The Best Christmas TV Specials

Story posted December 24, 2020 in Arts & Entertainment by CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Staff.

With Christmas just a day away, the CommRadio arts & entertainment staff revisits the best and most memorable holiday specials and Christmas-themed episodes to celebrate the season of giving. 

“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
"Community," Season 2, Episode 11

“Community” is known for its adaptations on various genres, commentary on Hollywood tropes and impressive takes on pop culture. In the show’s first Christmas episode, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” this reputation was taken to an entirely new level.

In this episode of “Community,” Abed, a quirky film nerd, wakes up days before Christmas insisting that everything around him is in stop motion animation, so this year must be a special Christmas for him and his friends.

His friends are worried for Abed, thinking he’s lost his mind, but agree to play along and go on his special Christmas journey. The gang all transforms into magical Christmas characters, such as a toy soldier and a ballerina. During the journey, one by one, his friends become irritated and Abed asks them to leave the quest for various reasons.

By the end of the episode, it’s revealed that Abed created a Christmas stop motion special in his mind to distract him from the news that his mother would not be coming home to visit him for the holidays. Abed comes to this conclusion throughout the journey with the help of his friends.

The episode was directed by Duke Johnson and written by Dino Stamatopoulous and show creator Dan Harmon. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” was created entirely through traditional stop motion techniques, using clay molds of every character and tiny recreations of real sets.

This special reminds audiences of the importance of family around the holidays, whether that means by blood or just true friends. Abed’s friends all come together to support him through this crisis and spend time doing something that’s important to him.

“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” proves that “Community” is willing to go all out, and the show truly outdid itself with this memorable Christmas special. – Sarah Simpson

“A Benihana Christmas”
"The Office," Season 3, Episode 10

“A Benihana Christmas” was the second Christmas-themed episode of popular American television show “The Office,” although it was certainly not the last. Chaos ensues at Dunder Mifflin, as always, in one of the show’s more memorable holiday episodes.

“A Benihana Christmas” follows boss man Michael Scott as he recovers from a recent breakup. To cheer him up, some eager coworkers take him out for lunch at their local Benihana restaurant. The gang brings back two confused, young waitresses from the restaurant to the Dunder Mifflin holiday party.

Back at the office, tensions are high, as there are two dueling Christmas parties. Many of the employees choose to attend Pam and Karen’s party, which was started out of spite towards the uptight Angela.

In the end, the employees come back together and celebrate the holidays as one office. Pam, Karen and Angela make peace and combine their parties so everyone can have a good time. Also, Michael begins to recover from his breakup and learn valuable lessons about love.

“A Benihana Christmas” ends with a precious moment between Angela and Dwight, who at the time had a secret relationship. While the employees celebrate and sing karaoke, Angela sings her favorite song, “Little Drummer Boy,” as Dwight holds the microphone for her.

The episode was directed by the legendary Harold Ramis and written by Jennifer Celotta. “A Benihana Christmas” is the perfect display of the genius work put into “The Office” over the years, and a great episode to watch for audiences looking to get into the Christmas spirit. – Sarah Simpson

“Afternoon Delight”
"Arrested Development," Season 2, Episode 6


“Arrested Development” is a show filled to the brim with jokes, so much so that you may not catch every moment the first time you watch an episode. That certainly did not stop around the holidays, with the episode “Afternoon Delight,” set around Christmastime.

This episode may not scream Christmas at first glance, but there’s only so much that can be done to depict the holiday season in California. “Afternoon Delight” features an office Christmas party that took a turn for the worst, holiday traditions and other Christmas gatherings, among the show’s usual chaos.

The title of the episode comes from not one, but two, awkward karaoke moments at the office Christmas party. First, Michael and his niece Maeby choose to sing the song “Afternoon Delight” in front of all of the company’s employees. However, they didn’t realize the sexual nature of the song, which made for an uncomfortable and embarrassing moment.

Michael’s sister Lindsay and his son George Michael repeat the same mistake later on, having not been present for their family members’ original incident. They choose the same song because it’s first in the catalogue, believing it to be innocent, but once again make for an awkward moment among the company’s employees.

Jason Bateman directed the episode and it was written by Abraham Higginbotham and Chuck Martin. The chaotic, fast-paced energy of “Arrested Development” is displayed perfectly in “Afternoon Delight,” with multiple storylines following each member of the Bluth family, that end up intersecting by the end of the episode.

“Afternoon Delight” is a delightful, silly gem that shows the chaos of the holiday season through the lens of the crazy Bluth family. – Sarah Simpson

“The Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974)


There are so many good TV specials but sometimes its nice to revisits some classics. “The Year Without a Santa Claus” is a TV special that is going on 40-years-old, but its charm and cheer still hold up just as good as ever.

With Santa Claus falling ill during the holidays, the jolly man-in-red makes the decision to cancel Christmas after his doctor convinces him he is no longer cared about. Mrs. Claus recruits elves Jingle and Jangle to figure out if people still believe in Santa.

