Watching A Muppet Family Christmas as a kid is one of my earliest memories of a Christmas tradition and also what I credit my love for the Muppets to. For those reasons I’ve always had a huge sentimental attachment to it and rank it high among TV Christmas specials. Pop culture has been so inundated with Christmas over the years it feels a little gross to pay more attention to holiday episodes of things, but this little Muppets special from 1987 still holds up as an example of a simple but fun look at the holidays.
Everything kicks off with the Muppets driving through a blizzard singing “We Need a Little Christmas,” and hits you with a ton of exposition right away. Fozzie is taking everyone to his Grandmother’s farmhouse because she’s always alone for the holidays. Actually she’s planning a vacation to California and is renting the house out to Doc and Sprocket from Fraggle Rock. This is a Muppet special after all, so once everything is established things quickly descend into gags about Animal eating things and Fozzie telling bad jokes as eventually more and more guests arrive. By the end, everyone from Statler and Waldorf to Jim Henson himself has arrived at the farmhouse.
A Muppet Family Christmas is essentially a giant crossover between The Muppets, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock and an excuse to get a bunch of beloved characters together to sing Christmas carols. For the record, I love the Muppet renditions of these songs (it’s actually the first place I heard a bunch of them) but if there’s a fault to the special, it’s that it over relies on the novelty of having characters we love sing songs we love that they otherwise wouldn’t. The program was edited down every time a different network aired it and the original version has almost ten minutes of extra musical numbers. All the carols wear a little thin after a while, although the originals like “Pass It On” from Fraggle Rock work great. Really there’s only so much of Bert and Ernie caroling I can take, but I’ll take a Fraggle song any day.
Where the special succeeds is finding interesting pairings between Muppets and the Sesame Street gang as well as introducing a few new characters that fit immediately into the Muppets’ world. Fozzie’s Snowman friend is great, and their comedy act is spectacularly bad in the best way possible. There’s a scheming Turkey that convinces Swedish Chef that Big Bird would make a much better dinner than himself. The reveal of Swedish Chef looking into the living room at Big Bird (accompanied with a lightning strike that may seem clichéd now but works great in the context of the special) still makes me chuckle.
In the end, there’s not much at stake: no one learns the true meaning of Christmas or has their faith restored. But that’s because this is the Muppets and no one has to go through crises like that to begin with. A Muppet Family Christmas is simply an excuse to hang out with a bunch of loveable misfits from your childhood and be reminded that all the holiday season really needs to mean is being happy with the people in your life. Where this special succeeds and others don’t is the fact that it doesn’t clobber you with overly sentimental Christmas morals, it just wants you to laugh with a frog, a pig, and a bear and the weird assortment of monsters they hang around with.
Guest post by Matt Ern.