‘Tis the season to be jolly. ‘Tis the season for getting together with the people you love and exchanging gifts and enjoying each other’s company. ‘Tis the season for merriment and joy and candy canes and egg nog and trees and lights and tinsel and baubles and mistletoe and all that jazz.
‘Tis also the season for another raft of crappy TV Christmas specials. Every year, a different Christmas-based TV publicity stunt is put together by the same group of Hollywood network suits.
Believe it or not, this kind of junk has actually been pulled off successfully in the past when certain talents have been given the keys to the Christmas special gate, but more often than not, it has crashed and burned in a miserable, embarrassing, hot mess.
Here are the 15 greatest examples of when this has happened.
15. A Very Murray Christmas
In this hour long Netflix special, the infamously curmudgeonly actor Bill Murray is expected to host a big, spectacular, star-studded Christmas special extravaganza, featuring only one celebrity cameo in the form of a disinterested Chris Rock.
But then the venue gets snowed in, and that paves the way for the true Christmas special extravaganza, as big stars like George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Michael Cera, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, and Paul Shaffer all turn out to tell jokes and sing songs.
Both Oscar-winning director Sofia Coppola and comedy god Bill Murray are above doing a Christmas special like this, and yet even with the talented line-up and the interesting (if unusual) shake-up of a familiar premise, the show still manages to be a giant bust.
14. Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights
Eight Crazy Nights was Adam Sandler’s animated theatrical Christmas special, and it continues to be showed on TV to this day. Crafted in the style of classic TV Christmas specials, Eight Crazy Nights is a different kind of Christmas special, in that it does not focus on the mainstream celebration of Christmas, but rather on a Jewish family’s celebration of the Hanukkah season.
Eight Crazy Nights serves to educate the moviegoing public on the traditions of Hanukkah, and it had so much potential, but it fell way, way too short of what it could’ve been, instead relying on cheap, scatological humor – it was hardly going to open a dialogue.
The critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, where it has just a 12 per cent approval rating, calls it a “nauseating concoction filled with potty humor and product placements.”
13. South Park – “#HappyHolograms”
South Park’s episodes have been very hit and miss for the last couple of years, especially since the idea of serialized storytelling was introduced by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It was a nice experiment for a while, but it led to too much of a heavy focus on building big conspiracies that had nothing to do with the spot-on satire that the show is famous for.
At the end of season 18, they took on extravagant Christmas specials and the culture of creating hashtags and trending topics out of nothing, by way of parodies of Bill Cosby’s rape allegations, racially driven police brutality in America, and PewDiePie.
The AV Club’s critic of the episode wrote, “It was rushed, it was messy, and it may have been just a bit too much story for South Park, even for a two-parter.”
12. Dexter’s Laboratory – “Dexter vs Santa’s Claws”
Dexter’s Laboratory still stands as one of the greatest and most classic Cartoon Network series. It tells the story of a boy genius who hides a secret laboratory behind the bookcase in his bedroom. He always faces adversity from his ditzy sister Dee Dee, and the Christmas special episode “Dexter vs Santa’s Claws” was no different.
Dee Dee thought that Santa Claus was real, but of course, the logical-minded Dexter thought otherwise, so he sought to disprove her on the night of Christmas Eve. The show starts off promising as Dexter catches the real Santa and then chases her on a rocket, but it turns ridiculous when Dexter shaves off Santa’s beard.
11. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
Despite its enticing and promising title, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer is actually really lame and boring. There are even some naive kids who struggle to sit through the thing, and they’ll sit through almost anything.
A good Christmas special should appeal to both adults and kids and fill the viewers with the spirit of Christmas without being too corny, and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer doesn’t succeed on any of these levels. It doesn’t appeal to anyone of any age and it’s corny without inspiring viewers.
It’s a whole hour long special that takes its title (and even loosely takes it plot) from a novelty Christmas song. That should give you some kind of indication about the quality of the final product.
10. Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas
Elf is one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time – maybe the best. It is sweet and funny and fills even the most curmudgeonly miser’s heart with the spirit of Christmas. But the movie survives on the warm, hilarious, inspired, and heartwarming performance of Will Ferrell in the title role as Buddy.
When the cash-grabbing Hollywood masterminds decided to monopolize on the continued success and endearing popularity of the movie, they came up with not a sequel, but an animated musical TV special called Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas, and it completely butchered everything that made the film great.
Namely, not including Ferrell and instead recasting Buddy with actor Jim Parsons, the guy who plays Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. Another problem is that the special felt rushed, an opinion shared by The AV Club.
9. Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” is supposed to be a play on the crummy, treacly, sweet Christmas specials that we’re treated to on television every year, but it’s just insufferable.
The characters of Community, except for Abed whose imagination this episode takes place in, are all reimagined as stop motion animated characters: Teddy Pierce, Troy Soldier, Baby Shirley, Wizard Duncan, BallerAnnie (ballerina Annie), Britta-Bot, and Jeff in the Box.
Surprisingly, it received positive reviews from critics – The AV Club gave it a score of A, while TV Squad’s review branded it “as touching and poignant as this show has ever been.” But that was back when it was first aired, when it seemed fresh and new. In the time since, it has become an insufferable, overstuffed, loud mess. And it’s a shame, because Community is a fantastic show.
8. Jeff Dunham’s Very Special Christmas Special
Whether or not you enjoy this Christmas special all depends on your tolerance for Jeff Dunham, the Comedy Central staple who uses puppets in his stage act. He’s like a kids’ ventriloquist, except not for kids because his material is very adult-oriented. If you like Jeff Dunham, you’ll probably like his Christmas special, likely to be repeated on Comedy Central this year.
