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Dec. 18 – Bob’s Burgers: “Christmas in the Car”

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First aired December 15, 2013

Among the Fox programs airing on Sunday nights, Bob’s Burgers has become the one most likely to deliver a good Christmas special year in and year out, especially now that American Dad has fled to cable. It also still feels like a relatively new series to me, but it’s now in its eighth season. Bob’s Burgers is about a guy named Bob Belcher who runs a burger joint with his family; Wife Linda, eldest daughter Tina, son Gene, and daughter Louise. The restaurant is only semi-successful and everyone in the family is a bit odd, but they actually have a rather sweet family dynamic. “Christmas in the Car” is not the show’s first Christmas episode, but the season 4 episode is probably the show’s best holiday themed special, mostly because of its unique premise.

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Halloween and Christmas together?! Tim Burton’s gonna sue.

When the show opens, Linda is eagerly erecting the family Christmas tree on the day after Halloween. Apparently Linda is a real mark for Christmas and when Bob sasses her for her illogical enthusiasm she poo-poos him, as do the children. The show has a quick cut to the Belchers tossing out the now dead tree while all looking mournful, except Bob who saw this coming. We then repeat the gag, only Linda is putting up a tree on the day after Thanksgiving. While it’s a little more understandable (Black Friday might as well be National Decorate for Christmas Day for those of us who don’t leave the house to go shopping) to put up a tree then, a living one will have little chance of seeing Christmas Day. Which is what happens to this second tree. Now it’s Christmas Eve and the Belchers are without a tree. Linda and the kids are despondent while Bob is more concerned with finishing up Christmas dinner so they can have their traditional meal.

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There’s going to be a lot of this in this episode.

Linda isn’t going to settle for a tree-less Christmas (maybe she should just get a fake one?), and finds a lot still open that will basically let them take whatever is left. With everyone in the family against him, Bob reluctantly goes along with them and loads everyone into the car to drive an hour away for a scrappy tree. The kids though aren’t entirely eager as they have a plan to capture Santa Claus. Gene and Louise are very much consumed by it, while Tina is mostly along for the ride. Things get worse for poor Bobby since the kids are crazy in the car and try to tickle him most of the way while Linda mostly mocks him for being a “lump of coal.”

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A tree lot on Christmas Eve is kind of a depressing place to be.

When they get to the tree lot the pickings are naturally slim and unappealing on Christmas Eve. Linda has a hard time settling on one, so Bob joins the kids in their Santa scheming. They’re not eager for his help, and Bob strikes up a conversation with Tina about how it’s weird that Louise still believes in Santa assuming Tina will agree with him, but she just seems confused forcing Bob to ease out of the conversation gently. The kids stage a dry run using a port-a-potty and it gets surprisingly violent. Linda finally settles on a tree and they’re all ready to leave. Bob asks the kids to help him get out of the lot, but they basically do a terrible job and Bob cuts off a guy driving a giant candy cane truck. It gets worse as Linda yells at him and beats on the horn to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

The truck continues on its way and the Belchers are heading home. Bob is pretty much done with this whole thing and wants to get home, but when the candy cane truck driver decides to drive at a snail’s pace in front of them, Bob decides to pass him. It gets a little Christmas Vacation-y here as Bob tries to pass the truck only for the truck to speed up and not let him by. The family freaks out as Bob is finally able to maneuver their station wagon in front of the truck only for the trucker to start aggressively tailing him. Bob loses his cool and plunges off the road to let the truck by further terrifying his family. With Gene’s bladder begging for relief, the family heads to a nearby diner so Gene can use the facilities. Bob is eager to get back on the road, but Gene takes a little extra time: “My bladder asked if my colon could come out and play, and my colon was like, “‘Sure thing.'”

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Just let the man eat babies in peace, Bob.

Linda sees the diner serves Dutch Babies, a type of fancy pancake, but they take 25 minutes to make. Bob is concerned about his ham in the oven (“Just fart, dad”), but he’s talked into calling family friend Teddy to turn off the oven while Linda waits for the Dutch Baby that she just has to have. Teddy isn’t doing anything, because he’s never doing anything, and is eager to help out. As Bob tells him what he needs to do, Teddy becomes overwhelmed even though Bob is literally telling him how to turn off the oven – nothing complicated. He then becomes concerned that Bob didn’t get his Christmas card and Bob is forced to hang up on him.

