If there’s anything as deeply rooted in the holiday season as Christmas music, it’s holiday episodes and specials on TV. There’s a canon of sorts that most of us know, like A Charlie Brown Christmas and a slew of stop-motion specials, such Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, but we wanted to explore a slightly more eclectic selection. Don’t worry. Nothing too strange. These types of things are usually Christmas related, but you’ll be happy to know we managed to include some exceptions.
With that in mind, here’s Our Favorite Winter Holiday Episodes/Specials, as chosen by the Pop Break staff. Who knows? You might want to add some of these to your traditions.
We also threw Schweddy Balls in from SNL… just ’cause.
‘The Weinerville Chanukah Special’ (Allison Lips)
In 1995, Nickelodeon took a chance and aired “The Weinerville Chanukah Special.” Considering, when creator Marc Weiner, started at Nickeledeon he was afraid to tell anyone he was Jewish, the fact that this special made it to air is a Chanukah miracle.
Every part of “The Weinerville Chanukah Special” is outlandish and hilarious. The special starts with Marc Summers, who is Jewish, telling Boney about the history of the Israelites and Antiochus. Naturally, Boney, who is like a children’s version of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, gets bored and asks Summers if he knows the Weinerville Chanukah story. Of course, Summers doesn’t, so Boney knocks him over and starts telling the Weinerville Chanukah story, which is a bizarre parallel to the real story of Chanukah.
Boney’s story involves anthropomorphic latkes, who insist they are really aliens, trying to escape from Space Antiochus when they run out of oil for their spaceship. At the same time, the Weinerville Ski Lodge’s kitchen runs out of oil for the latkes for the Chanukah party, but before they can go to the supermarket Space Antiochus arrives with the intent to destroy the party and enslave the anthropomorphic latkes. Since this is Chanukah, everything works out in the end, complete with a Ramones inspired rendition of “Menorah Menorah” by Cocktail Frank and his Weiners.
‘A Very Sunny Christmas’ (Logan Fowler)
There’s a variety of Christmas specials that mean a lot to us, with memorable moments, and have elements that touch our hearts.
And then there’s “A Very Sunny Christmas.”
If you know anything about It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, you know that it features a crew of folks that have no redeeming qualities. It’s Seinfeld on crack. In any case, take the traits of all the leading characters and turn it up a little bit higher, add in a Christmas flair, and you get it.
Taking bits and pieces from holiday specials and tossing them into a blender, “A Very Sunny Christmas” skewers A Christmas Carol and stop-motion programs of old in an 45-minute special. There’s more vulgarity, more blood, and way more shenanigans than a 20-minute episode could contain.
At the end of it all, though, it is able to both provide satire on the Christmas programs that are near and dear to us, but also, embrace them. As a gameplan backfires on the gang towards the end (as it would), we get a sweet moment of two childhood friends, who are now adults, enjoying their December 25th doing what they’ve always done: throwing rocks at trains. It’s a charming segment that is not forced or rushed; it completely, 100% demonstrates what Christmas should mean, even after all the maniac madness shows itself full force.
‘A Johnny Bravo Christmas’ (Josh Sarnecky)
Oh, Johnny Bravo, you loveable oaf. I honestly wonder if such a show would be green lit in today’s cartoon industry. When you break it down, Johnny Bravo is all about a muscle-bound idiot who, despite his general good nature, is incredibly self-centered and spends the vast majority of his time harassing attractive women. Sure, his advances are fairly innocent and limited to cheesy pick-up lines and flexing, but his behavior really is tantamount to harassment. Yet the show remained incredibly light-hearted and managed to make Johnny a likeable (and even sympathetic) character.
