Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Television Update 7: Holiday Specials

There seemed to be an unusual amount of special episodes of shows I watch around the Holiday season this year, so I thought I'd go over them. To get here, the episode didn't have to be Christmas themed, but it did have to be separate from the standard season airing schedule for the show.

Doctor Who - "A Christmas Carol"

Hey, an episode of Doctor Who actually aired in America on the same day as in England! It's a Christmas miracle! While Russell T. Davies' Who Christmas specials tended to at least acknowledge the existence of the Holiday, they also tended to be about everything except it. Now that Steven Moffat's in charge of the show, he's put the Christmas back in Christmas Special with one of his better episodes, and definitely the most holiday-themed Who I've seen. The episode is obviously a take on a story that's been retold countless times, but Moffat and the cast make it work surprisingly well. Michael Gambon plays a man in control of a planet's dangerous cloud layer who takes family members for collateral on loans, and is very much a future version of Scrooge. Needing his help to save a ship full of people including Amy and Roy, the Doctor takes the role of the various Christmas ghosts and creatively uses the TARDIS to try to change his mind. The time travel twists on the classic story freshen it up quite a bit, and there's a lot here to justify Moffat's conception of the show as fairy tale more than science fiction. A very fun, very British hour of television.

Futurama - "The Futurama Holiday Spectacular"

This special is a lot like the Anthology of Interest episodes from the past, showing three silly short films within the Futurama framework, although this time there's nothing to frame the different stories and everyone dies at the end of all three, making them decidedly out of continuity. They're all based on a different holiday and also have sneaky environmental themes attached, providing a Christmas story about seed contamination, a Robanukah story about the depleting Petroleum reserves, and a Kwanzaa story about honey bees disappearing. It's far from one of the best episodes the show has done, with many of the jokes falling flat and yet another Al Gore appearance feeling a bit redundant at this point, but I'll give it a pass because each segment made me laugh out loud at least once. A bit scattershot, but they were probably constrained by the short running time for each bit, needing to hit multiple themes in each one, and finding a way to kill off the cast at the end each time, so the end result is respectable if not outstanding. A decent hold over until the next season starts.

Robot Chicken - "Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III"

There was actually a proper Christmas episode that aired before this, but it appears to be part of the regular fifth season which is starting up soon, while this is definitely a special. While the Family Guy Star Wars tributes have a clear purpose to go on for three episodes, retelling the story of the original trilogy, the Robot Chicken Star Wars episodes have been all over the place with all six movies, making a third seem less necessary. And at an hour long it could have easily dragged. Luckily the writers saved it with a real concept this time, going forward chronologically through the whole series, following Emperor Palpatine's ascent to the throne. It's still just an excuse for a lot of random gags and jokes, but the general progression makes it more interesting than it could have been. Their take on Palpatine is still pretty funny, and a lot of the sketches are among the best and most elaborate they've ever done. It's still definitely just more Robot Chicken in places, but I liked the episode more than I expected.

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! - "Chrimbus Special"

The Awesome Show's apparent ending earlier this year was a surprise heartbreak, though they've changed that sentiment in the last couple months with a new tour (that I missed getting to go to), a new hour long episode, and an announcement of a coming movie as well as the possibility of more seasons if they feel like it. That's all great news, and the holiday "Chrimbus" episode was hilarious as expected. Chrimbus is a warped version of Christmas much more focused on the receiving aspect of the holiday than the giving side, and it's an opportunity for more awkward audience reactions, mildly disturbing song and dance numbers, and one off sketches. The episode works as an excuse to bring back all of the old favorite guests, from known celebrities like Zach Galifianakis to fan favorite oddities like Ben Hur. There's a couple more ridiculous Cinco products to throw on the gigantic pile, and a multi-part arc with Carol and Mr. Henderson that wasn't exactly necessary but still pretty outstanding. More fun for Tim and Eric fans, and if it had ended up as the last thing they did, it would have been a nice send off.

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