Saturday, December 26, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Return of the Creature" (December 2, 1978)

In “Return of the Creature,” Jason of Star Command (Craig Littler) encounters the Gill-Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).

No, I’m just kidding.  

In this episode, Jason, Nicole (Susan O’Hanlon) and Parsafoot (Charlie O’Dell) have been delivered to Dragos (Sid Haig) on his Dragonship.  There, Jason escapes, and encounters the monster with an electrically-charged tongue from a few episodes back.  He defeats it and rescues his friends.

Meanwhile, Dragos re-programs Peepo, the kindly little robotn from the Academy, and re-wires his circuits so he will turn against Star Command.  At the same time, Dragos spawns a galactic typhoon, and Star Command falls into its gravitational pull.

Well, “Return of the Creature” is a pretty dire entry in the first season of Jason of Star Command (1979-1980).  When this series is at its worst, it is simply a series of escapes, rescues and more escapes. 

That’s what “Return of the Creature” is. It consists of a lot of Jason running down cave-like corridors, escaping from monsters and guards, and rescuing his friends.  That’s pretty much it.  The whole story is filler until we get to a significant plot turn or point.

Commendably, the returning monster (or creature, per the title), still looks pretty good.  The stop-motion animation is strong, particularly in its coordination with the live-action elements of the action.  We learn that the monster is one of Drago’s energy clones this time, and the special effects are good as Jason destroys it.  The production values of this series never fail to impress.  Just some entries are narratively empty, from time to time.  And "Return of the Creature" is one of those times.

"Return of the Creature" fast-moving filler, a place holder until the next big story pivot point.  We should be getting that soon, with poor Peepo getting brainwashed by the evil Dragos.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Academy: "Space Hookey" (December 3, 1977)

This week on the 1977 Saturday morning, live-action, Filmation production Space Academy, space orphan Loki and his diminutive robot friend, Peepo (actually a "self-determining type-A manu-droid," according to this episode) decide to skip out on Commander Gampu's (Jonathan Harris) boring Astrography Class (in classroom 5), steal a Seeker, and go on a joy ride through space.

Alas, the Seeker is shadowed by a comet, and Peepo and Loki go to visit it. There, they discover two glowing amorphous life-forms who happen to be playing hookey too. 

One is a red glowing ball, the other a white one. These chipmunk-voiced aliens possess Loki, causing the boy to become schizophrenic. "It's crowded in here," they complain of his mind.

When Loki and Peepo get hauled back to the Academy for disciplinary action, one of the non-corporeal aliens takes over Commander Gampu (Jonathan Harris) and makes him mince around the control room counting numbers like a kindergarten student. "Onesie, Twosie, threesie, foursie" he says as he skips about merrily...

Then, Gampu begins acting as a space pirate, incarcerating those who resist his orders, and ordering them to walk the plank.  But then things become truly dangerous as Gampu orders a course for "Terazoid."  To reach that destination, the Academy planetoid will have to take short cut through hostile Denebian Territory. And that's against a space treaty! 

While Chris (Ric Carrott), Laura (Pamelyn Ferdin), Tee Gar (Brian Tochi) and Adrian (Maggie Cooper) attempt to figure out what to do, a menacing-looking Denebian "space drone" starts taking pot shots at the approaching Academy.

Finally, in a story resolution familiar from Star Trek's "Squire of Gothos," the glowing aliens get caught by their Daddy, a blue glowing light. He takes them home for punishment, but promises not to be too harsh. They are, after all, just kids...

"Your mother and I will deal with you when you get home!" he says. The aliens quickly vacate from Gampu, and also from Paul, who became possessed after Loki was freed.

"Space Hookey" is a really fun show, and it remind me of the heyday of Star Trek, Lost in Space, Space: 1999 and Buck Rogers.  

Those were days when not every single episode of a space adventure had to be life and death.  This story starts out innocently enough, but there is a threat when the characters possessed by the alien life-forms don't realize they have put the Academy and all its personnel into very grave jeopardy. The miniatures of the Denebian ships are fantastic too.

