Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special
December 18, 2004
How many so-called children's shows can you name that emerged because of someone's drug problem?
If you're having a hard time remembering due to your own substance abuse problem,
allow me to throw out a few examples.
H. R. Pufnstuff
Come on. The name of the show says it all. If you missed the obvious pot
reference in the title, the theme song will leave no doubts:
Who's your friend when things get rough?
Can't do a little cause he can't do enough.
Once upon a summertime
Just a dream from yesterday
A boy and his magic golden flute
Heard a boat from off the bay
"Come and play with me, Jimmy
Come and play with me.
And I will take you on a trip
Far across the sea."
Puff the Magic Dragon
See H. R. Pufnstuf.
The Banana Splits
The Banana Splits writers were splitting time (ha ha) between pot and acid.
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour held the acid head's attention (with minimal freak-outs)
and allowed the stoner to pass the time while he waited for another Salisbury Steak TV dinner to
warm in the oven. In between episodes of Danger Island, a bizarre pirate serial
that starred Jan-Michael Vincent (later,
the star of Airwolf), people
in over-sized animal costumes (bear, elephant, dog, lion) performed as the Golden Banana Splits.
A spinning, vomit-inducing psychedelic
background pulsated as they jammed to some of their better known hits.
Tra La La and We're the Banana Splits spring to mind. (Incidentally, Tra La La
is one of the most infectious and maddening songs ever created...listen to it once and you're
addicted for life...just like after you smoke marijuana.) Mind if I hit that, dude?
The creators of The Teletubbies have conceded that the show was conceived while on
an acid trip. (Dan recommended I check the facts on that statement, however I'm feeling
just a tad bit irresponsible and lazy...so fuck it.) How else can you
explain the giggling baby head that periodically appears in the sun? Jerry
Falwell picked the wrong battle to fight. Instead of insisting that Tinky Winky
was gay because he carried a purse, the righteous Mr. Falwell should have been
more keen to the fact that the writers were zonked on LSD. But never fear!
George W. is fightin' both them wars -- one on the homos and one on the junkies.
He goin' to clean up this here country. Cause it's the best gosh-dern place
Discussing this is ridiculously cliché and boring, but if I must: Shaggy and Scooby
were eating "Scooby Snacks" because they were high. And getting high is wrong.
(But not as wrong as creating a CGI Scooby who appeared opposite a blond Freddie
Prinze, Jr. That's just fucked up.)
My favorite example of a children's show (and host) gone wrong is Pee-wee's Playhouse.
Since it's Christmas (if you hadn't noticed), what better time to take a look at Pee-wee's Christmas Special.
Paul Reubens created Pee-wee Herman during his years with The Groundlings, an LA-based improv comedy group.
In the early 80's, he incorporated the character into his nightclub act; this later evolved into the 1981 HBO
special The Pee-wee Herman Show. Reuben's big break came in 1985 when he signed on to
star in the Tim Burton film, Pee-wee's Big Adventure. The story revolves around Pee-wee's cross country quest to
recover his beloved stolen bike. Pee-wee makes friends with an entire biker bar,
tours The Alamo (only to find that it doesn't have a basement), watches Large Marge's face melt in the cab of her rig
and deals with a spoiled child actor (played by Jason Hervey, whose other big role was that of Wayne, Kevin Arnold's
older brother on the Wonder Years. At least someone had the sense to pummel Fred Savage's head.)
Following the success of the movie (and the forever-immortalized Tequila dance), CBS jumped on the
bandwagon and Pee-wee's Playhouse was born.
Paul Reubens was using cocaine throughout most of the show's five seasons. "Pee Wee" is actually a slang term
for crack...go figure. I imagine the drug played no small role in the execution of 1988's Pee-wee's Playhouse
Christmas Special. Even better than the fact that it stars a coked-up man-child in a too-small suit and bow tie, Pee-wee's Playhouse
was subconsciously infecting the minds of children with a subversive (but oh so convincing) message of homosexuality.
The Christmas Special is a hands-down, balls out (a little nod to his porn theater arrest) homo affair. It is the greatest
Christmas special ever to air on national television.
The opening sequence
features a host of men dressed as marines parading through the Playhouse, belting out the special's theme song. They
initially tried to hire actual marines, but had to settle for the UCLA Men's Choir.
Either way, it's not subtle. Pee-wee leads the pack, flanked by two female dancers shimmying their tight little asses off
in head-to-toe gold lamé. I am immediately struck by their uncanny resemblence to Rupaul in the Love Shack video.
