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The Most Bizarre Christmas TV Specials Ever Made

These days, the idea of rushing into the same room with your family so you can get a good spot on the couch before a highly anticipated TV program starts broadcasting is laughably quaint—we all pretty much watch whatever we want to watch, whenever we want to watch it, and often on screens small enough to carry around in our pockets. But there's still one time of year when it's fairly common for parents and kids to cuddle up for the same half-hour program, and that's the holiday season. Most Christmas TV specials are fairly straightforward: sing songs, light trees, learn the true meaning of Christmas, maybe save Santa. In some cases, however, these specials can get just plain weird. We've peered into the ghosts of television yuletides past in order to bring you a look back at some bizarre Christmas shows that make you wonder just how much spiked eggnog got consumed in the writers' room.

He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special

Why anyone thought we needed He-Man to remind us of how neat Christmas is, we'll never know. And yet, here he and She-Ra are, with a 1985 special that somehow makes the cartoon starring a nearly naked, mop-topped barbarian look even more ridiculous.

The basic plot involves Orko, cutesy sidekick to heroes He-Man and She-Ra, accidentally accidentally launching a space shuttle that sends him to Earth. That alone makes zero sense, since Eternia, home to the myriad "Masters of the Universe," isn't anywhere near our solar system, but if we're going to do Christmas, it might as well be on the one planet that celebrates it. Orko befriends two Earth kids who are out looking for a Christmas tree. They all wind up back on Eternia, where the kids teach everyone there about the holiday spirit. It even affects evil Skeletor, who kidnaps the children but then finds himself so overcome by good tidings, he releases them and even saves them from his own master. It was his good deed for the year.

The ending is the goofiest part of all: He-Man dresses as Santa, complete with gut and all, while the space shuttle that was supposed to be broken for days suddenly gets fixed so the kids can return to Earth in time for Christmas. Lost among all of this is how we now know Skeletor's weakness: he turns good on Christmas. So on the one day when he's happy and least suspecting, sneak up on him and use the power of Greyskull to waste him once and for all.

X-Men: Have Yourself a Morlock Little Christmas

The '90s X-Men animated series was one of the more mature, serious shows in the Saturday morning lineup, which makes their decision to do a Christmas special even weirder than the special.

As one might expect, a big focal point is how Wolverine, grumpy Gus that he is, has absolutely no Christmas spirit. He's not here for presents, or trees, and certainly not for shopping on Christmas Eve. He does the latter anyway, because sweet X-man-in-training Jubilee gave him sad doe eyes and that's his one weakness. 

Meanwhile, two of the other X-heroes, Gambit and Jean Grey, argue over how to cook Christmas dinner, and yet another X-man, Beast, sets off the intruder alert by cooking a cranberry glaze that explodes everywhere. It's real high-stakes stuff, this episode. Apparently Magneto's Christmas gift was leaving the X-Men alone for a day.

As for the sappy part most holiday specials require, Jubilee and Wolverine encounter the underground mutants known as Morlocks, one of whom is sick and dying. After much hesitation, and after much comforting by Jubilee of a sad little Morlock girl, Wolverine lets the sick Morlock absorb his healing powers, which makes her better. Apparently, Wolvie had tried this power-transfer over 20 times before and nobody had survived—clearly, the problem was he never tried it on Christmas.

The episode ends with the X-Men being invited to the Morlocks' Christmas dinner, and poor Gambit bemoaning all the time he wasted preparing a meal nobody was going to eat. Maybe he was on the Naughty List that year.

Mr. T and Emmanuel Lewis in a Christmas Dream

1984's A Christmas Dream plays out exactly like a dream. A fever dream.

Ever-present '80s tough guy Mr. T plays a street-corner Santa named Benny, while Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis plays a kid named Billy who doesn't care about Christmas, because his parents are always working. Naturally, none can warm the kid's cold heart, save for Mr. T and his celebrity friends. Apparently, David Copperfield, Maureen McGovern, and the Rockettes chill with drifters in Santa outfits during their off-time.

