This is the last episode of season 1, the only real season the show had before they brought it back for a reboot. Because it was the last season, it is a Christmas special. This was probably timed to come out Christmas the year it was released.
This episode is…over the top, unrealistic, and cheesy as fuck.
But it’s still a Christmas show, so I’m probably still going to cry at some point. Yes, I’m a sucker for cheesy Christmas shows. Except that one movie that I can’t remember the name of.
As the opening credits roll, we see McGee sledding down a hill very fast being chased by the robot whatshisname draws. The robot is labeled “ski patrol,” and I guess he’s trying to give McGee a speeding ticket? For sledding too fast?
Anyway, he knocks an old lady off the chairlift, who falls and lands on top of “fat guy with a cigar.” That was very rude of McGee to knock her off like that. Asswhipe.
There’s a lot more people he runs into and it all ends when they crash into a big snowball at the bottom of a cliff. An alligator comes by in a Santa sled and says, “eh, whatever.”
Nick’s voice over tells us that the best time of the year is Christmas. After all, when else can you get presents, peace on earth, and excused from class for play rehearsals?
Ah, play rehearsals. These usually started in September or October, ish. Great way to get out of actual class time. Even when I wasn’t the one involved in the rehearsal, I used to lie there on one of the pews in the sanctuary and imagine the roof was a whole nother world with people living up there walking around upside down.* Or I would sneak off and explore the church’s nooks and crannies.
As the camera pans over children getting into their costumes, Nick tells us that participation in the play is “what you might call required.”
Renee: Look at the waistline on this thing. I mean, I’ve heard of baggy clothes, but I look like a big overgrown raisin.
Yes. I can really see the resemblance.
Girls. Only care about their looks, amiright? Seriously, this is the show’s attempt at comedy.
A little girl in a white tutu passes by, and I wonder what a ballerina is doing in a Christmas pageant. Derek calls her “Flake!” And it takes me a good 3 minutes to realize that she is a snow flake.
In a Christmas pageant?
That tutu is soooo against the dress code. That skirt doesn’t go to the tips of her fingers.
Nick, Louis, and Derek are to be the three wise men.
Derek, btw, is the only person not enjoying this. Their teacher, Miss Harlan, comes by.
Miss Harlan: Well, don’t we look….. uh….. precious.
There’s some “comedy” where a “donkey” (two students in a costume) crash into one of the backdrops, ripping it in two.
McGee says that if these people don’t get their act together, he and Mona will have to carry the show themselves.
Hey, it’s tough finding sheep this time of year.
Another teacher is trying to teach Phillip (who has lost his glasses, his high water pants, and every single shred of dorkiness he ever had, btw) to say “Ho ho ho.” She gets more of a “Ho Ho HACHEW!”
This kid shouldn’t be in the play, he should be home in BED! Not infecting the other students!
Actually this is the most realistic part of the story. I remember being made to be in the Christmas program even when I was running a fever one year, even though I was not allowed to go to the Christmas party at school due to my illness.
Louis asks Derek why he’s not wearing his wise man hat thing.
Derek: You two morons actually think I’m gonna do this junk? You two guys are going to be the only ones out there once the curtain goes up.
Miss Harlan: The script calls for three wisemen, and three wisemen we will have. Unless you want to be the first person in the history of Eastfield to fail my class three times.
Seriously? Derek’s probably embarrassed enough at having to repeat a grade. Now he has to have his teacher mock him for it in front of his peers.
Worst. Teacher. Ever.
Also, what the fuck? She is going to hold him back a whole year just because he didn’t want to be in some stupid play? Give him an F in Drama class or something and move the hell on with your life, lady.
Derek: hey, that’s like blackmail
Miss Harlan: That’s right. Merry Christmas.
Wow, what a bitch.
This is bitchy, but it’s not blackmail. Telling a student that if he doesn’t put in the work he will fail a class (a class, mind you, not the entire fucking grade) isn’t blackmail, it’s called teaching.
Nick’s voiceover: It’s true that Derek had never been known as “the happy hood”
The happy what?!
Nick’s Voiceover: but this time, he seemed worse than ever. Like he really hated all this. I mean, how could a guy hate Christmas?
