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Thiel-A-Vision Christmas Classic: It’ll Make Your Living Room All A-Kilter

December 24th, 2013 No comments

Originally posted December 16, 2008.

The Thiel household has a number of unusual Christmas traditions, such as the gay snowmen that enjoy a place of honor atop our living room television. But the one with the most staying power is our annual screening of a 1967 episode of Dragnet . The plot, in which L.A. police detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon track down a missing Jesus statue, might be the stuff of banal, treacly TV Christmas specials. However, viewed through the deadpan filter of Jack Webb, it becomes an inadvertent comedy delight.

Or maybe it’s just us.

Earlier this year, I transferred my aging VHS copy–recorded some two decades ago from a “Nick at Nite” holiday marathon–onto a shiny DVD, and I’d planned to upload some highlights to YouTube in clear violation of their copyright protection policies (which I believe actually include the phrase “wink, wink”). However, Hulu has saved me both the trouble and the potential legal entanglement!

Our story opens on the day before Christmas, with Friday working the day watch out of Burglary Division. His partner Gannon (M*A*S*H ‘s Harry Morgan) enters carrying a desktop Christmas tree that’s basically a twig with a stand. “It sure brightens the place up,” Bill declares.

“I bought it from this round-headed kid named Brown.”

He sees Friday writing out a stack of Christmas cards, and says “You oughta get married, Joe. Only system. Eileen does all this stuff for me. Mails cards, laundry, only system.” One wonders how Eileen feels about the system.

Bill hopes to get off early, as he still needs to complete his holiday shopping. (Laundry detergent?) Joe, however, has already bought his girlfriend a gift: a stationary set.

Gannon: “Joe, you never learn.”

Friday: “What’s the matter?”

Gannon: “No woman wants a stationary set. You get her something personal.”
Friday: “It’s got her initials on it.”

Gannon: “No, no, no. You want something more sentimental. Romantic.”

Friday: “What’d you get Eileen?”

Gannon: “Well, it’s different in her case.”

Friday: “What’d you get your wife?”

Gannon: “A sewing machine.”

Friday: “That’s romantic.”

Gannon: “Well, it is, in a way.”

Friday: “Why didn’t you buy her a catcher’s mitt?”

This banter–which is downright frivolous by Dragnet standards–is interrupted by a call. Father Rojas from the San Fernando Mission Church has reported that their statue of the infant Jesus has been stolen! Even though it’s in Foothill Division territory, Friday decides to meet with the father.

Father: “I’m sorry to bother you men.”

Gannon: “That’s alright, Father.”

Father: “Especially now, the holiday season.”

Friday: “We cash our checks, Father.”

I feel like this is something more of us in the service industry should say.

“Thanks for coming to fix my toilet.”

“We cash our checks.”

“This ice cream cone is tasty!”

“We cash our checks.”

Soon, Father Rojas and Joe Friday are in a full-fledged quip-off:

Friday: “How late is the church open?”

Father: “All night.”

Friday: “You leave it wide open, so any thief can walk in?”

Father: “Particularly thieves, Sergeant.”

Even Friday doesn’t have a smart-ass reply to that one.

Gannon: “Just for a check on the pawn shops, how much is the statue worth?”

Father: “In money?”

Friday : “Well, that’s the point in pawn shops, Father.”

Father: “Only a few dollars. We could get a new one, but it wouldn’t be the same. We’ve had children in the parish; they’ve grown up and married. It’s the only Jesus they know.”

Gannon: “We understand.”

Father: “And we’ve had children who died. It was the only Jesus they knew. So many of the people who come here are simple people, they wouldn’t understand, Sergeant. It would be like changing the Evening Star.”

A frequent paraphrase between me and Mrs. Thielavision: “They’re a simple people; they wouldn’t understand.”

“No, really. They’re fucking stupid. It’s a wonder they know to breathe.”

The detectives promise to continue looking for the AWOL messiah, and, if possible, return it for Christmas Mass. But before they go:

Father: “It’s sad, isn’t it?”

Friday: “How’s that?”

Father: “In so short a time, men learn to steal.”

Friday: “Yes, but consider us, Father.”

Father: “Us?”

Friday: “If some of ’em didn’t, you and I would be out of work.”

The thought of continued employment comforts Father Rojas.

Hitting the pawn shops, Friday and Gannon make the acquaintance of the absurdly cantankerous Mr. Flavin, owner of Flavin’s Religious Art. (“Fifty percent European items!”) The thing about Dragnet is that I’m never quite sure when it’s trying to be funny, but the things that come out of Flavin’s mouth are so bizarre that even Joe Friday begins rolling his eyes.

