THE TOP 13… VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS EPISODES
Because what could be more Christmassy than ghosts, demons, aliens and clay-mation? Well… definitely that last one, anyway.
by the Geek Speak Staff
‘Tis, as they say, the season to be jolly, and then there are a bunch of fa la la’s and rum pa pum pums and the only allusion any of us will make all year to figgy pudding. And when the holiday season is upon us, of course our collective minds can only go to those Very Special Christmas Episodes that so often enliven our December viewing schedules.
Here, a list of our favorites. We’d love to promise that next year we’ll bring you The Top 13… Very Special Hanukkah Episodes, but the fact is, there aren’t even enough of those to flesh out a Top 1.
And now, Happy Culturally-Imperative Gift Exchange, everyone! Enjoy…
Season 2, Episode 11
Written by Dino Stamatopolous & Dan Harmon
Directed by Duke Johnson
ABED: If I can find the meaning of Christmas, everything will go back to normal.
Community has a penchant for doing bizarre, crazy things and then taking it to the next level: making it canon. They had a Halloween episode where the characters became zombies without the “it’s a dream” cop out. This time, the audience experienced the episode from Abed’s point-of-view, which meant it took place in a stop-motion, clay-mation winter wonderland fantasy. Everything in the episode actually happens, but in the context of the study group trying to figure out why Abed (Danny Pudi) is stuck in this delusion, with the help of the self-interested Professor Duncan (John Oliver). The characters sing, but they do so in an organic way that would make sense even if we were seeing the live-action study group version of events. When the truth behind Abed’s break with reality is revealed, it’s one of the saddest, realest moments the show has given us. In the end, we’re treated to a Christmas song from an agnostic, an atheist, a Christian, a cult member, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Jewish woman and a Muslim man, who save their friend by declaring that Christmas is more than just a Christian holiday. It’s about spending time with your loved ones, deciding that Christmas is a “shared delusion that the coldest, darkest nights of the year can also be the brightest.” The episode was true to both the show and to the corny, traditional Christmas specials we all grew up with. It was meta with a heart, parodying and honoring in the same breath in a way that made what could have been a silly Christmas episode into something worthy of joining the pantheon of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. And… Christmas pterodactyl!
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning, and it can mean whatever we want.
HONORABLE COMMUNITY MENTIONS: “Regional Holiday Music” (03.10)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 3, Episode 10
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
BUFFY: What are you doing for Christmas?”
WILLOW: Being Jewish. Remember, people? Not everybody worships Santa.
It’s Christmas in Sunnydale and vampire Angel (David Boreanaz) gets visited by the ghosts of his evil past, due to his, you know, having killed people – including everybody’s favorite almost-girlfriend-of-Giles, Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte). When Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) gets involved, the Scooby gang discovers that it is really the First Evil who has been tormenting Angel, in an attempt to eventually kill either of our eponymous heroes (well, our eponymous heroine and the soon-to-be-eponymous brooding hero). Or maybe ’cause the First Evil is just missing out of the Christmas Spirit (oh, sorry Willow: Chanukah Spirit). Either way, in the end Buffy tries to stop Angel from killing himself and the Powers That Be step in and cause a nice White-Christmas-y snow shower to prevent the sun from frying him. That was nice of them. This episode also serves in many ways to be the prologue to both Season 7 of Buffy and the entirety of Angel.
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: Oz is a really forgiving guy. Also, snow in California.
HONORABLE BUFFY MENTIONS: Oddly enough, despite seven seasons, this was the only Christmas episode. Apparently Willow’s anti-Santa-worship carried the day.
– K. Burtt
Based on the Comic Strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
Written by Charles M. Schulz
Directed by Bill Melendez
LUCY: I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes or something like that.
CHARLIE BROWN: What is it you want?
LUCY: Real estate.
As per his usual, Charlie Brown haz a sad. It’s Christmastime, but no one has bothered to send the funny pages’ most notorious sad sack a card. Also, the crass over-commercialization of the holiday season seems out of control: all the available Christmas trees are made of aluminum, his sister Sally is flat-out asking Santa for cash, his dog Snoopy is embroiled in a tacky neighborhood house-decorating contest, and the gang won’t stop dancing long enough to rehearse the school pageant. It will take a gentle retelling of the Christmas Story (the one from the Bible, not the one with the Red Ryder B.B. gun) and a very special tree to rekindle the holiday spirit in Charlie Brown’s heart. It is said that the television network was horrified at first by A Charlie Brown Christmas, citing the use of untested children as voice actors, the complete absence of a laugh track, Vince Guaraldi’s unconventional jazz soundtrack, and worst of all – oh the horror – a climax that involved the recitation of a lengthy passage from Scripture as reasons the show was doomed to fail. Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, however (sort of the George R.R. Martin of his day) basically responded “It’s my way or the highway, kids,” and that was that. Fortunately, Schulz’s persistence of vision paid off in awards, critical acclaim, and spectacular commercial success.
Fun Fact: The demise of the aluminum Christmas tree, which was all the rage in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s, has been attributed to this show. Whether or not this can be considered a positive outcome is something you must decide within your own heart.
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: Remember the reason for the season.
HONORABLE CHARLIE BROWN MENTIONS: Later, intrepid producers would attempt to replicate the popularity of A Charlie Brown Christmas with It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales and I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown. But lightning rarely strikes the same place twice, and none of those programs matched the commercial or critical success of the original.
Season 6, Episode 6
Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Chris Carter
MULDER: I almost gave up on you.
SCULLY: Sorry. Checkout lines were worse than rush hour on the 95. If I heard “Silent Night” one more time, I was gonna start taking hostages.
It is Christmas Eve, and the ever-dedicated Special Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) calls up his long-suffering partner, Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), with a spooky case he believes they must investigate immediately: a house haunted by the ghosts of two lovers who died in a muder/suicide pact over eighty years before. (Of course, all shippers know this was merely an excuse for the lovelorn Mulder to spend the holiday with the object of his affection.) She agrees, and soon they are trapped with the malicious Lyda (Lily Tomlin) and the vicious Maurice (Ed Asner), two snarky spirits whose raison d’être is to send lonely souls to their deaths at Christmastime. By the time the evening is over, both agents become convinced their partner shot them, some unpleasant truths – or half-truths – are spoken, and yet more fodder is thrown on the fire of the long-burgeoning Mulder/Scully romance. Oh, and an entire X-Files episode goes by with sight of only four characters and not even one passing reference to the Cigarette Smoking Man. O, holy night!
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: No one should be alone at Christmas. Or in a haunted house.
HONORABLE X-FILES MENTIONS: “Christmas Carol” (05.06), “Emily” (05.07).
Season 3, Episode 10
Written by Sandy Fries and Robert A. Wolterstorff
Directed by Michael Watkins
SAM: What does a man like Blake need to have saved?
AL: His soul.
Most likely the only episode on the list to begin with one man kneeling in front of another naked man, Quantum Leap was able to use its premise to turn in a very respectable version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Sam (Scott Bakula) Leaps into 1962, and into Reginald Pearson (Milan Nicksic), the personal valet to a man who is DEFINITELY NOT Donald Trump. He wasn’t Donald Trump when this first aired in 1991, and he’s not Donald Trump now. The man is named Michael Blake (Charles Rocket), and he wants to wipe out a Salvation Army mission in order to build Blake Towers. See? Very un-Trump. Sam thinks the purpose of his Leap is to save the mission, but Al (Dean Stockwell) says he’s there to save Blake’s soul. Sam tries his usual tricks but meets with failure until he and Al take advantage of a brain-chemistry glitch that allows Blake to see everything Sam can see, including Al. The hologram uses all the tricks at his disposal to Scrooge the rich man into changing his ways. In the end, the day is saved by a star appearing in the sky above the doomed mission, which prompts Blake to take the first step to becoming a better man. When Sam gives Al credit for the star idea, Al reveals that he had nothing to do with it appearing. The old friends are able to wish each other a Merry Christmas before Sam Leaps out.
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: All the money in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you have no one to share it with.
HONORABLE QUANTUM LEAP MENTION: “Promised Land” (05.11)
The Twilight Zone
Season 3, Episode 37
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Robert Ellis Miller
Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.
Thus says the quote upon a statue of Horace Mann at the Rock Spring School for Boys. And when the elderly Prof. Ellis Fowler (Donald Pleasence) finds himself forced into retirement days before Christmas, he fears that he has lived a life of uselessness and shame. Certain that all of his lessons and all of his professorial expoundings have fallen on deaf ears, Prof. Fowler returns at night to an empty classroom with the intent of committing suicide: ashamed to die but too useless to continue living. What awaits the despondent scholar at the tolling of the bell proves to be a beautiful moment of insight that can only be found within the boundless regions of the Twilight Zone.
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: Be we poets or those who teach them, we may never know the true extent of our unseen influence.
Honorable Twilight Zone Mention: “The Night of the Meek” (02.11)
Space: Above and Beyond
Season 1, Episode 12
Written by Marilyn Osborn
Directed by Tucker Gates
DAMPHOUSSE: Coop, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
WANG: Actually, it’s the continuation of the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Jesus of Nazareth was born on September 15th, 7 BC.
HAWKES: Nazareth and Christ, now who are those guys?
The year is 2063, and humanity is locked in a desperate battle for survival against a relentless, insectoid alien menace known as the Chigs. It’s Christmas Eve, and our plucky heroes, young hotshot members of US Marine Corp squadron the Wild Cards, find themselves lost in space aboard a ship with very little power, hunted by their deadly enemy and also – what are the odds? – in the path of an oncoming comet. Lucky, then, that an unknown good Samaritan of decidedly non-human origin has come to their aid on this most special of nights, sending them exactly the technobabbley stuff they need to help them ride the comet’s tail to freedom. But more importantly, there is a lot of quoting of stuff (The Bible, Shakespeare, that whole Christmas Day truce during World War I, etc.) and finding of lost faith. This one is especially worth it for the understandable confusion of everybody’s favorite Wild Card, Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland); created in a lab only a few years earlier and grown to adulthood in a tank, this is his first Christmas and the parallel he draws between the Immaculate Conception and his much-despised, artificially-created kind (after all, neither his nor Jesus’s parents “did it”) is pretty great.
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: Even relentless, insectoid alien menaces believe in Christmas presents.
Season 3, Episode 8
Written by Jeremy Carver
Directed by J. Miller Tobin
SAM: Huh, when you sacrifice to Holnacar, guess what he gives you in return?
DEAN: Lap dances, hopefully.
Only days before Christmas, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) find themselves investigating a series of kidnappings involving mild-mannered suburbanites being sucked up chimneys. Don’t worry Sam: my first theory would have been evil Santa Claus, too. Unfortunately, this theory doesn’t pan out, but having the Winchesters try and distract a drunken Santa from the fact they just broke into his house by pretending to be carolers is fantastically funny. Eventually they figure out that the real culprits are two pagan gods now masquerading as a middle-aged couple. While watching Sam have his fingernail ripped out doesn’t exactly scream Christmas spirit, Madge (Merrilyn Gann) and Edward (Spencer Garrett) make for some delightfully cheerful holiday villains. In the end, the baddies are defeated and the Winchester boys settle down to celebrate Christmas for the first time in years by exchanging skin mags and motor oil. Ho ho ho.
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: Don’t let life’s little problems (like your brother being less than a year away from being sucked into the bowels of hell) stop you from celebrating the season.
Season 4, Episode 2
Written by Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, Aaron Ehasz, Kristin Gore, Bill Odenkirk, Jeff Westbrook
Directed by Ron Hughart, Rich Moore
FRY: These toy soldiers are poorly painted
LEELA: And they’re made from inferior wood
BENDER: I should give you all a beating/but I really have to fly
SANTA-BOT: If I weren’t stuck here frozen/I’d harpoon you in the eye
X-MAS ELVES: Now it’s back into our tenements to drown ourselves in rye
What is Xmas without a Futurama holiday episode? Season 2 set up a fantastic premise with a robot Santa programmed with an over-zealous naughty algorithm (“Mobsters beating up a shopkeeper for protection money: very naughty. Shopkeepers not paying their protection money: exactly as naughty.”). In Season 4, the Planet Express crew decides to reclaim Christmas after they deliver letters to Santa’s Neptune lair. After trapping Santa in a block of ice and a catchy little montage song as the bizarre Neptunian elves build toys, Bender fills in as Santa. Back on Earth, he is mistaken for the real Santa, captured and put on trial. Leela and Fry must choose between returning the real Santa or letting Bender take the fall; before the night ends hilarity and Xmas violence ensure. What an Xmas story! So batten down the hatches, make sure you’re stocked up on armor-penetrating rounds and enjoy a nice evening in with the family.