Not everyone is required to love Christmas, Nicholas. And not everyone needs to have a reason they hate it. Derek may have some good reasons for hating Christmas, but even if he does not, that does not mean he is obligated to see it as “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Our next scene is Louis and Nick ooing and ahhing and smiling over a small wooden music box Nick wants to get his mother, As soon as he gets the rest of his allowance. Ok, fine, but no 12 year old boys are going to stand there smiling over a music box like that.
As they are standing there smiling over the music box like weirdos, a group of loud men laugh, talk loudly, and one of them obviously slips something into his coat. Because big bad tough guys love to steal music boxes!
The shop owner yells at them for a while, then gives up. Like, doesn’t even bother to call the police or anything, just yells at them. They aren’t even wearing masks, you could have these guys arrested and charged within 24 hours. Especially because one of them, not the one who stole anything, is Derek.
You even have Nicholas and Louis right there to identify him.
Nope. If yelling doesn’t work, nothing will, so the storekeeper gives up.
He deserves to be robbed.
Nick’s voiceover: I guess I always thought Derek would end up in real trouble one day. In fact, I kinda counted on it. But now, I couldn’t believe it was really happening.
Holy shit, Nicholas. Derek didn’t even steal anything, he was just with the person who did it and he knows it. Which, yes, does make him an accomplice, but still, an accomplice to theft, while serious, isn’t exactly what I would consider “real trouble.” This is the sort of trouble a lot of teenage boys get into, and something he could move past fairly easily. It’s not like Derek’s murdering or raping anyone.
Meanwhile, back at the Martin family home, grandma and Jamie are with us again, with no explanation as to why they were gone in the first place. Sara tries to eat some popcorn, but her mom tells her to save some for the tree.
Has no one remembered the Martin family has a dog? Let me tell you how well decorating a tree with popcorn works when you have a dog, ok? Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well.
McGee pokes into an empty light socket on a string of Christmas lights with a cartoon screwdriver, muttering some nonsense words. He electrocutes himself. I’m sad it didn’t kill him.
“So,” Nicholas asks. “How’s that ‘scatterfratz?'”
McGee gets up, smoking. “Go peddle your eggnog.”
What the fuck does that even mean? This is what you get when you can’t have your characters swear in a movie. You can’t even let them veggie swear. McGee can’t even say “darn you to heck.”
Nobody seems to notice Nicholas talking to his imaginary friend, possibly because everyone is distracted by his dad lighting up too many Christmas lights and blowing a fuse. Good thing they already had some candles lit! In fact, they like the candles so much, they decide not to run the lights back on right away.
Nicholas sits staring into the fire, looking sad. Unlike reality, his mom actually notices and asks what’s wrong. She says Christmas is for everybody, even thieves. It’s kind of odd for her to mention thieves specifically when Nicholas hasn’t told her what’s going on, but nevermind. She reminds Nicholas of the thief on the cross, who God definitely forgave.
There’s a clunky bit where Jamie can’t find the 3rd wise man doll for the miniature nativity set. She pouts and worries about the 3rd wiseman being lost.
We get it, movie. Derek is a lost wise man. No need to bash us over the head with it.
Back at school, Miss Harlan tells Phillip, playing Santa Clause, to use lots of enthusiasm. So he proceeds to half shout, in monotone, about how glad he is that everyone could make it to the Christmas play.
This is the most realistic part of the whole episode: most children in play monologue their lines. Not me, though. I never monotoned. In fact, I was quite overdramatic. Crushed my little soul when I realized I was a terrible actor.
In any case, Phillip’s sled is being pulled by a student cleverly disguised as a reindeer. The camera focuses in on a shiny gold object. In case we didn’t see it, the editors give it an obviously fake sparkle.
Derek has put a tack right where the reindeer will step on it! What an evil meanie!
Unfortunately, this is the only thing he does to make this dress rehearsal hilarious. I was kind of looking forward to having Derek sabotage the show in every way possible. I was hoping the writers were going with that angle, but alas.
Oh wow. I missed it on my first watch through. During his monologue, Phillip rolls his eyes. Even HE thinks this is stupid.
In any case, Miss Harlan announces a 10 minute break, during which Nick overhears this:
Principle: Now there’s no cause for alarm, we don’t know for certain, I just thought you oughta know.
Miss Harlan: You’re telling me we don’t have a third wise man.
Principle: Now I don’t know that for sure. I just think you need to know that Derek is having some very serious problems at home right now.
Miss Harlan: I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything we can do?
