Welcome back to Behind the Tree. Last time we looked at alternatives to the overplayed Christmas songs we hear every year. The airwaves also get saturated at Christmas time, and the same Christmas TV specials get played… well quite a bit.

Christmas TV
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NOT FROSTY AGAIN!!

Obviously, there is some Christmas TV that stands as classic viewing (THE GRINCH, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS), but others may have become irritating over the years. So here’s a list of alternate Christmas TV (specials and episodes), in no particular order, to give you a new viewing experience this holiday season.

1. “A Garfield Christmas Special”

GARFIELD AND FRIENDS were one of my earliest childhood loves, and while I’ve outgrown its namesake comic strip, I look back at the specials fondly. This Christmas TV special is no exception, as Garfield is unwillingly taken to the Arbuckle farm for a family Christmas.

Garfield plays the part of a Christmas grouch perfectly, but keeps his charm and wit, thanks to the great performance of voice actor Lorenzo Music. The fun is helped by Pat Carroll (Ursula from THE LITTLE MERMAID) giving a raucous performance as the strong-willed Grandma Arbuckle.

The special takes time to poke fun at Christmas traditions (overloaded family dinners, overeager kids waking up 2 AM to open presents) but also provides sweet, quiet moments, such as Grandma reflecting on her late husband and Garfield finding a special gift. This is an oft-overlooked special, but it has plenty of humor, warmth, and emotion to warrant a watch.

2. “Comfort and Joy” – Justice League

Bruce Timm’s JUSTICE LEAGUE stands as a hallmark of superhero animation. The series tackled several DC stalwarts, but in a way that never pandered to kids or adults. In all of that, it managed to have an excellent Christmas TV story with the League members.

The episode focuses on Flash trying to find a toy for Central City orphans, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern having winter fun, and Superman taking J’onn J’onz home to learn about Christmas. The Hawkgirl/Lantern story is the weakest of the three, but it still has humor and charm, especially when Hawkgirl takes Lantern to an alien bar ‘for fun.’ Flash’s segment balances superhero battles and Christmas, as Flash fights, then teams with the Ultra-Humanite to provide Christmas joy to the orphans.

However, J’onn J’onz and Superman get the best segment. Superman wants to explain Christmas to the Martian, so he takes J’onn home to the Kent farm. It’s amazing to watch Superman revert fully to Clark Kent and have J’onn be bemused and eventually touched by the season (there’s also a scene of him with a cat that I find hilarious for some reason).

The ending scene where J’onn gives his ‘gift’ to the Kents ends the episode on a sweet, touching note. A great Christmas story for any comic book fan.

3. “O Little Town/Do You See What I See?”- Eureka

Syfy’s EUREKA series (about a US Marshall becoming sheriff to a secret town of super-geniuses) remains one of the best sci-fi shows in recent memory thanks to a blend of humor, heart, and love of the genre. That may be why the series got two Christmas TV episodes in its last two seasons.

The first, “O Little Town” works more as a standard episode with Christmas elements, including the ‘science of Santa,’ holographic reindeer, and Chris Parnell as a unique scientist. The second episode “Do You See What I See?” goes full-on Christmas parody, as a malfunctioning holo-projector causes the town to appear in a variety of animated styles. Everything from Hanna-Barbara to Rankin/Bass is parodied here, and it’s hysterical to watch.

Christmas TV

The episodes also mixes ninja snowmen with character building and a real love of the holiday. It’s a great treat for Christmas and sci-fi fans everywhere.

4. “Secret Santa/The Greatest Gift”– Warehouse 13

Syfy’s love of Christmas TV continued in EUREKA’s sister series, WAREHOUSE 13. WAREHOUSE focused on agents recovering enchanted artifacts from being used in the world. This opened them up to plenty of Christmas related mishaps, hence why the series also got two specials. ‘Secret Santa’ is the stronger of the two, in which the crew must help a man haunted by a ghostly Santa.

The episode references real events (the artifact is an ornament made from shrapnel from the Christmas Truces of World War I), but the strength is the reunion of artifact caretaker Artie with his father, played by Judd Hirsch. Hirsch seems to be channeling his character from INDEPENDENCE DAY, but watching him act opposite Saul Rubinek (Artie) is a joy to behold, especially when both realize their reunion is under false circumstances (“You’re not dying?”  “No, you’re not dying?” “No. CLAUDIA!!”)

The second episode ‘The Greatest Gift’ is a more standard episode that takes place on Christmas. Agent Pete is hit by the hairbrush of Phillip Van Doren Stern (the author of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) and is transported to a world where he never existed. Pete races to reassemble the Warehouse team and set things right, but it doesn’t embrace the holiday quite as well as before. Still, both episodes are good additions to the series and good holiday fare for the sci-fi crowd.

