Ranking the ‘Peanuts’ specials | #teacher | #children | #kids

For more than 50 years, it has been a staple of broadcast television to air corresponding “Peanuts” holiday specials with the holidays they fall close to, especially the Christmas episode. It’s a tradition for millions of children across the country to grow up with the “Peanuts” holiday specials.

Of course, in 2020, a year when so many things have been taken from us, the “Peanuts” specials won’t run on ABC or CBS this year. Why? Because Apple snatched up the rights to the specials and put them on its new streaming service Apple TV+, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

It might just be one of the saddest attempts I’ve seen at providing exclusive content to a streaming service in order to encourage sign-ups. “Peanuts” specials aren’t like “Friends” or “The Office.” Most people aren’t going to pay a monthly fee to watch the episodes over and over again as I do with HBO Max (guilty as charged).

But they are sentimental enough that people might set their DVR to record them if they aired on television, as they have for decades. But signing up for the service, buying a streaming device that carries Apple TV+ and hooking it up to the television? That’s a lot of effort to go through for the “Peanuts” Halloween special, even though Apple is making “The Great Pumpkin” free for a time.

I grew up with the “Peanuts” holiday specials like millions of other kids because it was “wholesome family entertainment,” and my parents and grandparents had zero interest in watching “Sailor Moon” with me.

Once my grandparents figured out how to use the VCR, they actually bought a blank tape and recorded the Christmas special, mailing it to me. I watched it every year … until I figured out you could record over stuff and used that same tape to record a Digimon marathon. Oops.

With Halloween being tomorrow, I figured this week would be a good opportunity to rank the “Peanuts” holiday specials. There are five for the major holidays. (I’m not counting “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown.”)

With more than 40 specials aired between 1965 and 2011, Charlie Brown and his friends have covered some serious ground. If you’d told Charles Schulz the first “Peanuts” comic strip he debuted in October 1950 would go on to have so many movies and television specials made from it, he probably wouldn’t have believed you. Fortunately, he lived to see decades of specials made from his work before dying in 2000.

Of the five major holiday specials, I’d put “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” at the bottom of my list of five. The special debuted in 1975 and didn’t have a particularly strong message attached to it. Linus has a crush on his teacher (especially problematic given how many student/teacher arrest stories I’ve written in my news career), and Charlie Brown doesn’t get any valentines at his class party.

Wow. When I was growing up, you brought a valentine for everyone on your class list, even the bullies. I get the running gag that Charlie Brown is kind of a loser few people like. But even his friend Linus didn’t buy him a valentine.

At the end, Charlie Brown did manage to get a pity valentine and hopes in the future it’ll encourage more. What a note to end on. The story and message of this special never really captured me. It’s really a shocker given that the holiday it’s based on is also the lowest on the totem pole of big holidays.

“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” really isn’t much better than the Valentine’s Day special. It feels like the poor man’s Christmas special. And it really makes me hate Peppermint Patty. She was never a favorite character of mine anyway. I was always more of a Lucy fan. You gotta love a girl who can give psychological advice one moment and slug you the next. Lucy was a powerful girl.

The whole plot to the Thanksgiving special is strange. There’s the classic football fake out with Lucy and Charlie, but after that, things go downhill. Charlie Brown and Sally are about to go eat Thanksgiving supper at their grandmother’s house, when out of nowhere, Peppermint Patty calls and invites herself and two friends.

Our boy Charlie is then put on the spot and decides to make his own Thanksgiving meal for his friends, enlisting the help of Snoopy and Woodstock to cook. When the food at the meal turns out to be a little unorthodox, Peppermint Patty yells at Charlie Brown about it and proves to be the biggest — what’s that? Oh, I’m being told by Philip Martin I can’t use that word in the newspaper. So never mind. She’s rude. Let’s leave it at that.

Later, Peppermint Patty’s first instinct is to send Marcie to apologize for her (what a — no? Can’t use that word either?). Eventually, Patty does apologize to Chuck, and she’s rewarded by being invited to his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. The morals are all screwed up in this special.

And Linus making an attempt to give a history lesson on the First Thanksgiving feels like a cheap attempt at recalling his sermon from the Christmas special. The whole episode feels like it exists simply because Thanksgiving does, and that’s not really enough to make it memorable.

With “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown,” we finally get into holiday I specials I really enjoy. And this special is enjoyable because it’s so funny. I love so many scenes from this special, from Marcie failing several times to prepare Easter eggs to Woodstock’s creation of a bachelor pad birdhouse.

There’s not much of a moral lesson to this episode, but it is filled with fantastic gags and quotes. “You made egg soup!” and “He gave me my own egg!” stand out in my memory.

The main story follows Linus as he attempts to persuade everyone the Easter Beagle exists (who is lying to this poor kid about holidays?). High jinks ensue as he tries to show everyone the Easter Beagle exists. And yeah, it ends up being Snoopy. Some parts of this special are soft repeats from the Halloween special. But at least it’s funny with the repeated material, unlike the Thanksgiving episode.

Now, here’s where I subvert your expectations by naming the Christmas special the second-best “Peanuts” holiday episode instead of the first, right? Sorry to disappoint. As much as I love a good surprise, I rank “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” at number two.

The Halloween special is fantastic, and it has so many great gags. To this day, whenever my wife and I go out to eat, and she asks what food I got, I reply, “I got a rock.” Our sixth anniversary is tomorrow, and with a sense of humor like mine, it’s a wonder she has stayed with me. I’m not ungrateful (unworthy maybe), merely surprised.

In this special, Linus is convinced a mysterious figure called the Great Pumpkin will rise from the pumpkin patch and bring toys to believing children (seriously, who feeds the gullible kid this stuff?).

While Charlie Brown and friends go to a Halloween party, the best scene is them trick-or-treating. I still smirk at Chuck’s horrible ghost costume that had all the holes. And the fact that the animators actually gave Pig-Pen’s costume dust to set him apart is great, too.

Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of the entire franchise comes in this episode, with Snoopy flying his doghouse and engaging in a World War I-era battle with an elusive Red Baron before being shot down and having to make his way across the country to the Halloween party. I have no idea what the writers were smoking when they made this scene, but I enjoyed it immensely.

And, of course, the Halloween episode also gives us a rare glimpse at Lucy being a good sister, going out at 4 a.m., finding a shivering sleepy Linus in the pumpkin patch and taking him home to put him to bed. It melts even the most frozen heart.

At the top of the list is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” How could I put any other holiday special in first place? Airing in 1965, this is the original animated holiday special that kick-started the rest. And while some of the other specials are perfectly fine (see above), they never come close to reaching the magic of the Christmas special.

Everything — from the message to the music — is perfect. Charlie Brown being depressed during the holidays is realistic. Lots of people hate the holidays, especially those who don’t have families to celebrate it with. It can be lonely.

But for Chuck, the real meaning of the season eludes him. Commercialization of the holiday and put-downs from his peers nearly break the poor kid’s spirit. But I love his determination. Charlie Brown really does try to find the meaning of the season, getting involved with directing a holiday play and believing in a little Christmas tree’s ability to become beautiful when nobody else wants it.

Linus’ recitation of Luke 2:8–14 is heartfelt. Lucy over-reacting to Snoopy’s kiss is funny. But nothing warms the heart like the kids coming together to fix Chuck’s tree and tell him Merry Christmas before singing with him. It makes even my heart grow two or three sizes bigger, nearly pushing it into “normal human” territory.

It means too much to me and my childhood to put this one at a lower rank. And I’d wager most of you feel the same. If not, you can feel free to email me at clanning@nwadg.com to give me a piece of your mind.

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