Principle: Well, we could get together and–
What kind of problems at home would cause Derek to have a legitimate excuse for missing a school function like this? Is his great aunt Irma (no there is no great aunt Irma I made her up) really sick? In that case, why wouldn’t he just say that? But if Mr. Principle knows about Derek’s dad beating him up (Oh come on, we all knew that reveal was coming), then why doesn’t he inform social services? They did exist back in the 80s.
Also, it’s not a big deal to have to find a new wise man. It’s not like the wise men have any speaking lines in this play. How hard can it possibly be to find someone willing to stand there for a few minutes in a doofy costume while the narrator reads the Bible story?
In any case, Nicholas is curious as to what sort of problems Derek is having at home, so he decides to investigate.
Nicholas: Me, what could I tell him?
McGee(dressed as an angel, complete with wings that really work): It’s Christmas, you’ll think of something.
Right. Because Christmas is magic. Shouldn’t the line actually be, “God will tell you what to say?” I would still think it was cliche writing, but at least that would be Biblical.
Nicholas, wise man costume in hand, walks down the hall to Derek’s apartment. Nick’s voiceover tells us that Derek is about to find out “what Christmas is all about.”
Because Derek’s never heard that before. There’s plenty of people over the age of 10 who have never heard the Biblical Christmas story before! Sure, in a parallel universe, maybe.
As we approach Derek’s apartment, we hear loud voices and a sound that is supposed to imitate flesh striking flesh, but just sounds to me like a fake ass big bang.
Derek slams the door to his apartment. He looks like he has a bit of a black eye, and he is wiping away tears.
I fully expect him to go full on hulk rage on Nicholas and chase him 4 blocks down the street. I probably would, if someone saw me like that.
It turns out that “problems at home” mean “Derek is being physically abused, and the real moral of the story is that someone should fucking call child services.” This being Focus on the Family, of course, that’s never gonna happen.
Derek: What are you doing here? I said what are you doing here Squid?
Squid? Really? This, kids, is what we get when we are not allowed to use actual insults in a movie.
The scene is really really awkward. If this were a normal movie, an awkward scene like this would be cut down to about 45 seconds. This is not a normal movie.
Nicholas(stammering): I… uh..We all missed you today at rehearsal
Nicholas, stop. Stop right there. No one likes a liar, and Derek knows you are lying. No one missed him, and he knows it.
Nicholas keeps talking.
and I just thought I’d stop by on my way home….ok maybe that’s not the real reason, but….well yeah, it’s part of the…
We hear a car honking and someone’s angry voice calling out.
Nicholas keeps stammering his way through an explanation, and I wonder why Derek doesn’t just put everyone out of their misery and punch him.
Derek(angrily): Why’d you really come here?
Nicholas: It’s Christmas
I wouldn’t care about you otherwise!
See, even Derek agrees with me that this is the most ridiculous explanation I have ever heard.
The car is still honking. A car honked in real life as I wrote that. That was creepy.
Nicholas: Christmas is supposed to be a time to care about other people, and…. that’s the whole reason for Christmas in the first place, right?
Oh god. please end this. Please end this awkward, godawful scene!
Because, because God loved us, and uh
This is about the look I have on my face whenever somebody starts spouting god crap at me.
The scene drags on for an agonizing 2 more minutes before a man comes in and says, “let’s go, Cryder, we ain’t got all night.”
It’s one of Derek’s friends, the Merry Prankster Thieves. The first man proceeds to behave like a cartoonish villain, harassing Derek about hanging out with Nick (which they weren’t.)
Ray picks the costume out of Nick’s arms.
Ray: Nice Dress
Ray(getting into Nicholas’ face and staring him in the eye): I don’t know who your friend is, but you better tell him if I ever see his sweet little face again, I’m gonna have to kick it all the way to the other side of town.
Ray turns to Derek and yells, “You got that?”
Derek: yeah, I got it Come on, my dad might come out.”
Ray(to Nicholas): Chow. Chicken.
This scene shows us Derek is being physically abused by his father, and is joining…what, a gang? For the family relationships that he is clearly missing from his real father.
The moral of the story here is that Derek needs Jesus. Not that, yanno, Nick should really tell someone. Like an adult, who should then call child protective services.
