Wednesday, December 23, 2020

My Favourite Christmas TV Episodes

Christmas episodes have long been a tradition on American television, ever since the beginning of regular American network broadcasts in the mid-Forties. Christmas episodes of TV shows form the experience of many Americans during the holidays, so that most of us have our all time favourite Christmas episodes of shows. These are my five favourites. Since I can't decide which one I like best, they are in chronological order.

The Andy Griffith Show, "The Christmas Story," December 19 1960: The Andy Griffith Show only did one Christmas episode in its 8 seasons on the air, but it was one of the all-time greatest Christmas episodes of any show. In "The Christmas Story," Mayberry's department store owner Ben Weaver (Will Wright) insists that Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) arrest moonshiner Sam Muggins (Sam Edwards). Andy isn't particularly anxious to do so, as it would mean that Sam could not spend Christmas with his family. Andy comes up with a solution that will somewhat satisfy Ben Weaver, while at the same time insuring Sam gets to spend the holiday with his family.

What makes "The Christmas Story" so good is not simply that it evokes the Christmas spirit so well, but because it is funny and touching without being maudlin. It numbers among the best episodes of a show known for a number of truly great episodes.

The Dick Van Dyke Show, "The Alan Brady Show Presents," December 18 1963: In "The Alan Brady Show Presents," the staff of The Alan Brady Show find themselves stuck creating a Christmas episode of The Alan Brady Show when they would rather spend the holidays with their families. Things begin looking up when Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) enlists the help of his family.

"The Alan Brady Show Presents" is an unusual episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, or any other sitcom for that matter, because it plays less like an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show than it does an episode of the fictional show-within-a-show, The Alan Brady Show. In other words, it resembles a Christmas variety show episode. Of course, with such extraordinary talents as Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, and Carl Reiner, the results are actually better than the average Christmas variety special. Included are various skits, as well as a classic performance of "I'm a Fine Musician" by Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, and Rose Marie as toy soldiers. It is often counted among the greatest Christmas TV show episodes ever made.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid II," December 19 1970: Mary (Mary Tyler Moore), who loves Christmas so much she has decorated her entire desk at WJM, finds out that she must work on Christmas Day. When a co-worker asks if Mary could cover his shift for him on December 24 so he can spend it with his family, she winds up working on Christmas Eve as well. Fortunately, Mary''s Christmas does not prove as depressing as it initially seemed it would be.

"Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid II" is often counted among the greatest Christmas episodes of all time, and with good reason. It is extremely funny, and touching without being mawkish. For those of you who are wondering about the title, it refers to the 1966 That Girl episode, "Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid," also written by James L. Brooks.

ER, "Blizzard," December 8 1994: "Blizzard" is actually one of two Christmas episodes of ER in its first season, the second being "The Gift." That having been said, "Blizzard" is by far the superior of the two episodes. Not long before Christmas, a blizzard has hit Chicago. For that reason it is an unusually slow shift at County General, so that the ER staff finds other ways to fill their time. Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) and Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) prank medical student John Carter (Noah Wylie) by putting a cast on his leg. Nurse Wendy Goldman (Vanessa Marquez) is roller blading around the hospital. Several members of the staff play a game of wheelchair soccer. Unfortunately all of this changes when there is a 30 car pile up on the Kennedy Expressway. While this might not sound very Christmasy, the episode features Nat King Cole's classic rendition of "The Christmas Song" and ends with an impromptu Christmas party in the ER after their work is done.

"Blizzard" is a remarkable episode and also a historic one for ER. It is the second episode in which the staff of County General must deal with the extremes of Chicago weather (the first being "Chicago Heat"). More importantly, it is the first of many episodes in which the staff must deal with mass casualties. Since then mass casualty events have become a bit of a cliché on medical dramas. What makes "Blizzard" superior to other "mass casualty" episodes is how well the episode flows. It changes tone several times, from the humour and Christmas spirit early in the episode to the drama and tension of dealing with a mass casualty event to the Christmas spirit at the end of the episode.

The X-Files, "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas," December 13 1998: The X-Files did multiple Christmas episodes, but "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" is by far the best. In "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas," Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) summons Scully (Gillian Anderson) to a house haunted by a pair of lovers who committed suicide during the Christmas of 1917.  Scully is not at all happy about cancelling her Christmas plans, but goes along with Mulder nonetheless. This being The X-Files, the house is indeed haunted by the dead lovers, whose plans for Mulder and Scully aren't at all benign.

What makes "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" so great is that it is a perfect blend of humour, horror, and Christmas spirit. Making the episode even better than it might have otherwise been is the fact that the dead lovers are played by two of the all-time greats, Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin. It is not only the best Christmas episode of The X-Files, but one of the best Christmas episodes of a show ever.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

Merry Christmas!

The only program I am not familiar with is The X Files.

It is easy to see why these episodes rate highly with you. I haven't thought about "Blizzard" in years, but as soon as I saw it there the entire thing came rushing back to my memory. That is classic television.

You've got me thinking, and I'd like to put a word out for the faves.

The Jack Benny Program: Jack Does Christmas Shopping, 1954
This was the only television version of what was a running Christmas gag on Jack's radio show.

Car 54, Where Are You?: Christmas at the 53rd, 1961
Christmas entertainment at the precinct. Like The Dick Van Dyke Show episode, we get to enjoy the other talents of the cast.

Gunsmoke: P.S. Murry Christmas, 1971
Jeanette Nolan and Jack Elam guest star in this charming story.

Father Dowling Mysteries: The Christmas Mystery, 1990
Danger and separation plague a mother and son. A lesson that not all Christmases are "perfect."

I was always impressed with the new and entertaining Christmas episodes they came up with for The Bob Newhart Show and Frasier.