Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Watching

Christmas is probably my favorite holiday, and one of the reasons why it is my favorite holiday are the specials - the Christmas movies, the television specials, the Christmas episodes of television series', I love so many of them. Throughout the Christmas season, I watch my favs, and ignore the ones I don't love. So, just like Thanksgiving, here's my list:

1) A Muppet Family Christmas: The 1987 television special featuring all of the different muppet creations and Jim Henson is my absolute favorite Christmas special ever. We had it on tape for years and years, until my father recklessly threw out a bunch of VHS tapes and lost it forever. Now, I watch the subpar legal release, which is missing such classic scenes as Fozzie singing with his snowman and the muppet babies in movie form and part of the ending medley of songs. But even the subpar Christmas special still has memorable lines, and Doc seeing the muppets and asking Sprocket if those were anything like those Fraggles he was always talking about. The Sesame Street gang is all there, and make "small talk"; the Fraggles are in the basement, and pass around a lucky yellow pebble. And it is full of good, Christmas fun.

2) The Nightmare Before Christmas: This is both a Halloween movie and a Christmas film. It works as both, and it is brilliant. Jack visiting Christmastown is wonderful, and the very idea that a holiday would get tired of doing the same thing year after year is exciting - especially when he steals someone else's holiday. Santa Claus is wonderful, and the kids reacting to their "presents" are great too. It also manages to be both creepy and oddly heart-warming, so kudos to Tim Burton for that.

3) The Santa Clause: I like Tim Allen; and although vaguely morbid (a woman at work had to explain to her five year old that Santa doesn't really die like that and that it was just a movie), it is fun and spreads good holiday cheer. Yes, Santa can be crassly commercial; but he also inspires kids to leave out soy milk because he's lactose intolerant. And Christmas, at its best, is really about family. The way Scott Calvin reconnects with not only his son but his ex-wife and her new husband warms the cockles of my heart.

4) Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer: No list is complete without Rudolf. Bumbles that bounce, the island of misfit toys, Rudolf lighting the way and getting all of those misfit toys new homes, and the message of accepting differences in others is holiday joy. Plus, it has Yukon Cornelius, one of the best creations ever. We certainly quote him a lot in this house. Throw in a story where the mother and girlfriend set off to find the young buck even in 1964 and an extremely tall elf in sunglasses, and I'm there.

5) A Christmas Story: Jean Shepherd's childhood tales are timeless. Just today I labelled a gift "FRAGILE: It must be Italian". Electric sex, laying there like a slug to avoid bullies, not getting in trouble at school after making your friend stick his tongue to a pole, "You'll shoot your eye out", manipulative and disheartening advertising, and Chinese turkey make A Christmas Story beyond awesome. It has sweetness, but it isn't cloying. It is about Christmas, but not just about Christmas; it is about life in that particular family and community that just happened to take place in that time of year. I'm sure Ralphie and the others could have run from Scut Farkis in the spring or fall as well (and that they did), but having it in the constant snow of the Christmas season just further highlighted the juxtaposition of life.

6) Sports Night's "Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee Tech": Aaron Sorkin delivers on Christmas; not only does the logo get a little Santa hat, but I think this end scene sums it up:
Casey: That's all for tonight, but before we sign off, we felt that with Christmas only a few days off and people making up lists and checking them twice, it was as good a time as any to mention some people who are important to us here at the show. It seems that quite a few of you, for instance, like the way Dan and I dress on the air, and you should know that we're dressed by Maureen Gates and Joseph Roveto. Maureen and Joseph are assisted by a young woman named Monica Brazelton, and Monica is not to be trifled with. 
Dan: Our camera operators are Ray, Wayne, Bruce, John and Jerome, who wishes we'd do more features on hockey.
Casey: Not gonna happen, Jerome. Every time I pick up a pencil or put down a coffee mug, that's Jody Mann, and her trusty aide John Frantz, and if you've ever wondered what a gaffer was, or a best boy, you should ask Keith and Mark.
Dan: We've got some people who don't get paid much, but that's okay, 'cause the hours are terrible. They're our PA's, and their names are Lauren, Victoria, Jake, Lee, Ashley and Brad.
Casey: This is a script. Dan and I write it and then two people come along and put it together so that we can also read it. Their names are Joan and Chris and they, us and everyone else here are pretty much at the mercy of the script supervisor, Carol McKechnie, who's got
a little thing for me, and I think it's time she admits it.
Dan: Keri McIntyre--
Casey: Nicole Burke--
Dan: Shawn Manley--
Casey: Jeff Wheat--
Dan: Mark Johnson--
Casey: Cajun.
Dan: Cajun.
Casey: How 'bout Skip Cook--
Dan: How 'bout Phil Heath--
Casey: How 'bout Karen, Julie and Angela in make-up--
Dan: How 'bout Brenda, Cammy and Jody in hair-- We've got film on this show. You know who cuts it?
Casey: Janet Ashikaga. You know who her assistant is?
Dan: Laura the Wonderful.
Casey: We've just named a small fraction of the people who put this show on television, which means we've left out many more and we'll try and rectify that as we head toward December 25th. But for now, I'm Casey McCall alongside Dan Rydell, wishing everyone in your home, along with everyone here at my home a very happy Christmas.

