So, with Christmas only a few days away now and our Christmas features starting up – look for our complete gift guides over the next few days – , it’s time to start thinking about those golden days of TV, when Christmas Specials were genuinely something to look forward to – so, while you’re waiting for Santa and the turkey and flicking through the channels for something to watch, keep an eye out for these greats as Jonathan Cardwell and Ciaran Flanagan guide you through some of the classics (In no particular order)…
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol
For my money this is the best of the Doctor Who Christmas episodes, taking the classic Dickens story and putting a timey wimey spin on it. It’s a more intimate affair than previous Christmas episodes and all the better for it. Katherine Jenkins is superb as the doomed songstress, and Michael Gambon gives a more layered performance than the kind we’re usually used to seeing in Christmas specials. And, as always, Matt Smith is great as the Doctor.
Chuck: Chuck versus Santa Claus
Given that both Christmas episodes in general and Chuck as a whole are more light-hearted fare than your usual TV offerings, it’s the dark ending of this episode that sticks out the most. Chuck’s Intersect abilities are discovered by an enemy agent and Sarah is forced to kill him in cold blood while, unknown to her, Chuck watches from the shadows. It’s a dark note that ends this otherwise fun Yuletide romp around the Buy More involving everyone in the cast for a change and a genius cameo from none other than Sergeant Al Powell from everyone’s favourite Christmas movie, Die Hard.
The Simpsons: Marge Be Not Proud
Bart gets caught out stealing the video game that every kid wants (“Buy me Bonestorm or go to Hell!”) and it turns into the straw that breaks the camel’s back for long-suffering mother, Marge. It’s not the funniest of Simpsons episodes – although there’s a gag with Homer that ranks high on my personal all time funniest Simpsons moments (see picture above) – but it’s easily one of the most heartfelt and really strengthens the relationship between Marge and Bart come the end. It takes subtle swipes at the conventions of shops around Christmas time, for example the banner in front of the Try ‘N Save reads ‘In honor of the birth of our Saviour, Try ‘N Save is open all day Christmas.” In truth, it could have been an episode set at any time of year, but the added element of the festive season gives you a real warm and fuzzy feeling inside come the beautiful climax.
Supernatural: A Very Supernatural Christmas
A grandfather dressed as Santa is killed and dragged up a chimney as his grandson watches. A demon dressed as Santa takes a cookie left out by a child for the real Santa after killing the boy’s father. Sam gets his fingernails pulled out by a Christmas jumper wearing pagan god. Merry Christmas everyone! Seriously though, Supernatural’s only Christmas episode to date manages to be genuinely seasonal while still remaining part of the overall arc for the third season. The flashback scenes of the young Winchesters cements the bond between the two brothers even further and the final scene, with neither brother wanting to acknowledge that it’ll likely be their last Christmas together (what with Dean going to Hell and all), and instead sitting in silence drinking a beer, watching the game and opening their crappy truck stop gifts to each other as ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ plays in the background, might just bring a tear to your eye.
Oh, and they kill the bad guys with a Christmas tree. Aces.
The Office Christmas Specials
Perfectly encapsulating everything about the work place over the Christmas period; the forced fun of Christmas parties, making awkward small talk with people you’d never willingly hang around with in a million years, the dreadful Secret Santa present someone inevitably receives and has to look thankful for. Yet, as with the best Christmas episodes, there’s a lot of hope and positivity here as well, while staying true to the mockumentary style of the episodes before it, as well as being the perfect epilogue to the series as a whole, David Brent has a shot at achieving real happiness and finally tells ‘friend’ Finchy where to go, while Tim and Dawn finally get together in a moment that’s just perfect. Wonderfully underplayed and utterly devastating (in a good way).
Shut up, I’m not crying.
He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special
Does this look weird to anyone else?
Masters of The Universe was fast approaching the tail end of its popularity by the time this showed up, so for fans this was the last opportunity to see the stars of Filmation’s ( at one time) wildly popular franchises team up to help two young Earth children who have become trapped in Eternia over Christmas. Seen through the eyes of a child, it is merely run of the mill Saturday morning cartoon fare,but with a 2013 sensibility it takes on a very different meaning as the title characters seem to spend its entirety engaged in flirtatious banter. Worth watching for the pseudo incestuous sub text and for Skeletor being touched by the Christmas spirit and uttering the immortal lines “ I am not nice” and “I don’t like being good, I like being evil!”