“A Johnny Bravo Christmas” is arguably the best episode in the series because it captures everything that made the show enjoyable (i.e. Johnny getting beat up after a funny pick-up line, little Suzy outsmarting Johnny, ridiculous jokes and one liners that parents could appreciate, and unexpected cameos) and wrapped it in a holiday package. The plot (Johnny forgets to send his and his mother’s Christmas lists to Santa, so Johnny and his friends must hand-deliver them to the North Pole) is appropriately simplistic but absurd. The journey to the North Pole brings them into contact with talking circus animals, a truck driver and her enchanting French niece, an eccentric pilot that just got his license, Donny Osmond, and Santa Claus himself. The jokes are fast-paced, over-the-top, occasionally smart, and full of unexpected references (at one point, Johnny calls the pilot “Shirley”). This is without a doubt the funniest holiday episode I’ve ever seen.
Moreover, this is a Christmas special that knows how to be sincere without taking itself too seriously. Johnny eventually gives up receiving Christmas presents from Santa so that his mother will receive some, but he continues to be just as outlandish as ever. The message that Christmas is a time for selfless giving and caring for the ones you love is certainly present, yet the show doesn’t make the lesson saccharine. Instead, the show’s trademark humor is front and center throughout the special.
While my favorite line may come earlier in the special (“You know, the last time I was in a cargo hatch, I was bound, gagged, and forced into training for the French Foreign Legion”), the special’s best moment undoubtedly comes when Donny Osmond enters the picture. Portrayed as a goofball version of Mary Poppins, Donny Osmond was last seen four years earlier as Johnny’s overly cheery nanny. Johnny and Donny have amazing chemistry, and every single line Donny utters is comedic gold. From asking everyone to sing while they’re talking to being unfazed by the fact that Santa has no idea who he is, Donny is charmingly oblivious and steals the few scenes he’s in.
Family Guy, ‘When You Wish Upon a Weinstein’ (Michael Dworkis)
A little backstory. This episode originally was meant to air during the second season, however, concerns by the Fox execs caused this to be delayed until being aired on Adult Swim as part of Season 3. The execs were afraid it would have been considered anti-Semitic.
Once it aired, it was considered to be one of the most humorous episodes at the time. Aside from a good portion of the voice cast being Jewish, many Jews who saw the episode didn’t see it as anti-Semitic at all and even appreciated the humor.
My favorite part was the scene in the synagogue, where the “Jew” of the episode, named Max Weinstein, invited the Griffin family to services where a number of familiar town faces and even a few celebrities are seen, including my favorite, and the reason why I picked this episode, the reveal that Optimus Prime is Jewish. Complete with pop-up tallis and kippah. Didn’t hurt to have Ben Stein as the Rabbi either.
‘A Rugrats Chanukah’ (Liz Dircks)
Full disclosure: I’m not Jewish, and I know this because while writing this review, I couldn’t settle on a single spelling of “Chanukah” for fear that it was the wrong one. But “A Rugrats Chanukah” meant something to me as a kid, awash with Nickelodeon Christmas specials. It was new territory — my beliefs were catered to relentlessly, but I was almost never given the opportunity to learn about the beliefs of others. The episode is simple enough to entertain and educate a young kid, with clear themes and lasting impact. It’s centered on a play, “The Meaning of Chanukah,” in which Tommy’s Grandpa Boris is playing Judah the Maccabee opposite his old rival Shlomo, playing King Antiochus. With the help of a delightful malaprop where the babies believe Shlomo is the “meany” of Chanukah and needs to be put down for a nap, “A Rugrats Chanukah” explores tradition, family, and weirdly enough, satirizes the media-driven image of Christmas.
Watching as an adult, I discovered the show’s writing was far funnier and cleverer than I ever gave it credit for. The many slapstick and deadpan comedic moments only make the episode more dear to my heart, like Angelica unintentionally tripping the man dressed as a dreidel, who later points to his backside and announces he “broke a shin” because of her. (I didn’t know for years that the “shin” to which he referred was a letter of the Hebrew alphabet on the dreidel, not the body part.) Equally amusing is Tommy the Maccabee’s pop-up Torah, and basically every “historical reenactment” scene. I distinctly remember enjoying the Passover special, too, for similarly casting the show’s characters in the legend of the plagues.
