Top 5 Most Depressing Christmas Episodes on Television
It's a common myth that some people find the winter holidays to be so depressing that suicide rates spike around Christmas. It's at least prevalent enough that Snopes dedicated an article to debunking it. Simply put, there us no significant increase in the number of people who seek psychiatric help for depression or take the final measure to end their lives just because of the holidays.
I am here to fix that because I am an inherently bad person.
Every TV show worth its lunch box and mint-in-box licensed action figure has Christmas episodes. Some are light-hearted and fun, some are warm and family-oriented, and some seek to teach us a moral. Then there are Christmas episodes dedicated to stomping on your heart and wiping the broken organ all over your soul.
Surprisingly, only one of them is written by Steven Moffat.
Doctor Who, "The Snowmen": The annual Christmas special has become a high point for the modern Doctor Who. In general they're all very high quality outings, and most of the time serve as amusing diversions from the main thrust of the series.
Then last year we got "The Snowmen". After two straight years of modern parables with happy endings, Steven Moffat brought Clara back to life after we'd seen her killed in "Asylum of the Daleks" just to kill her again. One minute she's walked into the Tardis, seen the wonders of the universe, is offered a key by The Doctor, and then the next she's dragged off a cloud to tumble to her slow death. In fact, the only way that the killer snow is bested in the episode is literally to have her employer's family weeping uncontrollably over her death hard enough to turn the sentient snowflakes into rain. That's some cold writing when making people feel bad for an imaginary person becomes an actual plot device.
The West Wing, "Noel": There are actually two really depressing Christmas specials in The West Wing, but "Noel" is a little more terrifying than "In Excelsis Deo". The episode follows Josh as he begins working on the case of a pilot who broke formation in a training exercise. Josh was investigating possible mechanical problems, when the pilot radios in that the problem wasn't the plane and deliberately crashes into a mountain to kill himself.
Josh finds out that he and the pilot share the same birthday, and that the pilot had been shot down and badly injured over Bosnia at one point. Josh begins having panic attacks brought on by the holiday music at the White House because the brass quintet sounds like the ambulance sirens he heard after being almost fatally shot by white supremacists in Rosslyn, VA. This leads to him becoming erratic and self-destructive, even putting his hand through a window and cutting it badly, as it becomes clear he is suffering from severe PTSD, as the subject of investigation clearly was.
It's a great episode, honestly, but when we think about people falling apart on Christmas it's not usually because they can't stop reliving terrible moments from the past. It's like the anti-Dickens.
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Garfield, A Garfield Christmas": The cartoon adventures of Garfield have not held up well to my adult brain, but it was my favorite after Duck Tales growing up. Partially, it's because Lorenzo Music had the coolest voice in the world. Mostly it's because the who Garfield concept is humor you have to be a child in a substandard public school district to find funny. Thanks, Galena Park!
In this Christmas special Jon, Garfield, and Odie all head out to the family farm to spend the traditional holiday together. Nothing funny happens for most of the half hour, but the episode centers heavily of Jon's tough old Grandma. Garfield takes a shine to her, and she spends most of her time telling Garfield all about her dead husband.
Think about that for the moment... we can hear Garfield. He's the main character, but Grandma cannot. That means what we're watching is a sad old widow so desperately lonely without her late husband that she has begun talking out loud to a visiting cat. Which is exactly what I thought when I first saw this as a child. My mom couldn't figure out why I was sobbing uncontrollably at the TV.
ALF, "ALF's Very Special Christmas" ALF is one of those shows you remember being good, but wasn't. No, it wasn't. There just used to be a lot more lead-in toys back then is all. Still, it had more than a few good episodes, and knowing that he hailed from Melmac will help you solve a surprisingly large number of crossword puzzles.
In the 1987 hour-long special, Alf manages somehow to end up in a box of toys being sent to terminally ill children in a local hospital. He befriends a young girl named Tiffany, who for some reason I blessedly can't remember has no parents as she lies dying on Christmas Eve in the hospital waiting for a local man who plays Santa Claus every year to come so she can be sure that he actually exists. Alf stays with her as she falls asleep, sobbing about how scared she is about knowing she's going to die soon.
Then, just to top it all off Alf has to go talk George, the man that brought him to Tiffany dressed as Santa, out of jumping off of a bridge because he is depressed over the loss of his wife. This special is so heartbreaking that even when I rewatched some of it on Hulu just now to write this, all the ads were for alcohol and antidepressants. Even the adbot knows.
My So-Called Life, "So-Called Angels": This... freakin'... episode....
Rickie gets kicked out of his parents' house for his bisexuality, and is forced to live on the streets as the temperature drops, which I suppose is slightly better than the regular beatings his father delivers over his son's behavior. You have no idea how fervently I wish for the day I say that sort of sentence and someone younger than me claims that sort of thing never really happened. Angela wants Rickie to stay at her house, but her mom Patty doesn't really think much of his lifestyle either, so it's out into the snow for Rickie.
Following him is a mysterious girl with a wonderful voice played by Julianna Hatfield. She's there with Rickie after he moves into a sort of make-shift homeless shelter other kicked-out kids and runaways form. When Angela goes to visit him her mom gets worried and follows her. That's when she meets Hatfield, who begins telling her about her own poor home life that led her to the streets.
Eventually, Angela's mom realizes that she is talking to a ghost, some young girl who froze to death as Rickie is now in danger of. This prompts Angela's mom to bring Rickie home, even though she still doesn't really approve of him. That's uplifting, right?
No it's not! Heaven had to send down a damned angel just to make Angela's mom stop looking at some poor, freezing LGBT kid who had just been beaten up and was her daughter's best friend and then responding with more than a "Eh, what are you going to do?" This is the world we used to live in, folks. People actually had to be taught this by the TV box for it to sink in. Christ, no wonder everyone on this show was in such a bad mood all the time. Life really did suck.
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