Ho, ho, ho! Christmas came early this year for your old pal D. Trull, folks! Here I was resigned to wait till next spring or later for more episodes of my favorite TV show, when out of the blue we get this all-new holiday special! As the E! promos facetiously suggested, this is destined to be a Yuletide classic, ranking right up there with Charlie Brown's Christmas special, the debut episode of The Simpsons, and the first appearance of Mr. Hankey. At least, in my household it will be.
And I'm doubly blessed by this unexpected gift because I was contacted by someone directly involved in the production of the special. Noted dessert chef and cookbook author Debbie Puente helped out Anna Nicole in the kitchen by making some fancy party desserts. Debbie has generously offered me some behind-the-scenes insights, and you can see her dessert recipes and exclusive photos from the party at her web site, CremeBrulee.com. And while you're at it, go buy Debbie's acclaimed cookbooks, Elegantly Easy Liqueur Desserts and Elegantly Easy Creme Brulee.
In the grand tradition of Bing Crosby-type Christmas specials from the golden age of television, this program takes the format of a festive holiday party hosted by the star. "This past year has been great. I got my new place and my show is a hit," Anna Nicole says, beaming beside her Christmas tree. Here in her interview segments she looks extra gorgeous, with a lusciously sculpted pile of "big hair" cascading down to her plump shoulders. "So I decided I was gonna throw a party for the holidays and invite all my friends to cap off my great year."
We cut right to the chase with a string of guests arriving at the party, a mix of minor celebrities and familiar faces from Season One. There's Anna Nicole's good pal Rip Taylor, last seen in Episode 12, throwing his confetti. Simon, the dreaded driving instructor from Episode 9, is astoundingly busting a move to some karaoke tunes, and Austrian chef Alexander Denk from Episode 6 is finally back in front of the camera. Plus we've got Angie (of course), Linda the esthetician (from the Vegas trip), Jazmine the drag queen, J.J., and the Puppetry of the Penis crew (all from Episode 11), and, oh yeah, crazy toothless redneck cousin Shelly (Episode 8) is also back... unfortunately.
Among the guest stars making their Anna Nicole Show debuts are Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, and Joanie Laurer, formerly known as professional wrestler Chyna. I have no idea what Anna Nicole's past connections with the two comediennes may be, but she has done a Lane Bryant fashion show with Joanie, so maybe that's where they became friends. Only a handful of significant figures from the show's history are missing from the shindig, although the absence of two men from her past -- Bobby Trendy and Claude Dauman -- should really come as no surprise.
Welcoming us to her party, Anna Nicole licks a platter of jello shots in the shape of penises, and shows off an ice sculpture in the form of her torso. It's designed so that partygoers can pour their drinks down its frozen cleavage. "Y'all gotta come have shots off my t*ts," Anna Nicole insists to some new arrivals.
"Well, it wasn't no Martha Stewart party," she needlessly tells us, "but it was still hard to set up." And that's our cue for a flashback sequence on Anna Nicole's festivity preparations. She goes shopping with Howard, Daniel, Kim and Angie, first stopping at Target to buy some gifts. Anna Nicole wants to get a DVD player and some movies for Daniel, so she gets Howard to take him over to the video games so he won't see. Of course, being the dork that he is, Howard brings Daniel back over while Mama's still putting DVDs in the shopping cart. Next, they go to a Christmas tree lot where Anna Nicole picks out the biggest tree, but thanks to Howard's crappy tie-down job, it falls off the car while they're driving home. This episode bears a recurring theme of Howard screwing up the Christmas spirit, which may or may not have something to do with his being a Jew, as he himself suggests.
Back at the house, Anna Nicole hires a decorator called Dr. Christmas to adorn her residence with the proper degree of holiday cheer. Dr. Christmas is nearly as effeminate as Bobby Trendy, but a whole lot more competent. He sets up a gigantic artificial white tree festooned with big pink ribbons and lights, which looks about as Anna Nicole-ish as a Christmas tree could possibly be, and yet is still quite tasteful.
"I wanted to look as good as that tree," Anna Nicole says, so she slips into her floor-length Santa Claus coat and Angie does her customary stellar make-up, liberally applying a sparkly glitter to her face and chest. Entering her patented seductress mode, Anna Nicole gets right up in the camera and moans, "I want you. I want to s**k you." Man, that right there is enough to make me forget all about that Grinch crap and declare this the greatest holiday special ever!
Unlike the stars of your typical "Christmas with Celebrity X" special, Anna Nicole actually rolled up her sleeves and did a lot of work to put on her party, rather than letting the production crew handle everything. Although Debbie Puente was helping with desserts, and chef Alexander was on hand at the party, Anna Nicole did nearly all of the cooking herself.
"I was there as back up," Debbie told me, "but honestly, she didn't need much because the food she made was all great. I arrived at about 2:00 in the afternoon to find her in the kitchen stirring, mixing, and tending to the turkey. She had been in the kitchen until 4:00 in the morning the night before and really worked hard."
Drawing on past experience as a cook at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken, Anna Nicole prepares candied yams, stuffing, "secret recipe" mushrooms, salads, pies, and an 18-pound turkey. "That turkey was going to be perfect," she says with pride. But her goofball attorney strikes again. Anna Nicole had asked Howard to turn down the heat on the oven, but for some reason (probably alcohol-related) he thought she said to put it on "broil." Consequently the turkey winds up a bit toasted, and Anna Nicole is devastated. Knowing what Debbie had previously told me about Anna Nicole's emotional investment in all the cooking, I really felt bad for her. This wasn't some fake showbiz deal -- Anna Nicole had really busted her ass to throw a nice party, and then it gets fucked up. She wasn't just throwing a cry-baby temper tantrum this time.
