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The Wonder Years, ‘Christmas’ – Engagingly Warm and Funny

25 Days of Holiday TV Specials

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Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at The Wonder Years.

What’s it About?

It was Christmas in 1968, and Kevin and his brother Wayne fell in love… with colour TV. It was more than love, it was lust. They were witnessing it as a modern miracle, and it was the first time the two boys agreed on liking the same thing. As they set out and try to convince their dad Jack to buy a new idiot box for the family on Christmas, Kevin tries to find the perfect present for his dream girl Winnie after she unexpectedly gives him a present at school. In the end, the family doesn’t get the TV, but Kevin does learn the valuable lesson that Christmas is about more than just presents. It is about family and friends, memories, and those very special moments you share.

The Wonder Years Christmas Episode

A Brief History

For the unfamiliar, The Wonder Years is often cited as one of the greatest half-hour American drama series ever produced. Created by husband-and-wife producers Carol Black and Neal Marlens, The Wonder Years ran for six seasons on ABC from 1988 through 1993, and ranked as one of the most-watched shows on television during that time. After only six episodes aired, The Wonder Years won an Emmy for best comedy series, Fred Savage became the youngest actor ever nominated as a lead, and the series also grabbed a Peabody Award for achieving two seemingly contradictory effects: “evoking a traditional family sitcom while pushing boundaries and using new modes of storytelling”.

Review

While the Christmas episode titled “Christmas” pales in comparison to some of the series’ best (such as “My Father’s Office”), this episode runs with the charm that made the show a success in the first place: it takes everyday slice-of-life incidents and brings it to the small screen with warmth and sincerity. Everything rings true to reality and nothing is ever exaggerated for a quick, cheap laugh. Not much happens in “Christmas” outside of the family’s desperate attempt to convince their father to buy them a colour TV, but as with most episodes of the Wonder Years, a significant part of the episode’s appeal emanates from Kevin’s infatuation with Winnie Cooper. Seeing him so desperately trying to find her the perfect perfume as a gift and in the end, settling for a snowglobe is utterly adorable.

As great as Kevin is, the standout moments in “Christmas” all come from Jack, a tough-as-nails dad, who every once in awhile opens up to reveal his love for his kids. The holidays can be an especially tough time for any parent, particularly those who try their hardest to make their children happy. Not everyone is blessed with the finances to go out and purchase a television priced at $469. In a way, Jack is the complete opposite of Scrooge, as pointed out by Kevin. We see him grumble about and bargain with the cost of just about everything, but it’s not that Jack cares about money, he just can’t afford to be irresponsible with what he does with that money.

David Stern’s narration gave The Wonder Years a unique feel and rhythm and a clearer look at life through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. His narration usually offers the biggest laugh, but the funniest moment in this episode actually comes from Karen, Kevin’s sister, who tells him: “You’re backing dad in to a corner. He wants to buy a TV, but he wants to surprise us. It’s complicated.”

wyc1988

Few series have been able to capture the pain and triumphs of adolescence as The Wonder Years. Their first Christmas special pulls off the neat trick of affirming that money can’t buy happiness while serving up enough tender moments to recommend it highly. It’s expertly directed, emotionally engaging, warm, funny and manages to be sweet without getting sticky. As the family gathers in the final scene to sing Christmas carols, we are teased with a glimpse of the first snowfall. Thankfully for the Arnolds, it started to pour instead, and somehow under the rain, the Arnold family rediscovered the true spirit of Christmas. And as we learn before the credit roll, Jack does buy the family a television set, after all, only it came two years later.

Ricky D

How Christmassy is it?

100 % – The entire episode takes place during the Christmas holiday and features the following songs:

“Silent Night”
Performed by Glenn Campbell & Cher

“Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy”
Written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

“Twelve Days Of Christmas”
Performed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

“Jingle Bell Rock”
Performed by Bobby Helme

“White Christmas”
Performed by Bing Crosby

“River”
Performed by Joni Mitchell

You May Like It If…

Anyone who likes comedy-dramas and good TV writing.

Other observations:

The final narration of the series beautifully summed up the experience that was The Wonder Years:

“Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place…a town…a house like a lot of houses…a yard like a lot of other yards…on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is…after all these years…I still look back…with wonder.”

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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‘Bojack Horseman’s Xmas Special Is the Height of Schmaltzy Satire

If you were lucky enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with awful specials, then Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special is just for you.

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Bojack Horseman

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today we look back at Bojack Horseman‘s “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”.


When it comes to sitcoms, the grand tradition of the holiday special is a long time staple of the genre. The schmaltzy corniness of the 80s and 90s made these specials all the more egregious, and it is this tradition that Bojack Horseman echoes back to with its brilliant Christmas special.

