The term “Christmas special” inevitably conjures up ideas of sugar-coated episodes of little substance (or a dreaded clip-show), and unfortunately, this is often the case. Not always, however, as some TV shows have produced fantastic Christmas episodes which not only fill you with festive cheer but also bring something unique to the table and make you think about the meaning of the holiday. With the holidays fast approaching there will be plenty of time to relax in front of the TV after enjoying too much food and drink, and these are the episodes that you should be watching.
10. “A Very Sunny Christmas” – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Season 6, Episode 13)
Fans of the show knew that this was never going to be a sugar-coated or heartwarming episode, but nobody quite expected an event this depraved and utterly hilarious. The gang is determined to get in the holiday spirit, but their efforts would come up short, and we also get a glimpse into why they are such messed up individuals. We see Frank mess with Dee and Dennis by buying the presents that they wanted for himself, which causes them to teach him a lesson that backfires on them all. Most startling, however, are Mac and Charlie, who attempt to get into the spirit but discover that Mac’s family used to break into houses to steal their presents, while Charlie learns that his mother would prostitute herself for money and gifts. This results in Charlie assaulting a mall Santa and a hilarious and twisted clay motion sequence.
9. “Afternoon Delight” – Arrested Development (Season 2, Episode 6)
This fantastic episode sees the office Christmas party turn into a complete disaster as Michael and Maybe sing “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band, a song which they hilariously learn isn’t entirely as innocent as it sounds. G.O.B. gives a sexual harassment speech to deter anyone from flirting with his sister (much to her frustration), before then firing the staff after they all laugh at him. They then decide to throw a second party, and things spiral out of control as Lucille runs over Tobias, and Buster (who has been lying about the army and instead become an expert on a mechanical crane arcade game), picks a trapped G.O.B. up with a real crane and drops him. It may not be a particularly Christmas focused episode (which is also refreshing), but it is a brilliantly funny story that will leave you with “Afternoon Delight” stuck in your head.
8. “Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo” – South Park (Season 1, Episode 9)
Only South Park could have an episode about a talking “Christmas poo” in a red hat that makes you think about political correctness and religious sensitivity during the festive period. After being forced to quit the Christmas play after his mother finds out her Jewish son in playing Saint Joseph, Kyle suggests that he could sing a non-religious alternative—“Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo.” This is rejected, and Kyle is left feeling excluded, but then Mr. Hankey reveals himself to Kyle. The mayor decides to remove anything offensive to anyone in the celebrations, resulting in a very bland and boring party. Mr. Hankey then appears and scolds everyone for losing sight of all the good things about Christmas and focusing on over-sensitivity. It is a satirical swipe on political correctness and how everyone has lost sight of what is unique about Christmas, all delivered by a singing piece of poo.
7. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” – Community (Season 2, Episode 11)
A Community Christmas episode was always going to be wildly over-the-top and hilarious, and they did not disappoint with season two’s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” which was also very poignant and touching. In the spirit of the holidays, Abed perceives the group as being stop-animated, and they indulge his fantasy in an attempt to control it (this sees the episode in stop-motion). While on a brilliant adventure, the group begins to understand what Christmas is all about, and Abed states, “the meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever you want.” It radically deconstructs the holiday period and reinforces the idea of embracing Christmas, all while making some fantastic cultural references (including slamming Lost) and many brilliant gags. It is also visually awe-inspiring, and animator Drew Hodges would pick up an Emmy Award for Individual Achievement in Animation.
6. “Ludachristmas Party” – 30 Rock (Season 2, Episode 9)
For many people, the Christmas period is all about drinking and partying. Thanks to 30 Rock, there is now a name for this: “Ludachristmas.” While the cast and writers of TGS are preparing for their annual “Ludachristmas Party,” Kenneth decides to teach the staff the true meaning of Christmas by canceling the party and giving them a lecture. Things soon spiral out of control, and the cast and writers attempt to cut down the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. There are also plenty of brilliant special guests who bring a considerable amount to the episode, including Elaine Stritch as Jack’s mother, and Anita Gillette, Buck Henry, and Andy Ritcher as Liz’s family. Liz’s family always argue at dinner with Jack and his mother, and Jack was at first not thrilled after his mother unexpectedly arrived after thinking she was unable to make it.