The Sopranos : …To Save Us All from Satan’s Power
Yet another Monoply related festive rumble
While this was not actually a Christmas episode (it first aired in April) it does have one of the things that make a festive episode special, a Christmas dilemma! Tony and the gang at the Bada Bing have to solve a thorny problem : who will play Santa at the neighborhood Christmas gathering now that the traditional player of that role Pussy Bompinsaro has gone into “ witness protection” ? So Bobby plays the part and despite all the difficulties thrown at him, the jolly old mafia don learns a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas. He also assaults his daughter’s fiance because he catches him getting a lap dance from a stripper. God bless us everyone.
Happy Days: Guess who’s coming to Christmas
Chosen by no less of a festive authotity than Mick Foley as the greatest Christmas episode of all time , the first Happy Days Christmas special is almost exactly what you would expect in terms of affirmations of what a traditional family Christmas is all about. Howard Cunningham is adamant that this Christmas will be family only, but young big-hearted Richard suspects that Fonzie’s stories about spending the holidays with family out of town might be another part of his tough guy facade. I defy anyone to see Fonzie preparing his lonely Christmas meal and not cry like Bill Murray in Scrooged . An absolute Gem.
Bernard and The Genie
Two of them made it in Hollywood
This one gets frequently overlooked, but anyone who saw it when it was first broadcast remembers it fondly. Produced as a one-off special by the BBC in 1991, this got a lot of stick at the time for its commercialism and BLATANT product placement, but actually at its heart is a good-natured buddy buddy story. A modern updating of the Aladdin story sees Alan Cumming as a down on his luck art dealer who unwittingly unleashes a 2000 year old genie played by Lenny Henry (at his absolute most Lenny Henryish). An all-star cast and crew (including the reuniting of Blackadder uber team of Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis), make this one to watch again and again. Don’t let the fact that it stars Lenny Henry put you off : its fantastically funny.
This is actually twenty to thirty times more festive than an average episode.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes : The Case Of The Blue Carbuncle
With all the respect and goodwill in the world towards Mesrs Cumberbatch and Downey Jr , there is no topping Jeremy Bretts portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. This ITV version of the Doyle story (first published 1892) was a particularly lavishly produced offering by the standards of the time. Holmes and Watson are visited on Christmas Eve with a most perplexing riddle: how did an incredibly precious gem end up inside a Christmas Goose? I’ll not spoil the mystery for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but this is well worth checking out for the lovely olde timey portrayal of London at Christmas and for the very stiff upper lipped portrayal of the master detective.
BONUS ADDITION ( BY EDITORIAL DEMAND)
Some men just want to watch the world burn.
The Star Wars Holiday Special
Amongst fans of Star Wars – and indeed of holiday fayre in general – this 1978 offering holds a special place: imagine something so bad that even George Lucas doesn’t want it out there. In the gulf between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back the public badly wanted new Star Wars material. They probably just didn’t want it made as badly as this was. Looking at it with 35 years of hindsight you can only ask yourself “exactly who was this aimed at? ”. A baffling array of guest performers, shockingly bad production values and a main cast who are clearly cringing their way through every painstaking scene makes this one unmissable for all the wrong reasons. Only the animated debut of Boba Fett is of any value.
Happy Christmas from Following the nerd , George Lucas and Bea Arthur
Plus two honorary mentions (from Marc):
The Real Ghostbusters: X-Mas Marks The Spot
While the Real Ghostbusters often took the concepts of the movies to a level that went beyond crazy, this Christmas episode went beyond even their usual bugaloo. Sending the team back in time when they get lost in a Christmas snow storm, the team meet Ebeneezer Scrooge on that fateful night and, being the gents they are, bust the ghosts torturing this kindly old man. However, in true butterfly effect, the team get home to find the world changed in the most extreme ways and must find a way to correct what they’ve done. Sounds crazy, right? And it is, but it’s also a very well handled and fun episode of the show. The animation is spot on, the voice -acting is never better and the story takes so many familar themes and, while it’s nothing we’ve never seen before, gives us them in ways that work surpisingly well. A fun little episode that makes ideal Christmas Eve viewing with the whole family… well, that’s my plan anyway.
The League Of Gentlemen Christmas Special
The League is an acquired taste, you’ll either love it or hate it. For those that love it, it’s a treasure trove on nods, winks and homages to, well, everything. And the Christmas Special is a particularly dark delight. Only The League (Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and and Reece Shearsmith) would dare create three holiday stories based around ancient curses, pedophiles, vampires and Papa Lazaroo… but they do so majestically and create a tale that’s disturbing, dark, scary and very, very festive. Acquired taste? Yes. Essential? Absolutely…