Taking the youngest reindeer, Vixen, with them, the elves start their journey only to make a forced landing in Southtown after being caught in conflict between the Miser Brothers, who control the planets hot and cold weather.

A large number of shenanigans, as well as the realization that many children of Southtown are skeptical of Santa’s existence, Jingle and Jangle set out to visit the Snow Miser to ask for snow in Southtown as proof they are elves.

Meanwhile, having realized that Vixen was missing, Santa goes to Southtown himself disguised as an everyday citizen. He sits down with a local family and speaks to them about Santa, prompting the son “Iggy” to realize he is Santa upon departure.

After going back and forth with the Snow and Heat Misers, as well as Mother Nature, it snows in Southtown and word is spread that Santa will not be doing Christmas that year. Creating a massive wave of letters and gifts to Santa, as well as the classic song “Blue Christmas”, Santa decides to have Christmas after all and personal visits Southtown in his travels.

This classic stop-motion TV special is one of many of its kind that contain the power to instill Christmas cheer in just about everyone. It is truly a must watch, especially for those who find themselves distracted from the holidays with all the current events of 2020. – Colton Pleslusky

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” (1970)


The film that preceded the previous entry is none other than Santa’s origin story itself “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”. Telling the tale of how Saint Nick came to be, this special is another classic that makes the heart swell with cheer.

Being told by “Special Delivery” Kluger, a mail man whose truck broke down, the story is another well told Christmas story through the use of stop-motion, which is a wonderful craft in itself.

Starting in Sombertown, whose mayor is the gloomy Burgermeister Meisterburger, a child is set on the mayor’s doorstep with only a name tag that reads “Claus”. After rejecting the request of raising him, a guard is assigned to bring the child to the orphanage – only to lose him in a massive gust of wind.

Having been found by Christmas Elves by the family name of Kringle, the boy is given the name “Kris” and is raised to adulthood with the aspiration of restoring the Kringle family as “The First Toymakers to the King”.

During Kris’ first toy delivery to Sombertown, he meets a penguin who he names Topper and comes to realize that Burgermeister Meisterburger has outlawed all toys in the town. All those who possess a toy will be arrested. Before this, he has already spread out his toys to the children and met Miss Jessica, the school teacher.

After trying to make peace with the town mayor with the offering of a yo-yo, Kris is put under pursuit out of the town. During his escape, he comes across the Winter Warlock, whom he befriends.

After further attempts, the Kringles go into hiding, where Kris redons his name “Claus” and marries Jessica. They move to the North Pole and build a Toy factory. After his legend goes worldwide and the removal of the Meisterburger’s from power, Santa Claus commits to making deliveries every Christmas. – Colton Pleslusky

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)


To round out the stop-motion Christmas specials there is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. This classic is another origin story, taking the beloved song and making it into an onscreen delight.

Being born with an abnormal red nose that lights up, Rudolph is put through trials not far from those awkward experiences growing up. He is shamed for his nose, but his journey teaches him, and others, to embrace what makes him different.

Narrated by Sam the Snowman, Rudolph is the son of Santa’s lead reindeer, Donner. Donner shows much disdain towards his son’s nose, and even covers it up with dirt as a means of concealing it.

After going through much embarrassment following the reveal of his nose, Rudolph joins an elf named Hermey, who wants to be a dentist. The pair run away and encounter Yukon Cornelius, who is obsessed with finding silver and gold.

They travel to the island of misfit toys, where they are permitted to stay for a night. Fearing that he is endangering his friends due to his nose, Rudolph sets off on his own during the night. Three years later, Rudolph returns home to find both his parents left to look for him.

He discovers them corned in a cave by the abominable snowman, who is defeated by Yukon Cornelius. The group returns home where they are met with many apologies, with Rudolph being offered a spot at the front of the sled team to lead them through a snowstorm.

This is another pure and spirited Christmas special that warms the heart of all viewers. For those looking for a nice tale about everyone’s favorite reindeer, this special is the perfect thing to view. – Colton Pleslusky

 

Sarah Simpson is a junior majoring in film-video. To contact her, email sus816@psu.edu

Colton Pleslusky is a junior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email csp5289@psu.edu

About the Contributors

Colton Pleslusky's photo

Colton Pleslusky

Junior / Telecommunications

Colton S. Pleslusky is a junior from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania majoring in telecommunications at Penn State. He is a director and writer for the CommRadio arts & entertainment department as well as a co-host for the This is the Way Weekly podcast. He is a co-host for the Nittany Record Club alongside David Fortunato and Jade Campos. He is the arts and entertainment anchor for PSN News. To contact him, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Sarah Simpson's photo

Sarah Simpson

Junior / Film-Video

Sarah Simpson is a junior from Irwin, Pennsylvania majoring in film-video at Penn State. She is a writer for the CommRadio arts & entertainment department. She is also the president of Penn State Network Television (PSNtv), Penn State’s student-run television network. In addition, she is the director for PSNtv’s weekly news broadcast PSN News. She has also interned with Penn State Athletics as a live video production intern. If you’d like to contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).