5. “The One with the Holiday Armadillo” – Friends (Season 7, Episode 10)
A classic episode and one of Ross’s most memorable moments, this episode was packed full of humor. It was also endearing, as Ross tries to teach his son about their Jewish heritage instead of Christmas traditions. He also does not want to disappoint him but is unable to get a Santa outfit so late, seeing him resort to the “Holiday Armadillo” costume. Just as his son is opening presents and learning about Hanukkah, Chandler storms through the door in a Santa outfit and diverts his attention. After a hilarious conversation (“what are you doing here…weird…turtle man?”), Ross begins to teach both Ben and Chandler/Santa about Hanukkah before Joey bursts through the door in a Superman outfit. This creates a surreal scene in which Rachel states, “it looks like the Easter Bunny’s funeral in here.” “The Holiday Armadillo” is now considered to be an essential part of the holidays.
4. “Christmas Party” – The Office (U.S.) (Season 2, Episode 10)
There are a few excellent Christmas episodes of The Office, but none as hilarious as the one in season two. It is a typically chaotic episode where everyone in the office is involved in a Secret Santa gift exchange at the Christmas party, with Jim making a heartfelt present along with a personal letter for Pam. There is a $20 limit, but Michael ignores this and buys Ryan a video iPod as a gift. Michael is then hugely disappointed with his award: a homemade oven-mitt from Phyllis. He decides to implement a “Yankee Swap,” where you can steal somebody else’s gift or open a new one. This causes complete chaos as everyone fights for the iPod, but eventually, Pam trades the iPod for Jim’s present. To make amends, Michael buys a ridiculous amount of alcohol, which results in plenty more hilarity and Meredith exposing herself to Michael at the end.
3. “The Strike” – Seinfeld (Season 9, Episode 10)
This Christmas episode is so legendary that it even spawned its secular holiday—“Festivus.” As you would expect, Seinfeld’s take on Christmas is hilarious and filled with many classic moments, including the reveal that Kramer does, have a job, and that he has been on strike for 12 years. The “Festivus” holiday is devised by George’s dad, which serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of Christmas. Celebrated on the 23rd of December, it brilliantly involves a Festivus dinner, a Festivus pole (an unadorned aluminum pole), tests of strength, airing of grievances, and referring to regular events as “Festivus miracles.” For those that do not enjoy the pressures of Christmas, Festivus is the holiday for you, and this is a must-watch episode to get you in the mood for a low-pressure holiday.
2. “Christmas Special” (Part 1 & 2) – The Office
A huge part of why The Office is held in such high regard is how well the show concluded, which was, of course, with an unforgettable two-part Christmas special. These aired on the 26th and 27th of December, over a year after the heart-crushing yet still hilarious finale where David begs for his job, and Tim reveals his feelings to Dawn. The Christmas Specials take place sometime after these events and see the camera crew return to catch up with everyone. Classically, there are some unbearably cringe-worthy moments, such as David’s venture into online dating. Still, the scene is set at the office Christmas party for an emotional and tender conclusion. David hits it off with his date and finally sticks up for himself to Finch, but ultimately this episode is about Dawn returning to kiss Tim in one of the greatest moments in TV history.
1. “Simpsons Roasting an Open Fire” – The Simpsons (Episode 1, Season 1)
Not only is this one of the best Christmas episodes ever, but it is the very first full episode of what would go on to be the most excellent cartoon show of all-time. Things are looking not too jolly for the Simpsons family at the start, as the evil Mr. Burns announces that there will be no Christmas bonuses, and Homer, therefore, has no money to buy any presents. He secretly takes a job as a mall Santa, before then hoping to boost his small earnings at the dog track with Bart. He puts all his money on a 99-1 bet, a greyhound called Santa’s Little Helper. The dog comes in last, and they then see the owner angrily disown him. They, of course, take the dog home, much to the joy of the rest of the family, and Christmas was saved in a heart-warming start to the legendary show.