Actual dialogue (paraphrased): “How’d you know my name? We never met!”

Friday asks the shopkeeper if he has a large statue of the baby Jesus, to which Flavin responds as if he’s never heard of such a thing:

Flavin: “You don’t want a large one unless it’s fer a church. That’s where you want a larger one.”

Friday: “Could we see it, please?”

Flavin: “I guess. It’s not my due to butt in, but unless you live in a big place, this’ll make your living room all a-kilter.”

Friday: “Yes, sir. Do most of the people who go to the Mission Church trade here?”

Flavin: “Good many of ’em. Especially the kids.”

Friday: “Why kids?”

Flavin: “More religious! Check on yourself. See if kids aren’t more religious than you.”

Friday: “Might be so.”

Flavin: “That’s what’s wrong with the world!”

I’m pretty sure that no old person in the history of humanity has ever said that a resurgence of faith is the problem with the world. Especially not the owner of a religious paraphernalia store. However, Mr. Flavin is bugfuck nuts, so there’s that.

“You wouldn’t want this here Jesus! It’ll rob you blind!”

The interrogation continues:

Friday: “Do people ever come in and sell back a religious article?”

Flavin: “Like a prayer book or rosaries?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Second hand, you mean?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Not since I ever been around. It’s silly.”

Gannon: “Why?”

Flavin: “People don’t have religious articles so they can get rid of ’em. They have ’em so they can have ’em.”

Gannon: “But if a man had a statue and wanted to sell it, he’d come to a place like this.”

Flavin: “Sure, but he wouldn’t want to sell it.”

Friday: “He would if it was stolen.”

Flavin: “No, sir! If a man was to steal a statue, he’d be crazy or something like that. The only place he’d want to go is where crazy people are.”

Friday: “You may be right, Mr. Flavin.”

Flavin: “I don’t know what you fellas are looking for, but if it’s somebody who stole a statue, he’s crazy and you won’t find him. You won’t find him as long as you live, or in a million years!”

Friday: “That should cover it.”

Point to ponder: If crazy people are impossible to find, why do I encounter so many of them?

You too can enjoy a visit with Mr. Flavin! Click here!

Confronted by this unassailable logic, Friday and Gannon retreat. They continue to check religious stores, but “none of them were as encouraging as Mr. Flavin.”

The flatfoots return to the office to be met by one of the Mission’s altar boys, John Heffernan, played by a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams. When Joe tells little Greg Brady that he didn’t have to come in (“A phone call woulda worked”), the boy replies, “My father said to get on over. He said that any kid that uses phones is lazy.” My, times have changed.

“Is this about the time I stole that goat?”

Heffernan hadn’t noticed the statue being Jesus-napped, but mentions a man carrying a bundle. Friday jumps at the chance to lead the witness:

Friday: “How large a bundle?”

Heffernan: “It’s hard to say.”

Friday: “Come on, son! Was it large or small? The size of the statue?”

Heffernan: “About that big! Yes, sir!”

“Then, Marcia was hit by a football…”

The search for the man with the mysterious bundle–a church regular named Claude Stroup–leads them to a hotel for down-and-out old folks called “The Golden Dream.” Stroup is absent, and the desk clerk is worried that he won’t return in time to sing in the Christmas concert with the hotel choir.

The Three Tenors eventually went to seed.

Clerk: “I hope it’s nothing serious for Claude. Fella’s troubles oughta be over.”

Gannon: “Troubles?”

Clerk: “Way back. Wouldn’t count now.”

Friday: “Tell us anyway.”

Clerk: “It was something back where he used to live. He robbed somebody or something.”

Friday: “What else?”

Clerk: “That’s all. It was a long time ago, way far back. But he forgot it all, the robbing and everything.”

Friday: “No, not quite.”

Clerk: “Hmm?”

Friday: “He remembered it this morning.”

Joe Friday has heard of the presumption of innocence, but holds no truck with it.

Later, back at the station, Captain Mack attempts to send Joe and Bill off to pick up a captured fugitive, but Friday is adamant about finishing his work for Father Rojas.

Captain Mack: “What is it, a ten, fifteen-dollar chalk statue?”

Friday: “Since when’s the price determine a case?”

