Exploits Feature

Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

This is a reprint of the Television essay from Issue #69  (nice!) of Exploits, our collaborative cultural diary in magazine form. If you like what you see, buy it now for $2, or subscribe to never miss an issue (note: Exploits is always free for subscribers of Unwinnable Monthly). 


When DVDs became a real “thing” in my mid-teens, I was completely enamored with commentary tracks. I thought getting the inside scoop on the creation process from the writers, directors, actors, etc. was endlessly fascinating and the best kind of bonus content offered by the newfangled medium. A bit odd, then, that it took me 19 years to listen to the commentary tracks for Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, a show I’ve watched at least once a year for the past 35.

Featuring co-writers Paul Reubens (Pee-wee) and John Paragon (Jambi, Pterri), Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne) and animation producer Prudence Fenton, the main DVD commentary track is not only a fresh way to watch an old favorite but a bittersweet one considering Reubens’ and Paragon’s recent deaths. I had done enough of my own research into everything Pee-wee over the course of my decades-long obsession with the character that I didn’t get a lot of new info from their commentary – though Fenton telling the story of how a small earthquake ruined 12 hours of filming the stop-motion opening to the special made my heart bleed anew. The funniest recurring bit is either Paul or John or both saying, “I don’t remember this part at all,” and meaning it. The commentary was recorded a good 15 years or so after the special aired and I guess they didn’t religiously watch the special every year on Christmas Eve? Some folks have no sense of tradition.

The puppeteers’ commentary is equally fun (and I daresay funnier). Alison Mork (Chairry, Magic Screen, et. al.), Wayne White (Randy, Dirty Dog, et. al.), Ric Heitzman (Mr. Window, Cool Cat, et. al.) Kevin Carlson (Conky 2000, Clocky, et. al.), George McGrath (Globey, Cowntess, et. al.), and John Paragon (hi again!) have a lively time talking about shooting the special and while their conversation skews a bit more technical than the other commentary track, they frequently crack each other up with asides about their interactions with the celebrity guests, including McGrath making a dope of himself in front of Cher. Their track highlights just how much collaboration went into the making of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and what better time of year to celebrate teamwork making the dream work? As Pee-wee puts it, Christmas is the time we should be thinking about what we can do for others, like sitting on a sandbag and operating the mouth of a turquoise armchair with your feet or having steel bars dig into your shins as you embody a robot made of boomboxes in order to make a classic Christmas special.

So, if you’re looking for a new spin on Pee-wee learning the true meaning of Christmas, be a fly on the wall while a group of old friends reminisce about making an iconic bit of children’s television. In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (screams real loud)!

Ad Free, Exploits, Feature, TV