Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas TV (of the Non-Traditional Kind)

     Back in 2011, I posted some of my favorite non-traditional Christmas TV episodes, most of which were twisted versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I can't improve on that list, so here it is again. I don't know if you can find any of them on TV (some may not even be available on DVD), but all are well-worth seeking.

Out-of-print VHS edition from
     First is a British program of which my wife and I seem to be the only local fans. In fact, she says I’m the only person she ever met who even knew of its existence: “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol” (1988). It was a special show featuring the cast and characters of several related British historical comedies involving a despicable man named Edmund Blackadder. The series starred Rowan Atkinson (best known on this side of the Atlantic for his “Mr. Bean” character and as the novice vicar who mangles the second wedding ceremony in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) in different historical periods, including a nobleman in the court of Queen Elizabeth I and the man servant of Prince Regent George IV. In these series he is conniving, duplicitous and only out for himself.
     In “Christmas Carol” he plays Ebenezer Blackadder, the kindest man in all of Queen Victoria’s England, who is taken advantage of by everyone he knows or meets. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by a ghost (Robbie Coltrane, aka Hagrid from the “Harry Potter” films) who thanks him for being the only decent Blackadder ever to have lived, and then makes the mistake of showing him visions of his ancestors at Christmas. Ebenezer Blackadder is surprised to discover that being evil can pay off. He further discovers, due to another unfortunate vision from the ghost, that if he were to become evil, his distant descendant would end up ruling the universe. The next morning, Blackadder has become as wicked as his ancestors, although the conversion proves to be ill-timed. (Look for the episode for more details; it’s included on the “Blackadder III” DVD.)
     “A Very Sunny Christmas” (2009), a special episode of the FX series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” also borrows some of the “Christmas Carol” format. Dennis and Deandra Reynolds try to finally get some Christmas presents from their father, Frank (he’s always bought himself presents at Christmas and flaunted them in front of his children) by enlisting Frank’s old business partner (who Frank cheated out of his half of the business) to pose as a sort of ghost of Marley. Then Frank tries to shoot him, and the partner says he holds no grudge against Frank. The plan eventually seems to work, but complications ensue. (In a parallel plot, the series’ other two regulars, Mac and Charlie, compare their families’ Christmas traditions, and realize that things were not really as they remembered.) It’s available on DVD or Blu-ray.

      Then there was an obscure anthology show called “George Burns Comedy Week” which included “Christmas Carol II: The Sequel,” a followup to Dickens’ story one year later. Scrooge (who I thought was played by James Whitmore but who isn’t listed in the IMDB credits) is now being taken advantage of by everyone, including Bob Cratchet. The ghosts visit him again to tell him there is a middle ground between being a miser and being foolishly generous. To my knowledge, this is not currently available anywhere. Maybe it will pop up on one those extra digital channels you only get with the Digital-to-Analog TV Converter Box; they seem to show a lot of otherwise unavailable old TV programming.

     While it’s not "Christmas Carol"-derived, I have to mention “Saturday Night Live - The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse” (2008),  which includes a bunch of Robert Smigel Christmas parodies, including variations on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Rankin/Bass (“The Narrator That Ruined Christmas,” “Santa and the States” and Darlene Love singing “Christmastime for the Jews”), as well as Christmas-themed episodes of “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” and the “Harlem Globetrotters” cartoon.

     Finally, “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Essentials” includes Joel and the ’bots commenting on the classic bad film “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (Pia Zadora’s first film!), plus the inspiring “Road House”-inspired song “A Patrick Swayze Christmas.”

     Do you have any nontraditional Christmas favorites? Let me know.


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