Howard apologizes for his blunder and talks her through it, reminding her that she doesn't need to stress out over such minor things in life. She agrees that he's right, and gets back in the party mood. But here's the inside scoop that you didn't see on TV: the turkey was still good! Debbie helped Anna Nicole inspect the broiled turkey (which sadly is the only brief moment of screen time Debbie gets in the final cut), and she discovers that "under the burnt parts, the turkey was delicious." It's really odd that E! would leave that part out, since it's an impressive testament to Anna Nicole's cooking skills. But our producers believe drama and conflict is much more interesting than sweetness and joy, as we will see vividly later.
Next we get into the thick of the party, and boy, it's a wild one. "I thought it was time to do some sangin'," Anna Nicole says, and there's lots of Christmas carol karaoke in the living room. A tipsy Shelly commandeers the microphone and renders an excruciating marathon performance of "Noel," and later has trouble keeping her clothes on. "Shelly was the life of the party," Anna Nicole says, although she is certainly more deserving of that title herself.
Howard drunkenly bends Kathy Griffin's ear, and she accuses him of behaving like Mayberry's wino Otis. He reveals that he was stung by Sharon Osbourne's vitriolic comments in her recent Barbara Walters interview. Sharon said he was a sleazeball who should be disbarred for "making" Anna Nicole do the TV show. As much as I like Sharon, she doesn't know what the hell she's talking about here.
So next there's an exhibition from Puppetry of the Penis, who are completely pointless on basic cable (not that I want to see what those guys are doing with themselves), and then Howard brings Anna Nicole a sprig of mistletoe. She carries it around and puts it over her guests' heads, male and female alike, and generously administers kisses. Margaret Cho seems to expressing jealousy over the kiss someone else received from the hostess, and asks if she's going to get one. Anna Nicole zeroes in with the mistletoe and slips Margaret some serious tongue. We get a girl-on-girl soul kiss for over 30 seconds, and it just about melts your TV screen. Unlike most guys, I'm not ordinarily titillated by acts of suggested lesbianism, but this nevertheless is my favorite moment of the holiday special. It's 500 times hotter than the girl/girl scene in the Anna Nicole Smith: Exposed video. I can't help imagining that I am Margaret Cho and wondering how it would feel if Anna Nicole frenched me like that. "Thank you for the party," Margaret says in a daze after their clench finally ends. "I have to go home now and masturbate." Myself, I think I would undergo some sort of apotheosis and transcend to a higher level of existence. I'd be floating around like the starchild at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
"She just kissed me all over!" Anna Nicole giggles afterwards, with her lipstick recklessly smeared all the way up to her nose. Luckily, Angie is on the case lickety-split, ready to wipe her down and put her party face back on again.
"Since I was playing Santa Claus," Anna Nicole says, "it was my job to have everybody sit on my lap and find out if they were naughty or nice!" But she doesn't play by St. Nick's normal rules: "If you were naughty, you got a gift." While Santa Anna hands out sex toys and bondage gear, we see Shelly taking a dip in the outdoor jacuzzi, alone and fully clothed. She is tanked.
Howard spots her out there and smells a wrongful death lawsuit. "I love you but we can't have you drowning in the f***ing jacuzzi," he yells. He has to go down to the poolside and drag Shelly out. I was hoping she'd pull him in the water, but to no avail. After changing into dry pajamas, Shelly loudly demands attention from the remaining partiers, whose energies are diminishing in the wee hours.
"Okay, so who's gonna get me laid?" Shelly bellows, revealing her panties. Sitting in the floor on Alexander's lap, Anna Nicole beseeches her cousin to chill out. But Shelly keeps at it, threatening to mess with Howard, who is drifting in and out of consciousness. Anna Nicole yells at her some more, and Shelly flies into a drunkard's irrational rage, saying she's going to leave.
Angie and J.J. follow Shelly upstairs, trying vainly to reason with her and make her stay. Then the scene descends into total bullshit. Shelly shoves Angie really hard into the wall. J.J. tries to step in and break it up, and Shelly blindly knocks her down as well. Anna Nicole has to take charge of the situation, sequestering her cousin in Kim's room until she gets her calmed down.
You know, I really felt some compassion for Shelly in Episode 8, but now I think she's nothing but worthless white-trash scum. People like her always remind me why I'm happy to be a teetotaller. Her violent conduct in the middle of this otherwise fun and festive program just makes me ill. And a big heaping slab of the blame must be laid at the feet of the E! executives, who no doubt pushed for Shelly's return appearance, and declined to leave her battle royale on the cutting room floor. In fact, they ran a promo spot heralding the "holiday brawls." No wonder The Anna Nicole Show gets such a bad rap from people who've never seen an episode.
Anyway, much like her turkey was still delicious underneath the burned parts, Anna Nicole manages to salvage the spirit of her holiday special at the end. She gathers everyone around, including Shelly and Angie, and she offers a jubilant reading of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." It's genuinely heartwarming, in a weird kind of way. She says "chimley" instead of "chimney," not once but twice. I love this woman.
"All in all we had a wonderful time," Anna Nicole says, despite everything. And you know, even with all the celebrities and all the eccentric excesses, this was probably one of the most realistic depictions of actual holiday celebrations ever broadcast on television. Too much drinking, too much fighting, too much shit going wrong... we've all been at that Christmas party.
And finally, it must be noted that the closing credits show Anna Nicole getting up from the toilet and pulling up her panties. As Howard observes, "Now that that barrier's broken, the second season is all, anything goes!" Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on.
"So Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all y'all."
My sincerest thanks to Debbie Puente for her contributions to this commentary.