Well, considering that the Champaign police never called me back after my Halloween decorations were stolen, I’d say that price very much determines the case. But this is Dragnet, so instead Joe Friday adroitly guilt trips the Captain into letting him continue in the search for Jesus, leading to one of the queerest looks I’ve seen in a police drama.

Click here to watch Friday play “Good Cop, Guilty Cop!”


At 4:45 pm, there’s a break in the case: Stroup has returned to the Golden Dream. As Joe puts it, “The desk clerk was right, Claude Stroup looked like a man who’d had his troubles at bargain rates.”

“How many badges do you see?”

Impatient about being unable to present his sweetheart with her personalized stationary set, Joe Friday gets cranky:

Stroup: “Honest, I didn’t do nothing against the law.”

Friday: “You haven’t been accused. We want to talk to you downtown.”

Stroup: “No, sir, I’m not goin’. I’m not goin’ anyplace. I’m not goin’ to talk to nobody.”

Friday: “You’re half wrong already.”

And so Friday and Gannon drag his happy ass halfway across town. A couple of hours pass, and Stroup still refuses to talk. Ultimately, the real reason for his reticence is revealed: earlier that day he’d gotten into a minor parking lot accident with a borrowed car. The suspicious bundle was nothing more than his spare pants for the Christmas Eve concert. Joe glumly releases him, and tells Claude to go home. Not that he offers the poor guy a ride. Or cab fare. Go home, Stroup. Get walking. Bargain rates, indeed.

With the pawn shops closed and all leads dried up, the defeated duo return to Father Rojas with the bad news. Just then, a small Mexican boy enters pulling a wagon…inside which is the baby Jesus!

Jesus makes Paquito’s nose itchy.

The father recognizes him as Paquito Mendoza, one of the locals, and translates his Spanish:

Father: “He says that all through the years, he prayed for a red wagon. This year, he prayed to the child Jesus. He promised that if he got the red wagon, the child Jesus would have the first ride in it.”

Paquito: (speaking Spanish)

Father: “He wants to know if the devil will come and take him to Hell.”

Friday: “That’s your department, Father.”

Father: (to Paquito) “El Diablo, no.”

At which point, Vic always shouts, “El Diablo! Si!” And then she hisses. That’s what we Thiels call Christmas spirit.

Paquito returns the statue to the creche, to be watched over by its chipped and worn Nativity-mates.

God in His natural habitat.

Approving Donkey approves.

“No, you see, you are simple, Paquito. You wouldn’t understand.”

All is well. The Whos down in Who-Ville will wake up on Christmas morn and never face the prospect of being hopelessly confused by a Replacement Christ. Paquito gathers his wagon and hightails it back to his life of petty larceny.

Paquito will soon learn that there are no red wagons in Hell.

Gannon: “I don’t understand how he got the wagon today. Don’t kids wait for Santa Claus anymore?”

Father: “It’s not from Santa Claus. The firemen fix the old toys and give them to new children. Paquito’s family, they’re poor.”

Friday: “Are they, Father?”

Off to solve the Case of the Purloined Dreidel.

And with that, we draw a close to the Dragnet Christmas special. I hope that it will become a tradition in your household as well.

Merry Christmas!

Return Of The Magi

December 26th, 2010 No comments

“Hello, I wish to return this watch chain wot my wife puchased in this here emporium not three days ago.”

“Oh, that’s a fine chain. Our ‘Executive’ model. Lovely links.”

“The links don’t enter into it.”

“Well, then. Is there anything wrong with it?”

“I’ll bloody well tell you what’s wrong with it, you berk!”

“Wait, why have you got a British accent? This is New York!”

“I was told it would be funnier that way. Now, I am here to tell you wot is wrong with this here watch chain wot I received as a Yuletide present!”

“So, what is wrong with it?”

“I don’t own a watch!”

“Oh. Then that’s not a very good present.”

“Tell me about it, mate.”

“Why did your wife buy it for you, then?”

“Well, I had a watch. Very nice one. Father give it to me, his father give it to him.”

“What happened to it?”

“I sold it. Look, I barely had two farthings to rub together, didn’t I? I am employed at Abraham’s Equine Haberdashery, and I work on commission.”

“Tough break.”

“Anyway, me wife. Lots of hair. Long, lustrous locks. Down past her knees. You could build a nest in it.”

“You built a nest?”

“Never you mind. The point is that she loves this hair, loves to put things in it. Since St. Crispin’s Day she’s been on about these combs she saw in that shop window. Pure tortoise shell, jewelled rims. Wouldn’t stop yakking about ’em.

