In previous years we have written about Christmas music, Christmas movies, and two Christmas characters posts including my favorite: the Christmas Character Fantasy Draft. We have not taken on episodic TV. Christmas episodes of our favorite TV shows have been a staple in December since I Love Lucy was in its first-run. It’s always interesting to see how they would incorporate the holiday. Would it just be a back drop say for an episode like The Constant from Lost or would it be a trope like when Family Ties did the tired A Christmas Carol parody? It’s easy to do a parody of Scrooge or It’s a Wonderful life but it has to be done well since they have been done to death. Brooklyn 99 got creative in Yippee-Kayak with a Die Hard themed episode, everyone’s favorite Christmas movie. So here are some of our favorites – we wish everyone a great holiday season!

DJ

I was really trying hard to come up with a drama that warmed my cockles during the holiday seasons but I struggled. I mean, TJ Hooker, Knightrider,  The Shield, Game of Thrones, they just don’t make for a memorable Christmas episode. Maybe I am not watching the right dramas. So my three are sitcom related and I could of picked a ton more, including the aforementioned Brooklyn 99. I didn’t pick it but for me the Festivus episode of Seinfeld may be my favorite – I watch it every year along side Rudolph but I wanted to pick three other shows that also make me smile.

King of Queens – Mentalo Case (Season 5)

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One of my favorite shows that doesn’t make anyone’s top 10 is the King of Queens, I have mentioned and written about this before. The have a good selection of Christmas episodes but the one that gets me is the one about Mentalo. Mentalo is a toy Doug (Kevin James) once had as a kid, it predicts the future. Not literally of course but it’s similar to a Magic 8-Ball. It’s a man’s head with a turban and says things like “The voices beyond the grave say no.” if you ask it a question (and pull its string). We all took guidance from a toy that could tell us what to do in the most challenging time of our childhood. I know this is a real feeling, waxing poetic of a toy from another time. Who hasn’t searched E-bay for a toy from childhood? I know I have, so I get Doug’s obsession. So when Deacon who claimed to hate Mentalo buys it first from a collectibles show, that Doug had a lead on with Spence (Patton Oswalt), the plot gets going. Side note: a sighting of collectibles shows always gets my attention, having spent many a time there myself. Long story short Doug guilts Deacon into giving him Mentalo and when Carrie (Leah Remini) says she bought him one, he gives it back. The kicker is Carrie got Doug a Mentalman not a Mentalo, the cheap knockoff, the one with the Fez. That’s another great throwback – some toys had the name brand and then the copycat or generic version as well. There is a side story going on with Arthur and Carrie but I want no part of that, it’s all about the toys for me and there are so many funny lines in it. Deacon’s sob story poor boy flashback is a classic with Doug reminding him his father was a dentist. I wish there was such a thing as a Mentalo – I might have bought one myself.

Bonus: The voice of Mentalo is supplied by Patton Oswalt.

MG: I watched some King Of Queens but did not catch this episode. I tried to watch the episode on YouTube but the quality was awful, but I was chuckling reading your write-up. Knock-off products were big in the 70s and 80’s.  I was a huge Star Wars geek and my parents bought me a “Firebird” toy for Christmas one year, which was packaged to look like a SW toy, but was just a generic space ship. It did change its flight sound depending on whether you pointed it up or down, so that was cool

All in the Family – The Draft Dodger (Season 7)

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All in the Family ranks up there with Seinfeld as one of the best sit-coms of all-time, and it’s not even close. Both are very different: one a “show about nothing” and one about almost everything. All in the Family couldn’t be made today just for the language it uses alone. And that’s the whole thing about it. It used language and great acting to show why racism, sexism, homophobia was wrong. Archie Bunker’s character played by the great Carroll O’Connor, was supposed to be wrong, they made him a fool but someone you were rooting for the fool. In this seventh season Christmas episode we see two very different worlds collide. Mike’s (Rob Reiner) friend David comes to visit for Christmas, he is currently living in Canada and is a draft dodger, meaning he fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War. Archie of course is not told this little fact. The Bunker’s also invited a former WWII friend of Archie’s who lost his son in the War for Christmas dinner. Pinky, Archie’s friend, is played by Eugene Roche, Roche was a consistent character actor during the 70’s and 80’s I saw him on everything. Archie at dinner pesters David about living in Canada until David tells them he is a draft dodger. Archie erupts condemning him as this is antithetical to Archie’s beliefs. He expects Pinky will join him in his rage but when he asks him, Pinky gives the emotional punch in the gut Archie wasn’t expecting. Pinky says that David is alive and his son isn’t and if he was he would certainly want to have dinner with him and he wishes him a “Merry Christmas”. The bit with the Santa Claus that Archie purchased with the tongue going in-and-out kills me every time. Another good one I almost picked was a 2-parter when Edith loses her faith due to the beating death of a drag queen friend, also very poignant.