Also, I should note, "Space Hookey" looks ahead.  A first season episode of The Next Generation (1987 - 1994), called "Lonely Among Us," tells basically the same story.  In that case, another non-corporeal life-form takes over a commanding officer (Picard, rather than Gampu) and begins making him act strangely, and -- eventually -- dangerously too.  

Next week: "Star Legend."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tribute: George Clayton Johnson (1929-2015)

Sad news to report today. The great science fiction author George Clayton Johnson has passed away.

Mr. Johnson co-wrote the genre classic novel Logan's Run with William F. Nolan, and was a near-regular contributor to Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (1959-1965). 

George Clayton Johnson devised the stories for such installments as "The Four of Us Are Dying," "Execution" and "Ninety Years without Slumbering," and penned the teleplays for  "A Game of Pool, " "Nothing in the Dark" (starring Robert Redford) and "Kick the Can," which was remade for the 1983 Twilight Zone movie by Steven Spielberg.

Mr. Johnson also contributed the story to the 1960 Frank Sinatra film Ocean's 11, and teleplays to such TV series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1959), Route 66 (1961), Honey West (1965), and Kung Fu (1974). 

One of his most teleplays was Star Trek's (1966-1969) "The Man Trap," the first aired episode of that classic.

I offer my deepest condolences to Mr. Johnson's family, and reflect that he has left us a great and stimulating legacy of science fiction for all of us to enjoy for years and decades to come.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Questing Beast" (January 11, 1967)

In “The Questing Beast,” Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris), Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) and the Robot -- while repairing an atomic regulator -- encounter an elderly knight in armor, Sagramonte (Hans Conried). 

This knight hails from Altair and has been pursuing a deadly dragon, Gundemar (June Foray) for forty years. Now, his long quest is coming to an end.

Will becomes Sagramonte’s squire, and learns that the dragon is a nice, well-spoken, intelligent being, and one who wishes for Sagramonte to continue hunting her across the universe.

Here’s my recipe for producing a Lost in Space episode of the second season:

First, take a trip to the studio wardrobe department.

Second, pick out some stock costume from an old series or film, the more colorful the better (like a pirate, knight, or sultan outfit). 

Third: write an entire episode about a character in that costume visiting the Robinsons on the edge of space.  

Most importantly, make no mention of how odd it is that this personality from Earth’s history should be operating on a distant planet, in a future era.

Rinse and repeat.

So far on Lost in Space, we have had alien department store managers, alien cowboys, alien thieves, alien pirates, alien soldiers, alien prospectors and the like.  This week, in “The Questing Beast,” we get a knight in armor, one who has been using “enchantments” to hunt a dragon from planet to planet.   The dragon ends up liking being hunted, and helps the knight continue his quest…to kill her.

For my money, “The Questing Beast” is the worst Lost in Space (1965-1967) episode yet.  The dragon costume is absolutely pathetic, the knight himself is doddering and unsympathetic, and -- in keeping with the series at this juncture -- there is absolutely no rhyme or reason for the existence of these characters in any universe that makes the remotest bit of sense. 

And how, exactly, does Sagramonte joust without a steed?

Game of Thrones this ain’t.

My friend Steve, a regular reader here on the blog, last week observed that by this point in the series’ history, the program was widely considered by the producers and network a children’s program, not a legitimate sci-fi affair. That background detail explanation helps one understand why an episode like “The Questing Beast” exists.  

It doesn’t need to make sense, because it’s for the kids.

Unfortunately, the networks and producers made a terrible mistake, and a terrible argument. The assumption that children don’t know a good story when they see it -- or one that makes sense -- is terribly condescending. 

The makers of the series should be doubly ashamed, not just for producing nonsense like this during the Space Age -- the most exciting age in human history -- but for foisting incoherent, nonsense stories on kids. 