Wot was I bleedin’ supposed to do? Not much call for horse hats these days. So, I sold me shiny, gold watch and bought the combs. For Christmas.”

“That was certainly very charitable of you.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? So, I go back to me flat, and what do I find? Silly bint cut off her hair!”

“What the hell?”

“Exactly me thought! As it transpired, she also was short on funds. And she passes by a wiggery every day on her way to the orphan farm. So she sells her hair to buy a present…a chain for me bleedin’ watch!

“Well, that’s sorta ironical, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s bloody ironical! It’s Rod Bloody Serling!”

“Doesn’t sound so bad. She’ll grow more hair.”

“That’s wot she said. ‘My hair grows so fast, Jim.’ And maybe me father’s father’s watch will grow back as well!”

“But…it’s kinda sweet. You gave away your greatest treasures for love. Someone might write that of all who give gifts you two were the wisest.”

“Bugger that! I’ve got a bald wife, a bag of useless combs and a whimsically paradoxical watch chain!”

“Ah, okay. Do you have a gift receipt?”

“Gift receipt? Gift receipt! It’s 1905! There are no bloody gift receipts!

“I’m very sorry, sir. No returns without a valid receipt.”

It was three days before the police found the body of the jeweller. The coroner’s examination determined the cause of death to be strangulation. The weapon, a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaimed its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do.

Categories: General Tags: ,

Sing A Song Of Solstice

November 16th, 2010 No comments

Here’s the reason I’ve done very little blogging since the beginning of November: my upcoming WILL-TV production Winter Voices: An A Cappella Holiday.

Enjoy this preview clip, featuring the Tone Rangers (aka the Millikin Men’s Ensemble) singing “This Year.” I hadn’t heard this tune before our studio recording session, but I liked it so much that I’m using it as the finale.

WILL-TV’s “Winter Voices” Preview from Illinois Public Media on Vimeo.

If you’re in WILL-TV’s Central Illinois coverage area, tune in Wednesday, December 1 at 7:00 pm CST for the premiere of Winter Voices. It will also air Monday, December 6 at 7:00 pm; Christmas Eve at 9:30 pm and Christmas Day at 3:00 pm. (If you’re out of the area, I expect that we’ll put the entire program online once our December pledge drive is over.)

Furry Christmas!

December 24th, 2009 No comments

This is Boomer’s first Christmas, and she has been enjoying the artificial tree a little too much. She figured out that she could climb up the center, spiraling around the pole. The only thing that’s stopped her from being a tree-topper is that the uppermost section is a single piece.

It was cute the first time, not so much the fiftieth time. At this point, she’s practically living inside the Christmas tree. We’ve kinda given up trying to shag her out of there. While most of the ornaments are still hanging, some of them have migrated and the tree is looking bare in spots.

Something similar happened the first year we had Hobbes, except that he was too heavy and actually broke off the branches of that tree. He also destoyed a lot of glass ornaments. That year we tore the tree down as soon as Christmas was over, and it’s looking like the same will happen this time as well.

Hopefully by next December Boomer will be a little less Extreme! Kitten!

Happy holidays to you, my dozen of readers! I hope that you will have many gifts and (if you’re into that sort of thing) a more-or-less intact Christmas tree!

Categories: General Tags: , ,

Number Of Days It Took Boomer To Climb Into The Christmas Tree

December 14th, 2009 No comments

Ten.

It was cute the first time.

Now she won’t stop.

Christmas is still eleven days away.

Here endeth the tale.

Categories: Weird Tags: , ,

It Seems That Hallmark Wants ALL Of My Money

May 6th, 2009 No comments

This year’s Hallmark ornaments are online, and I can already see several that I hope to find decorating my tree this December. They’ve got the geek nostalgia thing down to a science.

I’m surprised that they’ve done nothing with the new Trek film, but this year’s starship is one I’ve been jonesin’ for since they first began churning these out back in ’91: the Klingon Battle Cruiser! Nothing says “Season’s Greetings” like a ship full of pissed-off Klingons!

hallmark01

And if that wasn’t geektastic enough, then there’s Robby the Robot! Forbidden freakin’ Planet for Christmas!

hallmark02

I could do without the Ghostbusters theme song sound clip, but this ECTO-1 is otherwise a sweet ride.

hallmark03And honestly, this Wicked Witch of the West is pretty damned awesome.

hallmark04Okay, here’s one I most definitely do not want, which means there’s a fair chance that Vic will buy it for me anyway. It’s Musketeer Barbie. Musketeer. Barbie.

hallmark05

Musketeer Barbie.