I had to do a double take to be sure they didn't have penises.
If you listen to the DVD's bonus commentary (which
was very disappointing), you learn that the woman to Pee-wee's right was one of Madonna's back-up singers. I love trivia.
As the opening song continues, a multitude of guest stars are introduced. Frankie Avalon and his toupee! Little Richard!
Oprah! The dance number climaxes in a frenzy of two-stepping soldiers and a mincing Pee-wee. They lift Pee-wee high into
the air with their young, muscular arms. Do you think Paul Reubens uses this as masturbation fodder when he's feeling particularly lonely?
Oh wait, I forgot...he's more of the child porn connoisseur these days. Oops, I mean vintage erotic art. I'd hate to be accused of libel.
The special is loosely organized around two themes: Pee-wee's Christmas list and fruitcake. After the marines presumably go hit
the showers, Pee-wee is alone with Conky, ruminating upon his lengthy wish list. Normally Conky is only tasked with printing
out the Secret Word. It's no surprise that he nearly short-circuits printing Pee-wee's list. You see, it's really l-o-n-g. Herein
lies the joke...and the moral. I'll get to that in a minute -- this is the moment the "beautiful Miss Yvonne" makes her grand entrance.
Anyone who has ever watched the show knows that the world stops for her. Even Floory wants her to "stand over him." She assures all the Playhouse residents that
"there's enough of me for everyone!" Wink wink, squirt squirt.
Miss Yvonne presents Pee-wee with the first of several fruitcakes. He gives her a somewhat more thoughtful gift:
Eau de Pee-wee, a perfume modeled after his personal odor. Why was this never marketed along with the Pee-wee Talking Doll
and the Chairry plush toy?
The B-listers pass so quickly through the Playhouse that it leaves your head spinning
faster than Clocky's hands. Whoopi calls in on the Playhouse phone, begging to be on
the Christmas Special. To his credit, Pee-wee is nearly sadistic in his
refusal to accommodate her. "I'm awfully sorry Whoopi, but I've already booked too many stars as it is."
Oh, well what about next Christmas? "Next year's special is already booked too. I might be able to squeeze you in to the Christmas
special two years from now. I'm not promising you anything, Whoopi." Whoopi sucks.
Other guests parade through the Special. Pee-wee jumps into Magic Screen where he cavorts on a Connect-the-Christmas-Dots Sleigh
with a pre-HIV Magic Johnson (Magic Screen's cousin.) Reba the Mail Lady stops by to give Pee-wee
another fruitcake. She also delivers a giant wooden crate, apparently meant for the
White House. No one finds it the least bit odd when Grace Jones emerges from
the box to sing Little Drummer Boy. Likewise, Ms. Jones does not appear bothered that she never reached her intended destination. However, you have to wonder: why is Grace
Jones being shipped to the White House? And by whom? Was she an extra special gift for Ronnie during
his last year of the Presidency? I wouldn't have pegged him for a fan, but stranger relationships have been known to exist.
The other option is that she was sent to execute him Conan the Destroyer-style.
The odd assortment of celebs keep coming. Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon demonstrate how to make
potato stencil Christmas cards. A very forced-looking Cher hob-knobs with a delirious-looking Pee-wee and
Conky. The day's secret word is revealed to be "year." He thanks her for "Cher-ing."
Everyone laughs. No one can say that this isn't great fun. Except Cher.
Pee-wee is thrilled to discover that it is snowing outside. We are suddently transported into a Winter Wonderland
that looks oddly like a million pieces of shredded plastic bag. He creates fabulous "snow" angels
while wearing a designer green "snow" suit covered in "snow" flakes. If a little bit of "snow"
is left under Pee-wee's nose, no one will ever know the difference. Ha, Ha!
Cowboy Curtis locates Pee-wee by following his friend's "mystery tracks in the snow. Most people are aware, but tend to forget, that
Cowboy Curtis is played by Lawrence Fishburn, the one actor who actually had a lucrative career after the
show was canceled. They are spellbound when they hear the melodious sound of three guitars harmonizing from across
the hills of white. "Itís the heavenly intonations of the Del Rubio Triplets!!"
