Maybe it’s 2016 but, despite being smack in the latter end of the holiday season, it doesn’t feel like the holidays yet. So it’s time for some direct intervention. The holiday TV special. There’s a reason so many shows air one annually. They’re meant to get us on the ball, think cheery stuff, and remember to take time, in all the busyness, to enjoy traditional TV tonics. Here is our handy episode guide to raising the fa la la spirit:


    Fraggle Rock “The Bells of Fraggle Rock” (Season 3, Episode 1)

    Gobo is having a crisis of faith. The Fraggle equivalent of no longer believing in Santa Claus, Gobo doesn’t want to take part in their bell ringing traditions this year because of doubts that the Great Bell exists. Every year when the weather gets cold the Fraggles ring bells until the Great Bell at the heart of the Rock rings back. It’s what keeps the Rock from freezing, or so the story goes, but nobody’s actually seen the Great Bell. For Gobo, seeing is believing and when he finds a map that could show him the way he ignores his friends and sets off. No one has ever needed to prove the Bell’s existence before but for Gobo, without the Bell, what is the meaning of the freezing story? He’s on his way to finding out, and it wouldn’t be Fraggle Rock without a musical number and postcard from Gobo’s Uncle Traveling Matt.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    Call the Midwife “Christmas Special 2014” (Season 4)

    Watching Call the Midwife, it’s always surprising how much I remember it as a pleasant, calming experience. Sad stuff happens on this show all the time and Christmas is no different. But then the sweetly batty Sister Monica Jones gets the wrong size tree, or Fred gets concerned that the children will find out he’s the one wearing the Santa costume, and the warm and fuzzies come rushing back. This is the beginning of the show’s run without Jessica Raine as Nurse Jenny. The character gets a nice tribute when Vanessa Redgrave makes her on-screen debut in bookend scenes, after always narrating the show as Jenny grown-up. Also beginning: Nurse Cynthia’s journey to becoming a nun. Surprising because of her age, the show always takes her choice seriously, just as it took Shelagh’s choice seriously when she decided to leave the nunnery, and it’s a storyline I’ve never seen play out on TV before.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    ER “Blizzard” (Season 1, Episode 10)

    Featuring one of my favorite cold opens of the series, ER has had a lot of great Christmas specials (when a show runs for fifteen years, it happens) but there’s still something about season one’s that keeps me coming back. Set in Chicago, it’s the first big winter snowfall and the hospital is empty of patients. A major car pile-up hits. Mercy’s power is out so all the casualties get directed to County General. “Blizzard” is a busy episode and, as comes with every rewatch of the series, you forget how many great actors were on this show (here, CCH Pounder and William H. Macy make appearances). Keep your eye on Bob (Malgorzata Gebel), and enjoy watching Patrick (Kevin Michael Richardson) go above and beyond Carol’s assignment of straightening the Christmas decorations.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    Futurama “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular” (Season 6, Episode 13)

    Futurama gave us one of the greatest Christmas icons ever with their Evil Santa, originally voiced by the always-fantastic John Goodman, in the season two episode “Xmas Story.’’ Festive fear is always better than festive cheer in my book, and a robot Santa on the rampage is much more entertaining than a cookie-eating, milk-drinking, do-gooder. If I ever have children someday I’ll be telling them that Santa is a homicidal robot who considers every little brat naughty. “Xmas Story’’ is the best holiday-themed episode in the series’ canon, but “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular’’ is more of a conventional, celebratory holiday special, which is more fitting to the other entries on this list.

    The episode contains three self-contained segments pertaining to Christmas, albeit rooted in Futurama’s unique, demented universe. The first has some out of control trees and a musical number from Evil Santa; the second sees Bender make up a robot holiday tradition just so he can slack off from work with hilarious results; and the third has a robot Coolio rapping. It’s great fun, and much more in tune with the festive season compared to “Xmas Story,’’ which was just glorious dark comedy.

    by Kieran Fisher


    The League of Gentlemen “The League of Gentlemen Christmas Special” (Season 2, Episode 7)

    In the last days of the 20th century/early part of the 21st century, the League of Gentlemen were the cult comedy act who had the cult comedy programme on BBC2. In 2000 they produced a Christmas special heavily influenced by the old Amicus and Hammer portmanteau horror films of the 1960’s and 1970’s. In this special there’s three stories where the boundary between comedy and horror is at best, blurred. However this acts not just as a great one-off episode paying tribute to classic horror films, but works as a gloriously grotesque Christmas special that’s a break from the saccharine norm.

