[Back to Articles Index]

Pee-Wee's Christmas: The Secret Word is "FEAR"

One thing Carrie got me for my birthday was the "Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special." I personally love all things Pee-Wee's playhouse oriented, and so was very excited. It took me a while to get around to watching it, but once I did I sure wasn't disappointed.

I always forget, when I'm not exposed to it for a while, just how f'ed up Pee-Wee's Playhouse is. The basic premise is that Pee-Wee is a complete and total asshole for most of the runtime of any of the episodes, until like the last few seconds when he (maybe) does something unselfish. Well, the Christmas special is no different.

We start with some nice stop-motion animation showing the snowy exterior area near the Playhouse, complete with a line of animatronic elves which for some reason are taking presents off a sleigh and dumping them down a well. After we settle on the exterior of the peaceful Playhouse for a few moments, we are suddenly thrown into the midst of a military choir! I kid you not. An actual militar choir (I think it might be Marines) sings the opening introduction to the special, eventually joined by Pee-Wee himself. In case you can't imagine it, just trust me: Watching Pee-Wee dodge the asses of dancing military men is pretty damned f@#%ked up.

The show gets started with Pee-Wee and Conky writing Pee-Wee's Christmas list. After asking for a yo-yo and being reminded that he already has one, he gets it out of his toy vault and it promptly turns into a dog and then an airplane which breaks the camera lens. Why? You'll find yourself asking that question a lot as this special goes on. Conky overheats while trying to print out Pee-Wee's Christmas list (because it's so long).

Soon Ms. Yvonne shows up. This special was made in '88, pretty late in the run of the playhouse, so Ms. Yvonne is starting to get a little long in the tooth. I guess in order to make up for this, she has hung mistletoe in her hair and promptly states that there is "enough of me for everyone." Pee-Wee advises her that "before you make out with everyone in the playhouse" they should exchange presents! Okay, this is getting a little creepy for the kids at this point, having a woman try to get kisses out of robots and chairs and puppets. Pee-Wee gives her "Eau de Pee-Wee" perfume and gets a fruitcake in return, thus setting up the running gag of the flick. Guess what Pee-Wee's gonna get from Everybody?

Pee-Wee puts the cake in the fridge, where the stop-motion food is fishing for presents.

Uh-oh! The phone! It's Whoopi Goldberg, asking if she can be a part of the special. Pee-Wee promptly disses her, saying that he might be able to fit her in two years from now. Whoopi is apparently so desperate that this sounds great, even though Pee-Wee makes it very clear that there's no guarantee. And Whoopi is gone after a total screen time of about 40 seconds. This introduces another recurring theme of this special: Pee-Wee abusing his guest stars, who mostly have less than a minute of screen time each (unless they're doing a song).

Now it's time for Christmas fun with the Magic Screen! Christmas connect the dots reveals a sleigh, and Pee-Wee is flung into the Magic Screen's winter wonderland, where he meets Magic Johnson (the cousin of the Magic Screen. They're both Magic, get it?), and the two get in the sleigh and get chased by a bear and go off a ski jump or something. This flings Pee-Wee back into the playhouse.

He realizes that he's been so busy writing his list that he hasn't decorated! Jambi to the rescue. If you don't know about Jambi, he's a disembodied head in a box that grants Pee-Wee "one wish a day." Since it's Christmastime, Jambi agrees to give Pee-Wee two wishes today, and so Pee-Wee uses his first one to make the whole playhouse decorated.

Reba the mailwoman brings Pee-Wee another fruitcake (uh-oh!), and Pee-Wee gives her some huge-ass press-on toenails. I mean they were giant. Reba then brings in a giant box with Grace Jones inside, who sings Little Drummer Boy in the bizarre way that only Grace Jones can while dressed in a metallic pharaoh outfit. Woo!

There was originally a commercial at this point, but they've been edited out, so all of a sudden Pee-Wee is welcoming us back even though we haven't gone anywhere. Now we meet Pee-Wee's slave labor: Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. Pee-Wee is keeping them captive and forcing them to make his Christmas cards—1,000 of them. I'm not kidding! 500 each by sundown. The cards are arts-and-crafts style, with Frankie making a potato stamp, which Pee-Wee cautions him to wash before he eats.

Suddenly and without warning Cher is just there. I don't know where she came from, but boom! It's Cher! Together they get the secret word, which is "Year." Pee-Wee then basiclly shoves Cher out the door.

The King of Cartoons comes and brings Pee-Wee two fruitcakes! He lets Annette say, "Let the cartoon begin." But for just a brief second the screen flashes a clip of Joan Rivers on Hollywood Squares for some reason before cutting to the cartoon.

As usual, the cartoon is a rambling narrative made some time in the 1930s. This one was about an old man who makes toys out of junk and dresses like Santa for an orphanage. It's actually pretty cool: Pee-Wee was about the only place where you could see old cartoons like this.

Someone realizes that it's snowing outside, which causes everybody to have epileptic fits for some reason. It's just a grade-A freakout. Pee-Wee makes Frankie and Annette stay inside becuase they haven't finished the Christmas cards yet. He goes out and makes a snow angel, and then advises kids that if they don't have snow, they can use "20 pounds of coconut shavings" to get the same effect. Cowboy Curtis (Lawrence Fishburn in his pre-Matrix badass days) comes along. He hears the Del Rubio Triplets singing.