A series that can create an episode like “My Friend, Mr. Nobody,” “The Magic Mirror,” “The Sky is Falling” or even “The Wreck of the Robot” is clearly capable of doing so much better than this; and of doing right by curious, imaginative children.

Is there a deeper message here?  That it is important to have a quest, no matter its nature?  Yes, absolutely.  Having a purpose is an important thing for people.  “The Questing Beast” attempts to get across that notion.

As Smith notes “It’s not the quarry that makes the hunt, nor the goal the game.”  I like the line, but it sounds completely incongruous coming from Smith, especially because Smith had earlier termed the quest for “the unobtainable” pure nonsense.

For me, the line -- poorly placed -- is but a list-minute attempt to paint meaning on another wardrobe raiding exercise.

Next week: “The Toymaker.”

Cult-Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

[Beware of major spoilers!]

At long last, the anticipation is over. The hype no longer matters. The time for spoilers, fan theories, and trailers has passed. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is here, right now, on our movie screens.

And, it’s fair to state it’s a good film.

A good film; not a great one,

How do I make this particular assessment?

I’ll tell you. 

“I hope the movie is coherent, joyful (in J.J. Abram's words), and exciting.

I hope it has something to tell us about the world we live in today, while also transporting us to one of the most fascinating fantasy worlds of all time.”

I also wrote: “I hope The Force Awakens meaningfully reacquaints us with characters we love, and introduces us to new ones who are love-worthy and can carry the torch forward.

That’s it. That’s all I wanted. That’s all I needed to write a positive review in this space.

The movie didn’t need to be the Second Coming, or the best Star Wars ever. I just wanted those particular Christmas presents from it.

J.J. Abrams delivers on quite a few of those deeply wished for items, and deposits coal in place of a few others. But overall I like the film a lot. It’s a solid, if not particularly inspired foundation for the new trilogy to build upon.

I’m rather surprised that what The Force Awakens accomplishes well (and what it doesn’t do well) failed to line up with my expectations.

For instance, I would say that the film is indeed joyful, though not particularly coherent or exciting. 

Furthermore, the action scenes are shot in undistinguished fashion, and don’t build suspense in any careful or sustained way. The film’s major threat -- Star Killer Base -- is a rehash of a rehash that never feels like a significant threat, or even a fully-formed plot-point. The film's big villain, Snoke, is a bust.

Nor does The Force Awakens speak meaningfully about our world today, as -- love or hate them -- the George Lucas prequels definitely did. Abrams usually shies away from any kind of subtext in his work (the much derided Into Darkness [2013] is a stark exception), and so perhaps it is no surprise that this Star Wars pretty much works on a surface, soap opera level, and leaves it at that.

However, The Force Awakens does transport us back to the Star Wars universe with a lot of gusto and energy. That fact also seem undeniable.

Where I feel the film succeeds most --- and the reason why I say it is “good” -- involves my final laundry list of qualifications. 

The film very meaningfully, and touchingly re-acquaints us with characters we love, and it beautifully -- and very successfully -- introduces us to new characters who are worthy to carry the torch. 

Harrison Ford is amazing in this movie in his attempt to revive and deepen the Han Solo character. He delivers a great, affecting performance. He is the film’s most valuable player, by a long shot.

And that fact takes nothing away from the rest of the cast. The newcomers -- Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver -- are nothing less than terrific. The casting for the movie is great, and I can already envision great moments from this group still to come in the rest of the trilogy.

Given J.J. Abrams’ track record, however, I expected the film’s action to be achieved in more accomplished fashion and the treatment of the characters to be only mediocre, when in fact, the precise opposite appears true.

This Star Wars movie earns major kudos because of the characters, first and foremost. They resonate, and never feel like cartoon stand-ins for real human beings.

The reason to return to this galaxy far, far away in 2015 is, clearly, the people you meet there.

“There are stories about what happened.”

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, conflict still rages.