Copperfield performs parlor tricks at FAO Schwarz while T changes out of his Santa suit. McGovern sings for Lewis at Radio City Music Hall, convincing Lewis to sing as well. He can't sing worth a lick, because the Christmas spirit, while powerful, can't fix pitchiness. Later, Lewis sees the Rockettes rehearsing and then dreams they're toy soldiers from The Nutcracker. Rockettes doing Nutcracker routines at Christmas is fantastical dream sequence stuff now, apparently. Lewis then joins in, also dressed as a soldier. Also, there are two ventriloquist dummies—one of which looks like Mr. T—just in case this whole thing was starting to make sense.

Naturally, Dream has a happy ending. T, who earlier convinced Lewis to give his dad's phone number to a total stranger, called him and had him pick up his kid to spend Christmas together. And no one questions the guy who had just spent a whole day wandering New York City with a boy he didn't know. Don't pity the fool, for, if you watched this, you're the fool.

Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special

Pee-wee's Playhouse made little sense as it was, so naturally its 1988 Christmas special was just as weird, if not more so.

The main plot is pretty basic: Man-baby Pee-wee Herman's Christmas list is so long Santa had no room for anyone else's presents. Pee-Wee feels bad and decides to donate all his gifts to the children of the world. He then wishes for world peace, which should come true at any time probably.

What truly makes the Pee-wee Christmas Special bizarre, however, is everything else. Dozens of people gift Pee-wee fruitcakes, because he's building a new wing of the playhouse made entirely out of fruitcakes. He all but kidnaps '50s icons Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, forcing them to prepare a thousand Christmas cards even as they grow tired, hungry, and thirsty. He gives friends odd gifts like perfume that smells like him and press-on toenails. Magic Johnson appears in the Magic Screen (which is his cousin, because "magic") where he and Pee-wee go on a sleigh ride and evade a cartoon polar bear. Grace Jones arrives in a box meant for the White House—some postman apparently read that and decided "Play House"—and sings "Little Drummer Boy," because she's there so why not.

It takes a certain kind of bizarre to film a scene where Dinah Shore turns "12 Days of Christmas" into several hundred days and have that be the most normal part of the show. Yeah, Pee-wee's Christmas passes the realm of bizarre basically from the start.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

Plenty of Christmas specials have told the origin story of Santa Claus. Few have matched the genius of Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town. 1985's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, however, didn't even try.

Adventures presents perhaps the goofiest "how Santa happened" story ever. Based on Frank Baum's equally weird 1902 book of the same name, a bunch of immortal fairies sit around a table as the apparently immortal "Great Ak" recaps how he found baby Santa 60 years prior, swaddled and abandoned by unnamed parents. Rather than take responsibility for the child himself, the woodsman (Ak) arranges for a nearby lioness to raise him, but a wood nymph eventually adopts the boy. That's too bad, because a feral Santa who acts like a big cat would be the best thing ever, until he tries to sit in all the boxes of presents, anyway.

From there, Claus lives among the humans, pledges to make their lives of "sorrow and misery" (the show's words, not ours) better. He starts creating fun things that he later calls "toys," and sets up shop at a place called the "Laughing Valley of Hohaho" (because origin stories that explain absolutely everything isn't a new Hollywood invention). A tribe of evil beings called the Awgwas attempt to stop Claus from making children happy, but the immortal fairies kill them in cold blood, as is befitting a Christmas special. Finally, as Claus hits old age and is ready to die, the fairies decide he's earned immortality, so they grant it to him. The poor tiger mama was never seen again.

Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas Celebration

For awhile there in the '80s, stop-motion, clay-based animation was all the rage. Thus, we got things like Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas Celebration, which is exactly what it says on the tin. There's no real story, just a bunch of wacky claymation scenes where wacky clay figures sing Christmas songs, all wacky-like.

