Back in the 1980s, Christmas still came to TV but once a year (although the season didn’t seem to kick off before the networks rolled out their new fall series) and Yuletide specials did very much dominate the December airwaves.
In those terms, then, the ’80s were not so different from today in terms of familiar pop culture characters donning gay apparel and fa-la-la-la-la-la-ing it up in primetime.
Those specific characters of three decades ago, however, absolutely could only have arisen from their super-specific time and place. As a result, their seasonal specials absolutely scream, “Hey, it’s the ’80s! And, oh yeah—Ho-Ho-Ho!”
So set aside your Rubik’s Cube for a spell now, crack open a New Coke, and come join us for a totally boob-tubular countdown of the “most ’80s” Christmas TV specials ever.
’Tis the Season to Be Smurfy (1987)Embedded from www.dailymotion.com.
Five (long) seasons into the NBC Saturday morning staple’s run, Christmas at last comes to Smurf Village. Wild Smurf, a recent feral adoptee to the mushroom collective who had been raised by squirrels, gets introduced to the holiday by Smurfette while everybody else smurfs up all the smurfing smurf around them in full smurfing holiday style.
Several other relatively rare blue-hued homunculi appear, including the 500-year-old Grandpa Smurf and the juvenile Sassette, along with a white-bearded human wizard named Homnibus, who really looks rabbinical, what with his yarmulke and all.
The Bells of Fraggle Rock (1984)
As the Fraggle Rock universe apparently exists outside the domain of Christianity, Jim Henson’s HBOnly Muppets celebrate a winter solstice called the Festival of the Bells. Their foam rubber pagan rituals include caroling to the Great Bell at the heart of the series’ titular structure and donning Chinese-dragon-like garb to imitate a Weebabeast, a bell-protecting monster that chants “Weeba! Weeba!”
A Garfield Christmas Special (1987)
The ’80s favorite snarky, obese orange feline comes to understand the reason for the season when he’s genuinely moved by a gift made for him by his seemingly developmentally disabled dog pal, Odie.
Deep-velvet-voiced soul singer Lou Rawls contributes a couple of soundtrack tunes and the more-moving-than-it-had-to-be show aired on CBS every December for the next thirteen holiday seasons.
Care Bears Nutcracker Suite (1988)
Audiences almost had the opportunity to buy tickets and enjoy Care Bears’ Nutcracker Suite in movie theaters until, apparently, someone in charge, somewhere, watched it.
The almost feature-length romp casts the proto-furry fetish objects in a loose reworking of the familiar Nutcracker saga by way of the animation studio Nelvana, which had previously created the wild 1977 special A Cosmic Christmas, as well as the colorfully kickass 1983 midnight movie, Rock and Rule.
A Claymation Christmas Celebration with the California Raisins (1987)
Initially paired (and often rerun with) with A Garfield Christmas Special, stop-motion animator Will Vinton brings numerous Christmas carols to delightful life by way of his signature Claymation techniques.
Vinton’s most unmistakably ’80s commercial spokes-food concoctions, the California Raisins, groove their way through a cover of the Temptations take on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Deck the Halls With Wacky Walls (1985)
Wacky WallWalkers were blobby, sticky little octopi toys from Japan that, when tossed against a wall, appeared to “walk” on their tentacles down toward the floor. Throughout the 1980s, the easily fascinated reportedly purchased more than 240 million Wacky WallWalkers worldwide.
Deck the Halls with Wacky Walls attempted to translate the toy fad into a cartoon series.
Alas, the special’s depiction of visitors from the planet Kling-Kling crash-landing on Earth at Christmastime didn’t catch on, and society never got to fully embrace Big Blue, Springette, Bouncing Baby Boo, Crazy Legs, Stickum, Kenzo, and Wacko.
Alf’s Special Christmas (1987)
NBC’s über-’80s wisecracking space-thing Alf ends up among the Christmas presents delivered to a children’s hospital where he pretends to be a stuffed toy.
Throughout his not-so-silent night’s stay, Alf befriends and weeps for a terminally ill little girl, delivers a baby in an elevator, and talks a recently widowed hospital benefactor (played by Blazing Saddles’ Cleavon Little) out of killing himself.
Throughout this onslaught of jingle-hell darkness, a laugh track blasts incessantly.
Cabbage Patch Kids’ First Christmas (1984)
A single holiday shopping season after a berserk craze for Cabbage Patch Kids turned otherwise rational parents into mall-brawlers and doll-nappers, the chubby-cheeked human-vegetable hybrid tots starred in their own Christmas cartoon.
The Kids bolt from their Patch and head for the Big City where they hook up a handicapped orphan with a childless couple for adoption. They seem cool with residing in an open farm field and not having parents themselves, though.
Christmas Comes to Pac-Land (1982)
You know what’s weird? In the ’80s, there was a Pac-Man cartoon, and it started with this ABC special in which the orbital yellow arcade game hero helps Santa not get eaten by ghosts.
You know what’s weirder? In the past few years, there have been a whole bunch of new Pac-Man cartoons. But that’s an article for, say, thirty Christmases in the future.
Christmas at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (1988)
Pee-Wee Herman rings in the Yule with Playhouse regulars Chairy, Globey, Cowboy Curtis along with a roster of celebrity guests that reads like one of the all-time greatest camp pranks ever pulled on the holiday TV viewing public.
Among those pining for Santa in the company of Pee-Wee are Oprah Winfrey, Cher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Whoopi Goldberg, Little Richard, Joan Rivers, Magic Johnson, Grace Jones, k.d. lang, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Dinah Shore, and the Del Rubio Triplettes.
A Christmas Dream with Mr. T and Emmanuel Lewis (1984)
Webster star Emmanuel Lewis portrays a latchkey kid with a case of the Christmas blues. Mr. T, as the world’s most intimidating Sidewalk Santa (you know his kettles overflowed with contributions), pities the youngster’s foolishness and exposes him to Manhattan’s standard holiday tourist traps to change his mind.
Magician David Copperfield performs trickery inside toy store FAO Schwartz. Soft-rock songbird Maureen McGovern belts from the stage of Radio City Music Hall, inspiring Emmanuel to fantasize himself as a toy soldier among the Rockettes. Ventriloquist Willie Tyler and his funny dummy Lester remind everyone that they weren’t completely left behind in the ’70s (although Lester’s Afro clearly didn’t get the message).
Finally, Mr. T imitates Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas and delivers a somber religious monologue that sets the young erstwhile Webster straight.
Andy Williams and the NBC Kids Search for Santa (1985)
For decades, vintage crooner Andy Williams’ annual NBC Christmas specials functioned as an American tradition. Alas, times changed in the ’80s and the network paired the singer with child actors from their primetime series for the truly only-in-this-decade stupefier, Andy Williams and the NBC Kids Search for Santa.
Under the guise of locating a missing St. Nicholas and singing a bunch of tinsel-time standards, the future entertainment kingpin of Branson, Missouri teams up with Punky Brewster (Soleil Moon-Frye), Alfonso Ribiero of Silver Spoons (and, later, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Mindy Cohn of The Facts of Life, Joey Lawrence of Gimme a Break, and the entire young cast of The Cosby Show. While tracking down Father Christmas, the wee folk tend to break-dance.
Remarkably, this experiment proved so successful it was followed several months later by Andy Williams and the NBC Kids: Easter in Rome featuring as its very special guest star—we swear on a stack of catechisms—Pope John Paul II.