A couple of quick housekeeping notes. There will be no "Last Week in TV" post next week; if TV can take a week off, so can I. The following week (the 6th), we'll take a look at all the new shows I've been watching (many of which I haven't been writing about consistently) and evaluate what shape they're at mid-season. Then the week after that (the 13th), we should be back with regular material, taking a look at returning shows (and likely playing catch-up on some old stuff as well). Moving into the second half of the season, my hope is that my schedule will even out a bit, and I should be able to cover shows in a more timely manner than I have thus far. We shall see (best laid plans and all that). Anyways, on with the Christmas!
The Simpsons: Holidays of Future Passed
Not surprisingly, The Simpsons has, in its twenty-three season history, managed to create several subsets of episodes. There's the annual "Treehouse of Horror" anthologies, of course, and the themed anthology episodes inspired by those (like "Simpsons Bible Stories" or "Simpsons Tall Tales"). Then there's the clip shows and the high concept episodes, like "22 Short Films About Springfield" and "Trilogy of Error". This episode falls into two subsets: Christmas episodes, and alt-future episodes.
This turns out to be one of the best alt-future episodes yet (the first, "Lisa's Wedding", is one of my all time favorite episodes) and a pretty good Christmas episode to boot, thanks to a heartwarming story at the center focusing on adult Bart and Lisa coming to terms with their roles as parents and their relationship, as adults, with their parents, helped along by a surprisingly-wise Homer, and plenty of jokes centered around the world of the future. I particularly liked how, despite the presence of such advanced technology as flying cars and mass teleportation, the world is still essentially the same; after all just cuz new technology exists doesn't mean the world would be instantly transformed into a sleek, Jetsonian utopia.
Lisa: My daughter thinks I’m a ruthless tyrant. Like Hitler or Prince Harry!
Homer: Oh, ho, Bloody Harry. He brought back beheading in a big way.
Homer: Everyone thinks their dad is a jerk. And everyone’s right! But when you get older, you realize how much you love him.
Amongst my favorite bits: the Christmas card montages showing Lisa's experimental sex life, the Independent Republic of Texas, the Road Warrior-esque state of air travel, the RoboSnake/Apu and family gunfight ("What are you after? We're a cashless society!"), the Montgomery Burns Institute For Soul Extraction, and the string of "Maggie is like Mary" puns ("a star in the east").
American Dad: Season's Beatings
More than any of the other Fox animated shows, American Dad has really embraced Christmas, churning out a nice collection of fun, high concept Christmas episode throughout its run. Being high concept, they tend to be rather plot driven and light on jokes that don't develop from the within the concept. The end result is that while the Christmas episodes aren't always the funniest episodes, they are usually lots of fun.
This episode was another worthy addition to the American Dad Christmas pantheon. While Stan questing for the weapons necessary to kill the Anti-Christ isn't quite on the same level as Stan fighting alongside the Nazarene in a post-Rapture wasteland, and the jokes here were thinner on the ground than usual, this was still a lot of fun, giving Haley and Jeff their first story in ages, and with an ending that connected it nicely to previous Christmas episodes (though, while I liked how the ending connected this episode the previous post-Rapture episode, the Sarah Palin joke was pretty lazy. I mean, I love me a good Sarah Palin joke, but her fifteen minutes is well past expired, isn't it?)
Glee: Extraordinary Merry Christmas
Well, it was going to be tough to top last year's "Artie gets robot legs" plot in terms of ridiculousness, but this episode found a way. Look, there was plenty to like here: pretty much all of the Christmas special the glee club shot was hilarious (I would totally watch a 50s-style sitcom starring Blaine and Kurt as a Lucy-esque housewife, and the non-copywright infringing Star Wars drop ins were great), the "Sam connects to the moroseness of the holiday" and "Finn deals with his pushy, greedy girlfriend" plots were both in character and dovetailed together nicely, albeit predictably (but hey, it's a Christmas episode; we know someone's heart is going to grow three sizes by the end), and I adore the Charlie Brown Christmas special to the point where I can pretty much quote the biblical passage Linus uses to remind everyone of the true meaning of Christmas, so using that passage in a similar manner here worked for me.
But then they go and end the show by singing "Do They Know Its Christmas", at a homeless shelter of all places, without a single hint of irony. Look, I straight up love that song, like, "top five favorite Christmas songs of all time" love. It's got a fun 80s sound a rocking drum line, but I completely love it ironically. It is a well-intentioned but misguided snapshot of a certain time, both musically and politically, and its existence cracks me up (as Dr. Bitz says, the question isn't "do they know it's Christmas?", but "do they care?"). But take the lyrics on their own, out of context and without irony, and it's a terrible song. Yet there's the Glee cast, belting it out like it's "Silent Night" or something while the suddenly-caring Sue nods approvingly. It's one thing to chuckle at Bono belting out "well, tonight thank God it's them, instead of you", it's another to watch Mercedes sing that line to the "them" in the song.
