Quick note: since this is an "all Christmas" Last Week in Pop Culture post, looking at the various Christmas episodes I watched recently, and because nobody wants to read about Christmas stuff after Christmas, I'm posting it a little earlier than the usual Saturday.
The Simpsons: White Christmas Blues
This was a messy episode. The plot was, what, Marge turns the house into a bed & breakfast for the holidays, then has to deal with the inconveniences that brings? Meanwhile, in the wisp of a B-plot (that isn't even introduced until about halfway into the episode) Lisa learns not to be sanctimonious in her gift giving.
Nothing here was bad - it's always good when Marge gets a chance to be just as whacky and irrational as the rest of the family (and her insistence that Christmas carols only have one verse was easily the comedic highlight of the episode), and there's nothing wrong with Lisa having the piss taken out of her every once in awhile - but it was all so scattered and formless I spent more time trying to figure out what the story was than I did enjoying it.
Of the many, many Christmas parodies DVDs that appeared in that overly-long segment, my favorites were probably A Zombie Christmas With Bing Crosby And The 1932 All-American Football Team, A Cowardly Noel With Noel Coward, Citizen Cane and the fact that they included one of the actual Simpsons Christmas DVDs (which I own).
Also, in the Christmas-fied opening, I enjoyed the sign above Homer at the toy factory: 93 days till March 28, actual birth of Christ.
Bob's Burgers: Christmas in the Car
I've never been a big fan of Christmas episodes that lock the characters away from the usual trappings of the holiday, so the fact that most of this episode was set in the Belcher's car on Christmas Eve was a bit of a letdown. Still, this is Bob's Burgers, so it was nevertheless a pretty funny episode. It always helps when the kids are in a position to play off one another, and the entire subplot with Teddy was fantastic.
Family Guy: Christmas Guy
So Brian's back. In about the most obvious way possible. Which, whatever. If this whole "kill Brian" thing proves anything, it's that no one should take anything Family Guy does too seriously (I'm looking at you, internet petitioners).
I can't decide whether or not this would have been better if they'd just done it as a two-parter, ala the "Stewie Kills Lois" episodes. On the one hand, it would have telegraphed just how temporary Brian's death was, on the other hand, it would have saved us the pretense that his death was anything but temporary.
All that said, I hope they find a way to bring Vinnie back. I'm glad Brian is back, but I did kinda like Vinnie too.
American Dad: Minstrel Krampus
This isn't my favorite of the American Dad Christmas episodes, as it's tough to beat the lunatic violence of the Smiths battling Santa and an army of elves, or the little details involved in dropping Stan and France into a post-rapture world , but it is a worthy addition to what has become a pretty classic pantheon of Christmas episode.
I particularly enjoyed the way it referenced the events of the previous Christmas episode, building a bit of mythology for the show involving the Smith's relationship with (a very real) Santa.
This episode was originally intended to air last Christmas, but was pulled in the wake of the Newtown shootings, so the connections to the previous Christmas episode would have been more direct. Also, whether by accident or because they went in and re-edited the episode, Jeff doesn't appear even though this episode, when originally aired, would have occurred before he went off into space. So one way or another, it still manages to fit within the show's minor continuity despite airing a year late.
Trophy Wife: Twas The Night Before Christmas... Or ’Twas It?
Oh man, the two extended cuts of everyone singing "The Sign" easily makes the list of funniest things I've seen this year. This was also probably the strongest episode yet for Bradley Whitford's Pete, who usually gets stuck playing a pseudo-straight man to his wife and ex-wives' wackiness.
Modern Family: The Old Man and the Tree
Modern Family in its later years has become much more inconsistent, still capable of generating some funny bits each episode as well as the occasional all-around-laugher, but the latter has become much harder to come by. This, however, was one of the stronger episodes this season. The Jay/Manny plot was easily the funniest of the bunch, but there were plenty of laughs to be had across all the storylines.
And I love the idea of Dylan as Luke's accomplice/foil. More of that, please.
The Big Bang Theory: The Cooper Extraction
While I applaud the show for trying something different (this isn't a show that monkeys with its formula very often), as well as avoiding the usual It's A Wonderful Life alternate story device that finds all the characters ending up interacting with one another despite the divergence that triggered the alt-narrative, I wish the end result had been more original or, frankly, funnier. Rather than do something clever or hilarious, pretty much all the various alternate timelines covered well-worn territory, trotting out jokes the show has (mostly) left behind: Leonard is socially awkward around women, Howard and Raj are creepy and/or homoerotic together, Stuart is depressed and sad (well, that last one still gets trotted out fairly regularly, much to my dismay). They couldn't even avoid the hoariest crutch of all sitcom "what if" episodes: the fat suit. I applaud the intent, but wish the execution had been better.
The ending, however, with Leonard showing Amy that she's made Sheldon's screen saver rotation was genuinely sweet, and a much needed indicator of Sheldon's affection given that much of this season has led me to question why Amy is sticking with Sheldon.
Glee: Previously Unaired Christmas
Wow, so that was just weird.
I'm fairly certain that Glee, given the way it plays fast and loose with both plot and character development, isn't the kind of show that should or could pull off a retcon episode, but for the most part, the writers managed to acknowledge at least the most obvious signposts of the time this episode was supposed to take place in (ie giving Santana a reason for being in New York even though she hadn't moved there at this time last season), even if it didn't entirely manage to avoid some other continuity pitfalls (wasn't the glee club disbanded, post-Marley bulimic-pass out at Sectionals, around Christmas last year?).
But while most of the stuff in the Lima storyline was passable enough (if somewhat superfluous - I guess this episode retroactively massages Kitty's more recent development into someone who can not be a complete bitch all the time), the New York plotline was just bizarre. I can't for the life of me figure out what the point of having Kurt and Rachel getting robbed by a sexy bi-sexual Santa Claus was, nor why Santana even had to be written into the New York scenes at all (even if her stint as Mrs. Claus was one of the better parts of the episode, it wasn't exactly necessary to the plot).
Obviously, given the way the current school year has been stretched into two seasons, a continuity-patch episode like this was the only way to give this season a Christmas episode (and iTunes sales demand they do a Christmas episode every season!), but surely there was a way to give a better plot to Rachel, Kurt and Santana and still sell Christmas songs?
The opening, in which Jane Lynch sells the idea of this being a genuine lost episode while putting coal in the stockings of her Emmy rivals (and Meryl Streep), was probably the highlight of the episode.
Jackie: I’m celebrating every holiday this season so Bert’s less confused.
Bert: This week is about Jesus’ birthday, eight days of oil, the
attainment of nirvana, and black people being awesome.
Jay: Christmas is real trees and egg nog, Perry Como and Bing on the hi-fi.
Manny: Now you’re just making up words.