Obscure Christmas Special Breakdown: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

I see what you’re doing, Dilemma. Your Rudolph post from last year has inexplicably been responsible for over 20% of our all-time hits (screw you, I’m not linking to it). So, you think that you can run up the score in a Belichikian way, by finding every obscure Christmas special you can in order to finally send me ’round the bend.

But, two can play at that game, you godless Israelite!

Title: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

Year: 1977

Synopsis: Young Emmet and his ma, Ma, are super-duper fucking poor, thanks to their dead dumbass father/husband, who they deify even though he was a failed snake oil salesman who left them with nothing but a broken-down shack, a toolbox, and a slide. Ma washes clothes and Emmet does odd jobs, but since they’re both so “nice”, they have problems obtaining fair payment. They hear that there is a talent contest at the Frogtown Hollow City Hall, for which the winning prize is $50. Since O. Henry can’t sue for copyright infringement, Ma sells Emmet’s toolbox for a pretty dress, and Emmet drills a hole in Ma’s washtub to make a bass. They each want to win in order to buy the other an instrument for Christmas (clothes and food and college savings never come up). They both perform well in an poor-man’s-Allison-Krauss-kind-of-way, but a group of hoodlums called The Riverbottom Nightmare Band proves that evil, i.e. electric instrumentation, always wins. On the way home, Ma starts singing with Emmet’s band. Doc Bullfrog, the owner of a riverside restaurant, overhears them and offers them a job. They happily head into a future of entertaining at Frogtown’s equivalent of Applebee’s. Since Ma was a week away from giving handies to swamp animals at $2 a throw, it’s probably for the best.

Historical Significance: Produced by Jim Henson with songs by Paul Williams, it served as a dry run for The Muppet Movie. Coming out a year after The Muppet Show began, it was the first time that Henson took the Muppets into the “real world”, showing them moving around in settings more elaborate than a dressed-up puppet box. It was also his first attempt to tell a cohesive long-form story (it’s about an hour long). As an early original production for the nascent HBO, it eventually led to the network airing Henson’s great Fraggle Rock.

Does It Rip-Off The Gift Of The Magi?: Clearly

How Are The Songs?: Not as good as you’d think. I’m a huge fan of the music of The Muppet Movie (especially Rainbow Connection, obviously). In the Paul Williams oeuvre, Emmet Otter’s music is closer in quality to The Phantom Of The Paradise (look it up… or even better, get stoned and mock it). As fun as it is to hear Emmet and Ma creepily singing about giving each other back rubs, most of the songs are either sappy spirituals or catchy-but-unoriginal jug band hootenannies. The best song is the one that wins The Riverbottom Nightmare Band the contest, but it pales in comparison to the classic it obviously morphed into, The Electric Mayhem’s Can You Picture That?

Have We Recently Unknowingly Missed Out On Some Unintentional Comedy?: Yes. My Morning Jacket, who covered the Emmet Otter song “Our World” on some recent “alternative” rock Muppets tribute album, was in discussions to go on tour with the animatronic puppets of The Electric Mayhem. Whether they could have survived another Elizabethtown-level catastrophe will never be known.

Does Emmet Otter Drag On More Than I Remember?: Yes

Would I Have Made It All The Way Through If I Hadn’t Given Mrs. Simon Cowell A Hard Time About Having Never Seen It?: Probably, but more as a background viewing.

Are Emmit and Ma Noble Or Retarded?: Really the crux of the issue, and the answer probably has to be both. While there isn’t a whole lot of religion in Emmet Otter, it is obviously steeped in Christianity (the idea that Pa is watching over them, the belief that giving to others is paramount). While it didn’t bother me as much as Mrs. Simon Cowell, I do have to admit that Ma and Emmet’s relentless optimism in the face of crushing poverty is a bit grating after a while. Somehow, I don’t think Christmas in a shack in Appalachia is a sunny slice of cornpone wisdom. At the same time, thinking about the Fox News crowd getting steadily more irate at its hippy values makes me smile.

Quote Most Representative Of Its Sunny Outlook: “Head full of good thoughts, Belly full of grub, Money in your pocket, When there ain’t no hole in the washtub.” Of course, Emmet puts a hole in the washtub.

Christ Figure: Really, any member of the Otter family (including the late Pa), if you believe that Jesus whistled his way up the cross.

Moral/Lesson: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

How This Applies To Tim Tebow: Since I’m guessing he practices a form of prosperity theology, it will teach you to be content even though he’s gotten all your money in jersey/book/soul sales.

Rating On The Tebow Scale (1-10): 6



Filed under David Simon Cowell, Television Has AIDS

3 responses to “Obscure Christmas Special Breakdown: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

  1. Wastedmytimereadingthis

    You are a freak and need to pull your head out of your ass.

  2. Good insight. Except all that stuff about this not being the best Muppet Christmas movie ever made. And the music criticism is a bit off. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate sappy spirituals and catchy-but-unoriginal jug band hootenannies never sought out interesting songs to sing with small children. Also, a note to memorable quotes would be appreciated (there are so many!). Still, a worthy review.

  3. Emmet and Ma = Jimmy and Gillian Darmody?

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