Some time ago , I brought up an unusual Christmas episode from a short-lived show called Woops! (No, I didn’t misspell it; that’s the actual title). I read about it in a book called What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History by David Hofstede (2004). This unconventional episode was ranked number 81 and the article is on pages 37-39. The following is a word-for-word copy of the article about it (including a couple typos as well as awkward passages I would have preferred to leave out). All rights belong to the author, David Hofstede, and the publisher, Back Stage Books.
Say It Ain’t So, Santa
FOX, December 6, 1992
Just about every sitcom does at least one Christmas-themed show, the best of which have become as much a part of America’s holiday traditions as maxed-out credit cards and unwelcome relatives at dinner. From the 1950s through the 1970s, these Yuletide shows specialized in family values and heartwarming sentiment. From the 1980s to the present, Christmas episodes often reflect our more cynical age, with stories in which one or more characters gets a wake-up call that the old values and beliefs still matter.
And then there was Woops!, a short-lived FOX comedy that unfortunately survived long enough to shoot their admittedly unique version of a Christmas show. It was the last episode to air, which is hardly surprising given that it portrayed Santa Claus as a mass-murderer. And you thought Heat Miser could be nasty. [Note: The Heat Miser is a character from a Rankin-Bass special called The Year Without a Santa Claus. Dueling brothers Snow Miser and Heat Miser stole the show, and decades later they had their own special called A Miser Brothers Christmas]
Built around the premise that “The total destruction of civilization can really ruin your day,” Woops! begins at a military parade, where a child’s remote-controlled toy accidentally launches a nuclear missile, setting off a chain reaction that results in Armageddon [sic]. Gradually, six strangers find their way to a remote farmhouse: everyman teacher Mark Braddock (Evan Handler), who survived the missiles because he was in his Volvo (talk about product placement); feminist bookstore owner Alice McConnell (Meagan Fay); preening yuppie stock analyst Curtis Thorpe (Lane Davies); jolly homeless drifter Jack Connors (Fred Applegate); plainspoken pathologist Frederick Ross (Cleavant Derricks); and sexy valley girl manicurist Suzanne Stillman (Marita Geraghty).
The survivors’ attempts to put aside their differences and work together are chronicled by Braddock, whose diary entries are heard in voiceover (“And that’s how it began – six of the unlikeliest people trying to build a new and better world”) like a post-apocalyptic Wonder Years. Each character in this strained, overwritten series is a walking ‘80s cliché. The cast attempts to compensate for poor material by shouting as loudly and emphatically as possible; poor Lane Davies sounds like he’s using a megaphone to deliver every ineffective punch line. Stories involved the occasional appearance of giant mutant insects, irradiated crystals that cause womens’ [sic] breasts to grow, and the use of garbage bag twisty ties as currency.
Woops! wouldn’t be worth remembering at all were it not for “Say it Ain’t So, Santa,” one of the most grotesque holiday shows ever hatched, and one that still induces nightmares in the Atari generation. The story opens with Santa Claus (Stuart Pankin) being pulled from the farmhouse chimney, having been stuck there for an indeterminate time. The survivors doubt that he’s really the man he claims to be, until he tells Alice about the vibrator he put under her tree the Christmas after her divorce.
Invited to join their happy band, Santa tries to fit in but is prone to fits of depression and weeping. Asked where he was when the missiles hit, he talks of surviving by being up in his sleigh, and then adds, “I’m sure it was over fast for Mrs. Claus and the elves.” They throw a Christmas party in his honor, but jolly old St. Nick just slumps in a chair in his red underwear, getting drunk on eggnog. Finally, no longer able to stomach any more holiday cheer, a distraught Santa confesses, “I killed Mrs. Claus and the elves!”
In fevered tones he recounts that fateful day, and his dash for the North Pole bomb shelter, located under a gingerbread house. He locked himself inside, expecting his wife to already be there, but it turned out she and the elves arrived afterward. Santa, frozen with fear, could not open the door. “The screams, the horrible screams!” he wails, as the other survivors stare at him, appalled. “You have no right to judge me!” he cries. “I’m not a monster, I’m Santa Claus!”
FOX, perhaps realizing that there’s no way the scene could be sweetened with a laugh track, lets the shocked, silent audience reaction speak for itself. Jack, who is traumatized the most by his confession, fantasizes about cutting off Santa’s “candy cane.”
The next morning, Santa tries to distance himself from his past by donning overalls and taking up the farming life under the name “Clem.” But when he can no longer handle the group’s ostracism, he agrees to leave. He heads for the front door, but finds himself unable to figure out the lock. The incident triggers a flashback from the bomb shelter, and as Santa pounds on the door and screams, “Mrs. Claus! Patches!” the survivors realize that Santa Claus, who had been sliding down chimneys for centuries, had forgotten how to use a door. So it really wasn’t his fault that his wife and the elves perished. See, kids, Santa isn’t a killer, he’s just mentally challenged. How’s that for an uplifting Yuletide message?
His Christmas spirit now restored, Kris Kringle’s reindeer return and he sets off to bring joy to other survivors. The tacked-on happy ending seems as incongruous as everything else in this bizarre episode, which induced children to flee in terror from department store Santas for years. Say what you will about Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa, for millions of traumatized couch potatoes that dubious title still belongs to Stuart Pankin.
In case you feel like something a little lighter after that, here’s a music video for “Santa Doesn’t Smoke Anymore” . This is seriously one of my new favorites. It's a fun, harmless song, so there are probably crybabies whining and bellyaching about how "offensive" it is (because nowadays everything is offensive, except for, you know, things that really are). Merry Christmas, chag sameach, and happy holidays!