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Teddy is not the most reliable.

It’s then Bob notices a police officer sitting in a booth eating a Dutch Baby (that’s a really weird thing to type) and he decides to report the candy cane driver to the cop. The cop sits there disinterested (really similar to a bit on Seinfeld) while Bob delicately describes what happened while the kids pipe-in with sarcastic quips when it becomes obvious the cop isn’t taking their father seriously. That only irritates Bob, and when the cop starts to poke fun at him he swings his arms and accidentally hits a waitress. Then the cop starts asking him why he assaulted a waitress and things just spiral out of control with Bob angrily declaring they’re leaving without the Dutch Baby. Just then it’s ready, at 22 minutes, causing Linda to happily refer to it as a preemie, “Just like Jesus!”

The Belchers pile back into the car and start making their way home. As they do so, Teddy shows up at their apartment to turn off the oven. He basically narrates what he’s doing, wondering why Bob made it sound so complicated and why his Christmas card remains unopened. He notices some cookies left out and decides a cookie is an appropriate payment for his services today. The cookies though are part of the Santa trap laid by the kids. A note is present informing the recipient the milk is in the fridge. When Teddy goes to retrieve the milk he slips his hand through a little noose and becomes trapped in the fridge. Meanwhile, Bob and Linda are arguing about the Diner experience while the kids are concerned they’ll miss Santa, spoiling their trap. Just then, Bob spies the candy cane truck and it’s soon after them. The Dutch Baby gets lodged under the pedals while everyone freaks out, mostly about the truck, but Linda also over her fancy pancake.

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Impending doom.

Now that they’re all convinced the driver of the candy cane truck is out to kill them, the family heads off the road and tries to hide from view. Bob wants to call the police, but during the entire trip for a tree Gene has had a radio station on hold to request “Jingle in the Jungle” and now the battery is dead. While the family is hunkered down in the car in the woods they all, apparently fearing their own demise is near, begin to confess to secret shames or things they’ve been keeping inside. Gene decides to tell the family he has the best legs, while Tina admits to being the one who didn’t flush (she was apparently proud of her “creation” and Linda admits it looked just like one of her father’s). Bob just wants everyone to stop talking, but then they ask where babies come from and Linda deadpans “You all come from my vagina.”

Bob is able to spy the truck through the trees, hears it honk, and sees it drive away. Everyone is overjoyed for a minute, especially Bob who declares he saved them all, but then discovers the car is stuck in the snow. Trapped in the car, the family has a moment of levity when “Jingle in the Jungle” comes on and all seem to enjoy it. They resign themselves to their Christmas in the car as it’s now past midnight. Then the candy cane truck returns, and panic sets in.

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Turns out the truck driver (voice of Bobcat Goldthwait) isn’t very intimidating once he isn’t in his giant truck.

Not knowing what else to do, they all jump out of the car. The kids are prepared to run, but Bob seems to know he needs to confront the driver. When the driver emerges from the truck Bob sees how small he is and seems to feel a little bit more emboldened. Bob confronts him, rambles on, apologizing and also asking if the guy could help them get their car out of the snow, but the trucker just wants to fight. There’s a humorous moment when he tells Bob that he wants to “bang his ass,” and Bob kind of snickers knowing that’s probably not what the guy meant to say. Bob tries to strike a deal; help them get their car out and he’ll let the guy punch him in the stomach. Linda is not on board, but Bob just sees this guy as a sad little man and thinks he’d be giving him something worthwhile that will probably make his day. He makes the observation that this guy is probably having a worse Christmas than them, and Linda takes some pride in hearing her husband recognize that.

Bob and the trucker, turns out his name is Gary, then have a little heart to heart. Gary is just having a bad day and is pretty upset he has to work on Christmas. Bob is sympathetic and things seem to be calming down, until Gary slugs him in the stomach. Feeling great after nailing Bob, Gary is suddenly in a much better mood and more willing to help while Bob fears he has internal bleeding. Linda insists that Gary take their tree and their Dutch Baby and an incredulous Bob is unable to muster much of a fight as he’s still reeling from the blow. They get the car unstuck and return home to find Teddy had tipped over the fridge and made a general mess of things in the house. He’s less concerned with his own safety and more concerned with why Bob never opened his Christmas card. He insists Bob open the card before freeing him. It’s a cat and it says “Meowy Christmas” and the episode ends with “Jingle in the Jungle” during the closing credits.