5. “The Little Drummer Boy”

The Rankin/Bass production company became synonymous with Christmas TV thanks to its many holiday specials. The company made RUDOLPH, FROSTY, SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN and many others.

Christmas TV
They also made a Hobbit cartoon. And that is all we will say about it.

THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY is one of those specials that has often been overlooked. It failed to gather the popularity of the other specials, perhaps due to it’s darker themes (the murder of the drummer boy’s parents, his hate of humans, and the greedy man who tries to use him). However, beyond those elements, the film uses it’s title song with the most power of any R/B special, as the drummer boy plays for the baby Jesus.

It’s a perfect Christmas moment that moves almost everyone. It makes the darker themes of earlier come full circle and end on a beautiful note. Simply check this one out.

6. “A Muppet Family Christmas”

Christmas TV

Fans think of the MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL around holiday time, but there is another Christmas TV special from the beloved puppets. MUPPETS FAMILY CHRISTMAS shows the Muppets going home to Fozzie’s farmhouse for Christmas. As the special goes on they are joined by the Sesame Street cast and the Fraggles, making this the only time all three Muppet franchises came together.

The special is chock-full of the usual Muppet hijinks and nods (Swedish Chef trying to cook Big Bird for dinner, old film reel showing the Muppet Babies), but it also contains plenty of warmth. The group bonds in the crowded farmhouse and end the special with a group singalong of Christmas carols. Muppets creator Jim Henson even appears to bring the special to a conclusion.

Disney no longer produces DVDs of the special, but the entire show is available on Youtube. Go check it out and enjoy the weirdest of family gatherings.

7. “Holiday Knights”- Batman The Animated Series

Christmas TV

CHRISTMAS WITH THE JOKER comes to mind the most when fans think of Batman and Christmas. However, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES created one other Christmas TV episode before the show ended. HOLIDAY KNIGHTS comprises three short tales around the beginning, middle, and end of the holidays.

Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn drug Bruce Wayne into financing a holiday shopping spree (which ends how you’d expect), Batgirl and the GCPD stop a Clayface shopping robbery, and Batman and Robin cancel the Joker’s New Year’s Eve plans.

All of these segments are strong, but the ending is what grabs me the most.  After all the insanity, Batman and Commissioner Gordon share coffee in a diner and toast their survival. It’s a great tradition for the two and adds an excellent level of trust to their relationship. Watch this one on New Years and ring in the New Year with Batman.

8. “Night of the Meek”- The Twilight Zone

Christmas TV

This is one of my favorite Christmas TV specials. THE TWILIGHT ZONE gave it’s only holiday episode here, as Art Carney plays a boozy mall Santa on Christmas Eve. Carney fails to show up on time, and the manager fires him. However, he has a few words before leaving.

Carney stumbles home and then finds a large sack, which gives out whatever gifts people ask of it. The story is simple but works on its sharp writing, and Carny’s epic performance (see this if you only know him from the HONEYMOONERS).

The 1980’s ZONE revival remade this episode as well. Check both out this year, as a gift from that place of imagination.

9. “Have Yourself A Morlock Little X-Mas”- X-Men: The Animated Series

Christmas TV

X-MEN stands as a beloved adaption for 90’s kids. The show tackled drama, superhero elements, and social commentary. It’s lone Christmas episode emphasizes this powerfully. As the X-Men prepare for Christmas, Wolverine is (shockingly!) unhappy with the holiday cheer.

However, a shopping trip brings the X-Men to the lair of the Morlocks (deformed mutants that live in the sewers). A Morlock child has grown sick, and no one can help him. However, Wolverine’s healing blood may hold a cure, but he is reluctant to give it since the last transfer he gave didn’t take.

X-MEN: The Top Ten Favorite Episodes

The episode works on many levels. The Morlocks stand-in for the unfortunate, making do on Christmas while we celebrate in comparative splendor. Jubilee acts as a surrogate, experiencing the shock of the Morlock’s poor Christmas for us.

The episode holds real tension, as it is very possible the Morlock child will die on Christmas Eve. The whole story is a touching blend of social commentary and Christmas that holds a powerful message even today.

10. “A Christmassy Ted”- Father Ted

Fans of the BBC’s FATHER TED know it is the greatest sitcom about three priests on an island off the coast of Ireland ever. The hour-long Christmas TV special stands as one of the best. Ted just wants a simple Christmas at the parochial house. However, Ted ends up leading a group of priests out of a department store lingerie section.

Ted is rewarded with the Golden Cleric award. He, of course, uses an excuse to speak for hours against his enemies. The whole episode is hilarious, with Ted’s ego, a new priest no one seems to know, Father Jack’s drinking, and Father Dougal’s errant stupidity.

There’s technically not a lot of Christmas in the episode, but there’s enough to justify watching this glorious farce. So grab some DRINK! (to quote Jack), pop this in, and have a good Irish laugh for the holidays.

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