Ostensibly just a full episode of Horsin’ Around (the show that made Bojack famous), Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special only uses the present day as a framing device before diving into the stupid fun of a very special episode of Horsin’ Around.

The central plot of the episode focuses on Bojack’s youngest adopted child, Sabrina, wishing for her parents to come back to life after Bojack assures her that Santa can give her anything she wants for Christmas. Of course, in typical sitcom fashion, rather than simply explaining to Sabrina that Santa can’t bring people back from the dead, Bojack instead opts to try and trick her into being naughty so Santa will have an excuse not to grant her wish.

Bojack Horseman

The absolute apex of this silliness comes when Bojack tries to get Sabrina to give in and eat some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. “I’ve heard of lookie-lookie don’t eat the cookie but this is ridiculous!” The use of lines like these in sitcoms is a classic cut to simpler and stupider times, where shows could really get away with lines as ham-fistedly ridiculous as these and actually call them jokes.

Ultimately this is the greatest strength of the Bojack Horseman Christmas special: calling back to the tropes of 80s and 90s sitcoms before satirizing and roasting them into oblivion.

All of the classics are here. From the annoying neighbor character, who is legitimately named Goober, to the absurd onslaught of character catchphrases that permeate the episode. The best of the latter comes from Ethan, the nerdy middle child, who espouses the line “Yowza-yowza-bo-bowsa!” to a few sparse claps and a cough from the unamused studio audience. That every character needed a catchphrase in these types of sitcoms is a given but to have one so bad that even the studio audience can’t be bothered to care is a beautiful bit of satire.

Bojack Horseman

Speaking of the studio audience, Bojack Horseman doesn’t stop using them for fodder there. Thanks to one very stupid audience member, some of the best moments of the episode come from reactions to classic sitcom tropes. For instance, when Bojack flirts with his secretary, while most of the audience opts for the classic whoops and cheers of yore, the idiot just yells “Kiss her!”. He also points out catchphrases (“She said the line!”) and lets out a confused “What!?!?” at the message of the episode.

If you were lucky (or unlucky) enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with even worse Christmas specials every single year, then Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special is just for you. Hearkening back to the nostalgia of the time before ripping it to shreds with endless glee, Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special isn’t just one of the funniest episodes of the show, it’s also one of its best.

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A Doctor Who Christmas: Revisiting “Voyage of the Damned”

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Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at the Doctor Who Christmas special, “Voyage of the Damned”.

What’s it About?

First broadcast in December 2007, “Voyage Of The Damned” runs 72 minutes long and is the third Christmas special since the show’s revival in 2005. The Doctor finds his TARDIS colliding with a luxury space cruiser (based on the RMS Titanic) during a Christmas party. The ship’s captain, Hardaker (Geoffrey Palmer), sabotages the cruise liner by purposely lowering the ship’s shield, resulting in severe damage after colliding with several asteroids. It’s up to the Doctor (David Tennant), with the help of a waitress named Astrid Peth (Kylie Minogue), to fight off robot-like creatures in the form of golden angels and save the day.

voyage-of-the-damned-17

Review

A festival of ideas, bursting with wild imagination, ambitious set pieces, strange characters, curious visual effects, and one charming Doctor who had this critic glued to the screen midway through, when he turned around to deliver this rousing monologue:

I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the Constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who is gonna save your lives and all 6 billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?

This time around, the mammoth cruise ship struck fire (not, ice) and the passengers are a sordid bunch including robotic golden angels armed with killer boomerang-like-halos, and a dwarf named Bannakaffalatta – a cyborg Zocci who strangely resembles Darth Maul. We learn that due to an accident, Bannakaffalatta had undergone conversion into a cyborg, for which he felt shame because apparently where he comes from, cyborgs are discriminated against. “Voyage of the Damned” features a batch of religious imagery (including a messianic portrayal of the Doctor himself being carried away into space by two of the angels), and the blank and trite performance by the beautiful pop sensation Kylie Minogue, (whose role was specifically written for her).

Voyage of the Damned

For a Christmas special, we get a number of casualties along the way, including Bannakaffalatta’s self-sacrifice and Astrid’s fall into the fires of hell. One could accurately describe this episode as The Poseidon Adventure in space, a nightmarish schematic rhapsody of virtuous discomfort. “Voyage” doesn’t end on a happy note. Sabotage and corporate greed destroy our ragtag bunch of passengers, and those who are lucky enough to survive do come out with lasting scars. Not much Christmas cheer here, but the script is sprinkled with clever comedic moments from time to time, including a surprising gag involving the royal family.

