The 12 Videos of Christmas

Not too many years ago, everyone was at the mercy of the big three television networks, which provided us with a few splashy variety shows and kids' cartoons every December (one notable CBS premiere this year, on Christmas Eve, is a Harry Connick Jr. special). Now you can design your own holiday TV season by going to the video store, where most of the classics are both for rent and for sale. Check out, also, the record chains such as Tower and Strawberries, or try order-by-phone catalogues such as Critics' Choice Video, at (800) 367-7765. It promises seven-day delivery. The following holiday TV classics (we're not concerning ourselves with movies, like It's a Wonderful Life) are available on video. But don't forget to have the TV Guide handy if you want true kitsch. Stuff like "A Very Brady Christmas" isn't available on video; it must lose something without commercials.The 12 videos of Christmas * "The Honeymooners: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." For any kid accustomed to post-1970 sitcoms, the Kramdens' minimalist kitchen can be unsettling. I was always hoping to catch a glimpse of their bedroom to see if it could possibly match the dreariness of the room where they actually entertained guests. This 1950s episode borrows from O. Henry's short story "The Gift of the Magi," and did so before every sitcom imaginable did its own version of A Christmas Carol. It's not one of the better episodes, but it sure beats a "Full House." * "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." This legendary bomb, made in 1964, can be found in the "Cult" section at video stores, near Plan 9 from Outer Space. Santa is abducted by Martians who are positively green with envy when they learn that Earthlings have a crypto-religious icon who encourages massive consumer spending. A very young Pia Zadora plays one of the Martian tots. An enhanced version of the film turns up on Comedy Central's "Mystery Science Theater 2000" on Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. * "A Charlie Brown Christmas." First shown in 1965, this is the Casablanca of Christmas specials. See it once and you can remember almost every line and piece of music, as well as the sound effect used when Charlie hangs a single bulb on his pathetic tree and it droops to the floor ("I've killed it!"). The score, by Vince Guaraldi, is also available on CD. And in case the video store sells out, CBS will show "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on December 22 at 8 p.m. * A Christmas Story (1983). This was released as a theatrical movie, but without the elaborate slapstick of Home Alone, it achieved popularity only when it hit the rerun circuit on TV. Set in the 1940s, it's about a little kid obsessed with getting a BB gun for Christmas. Among its many life lessons: don't stick your tongue on a metal pole when it's freezing out. The filmmaking isn't kitschy, but A Christmas Story deserves mention here for its honest depiction of one of the tackiest gifts ever seen: a lamp in the form of a shapely woman's leg clad in a fishnet stocking. * "Black Adder: A Christmas Carol." This is a time-skipping version of the Dickens classic using characters from Rowan Atkinson's British TV series, which spans several centuries. The wordplay will go over the heads of most children and a lot of adults. Comedy Central is airing it at various times between December 22 and 25. * "The Simpsons Christmas Special." This 1989 special was actually the pilot for the still-running series. Homer louses up another holiday, and Bart makes things worse. A great leap forward in the content, if not the style, of TV animation. * "A Christmas Gift." This obscure offering is a collection of eight cartoons from the National Film Board of Canada. "The Great Toy Robbery" has Santa held up by a gang in the Wild West. "The Energy Carol," which was co-produced by the Office of Energy Conservation and the Department of Energy Mines and Resources, depicts "Ebenezer Stooge" as a power-company exec who showers his employees with useless appliances and Christmas bonuses so they'll use more juice. * "Ren & Stimpy's Stinky Little Christmas." So it's come to this. The cat (whatever his name is) spends the Christmas season looking for his first fart, which is apparently still floating around as a little cloud with a face. Let's see Beavis and Butt-head top this one. * "The Little Drummer Boy." God, what a weepie! Made in 1968 (when you could still be unabashedly religious on network television) it features the voices of Greer Garson, Jose Ferrer, and the Vienna Boys Choir. * "The Year Without a Santa Claus." This 1974 animated special has some silly plot about Santa feeling unappreciated and deciding to sit Christmas out. It's best-known for the show-stopping "Heatmeister" and "Snowmeister" numbers, in which Mother Nature's bratty sons brag about wreaking havoc with the weather and scream, "I'm too much!" Their gleeful self-centeredness is an oasis during a month of specials in which teary little snots sing about their little drums. Unfortunately, the siblings shape up and agree to some plot, involving a freak snowstorm, to cheer up Santa. (Wasn't this story line ripped off from "The Beverly Hillbillies"?) * "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Bugs Bunny director Chuck Jones brought this Dr. Seuss tale to TV in 1966. The deliciously evil Grinch, a second cousin to Wile E. Coyote, strips Whoville of all its Christmas decorations and gifts, and is stunned to see everyone enjoy the holiday anyway. Casting horror-film star Boris Karloff as the narrator was a nice touch. * "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." This 1964 special fleshes out the skimpy Rudolph song with cute characters such as an elf who wants to be a dentist and a Mrs. Claus who goads Santa like a Jewish mother would: "Eat, Papa! Eat!" The songs are especially versatile and can be enjoyed straight or as parodies--my siblings and I used to sing Burl Ives's "Silver and Gold" as "Mildew and Mold."

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