Every year around this time, holiday specials fall on network TV like snowflakes, a comforting blanket of tradition and familiarity. But while those classics may be festive enough for some, we prefer a more modern take on the holiday season. From the heart-warming to the hilarious to the possibly offensive, here are twelve holiday-themed episodes from some of my favorite contemporary shows that put me in the Christmas spirit:
"Forgiveness and Stuff"
, Season 1 Episode 10)
Though the foundation of Gilmore Girls is the inseparable mother-daughter duo, the magic of "Forgiveness and Stuff" lies in the flirtation between Lorelai and diner-owner Luke. They won't get together until the fifth season, but this episode marks the real beginning of the relationship; not only does he drive her to the hospital after her father has a heart attack, but at her request for something 'festive' he makes a Santa-burger "with a hat and everything." At the end of the episode she returns the favor, gifting him with the navy blue baseball cap he'll wear for the rest of the series. Aw. "The Santa in the Slush"
, Season 3 Episode 9)
A number of procedurals have Christmas episodes involving dead Kringles, but Bones manages to mix the crime with just the right amount of Christmas cheer, keeping the story light despite the corpses in this spin on Miracle on 34th Street
. Harken back to the good ol' days when Angela and Hodgins were still together, and delight in U.S. Attorney Caroline Julian's 'puckish' side which forces Booth and Bones into a long overdue smooch beneath the mistletoe. Yes, it gets a little schmaltzy toward the end when Brennan forgoes Christmas in Peru for Christmas with her incarcerated relatives in the conjugal visit trailer of the local prison, but I dare anyone to watch the credits roll without a smile. "Ludachristmas"
, Season 2 Episode 9)
Sometimes, you just want to watch someone tell it like it is. On this not-so-holy night, crazy sketch comedy star Tracy Jordan chafes against his court-ordered SCRAM anklet, Kenneth the Page tries to teach everyone the true meaning of Christmas with a prayer circle and a documentary about missionary work in Guatemala, while Jack's mother decides to prove that everyone's family is just as screwed up as theirs - including Liz Lemon's. The moral of the story, I think, has to do with copious amounts of liquor and remembering that you can't choose your relatives, or sell them on the black market. "The One With the Holiday Armadillo"
, Season 7 Episode 10)
Nothing like the joy of watching Ross attempt to interest his completely oblivious son in Hanukkah. While wearing an armadillo suit. Oy vey. And just when it seems like he's making some headway with the whole menorah thing, Chandler, disguised as St. Nick, and Joey, dressed like the Superman, join in the fun. Frankly, I think it's a miracle that the eight-year-old Ben doesn't recognize his dad in the giant roadkill costume.
"How Lily Stole Christmas"
(How I Met Your Mother
, Season 2 Episode 11)
Though you can't choose your actual relatives, you can choose your family. Unfortunately, sometimes you choose to call them a dirty word in a misguided attempt to cheer up a broken-hearted friend and nearly destroy Christmas. Using "Grinch" as a substitute for a four letter word that probably starts with 'c,' Older Ted tells his future children the tale of the year he almost had to spend the holiday with his über-religious cousins in Staten Island because Aunt Lily heard an old message he left on the voicemail referring to her in less than flattering terms. Nothing a free beer can't solve. "A Very Supernatural Christmas"
, Season 3 Episode 8)
A Christmas story, but not for the faint of stomach. Mixed in with the hunt for a people-snatching anti-Claus are flashbacks to the Winchester brothers' younger days that make you wonder how Sam got into Stanford when he had no primary school education. In the present, Dean wants to make the most of his last Christmas on Earth, but Sam plays the Grinch. He changes his tune, of course, after a run-in with two pagan winter solstice gods who think that just because they only eat three or four people a year, it's okay. At the end, the boys go back to their cheap motel, exchange gifts purchased at the Gas 'n Go, and watch sports. "Xmas Story"
, Season 2 Episode 8)
In the future, Christmas will become Xmas, and everyone will live in fear. Santa is a highly explosive robot who finds everyone naughty, except Dr. Zoidberg, who gets a pogo-stick. There's a Gift of the Magi gag, Fry buys a 500 dollar parrot which escapes, and everyone endeavors to be home before dark because "Santa Claus is coming to town." Much, much better than The Santa Clause 2, and way shorter. "The Christmas Invasion"
(2005), Season 2 Special)
What would Christmas be without aliens, killer Christmas trees, sword fights, and satsumas? The first of the annual Doctor Who Christmas specials is David Tennant's first official outing as the Doctor, and right away he captures your heart. A simple cup of tea revives him from his post-regeneration coma, and he battles alien invaders in another man's pajamas. Though the snow that falls on London at the end is actually ash from the destruction of an alien spaceship, it's undeniably beautiful. "Fall On Your Knees"
, Season 1 Episode 10)
Everyone loves A Christmas Carol. There's something undeniably satisfying about watching the icy heart of a Scrooge melt into a big puddle, and this episode of Popular tells us that even the wicked, awful, nasty cheerleaders who make our high school lives miserable are secretly good people. Queen Bitch Nicole Julian gets a trio of visitors one Christmas Eve and decides she doesn't really want to die alone. Maybe it's unrealistic, but deep down we all want to believe that bullies just need a hug. "Amends"
(Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, Season 3 Episode 10)
If you're sick of all the joy, and are looking for something with an edge in your stocking, this episode of Buffy might be just the thing. There are blind demon-priests underneath the local Christmas tree lot, Oz the werewolf turns down witch-girl Willow's offer of...you know, and Angel, vampire-with-a-soul, gets tormented by the First Evil in a twisted version of a It's a Wonderful Life. Then he tries to kill himself. But everything turns out okay when it snows for the first time ever in Sunnydale, California during a heat wave. "The Christmas Show"
(Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
, Season 1 Episode 11)
For some real, last minute merriment, watch Studio 60 attempt to put on a Christmas show in the heart of Los Angeles. Jewish Matt Albie's Christmas spirit cannot be denied, even when the prop snow falls victim to an earthquake, forcing them to improvise with coconut. Even when he discovers his ex-girlfriend had lunch with his arch-nemesis. Even when the entire writers' room comes down with a case of the bah-humbugs. There's some kissing and declarations of love, and the show ends with a really beautiful performance by some real New Orleans musicians displaced by Hurricane Katrina. "Santa Claus"
(Mystery Science Theater 3000
, Season 5 Episode 21)
When you're done with the Christmas cheer, and you've had a little too much eggnog, join Mike and the 'bots on the Satellite of Love to watch Santa battle Satan on the streets of Mexico. Santa Claus is a Mexican kids' movie about child labor and forced merriment - perfect fodder for the SoL crew, who find time to give gifts and sing a song about tolerance of all cultures amidst the mockery.
Story by Megan Christopher
Starpulse contributing writer