The survivors of the Empire have re-formed under a new name, The First Order, and under a new Leader called Supreme Leader Snoke. The Republic is reformed too, and the former rebel alliance is now a resistance force battling the Order.

Both sides seek to know the location of the last surviving Jedi knight, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who disappeared years ago, and whose whereabouts are unknown. 

General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) sends a hot-shot resistance pilot, Poe Dameron (Isaac) to the far-flung desert world of Jakku to recover a map revealing Luke’s location.

The First Order sends a sinister agent, Kylo Ren (Driver) as well. Dameron is taken into custody by Ren after giving the map to his droid, BB-8.  But he is freed from custody and torturous interrogation by a Stormtrooper who has rejected his training, Finn (Boyega)

BB-8 meets a wily scavenger, Rey (Ridley) and she takes responsibility for Dameron’s mission, a mission that brings her into contact with Finn, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and the Force itself.

Now these new friends must get to know one another even as the First Order prepares to launch an attack with its deadly new weapon at Star Killer Base.

“I have lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people.”

I have lived long enough to see Star Wars re-use the same plot-line three times.

The assault on the Death Star (Star Wars), the second Death Star (Return of the Jedi) and Star Killer Base (The Force Awakens) all repeat key plot points. First, there’s a weapon that can destroy planets in an instant. Then there’s a sustained fighter attack on the base. And finally, there’s a weak point on the evil base that can be exploited during that sustained attack. In two of the three attacks, there’s also a shield that needs to be brought down by a ground-team during the assault.

The first part or movement of each Star Wars trilogy so far also features the youngster who is taken under the wing of an elder-statesman or wise-man. That wise-man -- as part of the hero’s journey -- must die before the story ends. Anakin loses Qui Gonn Jinn in The Phantom Menace. Luke loses Ben Kenobi in Star Wars. And Rey lose someone who fits that role in The Force Awakens.

And then of course, we have our young hero. This person lives on a backwater world (Jakku or Tatooine), and experiences a mundane life as a farmer, slave, or scavenger. Soon, however, the galaxy comes knocking on the door of that character (often in the form of a droid), and the hero's true potential and destiny is realized. Thus we have Anakin/Luke/Rey.

A couple of things we can consider here. 

The first is that each trilogy serves as a reflection of the earlier one(s). This is the grand saga of the Skywalker Family across three generations, and in each generation, the same events (attacks and deaths, as noted above, for instance), recur. If one accepts this line of reasoning then the repetition of similar events in The Force Awakens is intentional, and an attempt at a genuine artistic flourish, a sense that although the generations pass, the story remains the same. 

Another way to explain this is that although our generations pass, we keep looking to the same, unchanged mythology (especially in terms of the Monomyth) to understand our world. Star Wars keeps giving us new characters taking the same steps because the overall myth underlining the saga doesn’t change. It is universal, and eternal.

Another line of defense for the over-familiar plot-line is this. Star Wars has always been first and foremost a pastiche: picking out and harvesting plots, characters, and set-pieces from other Hollywood and non-Hollywood movies and literary sources. 

By now, Star Wars is actually a pastiche of itself, so a case can also be made that J.J. Abram has fashioned the whole 2015 film as a kind of tribute to the 1977 edition, deliberately sprinkling in familiar ingredients and plot points. And that’s why we get the new cantina (a poor reflection of the original, alas), and the McGuffin device of the Luke Skywalker map, which fills in for the Death Star plans of the original.

Yet by the same token, not one of these familiar plot points (with the possible exception of the death of the wise elder) is handled with enough flair or color to mask the fact that we are watching a very expensive narrative rerun, or hide that the plot has little or no originality, and thus little or nothing to offer in terms of real surprise.

By comparison, the final trench battle in Star Wars was exciting, but also tense. The scene was incredibly suspenseful and it was constructed like an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. Jedi’s Death Star battle was a shadow of the first in terms of complexity and tension, but the film’s frenetic three-way cross-cutting between the Emperor’s Throne Room, the battle raging in space, and the boots on the ground on the moon of Endor, nonetheless created a kind of fever pitch intensity. The final battle in this film is totally devoid of any sort of escalating tension or suspense.

