I wanted to do a Christmas special list, but, while things like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Chuck Jones animated one, duh), and A Charlie Brown Christmas are great, frankly, they've been discussed and dissected so many times that there is nothing left to say about them. So I just thought I'd limit this to Christmas-related episodes of regular TV series. This is roughly in order, but I'm not numbering them, because, especially with my three favourites in the bottom, comparing them is very "apples and oranges" and which one I like best would depend on what sort of mood I was in when you asked me.
FAMILY TIES: "A Keaton Christmas"
Yes, a lame Christmas Carol-spoof episode, like most long-running sitcoms do at one point or another, with, duh, Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) as the "Scrooge" of the episode. However, I liked the cornyness of the scene which had Jennifer (Tina Yothers Nude**), as the Ghost of Christmas Future, show Alex a future wherein the Keatons are dirt poor, yet they still live in the same house somehow, except for wealthy rich tycoon Alex, who comes down in a helicopter, I think to give his family his laundry. Also, he's bald. Anyhow, at the end of the episode, after he wakes up a transformed man, Alex goes and buys his family "presents" at the 7-11, the only place open on Christmas morning. I think the presents included a copy of the TV Guide and an pine tree air freshener. Also, Alex got some anti-hair-loss formula (wow, that 7-11 was pretty stocked).
G.I. JOE: "Cobra CLAWs are Coming to Town"
Okay, technically, this one is only an episode which took place during Christmas, not a Christmas episode per se, as it first aired during the normal syndication run of G.I. Joe on November 7th, 1985 (yes, yes, twelve days after Marty McFly went back in time), too early to be called a "Christmas" special, but, to those of you whom might complain about me including an episode of something which didn't originally air in December, I quote what the great Cobra Commander himself once said to Hector Ramirez on the interview programme Twenty Questions, "Picky, picky!". But, in every other way, this is a Christmas episode, so I say I can include it.
As the Joes are bringing toys which they collected during a toy drive for a local children's hospital back to base, Cobras attack but then, mysteriously, they retreat. However, there seem to be a few toys which weren't there before. Even though the Joe base will be operating with a skeleton crew during the Christmas holidays, the base is safe thanks to the Joes' new automatic defense grid, an inpenetrable web of lasers. So there's no way Cobra can possible get in, right?
Well, during a Christmas feast prepared by Roadblock, the Joes learn the price of their hubris, as miniaturized Cobra troops are launched out of a wooden rocking horse and parachute to the ground, and shrunken Cobra vehicles were hidden in teddy bears and drums, and they knock out the Joes with canisters of sleeping gas, whilst the Baroness flies her Rattler and blasts the command panel for the automatic defense grid, shutting it down. Meanwhile, Cobra Commander and Destro lead Cobra forces on the outside attacking the base once the grid goes down, and they disguise themselves as Joes in order to attack Keystone City and convince the government that the Joes have changed sides, though... well, I'm not doing an entire episode summary, but they get Destro's shrinking/expanding ray gun, and a giant-sized Polly (Shipwreck's parrot) saves the day, and oranges are better for you than chocolate, apparently. (Now you know, and knowing's half the battle. G.I. Joe!)
See, I was always more of a Transformers fan than a G.I. Joe fan when it came to the actual toys, but, when it came to the cartoon (animated in Japan by Toei, but for Marvel/Sunbow), in retrospect, I don't deny its superiority over the Transformers cartoon, at least for the wacky oddball episodes that you think probably weren't as crazy as you remember them being, but, nope, they were indeed as trippy as they are in your memories. I've talked to a couple of G.I. Joe fans whom think the cartoon "jumped the shark" when they started doing the wacky episodes, but... c'mon... this episode and "The Gods Below" (the episode wherein they meet Osiris and Set and other gods in the Egyptian afterlife) and "The Viper is Coming" (wherein Barbecue keeps on getting mysterious phone calls from the "Viper" which they think are clues and which, coincidentally, lead the Joes to secret Cobra facilities like Cobra Recreational Base number three in Antarctica, "where they can play table tennis and swim in the Cobra Commander gymnasium, eat lunch in the Destro dining room or watch the Cobra Cuties in the Zartan entertainment center." Then they find out that the "Viper" is just the window wiper, who has a comical European accent.) were all *first season* episodes! The show was always like that! And, compared to some of the trippier episodes, this one was actually fairly normal. I hope we get some first season DVDs real soon...
