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Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)

by on 2010/12/06

If the 80s exploded, Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1998) would be the holiday party held in the smoldering crater of wigs, lip gloss, vinyl and spandex that the 80s left behind.

I’ve loved Pee-wee Herman, a persona created by the brilliant comic actor Paul Reubens, ever since I first laid eyes on his powdered, lipsticked face in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). Watching Pee-wee make breakfast with his elaborate Rube Goldberg machine in the opening sequence of this Tim Burton-directed feature film, I knew I was hooked.

It turns out I was hooked for good. My love for Pee-wee has never faltered, not even during his silly 1991 arrest in a porn theatre in Sarasota, FL. This pointless arrest resulted in the legendary, Emmy Award-winning Pee-wee’s Playhouse (1986-1990) TV series getting yanked from CBS.

You know, it still hurts.

I thought it was ridiculous then and I feel even more strongly about it today. Which, come to think of it, makes me really wonder why I’m bringing it up… so back to the Christmas Special.

Pee-wee plays self-absorbed host to Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, Canadian crooner k.d. lang, 60s heart-throb Frankie Avalon, Dinah Shore, Cher, Magic Johnson, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Little Richard for one of the craziest,  Dadaist Christmas specials in history.

Only Pee-wee Herman could assemble such an odd and edgy collection of humanity. Studio 54 ebony femme fatale and View to a Kill (1985) Bond woman, Grace Jones sings one of the most threatening versions of Little Drummer Boy ever performed in a warm leatherette breastplate and blue rubber gloves. A crimped and bedazzled Charo strums a display-purposes-only acoustic guitar and wishes us all “Fell-eeff Naffeedad.”

Long before she became the lustrous, god-Queen of legions of women breathlessly waiting to do her will, Oprah held Pee-wee’s pineapple can phone to her ear and held court with Mr. Herman. Whoopi Goldberg begs Pee-wee for a spot on his Christmas special, Pee-wee declines, suggesting to the celebrated Whoopi that she might be slotted in several years from now.

Funicello and Avalon work a slave-labour craft table for a taskmaster Pee-wee, the 60s icons stamping out 100s of potato stamp and toothbrush splattered Christmas cards. Pee-wee also offers helpful advice for the kids. In the word according to Pee-wee, when you don’t have snow to make snow angels, simply use “20 lbs of shredded coconut.”

Let’s not forget Pee-wee Playhouse regulars. Long before he was Morpheus, Laurence Fishburne played Cowboy Curtis, a side-burned, chap-wearing cowpoke at the Playhouse. Law & Order’s S. Epatha Merkerson plays Reba the mail woman. Garishly tinseled sets, stop-action puppetry and talking chairs, this show was all about camp and kitsch. The King of Cartoons (William Marshall) plays campy a vintage Betty Boop Professor Grampy Christmas cartoon. Love.

There’s really nothing not to like in this special, you know, if you are me …or if you are like me. For me, Pee-wee was the embodiment of childish enthusiasm in his tiny bow-tie, ill-fitting suit and enormous shoes. He was Spongebob Squarepants’ human grandfather (but a billion times better).

I love the surreal madhouse that is the Pee-wee Playhouse Christmas Special. Experience it if you can this holiday season.

For the uninitiated, check out the cosmic greatness that is Pee-wee on his official site

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Rated G

48 minutes

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