Monday, November 17, 2008


Thirty years ago this evening, my brother and I sat in front of the TV in his room, knowing reasonably well that what we were about to watch could not possibly be good...but how could we know how bad it would be?

This is the anniversary of the night The Star Wars Holiday Special had its one and only official airing, before vanishing into the realm of myth, a half-remembered fever dream for those unlucky enough to have witnessed it, until--glory! glory!--the miracle of anonymous Internet postings made it possible to see the damned thing in full once again.

Truly, it reveals itself to be what those miserable souls who endured it back in the day already knew: it is the unreachable summit of sucktasticness, the alpha and omega of bad ideas, all the diverse, perverse, incompatible and incomprehensible elements of seventies and early eighties variety specials rolled into one stupefying package. Nothing else could compare; your Hal Linden's Big Apple or Cheryl Ladd...Looking Back--Souvenirs or even Lynda Carter: Celebration may have displayed trace amounts of competence, fleeting moments when viewing them did not make you actively wish to point a loaded pistol to your forehead.

Still, they all paraded a certain What Were They Thinking quality, an almost endearing lack of irony, a touching refusal to admit their time had passed. It's not just that Cheryl Ladd or Lynda Carter (or Lindsay Wagner or The Captain And Tenille or, God knows, a bunch of Wookies) lacked the talent and appeal to support an hour's worth of entertainment. (Two hours, in the case of The Star Wars Holiday Special!) The bigger problem was producers who had no idea how to stage a variety show, and networks insisting on guests that they thought would draw in a wide spectrum of viewers, not realizing that, for instance, Jeff Conaway and Joyce DeWitt lacked enough of a fan base to boost ratings for a Cheryl Ladd special, or that anyone tuning into a Star Wars-based entertainment would be actively repelled by the presence of Bea Arthur.

Yet there they were anyway, shoehorned into a format that didn't suit them--didn't suit anybody, by that point--cavorting as though they desperately hoped somebody, somewhere, would be entertained. But nobody was entertained, as this type of thing had essentially peaked in the fifties, when TV was new. The format shuffled blithely on, to the horror of young Gen Xers, mute witnesses to the Brundlefly-like mutations of their parents entertainments, synthetic versions of a form they never understood in the first place. The only way to get through this sort of thing was to celebrate its very badness. Because, really, what else could you do when faced with this?