So yeah. Overall, not a bad Christmas episode. But man, did they totally biff the landing.
My DVR suggested the central conflict of this episode revolved around the whole "The glee club is double booked! Will they choose crass commercialization or helping those in need" dilemma, and I'm glad that wasn't really the focus of the episode. For one thing, it seems like a non-issue (send half the club to one event, half to the other; I'm pretty sure they could have found enough volunteers for both. Also, the homeless need to be fed every night, not just Friday) and for another, if they did have to choose one or the other, it seems like the kind of decision Will would have ultimately made, and we all know he'd have sent them to the homeless shelter (apparently, he was too busy directing this episode to weigh in on the matter).
I'm not sure how to feel about Sue's sudden Christmas spirit. This is definitely how I like the character, snarky but ultimately well-intentioned, and while the writing, at least in terms of characterization, has been much more consistent this season, it just seems like whenever the show wants to humanize Sue, they bring up her sister so she can be nice for an episode before reverting to super-villainy in the next. If this is the starter of a truly softer Sue, great, but how many times have we said that by now? As improved as the show is, I'm not convinced its reached a point where's it willing to consistently portray Sue as anything but a villain.
Maybe it's different with this new, younger generation of Star Wars fan, but no one that's actually seen the holiday special likes it. It's so bad you can't even enjoy it ironically, so Artie's insistence on homaging it felt false.
While I completely understand non-Christians celebrating/partaking in the secular aspects of Christmas, I couldn't help but think that Rachel and Puck should have been less moved by Rory's biblical recitation than others. Then again, I've long argued that the Charlie Brown Christmas special is, at its core, secular, and that wishing for peace and goodwill is something that speaks to everyone regardless of thee indiviudal tenants of their faith. Still, Rachel, especially, was so gung ho about Christmas throughout this episode that it also rang a little false.
I'm totally with Sam that there's an element of sadness to Christmas as well as one of joy and celebration.
I'm still curious how "My Favorite Things" became a Christmas song.
Buffy vet Marti Noxon wrote the script. Hopefully, she just wrote "song" in when necessary and let someone else pick the playlist...
Seriously, I still can't believe they sang "thank God it's them instead of you" to a room full of homeless people...
Community: Regional Holiday Music
Community has been taking pokes at Glee almost since the beginning, not surprisingly given that both shows premiered around the same time and one went on to become a commercial juggernaut while the other has remained a low rated critical darling. All those little jabs through the years (and the clip of the study group filling in for the glee club seen in last season's clip show episode) pay off in this episode, as we get a full-on Glee homage.
And homage really is the right word, because most of the Glee snark is reserved for the first act and some running bits (like the "what the hell is Regionals?" gag, truly is one of the more laughable elements of Glee, and the fact that Mr. Rad was pretty much just Mr. Schue played by a different actor), with the rest of the episode more focused on Abed anti-hipster attitude that sometimes it's okay to just like things and his desire to have everyone together to celebrate Christmas, with Glee-like singing simply the mechanism used to bring everyone under his sway. Eventually, he realizes that Mr. Rad's glee is forced and hollow, and releases everyone, only to have his friends come together of their own volition to share in the horror of the Inspector Spacetime Holiday Special with him (the Star Wars holiday special is getting a lot of mileage this season...).
It's neither as deft, touching or Chrismas-y as last year's "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" but it's still pretty damn funny, features some great original songs (Troy and Abed's rap is one of the most awesome things I've ever seen but "Baby Boomer Santa" was probably the best song), and wisely plays off of Abed's role in last year's Christmas episode to make him the driving force of this one.
This episode continued this season's examination of the show's characters (Along with "Remedial Chaos Theory" and "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps") by giving everyone a song that showed off some element of their character.
Despite being a Christmas episode, this had a distinct Halloween vibe to it, with the music infecting people like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Of the various Glee gags, my hands down favorite was finding the study room transformed into a choir room, complete with a piano guy who looked just like Glee's Brad.
I'm not even going to mention anything about how hot Alison Brie in the Santa outfit was, because that would be playing right into her song's hands, wouldn't it? But I will say that I absolutely adored how it lampooned the sexualization and infantilization of women during Christmas, something my poker group was just discussing this week (What? We talk about lots of different things while we play...).
This is the last episode of the show before it's Unspecified Return Date, its remaining episodes shelved until something else on NBC's midseason schedule crashes and burns (so probably not long). If you watch this show, write a letter to NBC and tell them you want it back ASAP. Networks are apparently old fashioned and listen to actual physcial letters more than they do emails, so buy a stamp and write to:
c/o NBC Universal
100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City CA 91608.
