Dec. 23 – For Better or For Worse “The Bestest Present”

FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE “THE BESTEST PRESENT”
Original Air Date: December 5, 1985

The Pattersons lose a priceless family heirloom as well as their shot of going to series…

BACKSTORY

For Better or For Worse premiered in newspapers September of 1979, but two years later, strip creator Lynn Johnston did the unthinkable. Whereas most cartoon characters are created as immortal being stuck in an indeterminate time, Johnston opted to age the characters in real time.

The strip’s title comes from the Anglican Book of Prayer

As a result, characters aged naturally with the rest of the world. Characters got married, divorced, had children, came out of the closet, and died as the Patterson family grew up and grew old. Being a strip set and produced in Canada, For Better or For Worse produced a short series of animated specials for CTV, starting with “The Bestest Present” in 1985, which premiered on HBO in America, and subsequently ran on The Disney Channel along with the other specials.

30 years and 2,000 papers later, Johnston announced a “half retirement” along with yet another unprecedented plan for The Pattersons. Their time line would be rebooted and classic For Better of For Worse strips set at the beginning would run alongside new strips set in the past, some of which would employ repurposed art from the original 80s run. This idea eventually fizzled out, and For Better or For Worse has appeared exclusively as reruns since 2010.

BREAKDOWN

I suppose it’s easy to be cynical about Christmas Specials like this one, but specials like For Better or For Worse’s “The Bestest Present” are pretty much the sole reason I started this site: To celebrate recognizable obscurities!

For one, I grew up loving newspaper comics. I’d even go as far to say, I loved them more than comic books. Hey, they weren’t always “Funnie” but at least they tried, while avoiding the super-seriousness associated with super heroes.

How ’bout a little animal cruelty in your opening montage?!

Yeah, just as we saw with successful Comic-to-Christmas transitions like A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Garfield Christmas Special (as well as the Opus’ unsuccessful A Wish For Wings That Work) Xmas specials have been used on many occasions as something of a “pilot” for comic strips. Or rather, their big shot at crossover, television stardom.

Furthermore, seeing comic strip characters leap off the page and spring to life with full motion and voices, is by definition: SPECIAL.

Not great, but certainly special

Did you ever read the Sunday Funnies growing up? I sure as hell did. I even had my grandparents save and send me the ones from their town newspaper because they had strips my paper didn’t. Okay, so you know how you rush to strips like The Far Side and Foxtrot, and gloss over shit like Blondie and Wizard of Id? Obviously, I loved the funnier, more cartoony, talking animal variety of comic strip, however, I always read For Better or For Worse.

Lawrence, on the right, came out as gay in 1993. No, seriously

I honestly have no idea why. It was rarely hilarious, and even got a little heavy at times, but yeah, I read it every day nonetheless. Perhaps, it’s because Michael Patterson was around the same age as me, and once Lynn Johnston started aging the characters, I got to kinda grow up with him. Actually, it’s probably more likely I just loved the look of the family dog, Farley. Ain’t he the cutest?!

According to canon, this dog is fucking DEAD

Anyhoo, this was The Patterson’s shot at television stardom, and it didn’t quite take, at least not in The States, anyway. And maybe, that’s one of the reasons: It’s Canadian.

The centerpiece of the entire special

Not that its northernmost roots should count against For Better or For Worse. After all, I had no idea it was set and written in Canada until researching the strip. However, as seen in A Cosmic Christmas and George and The Christmas Star, there’s an inherent stunted awkwardness present in a lot of 80s Canuck cartoons.

The Bestest Present” also feels a tad restrained by the television medium. The characters are voiced with a corny flatness, seemingly inspired by Peanuts Christmas Specials, perhaps under the assumption that poor line reads are key to “classic” stature.

Delving lightly into bitterness

Worse still, there are glimmers of something real and original here. The characters seem to want to be a little meaner, a little more authentic to the modern family, but unfortunately The Simpsons had yet to appear and redefine what was acceptable for animated family behavior. Too bad, really, because the comic, at the time, went a lot of places both mediums rarely tread.

I’m no stranger to a rainy Christmas

I initially thought I hated For Better or For Worse’s special simply because it moves so damned slowly. But I actually think it’s got more to do with that it ain’t all that Christmasy! Some of it began to endear it to me since, as a boy growing up in Florida, it took me years and a lot of dumb questions to learn why the hell we didn’t get snow like everyone else on TV and comics during Christmas. But they live in Canada?! There’s more snow than air up there!

This is all your fault!

But yeah, not a lot happens. Elizabeth loses her rabbit while on a family shopping trip and almost the entire special concerns a half-assed quest to get it back.

“This is what a rabbit looks like!”

The only footwork comes from Papa Patterson, who heads back to the department store to look for the irreplaceable rabbit, made by Lizzie’s grandma, and fails big time.

Considering a divorce

So how does he compensate for his shortcomings as A Man? With THE CREEPIEST SONG I HAVE EVER HEARD!


Daddy LOVES his daughter

Meanwhile, some creepy old janitor found the bunny, and uses it as an springboard to spout off one of the nastiest monologues about Christmas ever. Whatever, he’s just lonely. And a janitor.

Christmas, Schmistmas. Nobody deserves shit

So we know full well where the bunny is the whole time, then it snows miraculously, and the kids all seem to forget about it altogether.

Better than bunnies!

But then Michael has the bright idea to put an ad in the newspaper classifieds offering a reward for the Lizzie’s rabbit. A nice sentiment, but one could construe this as For Better or For Worse passing off a biased pro-newspaper agenda. That’s their bread and butter, baby!

Lo and behold, the bunny gets shipped back to the house, and Elizabeth opens it, and a slightly boring Christmas is rather dully saved.

“I HAVE SEEN HORRORS YOU COULDN’T IMAGINE!”

At this point, I was running at peak cynicism. Girl loses stuffed rabbit, boy puts ad in paper, girl gets stuffed rabbit back. Seriously? Is this really interesting enough to justify, let alone sustain, a half-hour animated special?

Whoa, that is a pretty badass gift

But wouldn’t you know it?! The Pattersons end up warming the heart after all… They make a tremendous effort to reach out to the old fart and thank him on Christmas Day.

“Are we overdressed?”

And the kindest Scrooge ever is invited over for Christmas dinner! D’awwww

Okay, slightly redeemed

None. Canada has no such hang ups, apparently.

No Santa either, save for a department store robot.

Why hire a human being?

Sadly, For Better or For Worse’s “The Bestest Present” is an obscurity for a reason. It’s slow, sappy, and little more than an animated pilot that takes place around the Holidays. The ending got me more than a little mushy for reasons I’m not even sure of, however, I sincerely doubt this thing’ll make it back into homes as anything other than a morbid curiosity for fans of classic comic strips.

PRODUCT INFORMATION (Shop Amazon through us – it helps!)

Strangely, For Better or For Worse‘s “The Bestest Present” is ONLY available through its official site, but at least it’s cheap and region free. However, you can find several For Better or Worse comic treasuries on Amazon, as well as later animated adaptations.

Yesterday’s Christmas Special
A COSMIC CHRISTMAS

 

2010’s Dec. 23 Christmas Special
A GARFIELD CHRISTMAS SPECIAL

 

2009’s Dec. 23 Christmas Special
A MUPPET FAMILY CHRISTMAS 

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