Saturday, December 5, 2015

Ranking the guest stars on "Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special" (A 25 Days of Shitmas Post) from Joanna Skrabala of!

Ranking the guest stars on Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

Yes, I know Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special has been awesomely covered before (in 2013 and 2014) for Shitmas. Respect. So, I’m going to try something a little different this year by taking a stab at ranking the special’s list of charming, albeit antiquated, guest stars.

Before I dive in, you must know that I’ve watched this endearing special at least once every year since it originally aired in 1988. For the first 20 years or so, it was viewed on my family’s copied-from-TV-to-VHS copy, all-inclusive with 80s holiday commercials. In my 20s, I got the DVD, and now I have the Blu-ray. Though, I still have a VHS-to-DVD copy kicking around—one I simply watch for the commercial breaks.

My fandom is strong and my knowledge is great—so, let’s get back to that ranking…

15. Whoopi Goldberg. Anyone who picture-phones into the Playhouse is at an immediate disadvantage. But Whoopi fails hard during her particular call. See, Pee-wee’s all booked up for this Christmas special, so Whoopi’s trying to get on the show for the next year—or the one after that. Sadly, this was the show’s only Christmas special. Boo, Whoopi—thanks for the annual reminder that there was only one Pee-wee Christmas special.

14. Oprah Winfrey. If it weren’t for Whoopi’s gaffe, Oprah would be the weakest guest. Her pace is totally off from Pee-wee’s, and she’s just awkward. Her only saving grace is her Pee-wee laugh. It’s flimsy, but at least she (kind of) tried.

13. Joan Rivers. The only thing lamer than appearing via picture phone is making your cameo appearance by way of Hollywood Squares on TV. Sorry, Joan—you may have been wearing a snazzy “Merry Christmas” sweater, but you also interrupted the cartoon segment.

12. Dinah Shore. The last of the picture-phone callers! Dinah edges out Oprah, Whoopi, and Joan because 1) she sings a song for Pee-wee (true, an annoying one); and 2) she manages to snag the show’s tag—when she finishes her 1,436 Days of Christmas song.

11. Zsa Zsa Gabor. Dahling, Zsa Zsa is totally forgettable. But at least, she’s there in person—appropriately hanging out with Cowntess.

10. Cher. Her appearance is brief, glittery, and pushes the story forward as she’s there for the secret word (YEAR). She and Pee-wee press Conky’s buttons, get the word, scream, chat—and then Cher’s on her merry way, but not before uttering YEAR one last time. MORE SCREAMS!

9. Little Richard. After it only begins to snow, Pee-wee and group head out to play in a nice blanket of fake snow (20 or so pounds of coconut shavings)—and ice skate! But poor Little Richard can’t skate. Ahem, to quote the singer, “if God had wanted me to try and skate, I would have been born with skinny feet and a little head.” So, there’s that. Plus, his catchphrases are still memorable as my four-year-old will intentionally fall down and say, “GREAT GOSH ALMIGHTY!”

8. k.d. lang. “Jingle Bell Rock” is fun, holiday fare—so, k.d. lang has a grand, swinging time singing this tune, complete with a Christmas-y party dress and random laughing outbursts. Post-song, she shares a few rhymes with the Puppet Band. But, for the record, I still don’t know what she says at the end of her song—can anyone help a girl out here?

7. The Del Rubio Triplets (Eadie, Elena, and Milly). In case you haven’t noticed, songs are aces for me in this Christmas special—so, the De Rubio girls bring it threefold with “Winter Wonderland.” If you grew up in the ‘80s/’90s, chances are you know these sisters from their varied TV appearances—including The Golden Girls, Full House, and Night Court. Following my light research, I was sad to learn that all three have passed away. But it’s okay. With syndication, they live on. So, keep slaying those bells, ladies.

6. Frankie Avalon. He’s the lesser part of the still-great Frankie and Annette dual appearance. Pee-wee enlists the fictional couple’s help to make holiday cards. It becomes a craft moment (with toothbrushes and potatoes) and a running gag. They’re the only “celebrities” to appear all throughout the Christmas special—save for Dinah Shore, but again, that’s only on the picture phone. Still, Annette ranks higher—more on that in a moment.

5. Grace Jones. As luck would have it, Reba the Mail Lady mistakenly delivers one large crate to the Playhouse (vs. the White House). So, Grace Jones arrives on scene (out of the crate) and melodiously rules a rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” (second only to Joan Jett’s version). Bonus: She’s another guest star to have an impact on my child—he’ll wear my bra and say he’s Grace Jones. You can see why…

4. Charo. God help me, I love this feisty little woman. Say what you will about this C-list celeb, but Charo is fun—and she totally appears to be enjoying her time at the Playhouse. While Pee-wee and Ricardo mess about with a piñata, Charo strums and sings “Feliz Navidad,” obvi. She’s buoyant, festive, and has mountains of crimped hair. Plus, she contributes to the ep’s running joke by gifting Pee-wee some delicious pastel de frutas. You know, fruitcake.

3. Annette Funicello. So, why exactly does Annette rank above her Mouseketeer counterpart? Two reasons. First, she splits from Frankie long enough to boldly ask the King of Cartoons if she can push the remote’s start button. Dream accomplished. And, second, the woman is totally in the opening credits. And I’m not referring to the ones introducing the guest stars—Miss Funicello is lumped into the main credits with the regular Playhouse cast. Editing error? Did someone owe her a favor? Either way, that’s one detail I admire.

2. Magic Johnson. He’s Magic Screen’s COUSIN! As a kid, I thought this to be true. As an adult, I recognize its brilliance—even though Magic Screen and Magic Johnson only share first names and aren’t even of the same species/logic... whatever, it’s still my favorite line. And for this reason alone, MJ would be #1 if it weren’t for…

1. Santa Claus. Because it’s Santa Claus! This ol’ elf may guilt Pee-wee into forfeiting his entire Christmas list, but he also teaches Pee-wee about being selfless over selfish. So, you know, the lesson of the story. And as a reward, Pee-wee gets to help deliver Santa’s presents. After all, Santa Claus is Christmas and that’s what this story’s all about.

Now, rank your own—but if you’re an Oprah fan, kindly move along.

- Joanna Skrabala

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