Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the fifth day of The Twelve Days of Shitmas! I hope you didn't get too spoiled by our previous special, which turned out to have been surprisingly good, because today's choice is definitely a frozen Christmas turkey. It also touches on something very personal for your humble reviewer, but more on that in a moment. Changes in social attitudes since its initial broadcast and relatively recent, disturbing revelations about the guy who made the thing don't help its case either, but even if you take those factors out of the mix it's still not anything approaching a seasonal classic. The last special I reviewed paired cozily well with hot apple cider and a big bowl of Skinny Pop, but today I'm back on liberally spiked egg-nog just to muster up the courage to press play.

Don't forget to flush.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas Special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. You never know what you're gonna unwrap and whether or not it will be in your size, but don't worry. We kept the receipts!

I used to watch Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids all the time when I was a child in suburban Philadelphia and I absolutely adored it. It was something unique from the rest of the Saturday morning fare the children of my generation were provided in that it had a cast of all black characters and a gritty, inner-city vibe. Plus the theme song was completely awesome! I remember driving my parents to distraction singing it over and over again, often belting it out at the most inopportune moments. It became a gateway for me into the freewheeling world of funk, and once I'd had that first taste I could never get enough.

Maybe it was odd for a near-translucent white kid to be inspired by an animated series aimed at African Americans to sneak out of bed each night to watch Soul Train reruns. Maybe not. All I know is Funk does not reside in the color of your skin but struts in the mansion of your soul...but here I am talking music to avoid the unpleasant task of deconstructing one of my own fondest childhood memories. I'd better just get to it before I dance the funky chicken right on outta here.

No title screen available. Just a picture of a Christmas Tree and a serial rapist shouting "It's The Fat Albert Christmas Special!"

Yes, Bill Cosby is now a living symbol of sexual predation, but in the 1970's he was still a beloved actor and stand-up comedian with a gaggle of top-selling comedy albums under his belt. His "Wonderfulness" record was a staple in my house. I listened to it so often that 40 years later I can still recite the routines.

He also made many popular film appearances throughout the decade and had two beloved children's programs on TV, Fat Albert and an educational series called Picture Pages.

I'm not going to wade too deeply into his repulsive behavior and subsequent fall from grace. I'm just mentioning it up front so I can make some distasteful jokes about it later on...because sometimes you have to laugh to come to terms with just how incredibly evil your own childhood heroes can turn out to be.

We pan down from the giant Christmas tree and find that the opening credits are integrated cleverly into the backgrounds as posters and graffiti, and instead of the regular Fat Albert theme we get the finest funk-jam version of Jingle Bells ever committed to cartoon celluloid. We continue across a big junkyard, at the end of which is a little clapboard shack the Cosby Kids use as a clubhouse.

I hope they're up to date on their tetanus shots.

Inside the shack Fat Albert and the gang are busy putting together a Christmas play about the nativity to impress their parents with what well-programmed little Christians they are. Fat Albert is the director and the rest of the kids are wise men, an angel, the holy family and even a moose for the stable.

Nope. Not going there.

There's some lame slapstick involving a pulley to make the angel fly, and Rudy (the one with the groovy orange cap and purple flared trousers) ends up with his ass stuck in a tub full of hay. They get back to rehearsing and angel gives a speech laying down the funky foundations the Christmas story, saying that shortly a young man and his wife will be there to deliver a baby, and that baby will be the savior.

Just then there's a loud banging on the door that sounds just like gunshots (I'm not sure if this was intentional but it's definitely not your usual door knock sound effect). Fat Albert opens the door to find:

This creepy fucker.

This is "Tightwad" Tyrone, a local businessman who owns both the junkyard this shack is standing on and a store in town. He's absolutely fuming that the kids are still there as he's told them multiple times to get off his property and stop using the shack as a clubhouse. Fat Albert explains that they're not doing anything bad--except for the whole criminal tresspassing thing--but just putting on a harmless Christmas play. Tyrone has no time for their shenanigans. He reminds them how patient he's been and how many times he's told them to clear out. He's mad as hell and he's not gonna take it anymore! He intends to have the shack bulldozed that very night!

The show is clearly setting this guy up as a cruel Ebenezer Scrooge character, but it's kind of hard not to see things from his point of view. It's his property, after all and if he doesn't want a bunch of kids in it he has every right to tell them to leave. What if one of them got hurt or while playing there? What if they did damage to something potentially saleable in the junkyard? There are liability issues here, not to mention that every law regarding private ownership is firmly on his side. The shack is probably unsafe and unsanitary anyway and tearing it down is likely the most responsible thing to do.

Does this look safe and sanitary to you?

Tightwad Tyrone leaves and a few seconds later they hear another, much more gentle knock at the door. Everyone assumes it's Tyrone coming back, presumably with a bulldozer or a shotgun, and they go diving behind the Christmas tree. Fat Albert timidly creeps over and opens the door, and at first he doesn't see anyone. Then he looks down and sees a small child.

"Gee! You're not gonna eat me, are you mister?"

