As we have officially entered the month of December it is time for a very specific type of television, The Christmas special episode. My favorite Christmas episodes tend to land in that bittersweet category that makes you feel good, but also a little sad. No matter what direction a Christmas episode takes, sad, creepy, funny, insightful, there’s a magic to them, as there is to the holiday season itself. In celebration of this magical feeling we get once a year, this week’s edition of Top 10 Tuesday will focus on Christmas episodes. A few notes before we begin: As always, this list represents my own opinion only. Also, this list reflects Christmas episodes of on going series, and not individual specials such as Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer, or Frosty the Snowman.
10. Married With Children – It’s a Bundyful life
This 2 part episode of the classic sitcom is a parody of the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. In the episode, a near death experience has Al negotiating his fate with a trash talking angel (played by the one and only Sam Kinison). The kicker is that it isn’t the needs of his family that draw him to life, but rather his anger that they are so happy without him, after all they have put him through.
09. The Wrong Mans – Season 2
Not content to just do a Christmas episode, British series The Wrong Mans set an entire season with the holiday theme. After barely surviving their last adventure, Sam and Phil have been living in America under witness protection. Sam is miserable in his new life, but Phil has finally found his place. All good things must come to an end, however, as Phil learns that his mother is very sick, and so the 2 set out to return home so Phil can see her before she dies.
08. South Park – A Very Crappy Christmas
South Park, like The Simpsons, has had a bunch of great Christmas episodes. It was hard to narrow it down to just 1. In the end, I decided to give the honor to A Very Crappy Christmas, primarily for the meta story of the creation of the animated short The Spirit of Christmas. All fans of South Park should know that South Park exists because of an almost no-budget animated Christmas special called The Spirit of Christmas. Series Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker took the opportunity to look back at where it all started with this story about fading holiday spirit.
07. Louie – New Years Eve
Regardless of whether or not you like Louis CK’s avant garde FX comedy Louie, you cannot say that it is safe or predictable. In the episode, New Years Eve, Louis thinks about the work he put into making a good Christmas for his daughters, and how it contrasts with the appreciation he gets. Facing depression, Louis meets up with his fling Liz, who suddenly dies in front of him. Unsure what to do, Louis travels to China, spending New Years with a family he has never met. The episode is tragic, shocking, sad, and yet uplifting. Louis and his Chinese hosts show that as humans we can come together despite cultural and linguistic divides.
06. Extras – Christmas Special
The funny and often comically cruel series Extras is an odd show to have a Christmas special. Series creator and star Ricky Gervais is, after all, an outspoken Atheist. That doesn’t really matter in the end, however, because Gervais puts together a compassionate finale to his 2 season series about the pursuit of celebrity status. Filled with funny moments and celebrity cameos from top to bottom, it might surprise you that the best moment of the series is a long and heartfelt monologue by Gervais’ character. In the end, he gives up fame to make amends with his long time friend.
05. Community – Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
Community is a comedy series that has taken many risks and explored many concepts that are typically not done on network sitcoms. Their Christmas special, as such, is a throwback to claymation Christmas specials of the past. Though the concept, and execution alone are funny enough to keep the episode afloat, what really makes the episode sing is the unique way in which the format is used to explore Abed’s emotional issues with his father.
04. Doctor Who – A Christmas Carol
Doctor Who Christmas specials are expected events in the UK. Typically, I have found most of them to not hold up as well as many of the other episodes in the respective seasons. A big exception to this is A Christmas Carol, an 11th Doctor Christmas special that retells the classic Charles Dickens story with emotional relevance and a lot of cheer. Facing a disaster that this story’s version of Scrooge can, but won’t, easily solve, The Doctor decides to take on the man by changing him in the past, traveling to every Christmas in the life of the man and making those Christmases meaningful to him. As the man spends 1 night a year in every year of his life with the Doctor and a woman who would become the love of his life, he becomes a kind man in the present and saves the day for everyone.
03. Black Mirror – White Christmas
The Christmas special of this amazing British science fiction anthology series is a rather rare offering. Having only aired once outside of the UK, White Christmas is my second favorite episode of the entire series. In the special episode, 3 stories are linked together by a chilling technological development that allows people to “block” others from their lives. Starring Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, Game of Thrones’ Oona Chaplin, and Shaun of the Dead’s Rafe Spall, the special episode is 90 minutes of chilling science fiction with just the right amount of holiday season magic to make it wholly tragic.
02. Seinfeld – The Strike
One word sums it all up, Festivus. Yes, this is the episode responsible for an entire holiday. Get your Festivus pole, prepare your wrestling moves, and air your grievances. Of course The Strike made our list.
01. The Simpsons – Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
This is the one-off Christmas special that birthed one of the greatest TV shows of all time. The Simpsons, which is currently airing its 27th season, was kicked off by this episode about a father doing everything her can to save Christmas after his greedy boss didn’t give him the Christmas bonus he was counting on. That father just happened to be one Homer J. Simpson. If any series has nailed the bittersweet qualities of a great Christmas special it is The Simpsons, whose very first episode remains one of its very best, despite originally being made as the 8th episode of the series.
What are your favorite Christmas episodes? Tell us in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows. Happy Holidays!