Ah, Christmas! That special time of the year when the families get together to remind each other why they only do it once a year, and when the TV shows are on hiatus, making you beg for the festivities to end ASAP. There are two ways to make it through this wonderful and magical season – get a time machine, or go with the flow and treat yourself to the numerous holiday specials. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of them, and it is our duty – and pleasure – to share some suggestions with you.
A lot of people forget that Gremlins takes place during Christmas. I think the festive time of year really gives the film a nostalgic, timeless feel and balances out the scary parts. I love Gremlins because it was one of the scariest movies I watched as a kid, but also introduced me to Gizmo, the cutest cute that ever cuted. Gremlins has a pretty traditional horror story structure. The monsters are introduced with a warning, don’t expose them to sunlight, don’t get them wet, and never, ever feed them after midnight. Of course, we’re just waiting for exactly those things to happen. A dominant gremlin, Spike, becomes the evil to defeat. It’s a fun ride, with gross messes, an exploding movie theatre, and an adorable, fuzzy hero. Fun fact, Frank Welker is the voice of Spike, famous for Fred and Scooby-Doo, Doctor Claw in Inspector Gadget, Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II on The Simpsons, and Nibbler in Futurama. Canadian comedian Howie Mandel was the voice of Gizmo. Gremlins was part of a golden age of horror for me, combining the genre with comedy. Ghostbusters also came out that year, and in 1985, Fright Night and Re-Animator. Soon after that, Little Shop of Horrors, Night of the Creeps, Evil Dead II, and Beetlejuice came along to work their magic on my kid brain. My dream is to write a screenplay someday that is scary and cute, funny and terrifying. Like Gremlins.
“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”, Community (2010)
I contend that this is the best episode of TV ever produced. The episode is filmed as an homage to stop motion Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which is a technical feat in itself. The show challenges our relationship with the holiday season and the pressure we place on ourselves to have the perfect family. As kids, we’re fed a lot of stories about what a family is supposed to look like. Now, those images are changing as we embrace single parents, divorce, adoption, mixed race couples, and more slowly, the LGBTQ community in popular media depictions of families. Abed gets bad news at the beginning of this episode and he snaps into a nostalgic world. To save Christmas, everyone follows this delusion to planet Abed, where the atmosphere is 7% cinnamon. They go on a journey that forces Duncan to confront his painful Christmas past and Abed finds a mysterious box that contains the meaning of Christmas. It’s a Lost DVD. Abed says, “It symbolizes lack of payoff.” Burn! Take that, Lost! Yes! Oh yeah, the bad news is that Abed’s mom isn’t coming to watch Christmas movies with him this year, she has a new family to spend the holidays with. With his friends, Abed realizes that “The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever we want.” The study group family watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer together and I hug my Community mug filled with hot chocolate, and a dash of cinnamon.
Home Alone (1990)
Ah, Home Alone, the movie that jumpstarted a generation of kids making shitty Rube Goldberg contraptions at home. Watching it now as an adult is completely different experience. If you can get past the horrifying idea that a whole family can get on a plane and fly to a different city without anyone (including the goddamn airport people) noticing that they left one of their kids behind, or the fact that Macaulay Caulkin actually looked like a normal human being at some point in history, then it’s actually quite a heartwarming story about the importance of family during the holidays. Let’s be honest, this movie will always have a special place in our hearts. We can ignore the sequels past the second one. They don’t exist.
“Comparative Religion”, Community (2009)
Say what you will about Community, but their holiday-themed episodes were spot on. At least for the first couple of seasons anyway. We really see the best (and worst) of all the characters as religions and fists clash in a flurry of fake snow. I personally like this episode better than the claymation one, mainly because Shirley and Jeff resolve their contempt for each other’s slightly backward principles, and you really get see the group coming together for each other for the first time.
“Chuck Versus Santa Claus”, Chuck (2008)
Chuck’s Christmas episodes are always a lovely addition to their usual spy-of-the-week roster, but “Chuck VS. Santa Claus” is one of the more memorable episodes (not saying that Season 5’s kissing scene between Chuck and Beckman isn’t a standout moment). Michael Rooker guest stars as a Fulcrum agent that poses a huge threat to Chuck’s safety. Sarah executes him, but she doesn’t know that Chuck’s been watching this entire time. It’s a huge turning point in their relationship, as Chuck faces the reality that Sarah is truly a killer. Also, the entire episode pays homage to Die Hard, another Christmas movie!
