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Scrooge U: Part XXXI -- "A Diva's Christmas Carol" puts a silly but cynical spin on the season

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Scrooge U: Part XXXI -- "A Diva's Christmas Carol" puts a silly but cynical spin on the season

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Some adaptations of "A Christmas Carol" are like a huge holiday meal. Rich, meaty, memorable. Really stick-to-your-ribs kind of shows.

And then there are those holiday specials like "A Diva's Christmas Carol." Which are the television equivalent of Chinese food.

Don't get wrong, folks. I LOVE Chinese food. Get me a pupu platter & some pork fried rice and I'm a happy, happy man. But -- that said -- I'm still not going to pretend that eggrolls & chicken fingers are haute cuisine.

Copyright 2000 Paramount Home Entertainment

Which is why I'm now not going to get on my high horse & get all pissy because this 2000 VH1 Production isn't a faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic tale. Because you & I both know that that was never what writer / director Richard Schenkman intended when he put together this particular TV movie.

What Schenkman was trying to do here was create a version of "A Christmas Carol" that would work for the VH1 audience. Something that was frothy & fun. That would use a lot of show business-based insider jokes to undercut the inherent sentiment of Dickens' holiday tale. In short, a cynical seasonal story.

And -- within those (admittedly) very narrow parameters -- "A Diva's Christmas Carol" is incredibly successful. Mind you, it shifts this story's locale from 1843 London to the pop music world circa 2000. And Ebenezer Scrooge has been changed from a greedy old white man to a bitchy young black woman. But -- beyond that -- Dickens' tale in pretty much intact.

Copyright 2000 Paramount Home Entertainment

This TV movie opens with Ebony Scrooge (Vanessa Williams) shooting a Christmas-themed music video in France. Being the pop diva that she is, Ebony is treating the cast & crew on this shoot horribly. Literally shutting down production because a piece of faux snow accidentally landed in her mouth. Which then causes this woman to threaten the gaffer who committed this gaffe with firing.

After Scrooge retreats to her trailer, her accountant, Ernie (Richard Jutras) arrives with some bad news. It seems that this pop star is having some serious year-end cash flow problems. So -- in order to cover this financial shortfall -- she needs to make a large wad of dough between now and New Year's Day.

So Ebony & Ernie come up with a plan. The pop star will first stage a charity concert in NYC on Christmas Day. Then Scrooge will pocket most of the proceeds, citing all the costs involved with producing this holiday fund-raising event before eventually handing over a token amount to some yet-to-be-named charity.

When Ebony's manager, Bob Crachett (Brian McNamara) hears about this holiday scam, he immediately balks. Crachett reminds Scrooge that their band has been on tour for months now. That she already promised to give all of these worn-out musicians & back-up singers Christmas Day off so that they could then spend that time with their families. More to the point, that what Ebony & Ernie are planning on doing seems rather unethical.

Copyright 2000 Paramount Home Entertainment

But Ebony refuses to listen. She then tells Bob that he has to break the bad news to the band & her road crew that they're now going to have to cancel their holiday plans.

Mind you, Scrooge's scheme is also going to cause Crachett considerable personal hardship. Given that Bob was really looking forward to getting some time off himself. So that he could then get home (after all of these months on the road) and see his son, Tim (Joshua Archambault). Who's been having some very odd health problems lately.

So Crachett then has to get on the phone and tell his wife (Linda Goodwin) & kid that he won't actually be able to make it home for Christmas Eve. That Bob's now got to help Ebony stage this last minute charity concert in NYC on Christmas Day. But -- once that show's over -- he'll catch the next flight back home to Philly.

As you might expect, Mrs. Cratchett isn't thrilled by this news. But Tim is sweet & understanding ... Which makes Bob feel all the worse for blowing off his family on Christmas Eve.

But -- that said -- Crachett still makes all of the necessary arrangements for Scrooge's Christmas Day concert. Making sure that Ebony & all of her support staff make it into Manhattan the night before the event. With her musicans & back-up singers booked to stay in some flea-bag, while the pop star winds up in one of NYC's five star hotels.

Of course, once Ebony settles into her suite for Christmas Eve, that's when things start to go a little screwy.

Copyright 2000 Paramount Home Entertainment

Take -- for example -- what happens while this diva is on the phone, berating the room service staff because Ebony found a grain of sand in her spinach salad. As Scrooge is abusing the operator, out of the corner of her eye, she notices that a painting in the room is changing. That -- for a brief moment -- the face of her old bandmate, Marli Jacob (Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas) replaces that of the woman in this frame.