It’ll Make Your Living Room All A-Kilter

December 16th, 2008 No comments

The Thiel household has a number of unusual Christmas traditions, such as the gay snowmen that enjoy a place of honor atop our living room television. But the one with the most staying power is our annual screening of a 1967 episode of Dragnet. The plot, in which L.A. police detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon track down a missing Jesus statue, might be the stuff of banal, treacly TV Christmas specials. However, viewed through the deadpan filter of Jack Webb, it becomes an inadvertent comedy delight.

Or maybe it’s just us.

Earlier this year, I transferred my aging VHS copy–recorded some two decades ago from a “Nick at Nite” holiday marathon–onto a shiny DVD, and I’d planned to upload some highlights to YouTube in clear violation of their copyright protection policies (which I believe actually include the phrase “wink, wink”). However, Hulu has saved me both the trouble and the potential legal entanglement!

Our story opens on the day before Christmas, with Friday working the day watch out of Burglary Division. His partner Gannon (M*A*S*H‘s Harry Morgan) enters carrying a desktop Christmas tree that’s basically a twig with a stand. “It sure brightens the place up,” Bill declares.

“I bought it from this round-headed kid named Brown.”

He sees Friday writing out a stack of Christmas cards, and says “You oughta get married, Joe. Only system. Eileen does all this stuff for me. Mails cards, laundry, only system.” One wonders how Eileen feels about the system.

Bill hopes to get off early, as he still needs to complete his holiday shopping. (Laundry detergent?) Joe, however, has already bought his girlfriend a gift: a stationary set.

Gannon: “Joe, you never learn.”

Friday: “What’s the matter?”

Gannon: “No woman wants a stationary set. You get her something personal.”
Friday: “It’s got her initials on it.”

Gannon: “No, no, no. You want something more sentimental. Romantic.”

Friday: “What’d you get Eileen?”

Gannon: “Well, it’s different in her case.”

Friday: “What’d you get your wife?”

Gannon: “A sewing machine.”

Friday: “That’s romantic.”

Gannon: “Well, it is, in a way.”

Friday: “Why didn’t you buy her a catcher’s mitt?”

This banter–which is downright frivolous by Dragnet standards–is interrupted by a call. Father Rojas from the San Fernando Mission Church has reported that their statue of the infant Jesus has been stolen! Even though it’s in Foothill Division territory, Friday decides to meet with the father.

Father: “I’m sorry to bother you men.”

Gannon: “That’s alright, Father.”

Father: “Especially now, the holiday season.”

Friday: “We cash our checks, Father.”

I feel like this is something more of us in the service industry should say.

“Thanks for coming to fix my toilet.”

“We cash our checks.”

“This ice cream cone is tasty!”

“We cash our checks.”

Soon, Father Rojas and Joe Friday are in a full-fledged quip-off:

Friday: “How late is the church open?”

Father: “All night.”

Friday: “You leave it wide open, so any thief can walk in?”

Father: “Particularly thieves, Sergeant.”

Even Friday doesn’t have a smart-ass reply to that one.

Gannon: “Just for a check on the pawn shops, how much is the statue worth?”

Father: “In money?”

Friday : “Well, that’s the point in pawn shops, Father.”

Father: “Only a few dollars. We could get a new one, but it wouldn’t be the same. We’ve had children in the parish; they’ve grown up and married. It’s the only Jesus they know.”

Gannon: “We understand.”

Father: “And we’ve had children who died. It was the only Jesus they knew. So many of the people who come here are simple people, they wouldn’t understand, Sergeant. It would be like changing the Evening Star.”

A frequent paraphrase between me and Mrs. Thielavision: “They’re a simple people; they wouldn’t understand.”

“No, really. They’re fucking stupid. It’s a wonder they know to breathe.”

The detectives promise to continue looking for the AWOL messiah, and, if possible, return it for Christmas Mass. But before they go:

Father: “It’s sad, isn’t it?”

Friday: “How’s that?”

Father: “In so short a time, men learn to steal.”

Friday: “Yes, but consider us, Father.”

Father: “Us?”

Friday: “If some of ’em didn’t, you and I would be out of work.”

The thought of continued employment comforts Father Rojas.