However, if you’re in the large majority that doesn’t like Jeff Dunham, then you won’t like this. It features his puppet characters Walter, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Bubba J, Peanut, and José Jalapeño on a Stick.
To coincide with this TV special, Dunham also released his first album, Don’t Come Home for Christmas, which included a parody of “Jingle Bells” entitled “Jingle Bombs,” performed by Achmed the Dead Terrorist character.
7. A Christmassy Ted
The Christmas special of Father Ted was originally aired seven months after the end of the second series of the show. Whereas the episodes are usually half an hour long, the Christmas special, titled “A Christmassy Ted,” is an hour long.
It gets repeated every year around the Christmas season on Channel 4, RTÉ Two, and More4, and it does seem to be popular with viewers, it simply isn’t that good. Even Graham Linehan, the show’s creator, has admitted that he finds it to be overlong and boring.
This may just be because it is judged against the other episodes of Father Ted, which stands as one of the greatest comedy series of all time, but either way, it sucks.
6. The Simpsons – “White Christmas Blues”
The later seasons of The Simpsons have been branded by critics as showing a serious decline in quality from the earlier seasons of the show, which are considered to be its “Golden Age.” Christmas episodes have always been a big part of the show, with its very first episode ever being a Christmas episode called “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.”
Season 25’s Christmas special “White Christmas Blues” received negative reviews, with The AV Club describing the entire episode as “a jumble of writers’ room bulletin board material.”
TV Fanatic’s review of “White Christmas Blues” read, “The Simpsons Christmas Specials have always been one of my favorites (along with the Treehouse of Horror), but tonight’s episode was a disappointing, uneven, and (again!) overly familiar instalment.”
5. The Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tree was a Christmas special from back in 1991 that has a really terrible reputation. On IMDb, it has a rating of just 1.3/10. The story is set in a grim orphanage run by a horrible woman named Mrs. Mavilda who embezzles the orphanage’s funds and evades the law by pretending to be nice in front of the city’s mayor.
The children in this orphanage have been left so depressed by the evil woman’s reign that they fall in love with a pine tree and love it like a mother. But then a nice woman named Judy moves into town and becomes Mrs. Mavilda’s assistant.
Judy and her two kids move into the orphanage and she does have a husband, but he kind of lives on his own or something – it’s not really explained. Anyway, Judy is nice to the orphans, so naturally, Mrs. Mavilda frames her for a crime to get rid of her. Then the kids turn to Santa Claus for help. The whole thing is just God awful.
4. Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey
Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey has long been considered to be a classic of yuletide television. The stop motion animation is actually quite well-crafted and impressive, but the special as a whole is not in keeping with the Christmas spirit. The story is inspired by Rudolph and his red nose or that duckling who is cast out for being ugly.
Set during the Roman era in Judea, a donkey is ostracized from society for having ears that are weirdly long. On the road to Bethlehem, Nestor discovers his true destiny. This could’ve been a lovely little Christmas special, if the bullying of Nestor wasn’t so damned sadistic.
The other animals with their normal sized ears are so irredeemably cruel. It’s not just ribbing – it’s tantamount to torture!
3. A Very Brady Christmas
Someone had the bright idea to revive The Brady Bunch after 14 years off the air in 1988 with a feature length Christmas special called A Very Brady Christmas, featuring all the original cast members (except for Susan Olsen, who felt that her honeymoon was more important than America getting the right Cindy).
The problem with this Christmas special is that it’s really, really depressing. While It’s a Wonderful Life is a timeless Christmas story for the ages, as a man discovers how great his life is with the help of an angel, A Very Brady Christmas goes way too dark with the reasons everyone thinks life sucks (losing your job, dropping out of college, your spouse cheating on you etc.) and then completely fails to redeem it with the ending. It’s just really sad and filled with despair. Still, A Very Brady Christmas managed to become the highest rated television film of 1988.
2. Star Wars Holiday Special
Yes, it’s true. They genuinely did a Christmas special for the Star Wars saga. And the great thing is that they made it right after A New Hope, before Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, so Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher weren’t yet the huge stars who could turn down something like that.
This infamous piece of work fits nicely into the ‘so bad, it’s good’ category. It manages to simultaneously be terrible and also well-remembered. C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels calls it “the horrible Holiday Special that nobody talks about,” while the writers at The AV Club are “not convinced the special wasn’t ultimately written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine.”
George Lucas himself hated it, saying, “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it,” while Carrie Fisher loved how bad it was, and only agreed to do the DVD commentaries for the movies if Lucas would give her a copy of the Christmas special.
She used to show it at parties, “mainly at the end of the night when I want people to leave.” Star Wars Holiday Special was ranked number one in David Hofstede’s The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, with the show being called “the worst two hours of television ever.”
1. TMNT: We Wish You a Turtle Christmas
Yes, there was genuinely a Christmas special about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s called TMNT: We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, it’s not animated, it looks just as weird as the early live action feature films where they’re played by actors in bad costumes, and it’s very light on action.
We see the TMNT literally so bored in the Christmas season that they decorate the Christmas tree in Times Square and then sing songs about wrapping gifts. Plus, there’s the really awkward and morally questionable scene where Splinter invites a random group of children down into the sewers to sing “The 12 Days of Christmas” with him.
The crux of all storytelling ever boils down to one thing: conflict. And in TMNT: We Wish You a Turtle Christmas, there is zilch conflict. Well, except for the moral conflict you have in your head after Splinter makes his indecent proposal to the children.