You don’t have to be a devotee of television programming to notice ‘tis the season of Holiday Specials. Here are my 15 favorite seasonal shows and films, in no particular order.
Futurama –“Xmas Story”
In which our hero Fry learns that Christmas, now simplified as X-Mas, is a day terrorized by a Robot Santa who deems everyone naughty.
Seinfeld– “The Strike”
In this 9th Season episode we get yet another glimpse into George Costanza’s dysfunctional heritage when his father shares the details of Festivus. The Pole, The Airing of Grievances, and The Feats of Strength have evolved into a cult holiday complete with a guide.
A Muppet Christmas with John Denver
And speaking of Seinfeld . . . Remember that episode when Kramer has a seizure whenever he hears Mary Hart’s voice? My parents must have the same problem whenever they hear the soundtrack to this Christmas special—an album which received constant play on our childhood turntable.
Will Farrell does his funny thing, and it’s charming here, but the true gems of this film are Zooey Deschanel and Bob Newhart.
Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti star as the Claus brothers in this hilarious, endearing, and quite frankly, unexpected, treat. John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Spacey, and Kathy Bates are marvelous as always. And the filmmakers really hit the nail on the head when it comes to the complicated, painful, and incomparably deep relationship of siblings. I have to admit, I got a bit teary.
A Christmas Story
In the mid-1980s I was helping my Dad assemble the electric train beneath our tree. Flipping through the channels for some background entertainment we discovered the most funny, charming, and though it sounds cliché, heartwarming, little movie we’d ever seen – – A Christmas Story. Based on the work of Jean Shepherd this sweet movie starred Peter Billingsley (who later would cameo as an elf in Elf) as a little boy in the 1940s who only wants one thing from Santa—a Red Ryder BB gun.
The TBS Network runs a 24-Hour marathon of the movie starting every Christmas Eve at 8:00 pm, and there is a yearly convention at the house in Cleveland where the movie was filmed.
The Simpsons—“Grift of the Magi”
Springfield Elementary is privatized by Kids First Industries–an undercover toy company looking to design the next Hot Christmas Toy. Before you know it, Homer and the Kids are stealing the robotic fuzzball “Funzo” from beneath holiday trees in an effort to save Christmas, and arguing the topic of commercialization with Gary Coleman.
Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
This classic stop motion animation special is a story about difference, acceptance, and love. The seemingly odd combination of Santa, a red-nosed reindeer, an abominable snow monster, an elf who’d rather be a dentist, and Burl Ives works. The best part is when Rudolph keeps his promise to the Misfit Toys–and makes sure they all find a loving home.
Olive, The Other Reindeer
A sweet dog and a misinterpretation lead to a charming story about determination and friendship.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Always with a B-I-G bowl of popcorn (and I wish that networks still did the intro to “specials” that always made specials special).
The Office Christmas Special
While highlights include the long-awaited kiss between Tim and Dawn, it’s hard to top David Brent’s music video for his cover of Simply Red’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”
Alan Partridge: Knowing Me, Knowing Yule
Steve Coogan’s alter ego is an arrogant prick–probably my favorite of television. Alan had somehow managed to move out of talk radio to become the host of his own television show, Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge. In this Christmas special, Alan–always a hilariously painful disaster–royally blows his chances at a second series, not the least of which, by punching the director of programming at the BBC.
The Spirit of Christmas: Jesus vs. Santa Jesus
In the long, long ago, before South Park stopped being edgy, and even, before South Park was South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were commissioned to make this short video to be sent out as a holiday card. A fictional Brian Boitano makes an appearance, Jesus and Santa battle, and the kids learn the true meaning of Christmas – – presents.
Best line of the short goes to Stan: “Dude. Don’t say ‘Pig-Fucker’ in front of Jesus.” At least that’s still funny.
Friends – “The One With The Holiday Armadillo”
Friends’ Thanksgiving episodes were always better than the Christmas ones, but Ross Geller’s dedication to making sure his son has a memorable holiday—and learns about his Jewish heritage—is really touching.
Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Carol Kane, David Johansen, John Glover, and Bob Goldthwait star in one of the best takes on “A Christmas Carol.” Karen Allen is as enchanting as always, and the cameo by Lee Majors is inspired.
“The Night the Reindeer Died”
It’s a Wonderful Life
The end of this 1946 classic gets me every time—and I sob like a baby. Case in point: Clarence the Angel’s inscription in the copy of Tom Sawyer he leaves for George, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”
Dr. Who – “Voyage of the Damned”
Guest Starring Kylie Minogue!
A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!
A threatening bear! Feist singing! Elvis Costello in a clown costume! And Jon Stewart stopping by as “The Jewish Friend” who teaches us about “other” celebrations this time of year!