Astrid’s final appearance comes in the form of “an echo with the ghost of consciousness”; her stardust-hologram-like image fades after a final kiss. Perhaps a tad bit corny, but the sequence is enough to bring a tear to the eyes of die-hard Whovians. “Voyage” is ridiculous, but also oddly fun in the sheer overkill of pulp and fantasy imagery. Technically it impresses, loaded with eye-catching-hi-tech chase scenes and more importantly, characters and a plot (even if incoherent) to support them.

doctorwhovoyageofthedammbed

Is this thrilling no holds barred sci-fi/disaster mash-up brilliant or idiotic? Perhaps a bit of both, but “Voyage of the Damned” satisfies because of its strong emotional core and unnerving dark themes couched in stunning visuals. This visually arresting, occasionally funny ride is neatly wrapped in a comfortable Yuletide package.

– Ricky D

How Christmassy is it?

Despite the high death toll and the titanic setting, “Voyage” strangely delivers a Christmas vibe, if in scenes few and far between. I would say 50/50.

You May Like It If…

Obviously, if you like Doctor Who, disaster films, and science fiction.

Voyage of the Damned
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Revisiting The Sopranos Christmas Special

25 Days of Holiday TV Specials

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To Save Us All from Satan’s Power

The Sopranos Season 3

Episode 10: “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power”

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at The Sopranos Christmas episode.

Note: It’s difficult to really encapsulate the events that take place in this episode without spoiling it since so much of it’s impact relies on the events that take place during the three seasons prior. I won’t be going into any specifics about the episode to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t watched the entire third season. With that said, if you haven’t seen an episode of The Sopranos, I highly recommend you start since it is one of the greatest TV series of all time. Apart from that, I hope my review will simply serve as a reminder for fans of the show.

What’s it About?

The annual pork-store holiday party is fast approaching, but Tony Soprano isn’t feeling the Christmas spirit. A visit with the ghosts of Christmas past lands Tony back on his psychiatrist’s couch. Meanwhile, the gang needs to find someone to replace Pussy and don the Santa suit. While the memories of Tony’s friend continues to haunt him, he tries to find time to balance his work with his family life.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Review

Every year around Christmas, there are two stories guaranteed to pop up on television: A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. Both have inspired countless adaptations, spoofs, homages and so on – but who would have ever guessed Frank Capra’s classic would have somehow inspired an episode of The Sopranos?

The Christmas episode, nicely titled “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power,” sees Tony Soprano dealing with the death of a good friend. As always, Tony is our focus. Tony may be a mobster but he’s just as human as any of us, and the holidays have him looking back at the important events that unfolded in his life that year. Much of season three sees his friend’s death snake around the edges of the stories. This episode is all about Tony dealing with his guilt, betrayal, paranoia – and his doubt concerning a decision he recently made. The challenge for Tony is to overcome these obstacles so that he can hopefully look ahead and start his new year fresh.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Unlike George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life), who overcomes his depression by remembering all the people who love him and all the ways that he’s helped others, Tony instead realizes just how much he has lost. Using very clever flash-forwards and flashbacks, the nonlinear structure of the episode presents his deceased friend as both a literal and figurative ghost. Nearly every scene of “Satan’s Power,” is haunted by this ghost in one way or another, even if he’s not physically (or spiritually) present.

For an episode this late in a Sopranos season, there’s not a lot happening, plot-wise. “Satan’s Power” is a fairly insignificant episode in advancing the season-spanning story arc, but while the mob business is barely present (outside of a few flashbacks), what’s really important is the emotions and the memories Tony’s dead friend brings. Combine the characters, the story, the message, and the acting, and it’s easy to see why this is a holiday favourite to revisit every year during the holidays.

Big-Mouth Billy Bass closes off the episode. Tony’s torn expression dissolves into the rolling waves as gospel music gradually kicks in, drowning out Billy’s voice. Tony’s friend may be gone, but his memory will forever live on. “Satan’s Power” carries a powerful emotional punch and is a necessary pause in a season-long storyline.

Sopranos Christmas Special

How Christmassy is it?

Unless you’re a mobster or a family member of one, you won’t be able to relate to the character’s inner turmoil, but it still has one hell of a Christmas feel. It may not be very cheerful, but it does revolve entirely around the holiday and features a scene from A Wonderful Life. It also features a ton of Christmas classics, including “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “The First Noel,” “Little Drummer Boy”, The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” and “Santa Baby,” among others.

Who’s it for?

Since it doesn’t really work as a stand-alone episode, I’d recommend it to fans of the series who may have forgotten about the episode.

Other observations:

The best line comes from Paulie Walnuts: “In the end, fuck Santa Claus.”

Ricky D

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