This special is a fun crash course in Chanukah customs, but really, Judaism is a foundation of both Tommy’s identity and the show itself. Rugrats co-creator Arlene Klasky is Jewish, and based Boris and Minka, Tommy’s maternal grandparents, on her own great aunts and uncles from Eastern Europe. Boris and Minka routinely utter Yiddish phrases, and in “Monster in the Garage,” Boris even tells the story of the fearsome dybbuk, a monster from Jewish mythology. The most subtle lessons of the episode, however, come through the non-Jewish characters’ examples. Tommy’s father Stu, for instance, is so determined to make Tommy proud of his heritage that he mounts an extravagant, musical menorah on his car for the play. The menorah actually ends up being dismissed by the narrative; Chanukah isn’t a collection of stereotypes, but rather a celebration of a miracle and of driving out oppressors.
There are plenty of moments that make this episode a gem. To this day, the line, “A Maccababy’s gotta do what a Maccababy’s gotta do!” is one of my favorites from the entire show. Likewise, a heart-breaking exchange comes when Boris and Shlomo confront each other backstage and Shlomo laments that he and his late wife never had children. Seeing the dawning realization on Boris’ face that, despite his lifelong jealousy of Shlomo’s success, he had the family Shlomo always wanted, is pretty rough. But my favorite moment is when the curtain collapses on Stu’s garish menorah, revealing Boris, Shlomo, and the babies sitting backstage reading Tommy’s Chanukah book. The message is plain: the rivals have made their peace and are passing down their traditions to the newest generation. It’s an image that has stayed with me for nearly 20 years, in a Chanukah special that is a rare find in an unending sea of Christmas trees and reindeer.
Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas (Ann Hale)
For as long as I can remember, my family has gotten together every Christmas to watch the Jim Henson classic Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas. Emmet Otter is a 1977 TV movie that is an adaptation of the O. Henry story “The Gift of the Magi,” a story that really captures the spirit of the holiday.
Emmet and Ma live together in a town called Frogtown Hollow. Ma is a single mother who does laundry for the wealthy and Emmet is her only son who does odd jobs around town to help supplement his mothers income. It has been years since Pa died so they have survived on very little but love a whole lot.
One day, while out on the town, Emmet spots a piano he would love to buy for his mother but knows he could never afford it doing odd jobs. Ma spots a guitar she knows Emmet would love but, again, she cannot afford it on laundry wages. It is by sheer luck that Ma and Emmet find out from friends that there is a singing competition in town that will pay enough for both to afford their gifts for one another.
In order for Ma to afford a costume, she has to sell Emmet’s tool chest. In order for Emmet to play in the jug band and play the washtub bass, he has to put a hole in Ma’s washtub. This means that, if they don’t win, Emmet cannot do his odd jobs and Ma cannot do her laundry. Betting it all that one of them will win, they reluctantly take the chance and destroy the other ones means of income.
My favorite part of the movie is when Emmet and his mother are going down the slide that Pa made and sliding across the frozen river. By request by Emmet, Ma sings Pa’s favorite song in his memory. It’s such a heartwarming moment that you can’t help but get a little choked up. You begin to forget that they are just puppets and not actual people mourning the loss of a loved one.
Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas is a beautiful movie and it is really fun for small children. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Mad Men, ‘Christmas Waltz’ (Matthew Haviland)
People actually missed Christmas episodes of Mad Men after seeing the season leading to them (“Christmas Waltz” was the lowest-rated episode since two seasons before). Mad Men doesn’t commit to the holidays, at least not in the way we expect. It uses them like ads use them—to fit the aesthetic. While fans of the cinematography were overjoyed to see how they represented these colorful times (and this episode is no exception), calendar dates were often forgotten by the time Don waxed poetic about latex. I didn’t remember this was a Christmas episode. I got halfway through writing describing other season-fivers I thought must have been this one.
I remember the events, sure, after checking the episode summary, but aside from Don sitting with ornaments behind him as Lane begs for money or the couples behind him and Joan slow-dancing to mesmerizing Christmas music, the episode is bereft of the season. But this series was never about sitting around for demonstrations. It integrates the deeper themes of holidays into its “specials.” With a tragic display of gifts, wants, and goodwill towards men, this is among the deepest Yuletide episodes ever made. Like A Christmas Carol, that book about ghosts and grief with Christmas tropes peeking in around the corners, it’s got more important things to do than another “What do you want for Christmas?” routine.
Although, in a way, that’s exactly what it does. Lane Pryce starts the festivities, dressed in his old-fashioned pajamas, saying, “Thank goodness” (what a Dickens start; later in the episode, he is referred to as Scrooge, asked which ghost visited him last night, a deep, funny sentiment), as he gets a call from his lawyer telling him his tax issues in England were worked out as promised, but he rescinds his relief—the authorities need eight thousand dollars immediately or he’ll be in serious legal trouble. This sets an episode full of grief and broken spirits in grinding motion. This episode works as a holiday drama because, like the children with their Christmas lists, Lane and others need what they don’t have means to acquire, not without some help.
This episode doesn’t actually take place during Christmas. Instead, we feel the bitterness of anticipation. Lane gives the dubious gift of saying Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has enough in their stockings for generous Christmas bonuses, but when he says he’ll write the checks right away, Don says they should wait until the Christmas party. What’s a more subversive theme than knowing you can’t have what you want for another few weeks? And other characters struggle with needs they cannot have fulfilled (at least, as they would prefer), whether it’s Roger with the child Joan won’t let him visit, Joan with her divorce papers, Kinsey with his Star Trek script (Peggy says that Harry, who gives her the script hoping she’ll say it’s okay, really wants to help, doesn’t he, and Harry says the beautiful, Dickensian thing, “So what, do you know how lucky we are?”), unemployment, and Krishna consciousness, even though he wears the outfit and sells it like crazy, or Don with humanity’s desire. His take on America Hurrah, in which a guy in a suit lies on the stage and talks about how the beer advertisements make him sick, gets to the heart of Christmas greed. Don says to Megan, “People buy things because it makes them feel better.” Consumerism and advertising are empty, of course, but not malicious.
But behind the cold tidings is warmth. It’s Christmas as only Madison Avenue can provide when Don takes Joan, just served with divorce papers, to a Jaguar dealership. They test-drive “the most beautiful car ever made,” with six thousand dollars’ collateral so the guy at the dealership doesn’t have to chaperone, to the most romantic bar in New York, where they have a dreamy conversation, with a blurred Christmas tree by the jukebox, a glinting coat of arms on the wall, and the years they’ve had together all around them. When Joan wonders if the man looking her way has someone at home, Don says he doesn’t know what he wants, “but he’s wanting.” Later on, Harry, who betrayed his friend (and marriage) by sleeping with the Hare Krishna’s beloved, gives Kinsey a ticket to Los Angeles, five hundred dollars (to start over), and compassion. Not to leave things without remorse, Lane’s forging Don’s signature to take his bonus early haunts him when the partners announce they are giving bonuses to everyone but themselves, showing that sometimes, even the rich need charity.
Holliston, ‘The Christmas Special’ (Tommy Tracy)
Holliston is a show many haven’t heard of and, sadly, may never get picked up for a third season. From writer/director Adam Green (Hatchet series, Frozen), Holliston follows two friends destined to make it as horror directors, their two girlfriends and over-the-top roles from rock and rollers Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) and Dave Brockie (GWAR).
Why this show, and especially this episode, is so special to me is because my love for horror, Christmas and the crazy hijinks these characters get into. It is full of very clever horror references, silly over-the-top gags and enough emotion to almost break your heart. Adam, Joe, Corri and Laura are stuck in their apartment because of a snowstorm. There is also a mass murderer on the loose and creeping around their town of Holliston. The characters reminisce about the first time they met (in hilarious flashbacks where the 40-year-old actors are playing 10-year-olds) and trying to figure out their lives.
The episode also focuses on Adam and Corri’s shattered relationship and also has one of the most amazing speeches from GWAR member Dave Brockie (in full GWAR make-up). This show sounds silly, and it is, but watching it in context really makes ’80s and ’90s slackers such as myself really think about their lives. It’s sure to make anyone with a heart tear up while also laughing their Christmas dinner off.
Also, Dee Snider essentially has an orgasm over a Faster Pussycat tape. So, ‘nuff said.
Clone High, ‘Snowflake Day’ (Chris Diggins)
Clone High is the canceled-too-soon MTV animated show about a high school attended by clones of famous figures from eventual Lego Movie creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, and it will always hold a very special place in my heart. Back in high school, my friends and I watched the show’s 13 episodes over and over again, laughing wildly even when we knew them all by heart. To this day a well-placed Clone High quote can launch us into fits of giggling, and every once in a while we get together to rewatch an episode or two. This obsessive love isn’t just because the show is uproariously funny, a pitch-perfect parody of the overwrought drama and forced sentimentality of teen shows like Dawson’s Creek. It also manages to get at the heart of the teen experience far better than any of the shows it parodied. As someone who endured the horrors of being a teenage boy, the fumbling awkwardness, childish excitement, and self-involved obliviousness of Clone High‘s Abe Lincoln is far closer to how I felt than nearly any other depiction of similar characters. In fact, the whole show had a surprising honesty and heart beneath all the comedy that made it stick with me in a way few others have. With all that in mind, it should be no surprise that I consider its holiday episode an exemplar of the genre.
In the Clone High world, all winter holidays have been replaced by Snowflake Day, a non-specific, non-denominational holiday. The kinds of “jokes” against political correctness this inspires were already tired by the time the show came out, and are just dreadfully unfunny now, but thankfully the episode does not dwell long on this aspect. No, its true strengths lies elsewhere, such as the bizarrely specific Snowflake Day traditions the writers came up with. It’s not just some generic wintery holiday: kids ask for gifts of exotic spices from the frostbitten pirate Snowflake Jake, people indulge in traditional lamb tacos and other meat-based delights, and everyone gets together to do the traditional Snowflake Day cabbage patch. Clone High‘s comedy thrives on this kind of absurd specificity, so its talents are well-suited to this thorough skewering of holiday traditions.
But the episode’s more pointed mockery is reserved for the trite clichés of your typical holiday special. Joan of Arc, Clone High‘s requisite cynical, embittered loner, takes on the role of the person who’s lost her Snowflake Day spirit. The show foregrounds the pettiness and self-obsession fueling her cynicism of the holiday that typically goes unexamined in these specials, but it doesn’t exactly leave those who do embrace Snowflake Day looking much better. Cleopatra’s expensive and elaborate Snowflake Day party and her abject disgust at Abe’s homemade present make clear that materialism really is front and center in the holiday, even if that’s not really why Joan hates it. And the unfortunate habit of using the homeless to teach these “valuable” lessons receives the harshest treatment of all, from Joan deriding the suspiciously-Mandy-Moore-esque homeless woman who serves as her guide for asking for money to eat to her incredulous declaration that “I didn’t know poor people could have fun!” when she sees the homeless party that changes her mind.
Perhaps most importantly of all, however, the episode is just really funny. The rapidfire ridiculousness of Clone High is on full display, keeping you laughing almost constantly. What other holiday special would have running gags about one character having his face torn apart by different bladed instruments, or greeting card company snipers trying to take out the cynic who complains of their influence over the holidays? Where else could you hear a young JFK croon Snowflake Day hits like “Away in a Taco,” “Jerky Balls,” or “Snowflake Jake Is Cumin to Town?” Even putting aside the deeper honesty and heart of the show, the comedy alone is more than enough to sustain it. And with all of it put together, you have a bona fide holiday classic on your hands. So do yourself a favor: cook up some lamb tacos, leave your spice rack out on the mantle, and enjoy a very special Clone High Snowflake Day this year, whether it’s your first time or your hundredth
As for my favorite moment, is it cheating to pick something that doesn’t really have that much to do with the holiday theme as my favorite? I hope not, because Gandhi and Abe engaging in a get rich quick scheme by inventing the knork, an unholy fusion of knife and fork, is easily the highlight of the episode. The excitable Abe and hyperactive Gandhi play off each other beautifully as the initial idea, inspired by a knife and fork accidentally fusing together in a garbage disposal, quickly spirals out of control. And when they try to sell it to a crowd through a ludicrously contrived act of Abe pretending to be an old woman left broken and frail through constant use of two different utensils, it leaves me in stitches every time. It’s a perfect example of Clone High‘s delightful absurdism and one of the most memorable bits in the whole show.
How I Met Your Mother, ‘Symphony of Illumination’ (Dylan Brandsema)
Season 7 of How I Met Your Mother was one of the show’s most emotional. It was part of the period when, as any fan who has seen every episode will surely tell you, it started to become more of a drama than a comedy, and when it came time once again to do a Christmas episode, they stuck to their guns and crafted one of the most emotional episodes of the whole series.
The 12th episode of the season, “Symphony of Illumination,” follows Robin as she attempts to cope with the realization that she is physically unable to ever have any children. Her disliking of children and how much she never wants to have them was well documented throughout the series, but somehow learning she never actually could, even if she wanted to, was a heartbreaking thing to see. To add another layer to the sadness cake, she never tells anyone, and instead makes up a lie and says that she found out she can never be a Canadian Olympic pole vaulter. This doesn’t seem like an appropriate set-up or plot for a Christmas sitcom episode — and in fairness, there’s a funnier side plot involving Marshall getting stuck on the roof hanging up Christmas decorations — but if there’s one thing HIMYM was known for it was subverting expectations.
And that brings me to the two reasons I love this episode: First is the format change. For the first time in the series, it shifted perspectives, letting us see a day through Robin’s eyes instead of Ted’s, which was a perfect choice for this episode’s subject matter. Smulders narrates the episode as if she were talking to her own non-existent children, and this is brilliant because it allows us a better chance to see how devastating and impactful this was to her character specifically, rather than having Ted tell us how it for felt for someone else like usual (because remember, she never told him or anyone else the truth).
The second reason is it’s a side-step to the usual Christmas sitcom episode. It seems that most Christmas sitcom episodes are usually about togetherness, appreciating your loved ones, and that other warm and fuzzy stuff. This was an episode about loneliness, about being misunderstood, about the fear of being judged by your peers, and about having a feeling of uncertainty towards a future that isn’t what you thought it would be. It’s about the darker side of how many people feel during the holidays. Every year there’s always one person that feels the need to tell us what the statistics are about seasonal depression – this is an episode about, and perhaps for, those kind of people. It’s an admirable move of HIMYM’s part to shift the perspective a little bit.
But the episode isn’t all doom and gloom. The episode’s best moment, and one my personal favorite moments in the entire series, comes at the end when Ted refuses not to cheer up Robin, even after her repeated requests not to do so. He sets up an elaborate and extravagant Christmas light show in their apartment – a symphony of illumination, as the title suggests – set to AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell,” with giant lights spelling out “Merry Christmas Robin” on the back wall. The passionate hug that follows as a result is one of the show’s most heartwarming moments and it is Cobie Smulder at her absolute best. My championing and adoration for her as an actress has been no secret in many of my previous reviews on this site, but here, she truly, honestly did blow me away the first time I saw it and her performance in this moment hasn’t gotten any less impactful upon rewatching.
And I think that’s part of why this is such a special Christmas episode. In the end, it’s not about tradition or getting into the holiday spirit. It’s the story of how two people with a long and complicated relationship found comfort and happiness in each other as the joy of Christmas was seemingly and steadily draining all around them. It might not be one of those Christmas episodes that you watch every year, but it’s an episode that moved and spoke to me very deeply, and it will always be one of my favorites.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Bill Bodkin)
Released in 1983, the Mickey’s Christmas Carol was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short. It also holds a place in Pixar history as it was the first and only Disney animated film the founder of the animated juggernaut, John Lasseter worked on.
It also is one of the best versions of Dickens’ famed story you’ll ever see. Scrooge McDuck is the duck who is visited by three spirits, and the animators (and vocal artist Alan Young) capture all the best of previous Scrooge’s like Reginald Owen, Allistair Sim, and Albert Finney brought to the table.
Disney was also able to seamlessly incorporate all of their characters into the film — using Mickey as the ultimate sympathetic Bob Cratchit, Goofy as Jacob Marley, and Jimminy Cricket as The Ghost of Christmas Past.
The cartoon glosses over nothing and embraces the darker, and more intense parts of the story. It’s a kid’s movie for sure, but it’s able to really engage with themes Dickens put in his book. If you have a kid, hunt this one down — it’s adorable and teaches a nice lesson.
Arrow, ‘Three Ghosts’ (Matt Kelly)
What is the true meaning of Christmas?
Christmas is about giving.
At the end of “Three Ghosts,” Barry leaves Oliver with a gift. Besides friendship, the greatest gift of all, Barry gifts a proper mask for Oliver so that he doesn’t have to wear dorky eye makeup. This moment represents a turning point for the series. Through Barry, Arrow is accepting its place in the superhero genre, a place it had not occupied until this point.
People forget that before Arrow, a superhero show was an experiment. It wasn’t seen as the cash grab some of them are today. It was risky. And even though the Green Arrow is a DC veteran, Arrow treated Oliver like something completely different. He didn’t use the same name. He didn’t wear the same outfit. He didn’t shoot boxing gloves. It wasn’t until “Three Ghosts” that Arrow fully embraced the goofiness of the superhero genre, a move that would pay off big time.
Christmas is about the birth of a savior.
Besides being the midseason finale and setting up the conflict for the rest of the season, “Three Ghosts” also happened to be a backdoor pilot for The Flash. Barry saved Oliver’s life at the start of the episode and made himself useful as things started moving. Then, at the end of the episode, we got a look at Barry’s true origin. He went to his lab, looked at newspaper clippings about his mother’s murder, and got struck by lightning, embewing him with powers that only seven or eight other characters have: the ability to run at superspeed.
And we didn’t know it yet, but Barry Allen was going to be not only the savior of Central City, but the savior of the CW superhero-verse as we know it. Arrow’s third and fourth seasons were a huge let down from the perfection that was Season 2. Had Arrow been by itself, the show may have sunk and pulled superhero TV down with it. Luckily Flash’s first season made up for all of Arrow’s shortcomings and gave fans hope that Arrow could one day be as entertaining as The Flash.
Christmas is about family.
Every episode of Arrow is about family, to some extent, but “Three Ghosts” focuses on new additions to the family that is Team Arrow. We obviously get the appearance of Barry Allen (AKA the third or fourth fastest man alive) as well as a Mirikuru fueled Roy, who will eventually take up the mantle of Arsenal. You could say that the blood stays the same, but the water gets a lot deeper.
There is also a strong focus within “Three Ghosts” on literal blood. We see not one but two blood transfusions; both of which end with Le Chiffre style eye bleeding. It is a rather unsettling image that sets up the rest of a fantastic season. Also one of the recurring characters this season had the last name Blood. So much for subtlety.
Christmas is about facing ghosts (apparently).
I never completely understood this one. It seems like ever since A Christmas Carol, a main tenant of the Christmas story was some sort of ghost encounter. I guess it has something to do with Christmas making you a better man and giving you a fresh start. None of this is true for Oliver Queen.
Oliver sees three “ghosts” during the episode and each one represents a huge mistake Oliver made in the past. Shado stands in for the Ghost of Christmas Past, beckoning Oliver to join her in the afterlife. Slade Wilson makes his first present timeline appearance as the Ghost of Christmas Future, attacking Oliver and condemning him to a life of misery.