The kid's name is Marshall and he explains that he and his parents are in a jam. They're from out of town, his dad came to the city for a job that fell through, his mom is pregnant and likely to pop at any moment, and their car is broken down just outside the junkyard!

No sooner does Marshall lay down his tale of woe than we hear a woman's voice moaning "Oh! Ray" like she's in a Dolemite movie and Rudy Ray Moore just pulled out his schlong.

Fat Albert and Marshall run across the junkyard to the disabled car and Albert invites the family to get out of the cold and into the shack to get warm. You know, the shack he doesn't actually own and has just been expressly told to get the fuck out of.

She can't remember actually getting pregnant. All she remembers is Cosby handing her a drink.

Fat Albert sends Bill the angel out to show Papa Ray the way to the local hospital and suddenly remembers that Tightwad Tyrone is going to tear down the shack that very evening. He runs off to Tyrone's store to see if he can talk him out of it.

"Hey hey hey! Forgot to check my blood pressure today!"

Back in town Tyrone's store is hard up for customers and he's getting a little desperate . He grabs a woman by the arm and tries to forcibly pull her inside.

That's a page from the Cosby playbook right there.

Just as the lady whacks him over the head with her umbrella and makes her escape Fat Albert shows up to plead for mercy. He tries to explain about the homeless family and the pregnant lady but Tyrone isn't listening. He's too busy looking for somebody else to fuck with! Just then a dude with a bell and a Santa suit walks past looking for donations for "the destitute lighthouse keepers mission house."

Naturally Tyrone doesn't find this appeal persuasive and he chases the freeloader away claiming "no one would give you a dime if it wasn't for that moth-eaten old Santa suit."

Hey, look! It's our old pal Black Santa!

As Black Santa wanders off he shouts to Tyrone that if he wants to get anything in this world he needs to give something first, and this seems to give Tyrone an idea. He tells Fat Albert that maybe they can work out a deal if only he'd be willing to do something for him in exchange, and next thing you know...

Ho ho ho! I got the diabetes, don't you know!

So Fat Albert agrees to stand outside in a Santa Suit, ringing a bell, giving away trinkets and enticing people into the shop, which works out so absurdly well that the previously empty store is suddenly packed wall-to-wall with paying customers.

Bill and Papa Ray, meanwhile get to the hospital but it's so busy they're having trouble getting anyone's attention. They finally find a reception desk and explain that his wife is going to have a baby. He gets handed a bundle of paper work as thick as a Stephen King novel and the receptionist asks for his insurance information. When he explains that he doesn't have insurance she turns him away, saying "charity cases are handled at the City Hospital."

Isn't it a relief that we've totally fixed our healthcare system since this first aired so this kind of thing can't happen anymore?
Oh, wait...

So Papa Ray and Bill schlep back to the shack where little Russell (the short one with the scarf and the ear-flap cap) is handing Mama Marge a cup of water. Papa Ray breaks the news that the only hospital that will take them is all the way across town. She says "Then we'd better get going," but as soon as she stands up she collapses back into the chair in a faint. They manage to get her over onto a table with a pillow and some blankets.

Another roofie joke? Nah, too easy.

Bill and Russell decide they'd better go get help so they run off to town to find Fat Albert.

The rest of the gang shows up at Tyrone's shop with Marshall in tow and are shocked to see Fat Albert cooperating with the enemy! Fat Albert explains that he's worked out a deal with Tyrone and is giving out free gifts to entice people into the store. At the words "free gifts" they ransack the table, practically climbing over each other to get at the loot. Tyrone comes out and he's so mad he just about has a stroke. He makes everyone give back what they've stolen (including a baseball that Marshall obviously wanted very badly), and fires Fat Albert on the spot.

Nice work, assholes.

This is another scene in which we're obviously meant to side with the kids against the mean old miser Tyrone, but once again he's well within his rights and they're unequivocally wrong. If they weren't so damned greedy and impulsive Fat Albert would have completed his part of the bargain and saved the clubhouse for them. Now they're not just back to square one, they've actually made things even worse by confirming in Tyrone's eyes his bias against them.

Just as the kids are about to skedaddle, an old derelict named Mudfoot Brown shows up to give Tyrone a talking to about being such a mean and ornery old skinflint.

Mudfoot looking to bum a few Swisher Sweets.

Fat Albert puts his two cents in by gently suggesting that maybe Tyrone is so mean because "there's nobody around to be nice to him since his wife died," then drifts off like a parade float leaving Mudfoot and Tyrone alone.

Mudfoot rips into Tyrone mercilessly about his parsimonious behavior, asking what his wife would think about the mean, miserable man he's become. Tyrone says "life hasn't been worth much since Martha's been gone," but Mudfoot counters that "you haven't been worth much since Martha's been gone."

Why not just kick him in the nuts
while you're at it, Mudfoot?

They end the conversation with Mudfoot telling Tyrone he only has one chance but probably won't take it. "You wouldn't do a good deed," he says, "You wouldn't know how."

I think I smell a third act redemption.

As Fat Albert and the gang head back to the shack they run into Bill and Russell, who tell them that Mama Marge is about ready to pop. Albert tells Rudy to take Dumb Donald (the one with the oyster shell on his head) to go get Doc Muncie and meet them back at the clubhouse.

