved to return them and pretends to be a hero.”

Weird flaws and all, they’re nonetheless referred to as specials for a purpose. They’re one thing else, and solely round as soon as (or a couple of occasions) a yr, like kinfolk. Embrace them, or grit your tooth and muddle by means of. It is the American vacation TV method.

Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon’s TV critic. Comply with her on Twitter: @McTelevision
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