Retro Christmas TV Episodes – The Golden Girls and Full House

I don’t have a lot of fond memories of Christmas as a child. It wasn’t that my Christmases were bad per say, but I spent most of the time traveling and being shuffled around from place-to-place the way a lot of children of divorced parents do. I think I spent the majority of my Christmas Days in the back of a minivan and that didn’t leave a lot of time to make grand memories of nice dinners, caroling, trimming the tree, or any of the other fun stuff you see in the movies. I grew up kinda bitter about it too, which is ironic in that most Christmas movies/TV shows I love are centered around making Christmas special, no matter what the circumstances.

When I look back on Christmases of the past, a couple stand out, but most of them all mesh together in a hodgepodge of yuletide memory. I don’t have a family video or picture that truly takes me back to that time and helps get me into the holiday spirit. Luckily for me, we live in a time where almost any TV show or movie that existed is at our very fingertips. I’m able to use this great resource to revisit many of the shows that shaped my idea of Christmas in my youth, and for the most part, they bring back those feelings of Christmas that doesn’t overcome me as an adult.

I spoil quite a bit of the plot in most of these write ups, so if you want to avoid spoilers, be sure to just skim the titles and watch them before reading.

The Golden Girls

During the seven season run of The Golden Girls, only two Christmas episodes were made, which is surprising considering that The Golden Palace ran for just one season and managed to squeeze in a Christmas episode.

Twas The Nightmare Before Christmas
Season Five, Episode Seven
Originally Aired: December 20th, 1986

The first Christmas episode aired during season two and is called Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas. The episode has a very simple set up: the girls are heading out of town to visit their respective families when they are taken hostage by a lonely man on Christmas. Yeah, I bet you didn’t see that coming.

This episode peaks at the beginning with Dorothy’s rant on consumerism at Christmas time, and it really goes all downhill from there. They are taken hostage after stopping by the counseling center that Rose works at, where a lonely gentleman dressed as Santa came busting in waving a gun and demanding that everyone in attendance spend time with him. If you had to be taken hostage, this guy was about as good as they come he brought presents.

The best joke of the episode comes when Sophia (who is tired of waiting in the car) comes to fetch the girls and realizes the kidnapper is holding a toy gun. The girls escape and make it to the airport on time, only to find out that all the flights have been cancelled due to weather.

The show ends with the girls sitting around a table at a diner feeling sorry for themselves until the waiter mentions what a nice family they have. It’s only then the girls realize they are a family and are lucky to have each other on Christmas. And just when you think it can’t get any more wholesome, it begins snowing in Miami.

This is not a strong episode of The Golden Girls and you can see why they didn’t revisit the Christmas theme for quite some time. The reason The Golden Girls is still relevant in 2017 is the show had its wholesome moments, but also offered a lot of sarcasm and even cynicism at times. It felt like real people were existing in a sitcom world.

This episode had an absurd sitcom plot that could have been entered into any sitcom in the 80’s and 90’s. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either.

Christmas Theme: B
Re-Watchability:  C

Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas
Season Five, Episode Twelve
Originally Aired: December 16th, 1989

Three seasons later, The Golden Girls revisited Christmas for the last time in Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas. I wish I could say the show totally redeemed itself and hammered out a Christmas episode for the ages, but instead we got another paint-by-numbers preachy sitcom episode.

The episode begins with Stan showing up at the house trying to convince the girls to invest in his latest scam. They turn him down, because it’s well… Stan.

Similar to the first Christmas episode, Dorothy is pretty upset about the chaos that goes on during Christmas shopping and in order to cut back on the stress the girls agree to do Secret Santa, instead of buying a gift for everyone. Everyone is happy with the idea, but no one wants Rose to buy them a gift.

Rose draws Blanche’s name, but everything turns out alright. I think they did this bit just to they could infuse some humor into the episode, before turning it into an afternoon special.

So, after the gift giving is over, the girls decide to serve the homeless at Rose’s church.

::Cue dramatic shots of dirty children eating::

The second half of the episode takes place entirely at the food kitchen and features sad music and somber (and honest) comments like a lot of people are only two or three missed paychecks from living out on the street.

The big surprise to the girls is that Stan is among the poor coming for a hot meal. He’s homeless after his wife threw him out of the house, and his latest investment (toy firetrucks) didn’t arrive in time to be sold for Christmas.

In the end, Dorothy gives Stan a pep talk and he returns to the shelter and provides firetrucks for all the children.

Maybe I have too high of expectations but I still expected something better out of The Golden Girls when it comes to Christmas. This is very solid Christmas episode, in that it features some dark content that is alleviated by the Christmas spirit in the end, like most good Christmas movies do. It gets a little preachy, but a very valid point is made about our society and our economy that is still prudent even in 2017.

I don’t want to hate on this episode too much, because maybe it fails to touch me in the right spot at my age now, but I remember watching this episode as a child and it pulled on my heart strings in ways that entertainment rarely does today. It made me feel grateful and helped get across the idea that a lot of people had it harder than me. Maybe the way it was presented hasn’t aged well, but the idea and thought behind the episode is timeless.

Christmas Theme: A
Re-Watchability:  C

Full House

You’d think a show like Full House would have had a Christmas episode every single season, but you’d be wrong. Full House only had three Christmas episodes during its eight year run. Luckily, all three episodes are pretty decent thanks to Full House’s wholesomeness.

Our Very First Christmas Show
Season Two, Episode Nine
December 16th, 1988

The Tanners along with Jesse’s parents and Becky, are making their way to the midwest to spend Christmas with some relatives, when a blizzard forces the plane they are on to make an emergency landing at a random airport. This causes the family to spend Christmas around a baggage carousel with a bunch of strangers, which puts everyone in a sour mood.

