A grebmaR Christmas special: the Miser Brothers

When I was a kid, the holidays meant Christmas programming. There were the obvious solid, heartwarming classics like The Grinch, Charlie Brown, and Frosty the Snowman. But no one could match the Rankin/Bass studios for sheer madcap discombobulatory dissonance. Their specials were often pretty good, like the charmingly awkward “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or the maudlin but effective “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” But they were equally capable of churning out bottom feeding dreck such as “The First Easter Rabbit” or “Frosty and Rudolph Save the 4th of July.”*

Somewhere in between, there was “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” a syrupy tale of Jingle and Jangle, two elves who set out to save Christmas when Santa gets the sniffles. (Why Santa gets sick on Christmas so often is an unexplored mystery.) You actually forget that part, though, once the Miser Brothers show up. These two narcissistic avatars of nature steal the show like Samuel L. Jackson dreams he could.

In the mythopoetics of Christmas Special Land, Heat Miser and Snow Miser lord over the realms of Snow and Heat. Twin children of Mother Nature, they couldn’t have been more different, except for their theme song, which was eerily similar, and spectacularly AWESOME! Listen:

It’s a beautiful tune, isn’t it? A rollicking good-time number, with straw hats and chorus lines clearly influenced by Bob Fosse. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to consider Michael Jackson watching Snow Miser’s spin-move showmanship and filing it away for future use.** In the years following their introduction, the Miser Brothers have inspired literally thousands of stoners, slackers, and blog posts. It was only natural that they would appear in sequels.

In the 00’s, someone did a live action special remake starring Michael McKean (from Spinal Tap) and Harvey Fierstein, which turns the two part song into a duet complete with bikini-clad minions, slingshots and crossbows. It starts off as a total train wreck, then kind of grows on you, and then goes back to train wreck… here, see what I mean:

I understand their intention here, uniting both versions into one complete number – it always seemed sort of a time-filler and union-cost-cutting move to use the same song twice – but the execution seems spotty. Why are the two heat misers’ domains separated by such a thin chasm? In what realm of physics can this exist? By taking the metaphorical division of heat and cold and placing them in such proximity, the dialectic of hot and cold turns into an in-house squabble between pouty brothers, rather than an epic, meta-conflict between points of view that the original suggested.

On the other hand, I do love Harvey Fierstein’s Louisiana gutter accent, and the gusto with which he’s determined to sell this turd as fertilizer. The icicle up the butt at the end also seems the work of a good sport. But McKean seems to be phoning it in here, like his agent had come to him with either this or a Lenny and the Squigtones reunion tour, and he chose poorly.

But, you know, it makes me wonder where Mr. Temperate is in all this? Mr. Heat, Mr. Snow, and no one in that sweet spot in between, where we live most of our lives. That boring zone of mud and flowers and sweet spring rain. The Temperate Miser. It’s always the middle child that gets forgotten. Maybe it’s the lost Miser Sister, Lady Temperate. She should have her own song:

I’m Lady Brown Christmas
I’m sorta ‘meh’
I’m ‘Bring a light jacket,’
I’m ‘Watch out for that mud!’

Friends call me Temperate Miser
Whatever I touch
gets soon enough to room temp-utch-(ure)
I’m not that much!

I never want to know a day that’s outside a particular range
From fifty to seventy, say! Hey, let’s wear sensible shoes!

I’m not that much!

(spoken): Yeah, thanks a lot mom, my brothers got all the attention and why? Because they’re all Hot and Cold and people think I’m just a law of thermodynamics or entropy well fuck you mom it’s more than that, not that you care… (fades away, mumbling)

Well, you know, it’s an idea.

Merry Christmas! And hey, Santa – take some vitamins this year. No more colds!

Addendum: For completeness sake, there’s also a 2008 version of the song, from The Miser Brother’s Christmas, which despite its techincal advances adds absolutely nothing to the conversation.

* This special is actually called Frosty and Rudolph’s Christmas in July

** The question of whether the Miser Brothers influenced the Jackson 5 or vice versa I will leave for the comments section to determine.