At this point, it’s a foregone conclusion in a Star Wars film that the evil battle station will get destroyed with just seconds to spare before Princess Leia, C3PO and the rebel leaders -- standing grim-faced in their control room -- buy the farm.

The film’s other action scenes aren’t any better, and many of them are actually tiresome. Much of the action in the film involves endless battles with Stormtroopers as they get shot up and blown through the air in explosions.  The point, I believe is to show the practical nature of this Star Wars. Real people in costumes, in real locations, with real pyrotechnics. This is a rebuke to the prequels, I understand, but there is a sameness to all the action in this mode.

Indeed, many of the film's act action sequences seem interchangeable, set in long, poorly lit, gray and red corridors. 

I said I wanted coherence, above, and the movie doesn’t always satisfy on that front, at least in terms of visual coherence. 

For example, it isn’t always clear when Ren is on the ground base or in the star destroyer -- the sets all look alike -- and it similarly isn’t clear whether the Star Killer Base destroys Coruscant or some look-alike planet. 

Leia mentions the Hosnian System, but as far as casual Star Wars fans know, Coruscant could be in the Hosnian system, right?  I had to look it up on the net when I came home to see that Coruscant survived the film.  Otherwise, I was going to complain that Abrams apparently possesses some kind of mean fetish for blowing up canonically-important planets (see: Vulcan).

Even the light saber duel in The Force Awakens is not orchestrated in any sort of overtly memorable or suspenseful way we have come to expect; one that would suggest the outcome could be uncertain. 

In this regard, The Phantom Menace’s light saber duel is far superior. It is clever, indeed, to give us a fight between two (or three, actually…) untrained saber fighters in The Force Awakens, but as a result of the characters’ inexperience, the fight lacks any kind of visual distinction. It’s just people hacking and charging at each other in a picturesque setting.

Although Abrams occasionally lands on a memorable shot (like TIE fighters silhouetted against the glowing orb of a burning alien sun), there are very few compositions in The Force Awakens that stir the emotions, or ignite the imagination.

There is no equivalent here of that famous “sunset” shot, for instance; that moment of yearning in the original Star Wars. Even against 21st century contemporaries, The Force Awakens is a letdown in terms of its action and visualization. This film doesn’t have one-tenth the visual brawn of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), for example, which sustained a car chase for two hours, essentially, via dazzling cinematic chops.

What Star Wars: The Force Awakens lacks in spectacle, suspense and real adrenaline, it absolutely makes up for, however with a lot of good humor, sly banter, and strong characterizations. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher bring grace and charm to their roles. They don’t get a whole lot of screen time together, but they make the most of it, for certain. Fisher has less time to make an impact that Ford gets, but she registers strongly. Ford is fantastic in this movie.

It’s funny, but Harrison Ford’s persona in later years -- Air Force One (1997), even Ender’s Game (2014) -- is, well, kind of dour. I wondered if he could find the Han Solo within, after all this time away from the part. He sure as hell does. 

The interlude that involves his discovery of the Millennium Falcon, a smuggling deal gone wrong, and some hungry living cargo that gets loose aboard his ship is, in many ways, the high point of the film. 

Here, Ford performs the miracle of reminding us of the devil-may-care young Solo, while projecting, simultaneously, the idea that he has lived through all these years and adventures since the last time our paths crossed. And when later scenes require Ford to tread into trick emotional territory, he is also up to the challenge. He nails every nuance of the character.

It’s also great to see returning characters Chewbacca, R2-D2, and Admiral Ackbar, but the film’s best introduction of an old friend belongs to none other than C3PO (Anthony Daniels) who -- with typical lousy timing -- inserts himself into the middle of a Han-Leia reunion. This scene really made me laugh, and brought back memories of the characters as they interacted in The Empire Strikes Back. Like so many moments in the film, this scene is delightful.

