From hackneyed to horrifying: Holiday TV 2002

Dec 30, 2002  •  Post A Comment

What goes around doesn’t just come around. It comes around and slaps you in the kisser. Or conks you right on the head. For years, TV critics and other pseudo-sophisticates complained about all the gooey, saccharine, schmaltzy mush that networks showed at Christmastime. This year, one could justifiably make a complaint precisely opposite. It was a blood-and-gutsy Christmas, full of murder, mayhem and gore.
Oh naturally, networks and stations still aired items from their deep reservoirs of sappy Christmas specials, past and present: “Patty the Christmas Pixie,” “Timmy the Tangled Tinsel,” “Nippy the Naughty Gnat.” And then, of course, “The Horse That Saved Christmas,” “The Cow That Saved Christmas,” “The Cow That Saved the Horse That Saved Christmas,” “The Vast Global Conglomerate That Saved Christmas” and “The Faith-Based Initiative That Saved Christmas.”
Among others.
But cable’s IFC, the Independent Film Channel, chose to get Christmas off to a truly perverse start with that famous nightmarish horror film about cannibalistic zombies, “Night of the Living Dead.” In the East it aired during morning hours when children could easily have been watching. Roger Ebert first got famous with a Reader’s Digest piece about a Saturday-matinee kiddie audience that was traumatized when “Living Dead” was shown by misguided management as if it were just your typical booga-booga scare show. Now that we are living in an age of video games in which heroes kick off villains’ heads and blood gushes out, “Night of the Living Dead” is apparently considered just another funsy fright flick.
But showing it on Christmas Day? Jeez Louise.
The film includes a scene in which a little girl stabs her mother to death with a trowel and is later seen eating her father’s arm off. Just more happy wholesome holiday fare.
Disquieting streams
There are now so many channels keeping up so many continuous programming streams that at any hour of any given day, including Christmas Day, you can find something trashy, tasteless, demeaning or vicious, or a combination of all those. On Christmas night, the naked women who do the Playboy Channel’s “Night Calls” show did wear a bit of clothing-red trimmed with white fur-but the clinical genitalia close-ups were there in the usual disquieting abundance.
TNN offered viewers a James Bond marathon, which isn’t as inappropriate as it sounds, since in the earliest days of the series, the Bond films traditionally opened around Christmastime. They were holiday treats. Less defensible is TNT’s decision to run 12 consecutive showings of “A Christmas Story,” a weak 1983 comedy based on writings by acquired-taste Jean Shepherd. HUT levels being low, TNT management apparently figured they might as well just throw the time away. If anyone watched all 12 showings, they ought to get some kind of prize. Or-some kind of therapy.
AMC, which once upon a time showed uninterrupted “classic” movies, made Christmas Day “musical” day, but that was a fraud, since the musicals were the old American-International “Beach Party” pictures (which the network has already shown to death, as it does every title) and some of Elvis Presley’s films, where the songs are OK and everything else stinks.
Achy-breaky ads
Late Christmas night AMC showed the genuinely festive “Funny Face,” a 1956 Paramount gem with a score made up mostly of old songs by the Gershwin brothers and a cast headed by Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. One little problem: The film was interrupted as often as every 10 minutes for commercial blocks. Every 10 minutes. That’s worse than some of the worst local stations in the most remote markets of America.
When AMC started interrupting movies with commercials several months ago, a spokeswoman insisted each film would be interrupted only once, for an “intermission,” and even tried to make it sound as though this was some kind of service to viewers-perhaps those with small bladders or short attention spans.
Now the commercials come fast and thick and infuriating. Every commercial break includes asinine promos for AMC under its new anti-cinema regime: Movies are promoted for their nostalgic or campy or touchy-feely values, never for cinematic excellence. Instead of hosts introducing films, a series of intensely mannered and irritating promos has been prepared with crummy actors pretending to be real people and recalling how they saw this or that movie on a date in high school or some such twaddle-painfully insipid yuppie crap. AMC has betrayed its audience more than perhaps any other cable network ever. But it’s on the block and someone is expected to buy it soon. It should either be revamped or shot in the head and put out of its misery.
Apathy rules
Over in broadcasting land, NBC aired its umpteenth “Saturday Night Live” compilation special on Christmas Eve. In promos we heard guest Alec Baldwin talking on what was supposed to be a typically dull NPR show about his “schwetty balls.” Yes, this was in the promo. “SNL’s” dirty jokes and puerile bits, some of them self-parodistic, are excused because the show airs so late at night, but of course “SNL” reruns air virtually all day long on cable networks, and NBC’s Christmas compilation was right there in prime time on a night kids traditionally stay up late.
But you know something? Nobody cares anymore. Nobody-or hardly anybody-is going to write letters to NBC or IFC or the FCC or anybody else. People don’t really get up big protests anymore because there are too many channels to keep track of and there are too many infractions of simple decency to count. You’d have to have a protest every half-hour.
Even the pressure groups have kind of gone phffft, skulking away in the night. It’s all part of a general glum numbness that has overtaken the land. Americans don’t complain about the economy going into the toilet right in front of them. They don’t complain about the president trying to start a war to slap the man who was mean to his daddy. And they don’t care if somebody shows bloody naked violent dirty cannibal movies on Christmas Eve. Nobody complains but a few old critics, and we’ve been targeted as obsolete anyway.