Arthur Christmas (2011)
Christmas movies are almost always about dysfunctional families, and sometimes, it’s Santa’s family. No one does it better than Arthur Christmas. It takes the ‘black sheep’ storyline to great heights, and paints a vivid and dramatic picture of the strained and stilted family dynamic that many of us relate to. It’s also one of the more creative Christmas stories that I’ve seen. Santa flies around in a giant sleigh-shaped spaceship and all of his merry elves are actually highly trained operatives. And James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, and Bill Nighy? Yes, please.
My first memory of this movie is seeing a tall, red devil with imposing horns slowly pacing around a dark cave and talking in a suave voice to a blonde, fairy-like princess. I was an eight-year-old girl sitting near the fire at my grandma’s house and I was completely fascinated by what I was seeing. This image had such an impact on me that it still influences my writing today. The movie in itself is not extraordinary, but to me it just had a lot of atmosphere. It was probably one of the first times when I felt completely transported to a different world by a live action movie. I will always associate Legend with cosy winter nights spent by the fire and childlike wonder. And if you need any other reason to check it out: Tim Curry plays the devil.
Futurama Christmas episodes
I just love it when shows and movies subvert the traditional values of Christmas. In the year 3000, people celebrate Christmas by spending time together, mostly because if they go out, Robot Santa Claus will try to kill them. Chaos and hilarity ensues. First of all, robots are one of my favourite parts of the Futurama universe. They’re an entirely separate culture, they even have their own devil! Plus, haven’t you always dreamed of seeing Santa Claus walk around with a rocket launcher or an AK47?
Rise of the Guardians (2012)
Another interesting version of Santa Claus, not because it’s particularly subversive, but because he’s a loud possibly Russian tattooed guy who owns a Matryoshka doll of himself. Firstly, I love Matryoshka dolls. Secondly, I love Rise of the Guardians. It’s a fun, action packed family movie that lets us hang out with classical characters of legend, not only Santa, but also the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman. Quick note: as a French child, I grew up with the Easter Bells and the Little Mouse, but I always knew of the English versions of those particular characters. If you watch the movie, you’ll also notice that they address the Little Mouse, a reference that I appreciated. Anyway, Rise of the Guardians is just plain winter wonder. I don’t only watch it around Christmas, but if you’re looking for a movie that the whole family will enjoy, this is definitely one of those.
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)
You’d think the lightning never strikes the same place twice. Ha! Say that to McCallisters, and they’ll gladly laugh in your face. A year later after the events of the original Home Alone, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York starts innocently enough. I may not agree with the decision of going to Florida for Christmas, but at least no one is trying to murder each other. They even make it to the airport together! In 2014 it is hard to believe that you could accidentally get on the wrong plane, but 20-something years ago it was quite possible, it seems, and this is exactly when Kevin MCallister manages to accomplish, saving himself from the boring family vacation. Frankly, all stress and dangers aside, I’ve always been happy for Kevin – New York is such a beautiful city to visit on Christmas. Especially when you have your father’s credit cards. Seriously, not watching this movie is not even a choice! Both Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost I New York has been the best part of Christmas for me for over 20 years. You just can’t go wrong with them!
…is a must-see episode, Christmas or not. You don’t have to be a holiday junkie or a bad Santa lore enthusiast to enjoy the story that puts the Grinch to shame. Stealing Christmas? Please! Let’s just kill everyone who enjoys it. In “A Very Supernatural Christmas” Sam and Dean investigate a series of murders committed apparently by the evil Santa that sneaks into the people’s houses, eats the cookies they’ve left for him, and then disappears up the chimney with one of the family members. Charming, isn’t it? We soon learn that the evil Santa isn’t a thing in and of itself, but rather a result of a pagan ritual, and it’s up to the Winchesters to put an end to it. What makes this episode super cool, however, is the progression of the relationship between Sam and Dean, who view this particular holiday from two entirely different points of view. Dean wants to enjoy it as best he can, thinking that it may be his very last Christmas ever, what with his time running out. Sam, on the other hand, want to skip the whole thing for the exact same reason, unable to bear the thought of Dean not even trying to save himself. What’s not to like?
“Silent Night”, Haven (2011)
“Silent Night” is the 13th episode of the second season of Haven, and one of the highlight of the entire show. It’s a stand-alone episode, which aired on December 6, 2011, surprising the fans who thought that the season ended after episode 12, and which isn’t tied into the season arc. Now, imagine waking up one day and realizing that the world has gone crazy. This is exactly when Audrey Parker thinks when she finds out that the entire town of Haven believes that it’s Christmas… in July. Being the only person immune to the Troubles, and thus the only one who can think straight, she needs to find the Troubled person and make them stop doing whatever they are doing before everyone in Haven disappears and the town itself turns into an actual snow-globe. It’s a fun and unusual episode – just like the most of Haven, truth be told, and the best part? You don’t need to be closely familiar with the show to enjoy it.