STREAMING FOR THE HOLIDAYS
The holiday season is upon us again and after the shit-fueled garbage fest that was 2016 many people are finding solace in Christmas traditions. If you’re like me one of the most comforting things you can rely on are the family members you grew up laughing, loving and crying with. I am, of course speaking of the television families that we’ve all adopted to escape the mouth breathing, sticky to the touch reality that most of us face come holiday season. With that in mind I’d like to humbly submit my top ten recommendations for Christmas episodes to stream whilst avoiding blood relatives this holiday season:
10- Christmas Trees- Malcolm in the Middle (Netflix)
This episode of one of the best American sitcoms of all time highlights so much of what made this show a classic. After Hal is put on sabbatical in early December (due to an ambiguous Enron-like company shutdown) he and his sons go into business selling Christmas trees. Hal becomes overly sentimental at the prospect of spending time with the boys and allows his desire to give the family a good Christmas end with the hard-luck losers being forced to sell their product from the front lawn of their house. Meanwhile, Lois blames herself after a possibly rabid squirrel bites Craig and sets out to find the animal so he won’t have to endure the painful treatment shots which results in a fantastic hunting scene set to the music of the Little Drummer Boy.
One of the reasons that I think this show is still so relevant is that it is one of the last examples of a sitcom that featured a lower middle class family trying to do their best to get by. Hal losing his job (and thus the ruining Christmas) sets the stage for a “get rich quick” style plan that keeps the story moving along as society continuously makes it increasingly difficult for them to turn a profit. Ultimately they have a good Christmas with Francis’ eccentric German bosses turning up for some good old-fashioned family fun. This episode is also noteworthy as it features a guest appearance by Larry Hankin, who would cross paths with Bryan Cranston again as Old Joe the junkyard owner on Breaking Bad.
9- Rapture’s Delight- American Dad (Netflix)
American Dad has a rich tradition of hilariously twisted Christmas episodes but the one that really takes it to another level is season six’s foray into the inevitable apocalypse that we’ll all be coping with in a few months. In this episode Stan, Francine and Rodger are “left behind” during Armageddon, while the kids ascend into their own personal heaven (Steve’s involves a busty woman riding a unicorn that defecates pepper jack cheeseburgers). A disillusioned Stan blames his wife’s promiscuity for his having been denied paradise and abandons her to seek his ascension. We flash forward several years to find Stan as a mercenary in the war between heaven and hell. He cuts a deal with Jesus to help rescue Francine from the Anti-Christ (A fantastic Riddler parody voiced by Andy Samberg) on the grounds that Stan will earn his rapture.
There are so many perfect things about this episode- from the synth heavy 80’s style soundtrack to the dialogue (“Happy Birthday, Mr. and Mrs. Jesus”) and rabbit hole-style story structure, which starts as a pretty standard American Dad episode and devolves into an absolute shitshow of awesomeness.
The most satisfying element of this episode has to be the conclusion to one of American Dad’s longest running side-stories: the epic of Rodger’s golden turd. A non-linear joke that results in several murders and ends with the gilded poo being used to save the day.
8- A Very Sunny Christmas- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Netflix)
Everybody’s favorite gang of sociopaths hit an absolute home run with their first and only Christmas episode. Mac and Charlie revisit their childhoods and realize that Christmas in South Philly was a lot more horrifying than they remember. Dennis and Sweet Dee, nursing their own Christmas demons, confront Frank for his annual Christmas “Fake-out” tradition in which he buys the perfect gifts for his children but keeps them for himself. The Reynolds kids try to pull a “Christmas Carol” style prank on their father with the help of Frank’s former business partner.
The highlights of this episode include Lil’ Mac screeching with excitement after discovering he’d gotten a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas, naked frank pulling an Ace Ventura after being trapped in a leather couch at a party and Charlie’s cathartic assault on a mall Santa.