SEINFELD: "The Race"
This is the Christmas episode from 1994 wherein Elaine dates Ned, the Communist (ELAINE: You look like Trotsky. NED: Good!), and, ultimately, gets him blacklisted from receiving deliveries from Hop Sing's Chinese Restaurant (LEW: Ah, I knew it was you! You tried to trick Hop Sing! You are on our list, Elaine Benes. And now you are on our list, Ned Isakoff! NED: You got me blacklisted at Hop Sing's? LEW: She named name!). George talks to a woman whose personal ad he found in Ned's copy of The Daily Worker on the phone in his office at the New York Yankees and he tries to make her think that he's working to destroy the Capitalist system from the "inside" to impress her and his secretary thinks that means he's a Communist and tells George Steinbrenner, whom sends George to Fidel Castro in order to get some Cuban prospects previously unavailable to American baseball teams. Jerry dates a girl named Lois (he's a big Superman fan, so this is a huge thrill to him). However, Lois's boss is Duncan Meyers, who was Jerry's rival in high school and whom still has a grudge against Jerry because Duncan thinks Jerry got a false start in a race Jerry won, so Jerry goes to great lenghts to re-hold the race, complete with his old phys ed teacher holding time, just to preserve his honour with Lois. Finally, Kramer gets a job as a Santa at Coleman's department store, along with his "little person" friend, Mickey, but he runs into Ned, whom convinces him that conditions at Coleman's are much worse for department store Santas than they are at Bloomfield's department store and gives him some Communist pamphlets, and he proceeds to feed the children Communist propaganda, which gets them both fired. (MICKEY: Communism, You didn't realize Communism was a sensitive issue? What do you think has been going on in the world for the past 60 years? Wake up and smell the coffee!)
I think the two best things about this episode was the Vangelis Superman theme playing in the background during the race (Jerry gets a second false start, thinking a bang from Kramer's faulty muffler was the gun), but the absolute best thing was the line from one of the kids, "Commie! Commie! Traitor to our country!" which is just so damn versatile.
KING OF THE HILL: "Pretty, Pretty Dresses"
Ahh... the benefits of including a King of the Hill episode on this thing is that less actually "happens" during most King of the Hill episodes than for a lot of other series, since the focus is more on the characters, so i don't have to devote more than a couple of lines describing this episode.
Christmas Day was apparently the day when Lenore left Bill Dauterive, and Peggy Hill is fearful that Bill will ruin another Christmas party by sobbing about Lenore. Bill comes to eat dinner with Hank, but he brings his pet iguana, whom he has named "Lenore", and proceeds to feed it with a cockroach on the dining room table, prompting Hank Hill to make it clear that the Hills will be eating dinner alone from that point on. So, Bill borrows the Hill's ladder and decides to kill himself by jumping off the roof... but it's only a one-storey house, so he fails. Hank, Dale Gribble, and Boomhauer take turns monitoring Bill to see if he tries to commit suicide again, and he does, several times, but each attempt is inept. In order to keep Bill from ruining their party, Peggy tries to introduce him to a woman she knows, but the woman thinks he's nuts. So Bill returns home, destroys the Christmas presents which he originally bought for Lenore. Hank goes over to visit Bill, and finds Bill in a dress, thinking he's Lenore, and Bill ruins the party again by not just acting like he's Lenore, but also by wearing a dress and jewelry, and Hank has to put on a dress himself and pretend he's Lenore, to bring Bill back to (relative) sanity, and Bill realizes that, since he has hit rock bottom, things can only improve.
To be perfectly honest, I think King of the Hill does Thanksgiving episodes much better than Christmas episodes, but this one's interesting if just for Bill's descent into a dissociative state, which I thought was handled very well for a cartoon. Not to mention the message that, no matter how low you get, things can change and get better.
KIMAGURE ORANGE ROAD: "Kyosuke Time Travel! Third Christmas"
A very Groundhog Day-esque episode*** wherein Kyosuke Kasuga, thanks to inopportune bumps on the head which activate his uncontrollable time travel abilities, one of his less reliable esper powers, finds himself reliving the same day-of-the-Christmas-party three times, trying to get to the perfect outcome wherein he can go to the Christmas party without hurting either Madoka's or Hikaru's feelings.