Some of these scenes include a bunch of camels singing "We Three Kings," a gaggle of sentient church bells banging each other over the noggins for "Carol of the Bells" (giving new meaning to the "congratulations, you played yourself" meme), and "Angels We Have Heard on High" performed by walruses and penguins. And, of course, we can't have an '80s claymation special without the godfathers of the genre, the California Raisins (who, in case you forgot, were talking raisins). They show up to sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," if only because there are no Christmas songs about grapes.

If there's anything tying this special together, it's two dinosaurs arguing over what "wassail" from "Here We Come A-Wassailing" means. Yes, seriously. Their debate gets confounded by various animals singing their own versions, such as "Here We Come A-Waffling," performed by dogs hawking waffles from a food truck. There's stretching for a pun, and then there's this.

Christmas Comes to Pac-Land

For no real reason beyond "Pac-Man is a thing," Hanna-Barbera made Christmas Comes to Pac-Land in 1982. Most any attempt to turn Pac-Man into anything beyond a mindless pellet-gobbler has been suspect; adding Christmas to the mix makes the whole thing even more baffling.

Plot-wise, there isn't much. Video game hero Pac-Man and his cartoon family are making "snow ghosts" (the ghosts being his mortal enemies; that'd be like you or I making a snowman of the rude salesclerk at the liquor store) when Santa gets lost and crashes in Pac-Land. After explaining Christmas to the unknowing Pacs, Santa sends Pac-Man to retrieve Santa's toys but is attacked by the ghosts along the way. He makes it back anyway and then suggests that Santa's injured reindeer be healed at the Power Pellet Forest, a land filled with energizing pellets that tragically never made it into any of the games. They venture there, but the ghosts get in their way, as they're wont to do.

This is where Pac-Man truly becomes the sappy '80s Christmas special it was always destined to be. Pac begs the ghosts not to kill them, because Christmas spirit. Amazingly, the ghosts listen and let them into the Forest, because Christmas spirit (this despite their knowing virtually nothing about the holiday until right that second). In return, Santa comes back to Pac-Land on Christmas and brings presents not just for the Pac Family, but for the ghosts too, who presumably went right back to harassing the Pacs on December 26. Christmas spirit has a limited shelf life when you're dead and evil.

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

It's obviously not unheard of to make a Christmas special out of a Christmas song; Rudolph is proof of that. As a result, the WB gave us Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer in the year 2000, proving that even the most innocuous and ridiculous of songs can be stretched to feature-length—if quality isn't one of the filmmaker's goals.

Unlike in the song, Movie Grandma isn't a drunken old lady, nor does she die after her run-in with Dasher. Movie Grandma owns a fruitcake shop a greedy CEO (subtly named "Bucks") wants to buy, but Grandma doesn't want to sell. Her greedy cousin wants to sell, however, so she tries to eliminate Grandma by slipping "reindeer-nip" into her fruitcake. This causes Santa's reindeer to fly right into her head, giving her amnesia. And you thought an elf dreaming of dentistry was weird.

The cousin and her attorney, the also subtly named I.M. Slime, kidnap Grandma and frame Santa, threatening to charge him with—we're not making this up—"sleighicular negligence." Naturally, Grandma's Santa-loving grandson uncovers the whole plot Scooby-Doo style and gets the evil cousin arrested. Since that reindeer could very well have killed Grandma, the cops presumably charged the cousin with attempted ho-ho-homicide. Bucks winds up being a nice CEO, who offers to franchise Grandma's fruitcake shop instead of buying her out. She accepts and becomes super-successful thanks to a combination of Christmas spirit and a meddling kid.

We Wish You A Turtle Christmas

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doing a Christmas special isn't the craziest idea ever. Making the Turtles look like complete nightmares in the process most certainly is.