Christmas_Car_CreditsThere’s no write-up that can be done for an episode of Bob’s Burgers that does it justice. A lot of the humor is situational relying on the timing of the voice actors and animation to make a successful joke. There’s tons of little one-liners through-out, mostly from the kids, and the sequences with Teddy on his own are pretty entertaining as he basically thinks out loud the whole time. I mostly enjoy the episode though because it’s really entertaining as an episode of Bob’s Burgers while also injecting a little Christmas spirit without sacrificing anything. The kids don’t really learn anything and no one feels obligated to apologize to Bob for not believing him about the truck, and for making him go on an ultimately fruitless quest for a third tree on Christmas Eve. The night was basically ruined, though the Belcher family, except Bob, seems immune to feeling any kind of lingering depression. They take things in stride, mostly due to their very optimistic matriarch, so it’s hard to actually be mad at them for how they put their father through hell.

“Christmas in the Car” will almost certainly be shown at least once this season on Cartoon Network’s adult swim programming block (Update: December 21 at 10 PM on Cartoon Network). Bob’s Burgers routinely airs at 10 and 10:30 each nice and adult swim is very good about unloading a ton of Christmas specials as the holiday approaches. Otherwise, you can stream it in various places (for a fee) or pick up Season 4 of Bob’s Burgers on home media.

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Dec. 8 – It’s A Very Merry Eek’s Mas

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I apologize, but there are not many high quality images on the internet of this one, so we’re making do with what we got.

For a pretty sizable chunk of the 90s, the Fox network really dominated the Saturday morning cartoon landscape. A network, at the time, more synonymous with “filth” somehow managed to corral the kid demographic away from the more wholesome ABC and CBS. Fox was largely able to do this by partnering with some big players:  Steven Spielberg, Warner Bros, Saban, and Marvel – all before a lot of them would go off and do their own thing such as Warner launching its own network. It was also rather impressive that Fox had a ton of original programming and it wasn’t relying on old standbys to fill air. Some of the shows it launched are still pretty beloved:  Tiny Toons, Animaniancs, Batman, X-Men, The Tick. Sure, not all of those shows debuted during the Saturday morning block, but they often ended up there and helped make way for more shows.

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Eek and his beloved Annabelle, who is voiced by Tawny Kitaen, of all people.

One show that probably isn’t remembered all that fondly is Eek the Cat. It’s not that Eek was a bad show by any means, it just kind of got lost in the shuffle of many hyper-active 90s cartoons. It was also usually one of the earlier shows in the block when some kids were just getting out of bed, and its star had no pedigree. Eek was a round purple cat who is pretty dim but has a heart of gold. He wants to help those in need, but often gets the short end of the stick leading to numerous instances of pain and misery. His girlfriend, Annabelle, is an obese pink cat that towers over him. She has a pet dog, the appropriately named Sharky, who hates Eek and bites him whenever he gets the chance. Eek’s existence is in many ways miserable, but he always finds the bright side which makes him a pretty likable cat.

Christmas is a holiday that should suit a fellow like Eek pretty well. He adores Christmas, as we would expect him to, and at the opening of his own Christmas special we find him carrying a stack of gifts as he remarks to himself how much he enjoys the holiday. He narrowly avoids mayhem as he works his way through the crowded, snowy streets and puts his gifts down to make a donation to charity. In doing so, his stack of gifts is gobbled up by a street sweeper, and we’re under way!

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Santa’s reindeer, lead by Blitzen (Bobcat Goldthwait) are on strike despite only working one day per year.

We’re soon taken to the North Pole. Santa’s reindeer are striking, despite Santa pointing out that they only work one night a year. Santa, voiced by William Shatner surprisingly competently, is distressed and voices his concerns to his reindeer assistant, Elmo. Soon his helpers go on strike, and even Mrs. Claus has left him. Who will save Christmas?!