Hitting the pawn shops, Friday and Gannon make the acquaintance of the absurdly cantankerous Mr. Flavin, owner of Flavin’s Religious Art. (“Fifty percent European items!”) The thing about Dragnet is that I’m never quite sure when it’s trying to be funny, but the things that come out of Flavin’s mouth are so bizarre that even Joe Friday begins rolling his eyes.

Actual dialogue (paraphrased): “How’d you know my name? We never met!”

Friday asks the shopkeeper if he has a large statue of the baby Jesus, to which Flavin responds as if he’s never heard of such a thing:

Flavin: “You don’t want a large one unless it’s fer a church. That’s where you want a larger one.”

Friday: “Could we see it, please?”

Flavin: “I guess. It’s not my due to butt in, but unless you live in a big place, this’ll make your living room all a-kilter.”

Friday: “Yes, sir. Do most of the people who go to the Mission Church trade here?”

Flavin: “Good many of ’em. Especially the kids.”

Friday: “Why kids?”

Flavin: “More religious! Check on yourself. See if kids aren’t more religious than you.”

Friday: “Might be so.”

Flavin: “That’s what’s wrong with the world!”

I’m pretty sure that no old person in the history of humanity has ever said that a resurgence of faith is the problem with the world. Especially not the owner of a religious paraphernalia store. However, Mr. Flavin is bugfuck nuts, so there’s that.

“You wouldn’t want this here Jesus! It’ll rob you blind!”

The interrogation continues:

Friday: “Do people ever come in and sell back a religious article?”

Flavin: “Like a prayer book or rosaries?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Second hand, you mean?”

Friday: “Yes, sir.”

Flavin: “Not since I ever been around. It’s silly.”

Gannon: “Why?”

Flavin: “People don’t have religious articles so they can get rid of ’em. They have ’em so they can have ’em.”

Gannon: “But if a man had a statue and wanted to sell it, he’d come to a place like this.”

Flavin: “Sure, but he wouldn’t want to sell it.”

Friday: “He would if it was stolen.”

Flavin: “No, sir! If a man was to steal a statue, he’d be crazy or something like that. The only place he’d want to go is where crazy people are.”

Friday: “You may be right, Mr. Flavin.”

Flavin: “I don’t know what you fellas are looking for, but if it’s somebody who stole a statue, he’s crazy and you won’t find him. You won’t find him as long as you live, or in a million years!”

Friday: “That should cover it.”

Point to ponder: If crazy people are impossible to find, why do I encounter so many of them?

You too can enjoy a visit with Mr. Flavin! Click here! 

 

Confronted by this unassailable logic, Friday and Gannon retreat. They continue to check religious stores, but “none of them were as encouraging as Mr. Flavin.”

The flatfoots return to the office to be met by one of the Mission’s altar boys, John Heffernan, played by a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams. When Joe tells little Greg Brady that he didn’t have to come in (“A phone call woulda worked”), the boy replies, “My father said to get on over. He said that any kid that uses phones is lazy.” My, times have changed.

“Is this about the time I stole that goat?”

Heffernan hadn’t noticed the statue being Jesus-napped, but mentions a man carrying a bundle. Friday jumps at the chance to lead the witness:

Friday: “How large a bundle?”

Heffernan: “It’s hard to say.”

Friday: “Come on, son! Was it large or small? The size of the statue?”

Heffernan: “About that big! Yes, sir!”

“Then, Marcia was hit by a football…”

The search for the man with the mysterious bundle–a church regular named Claude Stroup–leades them to a hotel for down-and-out old folks called “The Golden Dream.” Stroup is absent, and the desk clerk is worried that he won’t return in time to sing in the Christmas concert with the hotel choir.

The Three Tenors eventually went to seed.

Clerk: “I hope it’s nothing serious for Claude. Fella’s troubles oughta be over.”

Gannon: “Troubles?”

Clerk: “Way back. Wouldn’t count now.”

Friday: “Tell us anyway.”

Clerk: “It was something back where he used to live. He robbed somebody or something.”

Friday: “What else?”

Clerk: “That’s all. It was a long time ago, way far back. But he forgot it all, the robbing and everything.”

Friday: “No, not quite.”

Clerk: “Hmm?”

Friday: “He remembered it this morning.”

Joe Friday has heard of the presumption of innocence, but holds no truck with it.

Later, back at the station, Captain Mack attempts to send Joe and Bill off to pick up a captured fugitive, but Friday is adamant about finishing his work for Father Rojas.

Captain Mack: “What is it, a ten, fifteen-dollar chalk statue?”

