It's not often people can learn from history's mistakes while simultaneously laughing their butts off. But that's exactly what happens when rewatching old sci-fi television "specials," which somehow manage to get even more weird and hilarious with age (not unlike ergot fungi).
We looked back at 10 of the most outlandish sci-fi-themed TV specials, guffawed until our sides hurt and still were unable to glean what the producers were thinking.
1. He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special
Yes, kids, there was actually an era so sexist that two of the hottest toys were called "He-Man" and "She-Ra." In Christmas season,1987, Mattel wanted to hammer home the point that kids weren't getting aggressive enough with demanding their parents for He-Man toys.
The story opens with She-Ra casually hanging around the palace, not wearing pants. Why is it customary for women in the He-Man universe to not wear pants? It is because they are free from sexist tyranny due to the fact that every male character seems to be a gay porn star.
This Christmas special soon cuts to the above discussion about "rocketships." One thing they don't talk about, surprisingly, is the mental well-being of their friend, who is a transvestite elf.
Anyway, this incredibly eccentric cast of characters accidentally abducts two Earth children (kidnap jokes were real popular family entertainment in the '80s). They have to return the children in time for them to celebrate Christmas. Oh, and because their family misses them, too, we suppose (although that kind of distracts from the focus, which is that kids need toys on Christmas).
2. The Wizard of Oz on Ice
Performing the beloved classic with ice skaters doesn't sound too bad, initially. However, the TV network had to cut the story down to an hour. So they removed all of the dialogue. When a character has a line, they audio system plays the line from the film, and the skate-clad character pretends to say the line without actually opening their mouth. It's creepy, but not as creepy as this all-white dead-eyed horse. That thing's is so creepy it could march in front of a Chinese New Year parade.
People come to ice skating shows for one reason only: the chance to see a horse ice skating. But this fake horse doesn't even have on skates. He should wish for them from the wizard, although we're pretty sure his first wish would be for a gun that can be fired by a horse.
It turns out this sweeping epic doesn't translate well to an ice rink.
Here a turban-wearing cab driver (sigh) takes the famous foursome on a ride to see the wizard. Only there's nowhere really to go on an ice rink. So the cab just drives in circles while blond Dorothy tries to keep her smile from eating her face.
Here the wizard offers them a smoky hit out of his giant acrylic water pipes. At least I think that's what happened. I gotta admit I tuned out by this point.
3. Legends of the Superheroes
This atrocity has been making the viral rounds recently, and for good reason. It's not only awful but had two separate parts, which aired on two different nights.
Rather than showcasing the reunion of Batman stars, they decided to have entire scenes without the dynamic duo. But that's okay, because they got the cool Batmobile. Oh, no they didn't, they just covered some beater in black felt. Seriously, if that ride were any more pimped, it would be a billiards table.
Of course, things pick up in the second act, when all of the superheroes crash the scene and ...
... sit quietly. They are then "roasted" by people representing stereotypes so blatantly that they are unintentionally roasting the sophomoric writing staff. Ghetto Man ... Aunt Minerva ... Ed McMahon ... the poor superheroes have to sit quietly while comics bomb harder than The Situation did at the roast of Trump. If watching these washed-up comic-book stars sit through a boring luncheon wasn't the inspiration for the Watchmen, I don't know what could be.
4. The Flintstones Meet Rockula and Frankenstone
First of all, a Halloween special is only "great" if it has two words in the title. The first of those words is "great." The second is "pumpkin."
This Flintstones Halloween special has neither word in the title, and it sucks appropriately. The idea was in the right place: A parody of all of those crazy "such-and-such TV character" meets "such-and-such movie monster" films that inevitably crowd the bookshelves of retirees.
Now, the only dub of this I could find was in Greek. But, thanks to superb animation, it is obvious that the plot involves Fred Flintstone being stubborn and sexist until his smart-but-oppressed wife saves the day. Also he apparently wins a vacation in a castle with a corpse in the basement.
Still, it doesn't look as bad as the lodging in a modern cruise ship, but in no way an ideal vacation resort. After this point, the episode kind of feels like a bad hack of Scooby-Doo. Only I don't ever remember there being a real corpse in Scooby-Doo.
Also, Fred and Wilma do some sexy Twilight cosplay. This is not the finest moment for that wife-abusing, slacker fatso, and that says a lot.
5. Raquel! Deluxe Edition
Though her body is out of this world, this isn't really a sci-fi themed television special. But I'd be wrong if I didn't take the time to show you the lazy crap that used to pass for science-fiction entertainment.
Here Raquel's breathtaking beauty is offset by the ugliness of ... pretty much everything else.
I don't know where this was filmed. It was obviously a place where a developer said, "You know what this spectacular natural landscape needs? A bunch of horrid eyesores." I think the message is "Aliens have come to Earth to kidnap all of our decorators."
I guess at one time those could be considered "alien headgear." Now, we just call them "Elton John glasses."