This show came out in the 1980s/1999s. Things had drastically improved since the 1960s. People cared about child abuse by this time. Except people like those who worked at Focus on the Family, who believe that a parent’s right to treat a child like crap trumps the child’s right not to be treated like crap. And they still believe that today.
In any case, this is a very cliche background. It’s over the top, cartoonish, and beats us over the head with the message about the root of Derek’s behavior problems.
I want you all to imagine that Derek, instead of Nicholas, is the show’s protagonist. It’s established that Derek likes to draw. What if, instead of McGee coming alive for Nicholas, he comes alive for Derek? This not only gives Derek some much needed companionship, it could make McGee relevant to the plot.
“So, Derek,” McGee said, panting and out of breath.
“I ran up to the apartment to check, and your dad’s been drinking again. You might want to wait a while before going up there.”
I would still find McGee the most annoying character on the show, but I would be able to set that aside if he was Derek’s only real friend.
Nicholas has friends. He has parents who love him. He has family. Nicholas isn’t the one who needs McGee. Derek is. And yet Derek feels no need of an imaginary friend, like Nicholas does. Kind of makes one wonder.
Derek tries to say something to Nicholas, then leaves after Ray.
The Christmas program is starting, and Nicholas talks about remembering his lines. Why, is he the narrator or something? We’re never shown anyone but Phillip having lines.
Nicholas’ dad slips backstage to give him some money. After the play, he’ll take the family out for ice cream, so Nicholas can slip off and buy the music box. His mom will be totally oblivious to the fact that Nicholas is missing while they get their ice cream and will never know the difference.
Are they trying to portray Nicholas’ mom as an inattentive woman who doesn’t care? I would absolutely notice if my only son wasn’t there to eat ice cream. That said, this is Christmas, so she probably fills in the blanks herself.
As the cast is about to take their place on stage and Phillip monologues the introduction–
Actually, I want to point something out in Phillip’s introduction. He says something like, “we are so glad that you and the Mrs could come and see the Eastfield production…”
You and the Mrs.? Ouch. What if you are “the Mrs?” God, its like they don’t view women as people, just wives. Accessories who belong to their husbands.
In any case, as the cast walks up to take their places on stage, Derek shows up. Miss Harlan is thrilled, and tells Derek she is glad that he could make it.
Derek: Yeah, well, somebody said you were *unintelligble* quizzes this semester, so…
I think he said “giving fewer quizzes?” I can’t actually tell what Derek is saying. The subtitles on Youtube videos are a joke, and I doubt FoTF provided closed captioning anyway.
Miss Harlan (smiling): That’s blackmail!
You people keep using that word. I do not think you know what it means.
We get shots of the audience fading in and out, presumably signifying the passage of time. Jamie tells us, “Nick’s next” because we were too stupid to figure it out for ourselves.
They had to give the kid some lines, I guess.
In any case, as someone narrates the Bible story, we get shots of Nicholas, Louis, and Derek standing in the nativity interbcut with shots of the audience. We get some closeups of Derek’s face. He looks like he’s about to cry, and we’re probably supposed to think he’s being affected by the message being “preached” (people who do these plays really think they are preaching, in a way). But given the scene we saw earlier it’s more likely his dad hit him again.
We get some reaction shots of the children in the audience, who look like they are falling asleep.
After the play, Nicholas is in the store buying the music box. We cut to a shot of Ray, who has Derek by the lapels. Derek tells Ray he wants out, and Ray pushes him around a bit but doesn’t seriously hurt him. This isn’t realistic at all. If you’re going to include one of your characters joining a gang, for the love of God, at least make it seem like Ray’s threats are real. Have the violence happen off camera and use makeup to make it look like Derek has a black eye and swollen lip.
“If I ever see you or that dumb punk again, you’re history man. Ok? You got me man?” *pushes Derek against a fence*
Yeah… Ray is very threatening. He gets into his car and drives away.
We cut to a shot of Nicholas leaving the music box store, which is surrounded by carolers. They start singing The Carol of the Bells, which I have to admit is one of my favorites. We see Nicholas walking home with the Carol of the bells playing in the background.
And we are not the only one’s watching. Ray and his friend, Gang Member #2, see Nicholas walking by.
Ray: Drive ahead to the alley and wait
The car comes to a stop a street or so ahead, and we hear a car door slam as Ray gets out.
