Christmas time is here again and, once again, we’re flooded with a ton of schmaltzy Christmas episodes and specials. Now, I would never consider myself a real Grinch (furry green Grinch hat aside), but just because it’s Christmas that doesn’t mean that it’s time to make cruddy episodes of a show because you can stick your characters in some kind of holiday appropriate situation.
There are some shows that keep true to the tone of their show while celebrating Christmas in their own unique ways. The “A Very Supernatural Christmas” epsidode of “Supernatural” was, in my opinion, a brilliant example of that. The word fudging has never been so funny and the monster of the week the Winchesters found themselves battling was both horrifying and probably more fun than I should admit. It was typical dark humor mingled with heartbreak and the kind of wistfulness for normalcy that can only come from that show. It was the first Christmas episode “Supernatural” had done and it’s the only one they’ve made to date. I can only guess that the writers’ meetings that led up to it involved an enormous amount of egg nog and several viewings of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Bad Santa.”
I’ve avoided most sitcoms for a long time simply because they don’t really entertain me all that much. Some of them have some funny moments but most of them just end up annoying me. There are two sitcoms that I tune into now and again in my current TV habits, “New Girl” and “Raising Hope.” I don’t watch either of them consistently, though I watch “Raising Hope” much more regularly than “New Girl.” Both of them did Christmas themed episodes, naturally.
The “Raising Hope” episode won, hands down, for me. It was funny because of that bizarre pop-culture cocktail of extreme couponers, doomsday preppers, and that whole the end of the world is imminent attitude that seems to have entirely too much traction in the snarky parts of everyone’s brains. It probably has more to do with most of us having been let down by that complete Y2K fizzle. I mean, after all, we had been promised the end of the world and, instead, it was just a party like all the rest of them, well, except being able to think how super cool you could be while blasting Prince’s “Party Like It’s 1999” before midnight. At any rate, the “Raising Hope” episode had Jimmy dressed in an alien costume and really, how many Christmas episodes can claim that they featured anyone pretending to fight aliens? As an added bonus, “Raising Hope” also carried that touch of heartwarming reference to the spirit of giving that didn’t seem nearly as forced as so many of them do.
“New Girl” mostly involved everybody trying to get their relationships either figured out or back on track during Christmas. Mostly, it was just a very typical episode of the show with some holiday parties, a couple of random gifts that served as plot points, and a really awkward moment in a sleigh thrown in, not to mention some terrible singing. And, really, to me, it seemed like if they wanted to do a Christmas episode, they really could have put more and better effort into it. Then again, maybe that is what Christmas is to the characters in this show, a day like any other, it just happens to involve some presents.
Then, there are the shows like “American Horror Story: Asylum,” who I never really expected to have a Christmas episode, but did anyway. This year, there were a pair of them and they featured Ian McShane as the most terrifyingly psychotic, evil santa that I’ve ever seen. He was nasty and disgusting and everything that a steadfast viewer of “American Horror Story” could ever hope to see on the show. Naturally, it wasn’t the typical holiday fare and, I’m pretty sure, there’s a large percentage of the population, mainly the ones who aren’t horror fans, who would be best served by never, ever watching those episodes for any reason under any circumstances. If you enjoy typical, warm, fuzzy, sweet holiday fare then “American Horror Story” would leave you scarred for life.
You know, of course, that many shows just use the same formulas for Christmas shows that have already worked in beloved Christmas movies. I can’t even begin to start listing how many different versions of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol” I’ve seen starring my favorite television characters. If they’ve got the opportunity, it seems like they’ll take it. Most of them time, what they end up with is a perfectly servicable episode that seems just like, well, just like you’ve watched a condensed version of either “A Christmas Carol” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You don’t get to see any kind of a new angle on any given character and it doesn’t forward the characters or the story. Unique twists on such time worn concepts are few and far between. Everyone knows where that story came from and how it’s going to end. Maybe it’s very, very harsh of me and, perhaps, it’s a bit lacking in Christmas spirit, but I just wish more shows would realize that it’s just not a good idea. I know that you probably wish you’d been the one to write such a timeless story, honestly, there are few writers out there who don’t, but you didn’t write it. There are a million other Christmas stories to tell, please go with one of those instead. I’d rather see that and so, I’m sure, would tons of other jaded members of the audience.
What about the shows that don’t do Christmas episodes? As far as I’m concerned, more power to them. If your show doesn’t lend itself well to the Christmas spirit, just resist the temptation. It’s not worth it. I can’t even begin to imagine what a Christmas episode of “Sons of Anarchy” would look like and, to be honest, it’s not a place that I want my brain to go. As far as I’m concerned, Charming, California is a place that exists wholly outside the realm of Christmas. Doesn’t happen there. Doesn’t have to. SAMCRO has better things to do, or at least more pressing matters to tend to.