Jeff: You know there's a point of diminishing returns on sexy, right?
Parks and Recreation: Citizen Knope
I've said before that Parks and Rec is like The Simpsons in its golden age, brilliantly blending hilarity and heart along with political and cultural satire, and appropriately enough for a Christmas episode, this episode definitely doled out the heart, as all of Leslie's friends come together to give her a gingerbread model of the parks department and pledge to help run her campaign. It was genuinely touching as everyone pledged their support, even the caustic Ron and April, and Leslie was so moved by it all even I started to tear up ("Ron Swanson: Any other damn thing you might need" also really got me).
But here's some of the many hilarious things I loved in this episode: all of the Christmas presents Leslie bought for her co-workers, which were spot on, Ron's barely concealed exuberance at his present, salgar, Ben's "calc-u-later" joke, April and Andy waiting to burst into the room to eat Leslie's leftovers, Ann's happiness at being Leslie's obvious favorite, Andy's hand stuck in the marshmallow fluff jar, Jean-Ralphio's monologue to Ben about following his passions, and the fact that one of those passions actually is model trains, and most of all, Andy eating the silver M&Ms only to be ordered to immediately throw them up by Ann, a bit that had both Mrs. Teebore and I rolling.
Seriously you guys, there is no show on TV better equipped to tell the kind of simultaneously poignant and hilarious stories that Parks and Rec consistently does. That this Christmas episode was one of their finest yet, capping off an excellent front half of the season, is the best present of all.
Saturday Night Live: Jimmy Fallon and Michael Buble
This episode was tons of fun. Jimmy Fallon was clearly excited to be there, and his energy was infectious, carrying over from sketch to sketch and helping smooth out some of the bumps left by the less-effective sketches. Plus, we got a ton of cameos from past cast members, helping the whole thing seem even more fun and Christmas-y.
Cold Open: Nicely set the tone for the night, with the reappearance of an old Fallon bit and former cast members (nice to Rachel Dratch again). Of all of Fallon's recurring sketches, I generally liked this one, and there was some fun metatextual commentary as the new cast members played teenagers looking up to Jimmy Fallon's now twenty-something Sully.
Monologue: I know I usually rail against songs in monlogues, but this worked. For one, Jimmy Fallon has a history of doing musical bits, for another, his race through 30 Rock was more than just singing on stage, and pretty damned funny. Plus, I loved the entire cast coming out and just dancing around at the end; another nice Christmas show touch.
The Today Show: One of the misses of the night, though it certainly wasn't awful (I do generally enjoy Kristen Wiig's Kathie Lee, which is funny in a "funny cuz it's true" way) and Fallon turned in a nice Regis.
Michael Buble's Christmas Duets: A good excuse for impressions, and I liked that Fallon contributed a lot of them. His Russell Brand was particularly good.
Mirror Image: A neat callback to that old Mick Jagger sketch made funny by how doofy Andy Samberg's mimicry was.
"Don't Make Me Sing": The worst sketch of the night, featuring a recurring Kristen Wiig character that is barely a character, and not funny at all.
Weekend Update: They really pulled out the stops for this one. The return of Nicholas Cage alone would have sufficed, but then they brought back Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for an anchor off. I also loved Seth's line about how the poverty line is the line that divides people who shop at Target from the ones who shop at Wal-Mart.
"I Wish it was Christmas Today": The return of another classic sketch, this one delighted Mrs. Teebore, who adores the original sketch (and the song itself). I loved that they actually got everyone back, and that they all did exactly what they did the first time around.
Beethoven: A bit repetitive, but funny in its way, and seeing the old faces helped make the repetition endurable. Also, there was a great line about how the tuba is music's answer to the fart.
War Horse: Again, not a bad sketch, but not one that did much for me.
Tommy Palmese: A good showcase for Armisen (I'd rather him do stuff like this rather than Obama), though it did remind me of a similar bit from an old Family Guy episode. I particularly liked the review excerpts that weren't at all positive (an old joke, but a favorite).
Tim Tebow and Jesus: Easily my favorite sketch. Yeah, the jokes were pretty obvious, but that is exactly how I imagine both Tebow and Jesus to be, so I loved it.
Closing: Another nice touch for Christmas; did you catch Will Arnett skating in the back of the group?
Nicholas Cage: My hair is like polarized metal filings at the mercy of their cruel mother magnet. All perched upon the face of a weathered possum king!
Nicholas Cage on his surprise at not being in the Sherlock Holmes sequel: One, it exists, two, much like Sherlock Holmes, I am a high-society playboy who moonlights as a cyborg assassin!
Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 3/10
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 5/10