And here we are at the end of my Christmas death march. I’ve watched — and rewatched — a lot of Christmas episodes this month. A lot. I’ve made some bad decisions, seen some things I’d rather forget, and spent too much time on YouTube watching local commercials that aired from 1989 to 1997.
It’s been an emotional time, but one that has taught me an important lesson. The true meaning of Christmas specials isn’t in celebrity guest stars or lessons learned or songs sung. It’s not Jesus or Garfield or Mary Tyler Moore (it’s a little bit Mary Tyler Moore). The meaning of Christmas is trying to find the true meaning of Christmas.
Where’d I get that bit of wisdom? I straight up stole it from my new favorite Christmas special: Community's “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” READ MORE
Splitsider just featured an article about the history of Garfield's mediocrity. And generally, I agree. Garfield The Comic Strip has a long history of sucking. The joke-based strips are lame and the storylines are all boring. A character gets lost or goes on a date. Will they be okay? Yes, but it's Monday! Jesus.
However, I'll go out on a limb and say the Garfield animated series was alright. Maybe it wasn't great. But it was a fun, entertaining kids show based a comic strip solely designed to be hung in your saddest co-worker's cubicle.
Which brings me to the Garfield Christmas Special, a surprisingly funny and touching bit of nostalgia that has no reason to exist in a franchise that doesn't deserve it. READ MORE
Let's first talk about Santa Claus Conquers The Martians. It's a bad movie. The acting's bad. The story's bad. The effects are bad. Even the Christmas spirit in it is bad. It's a horrible, horrible movie about selfish aliens and a creepy Santa.
Which is why it works so well for Mystery Science Theater 3000.
In fact, it features my favorite MST3K joke ever:
Reporter: "Is it true you're going to use a rocket sled?" Santa Claus: "Oh no, siree! We're going out the old fashioned way -" Joel: "Guns a-blazing." READ MORE
Like Newhart's comedy, this special takes a little time to ramp up to greatness. The first few scenes are your regular Christmas special cliches: gifts awkwardly exchanged, one member of a couple being more giving than the other, etc.
But once Bob gets into his routine about Christmas parties, the special becomes really funny. Newhart sells well-trodden the tropes of awkward parties and guilt as new and fresh. READ MORE
I had to. I know that Studio 60 isn't a comedy, it's a drama about a comedy. But this is every reason that basic premise failed. It's an episode about a comedy show putting on a Christmas special that's neither funny nor filled with any sense of genuine holiday spirit.
Plot, Why Not:
The show has never done a Christmas show, and Matt thinks it's time for a change! But the other people don't like Christmas! A CHRISTMAS IN LOS ANGELES? OH, BROTHER!
But, uh-uh, Grinches: Matt is going to cheer them up with some forced smiles and way-too-fast dialogue! Can show business and a time for joy co-exist? Yes in a vaguely pretentious way that overshoots its commentary on America! READ MORE
Mary loves Christmas. But with Mary's big fancy job, there comes sacrificies. Such as Christmas. And it's really, really depressing.
While The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a sitcom, this episode is just sad. Not a tear-jerker. Just sad. Mary gets used by everyone around her while she gives up little bit of Christmas after little bit of Christmas.
Here's almost every scene in the special:
MARY: I love Christmas! CO-WORKER: We had to burn Santa Claus alive so there would be news. Go cover it. MARY: I… I understand. CO-WORKER: By the way, you're going to die alone. MARY: I know. READ MORE
From the start, you know the Tiny Toons Adventures Christmas special is as harmless as it is cute. They even reedited the opening to be Christmas-y!
As with a lot of Christmas specials, this parodies It's A Wonderful Life. Maybe "parody" is too generous – it is It's A Wonderful Life. There aren't a lot of jokes on the classic movie, it's just a vehicle to move along a story about Buster Bunny considering quitting his Christmas special. READ MORE
30 Rock has always been good at playing through old sitcom tropes and reforming them into something new. Here, of course, we have the old "let's put on a Christmas special" story. Only this time, it's so Jack can avoid spending Christmas alone with his (maybe not so bad) mother.
In fact, the revelation about why Jack's Christmases were so bad is creepily touching. A lazier show would've kept him and his mother fighting until a cheesy hug-it-out moment. Rather, Jack stays in character and quietly respects his mother for (spoiler alert!) sleeping around to get him toys. READ MORE
On the sad side, “Christmas Scandal” is the last appearance of Louis C.K. as Leslie's boyfriend, Dave (for this storyline, at least). Boo!
On the happy side, “Christmas Scandal” is a wonderfully subtle Christmas episode. Yay!
By making fun of a sex scandal-prone politician, Leslie accidentally gets involved in a bigger, dirtier sex scandal. And while she hides from the media Ron and the rest of the department are horrified to learn how much work she actually does. READ MORE
Excluding compilation episodes and DVD releases, Saturday Night Live has never done a proper just-Christmas-material special. It can't, really; it's a sketch show with a topical bent. Weekend Update would be impossible.
But it has had some amazing Christmas sketches. So in the spirit of it being Friday, the closest day to Saturday that Splitsider runs, here are some of the best Saturday Night Live Christmas sketches.
I already wrote about this special here. But, because it's Christmas, why don't I plagiarize my own ideas?
The first episode of The Simpsons was a Christmas special. And what a special it was. While it's certainly not the first to focus on the plight of poor people during the holidays, it is perhaps the most real. This wasn't yet The Simpsons who would — in their world and ours — stumble into fame and riches. Rather, it was a humble family desperately trying to make Christmas a reality.
Everything from the “Christmases Around The World” school assembly to Homer's horrid Santa job are grounded in a reality that most Christmas specials lack and The Simpsons later lost. READ MORE
Dad is upset that Christmas has become too commercial (in 1954), so he decides his family is going to participate in some good old-fashioned Christmas traditions, as a family.
Unfortunately, their car breaks down and they get snowed into a cabin. Of course, in the cabin lives a kindly old bearded man named Nick. And he seems to know more about Christmas than anyone else. While most people would be a little creeped out by the old man, there's something oddly special about him, right?
Wrong. There's no Christmas twist. He's just a dude.READ MORE
By itself, Adult Swim's Moral Orel was a spot-on parody of the Sunday school propaganda many of us were forced to watch as kids. Orel is so completely in love with his religion that you feel awful for him. He's a younger version of Job, except there is no reward at the end. He's just suffering.
Mixed with the expectations a child feels around Christmas, it's tragic. READ MORE
Any Christmas special that starts with Conan O'Brien's head doing stand-up is going to be fine.
Even outside of its holiday trappings, “Xmas Story” is one of Futurama's best episodes. The writers make great use of New New York to comment on the sorrow that is the Christmas season. Suicide booths — already a part of Futurama — have a line. People decorate palm trees because we've killed all of the evergreens. And a robotic Santa Claus designed to reward good behavior punishes everyone for thinking about themselves. READ MORE
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