Bonus: In 2019 this episode was recreated live by ABC with different actors , I couldn’t watch, it’s just not the same.

MG: Great pick – I was thinking of doing an All In The Family episode myself. I watched this show every day right before or during dinner with my parents (I think it was on in syndication around 5 or 5:30 – right before the local news. Watching this show was one of the few times I remember my Dad laughing out loud. This is a good episode, though I was thinking of the Edith 2-parter you mentioned. I know this show would offend a lot of people these days, but it had the guts to take on a ton of issues and themes and it was a true trailblazer.

Everyone Loves Raymond – The Christmas Picture (Season 4)

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Everyone Loves Raymond doesn’t have the gravitas of All in the Family and probably not the laughs of King of Queens. There are really no special episodes of “Raymond”. But this one I like and can see in families the struggle between husband and wives’ families. So Raymond (Ray Romano) always struggles with the perfect gift for his parents (Marie and Frank) and in this episode gets it right (cause his mother told him). He gets a family picture session. It’s just supposed to be the Barones, not brother Robert’s (Brad Garrett) girlfriend, and not Ray’s in-laws. On the day of the picture Debra’s (Patricia Heaton) parent show up as invited by Debra and Marie freaks out refusing to sit for the picture. This upset’s Robert who refuses to change out of his police uniform. All of this causes madness. Ray wheels his mother into the picture and they get ready to take one until Debra’s mother says maybe she should switch to the other color pashmina. This causes Ray to lose control and he says, “Get back in your place! We’re taking this damn picture! Would you see what I’m dealing with here? Are you blind?”. It’s a great moment he is trying to do something nice and everything gets complicated until he can’t take it anymore. When dealing with family haven’t we all gone through this moment or at least thought about it. We all see ourselves through Raymond’s eyes. I do look at the whole episode and go why can’t they just take multiple pictures? Is it a one shot one take only? Also if it’s the Barone’s gift why does Debra’s parents need to be in it. Why would Marie want a pic with her son’s in-laws? I don’t know but ultimately they take the picture and it’s a gem.

Bonus: I can’t say enough about the character actors in Raymond starring as the parents,  Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein, Taxi Driver) and Doris Roberts (Angie, All In the Family) as Ray’s and Robert Culp (I Spy, Greatest American Hero) and Katherine Helmond (Soap, Who’s the Boss) as Debra’s, pretty substantial resume.

MG: I liked this show for a few seasons but the fighting between Ray and Debra got a little too much for me. I don’t recall if I saw this particular episode. Peter Boyle was always hilarious though, as was Doris Roberts (don’t forget her role on Remington Steele). We do sometimes let Christmas get out of hand when it comes to what we do with our family and trying to make things perfect. The holidays can be fun and sentimental, but also stressful and frustrating – a good description of the average family. 

Mike G.

I have always been a huge fan of Christmas, but I am not the TV-phile that DJ is, so I struggled a bit to come up with three episodes that I remembered well enough to write about. I know I’ve seen tons over the years, but the details get blurry, particularly for 1990s shows. It was tempting to do the Seinfeld Festivus episode, but I feel like that is too easy and also I think we talked about it in a prior post (it’s getting harder to remember what we’ve written about already). Believe it or not, I had never watched the American version of The Office before this year, but my wife and I embarked on the ultimate COVID binge and watched all nine seasons over the course of several months. It was a fun ride and I definitely could see why the show had such a strong following. Here are three Christmas themed TV episodes that I picked:

The Office – Christmas Party (Season 2)

