Today, as the start of a series of Christmas-themed Pop Culture Theme Times this month, I want to know what you think was the best example of a TV show doing the whole “Maybe Santa Claus DOES exist!” deal.
Pop Culture Theme Time is a feature where I put a question to you to see what you think about a particular theme. I might later revisit the theme for a future Drawing Crazy Patterns or Top Five.
If you’ve read my writing long enough, you’ll know that I particularly dislike the storytelling trope of a Christmas episode ending with, “Guess what, Santa Claus IS real!” I think it’s totally hacky. I mean, obviously, I’m fine with Santa Claus existing in-universe for certain cartoons or fantasy concepts. For instance, I can’t very well be, like, “Okay, I buy the three talking chipmunks being adopted by a human and becoming a popular music group, but now they’re meeting SANTA CLAUS?! Uh oh, I am OUT!” However, otherwise, doing an episode where characters set in a “real world” setting seemingly meet Santa Claus, then they realize, “Oh, of course he wasn’t Santa Claus, because this is reality,” and then another twist where they see that, nope, they DID meet Santa Claus…ugh, I hate it. It’s one of the worst “It was a dream! Or WAS it?” scenarios around. Do not like.
However, I thought it would be fun to see what everyone thinks is the best example OF that trope that I hate.
I’m going with “Eight Cent Reward” from the Steve McQueen Western series, Wanted: Dead or Alive . It was almost in the top ten for my Classic 1950s Christmas back in 2020. It’s a really good episode…except for that bit. McQueen is Josh Randall, a talented bounty hunter. A little boy traveling into town from his family’s sheep farm (Jay North, in his TV debut, right before becoming Dennis the Menace), saves up eight cents to hire Randall to find Santa Claus for him. Randall normally would, of course, say no, but some drunk jerks at the bar have talked up Randall to the kid, and basically make it so that Randall HAS to say yes and then try to figure out some other way around it. His plan is to have a local wino pretend to be Santa Claus, then when the little boy tells “Santa” what he wants, Josh will go get it for him, as Josh has some money from being, you know, a great bounty hunter. The boy sees through his ruse that night at the sheep farm, but then there is a huge snowstorm, and a mysterious traveler is given shelter at the farm along with Josh, the boy and his family, and the drunk wino.
The next day, Josh awakens to find that the boy has received the rifle he wanted so badly (his dad needs a new rifle to keep wolves away from the sheep farm, as his old gun wasn’t good enough to keep the wolves away, and the farm was struggling badly), and the traveler is gone. The only way out was through the chimney (since they were snowed in), and in the soot of the chimney was…a jingle bell.
It’s hacky, but the rest of the episode was so good that I’ll allow it. So that’s my pick.
How about you?
And feel free to suggest future Pop Culture Theme Time topics to me at email@example.com!