What You Should and Shouldn't Watch This Christmas

Posted on by Jeremy Clymer (jclymer)
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The holiday season is tough. You've got all that shopping to do, the family members to visit, the lame company Christmas parties you are obligated to attend. After all that work, all you want to do is sit back and watch a heartwarming Christmas special. There are so many of them, though. Which ones should you watch? Here are the best movies and TV specials of the holidays along with the stinkers that you should avoid.

1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966 TV special)

Who hasn't felt like a grump now and then? Who hasn't envied the happiness of others from afar, feeling as far removed from that happiness as one could be? We identify with the Grinch because he's a part of us, our id, and in seeing him redeemed we see a piece of ourselves redeemed. Plus, Boris Karloff's narration is just awesome. This is the sort of Christmas special that absolutely must be watched at least once a year.



Avoid: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000 film version)

In what could charitably be described as a cynical and exploitative cash-in on the goodwill engendered by the Dr. Seuss brand, this abomination from director Ron Howard stretches out a half-hour long cartoon into an hour and a half of Jim Carrey mugging for the camera in green makeup. Did the Grinch need a back story to explain why he was such grumpy, misanthropic jerk? No, but they had to pad out the minutes somehow. So, he starts off the story as a victim of the nasty, materialistic Whos of Whoville instead of just being a cold-hearted grump in need of redemption. It's an epic case of missing the point, but that's Hollywood for you.

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas

Charlie Brown has a lot in common with the Grinch, only his unhappiness is turned inward instead of outward. The holidays can be a lonely, depressing time for some, and Charles Schulz's bald, put-upon protagonist is without a doubt the most depressed kid in cartoon history. What keeps us from wanting to open a vein when we watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, then? It's the fact that in the end, even Charlie Brown can find happiness and joy in the holiday season among his friends and family and dancing pets.



Avoid: I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown

A Charlie Brown Christmas sounded a warning against the commercialization of Christmas, and so it's more than a little ironic that in years that followed we were treated to uncreative cash-ins that dipped back into the well of Peanuts holiday specials with diminishing returns. By the time of 2003's I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown, there was very little reason left for holiday cheer in these dull, safe cartoons. Good grief.

3. Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, The Year Without a Santa Claus (Rankin/Bass)

Rankin and Bass practically cornered the market on holiday TV specials with their animated versions of Rudolph, Frosty, Santa Claus, and other holiday characters. Starting off in claymation and eventually moving to standard animation, these cartoons varied in quality as time went on. Chances are, though, that Rudolph and Frosty in particular wouldn't be nearly as popular as they are now if they hadn't starred in their own Rankin and Bass features.



Avoid: The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold

By the time The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold came out, the Rankin and Bass holiday special machine had completely run out of steam. Santa Claus or Frosty the Snowman? Not this time. The plot of this Christmas turkey has something to do with a magical island where there's a banshee trying to steal a leprechaun's gold. If they had offered it as a St. Patrick's Day special it might not have been so baffling, but instead they threw in some dialog casually mentioning that it's Christmastime and the rest is relatively obscure history.

4. MST3K - Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Mystery Science Theater 3000 introduced us to many, many terrible movies over the years, but few were as hilariously awful as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. In this movie, green men from Mars abduct Santa Claus in order to cheer up their own morose children, but a couple of plucky Earth kids get caught up in the action. Painfully wacky antics ensue, and Joel and the bots are at the top of their game helping us endure the trauma.



Avoid: Cinematic Titanic - Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Years after Mystery Science Theater 3000 went off the air, the majority of the cast got back together for a similar project: Cinematic Titanic. Seeing an opportunity to revisit a favorite, the Cinematic Titanic crew once again riffed on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. This time, though, they watched the entire movie. It wasn't edited to fit a TV time slot. It turns out that a little editing can go a long way, because even at 84 minutes this movie feels like it goes on forever.

5. The Muppet Christmas Carol

There are many, many adaptations of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol out there, but only one or two of them feature JIm Henson's Muppets. This one also stars the always excellent Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. It may not be the most serious adaptation of A Christmas Carol ever made, but it is arguably the most entertaining.



Avoid: Watching more than one or two versions of A Christmas Carol per year

A Christmas Carol is great and all, but it's easy to get burned out on it pretty quickly. With more film versions in existence than there are hairs in Scrooge's nose, it's best to limit yourself to one or two per year. Otherwise, you're likely to come down with a case of Christmas madness.

6. A Christmas Story

Considered by many to be the modern Christmas classic, A Christmas Story is a look at the cold war-era nuclear family that is equal parts hilarious and depressingly close to home.



Avoid: Black Christmas

Director Bob Clark made one other Christmas movie besides A Christmas Story: a horror movie called Black Christmas. Considered by some to be an pioneering entry in the slasher genre, it is nevertheless not a movie to sit down and watch if you're looking for holiday cheer.

7. The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

This is the Simpsons episode that started it all. Introducing Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie to those of us who had never tuned into The Tracey Ullman show, The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire kicked off what would become one of the longest-running and most critically beloved shows in prime time television history.



Avoid: Any Simpsons episode from the last decade

There was a time when The Simpsons was the greatest show on television. That time has long since passed. At some point actual stories started being sacrificed in favor of a never ending stream of painfully tired pop culture references. There's no use getting yourself upset about that fact, though, when you can just revisit old episodes on DVD.

8. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas

Of all the countless Christmas specials in existence, there's only one that features a scene where one of the main characters asks a mall Santa "Did you f*ck my mom?" and then bites him on the neck as nearby children look on in horror. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has always delighted in gleeful perversity, but when unfettered by network censorship the results are truly transcendent.



Avoid: A Very Brady Christmas

The joke of naming Christmas specials "A Very Something-or-other Christmas" began with this laughably awful reunion of TV's beloved Brady family. It might be fun to watch ironically, but irony is so 1990s. Watch something that's legitimately funny instead.

9. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

A Christmas Story may be the gold standard for Christmas movies about dysfunctional families, but National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation ramped that dysfunction up to new, glorious heights. It may not be the most intellectual Christmas movie you'll ever watch, but it's still damn funny.



Avoid: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure

Oh, you didn't know there was a sequel to Christmas Vacation? That may be because it was made-for-TV, Chevy Chase had nothing to do with it, and of course the Hollywood Assassination Machine is determined to see Randy Quaid fail and die in poverty. Stay away, or they'll come for you, too!

10. Home Alone

Home Alone is the Saw of Christmas movies, featuring a series of elaborate Rube Goldberg-like torture devices designed by a cunning young deviant to keep a pair of witless burglars at bay. It's a simple premise, but it is mined efficiently for physical comedy yuks.



Avoid: Any of the Home Alone sequels

As simple a premise as the original movie had, it is no surprise that the sequels were nothing but dull rehashes of the original. When Kevin McCallister was killed in the third Home Alone movie, the writers had a chance to take the series in a new and interesting direction. Instead, they just brought him back in flashbacks and kept doing slight twists on the same torture devices over and over again.

Which is the best Christmas special of all time?

2610 views & 14 votes

Debate It! 3

I voted for A Charlie Brown Christmas not because it's a better story necessarily, but because it's got a better film version than How the Grinch Stole Christmas. On paper (literally I mean), The Grinch is a definite winner of a read.

Posted By SarahMay,

Posted By Anutiga1,

I voted for A Charlie Brown Christmas not because it's a better story necessarily, but because it's got a better film version than How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
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