Yes, we all know the holiday TV specials that have become canon. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and The Year Without a Santa Claus are all December television viewing for kids from 2 to… well, their 60s, given the fond memories many have of their favorites.
Holiday movies are also a tried-and-true sign of Christmas here in The Burrow. From White Christmas to Love Actually, The Bishop’s Wife to The Polar Express, the old standbys are always good viewing – or good background noise while writing Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus cards.
As sprite well knows, I tend toward parody and the obscure. So with that in mind, here are some of my favorite parodies of classic TV Christmas and holiday programs, and a few of my favorite… warped TV special faves.
A Charlie Brown Christmas – alternate ending
Aired on Saturday Night Live back on December 14, 2002, this alternate ending to the 1965 animated holiday TV classic finds the Peanuts gang harnessing the magical powers of waving their hands in the air (i.e. the action that the animators used to depict the gang de-decorating Snoopy’s doghouse and transforming the twig-tree into a masterpiece). “We have magical powers!”
Some cool things about this “TV Funhouse” animated short: Louis CK was one of its co-writers; Brad Pitt voiced himself; and it was dedicated with full love and respect to Charles Schultz, Lee Mendelson, Bill Melendez, and Vince Guaraldi.
The Narrator That Ruined Christmas
Another SNL “TV Funhouse” animated short, this aired on December 15, 2001, when New York City and the country were still a bit raw from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Leave it to Robert Smigel and his writers and animators to take Sam the Snowman (from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) and make him find the entire annual recitation of the classic story a bit pointless in the shadow of the recent attacks. So after going on a
drunken depressed bender (while kids watching from home on the TV watch in bewilderment), Sam takes the kids, Rudolph, and Hermey to the World Trade Center site. Santa needs to intervene, and eventually leads the assembled crowd in a healing, unifying sing-along.
I tip my hat to the animators of this short for really capturing the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation style.
Christmastime for the Jews
Yet another SNL “TV Funhouse” short, and another nod to Rankin/Bass Animagic® style, this one features the one-and-only Darlene Love (of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” fame who performed said song on David Letterman’s late-night shows for 28 consecutive years) belting out a Christmas ode to those of the Jewish faith, and their unique (albeit extremely stereotypical) customs of December 25th.
This new classic first aired on December 17, 2005.
Community: “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
Community loved to film parodies that were loving nods to their influences. In 2010, their Christmas episode was a stop-motion special in the Rankin/Bass style.
The whole episode is available on Netflix, for those who wish to see it in its crazy entirety.
Doctor Who Holiday Shorts
While new series of Doctor Who traditionally debut at Chrismastime, the famous time traveler often performs other holiday feats. The Doctor often features in short subjects for Comic Relief or Children in Need, two excellent British charities. Here are a few classics that featured over the years:
Doctor Who and the Case of the Fatal Death (Comic Relief 1993):
This short from 1993 features Rowan Atkinson as The Doctor, Jonathan Pryce as The Master, and many others as… The Doctor. Luckily, this didn’t burn through any official regenerations. (And no, this technically didn’t air over Christmas, but it fits with the BBC’s tendency to parody Doctor Who during their various charity drives – which leads us to…)
The Doctor meets Newt Scamander (Children in Need 2016):
One of the big end-of-year blockbusters this season is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a Harry Potter prequel, of sorts. Eddie Redmayne plays the lead character, Newt Scamander, and after filming one scene, he calls the BBC on the hunt for the “Children in Need” campaign, Pudsey Bear.
Sure, The Doctor doesn’t appear until well into this (at the 2:02 mark for those playing at home), but the whole thing is a great tribute to BBC stars with some excellent comedic timing.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Who introduced Pia Zadora to the filmgoing public? Santy Claus, of course:
This is an awful B-grade film, a crude attempt at mashing up sci-fi and Christmas movies. It routinely makes “Worst Film of All Time” lists – for good reason. But the best way to enjoy it is with the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 crew providing rolling commentary, their wit first hitting the airwaves on December 21, 1991. Seriously, it’s the only way to make the movie palatable.
But I’ve saved the worst for last…
The Star Wars Holiday Special
This is possibly the worst holiday TV special ever made – honestly, it’s terrible (I think sprite sat through it once, and possibly not through the whole thing). But hey: Star Wars was a hot commodity in 1978, so it made perfect sense for Lucas and company to cash in on things. After all, the cast was all signed on to film The Empire Strikes Back, and music-variety shows still had some clout on network television, so have a look. I encourage you to scan around, because it’s a really rough 96 minutes.
Yeah, it is that bad. After the opening credits, there is a nearly nine minute stretch with nothing but wookie grunts. The plot drags. The all-star cameos read like a who’s who of 1970s panel game shows. The Jefferson Starship performance is odd. The Diahann Carroll bit is soft-core porn, for all intents and purposes. And Carrie Fisher is very obviously on some… chemical enhancement as she warbles the atrocious “Life Day” song.
Sir Alec Guinness dodged a serious career tarnishing bullet by sitting this one out.
But hey: it is the show that introduced Boba Fett to the Star Wars universe, so there’s a plus. And yes, I have this on DVD from a less cleaned-up copy than this stream. The vintage TV commercials are often (always?) more entertaining than the show. For what it’s worth, this show aired exactly once, on November 17, 1978. Lucas was so embarrassed by the end product that he ordered it permanently removed from circulation, and for a very long time his company worked tirelessly to remove all copies from online distribution (though that stance seems to have loosened since Lucasfilm was sold to Walt Disney).
What holiday specials, parodies, and movies are on your must-see list every year? Talk about it in the comments!
This post is part of spritewrites’ Virtual Advent Tour.