7- Christmas Party- The Office (Netflix)
The first in a line of many great Christmas episodes for this show puts together most of what made this show a staple of U.S. television for nearly a decade. Part of was what worked so well in the early office episodes the way in which the show embraced the mundane but still managed engross the audience with character driven drama. This was still in the early (read: still interesting) stages of Jim and Pam’s courtship, when Michael was allowed to act like a manic adult-toddler against the backdrop of his miserable employees. This was also in the thick of Michael’s crush on Ryan which causes him to spend 200x the price limit on secret Santa and deliver one of the great quotes of all time, “Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It’s like this tangible thing that you can point to and say, ‘Hey man I love you…this many dollars worth’.”
Jim’s attempt to woo Pam with his sentimental gift gets derailed by Michael forcing the office into a game of Yankee Swap, otherwise known as Nasty Christmas. This episode also highlights how wrong Roy and Pam are for each other second only to the time he told her that her “art was the best art…of all the art.” Michael eventually comes to his senses and uses some of his massive Christmas bonus to purchase a shitload of vodka for a real office Christmas party.
6- Anatomy Park- Rick and Morty (Hulu)
While it may be hard to imagine, a show revolving around the antics of an alcoholic Doc Brown and his dimwitted grandson can be surprisingly sentimental. Case in point the show’s Christmas episode that not only features fantastic sci-fi tropes but also manages to deliver an emotionally poignant message about family, acceptance and the nature of love.
Rick is giving an annual holiday checkup to Ruben, a homeless man that he and a group of investors hired to play host to a microscopic theme park that highlights the human body’s amazing internal ecosystem. Things go awry when Ruben dies and the park’s roster of deadly diseases wreak havoc its inhabitants. A shrunken Morty is forced to fight for survival alongside the park’s eccentric owner (voiced by John Oliver), a hard-ass mercenary (Gary Anthony Williams) and just to make Morty feel uncomfortable a beautiful young park employee.
Back on the surface world Jerry must confront the reality that his parents’ marriage has grown to include a new lover, whom they live with as a third partner. His father (voiced by Dana Carvey) now can only achieve any level of satisfaction my dressing as Superman and watching from a closet as his wife makes love to their new friend. Ultimately Jerry realizes that true family values means accepting the people you love for who they are and not trying to force them to fit into your expectations (I’m looking at you Mike Pence).
5- Ludachristmas- 30 Rock (Netflix)
Tina Fey’s fantastic behind the scenes SNL parody offers a holiday special for the ages that teaches us some important Christmas lessons: even the closest families are seconds away from tearing each other apart and office parties suck without booze.
When the courts order Tracy Jordan to wear a blood alcohol monitor he fears that he will miss out on the festivities of the TGS staff’s annual Ludachristmas party. Kenneth the Page becomes upset with his co-workers secular celebration and brings his radical reverend to lecture the staff on the true meaning of Christmas. Meanwhile, Jack and his mother Colleen (played by the incomparable Elaine Stritch) spend Christmas with Liz Lemon’s parents and her brother (Andy Richter) who suffers from a 50 First Dates like disorder in which he is perpetually re-living the day before a high school senior trip. Colleen and Jack get their holiday wish to come true in the form of tricking Liz’s seemingly perfect family into an all out brawl on Christmas Eve.
4-Woodland Critter Christmas- South Park (Comedy Central App)
For a show that made a staple out of deconstructing Christmas specials it would really take something special to make this list and boy howdy, is Woodland Critter Christmas a very special, “very special” episode. The story beings with a disconcerting intro as Trey Parker reads a cheerful Christmas poem and Stan meets a group of Disney-like forest creatures. They rope Stan into helping them build a manger for their savior kill an antagonistic mountain lion that intends to kill their virgin mother. In one of the most extraordinary script flips of all time, the friendly animals reveal themselves to be Satanists who intend to bring about the apocalypse via the birth of the Anti-Christ. Stan must act quickly to find a solution and kill the son of Satan lest Christmas be ruined. The story is flipped again when it is revealed that the whole ordeal is actually a blatantly anti-Semitic short story being read aloud in school by Cartman.