Eek visits his beloved Annabelle and is surprised when Sharky doesn’t devour him. Annabelle is worried about Sharky, and the two enter his dog house which is typical looking from the outside, but inside it’s basically a mansion (I always loved similar gags in cartoons for some reason). Sharky is depressed and we find out it’s because he misses his family, who he hasn’t seen since he was a little pup. Eek, even though Sharky has never treated him well, resolves to help Sharky find his family for Christmas.

Due to a mishap with a discarded banana peel, Santa finds himself laid up in bed just two days before Christmas. He’s despondent, but Elmo the brown-nosed reindeer volunteers to head out into society to make people aware of Santa’s predicament and get help. Meanwhile, Eek and Sharky set out to find Sharky’s family with Eek deciding they need to consult a wise, all-knowing individual. Sharky, through guttural noises that Eek can understand, suggests Rush Limbaugh (apparently Sharky is a hardcore conservative) while Eek corrects him and suggests Santa Claus. They seek out all of the street corner Santas to no luck. While this is ongoing, Elmo appears on a call-in show to ask the public for Santa’s help. When no one calls, he’s booted out and happens to collide with Eek and Sharky in an alley outside the studio. They both reveal to one another how they need help, and they decide to set-off for the North Pole together. They have to take a commercial airline, since reindeer can only fly on Christmas Eve, and Elmo happily enjoys an issue of Play Doe while they ride.

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Not much is going to get this purple cat down.

When they arrive at Santa’s house, they find Santa is in a pretty low place. He’s depressed and even asks Eek to call him Mud at first. He has no help, the toys aren’t finished, and he can’t deliver them even if they were due to a broken leg. Eek, in an attempt to cheer him up, teases a song that Elmo and Sharky are eager to assist with, but Eek has to inform them he only prepared a speech. Santa finds his words nice and all, but they don’t change the reality of this grim situation. Eek volunteers to finish the toys and make the deliveries and a short montage takes place of Eek assembling numerous toys and piling them onto the sleigh. Elmo informs him they have no way of getting that sleigh into the air, and Eek tells him some stuff about bumble bees with his usual dose of optimism. We cut to Eek freezing in the snow, his optimism gone, as he realizes there’s no way he can get that sleigh to fly. They need to consult some serious minds if they want to pull this off.

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Santa is in need of some cheering up.

The Barbi Twins are those minds, and they end up being really smart because if they weren’t then the joke wouldn’t work. If you don’t remember or never knew who the Barbi Twins were, they were a pair of identical twins who were pin-up models in the early 90s. They were popular enough that their appearances in Playboy broke sales records. The twins devise a rocket, and the boys are eager to try it out. Their first flight only succeeds in destroying Santa’s house, but the second is more successful. In between launches, Santa is somehow able to rebuild his entire house. He can construct a home just fine in his condition but can’t fly around in a sleigh. The second rocket may be successful, but it also takes out Santa’s house. Poor guy can’t catch a break.

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The Barbi Twins are ready to help. Who knew they possessed such knowledge?

While flying around the world, Eek notices the island of shark dogs on Santa’s map and deduces that this must be where Sharky is from. Before they can check it out, he overhears a small voice calling for help and he steers the rocket-sleigh down to investigate. There they find a young girl who’s lost her bunny. Sharky is plenty eager to track a rabbit, and he and Eek are able to find him rather effortlessly. While doing this, the rocket-sleigh starts to slide and Elmo is unable to get it under control. It plunges off a cliff but Elmo is able to grab a tail fin and prevent it from falling to the ground. Somehow he’s able to hold the impossibly large rocket until Eek and Sharky show up to help. A Grinch parody takes over as Sharky’s heart grows three sizes and he’s able to lift the rocket high over his head. When Eek points out that this is the wrong Christmas special for that, Sharky’s strength vanishes and the lot of them fall with the rocket smashing as they hit the ground.

With the rocket destroyed, they have no alternative but to pull the sleigh themselves. Eek is able to make it budge about six inches, which is all the motivation Elmo and Sharky need to lend a hand. They start dragging the sleigh and delivering gifts montage style as news crews from around the world flock to take up the story. The coverage centers on how these three brave souls are willing to do what it takes to save Christmas, while no one else will as the camera pans to reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of people just watching the trio freeze and struggle to pull the sleigh. The montage ends and we find out they still have tens of thousands of houses to get to, so it wasn’t as effective as a montage typically is. Just then, the little girl who lost her bunny, Dolores, returns with some friends to help them. Better yet, her giant of a brother is with her and they all help pull the sleigh. This attracts more kids, then Santa’s elves, and finally even the reindeer pull themselves away from their new gig as wall ornaments to finally pitch in.