    by Glenn Miller


    Veronica Mars “An Echolls Family Christmas” (Season 1, Episode 10)

    Leave it to Neptune, California to take a wonderful day like Christmas and turn it into an Agatha Christie mystery. When a high rolling poker game ends with the cash winnings gone missing, Veronica is hired to suss out the table’s thief. She’s going to take her sweet, Hercule Poirot time doing it, too, gathering the suspects together for another poker game that doubles as a stage for her findings. No one does drawn-out theatrical wordplay like Veronica Mars, and with the Echolls’ family Christmas party playing out in the background, there’s sure to be more drama on the way. Will the poker money be recovered? Will Veronica get paid in time to buy her dad tickets to the baseball camp she can’t afford? It’s no wonder that the Mars’ favorite part of The Year Without A Santa Claus is the Heat Miser‘s song. Things are about to get hot.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    Father Ted “A Christmassy Ted” (Season 2, Episode 11)

    The best thing about Christmas specials is that the fans themselves receive a gift of an extended episode of their favourite show. Father Ted’s 55 minute “A Christmassy Ted” is without question one of the defining Christmas specials out there. While a lot of the specials related to comedy shows focus on the meaning or importance of Christmas, this is merely just set around the time and uses it as a brilliant excuse to incorporate references to the many traditions around the time.

    It’s very much an episode of 2 parts, the first of which takes place in a Dunnes Stores where Ted himself and numerous other priests find themselves trapped in the lingerie section (the largest lingerie section in Ireland, mind you) and Ted is left with the task of evacuating them all is quickly and quietly as possible without being caught; otherwise there will be yet another scandal added to the Catholic church’s list of many.

    The second act, and what takes up the majority of the episode is a ceremony being held for Ted in which he is due to receive a Golden Cleric (Academy Award for priests essentially) for his heroic efforts in preventing another scandal. As he prepares for this event, he’s visited by a supposed old friend, Fr. Todd Unctious who appears to be polite, if a bit irritating; but he seems to have a more sinister plan up his sleeve rather than just a friendly visit.

    Laden with some of the best and most quotable lines from the whole show, this episode is not only one of the best episodes of the entire series, but arguably the best Christmas special to be shown on TV. Truly hysterical.

    You can watch the entire episode (and series) for free on 4oD at this link. (May only work inside Ireland and UK) – http://www.channel4.com/programmes/father-ted/on-demand/23630-001

    by Kevin Shields


    The Mindy Project “Christmas Party Sex Trap”(Season 2, Episode 11)

    Never say Mindy Lahiri misses an opportunity to pursue a romantic conquest. Take her office’s Christmas party, where she implements a multi-pronged plan to win lawyer, Cliff’s, heart, that includes ignoring him, a sexy rendition of “Santa Baby,” and a wine bra. Mindy has this holiday figured out and working for her, or at least the wine bra is working. While the wooing meets some snags, this episode doesn’t, from Morgan’s Christmas sweater to Danny’s puddle-izing Secret Santa gift, that proves the perfect present doesn’t need a price tag.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    Supernatural “A Very Supernatural Christmas” (Season 3, Episode 8)

    Ever wonder how the Winchester’s celebrate Christmas? It’s a lot like most people do. Caroling the wrong lyrics to “Silent Night.” Hanging up empty beer can wreaths. Drinking eggnog (unless, like me, you think that drink is disgusting). Before things start to sound too holly jolly there have been some disappearances. People going up chimneys to the horrible noise of crunching bone and blood on Santa’s(?!) boots. There’s also Dean being able to reference Ozzie and Harriet, and the Cunningham’s, but not know who Dick Van Dyke is. Suspicious, right? Because of where this episode falls in season three, there’s some sadness to the proceedings but flashbacks to a young Sam and Dean remind us why we love these brothers in the first place. They’re always there for each other.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    Only Fools and Horses Christmas Trilogy 1996

    By 1996 Only Fools and Horses had ran out of steam as far as I was concerned. It’s day was done, and writer/creator John Sullivan knew that too as there was only one way for it to go which was to end on a high. For once, a comedy series did the unthinkable and gave the audience exactly what it just wanted at Christmas, but what it needed as well as provide a logical end to the story of Del Boy, Rodney and Grandpa, played respectively by David Jason, Nicolas Lyndhurst and the late Buster Merryfield.

