Pee Wee Herman Christmas Special
December 14, 2011 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Merry Christmas! Merry Merry Christmas! In 1988, the Writers Guild of America had a strike, the longest in its history, lasting 155 days. The strike had some fallout -- both Moonlighting and Kate and Allie lost audience members due to long hiatuses during the strike, which may have led to their cancellation. And while it generally did not affect children's television, one show, in particular, was hard-hit by the strike: Pee Wee's Playhouse, which had a season of only two episodes, plus a Christmas special.

But what a special! Scripted by Paul Reubens, the actor behind Pee Wee, and John Paragon, the actor who played the genie Jambi (and, I think, an underrrated comic actor; see his turn as Ramone Azteca from his own Showtime special), the show was both inspired by and parodied the traditional Hollywood holiday variety show.

Oh, sure there were the big name guests, and, in the tradition of holiday specials, they were all sort of past their "best when used by" date. Cher showed up for the secret word. Magic Johnson revealed his is a cousin to Magic Screen. Beach movie stars Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello were repeatedly abused by the manchild, who repayed their presence by singing "Surfin' Bird" in their film "Back to the Beach." Charo sang "Feliz Navidad."

But better still were the unexpected guests. I suppose Little Richard wasn't that far off the beaten path, but a very young K.D. Lang showed up, as did Grace Jones, performing in an avant garde dress and a hat made from packing material. And then, of course, there were the Del Rubio Triplets.

Who? Just three sisters who dressed the same and performed musical variety performances. Find a Death offers a loving tribute, and YouTube has samples of their mind-blowing performances of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead," "I Will Survive," "Neutron Dance," "Whip It," and "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"

The episode was nominated for three Emmys, including Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Title Sequences (Prudence Fenton, also responsible for this, and Joel Fletcher), Outstanding Art Direction for a Variety or Music Program (including Gary Panter, the show's production designer, and who was also responsible for the classic punk comic Jimbo), and Outstanding Costume Design for a Variety or Music Program (Max Robert, who was also a writer on the show, and Robert Turturice).

The show is available in entirety on YouTube, starting here. Feliz Naviblah!
posted by Bunny Ultramod (19 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Whoops! Ramone Azteca!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:39 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Pee Wee's Playhouse had writers?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:40 AM on December 14, 2011

I'd just like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that the role of Cowboy Curtis was performed by Laurence Fishburne. Yes, that's right Matrix fans, get a load of Morpheus prancing around in ridiculous 80s-era cowboy getup - this was a common sight on Pee Wee's Playhouse.

(I know everyone who actually watched the show already knows this, but I imagine some Matrix fans are... a bit young to have seen it play out live)
posted by rkent at 10:48 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the most perfect hours of television ever.

Bunny Ultramod, I'd like to +1 you a fruitcake.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:48 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Do yourself a favor and pick up the DVD as well. There are, surprisingly, 2 commentary tracks. One is with Reubens, Paragon and Prudence Fenton, and another with the puppeteers (including Paragon again.) The puppeteer track is dishier and much better. Apparently, Little Richard (seen falling on the ice) asked the director if he should scream like a white woman or a black woman.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 11:40 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Small note: anyone working in TV production or post production at the time would take exception to your saying the strike had only "some fallout." It was actually quite devastating for an awful lot of people who had zero to do with the conflict.
posted by Dean358 at 11:45 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jambi was my favorite.
posted by Mister_A at 11:58 AM on December 14, 2011

YES! This is required viewing at our yearly tree-trimming party. Now that I think of it, I don't know that I've ever listened to the commentary tracks though. I know what I'm doing Christmas Eve.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:01 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is my family's most enduring Christmas tradition. YAAAAY!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:11 PM on December 14, 2011

PLEASE BELIEVE ME SANTA PLEASE. Please and thank you, I've practically been angel. I could quote the whole special by heart, I'm sure, it's the best!!!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:42 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I adore K.D. Lang, but that performance was terrifying.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 12:51 PM on December 14, 2011

The gender confusion that KD Lang's performance caused me at five was huge.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:52 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

In which we learned that Magic Johnson and Magic Screen are cousins.
posted by Mr.Me at 2:09 PM on December 14, 2011

I love love love the Pee Wee Christmas Special. Truly a gem of delight. Thanks so much for posting this!
posted by hippybear at 4:18 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Let the record show: I'm normally all about giving celebrities their privacy, but if someone is able to and does write the definitive Little Richard biography, I would read the fuck out of that book. He fascinates me.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:48 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kd lang's performance is terrifying — and it's wonderful. She used to be just loony. I admit I prefer that kd lang to the chanteuse, but I can understand why she wouldn't want to do that forever. And — great special, a work of genius.
posted by argybarg at 5:10 PM on December 14, 2011

Cowboy Curtis was also in Apocalypse Now. Apropos of nothing, I just remember being startled when I recognized Fishburne in the movie. Always seemed like he was too young to be in it.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:41 PM on December 14, 2011

This special is the only thing that really brings back the excitement of being a kid at Christmas for me. I watched it a couple years ago for the first time since I was little, and I got so happy that I almost cried. I have since reinstated the tradition of watching this special every Christmas. I think my friend and I are going to get together to watch it this weekend, at which point, it will truly be Christmastime for me.

(Also, my parents still make fun of me because I thought the lyrics of "Feliz Navidad" were "I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom- oh my god.")
posted by rebel_rebel at 10:14 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I think Fishburne was 14 in Apocalypse Now, he lied about his age)
posted by sineater at 7:54 AM on December 16, 2011

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