[NERDISH NITPICKING]Hey, howcome, if, in this episode, Kyosuke, rather than having his whole body back into the past which would result in multiple Kyosukes, just has his mind travel back into his body in the past of a "few hours ago", then why, in the episode "Birthday Comes Twice! Kyosuke Travelling Through Time", was Kyosuke's whole body transported back in time a few hours, resulting in two Kyosukes for a while?[/NERDISH NITPICKING]
BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD: "Beavis and Butt-Head do Christmas"
An hour-long special from 1995 deconstructing TV sitcoms whom do crappy Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life-spoof episodes, premises so overused for Christmas episodes that they're clich�d. There's two main episodes, which I shall discuss, briefly, below, as well as Beavis and Butt-Head commenting on Christmas videos like Buster Poindexter's "Is That You, Santa Claus?" and Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis", old Christmas tunes as they watch the fire (making fun of those Christmas log videos), and read actual viewer letters to "Santa Butt-Head" (whom can't prononce the name of one Ethan Harera).
"Huh Huh Humbug"
Beavis, goofing off while working the night shift on Christmas Eve at Burger World, falls asleep and dreams that he's the Burger World manager, who's abusive to Mr. McVicker, their principal at Highland High in the real world, and he goes home and watches a porno tape, "All-Out Porno presents Eberneezer Screw" with "Tiny Johnson", Ron Jeremy-clone "Bob Scratchit", and then Butt-Head comes out of the screen to warn him, briefly, that he will be visited by three ghosts, before returning into the screen to get back into the porno. The Ghost of Christmas Past was played by their hapless, short-sighted neighbour Tom Anderson (whom sounds almost exactly like Hank Hill from King of the Hill, since most of the male characters on B&B are played by creator Mike Judge), the Ghost of Christmas Present was played by their hippy teacher David Van Driessen (Mr. Van Driessen), and the Ghost of Christmas Future was played by tough-as-nails, no nonsense Vietnam Vet phys-ed teacher Bradley Buzzcut (Mr. Buzzcut). (Yes, I'm only doing both versions of everyone's names so I get Google hits both ways. So sue me.)
I think the funniest bit in the whole episode is the Bob Cratchit scene wherein Principal Mc. Vicker returns home with "Christmas dinner" he took from the Burger World and the dumpster, and gives his kids their Christmas presents, stick-on tattoos, which the kids are grateful for. The kids all have the same nervous tic as their father, and slur their speech in a similar way. Also, it has one of my all-time favourite Beavis and Butt-Head dialogues:
Van Driessen: You see, Beavis, some people have very little to be happy about, but they're still celebrating the spirit of Christmas.
Beavis: Yeah... He should get fired, you know, for stealing that food! Hmm-huh!
Van Driessen: Beavis, I think you should know that this is the only food the McVicker family has to eat, and, because you're such a strict boss, his children may not be around to see next Christmas... unless you give him a raise, so he can better provide for his family.
Beavis: No way! He's stealing! And that's a crime! And you want me to give him a raise? I'll fire his ass!
"It's a Miserable Life"
The people of Highland TX's Christmas wishes to God are all for something bad to happen to Beavis and Butt-Head, so the head angels send Beavis and Butt-Head's guardian angel, Charlie, to take away their lives. On a wet Christmas Eve, Beavis and Butt-Head go into Highland to score with chicks, but all the stores are closed. Charlie tries to kill them on a bridge by freezing it over and making them slide off, but, they manage to get an even footing, and it's Charlie himself whom slips off, though Beavis and Butt-Head couldn't care less and Charlie has to get himself out of the river, nor are they concerned that he knows their names and everything about them.
So, in order to convince them to take their own lives, Charlie shows Butt-Head how much better Highland would be if he had never been born; Mr. Anderson with a well-decorated house (B&B had never smashed his Christmas decorations), Burger World with lots of customers (B&B had never scared them away), Principal McVicker with all his hair and no nervous symptoms singing carols with students (B&B had never caused him any anxiety), Daria Morgendorffer**** with a boyfriend (dunno about that one; I guess Daria hadn't demeaned herself in the eyes of the other male students by being the only one whom tried to understand B&B, futile as it may be), and Beavis volunteering at the soup kitchen, under the command of an assertive Stewart Stevenson (Butt-Head hadn't corrupted Beavis in the first place, and B&B had never bullied Stewart). However, after Charlie returns Butt-Head to the real worrealizing the town would suck if he hadn't been around, Butt-Head just walks away and Beavis leaves too, and Charlie slips again, drowning this time. This sub-episode is pretty amusing, but not nearly as good as the first.
