|A MOUSE, A MYSTERY AND ME (nbc, 1987)|
Why was it such a misfit?
From this point forward, we will be introducing a new ratings system, based on this PSA that, according to a VHS I have on file, ran during CBS Sunday Morning in January of 1988:
Until now I've just been providing my own opinion. But from now on, Misfit Specials will be additionally judged on whether Mary Lou Retton likes them as much as she likes bowling, or hates them as much as she hates smoking. You won't find a system this reliable anywhere else.
A Mouse, A Mystery and Me followed the Smurfs Christmas special on NBC and ran at 7:30 the Sunday evening before Christmas. Remember it? Of course you don't. Of all the Misfits the 1980's have to offer, this one's definitely one of the more obscure.
Wait....isn't Harvey Bullock the police detective who works for Commissioner Gordon in Gotham City? And "Jim Shorts"....that's gotta be a pseudonym. This can't be a good sign.
Stevie Mumford, a precocious little tot, has come to the department store to give Santa his wish list. Unfortunately he arrives at precisely the wrong time, as Santa leaves before Stevie can get to him and puts up the old "Feeding My Reindeer" sign. Stevie sighs and walks back outside.
The guy who was playing Santa decides to take his break in the park, which it turns out, is the place Stevie was heading to next. Looks like he gets a second chance.
"Hi! Uhh, you know
me, I'm the one who asked for a wind-up train last
Stevie might think everything is tied up now, but then he's witness to THIS: as Santa's walking along the sidewalk, a gang of thugs suddenly spring out of a dark van, throw him in and drive away. Can't say I was expecting THAT kind of a scene from a special like this. It makes you wonder who that guy really was and who he was in trouble with. But from Stevie's perspective, somebody just kidnapped the most awesome dude in the world. CHRISTMAS IS DOOMED! Unless.....
Cut to an establishing shot of a white house, then to someone named Jill, reading aloud from a really, really long piece of paper. You might think at first glance it's her Christmas list, but it's actually a novel she just printed from her computer. Computer paper used to be connected and you would tear it off at preforated lines. You could make really, really long banners this way, and every single school during the 1980s was covered in those banners.
Jill reads a particularly hacky passage and mocks it. All authors go through phases with what they write. Within the first few weeks it's the most amazing thing ever and perfect in every way. Past one month, it's absolutely terrible and must be burned in shame. Ask any writer and they'll tell you it's true. So if she just wrote it NOW, why does she hate it so soon?
Because it actually wasn't her who just wrote it, it was her co-author. Who is a talking cartoon mouse.
"Hey, at least you're
the one who'll get the credit," the mouse, whose
name is Alex, says. "Besides, who'd want to read a
whodunit written by a rodent?"
Just then Jill's mother approaches, and Alex quickly hides into his mouse hole. Poking her head through the entrance, Ma says "Jill, a little boy named Stevie Mumford is at the door! His mother does our ironing." So that's how they're connected. "He heard about how you write mysteries, and you're famous and everything."
Wait, she's a famous mystery writer, and she's also a teenage girl who lives with her mother, and her books are written by a mouse? That makes even less sense than the hypothetical novel she just vetoed. Who wrote this? ....oh right, it was Jim Shorts.
Stevie bursts in and yells, "I JUST SAW SOMEONE STEAL SANTA CLAUS!" Cut to commercial!
There's only one ad: a 60-second, unbearably twee McDonalds story about Grimace capturing a star, wrapping it up and giving it to Ronald for Christmas. Ronald has to take it back, of course, but he's satisfied anyway because his friends are his real presents.
"Duhhhh, hey Ronald,
our employees are our friends too, and they have kids to
feed! Let's think about raising the minimum
Stevie continues. "IT WAS THE REAL SANTA! Someone took him! I know you'll help, 'cause it's a mystery! We've gotta get him back because Christmas is tomorrow!" He says he'll be waiting downstairs and then leaves. I hope she didn't have any other plans for today.
Jill quickly shuts the door and calls for Alex. "Good thing I'm not an elephant; THEN where would I hide?" Alex observes. I...guess that's true. That would be bad.
Alex also observes that the kid "must have gotten into some bad catnip." Which would not have affected him since he's not a cat. When is Alex going to say something that makes any sense? But there's no time for that now -- the kid needs help! Maybe psychological. Alex leaps into Jill's purse and off they go.
Stevie leads Jill to the department store, and the Santa throne that's still empty. "See? He's not there!" Jill is about to say something when another employee in the Santa costume comes ho-ho-hoing through the room, removes the sign and sits down. Jill's seen enough proof this is a waste of time, but Stevie is adamant he saw THE REAL SANTA get kidnapped and that other guy has to be an impostor. Jill thinks and walks over to two people, who conveniently happen to run the store.