Eadie, Elena and Milly Del Rubio were billed as "3 Gals, 3 Guitars, 1 Birthday." Sadly, Eadie and Elena have since passed away, leaving Milly
to carry on as 1 Gal, 1 Guitar, 1 Birthday. For over 60 years, the Gals entertained millions with the three original guitars
given to them by their father during their childhood. Dressed in matching minis and Texas-sized (Alamo?) hair, the
Del Rubios look completely at home on the Playhouse set. Strolling ever so merrily, they strum their way through Winter Wonderland. Pee-wee and
Cowboy Curtis are captivated. The magic of the Del Rubios is somewhat cheapened as, immediately following their act,
Pee-wee encounters none other than Little Richard unsuccessfully trying to ice skate. (It remains unclear how Magic Screen made her
way out onto the ice.) Little Richard repeatedly falls and Pee-wee (graciously) catches and cradles him. Womp-bomp-a-loom-op-a-womp-bam-boom.
We are next treated to the the single longest segment of the Special: a rousing Jingle Bell Rock performance
by Ms. kd lang. Ms. lang rocks out with her cock out in true Christmas fashion. Paul Reubens invite kd to appear
on the show after Warner Bros sent him one of her first recordings. You'll never see her this animated again. Only serious
lesbian recording artists make it.
Hmmmm, who else deserves mention? Dinah Shore and Oprah both call in with warm holiday wishes. Oprah looks as though she might want to cut back
on the Christmas ham this year..maybe opt for a nice iceberg salad. Pee-wee's Latino friend, Ricardo,
stops by (presumably on his way home from his job at Foot Locker?) to deliver a brief cultural lesson on the role of the
piñata in Latin households. Pee-wee is thrilled that he "gets to break something" on Christmas, but wait...why is there a distinct
feeling that something (or someone) is lacking?
"NOW THE ONLY THING MISSING IS CHARO!"
Oy, Charo. Charo never seems to completely disappear from the celebrity radar. She most recently appeared on VH1's
Surreal Life 3. The star-studded cast also included Jordan Knight (former New Kid), Flavor Flav (former crackhead),
Ryan Starr (former American Idol loser who thinks she's Steven Tyler), Dave Coulier (just former) and a very scary Brigette Neilson.
A two-part episode focused on the crew's assignment to produce and perform a hit record. The episode was unwatchable. However, Charo,
to her credit, is an excellent classical guitarist. This talent is what brings us to the near climax of Pee-wee's Christmas Special.
As it's certainly not interesting enough to simply watch Charo sit on a stool, show some thigh and sing Feliz Navidad, we
are entertained by a blind-folded Pee-wee, flailing in the background. He thrashes wildly at the air with a large pole meant
for the piñata hung overhead. Of course you're to think that he might hit Charo...and of course, that's what everyone
wants to see. It's not that kind of show, people. This is the kind of show where piñatas burst open and shower
a near-orgasmic Pee-wee with glitter. It's gay...don't you ever forget that.
Now that we know our friends south of the border are beating on things filled with glitter on Christmas, it's time to become educated about
how the Chosen People are celebrating Christmas. I mean Chanukah. In addition to wheeling in a fruitcake for each of the eight
days of the Festival of Lights, Mrs. Renee leads us through
a Dradel Song sing-along. Now watch the bouncing Jambi head and try to follow along -- this Jewish thing can be a bit confusing.
Pee-wee's obvious lesson is that, whether you're pagan, Jewish or homosexual, the Christmas season can be enjoyed by everyone, each in his
and her own way.
The 48 minutes of DVD play time are nearing their end; Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special is drawing to a close. All the Playhouse friends have gathered to wait for Santa.
Will Pee-wee get all the presents that he hopes for? We now see that he's been quite industrious with the hundreds of fruitcakes
he's received. The shirtless, hard-hatted construction workers are building a new wing onto the Playhouse made entirely
of fruitcake. Come on, there
had to be at least one more overtly homo scene.
Uh, oh -- here comes Santa!
As is the custom, Pee-wee tempts Santa with a heaping plate of cookies. This offer is retracted when he discovers that Santa can't, in fact,
bring Pee-wee all the presents on his list. (Remember Conky short-circuiting? Right...just reminding you.) If Santa
gives Pee-wee everything on the list, there won't by anything left over for the planet's other children. Shit, what to do.
Needless to say, Pee-wee "makes the right choice." Even though he won't profit with presents, his big reward is to ride shotgun next
to Mr. Claus and deliver joy and happiness to all the children in the world. Except the Jewish and Muslim ones. Until they start
believing in the true meaning of Christmas, they can just forget about it.
Merry Christmas! Ha ha!