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The six-episode first season did not have a Christmas episode, so this is the first one in a long line of holiday-themed episodes on The Office. I can’t think of another show that reveled in the holidays as much – each season they always had a Halloween and Christmas episode and even had some Valentine’s Day ones. It’s hard to say this is the “best” holiday episode, but this one was a big step in the Jim/Pam saga. It established that Jim had a genuine deep affection for Pam, not just some casual office fixation. When Michael changes the Secret Santa rules so that people can steal each other’s gifts, Jim’s plan to give a special, meaningful gift to Pam is threatened. Then there’s chaos as everyone tries to get the iPod that Michael originally bought for Ryan. By the end, everyone is drinking booze, but Jim does manage to get his teapot gift to Pam, although he takes out the card. We never get to see what he wrote in the card until the very end of the last season. I could definitely relate to Jim trying to use the holiday to make an impression on a girl. I bought a girl a huge Hershey’s kiss for Valentine’s Day in elementary school (it didn’t work), and later in life the holidays seemed to provide more opportunities to try and start a relationship. Something about the holiday spirit around Christmas and New Year’s lends itself to finding new romance. Certainly alcohol at Christmas parties helps people be more bold in approaching someone, but perhaps there is something to that “magic” in the air that makes two people finally find one another.

DJ: I love The Office, glad you finally got on board, it’s just different than the British, not better per se, just different. I love the characters and this one is one of the classics. It’s a sitcom I can watch over and over again. Once it got to season two it got away from the British one. They always had good holiday themed episodes and the Christmas ones were always great. The Jim and Pam dynamic may be my favorite sitcom couple it didn’t seem forced or even on again off again, which made it feel more real.

Arrested Development – Afternoon Delight (Season 2)

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Not even Seinfeld could pack in as much ridiculousness as Arrested Development could in less than 25 minutes of screen time. This episode features not one but two Christmas parties, two creepy karaoke duets of “Afternoon Delight”, the reconstruction and subsequent destruction of the iconic Banana Stand, and about a hundred double-entendres. Gob, constantly claiming an escalating inflated price of his suit, impulsively fires the whole Bluth Company staff when the first Christmas party doesn’t go his way (necessitating the second party, organized by Michael to convince the staff to come back to work). The brief glimpse we get of the religious celebration of George Michael’s girlfriend Ann’s family made me laugh out loud at its wacky, creepy weirdness. This writers for this show were superb at layering humor and nesting jokes into one another, you can easily go back and watch shows repeatedly and find new things to laugh about. The cast was so good at their individual crazy roles, and Jason Bateman as the straight man was perfect as its center. I just rewatched this episode and had tears coming out of my eyes from laughing – and I recommend you do the same.

DJ: Yeah Arrested Development another classic, the only strike for me are the past two seasons of reunion shows but I remember this episode pretty clearly. Will Arnett as always was great. I always loved Jason Bateman all the way from Silver Spoons and Check it Out to Horrible Bosses and beyond. He is the perfect straight man (not used well recently in SNL though). I still feel this show may be unappreciated maybe it was before it’s time.

The X-Files – The Ghosts Who Stole Christmas (Season 6)

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So I really wanted to avoid us doing six sitcom episodes, so I dug around for a drama to pick. I was close to writing about the “White Christmas” episode of Black Mirror, but as brilliant as the episode is, it is so dark and grim I couldn’t bring myself to include it in a post about Christmas (but you should check it out if you haven’t, just not on Christmas Day). So I remembered The X-Files had a few Christmas themed episodes, and I’m a sucker for anything that blends Halloween sentiments with Christmas, so I went and rented The Ghosts Who Stole Christmas off of Amazon to watch again. Mulder has Scully meet him at this “haunted house” on Christmas Eve, and the two of them have a run in with some ghosts from a murder-suicide in 1917 (there’s even a topical pandemic reference in this). The ghosts play some tricks on the two partners, but without spoiling it, let’s say both Mulder and Scully gain a little holiday-themed insight, which perhaps sets the stage for a potential change in their relationship. Written and directed by show-creator Chris Carter, this episode has nods to classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and the OG Christmas ghost story, A Christmas Carol (which we see Mulder watching on TV at the end of the episode). There’s a little bit of cheesiness, but it still holds up pretty well. Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin chew some scenery as the mischievous ghosts. Watching this episode makes me want to go back and check out some of the other X-Files classics.

DJ: I was looking for a drama episode too and it seemed a lot were dark. I even thought about the X-Files but it had been so long since I had seen it that I remembered nothing of it. But it’s a great show, I started to watch Season one again a couple years ago. It’s fun when a show like this can do a Christmas themed episode, you don’t see this as much in the fantasy/sci-fi dramas, the holiday is just used as a back drop and not a vehicle for the action.

Check out these other Christmas themed posts!

Christmas Characters – Off the Bench

Christmas Character Fantasy Draft

The Cinema of Christmas

The Best and Worst of TV’s Christmas Toons

Happy Holidays Playlist