They introduce themselves as the manager and the vice president, and they recognize her immediately. "Hey, you're Jill Roberts! We sell a lot of your books." How much money is she earning? Does she keep it all stashed in an attic, in a suitcase?
The manager tells Jill they've had the same Santa, a man named Mr. Crandall, for the last twenty years. This does raise suspicion with Jill, because if Mr. Crandall is right there, it contradicts the event Stevie told her about.
She speaks into her purse.
"Alex, I'm getting some weird vibes here."
Jill lowers her purse and Alex scampers through a model train station to the bottom of Santa's throne. There, he spots a tag on the boots that says, "Property of the Renta-Santa company." This provides Jill a lead, and she, Alex and her friend Amy head to the address.
You really can rent a Santa where this girl lives, at any hour of the day. But is the place crooked? Well, the man at the desk inside has the accent of a hard-boiled gangster. "No way, I ain't tellin' nobody nothin'! It's customer confidentiality!" What more proof do you need?
Jill and Amy distract the
tough guy while Alex snoops around behind his back,
looking for a suspicious receipt or proof of purchase.
Alex get startled and falls into a trash can. "Just for that, we'll order a clown!" Jill shouts, and they leave in a hurry.
While Alex is in the trash can, the tough guy makes a phone call. "Hey, I just had two dames askin' about the Santa you ordered." Alex listens VERY closely to the dial tones, and later in a phone booth, Jill and Amy try to interpret them as best they can. "No, it was more like, BEEP BEEP BOOP BEEP BOOP," Alex acts out. This time they get the correct number, and a man named Sam Hall answers. Sam Hall happens to be the vice president of the department store!
"Why would Mr. Hall
kidnap his own employee?" Amy wonders.
Once they're there, they
notice the manager slip into the vice president's office,
and they sneak up to the door to listen.
"Well, where could it
have all gone?" the manager asks.
The girls are shivering in a closet as the manager reaches her hand inside to get a coat. She doesn't notice them and shuts the door, and Mr. Hall also nearly opens the door for some reason but decides against it. Once they leave, Amy says "Do you have a mirror? I want to make sure my hair hasn't turned white."
Mr. Hall takes the elevator, and the girls take the escalator. The plan is to follow him and call the police, but when the elevator door opens....Mr. Hall isn't in it. "He's vanished! Now what will we do?"
After a commercial break, the girls inspect the elevator and find a little red book that belongs to Crandall. It must mean he's still in the building -- but where?
They find the manager's office and present the book to her. She agrees that the appearance of that book is unusual, and that something fishy IS going on. She thinks and realizes the one place in the store you could hide somebody would be the jewelry vault. The manager writes a note to the security guard and sends them off. "They're to go to the vault, then come right back here."
The girls have left, and now so has the manager, but Alex is still there, hiding on the manager's desk. He sneezes on her ashtray and blows ashes all over her notepad. When the dust settles, the impression of what she wrote is on the pad....and it says "LOCK THEM UP"!!!
He has to get to them right away -- OH NO, IT'S A CAT! Wait, back up, what's a cat doing here? This is a department store. No time for logic now -- we gotta run! Alex sprints to a toy fire engine and hits the equivalent of the gas. The cat comes chasing after him and is closing fast. But luckily, it turns out this fire engine can also squirt water. He escaped the cat, but he was too late to stop the guard.
It turns out both Mr. Crandall AND Mr. Hall were bound and gagged inside, and the real culprits are the guard and the manager. They figure by the time anybody finds those people, they'll be off in another country with tons of stolen money, having hot sex (well, it's implied). Alex has to steal the key out of the guard's pocket while they're kissing, but he misses and nearly falls off the office table. And that was his only chance!
Then he gets another idea...spotting a "toy gun" on the table (I suspect this line was dubbed in for the censors), Alex pushes it into the money bag. Neither of them notice, they zip it up and leave. This results in their getting busted when the airport security scan picks up the gun. Not the resolution I was expecting, but less predictability is a good thing.
It's now Christmas Day and Jill, Amy, Alex and Mr. Crandall are all celebrating at Stevie's house. "We were lucky the police got to them so quickly," Crandall remarks. Well, there was about a minute left in the program anyway.
Oh yeah, remember at the very beginning when Stevie mentioned he wanted his dad home for Christmas, and you thought that was going to be the plot and the special would be about Stevie, but then he took a backseat and the "Me" of the title turned out to be Jill? I wonder if they just completely forgot about that----no, nope, there he is.
He was able to get home
at the last minute because "I found an airplane
ticket in my lunchbox!" Talk about random.
Why didn't it fit in?
Does Mary Lou Retton like it?
Oh, no, nope -- she doesn't like it. Look at that face. Maybe not as much as she hates smoking, but still, that's quite a bad reaction.