This episode was so remarkable when it first aired. I remember watching, almost in disbelief at what I was seeing as the story unfolded and crying with laughter as the animals broke out into an orgy of human (err…rabbit?) sacrifice and their subsequent blood orgy. Parker and Stone showed their ability to blend tired tropes with twisted humor to produce something innovative, a trait they would later showcase in their hugely successful smash hit play: The Book of Mormon.
3-Xmas Story- Futurama (Netflix)
Futurama is one of the most beloved shows of the 21st (and 22nd) century. It introduced fans to a possible future in which humankind has stretched out into the greater universe, our planet lives under a united world Government (run by Richard Nixon) and really cool robots could possibly be our drinking buddies. It also introduced us to the Christmas of the future where a robotic Santa kills the people that he is programmed to deem as naughty (which turns out to be everyone). Fry braves the Xmas war-zone to get a gift to bring some cheer to a lonely Leela which ends up leading the star crossed soul mates ever closer to their eventual union (which only took another 14 years and 123 episodes).
This episode features so many perfect Futurama elements: great comedy, excellent sci-fi elements, nerd-bonerific guest stars John Goodman as Robo-Santa; Conan O’Brien as Conan O’Brien’s head in a jar, just enough sentimentality to keep the show interesting and one of Bender’s greatest quotes ever.
2-Marge Be Not Proud- The Simpsons (FX Now)
The Simpsons has been around for a long time. In other news: water is wet, the sky is usually blue and the sun is hot. It’s no surprise that a show that’s been on for the better part of 30 years has produced a high number of quality Christmas episodes. Episodes like Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire and Holidays of Future Past absolutely deserved recognition, but none in the Simpsons incredible roster of holiday specials can match season seven’s lesson in the morality of getting older.
The story begins with Bart being exposed to a commercial for Bonestorm- the hot new video game that will send shivers of nostalgia down the spine of any gamer old enough to remember Sega Genesis and it’s wonderfully aggressive marketing campaigns. After several attempts at obtaining the coveted game Bart resorts to theft at a local department store. Unfortunately he is caught by the store’s security guard (voiced by legendary character actor Lawrence Tierney) and subject to an anti-shoplifting PSA hosted by Troy McClure (Phil Hartman- RIP). Bart is exposed when the family visits the Try-and-Save for their annual Christmas photo. As a result Marge loses faith in her son and Bart learns that growing up doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning one’s relationship with their mom.
This episode hits all the marks for a great Simpsons episode: a Bart-centric episode; a fantastically absurd Homer; and the climax, in which Bart resolves the episode’s conflict with a beautiful gesture. Sidenote: All I want for Christmas is the purple hoodie that Bart rocks throughout this show.
1- The Strike- Seinfeld (Hulu)
“Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reach for the last one they had- but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way… out of that, a new holiday was born ‘A Festivus for the rest of us’!”
While many of the episodes listed here are classics none have been responsible for the creation of an actual Holiday. Festivus (celebrated December 23rd) was created by Daniel O’Keefe, the father of Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe as a non- commercial alternative to
Festivus traditions include:
The Festivus pole– an unadorned aluminum pole that replaces the Christmas tree (as Frank finds tinsel distracting).
The Airing of the Grievances– a time when anyone can lash out at the people or things that they find annoying.
The Feats of Strength– In which the patriarch (or matriarch) of the family selects a person to wrestle. Festivus will not officially end until the challenger has pinned Frank Costanza.
In the episode, George is forced to spend Festivus with his boss, Jerry, Kramer and Elaine after he is caught in an attempt to avoid spending money on Christmas gifts for his co-workers by gifting donations to his phony charity The Human Fund. Kramer fights for his right to celebrate the new holiday from his oppressive employer H&H Bagels and Elaine gets into a bind after giving away a fake number on a valuable sub-sandwich rewards card. Bryan Cranston makes his second appearance on his list as anti-dentite Tim Watley. Jerry Stiller absolutely steals the episode with the most quotable lines of one of the most quotable characters in the show’s history.
There you have it. A top ten list of all the best episodes available to stream this holiday season. I hope you have as much fun watching them (and avoiding your family) as I did compiling them (and avoiding responsibility). Merry New Year!