The basic story of 1994's We Wish You A Turtle Christmas is just that: basic. The Turtles need to buy Splinter a present, so they hit New York City, undisguised, and go shopping. Along the way, Michelangelo sings opera, the Turtles wrap presents while rapping the "Wrap Rap" (try wrapping that around your head), and finally they settle on buying Splinter, of all things, a framed plastic pizza. Splinter, being a kind soul, accepts this gift lovingly, though he was probably thinking of selling it to the Rat King first chance he got. Then, because this version of Splinter cares not one iota for secrecy and the ways of the unseen ninja, he invites a troupe of children down to the sewer to sing Christmas songs. That's not creepy at all.

All that would be mostly normal, however, if the Turtles looked anything like they did in the movies or cartoons. Neither happened—instead, the Christmas Turtles look like psycho killers, with huge bug eyes and gigantic grins that bare all their gruesome turtle teeth. They look less like cuddly children's icons and more like gorillas giving you one final warning to leave their territory before they rip your head off. It's very possible Splinter accepted their terrible Christmas gift, because he was terrified of his own students.

Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever

In the early 2010's, Grumpy Cat ruled the interwebs. The forever-scowling kitty stole the hearts of basically everyone, and, in 2014, Lifetime resurrected the 1980s philosophy of giving every piece of pop culture a Christmas special. Thus, Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever was born. We watched it once. It was awful.

Worst Christmas Ever stars Grumpy as a lonely, grumpy kitty nobody wants to adopt. She's finally adopted by a lonely, grumpy girl, and the two can somehow talk to each other. Eventually, they learn to be grumpy together, and work to help save an expensive dog stolen from the pet shop. Grumpy Cat remains grumpy throughout, because otherwise there's no meme and no merchandising empire.

Grumpy's voice actress, Aubrey Plaza, apparently had fun on the job. Because Grumpy's mouth never moves during the special, Plaza quickly realized she could say virtually whatever she wanted. As she told USA Today, "The movie kind of has a Mystery Science Theater 3000 vibe to it ... you're getting Grumpy's commentary throughout the whole thing, but then Grumpy is also starring in the story." This means snarky, meta jokes from Grumpy about how she can't die because she's the star of the movie. At one point, the camera cuts to Plaza in the recording booth. Other times, the cat tells the audience to hashtag about the film on Twitter. If you loved Deadpool's fourth-wall breaking, you might enjoy Worst Christmas. Or you'll switch it off after ten minutes and watch Deadpool again.

Star Wars Holiday Special

In many ways, bizarre holiday specials begin and end with the Star Wars Holiday Special. For something so bad it was only shown on TV once, never to get a VHS or DVD release, it's somehow become almost as legendary as other, much better Star Wars movies.

The plot, as it were, has Han racing to get Chewie home to his family for Life Day, the Wookiee Christmas that practically invites Grinches galore. Before the big reunion, however, we get ten minutes of Wookiees grunting at each other, without any subtitles to tell us what they're saying. Judging by this special's understandable dialogue, however, the Wookiees probably weren't saying anything interesting anyhow.

That's not even the worst of it. It's the non-Life Day stuff that catapults Star Wars into Christmas infamy. Star Wars' own Luke Skywalker shows up looking as orange as the sun, sitcom veteran Bea Arthur is a Mos Eisley Cantina bartender who ultimately serves no purpose at all, Chewie's dad gets excited over a sexy Diahann Carroll music video, we see a Star Wars cartoon with some of the worst animation in history, 1970s comedy stalwart Harvey Korman is a cross-dressing, four-armed, English-speaking TV chef the Wookies learn to cook from somehow, Jefferson Starship performs via Wookiee music box, and the galaxy's favorite princess, Leia, sings a "Life Day" carol to the tune of the Star Wars theme. It all sounds bad, but it's actually so much worse.

Still, you must see this special at least once, simply to say you did. You also need to see its super-creepy disco-themed promo video once, simply to say you endured it.