No children's Christmas special can eclipse the Rankin/Bass stop-motion productions of the 1960s, especially "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." CVS has savvily turned Rudolph, Hermey the Elf and the Abominable Snowman into a marketing machine with ornaments and stuffed animals piled high on store shelves.
"Olive, the Other Reindeer" (8 tonight on Fox) probably won't inspire a similar degree of mass merchandising, but it's the best new holiday special in years.
Though the straight-ahead, unsophisticated storytelling of Rankin/Bass will always have a place in my heart, "Olive" is smart and funny for children and adults. Credit "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening for executive producing a Christmas special accessible to both age groups.
Drew Barrymore gives voice to the title character, a dog named Olive in this animated special based on a book of the same title by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh.
The story gets rolling when word leaks from the North Pole that Santa may have to cancel his annual gift delivery because Blitzen injured himself in a practice flight.
Olive's pet flea, Fido (voice of Peter MacNicol), mishears "All of the other reindeer" as "Olive, the other reindeer" and soon the pooch is on her way to the North Pole to help Santa make his rounds.
With animation that gives its characters a slightly cock-eyed look, "Olive" is filled with inside jokes viewers have come to expect from Groening productions. Watch for signs for Frostbite Falls ("Rocky & Bullwinkle"), a reference to the children's book "The Polar Express" and a radio announcer touting the latest Fox special, "World's Wildest Mistletoe Accidents."
Other performers giving voice to "Olive" characters include Joey Pantoliano as the penguin Martini, Dan Castellaneta as an evil postman, Ed Asner as Santa, Tim Meadows as a friendly bus driver and R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe as a singing reindeer named Schnitzel.
Steve Young wrote the "Olive" screenplay and contributed lyrics for a few songs in the one-hour program with music by Christopher Tyng.
Barrymore doesn't have an especially good singing voice, but she's singing as an animated dog, so that's OK. The musical interludes are brief, but far wittier than the songs in Fox's "Cinderelmo" last week.
The PJs (9 tonight on Fox)
Although Eddie Murphy's foamation series sits on Fox's bench awaiting a prime-time slot sometime after the first of the year, the network will remind viewers "The PJs" exists with this parody of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
Projects superintendent Thurgood Stubbs (voice of Eddie Murphy) behaves in a Grinch-like manner while trying to get his wife, Muriel (Loretta Devine), a computer for Christmas.
"All the pos down in poville were preparing to flee, even the super, who was trimming his tree," says the narrator.
Like most episodes of "The PJs," this one mixes politically incorrect dialogue ("Don't blackmail a black male," Thurgood tells the owner of the Pawn Jockey) with crude humor (one resident of the projects hangs mistletoe on her back, points her ample rump at Thurgood and encourages him to "pucker up").
That's the problem with "The PJs": the show never settles on a consistent tone. One minute it's smart, risky humor. The next it's just juvenile.
"You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch" becomes something more profane, and jokes about Jar Jar Binks ensue. Clever dialogue abounds, but sitting through "The PJs" also means listening to lame double entendres like Thurgood's "I feel like shiatsu."
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or email@example.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.