SOUTH PARK: "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics"
Their Christmas special from 1999 featured no real plot, just Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, introducing a bunch of songs, some original, some old standards, performed by various characters in a humourous manner, punctuated by fake news teasers from a 70s-looking newscaster saying "Fighting the Frizzies, at eleven!", which is a direct reference to the news teasers from a bootleg videotaped copy of the infamous (though not quite as bad as it's reputed to be, in my opinion) Star Wars Holiday Special from November 1978 (no, I don't have any download links, but it's all over WinMX). Some of the songs in this episode (the South Park episode, not the Star Wars special, which had the very drunken Carrie Fisher "singing") are actually better than even those in the South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut movie, in my honest opinion. My two favourite segments are the segment in Hell, wherein Hitler misses his "Tannenbaum", so Satan decides to celebrate "Christmastime in Hell" (SATAN: There goes Jeffrey Dahmer, with a festive Christmas ham. After he has sex with it, he'll eat up all he can. And there goes John F. Kennedy, caroling with his son. JOHN F. KENNEDY Sr. & Jr.: Reunited for the holidays, God bless us everyone!) and Mr. Garrison telling his class how he travels around the world and spreads the joy of Christmas in "culturally sensitive" ways in "Happy Fucking Christmas!"
"There is no holiday season in India, I've heard.
[pulls down a chart showing India's demerits.]
They don't hang up their stockings, and that is just absurd.
[Stan and Kyle look at each other and shrug]
They've never read a Christmas story, they don't know what Rudolph is about.
[holds up a book: "The Night Before Christmas"]
And that is why in December I'll go to India and shout,
[In India, next to a swami sitting on a bed of nails]
Hey there, Mr. Hinduist, Merry Fuckin' Christmas!
Drink eggnog and eat some beef, and pass it to the Missus.
[gives beef to one man, pours eggnog on another]
In case you haven't noticed, it's Jesus's birthday.
[wraps a few people in Christmas lights]
So get off your heathen Hindu ass and fuckin' celebrate.
[passes out wreaths]"
The other songs are the full-length "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" song, introduced by "Cowboy Timmy", a parody of "Special Delivery Kluger" from the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated special Santa Claus is Coming to Town and performed by generic locals and Mr. Hankey, "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel", as performed by the Broflofskis, with Cartman and Stan, "Carol of the Bells", as performed by guidance counsellor Mr. Mackey, guidance counsellor Mr. Mackey, guidance counsellor Mr. Mackey, and guidance counsellor Mr. Mackey, "Oh Holy Night", as performed by Eric Cartman, "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In", as performed by Stan's sister, Shelley Marsh ("Shut up, turds!"), a Christmas medley of songs about Santa and songs about Jesus perfomed by Santa and Jesus, singing in the "first person", and a version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" performed by Mr. Hankey, with a sad little tribute to Mary Kay Bergman, the original voice of most of the female characters on the show, whom committed suicide days after recording her songs for this special (and the album) in the form of showing pictures of the female characters.
The episode ends with the newscaster fighting a hairy creature, presumably the Frizzie itself, in a boxing ring whilst the Dreidel song plays in the background.
SESAME STREET: "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street"
This is the original Sesame Street Christmas special from 1978, which still gets shown occasionally on some PBS stations, but not nearly as often as that Elmo Saves Christmas malarkey. Fortunately, it's now available on DVD.
I'm sorry, this is still one of my favourite, grossly underrated, Christmas specials. Ah, the memories... The characters (well, versions of the Muppet characters with slightly oversized heads whose mouths don't move) skating around that rink with "Feliz Navidad" playing in the background, jumping barrels. Oscar asking Big Bird how Santa Claus, who's built like a dump truck, can fit down that skinny little chimney, making Big Bird try to stay awake next to the chimney, as well as Oscar's song "I hate Christmas", the song "Keep Christmas With You (All Through the Year)", and, my favourite bit, a version of O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi" with Ernie trading his rubber duckie to get a cigar box (back when you could still say "cigar" on Sesame Street) for Bert's paperclip collection and Bert trading his paperclip collection to get a soap dish for Ernie's rubber duckie, and then they try not to act sad when they see each other open their presents until Mr. Hooper comes and makes everything alright.
You get to see much of the living cast as they looked when they were young, especially beneficial for those of us in Canada whom can't watch Classic "Street" on Noggin, and it has Mr. Hooper (Will Lee, whom died in 1982) and David (Northern Calloway, whom was institutionalized for much of the 1980s and whom died of cancer in 1990), well, not to mention the voice of Jim Henson as Ernie and Kermit (he died of "flesh eating disease" in 1990). And no Elmo... well, Elmo wasn't around until 1984.
