Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Jenn's Pick: Top 10 Christmas Episodes of a TV Comedy Series

I love Christmas.

I love everything about the holiday: the music, the lights, the warm feeling you get whenever you look out your window and see snow spiraling onto the pavement. Or, in my case, whenever you don a pair of sunglasses and tank top and head outside to soak up the 85-degree weather.

(Ah, Florida.)

Nevertheless, Christmastime is my favorite time of year, and nearly every television show makes the decision to do a Christmas-themed episode. I’ve narrowed down my list to ten of my favorite yuletide episodes in comedy series. It was difficult to choose because there are SO many amazing Christmas episodes out there, but I feel pretty good about my selection. So what episodes made my “nice” list?

Grab some Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, and cuddle up with my top ten favorite Christmas-themed comedy episodes!

10. "Express Christmas" (Modern Family)

I know that Modern Family gets a lot of flak during awards season and throughout the year for being perpetually nominated (and winning) nearly every category it can possibly be nominated for. And I think I’m prone to become bitter toward shows like these because of the sheer fact that MY favorite shows never receive nominations or awards that are deserved. Nevertheless, I don’t hate Modern Family. I actually quite enjoy the series and find myself laughing quite frequently.

“Express Christmas” is one of the best Christmas episodes of a comedy series (obviously, since it made it onto my list) because of this: it pulled together perfectly hilarious plotlines but ended with such heart and sentiment that it made me cry. The episode centers around the family realizing that because of cancelled and changed plans, that day – December 16th – is the last day they will all be together until after the holiday. Phil decides that because of that fact, they should make December 16th their Christmas and pull together an entire holiday in one day. It’s “express Christmas.” So the family splits into factions: Mitch and Alex search for a tree; Gloria and Luke find ornaments and decorations; Claire and Haley go Christmas shopping at Target; Phil and Manny get the groceries; and Cam and Jay wrap presents. I actually loved the way that “Express Christmas” split the family into pairs that are unexpected but work on such a fundamentally hilarious level (Gloria and Luke running over the Christmas tree angel and Mitch and Alex bonding over shopping are some of the best stories in the episode).

But what really gets me is this: “express Christmas” (the concept, not the episode) fails miserably. Mitch and Alex’s tree gets run over so they return home with it in pieces. Phil doesn’t have a turkey to cook for the family. Jay and Cam are at odds and Mitch discovers the broken Christmas tree angel. The entire family is disappointed because it was their last chance to spend a holiday together and it was ruined. When Jay suggests that they just cut their losses and go to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate instead, something amazing happens: the family exits the house to see fake snow everywhere, Jay’s doing. And the episode closes with Gloria saying this:

Family is family. Whether it’s the one you start out with, the one that you end up with or the family that you gain along the way. Which makes every day December 16th.

(And then I cried. Because when Modern Family nails the emotional moments, it really nails them.)

9. "Our Very First Christmas Show" (Full House)

I grew up on Full House (no surprise there since I’m a 90s kid), and my absolute favorite Christmas episode was the first one. The Tanners get snowed in at the airport and are forced to spend Christmas with a bunch of strangers at the baggage claim area. Everyone is disappointed in this, but no one – perhaps – more so than Stephanie, who is convinced that Santa won’t find her at the airport. Danny admits to D.J. that the airline lost the bag with the Christmas presents in them, which only serves to disappoint his eldest daughter. But then Jesse – the typical bah-humbug of the family who doesn’t care much for sap or sentiment – delivers this amazing speech and it reminds us all of exactly WHAT Christmas is about:

What's the matter with you people? The first Christmas was in a manger. They did okay. I mean, so what if we're stuck in this crummy dump? Christmas isn't about presents, or Santa Claus, or cows. It's about a feeling. It's about-- it's about people. It's about us forgetting about our problems and reaching out to help other people. Christmas doesn't have to happen in one certain place. It happens in our hearts. So if you think about it, we could have Christmas anywhere.

The entire baggage claim area then decides that they will celebrate Christmas together. The next morning, the real Santa Claus shows up and finds the missing gifts for everyone. I just… I love Full House so much because it was such an uplifting, wonderful family-centered show. And their first Christmas episode was a bottle episode that focused on the meaning of the holiday and also served to provide great humor and heart.

And you wonder why it’s my favorite 90s sitcom?

8. "Symphony of Illumination" (How I Met Your Mother)

I’ve already talked about “Symphony of Illumination” quite a bit in my How I Met Your Mother post, but it begs to be repeated: this episode is fantastic, hilarious, and the ending hits you so hard that it knocks the wind out of you and then makes you sob like a child. (Or… maybe that was just my response.) This Christmas episode centers primarily around Robin’s discovery that she cannot have children. It’s also a rare episode in that it is told from Robin’s point-of-view. Much like Scrubs did with J.D., How I Met Your Mother – rightfully so – tends to focus on Ted’s perspective and his journey. But “Symphony of Illumination” is poignant in that it takes a break from his world and thrusts us into Robin’s as she tells a story to her children.

Spoiler alert: the heartbreaking reality is that Robin’s children don’t exist.

Elsewhere in this Christmas episode, Marshall is attempting to decorate his and Lily’s new home to rival the neighbors’ and dubs the display the “Symphony of Illumination.” A teenager offers his assistance, but as it turns out he’s about as annoying and terrible as those teenagers in “The Art of Discourse” were and strands Marshall on the roof of the house while he parties inside and texts Lily from Marshall’s phone. That plot, while overshadowed by the emotional impact of Robin’s story, really serves to enhance the audience’s awareness of exactly how trusting Marshall is as a person and always will be. We love him for it, though.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the most powerful moment of the episode: Robin doesn’t tell Barney or Ted or Lily or Marshall her news. She keeps it buried inside, but Ted knows something is wrong. So when Robin returns home to the apartment, it suddenly becomes lit up with a Christmas light spectacular set to AC/DC. Ted emerges and insists that she doesn’t have to tell him exactly what is wrong, but he’ll never stop trying to cheer her up. And that’s when Robin starts crying with Ted there to comfort her.

