Just like it actually happened.
Just like it actually happened. Matt Baume

Puppets, surprise musical numbers, and tasteful nudity: I spent two weeks photographing the just-announced Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special, and after the year we’ve all had, I can tell you this movie is precisely what the world needs.

As you’ve probably heard by now (or deduced from Jinkx and DeLa’s hyperventilating fans), our favorite former-Seattle gals will release a new holiday special based (and expanding on) their wonderful live shows that have toured over the last couple holiday seasons. I’m pretty confident that this is the best news I’ve received in all of 2020, and this is the year I finally got health insurance.

Jinkx and DeLa have a magical chemistry, a starry charm that reminds me of Tina Fey & Amy Poehler; Abbott & Costello; Wallace & Gromit; and most of all, Jim Henson & Frank Oz. Having been present for the filming of virtually the entire special, I was struck by just how much it’s shaping up to be the greatest Muppet movie in decades — without the actual Muppets, of course, but with something perhaps even better.

Its that kind of holiday show.
It's that kind of holiday show. Matt Baume

Full disclosure here: I’ve hung out with Jinkx and DeLa outside of work, am friends with DeLa and some of the creative team, and was hired by the production to photograph the set — so I’m not exactly impartial here. But even if those things weren’t true, I don’t think I could be impartial about this project, because it presses so many of my personal buttons that I’d be giddy about it no matter what.

If you’ve seen their touring live show, you have a sense of the vibe: Two funny pals, one chipper and the other jaded, wander through the holidays, remarking on odd traditions and emotional angst and befuddlement about what it’s all for. Just as Pee-wee Herman did when he graduated from live Groundlings shows to television, they’re taking full advantage of the screen with this special: There’s costume change gags, elaborate musical numbers, practical on-set effects (no CGI here) that would never be possible on stage. They can also directly address the camera and dissolve into fantasies like never before, and oh did I mention the tasteful nudity?

I cried three times while on set. Without giving away too much (you wouldn’t want it ruined), the first cry was when they filmed an arresting and confrontational scene about spending the holidays with family. Jinkx is a stunning singer, but it was her intense acting that shot me directly through the heart, with just a few well-crafted lyrics and an aching performance from head to toe that sent me staggering backwards into the lobby so I could recover.

Holiday cheer for all.
Holiday cheer for all. Matt Baume

The second and third times both hit me when DeLa pulled out her superpower, which is that she can loosen up an audience with a ton of jokes before sneaking up on them with a ton of heart. Every DeLa show I’ve ever seen, from the nerdy Cosmos to the cathartic Inferno A-Go-Go, manages to land an unexpected punch around the climax, and this special’s punch is perhaps her strongest yet. Some amount of third-act reflection has been a component of the live holiday show for years, but coming on the heels of the last few months, the special reaches a conclusion about what holidays mean and how we can withstand trauma that feels as though it was written for this exact moment in time — while also managing the neat trick of being universal and timeless.

At the start of the filming process, the entire crew received a talk acknowledging that the set was just across the street from the embattled East Precinct and that measures would be taken to ensure everyone’s safety in case of police violence; throughout filming, everyone wore masks, sanitized hands and surfaces constantly, and got regular nasal-swab tests; and it was midway through filming that the air became so cloudy and choked that you could barely catch your breath when you stepped outside.

Reminders of the terrible state of the world were all around us, but the mood on the set was optimistic, focused, friendly, and fun.