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: Santa is coming for you whether you like it or not.
HONORABLE FUTURAMA MENTION: “Xmas Story” (02.08)
Season 2, Episode 10
Written by Jason Katims
Directed by Patrick R. Norris
ISOBEL: Last year was your first year together and you didn’t get her a present?
MICHAEL: Hey, I don’t even believe in this so why should I get sucked into it? The whole thing is a marketing scam invented to make people buy things they don’t even need.
In our continuing saga of telegenic Roswell, New Mexico-based aliens and the teens who love them, we kick things off with the ever-broody Max (Jason Behr) and the ever-sulky Michael (Brendan Fehr) witness to a car accident that leaves a man dead; a man Max could have saved with his mystical alien healing powers had he not worried about revealing himself to those darned sinister alien hunters always furrowing his perfect brow. So Max gets haunted by the dead guy’s ghost while mooning – ‘cause when is he not? – over his True Love, Liz (Shiri Appleby); also, Michael frets over what gift to get his demanding girlfriend Maria (Majandra Delfino) and everyone tries desperately to appease Isobel (Katherine Heigl), who spends each year so determined to have the perfect human holiday that she is known to her loved ones as The Christmas Nazi. The outcome of all of this angst? A bunch of terminally ill kids saved in a hospital; Liz lecturing Max with something that sounds a lot like Christian Scientist medical non-intervention doctrine for someone who was saved by his healing hands herself; the idea given to impressionable young girls that if your sixteen-year old boyfriend doesn’t give you pearl earrings at least once he doesn’t really love you; and reasoned atheism decried so blatantly that this might as well be an installment of Touched by an Angel. So how did it make this list? “The Christmas Nazi.” We all know one; this episode gave us their name. Also, this is where Kyle (Nick Wechsler) first fell for Tess (Emilie de Ravin), and we all remember how thrilling that whole thing turned out to be…
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: Saving kids from cancer is a bad thing. Right, Liz?
HONORABLE ROSWELL MENTION: “Samuel Rising” (03.09)
Season 7, Episode 7
Written by Seth MacFarlane, Mike Barker
Directed by Joseph Daniello
NEMO: I’ll see you again, Stan Smith, when the Rapture comes! [Laughs manically then starts twisting his head 360 degrees and speaking in Aramaic.]
NARRATOR: Baby Anti-Christ says blessing to you and all on this most joyous of holiday seasons.
Our favorite CIA agent, Stan Smith (Seth MacFarlane), wants to take part in his Catholic church’s Christmas pageant, but he is told he is fat and is given the role of Santa while his alien boarder Roger (Seth MacFarlane) gets the coveted role of Jesus; in a jealous rage, Stan assaults Roger and is excommunicated from the church. Meanwhile Stan’s loveable stoner son-in-law Jeff Fischer (Jeff Fischer) has adopted a child he names Nemo (yep, it’s “Omen” backwards) and who just so happens to be the anti-Christ, so destroying him will allow Stan to be part of the church again. It is some of Seth MacFarlane’s funniest writing for American Dad, and if you are a fan of his humor then you are going to love it.
Christmas Miracle/Lesson: Don’t let your dumbass son-in-law adopt a child. Also, it’s Christmas, don’t beat up your alien best friend in a church.
HONORABLE AMERICAN DAD MENTIONS: “For Whom the Sleigh Bells Toll” (06.08), “Rapture’s Delight” (06.09).
Xena: Warrior Princess
Season 2, Episode 9
Written by Chris Manheim
Directed by John T. Kretchmer
KING SILVUS: Wait a minute. You’re one of those Solstice lovers, aren’t you? One of those rebels who thinks that everything and everyone should stop once a year just to raise a glass, eat a goose, unwrap gifts! Well, you know what I say to that?