Sorkin has a tendency to get meta, to draw directly from his life; and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I know that I disliked Kristin Chenoweth before I worshipped her due to Harriet Hayes of Studio Sixty being based on her, and Harriet not containing one iota of the sparkle and poise and charm and sweetness Chenoweth herself has. But some of his best moments come from that meta-tendency as well. Isaac's stroke stemming from Robert Guillaume's own stroke; fights with the network over Sports Night; and this. Those names Dan and Casey rattle off there at the end of this episode the show within a show Sports Night are names of people who worked on the actual show Sports Night - the one that did air on ABC. That is incredibly sweet and very cool, especially coming from an atheistic Jewish man.

7) Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip's "The Christmas Show": I've got two words for you, and those are "Nazi Santa". Seriously. It is awesome and funny. Actually, I've got a couple of more for you. An atheistic Jewish man bringing Christmas spirit to a sketch comedy show that doesn't want any, leading to fun and friction. Also, Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. And for the sweet and moving part, a storyline involving band members from various TV shows taking sick days in order to get musicians displaced by Katrina work - and a band made up of New Orleans musicians displaced by Katrina playing "O Holy Night" at the end:

It also brought attention to Tipitina's Foundation, an organization meant to foster New Orleans' continued musical heritage. Those musicians? Are from Tipitina's.

8) Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Amends": Okay, so it's hokey. But it is BtVS, and no holiday of mine is complete without it. Plus, I'm a sucker for miracle snow and Buffy and Angel's romance. I also love Willow's Jewishness, Xander getting the Channukah spirit, and the fact that not everything is white-washed. Xander's still sleeping outside of his house in an attempt to avoid his family's drunken gatherings because his home life sucks, and the snow isn't going to change that. Angel's still guilt-ridden, and snow isn't going to change that. After all, "Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together". But Christmas, at its best, offers a respite from the fight and from the hard painfulness of life. It isn't about the presents or nog or what religion your giving and charity come from, but about the people we surround ourselves with and whom we choose to buoy up and who we are buoyed up by. And that is what Amends, even with its saptastic ways, gives me.

9) A Charlie Brown Christmas:
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'." That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
I'm with the guy on NPR's Talk of the Nation: that sounds better being spoken with a bit of a lisp. Or maybe it just sounds better by Linus.

10) The West Wing's "In Excelsis Deo": The choir boys singing Little Drummer Boy intercut with the burial of Toby's homeless soldier is incredibly moving. And its The West Wing.

11) The West Wing's "Noel": Yo-Yo Ma and Josh dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder makes an interesting Christmas episode combination. But it works, especially with the interconnectedness of Josh and Donna, and Josh and Leo.

There will probably be more to come.


John said...

I always felt so bad for that poor bird on the island of misfit toys. He couldn't fly (but could swim instead), so when they tossed him out of Santa's sleigh WITHOUT a magic umbrella he surely must have plummeted to his demise!

John said...

also, I would like to add a few entries to your list:

The Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge (a tape that I have nearly worn out, perhaps it's time for me to upgrade to DVD)

Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion. The tenth Doctor's first episode, and notable for featuring homicidal Christmas trees, robot Santas with explosive musical instruments, and a great twist on traditional miracle snow. "That's not snow, it's ash." Who knows? Maybe this year's Christmas special will top it.

petpluto said...

Oh my god, John! Now I'm traumatized!!!! That poor bird!!!!

Oh, and I love the Muppet Christmas Carol. Another one I thought of last night after I went to bed was the Sesame Street Christmas special, where Big Bird waits all night for Santa and Burt and Ernie both trade their prized possession to get the other a gift in a kiddie Gift of the Magi. Of course, in this version they get their traded stuff too, because they traded it to Mr. Hooper. *sniffles*

The next list up (probably today or tomorrow) will have your inclusions - with your name next to it identifying you as the adder!