Friday: “Since when’s the price determine a case?”

Well, considering that the Champaign police never called me back after my Halloween decorations were stolen, I’d say that price very much determines the case. But this is Dragnet, so instead Joe Friday adroitly guilt trips the Captain into letting him continue in the search for Jesus, leading to one of the queerest looks I’ve seen in a police drama.

Click here to watch Friday play “Good Cop, Guilty Cop!” 

 

At 4:45 pm, there’s a break in the case: Stroup has returned to the Golden Dream. As Joe puts it, “The desk clerk was right, Claude Stroup looked like a man who’d had his troubles at bargain rates.”

“How many badges do you see?”

Impatient about being unable to present his sweetheart with her personalized stationary set, Joe Friday gets cranky:

Stroup: “Honest, I didn’t do nothing against the law.”

Friday: “You haven’t been accused. We want to talk to you downtown.”

Stroup: “No, sir, I’m not goin’. I’m not goin’ anyplace. I’m not goin’ to talk to nobody.”

Friday: “You’re half wrong already.”

And so Friday and Gannon drag his happy ass halfway across town. A couple of hours pass, and Stroup still refuses to talk. Ultimately, the real reason for his reticence is revealed: earlier that day he’d gotten into a minor parking lot accident with a borrowed car. The suspicious bundle was nothing more than his spare pants for the Christmas Eve concert. Joe glumly releases him, and tells Claude to go home. Not that he offers the poor guy a ride. Or cab fare. Go home, Stroup. Get walking. Bargain rates, indeed.

With the pawn shops closed and all leads dried up, the defeated duo return to Father Rojas with the bad news. Just then, a small Mexican boy enters pulling a wagon…inside which is the baby Jesus!

Jesus makes Paquito’s nose itchy.

The father recognizes him as Paquito Mendoza, one of the locals, and translates his Spanish:

Father: “He says that all through the years, he prayed for a red wagon. This year, he prayed to the child Jesus. He promised that if he got the red wagon, the child Jesus would have the first ride in it.”

Paquito: (speaking Spanish)

Father: “He wants to know if the devil will come and take him to Hell.”

Friday: “That’s your department, Father.”

Father: (to Paquito) “El Diablo, no.”

At which point, Vic always shouts, “El Diablo! Si!” And then she hisses. That’s what we Thiels call Christmas spirit.

Paquito returns the statue to the creche, to be watched over by its chipped and worn Nativity-mates.

God in His natural habitat.

Approving Donkey approves.

“No, you see, you are simple, Paquito. You wouldn’t understand.”

All is well. The Whos down in Who-Ville will wake up on Christmas morn and never face the prospect of being hopelessly confused by a Replacement Christ. Paquito gathers his wagon and hightails it back to his life of petty larceny.

Paquito will soon learn that there are no red wagons in Hell.

Gannon: “I don’t understand how he got the wagon today. Don’t kids wait for Santa Claus anymore?”

Father: “It’s not from Santa Claus. The firemen fix the old toys and give them to new children. Paquito’s family, they’re poor.”

Friday: “Are they, Father?”

Off to solve the Case of the Purloined Dreidel.

And with that, we draw a close to the Dragnet Christmas special. I hope that it will become a tradition in your household as well.

Merry Christmas!

Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Mutant

December 4th, 2008 No comments

Last night, Christmas perennial Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer aired on CBS. Now, this show is dear to Mrs. Thielavision and myself–we’ve currently got a large diorama of Rudolph characters lining the top of our entertainment center–but we have to admit that these days it inspires many nagging questions, the most critical of which is this:

Why is everyone such a dick?

Oh sure, you expect all of the other reindeer to be intolerant. (See “Reindeer Games, Denied.”) But the elves–at least the ones who are uninterested in dentistry–are similarly opposed to nonconformity. And then there’s Santa. Jolly old Saint Nick. Who visits children of all creeds and colors, but is taken aback by the sight of a baby reindeer with a glowing nose.

Donner: Now, I’m sure it’ll stop as soon as he grows up, Santa.

Santa: Well, let’s hope so if he wants to make the sleigh team some day.

Workplace discrimination? From Santa? Does he withhold toys from developmentally disabled children? How does he feel about conjoined twins?

(Someone has thoughtfully put together a compilation of Santa’s most prickish moments.)

