Every winter brings the onslaught of family tension, shopping, and that most American of pastimes, the Christmas special. They're typically half an hour, though they can be longer, and they often take characters from an already-established world and run them through the gauntlet of festivities surrounding the holidays. The best of them are funny, warm, and uplifting; the worst are shameless exercises in commercialism and doomed to be remembered as embarrassing dreck. Here's a rundown of the highs and lows you can expect to see on TV for the next few days, and some that will never again see the light of day:
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Was there any doubt this would make the list? Originally broadcast by CBS until ABC picked it up in 2001, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the quintessential holiday special: Endearing, funny, and completely charming, even if you don't dig Linus' reading from the Gospel of Luke. The score from the Vince Guaraldi Trio is your favorite Christmas music, even if you don't know it.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Dr. Seuss + Chuck Jones = perfection. Based on the classic children's book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is still one of the best holiday specials ever made, thanks to Boris Karloff's fantastic double duty as the narrator and the voice of the Grinch. It in turn inspired a godawful Ron Howard movie in 2000, but this animated half-hour is superior in every way. The songs are staples, and the story will give your heart the strength of ten Grinches, plus two.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas
| MySpace Video
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
It's tough to pick just one special from the crop of Rankin-Bass material (there's also 1970's Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town and 1974's The Year Without a Santa Claus, which was clearly made by people who were very high), but their first one remains the best. I still get creeped out by the Island of Misfit Toys, though.
Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987)
You guys, there was a time when the California Raisins were the shit. Listen up, kids, because I'm gonna tell you about the 1980s. This special is a wonderful slice of cheese from an era when people used the word "claymation," and it's still pretty enjoyable. It's basically just a string of music videos enacted by stop-motion characters, and each video is introduced talking dinosaurs. Let the glory wash over you.
A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! (2008)
Stephen Colbert's holiday extravaganza is a spoof of the celebrity-studded variety specials of decades past, but it's also a lot of fun in its own right. Jon Stewart pops in, George Wendt is Santa, and it's got musical performances by Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, and John Legend. Tack on Colbert's pastiche tune "Another Christmas Song" and some man-on-bear love, and you've got a new classic.
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|A Colbert Christmas: Santa Vs. Bear|
The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
This is the absolute worst, hands down. You do not understand how bad it is. It's The Room without the jokes. It's a bizarre variety show in which Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and the rest try to get Chewbacca home to his planet for Life Day, which is the studio's whoring attempt to cash in on the creations' pop appeal by shoving them into a holiday show with Bea Arthur. (I will not even begin to unpack the segment about virtual reality Wookiee porn.) It aired only once, and has never been put on video or DVD. But thanks to the webby intertubes, it will never die.
Shrek the Halls (2007)
DreamWorks' Shrek series is a pretty terrible franchise in which Mike Myers spouts bad jokes aimed at 14-year-olds dressed up in animation aimed at 5-year-olds. The Christmas special based on the movies was just as bad, a weird half-hour uniting Shrek and Santa in answer to no one's prayers. If you don't like your kids, show them this.
He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special (1985)
What the hell? Why do He-Man and She-Ra need Christmas? A couple kids get zapped to He-Man's universe to teach him all about Christmas, and that's the simplest part of a plot that's more convoluted than the third Pirates of the Caribbean. Right down to the Very Important Lesson at the end, this one is a needless and dumb addition to the holiday special family.
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Larry the Cable Guy's Hula-palooza Holiday Luau (2009)
It's real. It's awful. It's chock full of jokes Tim Allen would call boring. Look upon it and despair: