Boo! (1982)

Back in March I found myself with an unexpected free night in New York and picked up a ticket to see Weird Al at the Apollo. I was already seeing two shows later on in the tour, and normally one Weird Al show per tour is plenty, as his show is timed to the second and doesn’t really vary from night to night. But this tour was different. This time, Al was doing “The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour,” in which he eschewed his usual costume changes, video screens, and props, and left most of the parodies out of his set. Instead, he was doing his more obscure original songs, with a setlist that changed from night to night. 

I’d dreamed of Al doing a tour like this for years - I love “Yoda” as much as the next guy, but many of my favorite songs in his catalog were songs that might have been in the show when they first came out, but then were dropped as though they’d never existed. The show was glorious - when he broke into “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” which I think is perhaps his greatest work (and not played live for ages), I almost wept. I felt like my life and fandom were being validated.

In a bar in Harlem after the show, I pondered just how much of my childhood I really need validated, anyway. Nearly everything I loved as a kid has been lionized now (the new Muppet Babies reboot was premiering the next day, even). And quite frankly, a lot the media I loved as a kid doesn’t really deserve to be lionized - this site is full of reviews of shows people remember LOVING in the early 80s, but watch now and marvel that they were ever so easily entertained. There’s no shame in being nostalgic and letting something you loved decades ago spark all those synapses in your brain, but do we really need to reboot and re-release everything?

The “Weird Al” tour, I decided, was different from that - these were great songs and represented Al finally giving them (and, to a certain extent, himself) the credit they deserve. Sometimes on this site I can shine a light on works that deserved to be examined as more than to be a simple ephemeral TV special.

Boo!, a 1982 CBC production, isn’t one of those.

When I first added the “long lost specials” portion of this page more than a decade ago, a few people wrote in vaguely remembering a sketch comedy show from the early 80s featuring Universal monsters, an SNL type show that people thought might have been called “Boo TV.” Remembered vaguely by many, but not so well that anyone could be certain of what the title was. So little data was available that it became one of the “holy grails” of Halloween specials. 

This year, it finally surfaced - someone posted an early 80s WGN broadcast (complete with commercials) to Youtube, and the show was rescued from obscurity. 

It’s just about as people described - a comedy variety show featuring Universal Monsters, from the very tail end of the 70s Comedy Variety show boom (indeed, they make several jokes about variety being dead). Dionne Warwick appears as a guest star, first singing “Deja Vu,” which I guess was the closest thing to a spooky song in her repertoire (but which seems totally incongruous here), then singing Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” to Frankenstein’s Monster (which is funny for a minute, but then the song has a few more minutes to go).

Now, the production values for this special are pretty high - they clearly put some money behind getting all of the sets, props and costumes together.  But in the hour long production, there are only a couple sketches where the jokes even hit the level of what we now call “Dad jokes.” Though it lacks the “What the hell / So Bad It’s Good” vibe of the Star Wars Holiday Special, it’s just about as watchable as that, overall. It was probably a lot of fun to make, but doesn't exactly hold up now. 

And it doesn't have to - no one making this was worried about what people would think of it in 2018. And if you watched in the 80s, it’ll bring back memories now, which is valuable all on its own, and tends to have little or nothing to do with the actual quality of the media. It’s great when something comes back into your life and is even better than you remember, but, well, ya can’t win ‘em all.

One curious thing about this broadcast is the commercials, which make me wonder who the heck WGN thought was going to be the audience for this. There are commercials for cereal, candy and video games, but almost all of them, even the cereal commercials, seem to be targeted more at adults than kids. It’s light years away from the kind of colorful, cartoonish commercials you’d see on a Saturday Morning Cartoons break from 1982. 

Whatever merits it may lack, it’s one more Halloween special to cross off the list for completists.  Enjoy! 


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