Making a beloved Christmas special can be a daunting task. But the basics for a decent holiday special are simple: a happy moral lesson, some winter cheer, and absolutely no death, kidnapping, or insanity.
Really, during the holidays, all people want to do is relax, sit down with their families, and watch wholesome entertainment that won't leave anyone psychologically scarred or emotionally confused for years to come. That is why it is absolutely inexplicable that these totally bonkers holiday specials ever made it onto TV.
1. Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)
This depressing Christmas special takes place during the days of the Roman Empire, and tells the story of a donkey with freakishly long ears that is disliked and made fun of by all the other animals in the stable.
Essentially, the story is just a weird version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, only with a lot more Bambi-esque dead-mom-trauma. In the story, Nestor is kicked out of his stable and left to freeze to death in the snow. His mother escapes to rescue her son, but the two find themselves in a blizzard after they reunite. Nestor's mom shields her child from the cold, and when Nestor wakes up in the morning, his mom is frozen to death. Merry Christmas, kids!
Eventually, Nestor rediscovers his self-esteem when he is bought by Mary and Joseph (yes, THE Mary and Joseph), and ends up protecting Mary from a sandstorm by wrapping her in his ears, thus saving the life of baby Jesus.
2. Christmas Comes to Pac-Land (1982)
This special was a spinoff of the early-'80s Saturday morning cartoon called Pac-Man, which was obviously based on the popular arcade game. In case you've lived under a rock for the past quarter-century, in the Pac-Man arcade game you control a yellow circle that goes around an endless maze swallowing small white dots while ghosts float around aimlessly trying to bump into you. Also, there are lots of fruit to eat, because why not?
As you might expect, the show is about Pac and his friends helping Santa Claus get back on track with his Christmas Eve deliveries after he crashes his sled, all the while avoiding mean, snarky ghosts. Because the first thing you think of when someone mentions Pac-Man is tons of dialog, a complex plot, and Santa.
3. Mr. T and Emmanuel Lewis In a Christmas Dream (1984)
Calling this a "Christmas Dream" is about the only way you could accurately describe this bonkers holiday special, but only if you're referring to the kinds of dreams that are the result of eating spoiled food and accidentally inhaling car exhaust right before passing out.
While the plot is thin, to say the least, it's also very difficult to explain. Emmanuel Lewis, best known for playing Webster on the show Webster, is a young latchkey kid who doesn't have any Christmas spirit. Mr. T plays a "Street Santa," who looks more like a guy who lives in that abandoned factory down by the pier. Through the power of mumble-singing and rambling monologues about Baby Jesus, Mr. T teaches Emmanuel Lewis the importance of… something? Christmas, maybe? It remains unclear.
4. Andy Williams and the NBC Kids Search for Santa (1985)
Andy Williams was a classic crooner most famous for singing "Moon River." In this unsettling special, the 58-year-old Williams convinces children from beloved NBC sitcoms – such as Punky Brewster and a few of the Cosby kids – to come to his secluded cabin in the middle of a forest in Finland so that they can track down Santa Claus.
There's nothing overtly offensive about this special – aside from just being kind of bad, and reminding us that most children, even when they are famous, can't sing very well – but the inadvertent subtext is more than a little unsettling.
5. The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
No list of bizarre holiday specials would be complete without this weird relic from the golden days of Star Wars insanity.
The special follows Chewbacca and his rebel comrades as they attempt to get home to his family on the planet Kashyyyk in time to celebrate Life Day, all while being hunted down by agents of the Galactic Empire. Also, the special is filled with musical numbers and variety-show acts by stars such as Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Jefferson Starship, to name a few.
The special, which featured performances by the entire original Star Wars cast, was the first official Star Wars spin-off and even introduced the world to beloved bounty hunter Boba Fett. Despite all that, George Lucas notoriously hated the project, and it has never been rebroadcast or released in any official format. Despite attempts to erase it from existence, the special lives on through bootlegs and online file sharing.
6. ALF's Christmas Special (1987)
This article simply does not have the space to go into all the ways that the ALF Christmas Special may be one of the most depressing things ever created, so here are two major lowlights:
One of the main characters of the broadcast, a man named Mr. Foley, is sad at Christmas because two weeks prior his wife of many years passed away. Mr. Foley gives away all his belongings because he plans on killing himself, something he almost completes by trying to jump off a bridge.
Also, a major plot point is ALF accidentally ending up in a hospital. There, he befriends a 8-year-old girl named Tiffany, who soon finds out that she won't live to see another Christmas because of an unnamed terminal illness. She then draws a picture of herself with angel wings.
At the end of the episode's credits, it's indicated that the Tiffany character was inspired by a real-life girl with leukemia. The episode is dedicated to her because she died at the age of 8. Keep in mind, this was a show about a lovable alien puppet-creature that cracked pun-based jokes and liked to eat cats. This whole special had a laugh track.
For some holiday fun, check out the video below for an ET Flashback look at the Mariah Carey classic "All I Want for Christmas Is You," which came out 20 years ago!
For more fun Christmas comedy and movie news, you can follow Zach Seemayer on Twitter @ZachSeemayer.