Jesse fails to make a move on Becky, DJ is upset the presents are missing, and Stephanie is upset because the Santa Claus she encounters is really Joey. DJ then tries to convince Danny to tell Stephanie the “truth” about Santa, which pushes Jesse over the edge, who is sick and tired of all the negativity around Christmas. He gets everyone waiting in the baggage area to sing Sleigh Ride, which seems to bring up everyone spirits and helps everyone get some sleep.

The next morning, Michelle accidently sends Danny outside when she turns on the convey belt that he was sleeping on which helps everyone wake up laughing. The real Santa then shows up (who is actually a man who was on the flight) and he shows the girls where the missing presents were and the episode ends with everyone opening presents and singing Deck the Halls.

Oh god is this episode corny, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s one of the most memorable Christmas sitcom episodes and despite it’s intense wholesomeness and the multiple times of breaking out in song, I liked it. It took me back to my childhood and made me feel like I was sitting in front of the TV at my grandma’s house watching TV in December.

Christmas Theme: A
Re-Watchability: B

A Very Tanner Christmas
Season Six, Episode Twelve
Originally Aired: December 15th, 1992

This episode has three story arcs:

  1. Rebecca is sad because she misses the white Christmases of the Midwest
  2. DJ is upset because Steve has decided to go to Daytona Beach University and will be across the country.
  3. Stephanie and Michelle are both obsessed with receiving presents and are missing the true meaning of Christmas.

To be honest, any one of those arcs could provide enough content for one whole episode of Full House, but the writers masterfully interweaved them together to make a pretty solid episode.

DJ plays the insecure teenager perfectly and attempts to bribe Steve into not going to school in Florida. She puts all her money into an expensive leather jacket in order to show Steve how much she loves him. Steve gifts her a Daytona Beach University sweatshirt and DJ doesn’t take it so well. Steve accuses DJ of trying to bribe him and their relationship looks to be over or at least on the rocks.

Sometimes Full House could capture a real family dynamic and emotion and this is one of those times. It was a very realistic reaction by a teenager dealing with the idea of their true love leaving.

After the family gift giving ensues, Jesse promises to take Michelle and Stephanie someplace truly special, and they end up at a homeless shelter. Of course, there is a lesson to be learned here, the same one in The Golden Girls episode, and like I said, it’s one of those lessons that needs not to be forgotten and I think conveying it into sitcoms that are watched by children is a great way to go about it. The girls learn their lesson and feel remorse for going present crazy.

Danny ends up talking to DJ and helps her realize that she did indeed try to bribe Steve. She and Steve discussed the issue and Steve decides to stay in California and attend junior college to help improve his grades. Ya know, it’s Full House, everything has to be wrapped up properly by the end of the episode and in a positive fashion.

The final story arc goes a little nuts and concludes when Jesse convinces a friend of his that makes snow cones to bring 17,000 snow cones worth of snow to his backyard and he provides Becky with the a white Christmas after all. It was touching, unrealistic, but touching.

I don’t think anyone puts the Full House Christmas episodes in their top ten lists of best 90’s Christmas Episodes, but it actually is a good episode that never has a dull moment and reeks of holiday charm. Full House gets a lot of flack online these days, and yes, I know it’s a bit cheesy and wholesome, but I ask you what’s wrong with that? We need TV shows that parents can watch with their children, and I’m thrilled that Fuller House has been so successful.

Christmas Theme: A
Re-Watchability:  B

Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Season Eight, Episode Thirteen
Originally Aired: December 13th, 1994

Michelle bought Danny a Christmas gift that is best described as a gag tie complete with a cup holder. Becky had actually bought Joey the same gift, and Danny says some pretty bad things about gag ties and this upsets Michelle and she decides to burn the present.

Jesse catches her trying to put the present in the fireplace and stops her. Once he realizes what is going on, he agrees to take her to the store to exchange the gift, despite being in a very bad mood himself.

Jesse and Michelle arrive at the prank store to find Mr. Dreghorn, played by the great Mickey Rooney, who is not in the holiday spirit and he refuses to exchange the gift. After some words, Jesse tries to hurry up the transaction and exchanges the gift himself, and Mr. Dreghorn locks Jesse, Michelle, and himself in the store and accuses them of shoplifting.

It doesn’t take much to see that Mr. Dreghorn is actually just a lonely old man who wants to spend Christmas with anyone. Common sense finally overcomes him and he agrees to let them go, but Michelle has figured out his game. Jesse and Michelle badger Mr. Dreghorn into coming home with them and he insists on arriving dressed as Santa and hands out gifts to everyone. The gift Jesse gives to Mr. Dreghorn is the cordless phone to call his estranged family and make amends.

This episode was on for a whopping thirty seconds before I recognized it. It’s just one of those episodes that’s resided in my subconscious for the past twenty years and needed a small spark to remind me of it.

I don’t know what is up with sitcom plots that involve kidnapping people on Christmas in order to have someone to spend time with, but I guess some people were really, REALLY lonely in the 80’s and 90’s.

Like most Full House episodes, this episode had a lesson to be taught, and I think the episode is effective. It’s not a great episode by any means, and I’m pretty sure I can go another twenty years without seeing it again, but I’m glad I got a chance to revisit it.

Christmas Theme: B
Re-Watchability:  D

Top Three Episodes Worth Watching:

  1. Full House, Our First Christmas Show (Season 2, Episode 9)
  2. Full House, A Very Tanner Christmas (Season 6, Episode 12)
  3. The Golden Girls, Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas (Season 5, Episode 12)


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