|ANDY WILLIAMS AND THE NBC KIDS SEARCH FOR SANTA (nbc, 1985)|
Why was it such a misfit?
As we've covered in the past, NBC put out some strange synergistic specials during the mid-80s, and none are more synergistic than Andy Williams And The NBC Kids Search For Santa, a massive crossover involving the child actors from every sitcom the network had running at the time. From The Cosby Show you've got Tempestt Bledsoe, Keshia Knight-Pulliam, Malcolm Jamal-Warner and Lisa Bonet, from Pumky Brewster there's Soleil Moon Frye, Casey Ellison, Ami Foster and Cherie Johnson, from Facts of Life Mindy Cohn, and from Silver Spoons Ricky Schroeder and Alfonso Ribeiro. Oh yeah, and Joey Lawrence from Blossom -- if you're wondering "how, a time machine?" he was starring on a show at the time called Gimme A Break.
These pubescent superstars are preparing to team up with your great-grandma's favorite crooner, Andy Williams, to go to the North Pole and find Santa Claus. But first they have to convince their parents to let them take the trip....their TV parents. And...not in the canon of their shows. They're having these conversations behind the scenes on the sets and backdrops, which means George Gaines doesn't REALLY have the authority to approve a trip to the Tundra for Soleil Moon Frye, but...just go with it.
So why is Williams looking for Santa, and why does he need 10,000 child actors to take the trip with him? Wait'll you hear this. He has an ancestor from the Norselands named Lars Sven Olaf Williams, who was blacklisted by Santa for crimes against the workshop, and he wants to meet Santa to possibly get a posthumous pardon for the guy. Of all the explanations I expected, I didn't have THAT on my list. But it barely factors into what's happening anyway...it's a flimsy excuse to connect a bunch of song and dance performances over one hour.
Though they mean to get to the North Pole, they never make it farther than Finland. The special spends the majority of its time in one country, showcasing local acts like the Helsinki Children's Choir and an orchestra of kid violin players. Before they get to bed in a Finnish hotel room, the NBC Kids eagerly ask Williams what HE is getting them for Christmas. You only just met him and you're already shaking him for handouts?
As Williams says (and sings), the answer is simple. For Christmas the NBC Kids are getting LOVE. Don't scoff. Everybody knows love is what you get a Moon Frye for Christmas when she already has a comb.
I'm envious of Ricky Schroeder's bear claw foot slippers.
The violin players show up at this point. Williams wanders into a large auditorium and sees dozens of young Finnish fiddlers. If you're familiar with how bad school musical bands usually sound in America, you'll probably be impressed by these kids, who create perfect orchestral harmony for Williams' next song ("Do You Hear What I Hear") before half of them can even shave. Or the audio might have been edited in post -- I don't know.
In the next act, Andy and the kids are special guests at a conservatory where some unidentified people are dancing in circles while their elbows are interlocked with one another. Williams tells them it's called "folk dancing" and Malcolm Jamal-Warner says back "None of the folks I know dance like that." Williams' suggestion is "when in Finland, do as the Finnish do." Tempestt Bledsoe asks "what do they do?" She set him up for this, so it's her fault, but she gets the groaner she should have seen coming: "I don't know yet....we have to let them FINNISH."
A choir of singers appears and sings a song in the native language that sounds like a knockoff of Jingle Bells with a few notes switched around. The Americans step up and perform the actual Jingle Bells with wild, then-contemporary dance moves. Then Andy gets a song to himself, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year." Finally, Alfonso does some tap dancing, and collectively, they've eaten up about fifteen minutes at this place. Wherever they're going, they're not in a big hurry to get there.
As Williams explains after the next commercial break, "We all had a great time at the party, but time was running out on us, and so were the clues to Santa's possible whereabouts. It was beginning to look like we didn't have a PRAYER. So that's when I headed to a beautiful old 17th Century church and found some talented singers inside..." Oh for Pete's sake. There's a REASON why you're failing at this!