Next we see little Marshall walking through an alley by himself. Apparently in his disappointment over the lost baseball he fell into a fugue state and wandered off. As he shivers he hears a whimper behind him, and he turns to see a starving stray dog trying to reach a moldy old bone sticking out the top of a garbage can.

Jesus. Christmas is so fucking bleak!

Marshall grabs the bone and gives it to the dog, and the grateful pooch wags his tail and decides to follow him home...because what that family needs right now is one more mouth to feed.

Speaking of another mouth to feed, as Marshall approaches the shack he overhears his dad bemoaning that he can't even afford to feed him, let alone a new baby. The poor kid hangs his head in shame and decides to run away so that he'll no longer be a burden to his family.

Get a job ya little parasite.

The gang returns and is relieved that Mama Marge hasn't yet had the baby. Fat Albert tells her not to worry because they've got a "real good doctor" coming over to help.

"Hey hey hey! He did my triple bypass last May!"

Just then Papa Ray notices that his son isn't around. Fat Albert says he must be outside playing and that he and the gang will go get him. Of course they have no idea where he is so they split up to go on a search. In the meantime Mama Marge starts moaning again that the baby is coming...

We cut to Rudy and Dumb Donald pulling Doc Muncie out of his warm house across town. They shove him in a car and Donald says "If we don't get there in time the baby is gonna have to slap himself!"

"That joke's older than me, kid!"

Meanwhile Marshall and the dog are hanging out at the docks trying to pull a few tricks from passing sailors. When he hears the gang calling for him he tries to run. They spot him and a chase ensues.

There's one of those cliché hallway gags now amongst a bunch of crates, the kind where the camera remains static and the characters keep running across from different directions Scooby Doo style. The kids pile up in the middle with Fat Albert on top as Marshall gets away. They spot him climbing up onto a dock and Fat Albert follows, climbing up on another side.

The gang manages to corner Marshall on the end of a pier. He jumps down onto the ice to escape but it cracks and he begins to float away! They have to form a hand-to-foot human chain to pull him back onto the dock.

Nope. Still not going there.

They save Marshall and Albert makes him hold his hand for the walk back to the clubhouse, but after a while he looks down and sees that the kid has purposely slipped out of his mitten and escaped.

To be clear, this whole run away, chase, capture and run away again routine was nothing but a shameless time-filler, which is absolutely inexcusable for a special that's only 23-1/2 minutes long.

When the gang gets back to the shack they hear the crying of a newborn! They run to the shack and open the door to see a charming domestic scene...well, charming but for the family's utter destitution, the fact that their other child is still missing and that the hovel they're squatting in is about to be torn down.

Also that kid definitely has Bill Cosby's eyes...

Just at this moment Tyrone shows up banging on the door and demanding to be let in. Fat Albert opens up and in he comes...with little Marshall and the stray pooch at his heels! He's astonished to find that a baby has just been born right here on his very own property.

Russell runs up and begs him not to throw the poor infant out in the cold. He tells Tyrone the family have no home, no jobs and nowhere to go, and promises him he can hit them all with his cane or arrest them or whatever other mean thing he wants to do if he just lets the baby alone!

He also has to let Russell hump his leg like a randy chihuhua.

As expected Tyrone does a complete redemptive turnaround. He offers to take Mama Marge to the hospital on his own dime and to find Papa Ray a job and he even tells them they can live at his house until they get back on their feet! Also he won't tear the clubhouse down! It's a Christmas miracle!

Fat Albert calls the gang over for a quick powwow and they decide to give all their Christmas gifts to the baby. I'm sure that size XXXXL red sweater is just what he needs. As they stack the boxes up over by the new mother's bed even the dogs gets in on the act by giving the baby his bone.

The rest I can accept...but this stretches credulity too far! Good day, sir!

In a final gesture of his newfound generosity Tyrone pulls the baseball out of his pocket and hands it to Marshall, his reformation from tyrant to teddy bear complete. He gazes up wistfully and asks "How am I doing Martha?"

God bless us, everyone!

Okay, so this thing wasn't complete shit. It had its heart in the right place, I suppose, and a few decent gags, but after building up layer upon layer of melodrama and almost unbearably dour realities it sold itself out with a deus ex machina ending built on angel farts and wishful thinking.

Fat Albert as a character is both didactic and sanctimonious, and in retrospect that's pretty hard to swallow. As we get older our perceptions change through bitter life experience, and the passage of time tends to make our past seem more simplistic and naïve than our present. Unwelcome knowledge of our former heroes' profound human flaws can change our attitudes about seemingly innocent things we once loved, but even taken on its own merits, without the baggage of Bill Cosby's vile behavior to weigh it down, Fat Albert's Christmas Special is still just a bland, quaint curio from an age when such things seemed less maudlin and insipid than they actually are.

The End.

I'm grateful for having seen this just one more time after all these years; glad, too for the opportunity to put some of my own conflicted feelings about it to rest, but I'm also quite satisfied that I'll never watch Fat Albert again.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 13th.

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December 2019.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?

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