I do usually look forward to Fox’s Animation Domination block of Christmas Episodes. If nothing else, I’m certain that I’ll get to see at least a few unexpected visual puns. “The Simpsons” did, after all, give us a Christmas episode that yielded Santa’s Little Helper as a constant character in the series. Usually, I expect all of the shows written by Seth McFarlane to be offensive in some capacity. It’s what he does best, really, and I’m not going to make any attempt to either interfere with that or pretend that it’s something it’s not. It’s a different version of the same basic family unit, something wacky will happen, and they’ll deal with it badly. It will just happen to involve something particularly Christmasy in the plot. I will end up being surprisingly good with that.
The show that I’m most looking forward to seeing having a Christmas episode is “Bob’s Burgers.” It’s a show that I’ve found to be both quirky and entertaining, which meant that I was almost certain there would be only a single season and it would never resurface. “Bob’s Burgers” did get a second season, happily, and they’re doing a Christmas episode this season, since it’s become a regular part of the lineup. I can only assume that there will be mayhem involved, it will likely heavily involve Louise, but Tina will assume all of the responsibility. I’m also pretty sure that it will make me laugh and that I’ll probably want to re-watch it on Hulu. Because I can.
Naturally, there’s going to be a whole host of Christmas specials getting aired leading up to Christmas itself. When I was a starry-eyed little sprocket, things weren’t that much different than they are now. If there was some kind of franchise attracting the attention of little kids, there was going to be a Christmas special tied in with it.
Probably the best one of them would have been the Garfield Christmas special. Lorenzo music was still voicing Garfield and Lou Rawls was still singing the songs for the shows. That special brought Jon Arbuckle’s brother, Doc Boy, into the limelight as an actual character. We also got to meet more members of Jon’s family, including his grandmother, who chiefly seemed to spend her time petting Garfield. Garfield wasn’t going to complain about the arrangement. The songs weren’t necessarily the greatest (probably because the aforementioned Mr. Rawls wasn’t invovled with the ones contained in the episode), but the story was. It was also one of the very rare Garfield specials in which Odie wasn’t a useless idiot or the butt of every joke. The poor, little, put upon yellow mutt actually made the best present ever for Garfield, even though Garfield never did treat Odie very well. I should probably note that Garfield did at least say thank-you to Odie and hug him for the gift, so, I suppose, that was something.
Garifled just didn’t really compare, though, to those classics that still get aired every year. “It’s Christmas Charlie Brown” had endured as long as it has for many reasons. Even though I do like driving around and looking at Christmas lights, I can’t without thinking about Snoopy’s tricked out doghouse. It was shocking to me to discover that aluminum Christmas trees are actually a real thing and people really do buy them. The Charles M. Schulz drawn designer Christmas trees, with their garish paint jobs and pre-installed lights will forever be burned into my memory as an example of how not to decorate for the season. The music, Linus’s speech, the dance around the piano, and, especially that pathetic, scraggly little tree that just needs a little love are all such an integral part of my Christmas that I have never dared to go a year without watching it because I know that I will only end up feeling unsettled and disturbed by the lack of “Peanuts” in my world. When they started to offer official Charlie Brown Christmas trees for sale (ironically, they’re artificial), not only did I get one for myself, I got one for my mom and one of my aunts. I had to. It just felt right.
I can practically recite “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” word for word, I have watched it so many times. My mom pitches in on the recitation if I’m visiting and we end up watching it together. “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” is another classic Christmas special I refuse to miss. Bumbles bouncing, misfit toys, and an elf who wants to be a dentist are just as much Christmas to me as Charlie Brown and having “Silver Bells” stuck in my head from the tail end of November onward.
I don’t dislike the Christmas season, and I don’t hate Christmas specials. “Shrek the Halls” though, could have been a lot more fun to watch than it was, since it just feels like a giant (and now both dated and belated) ad for Shrek 4. There’s a long history of selling characters and their associated toys to kids during the Christmas season through specials like that, but the merchandise should really come after the special, not before it. I have not yet mustered up the courage to watch “Gift of the Night Fury”, because I love dragons and I really did like “How to Train Your Dragon.” I’m a little bit worried about what that half an hour is going to do to the character of Toothless.
Still, Christmas is meant to be about giving. And, in that spirit, I’m going to take a deep breath and remind myself that there are some really good Christmas specials and episodes out there. I’ll give Toothless a chance and I’ll watch “Gift of the Night Fury” and make a Christmas wish that I’ll have a new special to add to my annual watching roster.