Have you heard of the Del Rubio Triplets? I sure haven't. But I know who they are now: these 90-some year-old country women who wear shorts (or were they skirts? I couldn't tell) that are much, much too short for women their age. *shudder* Anyway, they sing a quick version of Winter Wonderland.

We cut back to Pee-Wee and Curtis, who have made a snowman, which cusses them out for staring at him. This, naturally, freaks the shit out of Curtis and Pee-Wee. Curtis craps his pants and runs off, and Pee-Wee runs into Little Richard, who is trying to ice skate. Completely fogetting the terror of the talking snowman, Pee-Wee shows off his skating prowess to Little Richard, only to be foiled when Pee-Wee's stunt double comes up and asks if that was okay! Doh!

There was another commerical here, and we come back to some hot chocolate. But soon k.d. lang shows up and sings a country version of Jingle Bell Rock. Oh, my God. Never in my life have I seen as big a freakshow as watching k.d. lang prance around like a possed person in an Evil Dead movie as she caterwauls out a f#%$ked up version of Jingle Bell Rock. Woo! Let me tell you, I could have died without seeing that and been none the worse off. I don't know what she was doing.

After they hang stockings (Pee-Wee has two giant ones), we go to the Penny cartoon. This as usual makes no sense whatsoever. I couldn't even tell you what it was about.

Pee-Wee gives Frankie & Annette bread and water while they still toil away on his cards. What an ass! That cow (Contessa? I don't remember her name) comes by the window and gives Pee-Wee fruitcake. Pee-Wee gives her a new cowbell, when suddenly Zsa-Zsa Gabor shows up for like six seconds before running off with the cow.

The phone rings, and it's Dinah Shore, wanting to sing The 12 Days of Christmas for Pee-Wee. There's a call on the other line, so Pee-Wee switches over. It's a young Oprah! She gets like three words out before Pee-Wee says that he has a call on teh other line and cuts her off to go back to Dinah. What an ass! While Dinah is singing, Pee-Wee replaces himself in the phone booth with a dummy of himself so he doesn't have to listen to her anymore. What an ass!

Ricardo shows up and we have a minute or so of Pee-Wee insulting the Spanish language by mispronouncing Feliz Navidad as many ways as humanly possible. But that's okay, because they bring out a pinyata. In his excitement, Pee-Wee blurts out a very strange statement: "The only thing missing is Charo!" And suddenly Charo is there, singing Feliz Navidad while Pee-Wee wildly swings a stick around trying to bust that pinyata. He eventually cheats and hits it open. Charo then gives him her fruitcake.

Mrs. Renee shows up. And she explains that since she's Jewish, she gets a present a day for eight days during the holidays. In order to simulate the experience for Pee-Wee, she has brought him eight fruitcakes! And a Dradel. She leads a singing of the Hannukah song by asking us to "follow the bouncing Jambi head!" The Dradel spins into the crack in the wall where the dinosaur family is also celebrating Hannukah (it makes sense—all the dinosaurs died B.C.), and splits open, releasing nourishing chocolate coins for the dinosaurs!

We get a brief shot of Dinah still singing the 12 days of Christmas, but I think she's up in the hundreds somewhere. After we come back from another non-existent commercial we see all the regular characters decorating the tree. Pterry puts the star on the top 'cause he can fly. Randy unplugs the tree because he doesn't think Christmas is any good. Magic Screen shows the true meaning of Christmas by playing some home movie of an elementary school Nativity play. For some reason this turns Randy right around, and now he loves Christmas.

Pee-Wee shows that he's used all the fruitcakes he's received to build a new wing onto the playhouse. We get a disturbing shot of some very Village People construction workers (one of whom was shirtless) building the wing. Kind of creepy.

The gang sings Christmas carols—many and very quickly. Then Santa comes on down the Chimney. Pee-Wee refuses to give him milk and cookies until he give Pee-Wee his presents. Santa explains that Pee-Wee asked for so much that they didn't have time to make any presents for anybody else, and the only solution is to give Pee-Wee's presents to all the good boys and girls in the world. So Pee-Wee agrees to give up all his presents in his only unselfish act in the entire special. That's good enough for Santa, who lets Pee-Wee ride in the sleigh while he delivers the presents!

Before he goes, Pee-Wee makes his final Jambi wish: Peace on Earth, Merry Christmas, and Happy New "Year" (SCREAM).

Then we're priviledged to see a few poorly-dubbed bluescreen shots of Pee-Wee and Santa delivering presents behind the end credits before it cuts to the post-credit tag: Dinah finally finishes her song and discovers that Pee-Wee has been replaced by a dummy.


And there you have it. Does Pee-Wee ever get punished for being a selfish bastard? Do Frankie and Annette ever get any justice or reward for being Pee-Wee's slave labor? Does this Christmas special have any kind of narrative structure? No, no, and no. It's just a whole bunch of f#$%ked up stuff that happens and then it's over. But I'll tell you, I haven't ever seen a Christmas special quite this original since Pee-Wee's Playhouse went off the air. At least in this special he didn't actually marry a bowl of cereal. That's a different episode...

I probably wasn't as weirded out by this special becuase I've seen a ton of Playhouse episodes. But I can't imagine what this would be like for someone who doesn't know what the Playhouse is like. It's gotta be one of the most surreal experiences in life to see Pee-Wee's Playhouse for the first time, like watching From Dusk 'Til Dawn without knowing anything about it going in.

[top] [Back to Index]