The new characters -- Finn, Poe, Rey, Ren, and BB-8 – are also handled very, very well. There isn’t a bad actor or bad concept anywhere in the bunch. These new individuals all manage to come across as vivid and real personalities, with Ridley’s Rey being the obvious stand-out. She’s a real find. The camera loves her, and so, I suspect, will every fanboy (and girl) in the universe. Rey is strong and resourceful, independent and funny, vulnerable and tough, at the same time. I can’t wait to see her character grow over the next two films and I am glad she so capably takes center stage here. I look forward to Rey being the central character in this chapter of the Skywalker Saga.

The one character who didn’t work for me at all in the film is Supreme Leader Snoke. He is composed of (bad) CGI, and looks like uncomfortably like Lord Chaos from Skylanders, right down to his choice of wardrobe. I didn’t find him particularly menacing or interesting. He’s like a weird-place holder or something, until the trilogy’s real villain shows up, or takes center stage.  My son Joel insists we haven’t really seen Snoke at all, only his holographic image, and that the real Snoke will look quite different when we finally meet him in the flesh.  I hope so, because I couldn’t take him seriously in this guise. Of all the characters, he is the one who transmits as a cartoon, a parody of the kind of villain we would expect in a Star Wars film.

Finally, I should add that The Force Awaken’s climactic scene packs a punch, in part because of the location shooting, in part because of the return of another major, beloved character. This is the best filmed scene in the movie, and will be a great leaping off point for Episode VIII. It features the visual coherence or poetry that the remainder of the film seems to lack. It is also, finally, suspenseful.

The Force Awakens is an entertaining and solid Star Wars entry, and that’s what I hoped it would be. I understand some devoted fans are apparently angry at reviewers who don’t like the film, or who somehow do not praise it highly enough.

That’s just silly. This is a film, like any other film, and it obeys the same laws of physics. The fact that it is Star Wars doesn't give it a pass.

Let’s leave the hyping of the product to the marketers, the irrational exuberance to the fanboys, and permit the critics do their jobs. 

I was satisfied with the film on many fronts while feeling that -- much how I felt about The Phantom Menace -- there is also significant room for improvement as the saga continues. 

The Force Awakens is a good beginning to the third Star Wars trilogy, but it's not the greatest show in the galaxy. When the nostalgia wears off, people will begin to see this film and its values and deficits more clearly, I believe. 

Movie Trailer: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Memory Bank: The Sears "Wish Book" Catalog (Circa 1979)

Recently, I tried explaining to my eight-year old son, Joel, the idea of ordering items from a catalog.

I explained that it’s like ordering something from, only your choices are more limited, you can’t buy the items online, and you have to wait longer to receive your toy.

He didn’t see the appeal.

But when I was growing up, it was tremendously exciting to order from a catalog, or I should say from one catalog in particular. 

Every year, Sears sent out a mammoth Christmas catalog or “Wish Book,” a hugely fat inventory of everything it sold, from appliances and clothes to toys galore.  

One of the Wish Books that I’m remembering today -- from the year 1979 -- was illustrated with the tag-line “Where America Shops For Value.”

Forget value, I just wanted space toys.

The 1979 Sears Wishbook Catalog had ‘em too. 

From Page 613 thru 620 in that catalog, there was everything a 1970s space-kid could possibly desire: toys from Mego’s Micronauts, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Star Wars, and Star Trek too.  There were models, play-sets, toy action figures…the works.

And the great thing about Sears was that it not only offered toys you could find elsewhere, it also offered exclusive toys, like the Star Wars knock-off playset called “The Star Fortress” (seen on page 617).  I’ve covered this toy before on the blog, but the giant fold-out space base has a position of honor in my home office to this day. 

