We all have our favorite Christmas specials: Charlie Brown, Rudolph, The Grinch. But not all holiday specials go on to become beloved classics, you know. In fact, some are the TV equivalent of that ugly sweater with three arms Grandma knitted for you. And thanks to YouTube, these misfit toys are preserved forever for our viewing pleasure.
This year, we're decorating our tree with these holiday oddballs: a dozen Christmas TV specials that definitely did not stand the test of time.
1. "The Star Wars Holiday Special" (1978)
Any discussion of weird Christmas specials begins and ends with this notorious misfire; George Lucas himself has said he'd like to track down every remaining copy and smash it with a sledgehammer. (And this is a man who still defends Jar Jar Binks!) It's basically a bad acid trip that combines "Star Wars" with every terrible variety show you had to sit through in the '70s because there was nothing else on.
Following Chewbacca as he tries to get back to his Wookie home planet in time for "Life Day," this special is brimming with intergalactic goodies, including: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, all looking like they wish they'd read their contracts a little closer; Chewbacca's never-before-seen family, complete with a son named Lumpy; Bea Arthur crooning a tune behind the bar at the Mos Eisley cantina; "Carol Burnett" star Harvey Korman playing a robot on the fritz; and Fisher singing a Life Day ballad to the tune of the "Star Wars" theme. In short, required viewing for any "Star Wars" nerds, Christmas completists, or lovers of a good pop-culture catastrophe.
2. "Mr. T and Emmanuel Lewis in a Christmas Dream" (1984)
This only-in-the-'80s special brings together a dynamic duo from that decade: "Webster" star Emmanuel Lewis, who plays a kid severely lacking in holiday cheer, and Mr. T, who plays a sidewalk Santa who pities the fool that doesn't love Christmas. Here, we're given the gift of magician David Copperfield performing tricks (er, illusions) inside FAO Schwarz, Lewis squeaking his way through "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and Mr. T delivering a Linus-esque monologue on the birth of Christ. (Also, some guy with a ventriloquist's dummy, because those were big in the '80s for some reason.)
3. "Nick & Jessica's Family Christmas" (2004)
Travel back with us to the early 2000s: to the days when Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson were still MTV "Newlyweds," when Ashlee Simpson was still a popular recording artist, and when people still thought Jessica might be able to act. (Seems so long ago, doesn't it?) The painful skits in this tinsel-covered trainwreck proved that Nick and Jessica were much more entertaining without a script. But you can still get a Christmas chuckle or two from hearing Jessica's ridiculously breathy take on holiday classics like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." And hey, look, a 98 Degrees reunion!
4. "Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey" (1977)
We can all agree that stop-motion animators Rankin/Bass really hit it out of the park with 1964's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Alas, "Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey" didn't have quite the same ring to it. This "Rudolph" rewrite with a religious twist tells the tale of Nestor, who is shunned for his outsized ears and has to watch his poor mom freeze to death (no, we're not kidding) before he guides Mary and Joseph to that stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Hey, aiding in the birth of our Lord and Savior beats pulling some fat guy in a sleigh, right?
5. "Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special" (1988)
Granted, "Pee-wee's Playhouse" was pretty weird every week. But this late-'80s stab at a holiday extravaganza was even more bizarre than usual, with "Playhouse" favorites like Cowboy Curtis and Chairy sharing the screen with a cavalcade of mismatched celebs. That includes Charo singing "Feliz Navidad," Cher screaming along with the Secret Word, and Oprah Winfrey (!!!) calling in to wish Pee-wee a merry Christmas. One day, we'll ask Oprah what she was thinking when she agreed to appear on this special. And then she'll have us killed. Because she's just that rich.
6. "Babes in Toyland" (1986)
Can we interest you in a surreal fever dream of a holiday movie starring an 11-year-old Drew Barrymore, a pre-"Bill and Ted" Keanu Reeves, and a magical Pat Morita? We thought so. "Toyland" transports Drew to a fairy-tale land that's more like a creepy, low-rent amusement park that no kid should ever set foot in. Keanu is the dashing young prince, and Morita is the kindly old Toymaster, who (spoiler alert!) turns out to be Santa Claus. Plus, "Empty Nest's" Richard Mulligan plays the villainous Barnaby, who lives in a bowling ball. Airing just once in December 1986, "Toyland" has never been released on DVD. For obvious reasons.
7. "A Claymation Christmas Celebration" (1987)
By overwhelming popular demand, dried-fruit pitchmen the California Raisins were granted their own holiday special in 1987. (Take that, GEICO cavemen!) But they didn't carry the full half-hour on their own; they got help from a pair of bickering dinosaurs, a herd of camels putting a doo-wop spin on "We Three Kings," and a rendition of "Carol of the Bells" performed by… well, bells. We actually kind of love this one; a quarter-century later, it's still the best raisin-based holiday special we've ever seen.
8. "Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas" (1977)
This special makes the list for one reason: David Bowie. The gender-bending glam rocker seemed like an odd choice to join Bing for his annual Christmas special, and Bowie thought so, too. He refused to sing "Little Drummer Boy" with Bing until the producers added a "Peace on Earth" counterpoint — and an unlikely Christmas classic was born. A sad postscript, though: Crosby passed away of a heart attack a month after this duet was recorded, making this his final Christmas special. Thanks for giving us one last holiday chestnut on the way out, Bing.
9. "The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas" (1996)
Yes, Virginia, the Munsters did celebrate Christmas… but not the Munsters you remember. Featuring none of the original cast, this awkward 1996 update starred "Tracy Ullman" veteran Sam McMurray as Fred Munster and "Seinfeld's" Sandy Baron (Jack Klompus, with the astronaut pen!) as Grandpa. Here, the Munster family bands together to help a homesick Eddie have a Christmas he'll never forget. Somehow, this results in Grandpa turning Santa into a fruitcake. Yeah, we can't believe this one didn't become a perennial holiday favorite, either.
10. "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" (1985)
Another late-stage oddity from the Rankin/Bass team, this St. Nick origin story draws its inspiration from the 1902 book by "The Wizard of Oz" author L. Frank Baum. In this trippy Tolkein-esque universe, Santa is raised by lions in a lush forest utopia surrounded by wood nymphs, gnomes, wind demons, and water spirits. (Far out, man.) We don't know what kind of drugs Rankin and Bass were doing when they came up with this one... but it was the '80s, after all.
11. "A Very Brady Christmas" (1988)
It's not that odd that the Bradys would get together once more for the holidays; reunion movies were all the rage back then. But did this one have to be so damn depressing? Here, the whole Brady clan is beset by personal problems: Bobby is a college dropout, Jan is separated from her husband, and even Sam the Butcher left Alice for a younger woman (!). The topper on this collection of holiday misery? Dad Mike being trapped in a building collapse… only to be saved as the Brady family joins Carol in singing "O Come All Ye Faithful." All's well that ends well, we guess.
12. "Andy Williams and the NBC Kids Search for Santa" (1985)
And we end with one of those holiday specials that make you wonder, "Did that really happen?" (Yes, it did.) Christmas staple Andy Williams whisks away child stars from "The Cosby Show," "Punky Brewster," and "Silver Spoons" on a journey to Finland to track down the jolly old elf. This leads to lots of festive singing and dancing — including a stupendously awful dance break featuring a 9-year-old Joey Lawrence. Unearthing long-forgotten gems like this in the dark corners of the Internet… why, that's what the holidays are all about.
Did we miss one of your favorite weird holiday specials? Share your memories in the comments.
- Holidays & Celebrations
- Jessica Simpson
- Carol Burnett
- Nick Lachey