That makes Tommy Merlyn the Ghost of Christmas Present. I guess. He’s hard to pin down since the Dickens Ghosts are less about forgiveness and more about guilt. In this scenario, Tommy gives Oliver the chance to move on from Tommy’s death as well apologize for killing Tommy’s father, Malcolm Merlyn (HAHAHAHAHAHA).
Christmas is about inviting strangers into your home.
You open the door for carolers. Santa comes down the chimney. Hans Gruber barges in and shoots everyone. “Three Ghosts” featured Barry’s quick initiation into Team Arrow by way of somehow being the only biological scientist Felicity knows. We also get the fight between Oliver and the Slade hallucination in the Arrowcave, that the other characters really don’t question.
Christmas is about arrows.
What isn’t about arrows though? Enough said.
The Colbert Report Series Finale (Aaron Sarnecky)
I was having a really hard time figuring out what to use as my submission for this list. In the end you might even say that I’m cheating picking the series finale of The Colbert Report. To which I say, who’s the site’s TV Editor? Besides, this episode aired only days before Christmas and it features Santa Claus. I mean, Stephen flies off in Santa’s sleigh with Abraham Lincoln and Alex Trebek. What more do you want? I could have chosen the show’s dedicated Christmas special, but this episode has stuck with me a way that one hasn’t.
It’s not the funniest episode of The Colbert Report, though it does highlight the goofiness of the show. Obviously there are the scenes with Santa, but there are also moments like when Stephen says if this is your first time watching, he has terrible news for you. And of course, he wouldn’t get his sleigh ride if he didn’t become immortal from absorbing the Grim Reaper’s power. To explain, “Grimmy” is the slated guest and going to take Stephen away, but the Grim Reaper is also always in the intro for his “Cheating Death” segment. In this rendition of the intro Grimmy strangles Stephen and out of the blue Stephen pulls out a gun and shoots him.
I also didn’t know this until I looked it up but the finale also features a tribute to Colbert’s father and two brothers who died in a plane crash in the 1970s, hidden in the lyrics of the end credits song, “Holland 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel.
My favorite moment is when numerous celebrities and former guests join Stephen in singing “We’ll Meet Again.” Just to give a taste, there’s Jon Stewart, Randy Newman on piano, Big Bird, Christine Amanpour, George Lucas, Bill Clinton (taped), Henry Kissinger, and Smaug. That’s just a fraction. It’s hilarious how more and more famous people show up each time they cut to a new shot.
It was bittersweet to watch the character Stephen Colbert sign off from eternity aboard Santa’s sleigh, and sadly I feel that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert may have lost its way. But we’ll always have our many memories of The Colbert Report. And I’ll relish the chance to see the character again on The Late Show, if possible.
Doctor Who, ‘The End of Time’ (Bill Bodkin)
Christmas episodes are definitely a big thing for British television. While most American shows are hibernating, many U.K. shows produce a Christmas centric “holiday episode.”
Doctor Who has had an amazing track record of producing extremely memorable Christmas episodes. I can remember weeping like a baby watching “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” and watching my jaw drop when Matt Smith transitioned to Peter Capaldi, and or when Kylie Minogue’s Astrid Perth sacrificed herself in “Voyage of the Damned.”
However, NONE of them stand up to “The End of Time” — a two-part Christmas episode that saw the end of David Tennant’s run as The Doctor, and the beginning of Matt Smith’s tenure.
The episode itself which features the return of The Master, and the Timothy Dalton-led Timelords, is an amalgam of everything that made the Tennant era Doctor so awesome. It’s full of action, there’s an insane amount of stakes to be had, and it’s God damn emotional.
SPOILER: The Doctor regenerates in this episode. Tennant’s Doctor is such an emotional character, you can’t help but just feel your guts ripped out when he does his “farewell tour” revising all his allies from his years on the show. You can’t help but cry when he confronts the old man and says, “I wish I had a dad like you,” or when he laments that he wishes he had more time.
Yeah, it’s an emotional episode, but the journey of this epic two parter is worth watching without a shadow of a doubt.