Another Sears exclusive from the same era (although it may have been first sold in 1978…) was the Star Wars “The Cantina Adventure Set” (not to be confused with the Creature Cantina).  The legend in the catalog read “If you stop at this cantina, watch out for strangers.”

This diorama of the exterior of the Mos Eisely drinking hole came with four new Kenner action figures that were unavailable elsewhere: Greedo, Hammerhead, Walrus Man, and Blue Snaggletooth.  The Blue Snaggletooth has become a highly-prized collectible.

Without me knowing, my Mom ordered me the Cantina Adventure Set, and I loved it. 

I kept it intact until about two years ago when the diorama base finally ripped. But it’s the item I remember most from the catalog.  

After I received the toy in the mail, I would play adventures with Sheriff Snaggletooth and Deputy Hammerhead.  They’d drive the land speeder around Mos Eisely, catching the gangsters Greedo and Walrus Man.

Back in the 1970s I loved coming home from school and finding in the mail either the next week’s issue of TV Guide (so I could see if Star Trek or Space:1999 was playing…), but it was a day of absolute delight and toy nirvana when the Wish Book arrived.

I still remember the feel and scent of the Wish Book catalog's pages. I remember poring over those toy pages too, imagining adventures with Buck Rogers, the Micronauts, the Cantina, and that Space Fortress...

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly…

Christmas is a spiritual holiday in the Christian faith, celebrating the birth of Jesus.

In modern American culture, Christmas is more than that broad religious description entails as well.

Christmas is a time of forgiveness, and a time of redemption. It is a season of second chances, unexplained grace, and fellowship with loved ones. 

Christmas is a time of the year represented by many symbols, including that great gift-giver, Santa Claus, the Nativity, Christmas trees, and even snow-fall.

The “Christmas episode” is a mainstay of cult television too. Throughout history, many series feature a holiday-themed story that can be rerun across the years.

One of the most famous Christmas stories is “Night of the Meek” on The Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964). In this tale, a drunk man, played by Art Carney, through a night of strife and redemption ascends to the positions of Santa Claus.  The story was remade for the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone as well.

On Millennium (1996 – 1999), the second season episode “Midnight of the Century” is also a tale for the season, and concerns, explicitly family, particularly Frank Black’s (Lance Henriksen) family. This episode introduces Darren McGavin as Frank’s father. While Frank plans a Christmas for his daughter, Jordan (Brittany Tiplady), he also remembers holidays from his childhood.

On Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003), the episode “Amends” concerns the topic of forgiveness and redemption as it pertains to Angel (David Boreanaz), the vampire with a soul. The First Evil (a villain who would recur in the seventh season) taunts Angel with the presence of all the people he has killed over the years, including Jenny Calendar. Buffy helps Angel, and at the end of the episode, an unexpected snowfall in Sunnydale acts as a kind of cleansing or catharsis for him.

The X-Files (1993 – 2002) also features a Christmas episode, “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” in which Scully and Mulder enter a haunted house and meet two ghosts (Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner), who help them contextualize their own relationship in a new way.  The episode ends with Scully and Mulder exchanging presents in Mulder’s apartment.

Other series, such as The Six-Million Dollar Man (1973 – 1978), and even Doctor Who (2005 - ) have featured Christmas stories that explicitly reference Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Merry Christmas, 2015, and Happy Holidays to all!

The Cult-TV Faces of: Christmas

Identified by Hugh: The Twilight Zone: "Night of the Meek."


Identified by SGB: The Six Million Dollar Man: "A Bionic Christmas Carol."

Identified by Hugh: Mystery Science Theater 3000

Identified by Hugh: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

Identified by SGB: Star Trek: Voyager: "Death Wish."

Identified by Hugh: The X-Files: "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas."

Identified by Terri Wilson: Millennium: "Midnight of the Century."


Identified by Hugh: Supernatural.

Not identified.

Identified by Hugh: Grimm.

Identified by Hugh: Dexter
Identified by Hugh: Arrow

Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who: "Last Christmas."