The Helsinki Children's Choir is in that church. What else are they going to do other than provide the "Silent Night" performance for the evening, with Andy as lead vocal.
Williams finally gets a decent idea in his head when he spots a stray letter lying on the ground outside the Helsinki Post Office, addressed to Santa. "You know, kids from all over the world write letters to Santa, and all those letters must go through the Post Office to the North Pole." If all he had to do was ask the Postmaster General where Santa is, he could have done that in America and he didn't need half the cast of Punky Brewster to do so. But live and learn.
Andy and the kids approach a postman about to make his rounds by dog sled, and says they can do him a favor. "How about tonight WE deliver the letters, hmm? Just tell us where Santa is, and we'll take them right to him."
"No one is allowed to handle these letters after what happened centuries ago," the postman says. "Legend tells of a man who came here to read chidlren's letters to Santa, and he was so upset with how greedy the children were, he ripped all the letters up and threw them on the ground! And Santa was so displeased with him, he was banished."
"That must have been Lars Sven Olaf Williams!" Andy points out.
"Right you are, but I've got no time to chat -- I have packages to deliver." He piles several large bags on his sled labeled "TO SANTA" and tells the dogs to mush. What, they just let him get away? He's their only lead!
Not quite. Andy figures if they trail behind him, he will lead them straight to wherever Santa is hiding. So that's what they do.
The bags are left at what looks like an unassuming white house. They're still not sure if Santa is inside, so Andy tells them he'll go in first to make sure. But before he does THAT they must sing an elaborate song about what kind of signal he will give them through the window.
"Now you all wait
here, while I head over there.
"Better still, I'll
signal by removing my hat!
Aftr three minutes of
stalling, Andy makes it through the door, but it
magically shuts tight behind him. The children pound on
the door, demanding to know if it's really Santa's place.
As Andy advances to the next room, he finds more presents, a giant stuffed bear, a rocking horse, and an oversized red hat with a puffy tassle. "This HAS to be Santa's hat," Andy states, because it's not like there are ten million that look just like it all over the world. The camera is now framed with a fuzzy border, like the kind sitcoms used for dream sequences...and we find out seconds later that this is because we're seeing the scene from Santa's own viewpoint. By now it's clear we're not going to actually SEE Santa in this special; he's going to be obscured from view every time. Andy turns around, finally notices the jolly man watching him, looks at the camera and reacts by singing some more.
I assume you're familiar with the Animaniacs episode "King Yakko" where they meet a Perry Como parody who is so boring he instantly puts Yakko's entire kingdom to sleep, and Yakko later uses him as a weapon to do the same to his enemies. I feel like Yakko watching this. The slow, droning tune Williams lets out here is one of the most sleep-inducing things I've ever heard. It takes him like fifteen seconds to sing just one word (when does he pause to breathe?) Santa must have not liked it either, because when Williams finally gets done five minutes later, Santa yeets out of there so fast he causes a sonic boom in the cabin.
Or maybe he actually exploded, but either way, there's nothing left in the chair now but plumes of smoke and a long-handled pipe. How is Andy going to explain THIS to the kids? They went through all this trouble to meet Santa and Andy ends up singing a song so bad that Santa blows up before they can talk to him? Shame on you, Andy.
The NBC Kids finally get
in, and Williams has to explain Santa is no longer there,
but he left presents. The under-13 set eagerly starts
unwrapping them, but the teenage crowd is just miffed
there doesn't seem to be anything for them.
"Ah, Santa only gives presents to those who
BELIEVE," Williams informs them.
"Oh, I'm afraid it
doesn't work that way," Andy replies. "He's
already gone, but perhaps on Christmas morning--"
When the teens unwrap it,
they find...nothing. Oh Santa, you troll!
"Like Tiny Tim used
to say, God bless us everyone!" states Soleil Moon
The final shot is Santa riding away in the distance, yelling "MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!"
Why didn't it fit in?