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Elmo and Sharky, even with all that’s going on, still find time for some TV shopping.

With things now running smoothly, there’s only one gift left which is to reunite Sharky with his family. Elmo gets them right on trajectory to Sharky’s home, and the reindeer then depart. As the sleigh speeds through the air it attracts a military plane which is advised to shoot the unidentified object down. We then are taken to the island of shark dogs, where Sharky’s family is saying it’s form of grace before Christmas dinner, remarking how they wished they had a cat for dinner and how they miss their favorite son (this is all done through subtitles as Sharky’s dad speaks in grunts like his son). In an answer to their prayers, Eek and Sharky fall from the sky and land in the giant cooking pot. Sharky is delighted to see his family, and even gives Eek a hug. Eek remarks on how this has been a wonderful Christmas, then hopes aloud they can stay for dinner because something smells good as the camera pans back to reveal he’s still in the pot and the other shark dogs are dumping salt and fixings on him. With a wave of his hand, Eek wishes us a merry Christmas and our special is concluded.

Eek the Cat’s first Christmas special is a solid entry. It takes an unoriginal premise but goes about it differently enough that it doesn’t feel too familiar. This was, after all, before The Santa Clause re-popularized this type of story and the most noteworthy before it was probably “Christmas Flintstone.” This episode is less manic, less loud, than I remember most Eek the Cat episodes being. It’s also longer as it takes up the full run-time of the half hour block. Also, to my surprise, this special debuted in primetime on Fox in front of Martin, which was pretty popular at the time. I never remembered Eek being that big of a star as to warrant a primetime debut, but maybe Fox was really pushing him. The show had a pretty decent run of five seasons, so it had staying power, even if it’s not remembered as fondly as its peers. Because of that, this special is a bit tough to come by these days. The show has not been released on DVD, and likely never will be at this point, so the internet is your best bet for seeing this one. If you don’t mind watching Christmas specials on YouTube, this one is actually worth the effort as it’s different and entertaining enough, though it does lack some real laugh-out-loud kind of moments and the animation is just so-so. If you just want something different though, it gets the job done.


Scrooged

Scrooged (1988)

Scrooged (1988)

Richard Donner is known primarily for being the director who convinced you that a man could fly, but he also directed and produced the first Christmas movie I ever saw where the lead character was something more than despicable.  In a way, Scrooged is kind of a precursor to a film like Bad Santa where the audience isn’t supposed to like or even feel much empathy for the lead role.  And even though Scrooged is a take on A Christmas Carol, the leading male in the Scrooge-like role just seems far more unlikable than any Scrooge I ever bore witness to.

The Scrooge in this film is played by Bill Murray, an actor who has made an awful lot of money portraying selfish, sarcastic, and cynical characters that audiences are able to embrace because that character offers some redeeming qualities.  Murray’s Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters ultimately embraces his hero role and puts his life on the line for the city of New York.  Groundhog Day’s Phil Connors is quite the unlikable character at the film’s onset, but throughout the movie he’s redeemed and becomes a better person in the end.  In Scrooged Murray plays Frank Cross, a television executive whose ambition in life is entirely career oriented.  Unlike many depictions of Scrooge, he’s not necessarily out solely for financial gain (though that’s definitely a part of it, and he’s pretty cheap) as his main ambition appears to be to rise to the top of the career ladder.  He’s ruthless, self-centered, and shows no empathy for the people around him.  As a television executive, he approves a television spot for an upcoming live edition of A Christmas Carol that has an apocalyptic feel opting to lure in viewers through fear and intimidation rather than on the strength of the program he’s pushing.  He shows no regard for his loyal secretary, Grace (played by Alfre Woodard and the film’s Bob Cratchit), and makes her work late with no Christmas bonus, and when one of his subordinates (Bobcat Goldthwait’s Eliot Loudermilk) disagrees with his absurd TV spot he has him fired.  Usually we can laugh at a Bill Murray character even when he’s a jerk.  With Frank Cross, we can’t even laugh at him because he’s too good at being mean.

Carol Kane's character is likely to draw the most laughs.

Carol Kane’s character is likely to draw the most laughs.

I am an unabashed Bill Murray fan.  I love him in pretty much any role.  I don’t know exactly what it is about Murray that appeals to me so much.  He’s obviously a great actor whose range still seems to surprise people whenever he takes on a more dramatic role.  He’s best known for comedies and I certainly have a nostalgic affinity for Ghostbusters.  He also reminds me of my own father so that can’t hurt.  With that said, even I find it hard to watch the first half hour of Scrooged.  Frank Cross is a terrible person and he gets away with so much.  His brother James (John Murray, Bill’s real-life brother) is willing to forgive his short-comings to a fault, while ex-girlfriend Claire (Karen Allen) almost seems to ignore his numerous flaws.  We never quite see how the two characters broke-up, just a hurt Claire proposing they take a break when Frank once again chooses his career over her, and we get the sense that Frank just shrugged his shoulders and forgot to ever follow-up on that break.  I watched the film recently with my fiancé who remarked that she kind of hated the movie while we were in its early stages and I couldn’t blame her.  I do wonder if perhaps Murray and Donner felt like Murray was too likable as an actor at this stage in his career and that they needed to over-do just how awful Frank is to counteract that.  The film does benefit some from this overly cruel Scrooge as the character is redeemed by the film’s conclusion, but I still get the sense the Cross character was overdone.  Not only is he too cruel, he’s not always believable in his cruelty.  And it’s somewhat surprising that this character even could be redeemed.

The film's makeup effects are still impressive today.

The film’s makeup effects are still impressive today.

The film was initially hyped as a special effects bonanza.  Given that the film was released in 1988, these effects are not impressive by today’s standards.  The effects are mostly put to use with the film’s ghosts.  Just like in A Christmas Carol, Frank is visited by three spirits, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.  All take on an appearance and character to better suit this film’s setting of 1980’s New York.  The first ghost, played by David Johansen, is a cab driver who takes Frank on a tour of his past giving the audience insight into his childhood and past relationship with Claire.  Christmas Present is played by Carol Kane and she is portrayed as a violent fairy-type.  She repeatedly strikes Frank and is likely to be the character who induces the most laughs.  The Ghost of Christmas Future is depicted as a Grim Reaper-like figure whose main twist is a television screen for a face (and his “body” is revealed as a mass of screaming souls that looked revolting in the 80’s but kind of cheesy now).  A lot of makeup effects are in use with the ghosts, and the best is probably reserved for the Marley character played by John Forsythe.  His decomposing body is grossly, and convincingly, portrayed on-screen with lots of gray and a dusty, flaky, texture.

Eliot doesn't respond well to being fired.

Eliot doesn’t respond well to being fired.

For the film’s comedy, it tends to rely on a grab bag of tricks as opposed to resorting to one style.  A lot of the “humor” in the film’s early scenes are of the dark variety as the audience is asked to laugh at the misfortune of others.  It’s horribly mean-spirited, and some won’t find any laughs at all.  As the film moves along the humor becomes more dialogue and situation specific with less of a mean tone.  There’s also physical comedy, notably from the Ghost of Christmas Present and later in the film when Goldthwait’s Eliot goes off the deep-end.  It’s not a rip-roaringly funny film, but the laughs are spread around well once it gets past the early parts.  The score is done by Danny Elfman and it’s a pretty typical Elfman type of score.  People seem to either love or loathe Elfman but I’ve never had anything against him and find his score suitable here.

Since this is a take on A Christmas Carol, Frank is shown the error of his ways and comes around by the film’s conclusion.  Just like how his cruelty felt overdone, the big redemption scene feels similar as Frank hi-jacks the live television production of A Christmas Carol to share his new-found appreciation for Christmas with the world. It’s uncomfortably funny and drawn out, but does provide the happy ending most were probably hoping for.  The film’s beginning and its end make it feel like the film is a lot longer than its 101 minutes running-time, but by the time it did end my fiancé had come around and proclaimed it “cute.”  I suspect most viewers will have the same experience.  Scrooged is too flawed a film to be a true Christmas classic, but it is well acted and differs enough from other clones of the source material to make it a worth-while viewing experience.  Those looking for something a little less saccharine in their Christmas movies will probably get the most out of Scrooged.