Of course, in the end Santa comes around, but only after he realizes that he needs the little freak. And even then, if he’d had the foresight to install a sleigh-mounted spotlight, poor Rudolph would likely be moping around the North Pole to this very day.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still love Rudolph. The songs are great, and there’s imagination to spare. Where it really wins me over are the freaky details used to flesh out what is, after all, otherwise a very simple story. Not only is there Hermey, the Elf Who Wants to Be a Dentist, but there’s also the whole Island of Misfit Toys mythology. You see, there’s a lion with wings named King Moonracer who flies around the world collecting poorly manufactured toys to live a shunned, lonely existence on his own private island. Oooo-kay.

Now, leaving aside the oft-debated question of the exact defect of the outwardly normal Misfit Doll (said, by one official source, to be “psychological” in nature), there’s another bit of oddity regarding the outcast toys. The reason they’re on the island in the first place is that they were unloved and abandoned by children, yet at the end of the show Santa delivers them from his sleigh at Christmas.

I can hear the grateful kids now:

Hey, this sucks! This train’s got square wheels!

Mom! Tell Billy to stop squirting jelly at me!

What’s this? A cowboy? Riding an ostrich? Where’s my fucking bike?!?

Who wants to play with a Charlie-in-the-Box?

And so:

A Very Pop Culture Christmas

December 3rd, 2004 No comments

Last night, we finally got our Christmas tree set up. Vic would just as soon do without the hassle of decorating for the holiday, though she seems to enjoy the display once it’s done. As for me, it’s one area in which I’m not willing to compromise.

The funny thing is that this year I didn’t decorate at all for Halloween, a holiday I actually prefer to the Yuletide. In that case, my usual zeal for turning my front yard into a graveyard was dampened two years ago when some of my decorations were stolen, and even more so last year when we only got a handful of trick-or-treaters. This Halloween, the kid count was a good bit higher, but it was too late and I felt that I’d let myself down. Therefore, Christmas is where I draw the line. I want a big (artificial) tree in my living room, no matter how much of a pain in the ass it is to set up.

Of course, my desire for a decorated Christmas is even more ironic given that I consider myself agnostic. I acknowledge that Christmas is ostensibly about Christ, and I wouldn’t object to setting up a manger scene if I had one, but you’d be hard-pressed to find “the reason for the season” in my living room. He might be in there somewhere, but he’d be hard to find amidst the secular trappings.

It amazes even me just how much of my Christmas holiday is built around the accumulated pop culture of the last century. In addition to the various Santas and the army of snowmen, our display includes a wide variety of characters from the Rankin-Bass animated TV specials, including Rudolph, Herbie the Elf Dentist, the Bumble, Fred Astaire, the Winter Warlock and the Heat and Cold Misers.

Add to that several Grinches; Charlie Brown and Snoopy; and, in the window, a small version of the “leg lamp” from that modern film classic A Christmas Story. And we haven’t even come to the tree itself!

You see, about the time that Vic and I were first dating, Hallmark began in earnest to tap into boomers and their pop culture interests. She got me the very first–and arguably still the best–of their now-annual Star Trek starship ornaments, the original U.S.S. Enterprise with blinking red-and-green lights. Since then, I’ve added an entire fleet to the tree:

  • Galileo Shuttlecraft
  • U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D
  • U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-E
  • U.S.S. Enterprise NX-01
  • Romulan Warbird
  • Klingon Bird of Prey
  • Borg Cube (“Enjoy your holidays. Resistance is futile.”)
  • Scorpion Shuttlecraft
  • Deep Space Nice
  • Runabout
  • U.S.S. Defiant
  • U.S.S. Voyager
  • Delta Flyer

Add to that the Death Star from Star Wars, and I’ve got the best-defended Christmas tree in Champaign-Urbana.

Amusingly, several of them feature voice clips which activate when the power first comes on. Whenever I plug in the tree, Capt. Janeway, Worf, the Borg and Emperor Palpatine all start shouting in an incoherent babble of warm holiday greetings and/or galactic warmongering.

As for the rest of the tree, here is an incomplete list of the other pop culture characters to be found:

  • Superheroes: Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn and the Batmobile
  • Star Trek: Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Quark, Seven of Nine
  • Movies and TV shows: Princess Leia, (I Dream Of) Jeannie
  • Cartoon Characters: Scooby Doo, Snoopy, Lucy Van Pelt, The Grinch, Mickey Mouse, Tigger, Marvin the Martian and the Yellow Submarine
  • Other: The Oscar Meyer Weinermobile (nothing says Christmas like a hot dog-shaped car)

Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas?

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