    In 1996 a series of three Christmas specials saw the Trotter family get up to their normal antics trying to make it rich as Del promised that ‘this time next year we’ll be millionaires’, which by the last of the specials, Time on our Hands, saw the family do just that. Sullivan gives the UK’s favourite working class chancers a happy ending, and a walk into the sunset to enjoy a happy retirement in sitcom heaven. It gives us a fairytale ending that although as saccharine as can be, is something we’ve worked for as an audience. We deserved that happy ending.

    Sadly, the BBC coaxed Sullivan to bring the series back and it was shite. We’ll draw a line under that there.

    by Glenn Miller


    The Office (US) “Christmas Party” (Season 2, Episode 10)

    Bring out the elf ears. It’s Christmas at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company and nothing causes a party to break down faster than a game of Yankee Swap (trading Secret Santa gifts because you don’t like what a person picked out for you). You’ve got Angela, head of the Party Planning Committee, losing credit and control of the festivities. You’ve got Creed, who obviously knows his assigned person so well that he dug a plaid shirt out of his closet for them. Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration stops by (“So, what line of work are you in, Bob?”) and Jim’s tea pot ends up in the hands of the worst person possible. This is Christmas at its most awkward and unglamorous, and (perhaps) its most real. A place on this list was the least we could do.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    Bob’s Burgers “The Last Gingerbread House on the Left” (Season 7, Episode 7)

    Bob’s Burgers never ceases to amaze with their Thanksgiving specials, but the Christmas episodes have always had average level delivery. That was, until this year. In keeping with subversion, Bob enters a gingerbread house building competition that turns in to a reckless abandon of family drama, weapon fueled standoffs, and dual pistol wielding geriatrics. Meanwhile, the rest of the family spends their time stalking the house of an assumed murderer, and arguing about whether or not potential death is worth caroling for the holidays. This episode receives a solid 10/10.

    by William Bryant Daniels


    The OC “The Best Chrismukkah Ever” (Season 1, Episode 13)

    With the first day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve coinciding this year, what better way to celebrate than the holiday special that brings Jesus and Moses together: the indestructible Chrismukkah! Specifically designed for double the resistance and presents of ordinary holidays, Chrismukkah is going to need that endurance to withstand the pain beneath Orange County’s glitz. Seth may be the season’s biggest cheerleader but he himself is jeopardizing the good will, with his two-timing ways. Not the ideal setting to make a convert out of newly adopted brother, Ryan, but as lousy as Seth is at getting presents for Summer and Anna (compare their personalized gifts with his identical, Seth-oriented care packages) his gift for Ryan, at least, is unfaultable.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

    What happens when the Ghost of Christmas Past visits someone good for a change, instead of the usual humbug, like Scrooge? The antithesis of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Blackadder comes to see the error in his ways, alright. He’s been way too nice. Everyone in town’s been abusing his generousity, from his goddaughter, Millicent, who has a “a head that’s emptier than a hermit’s address book,” to not-so-Tiny Tom’s mother (Blackadder’s a little overly fond of the weight joke). A holiday special both cynical and historically aware (“This high infant mortality rate’s a real devil when it comes to staging quality children’s theater”) our sympathies may lie with Baldrick, who takes punches to the face and wears a thong in Christmas Future, but our hearts will be singing the special Christmas-ized theme song.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    Honorable Mention

    Fresh Off the Boat “Where Are the Giggles?” (Season 3, Episode 8)

    Home Alone, Jingle All the Way, and Christmas Carol parodies in quick succession (with Twin Peaks‘ Ray Wise as the would-be burglar and Scrooge). Emory repeatedly calling Eddie out on knowing nothing about Kwanza, except Nas said he celebrated Kwanza in an interview. I wish Jessica hadn’t gone the extra step of calling youngest son, Ethan, her favorite (stopping at “I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but then you say things like that…,” could’ve been funny, but not the point-blank statement) but this holiday special is superbly 90’s.

    by Rachel Bellwoar


    Did your favorite holiday special make the list? Be sure to share your picks in the comments below.

    Rachel Bellwoar
    Fueled by Coca Cola ICEEs, Rachel Bellwoar collects TV seasons, reads comics, and tries to put her enthusiasm into words. She also shares the same initials (and first name) as Emmy winner, Rachel Bloom. If that brings her one step closer to being a triceratops in a ballet (please watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), she'll take it. Contact: rachel.bellwoar@thatsnotcurrent.com

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