THE SIMPSONS: "Marge Be Not Proud"
The second Christmas episode, from 1995. During It's a Krusty Kinda Khristmas, a Christmas special featuring (the Jewish) Krusty the Clown, Bart spots a commercial for a videogame called Bonestorm, which he asks his parents to get, but it's too expensive. Bart gets excited when he sees a sign on The Android's Dungeon comic book store advertising Bonestorm for 99 cents, but that's just the rental price, and Comic Book Store Guy has no copies left to rent. Milhouse has it, but he refuses to play together with Bart, and gets his mother to kick Bart out of their house. Bart goes over to the Try n' Save (the Wal-Mart clone in the Simpsons world), and runs into Jimbo Jones and Nelson Muntz who are shoplifting. Bart tries to resist the temptation to take Bonestorm from an open cabinet, but he imagines various video game mascots convincing him otherwise. He takes the game, but gets stopped on the way out by store detective Don Brodka, who shows him a video against shoplifting and calls his parents, whom aren't home. Then Brodka lets him go, but only after warning him not to come back in the store or he'll be sent to juvenile hall. Bart goes home and replaces the tape in the answering machine with an Alan Sherman tape, and everything seems okay. Until the Simpsons go and get their portraits taken, at the Try n' Save. Bart tries to prevent Brodka from noticing him, but, eventually, Brodka notices, and plays the videotape of Bart taking the game for Homer and Marge.
The rest of the episode is mainly Homer and Marge dealing with their disappointment with Bart in realistic, uncartoonish ways, though they still love him deep down, and by the end of the episode, he redeems himself. I don't know if it's that a lot of people fine much of this episode to be kind of a bummer because, out of Simpsons episodes from the "good" years, it's one that gets very little love, but it's not just my favourite Christmas Simpsons episode, it's my favourite Simpsons episode, period, because the humour and pop-culture references, while still present, actually take a back seat to strong writing and, gasp, character development (to an extent unthinkable on today's episodes) combined with a down-to-Earth premise. Of course, it's the Simpsons episode which is closest to being a King of the Hill episode, and I think King of the Hill is a stronger show overall, so I have a rough idea that King of the Hill fans might like this episode much better than your average Simpsons fan. This episode is so unpopular with the average Simpsons fans, that it doesn't appear on the new Simpsons Christmas DVD, even though more recent monstrosities, like the one with Gary Coleman saying "What'choo talkin' about?" and the one with Richard Gere, period, are on there, as is "Mr. Plow", which isn't even a Christmas episode.
There are still plenty of funny lines in this episode, though, as can be found on this "Marge Be Not Proud" quote page at Lardlad.com, though they don't have my favourite single quote from this episode, about egg nog, from Homer, "'Tis the season, Marge! Though we only get thirty sweet noggy days, then the government takes it away again." and he pours it on his cereal.
URUSEI YATSURA: "Pitter Patter Christmas Eve"
Wanting to seperate the lecherous, girl-chasing Ataru Moroboshi from his electrical alien princess fianc�e Lum, to whom he was engaged somewhat unconsentually (long story) and whose overbearing attention Ataru acts like he resents, Megane, the bespectacled head of "Lum's Stormtroopers" (or Lum's Guard, depending on how politically correct the translation is), a gang of four teenage guys whom are enamoured by Lum, along with Jariten (a.k.a Ten-chan), Lum's cousin who doesn't particularly care for their being on Earth, plot a fake date with a hot girl, who is really an actress Megane hires, in order to frame Ataru in Lum's eyes and set him up for the mother of all zappings. But Lum overhears the plans, and makes plans of her own to save her "Darling's" face and humiliate Megane.
One of the few episodes with a happy, romantic ending. And we get to see a chivalrous Ataru and a hint of his true feelings for Lum. Makes me happy watching it.
Maybe I'll add a supplement of episodes which didn't make the list and why they didn't, but enough of this for now.
**Actually, her name is just Tina Yothers, I just wanted to see if I get any Google hits for that, heh heh.
***Though this particular Kimagure Orange Road episode was originally a manga story written by Izumi Matsumoto a full seven or eight years prior to the release of Groundhog Day, not that I think that there's any chance whatsoever that Danny Rubin or Harold Ramis had seen a series as obscure as Kimagure Orange Road, since, as you know, I don't go for that sort of anime fanboy rip-off conspiracy theory bullshit. I was merely noting a similarity, that's *all*.
****Yes, Daria got her own MTV cartoon series later, but that was an entirely different continuity, without Beavis and Butt-Head.