Unlike festive films, the Christmas special is a different beast entirely. Many shows have one or two episodes set at Christmas time, though surprisingly few acknowledge it, or make it a focal point. There are, however, exceptions, that are so brilliant that they are nearly as charming, heart warming, or unique as their feature length counterparts. So here are my picks, for the top 5 TV Christmas specials.
5. Scrubs– My Own Personal Jesus
Taking place in the early days of Scrubs, where the Janitor was still a figment of J.D’s imagination and the show was still finding its feet, My Own Personal Jesus was a glimpse at the emotionally hard hitting the moments that the show would become known for. Turk, usually upbeat and happy go lucky, finds a crisis of faith while working on Christmas Eve, failing to understand how a God could allow such misery at such a joyous time of year. The use of a fast montage set to a warped version of the 12 days of Christmas is a particular highlight. Of course it all works out in the end, though I won’t spoil the conclusion. With a play on the Nativity set to a classic J.D voice over about the spirit of the holiday to finish up, you have a wonderful and understated Christmas special.
4. Black Mirror– White Christmas
Ok, so this one is obviously a little different. Black Mirror is well known for being hard hitting and soul destroying and nowhere is that better demonstrated than in it’s (to date), only Christmas special. White Christmas is not only devoid of joy, it relishes in being as cruel and emotionally destructive as possible, by layering on twist after twist to torture both the characters and the audience. That said, it’s bloody good at it. White Christmas is a cautionary tale about possessiveness, obsession and, as with all episodes: the mishandling of future technology. This is all brought together in an insanely powerful special that will leave you open mouthed and speechless, as it brings about a festive existential crisis.
3. Doctor Who– A Christmas Carol
The Doctor’s foray into the winter season has become a tradition since the 2005 reboot, but most, in my opinion, fail more than they succeed. That is however, with the exception of the truly stellar play on the Dickens classic of the same name during Matt Smith’s run as the Eleventh Doctor. With the brilliant casting of Michael Gambon as a surrogate Ebenezer Scrooge you know you’re geared up for an emotionally effective and enjoyable Christmas special. The use of time travel to emulate the roles of the three ghosts is sheer genius and Smith bounces off the supporting cast, particularly Gambon, with his trademark childish glee. Paired with a brilliantly magical soundtrack and some decent visuals (for TV, anyway) and you have the best Sci-Fi Christmas special going.
2. The Vicar of Dibley- Winter Special
It was a hard choice between this and the nearly equally brilliant, Christmas Lunch Incident. However, when it came down to it, the wholesome retelling of the Nativity with a very pregnant Alice as Mary was too good to miss. There are so many memorable moments; Jim’s ‘No parking’ lark, the debate whether the Nativity should hold the title of ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ when there are so many good Jackie Collins novels; it’s all great stuff. The trademark wit and heart string tug of Richard Curtis’ writing doesn’t miss a beat here, managing to be both engaging and funny while being appropriate for the whole family. As always, it perfectly captures the feel of a small village community, but this time, manages to do it at exceptionally, at Christmas.
1. The Office (UK): Christmas Special (Part one and two)
After leaving the ending of season two unresolved, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant had to devise a satisfying conclusion to the series that tied everything up. They chose to accomplish this with this brilliant two part Christmas special/series finale and the backdrop of the season makes it all the more emotionally engaging. While the mission to David Brent a date is both funny and heartbreaking, we all know we’re really here for Tim and Dawn. Their conclusion, as with all elements of the office, is organic, feeling earned. It initially seems to head towards a typically brutal, British, depressing ending, before just a taste of festive cheese to take us to its fantastically satisfying outcome. The Office, as always, is cynical, funny and bleakly true to life. However, just this once, and just for Christmas, it ends on a high, with even the deluded and pathetic Brent managing to get a real laugh out of his former staff.
Blackadder: Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
LOST: The Constant
South Park: The Woodland Critter Christmas
The Twilight Zone: The Night of the Meek
The Office (US): Christmas Party
Peep Show: Seasonal Beatings
Friends: The One with the Holiday Armadillo