But then -- when Scrooge hangs up the phone -- the painting has resumed its original form. So Ebony just shrugs the whole thing off, attributing this temporary hallucination to jet lag.

But then the ghost of Marli actually shows up in the suite (Though -- instead of dragging her chains -- this long-dead pop star now wears them to accentuate her skin-tight outfit). And -- following the tried & true "Christmas Carol" way-- Scrooge's old partner warns Ebony that she has to change her way. Or she risks being sent to a dark realm where there are no facials & pedicures. Where every day you're tortured by having to break a nail

Scrooge -- at first -- refuses to believe that this apparition is actually Jacob's ghost. She thinks that it's just some celebrity impersonator who's playing Marli. So this spirit has to take matters into her own hands -- with Jacob literally separating her head from her shoulders -- before Ebony will believe that this ghoul is actually Marli. Then -- after warning Scrooge about the three other ghosts that will be visiting her that night -- Jacob disappears.

Copyright 2000 Paramount Home Entertainment

This then sets the stage for the Ghost of Christmas Past. Who's played with great bite & verve by comedian Kathy Griffin. This holiday spirit spirits Ebony back to her old childhood stomping grounds. Which were in Paterson, N.J. Which -- as Griffin cracks " ... explains the smell."

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past then look in on the pop singer's tough childhood. Where the abuse that Ebony and her brother, Ronnie (Asde Obayomi) suffer at the hands of their drunken dad forces the authorities to place these two kids in foster care. From there, we watch Scrooge leave the bad times behind by forming "Desire" (I.E. The trio that Ebony performs in along with Marli Jacob & Terry Freeman [Stephanie Biddle]).

"Desire" seems destined for greatness. But when Marli dies in a car accident, Ebony opts for a solo career. Leaving poor Terri behind to first fall in obscurity and then homelessness.

Once the Ghost of Christmas Past departs, it's now time for the Ghost of Present to come on the scene. And who should play this role but John Taylor from Duran Duran.

Copyright 2006 Paramount Home Entertainment

The Ghost of Christmas Past then takes Scrooge on a (literally) whirlwind trip of New York City. Where they first peek in on Ebony's niece, Olivia (Amanda Brugel). Who -- in spite of how rude & distant her aunt has been to her over the years -- this young woman still hopes that Scrooge will have a happy holiday.

These two then drop by Ernie's 5th Avenue apartment. Where it quickly becomes apparent that Ebony's current cash flow problems aren't really related to the end of the tax year. But -- rather -- because Scrooge's accountant has been helping himself to her money in order to fund his rather extravagant personal lifestyle.

Then comes the news that Bob is bailing on Ebony right before tomorrow's concert. You see, Tim has taken a sudden turn for the worse. And Crachett feels that he really needs to be home right now. So he literally leaves Scrooge in the lurch.

Copyright 2006 Paramount Home Entertainment

As for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be ... Well, that's kind of the dividing line for a lot of Dickens fans when it comes to "A Diva's Christmas Carol." Some people seem to think that it's far too crass & self-promotional that a VH1 program actually play the part of this holiday spirit. While still others think that it's actually kind of clever & entirely appropriate that this TV movie uses an episode of "Behind the Music" to show how this pop diva how poorly her future turned out. That Ebony may have died with a lot of cash in hand, but she was still alone & unloved.

As Scrooge is then sucked into the wide screen television in her luxurious suite, the now-reformed miser vows to change her ways, to make amends to all those that she's wronged over the years.

Copyright 2000 Paramount Home Entertainment

And Ebony actually does keep her word. She starts treating her band & back-up singers much better. Scrooge has Crachett's wife bring Tim to NYC so that he can then be treated by the very best doctors. Ebony even reaches out to her old singer partner, Terri, and asks this down-on-her-luck performer to come join her on stage in a number during that charity concert.

Speaking of that charity concert  ... Scrooge now makes sure that all of the money that's raised actually gets in the hands of a really-for-real charity. As for Ernie the accountant ... Ebony contacts the FBI, who then come & arrest Ernie for embezzling.

So -- as you can see -- "A Diva's Christmas Carol" ends on an up note. With Scrooge trying to set things right in the world.

And -- again -- while this may not be the most faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," this TV movie is still kind of fun. Though (not to belabor the Chinese food analogy that I introduced at the very start of this story) you may have trouble remembering any of the particulars of the plot a half hour after you've actually watched this VH1 production.

Frothy, fun but ultimately forgettable. That pretty much sums up "A Diva's Christmas Carol." Tomorrow ... It's a tart, comic take on Dickens' classic tale: "Maxine's Christmas Carol."

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