A Special Valentine with the Family Circus (1978)

It’s the question every parent dreads. You can read books, discuss with friends and try to be as comfortable as possible when it finally comes. But the reality is that no matter how much thought you’ve given it and how prepared you think you are , when you are finally hit with the question, invariably even the best parent is a bit flummoxed when she hears “mommy, what’s Valentines Day?”

It’s really one of those questions that if you are asking, you probably are a social outcast with your peers at best. It’s made all the worse in this, another entry in the rightfully long forgotten series of animated holiday specials based on the Family Circus comic strip, because it comes from middle child Jeffy, a youth whose mental instability was chronicled in A Family Circus Christmas.

Despite mom being borderline neglectful during most of show, chatting on the phone while blissfully unaware that three of her young children are alone in the basement hammering and sawing things, she defuses a potentially explosive situation by feeding Jeffy a line about it being a day to tell those you love how much you care. With such a blow off answer that leaves out anything about the risk of asking people to be your valentine, unrequited love and having to constantly one up last year’s Valentine’s Day present to your significant other, it seems rife with plot possibilities as Jeffy embarks on a journey to discover the true meaning of the holiday.

But A Special Valentine with the Family Circus is at once ambitious and utterly pointless! Defying all odds, Jeffy is totally mollified by his mother’s pablum and the angle is immediately dropped and never referenced again. The show then shifts into the lowest gear possible, moving to its main plot, which involves the baby of the family, P.J. While you might think that a baby’s involvement with Valentine’s Day would be minimal to non-existent, the astute viewer will recall that this is the same series that built a Christmas special over the father misplacing his favorite Christmas ornament in a closet.

After a musical misfire that has everyone on the school bus (including the bus driver who is rocking a bitching pornstache) singing surely the worst Valentines Day song ever and set to a montage of child-like drawings that makes one long for the nuanced artistry of A Family Circus Christmas‘s song that featured candy cane farms and an omnipotent Santa, the kids arrive home and start bragging about who has the most awesome Valentine to give their parents. (This is what happens in an era before kids had video games, cell phones and tablets. Scary, isn’t it?)

Billy brags about his cowboy valentine, but Dolly says hers is better because it’s bigger. Probably not for the last time in his life, Billy attempts to convince a woman that size doesn’t matter. Everyone knows that’s bull, even Billy and his tiny valentine so he returns fire with a streamer to put around his valentine to make it bigger and the arms race for the biggest valentine to give their parents is on!

Things go off the rails though when P.J. shows off his valentine which is a bunch of random scrawlings on a piece of paper. Everyone laughs and P.J. goes missing! But this is a Family Circus cartoon, not a European financed Liam Neeson thriller so it turns out mom just put P.J. down for a nap.

The kids feel bad and try to make things right (but still miss the point of Valentines Day) by constructing the biggest valentine for him to give their parents thus teaching P.J.the important lesson of the benefits of laying a guilt trip on people so they will do stuff for you.

Remedying one of the Christmas special’s major failings, a dearth of action from Barfy the dog, not only does he appear in several scenes, but also plays a pivotal role in saving the day. For the viewer that is! It’s in glorious slow motion that Barfy jumps through the middle of that ostentatious valentine, tearing it up before it can be given to mom and dad. Another important lesson is learned – never have pets, they ruin everything.

High drama ensues as the kids give their parents their valentines and hold their breath as P.J. shows off his. Will their parents laugh? Berate P.J.for lack of effort? Or just kick him out of the house altogether because they are tired of supporting his no talent 1 year old artist ass?

A monumentally mundane holiday special, which is all the Family Circus seems capable of producing. While everyone in the Family Circus was embarrassed by P.J.’s picture and then further embarrassed by their own insensitive responses to his terrible picture, I’m even more embarrassed that I watched a cartoon whose most important characters turn out to be a crayon and a piece of paper wielded by a toddler!

At least A Family Circus Christmas has a weird level of derangement going for it with Jeffy’s hallucinations and dad’s crippling depression. But sometime between Christmas and Valentines Day, they all must have got back on their meds, reverting to the non-threatening, but completely boring family all readers of the non-threatening, completely boring single panel comic have grown to love over the decades. Only Jeffy betrays that under the surface all is not well as he continues to laugh sinisterly at P.J.’s garbage time valentine.

A final entry, A Family Circus Easter concludes this trilogy of tedium, a Halloween edition apparently too horrific to even contemplate.

© 2018 MonsterHunter

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