Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Television Specials

No holiday is complete without television specials. And Christmas, by far, wins in that category. Every channel has their own Christmas specials. The problem is, a made-for-television movie about Christmas usually falls for the same pitfalls. They all try desperately to remind us of the spirit of Christmas and the importance of good will towards man. All these messages become saccharine sweet though.

Caution: Scrooge-ness ahead.

All these films amount to Lifetime movies wrapped up in a festive bow. Family films, made for kids that have yet to lose faith in Christmas. It's no surprise that Hallmark, the company that makes greeting cards, is responsible for many of these saccharine sweet films. They are saccharine because they try to be sweet but in the end they are just fake. They aren't earnest. It's just the same packaged tale over and over.

Greeting cards, telling you how you feel so you don't have to.

The Christmas Shoes, for instance, is a song made in 2000, involving a man who meets a poor kid in a store who is trying to buy shoes for his sick mother. The man is touched by this touching display and buys the boy the shoes for his mother to "look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight." It's the kind of story that is found in bad chain letters. Not only did they make a song based around this story but CBS made a movie based on the song in 2002. You spend an hour and a half waiting for the tough businessman to meet the poor kid in the department store. When it finally happens you can't help but notice that it looks as corny as it sounds.

Kind of like Tiny Tim.

Actual kids specials are a little more bearable. These are meant for kids that already care about Christmas. There is still pandering but it's at least to the correct demographic. Rankin/Bass is famous for their Christmas specials. It's mostly just Santa Clause and Rudolph kind of stories (Santa Clause is Coming to Town in my personal favorite, complete with song by Mayor Burgermeister Meisterburger), but it's told with enough charm that you have no need to question why they are still being aired 40 years later. That's not to say that those specials didn't flirt with weirdness.

Admit it, all you care about is the Miser Brothers.

Little Drummer Boy was the obvious attempt at a non-secular Christmas special, Jack Frost just happened to be set during winter, Rudolph's Shiny New Year was a completely unnecessary retread into a previous success and The Life & Adventures of Santa Clause is just too messed up for words. A much more pagan look at Santa, Life & Adventures sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the others. People care about the Coca-Cola vision of Santa, not the old creepy man in the woods version. Give me Santa Clause is Coming to Town any day.

There's a reason why you never really see it on television anymore.

Now, at this point, I might as well talk about Christmas movies I do like. The following is a list I've just put together randomly off the top of my head:

Best version of Christmas Carol: Muppet Christmas Carol

Best television show Christmas special: Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special

Best Rankin/Bass special: Santa Clause is Coming to Town

Best from my childhood: Claymation Christmas

Best Bill Murray Christmas movie: Scrooged (and his only Christmas movie but I really wanted to mention it)

Best Action movie: Die Hard

Best token Christmas celebration: Rugrats Hanukkah special episode

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