The Carol of the Bells takes on a more ominous tone as Nicholas is walking down the street, switching from acapella by the carolers to actual music on tape, complete with violins. The musical montage in this episode is actually well done. I am heavily biased towards Christmas music, but I think, as well, that this is the only decent source music to work with. The other musical montages we’ve seen have been songs written by 80s Christian Pop artists. Carol of the Bells is a classic. And too, this is the only music set to footage that couldn’t just be cut from the film. In the first episode ever, the music is played to Nicholas walking home from the theatre. You could’ve cut those shots and it wouldn’t affect the episode in any way whatsoever. Credit where credit is due, the music is well done, and the scene is plot relevent.
As the music plays, getting faster and faster and the voices getting lower pitched, we see Ray take his place inside an alley, which Nicholas is about to pass. Some shots of Ray’s clenched fist, shots of Nicholas, and then Ray reaches out, grabs Nicholas, and shoves him against some trash bags. The music box drops to the ground, somehow managing not to break. I mean, that’s a fragile looking music box, it should have broke in half. It should not still be tinkling. The real music has faded, and the music box is now playing The Carol of the Bells. It’s kinda creepy, which is probably what they were going for, so, yay for that.
This scene is, for its budget and scope, pretty well done. I got the sense that Nicholas was in real danger, the music was actually right for once, and I sort of felt afraid for Nicholas.
The music box continues to tinkle as Ray’s friend approaches–and Derek knocks him down. The real music playing Carol of the Bells comes back, with the tune tweaked a little bit to seem more ominous and be better background music for a fight.
I’m not explaining this well at all, but then, I’m not a musician.
Derek fights Ray for Nicholas, and I’m a little confused. There are 2 bad guys here, Ray and Whatshisname. This is stupid of Derek. He should go call someone in to help him rather than get beat up himself.
Somebody offscreen says something about calling the cops, and the two bad guys flee. Derek hands Nicholas the music box, which by all rights should at least be a little bit broken.
Nicholas: Are you ok?
Nicholas: Why did you… I mean… I don’t understand?
Because Derek is a decent person. Sure he’ll steal a few music boxes with the guys, he may steal the little kids’ milk money, he may even punch someone a few times. But he doesn’t want anyone actually getting seriously hurt. And those men would have seriously hurt Nicholas. Let’s not pretend they would have beaten him up a little and sent him on his merry way.
If this were a better movie, Nicholas would be about to learn that people aren’t black and white. (Unless we’re ticking off boxes on government forms.)
Derek: I don’t really know either. Maybe I’m just starting to see things… different. I gotta go.
Nicholas: Derek, thanks.
Derek: Merry Christmas.
This is Focus On the Family. I should not have been expecting this to be better… but I was expecting this to be better. When Nicholas asks Derek why he helped him, Derek could’ve just shrugged, said, “Merry Christmas,” and then left. We still would’ve gotten the character growth and change, but we wouldn’t be hit over the head with it, nor would we have to sit through this awkward scene.
There’s a shot of the Martin’s house. Someone throws fake snow over the camera as Nicholas’s voiceover talks to us. We get a shot of him and his family is sitting around the tree exchanging presents.
Nicholas: That Christmas, Derek Cryder changed. And somehow, that made Christmas seem more real than ever. It’s like, no matter who you are, or what you have to offer, god sent his son, so that all of us could know his love, and that’s what Christmas is all about.
Nicholas gives his mom the music box, and she looks like she’s about to cry, probably because it’s broken from the time he dropped it after being grabbed by Ray. She opens her arms and Nicholas gives her a big hug.
The movie could have done way better without the voiceover at the end. First off, no one needs to be told what Christmas is all about from your perspective yet again. Second, don’t tell us Derek changed. Leave exactly what happened to him up in the air, make us wonder. Get us curious for season 2. I do not know yet if the writers knew there wouldn’t be a season 2 and that that is why they tacked on this ending, or if they just didn’t care.
The episode closes (or tries to) on a shot of Nicholas’ family smiling by their Christmas tree with their presents.
McGee: And god bless us every one. *blows out candle*
Well, it almost had a halfway decent ending, anyway.
This… was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as usual. As far as McGee and Me episodes go, this one was honestly the best. It had an actual story line, one of the characters got some character development and even without being told Derek changed we saw some growth. And, the best part, McGee was hardly even in it.
In any case, that’s it for this season. We’re done. Happy Christmas in July, everyone.
*I was a really strange child