XENA: Bet I can guess.
Xena (Lucy Lawless) and Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor) learn of the plight of an orphanage in a town where all Solstice festivities are punishable by a fine and hard labor. It quickly turns into yet another retelling of “A Christmas Carol”, all with silly, Greek mythology twists and a pinch of snarkiness that only Xena: Warrior Princess can provide. Soon, an elaborate scheme is hatched in order to teach King Silvus (Peter Vere-Jones) about the true meaning of the holidays and many benefits of befriending orphans. Xena dressing up as the three fates (past, present, future) is especially funny, while Gabrielle gets up to her usual soft-hearted antics, including peer-pressuring Senticles (Joe Berrymann) into giving toys to the orphans and rescuing Tobias the mule. In the end, Solstice spirit wins out and everybody goes home happy. Not only does the episode feature Santa but on their way out of town Xena and Gabrielle run into Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. Yup, that actually happened. Seriously. Gabrielle gives them her mule… because that’s what Christmas (err, Solstice) is all about. Also, one of the very multi-cultural looking Greek orphans speaks with a Kiwi accent. Overall, it’s a fun, light-hearted romp that’s worthy of a seasonal re-watch every few years. Guaranteed to provide an equal amount of laughs and ‘Did that actually just happen?’ moments.
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: We’ve been misled for generations. Literally every Christmas-related event/person in history actually originated in Ancient Greece.
Season 2, Episode 6
Written by Zack Estrin
Directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño
JACK: Your brother was a tad frosty to me back there. Is everything okay with him?
TRU: You tried to kill him a few months back. Were you expecting a hug?
JACK: A short memory, the key to a happy life.
For this, the last episode ever of Tru Calling, things seem to be looking up for Tru Davies (Eliza Dushku). The only guy in the morgue on Christmas Eve is a mall Santa who died of natural causes, so she’s secure in the knowledge that she won’t be asked for help during the holidays. Of course, this wouldn’t be an episode of Tru Calling without a speaking cadaver, so Tru gets sent back to relive her day when she’s asked for help by a dead girl. Considering that the corpse has been in her biology lab for the last six months, and there’s no way for her nemesis Jack Harper (Jason Priestly) to have killed the young woman, Tru reluctantly enlists his help to find out what happened. Unfortunately for us, Jack has lost any vestige of the humanity we saw as recently as two episodes ago and continues to be a monumentally irritating pain in the butt for the duration. Soon the bad guys get the upper hand when Tru’s brother Harrison (Shawn Reaves) discovers that his father is working with Jack, but the day rewinds before he can tell Tru. Her boss Davis (Zach Galifianakis) tells his girlfriend (a mole planted by Jack) about Tru’s gift, whilst the good guys remain blithely unaware that anything horrible is happening, because of course nothing bad ever happens on Christmas… right? – And then we never find out what happens with all of that, because of the show’s abrupt cancelation; in fact, this episode never even aired on US television and was replaced by, of all things, Point Pleasant. Thanks a lot, FOX.
Christmas Miracle and/or Lesson: Just because people are nice at Christmas, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t got ulterior motives.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Doctor Who, “The Christmas Invasion” (02.X), “The Runaway Bride” (03.X), “Voyage of the Damned” (04.X), “The Next Doctor” (04.14), “The End Time” (04.17), “A Christmas Carol” (06.X), “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” (06.14); Eureka, “Do You See What I See?” (04.21); Grimm, “Let Your Hair Down (01.07); Haven, “Silent Night”, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, “Season’s Greedings” (02.09), “Home Is Where the Hurt Is” (03.11), “Twas the Night Before Mxymas” (04.11); Millennium, “Midnight of the Century” (02.10); “Omerta” (03.09); Pushing Daisies, “Corpsicle” (01.09); Smallville, “Lexmas” (05.09), “Gemini” (07.09); The Dead Zone, “A Very Dead Zone Christmas” (04.12); Warehouse 13, “The Greatest Gift” (03.12).
DISHONORABLE MENTIONS: Eureka, “O Little Town” (04.10); Warehouse 13, “Secret Santa” (02.09). Just… terrible.
– The Geek Speak Staff
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