After assaulting the eyes of the public for several minutes with this totally creepy dance routine, it mercifully ends. Raquel goes back to being a supermodel, and the other two dancers go back to their job folding jeans at Miller's Outpost, or whatever.
6. Ultraman vs. Kamen Rider
The United States is not the only country that produces tasteless commercial TV specials. Countries like Japan do it, too, sadly. Only Japan will occasionally produce a good TV special—hell, they aired a kick-ass Lupin III TV special every year for decades. That said, sometimes they make horrible boob-tube turds.
Ultraman vs. Kamen Rider tells the story of two giant robot/monster/alien things fighting. I'm not sure why they are fighting, as I don't speak Japanese, but I assume they are fighting over which one has the most flaming-looking cravat.
Both winners, in my opinion. Then, for some other unknown reason, all these other fighting giants show up. It's such a spectacle that the dinosaurs decide to break out of their Jurassic Park.
Then some guy gets carjacked by a Gremlin.
I don't know if this is like a Christmas special, or what. But I am pretty sure all of these monsters are available for purchase in toy form.
7. The Paul Lynde Holiday Special
You know this is going to be good because it stars Paul Lynde, who Wikipedia assures me is a famous person.
He is introduced to an albino-looking witch, who invites him into her home. Sadly, there's no gingerbread mentioned at all. Not even Betty White can save this scene, even though she seems to be dressed like a nun, or something.
I think she's supposed to be Glenda the Good Witch, but I don't really know, because all anyone does is stand around cracking pun-based jokes for 10 minutes. If there was ever a time for a stake-burning ...
8. Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas
The title seems to imply that Jesus has been doing a bad job of maintaining global Christmas spirit, and now Inspector Gadget has to pick up after that slacker. Either that or Inspector Gadget is Jesus. Religious ramifications aside, the Inspector gets caught up in a sinister plot to undermine the biggest consumer-purchasing day of the year. Also, we learn some things about Santa and his elves.
Although it's never explicitly addressed, this screencap proves that Santa gets most of his labor by cloning his workers. Why doesn't Santa just skip the middleman and deliver clones to children on Christmas?
Whatever. Continuing on with this traumatic special, the nefarious Dr. Claw disguises himself as Santa. Since we only see Dr. Claw's arm at any time during the run of Inspector Gadget, I assume "dressing as Santa" means "putting on a red glove." He then tries to make a whole bunch of broken toys so that all the children will cry. As if toys needed any more help getting broken on Christmas.
The opening credits feature a minute-long montage of Claw's henchmen trying to kill Gadget in stupid ways.
Of course, Gadget remain oblivious to the mere notion that his life is in danger. That's what makes repeatedly endangering the life of his niece Penny so hilarious.
But not as hilarious as abusing animals. Penny and her dog eventually help Santa fix everything. Then Penny probably wakes up and realizes that "Inspector Gadget" was just a fantasy she created to cope with years of parental neglect.
9. Bugs Bunny in Space
In 1977, budding young space nerds eagerly tuned in their TVs to the special presentation of "Bugs Bunny in Space." Those who hoped to be delighted by novel tales of exploring the final frontier were severely disappointed. I want to show you screencaps, but it's difficult considering this TV special contained zero new footage.
That's right, none. Viewers were presented with a variety of past "space-themed" Looney Tunes. Sure, those shorts were classics, but this is just wrong. It hearkens back to a time when a TV station could advertise a "TV special" for weeks, and then just show a bunch of reruns. We're lucky the TV industry is no longer so morally unscrupulous.
10. Star Wars: The Holiday Special
No tour of wretched sci-fi TV specials would be complete without a long stop to stare at the train wreck that is "Star Wars: The Holiday Special." This was broadcast in its entirety just once, so Star Wars nuts had to rearrange their schedules to be present for this execution of their childhood.
You know things are off to a bad start when the narrator kills the first 90 seconds simply listing the actors. If the narrator had stalled the entire episode this way, it would have turned out better. But, sadly, the credits give way to a scene where Wookies are playing with licensed Star Wars toys.
This scene goes on for minutes with absolutely no discernible dialogue. It's like that Pokemon movie, except instead of only being able to say their names, the Wookies can only buzz like a baritone horsefly. It drills into your skull so much that it is a violation of the Geneva Convention to show this scene to a foreigner.
Then this actor is supposed to be in a futuristic device, but he thought he was supposed to portray a tiny fairy.
Then Jefferson Starship, a "dinosaur" band even back then, makes a cameo. In the history of scriptwriting, there has been no more impossible assignment than "Write Jefferson Starship into the Star Wars universe."
It truly is a dark place in the galaxy. Seriously, the best part of this film is probably the soulless toy commercial that plays right before the credits. Those toys look incredible and are now probably collectively worth more than Mark Hamill's career.
Slapping together a hasty Christmas special is a sci-fi franchise's equivalent of a celebrity selling out and doing ads for syphilis remedies. Only, syphilis can be cured, and there's no drug that will relieve the burning symptoms in my mind caused by these painful TV specials.