And then I started crying, too. For as depressing as this episode may be, “Symphony of Illumination” is a Christmas episode and it focuses on exactly how much these characters love for and care for each other. What’s more Christmas than that?

7. "Christmas Party Sex Trap" (The Mindy Project)

I believe that “Christmas Party Sex Trap” is the newest Christmas episode to grace this list, but it’s not without merit. The Mindy Project has genuinely become a series that I’ve come to love. It didn’t start out that way, truly, so I lament not sticking with it a few episodes longer in season one to garner its full potential. Nevertheless, I’ve jumped back aboard the fandom train and, recently, have become completely enthralled with the Danny/Mindy ship. Also, I’ve come to really love Chris Messina. I partially blame Sage for this.

“Christmas Party Sex Trap” is an episode that features Mindy hosting a Christmas party for the entire building in order to spend time (and share a kiss) with Cliff, the attractive lawyer who is currently dating someone else. Mindy informs Danny of this plan, but – as we anticipate – her plans begin to go awry quite quickly. Because of Peter and Jeremy’s weaknesses, alcohol and gluten won’t be at the party. Already, Mindy becomes disheartened. Nevertheless, she reveals her plan to seduce Cliff (her plan’s steps include: 1) Ignore Cliff to talk to the most interesting person in the room and make him jealous, 2) Perform a sultry rendition of “Santa Baby,” 3) Step outside for fresh air on the roof, where Cliff will then kiss her) to Danny.

While Mindy’s plan to snatch up Cliff (that sounds menacing but you get the idea) falters, Danny decides to cheer her up. Since she is his Secret Santa, throughout the episode he presents her with mundane and terrible “gifts” (a stapler for one) that culminates in him giving her the BEST GIFT EVER:  a choreographed dance to Aliyah’s “Try Again.” As it turns out, Danny remembers how Mindy used to play the song non-stop when she first started working at the office and it was the first thing to ever annoy him.

Throughout the dance – which is so fantastic and amazing and maybe the best thing I’ll ever see on The Mindy Project – Mindy becomes progressively more enthralled and impressed. Danny finishes the performance, slightly embarrassed and says he can just get purchase a gift card for her instead. Mindy, however, is insistent: she LOVED her gift. As she hugs him, the tension begins to build and they pull away but don’t move and we think – we HOPE – for just one second that Danny will lean forward and close the gap between them but Peter and Jeremy burst into the office (with Morgan in tow) and ruin the moment. (Morgan’s comment about the “weird energy” is the best line ever.)

And then, Mindy presents Danny with a choice: she says that she is going to the roof for fresh air and asks if he wants to join her. The invitation cannot be lost on Danny – Cliff has left the party and he KNOWS that this is the final step in Mindy’s plan; that if they go up to the roof, they’ll end up kissing. But… he says that he needs to clean up, instead and Mindy goes to the roof by herself, where Cliff ultimately returns and kisses her as Danny watches from the upstairs window. Someone posted on Tumblr (forgive me as I don’t recall who) that Danny probably decided against going to the roof with Mindy because he didn’t want to be a consolation prize to Cliff. Mindy had, after all, spent the entire episode preparing to kiss Cliff and it was her desire to be with HIM. So it would make sense for Danny to not want to put himself in that position where he’d be hurt. It makes a nice Danny Castellano/Nick Miller parallel (“Not like this!”) and that is something I am ALWAYS fond of.

(Also, I love this episode. I want The Mindy Project to return now, please and thank you.)

6. "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis" (The Big Bang Theory)

The Big Bang Theory gets a lot of hate, but I don’t think anyone understands how much I adore “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis.” You can say what you will about the series itself – and I hear it quite often – but this is my absolute favorite Christmas episode of the series and one of the best sitcom Christmas episodes all around. In it, Leonard befriends a cool new physicist named David who rides a motorcycle and is quite attractive (and then Leonard pretends to be into motorcycles too, which goes terribly awry). When Penny meets David, she obviously becomes smitten… and then David ditches Leonard to be with Penny instead.

Elsewhere in the episode, Penny announces that she’s gotten everyone Christmas presents, which unsettles Sheldon (who doesn’t celebrate “the ancient pagan ritual of Saturnalia”) because it means that her giving him a gift creates an obligation – he has to reciprocate with something of equal value. Raj, Howard, and Sheldon venture into a bath store and purchase various sizes of gift baskets. Sheldon’s plan is to open Penny’s gift, excuse himself, and then find the gift that best matches Penny’s in terms of monetary value.

Penny is enjoying David’s company and pretends to be interested in science, but quickly discovers that he’s actually married and then becomes both irate and depressed. Leonard attempts to cheer her up, of course. The episode ends with Penny, Sheldon, and Leonard exchanging gifts. Leonard gets Penny a children’s science kit because she’s “so into science,” while Penny gets Leonard motorcycle lessons. In an act that completely and utterly stuns Sheldon, Penny gives him a napkin from The Cheesecake Factory that is signed by Leonard Nimoy that says: “Sheldon, live long and prosper.” (Additionally, Penny notes that Leonard came into the restaurant and wiped his mouth on the napkin.)

Utterly floored, Sheldon returns from his room with all of the gift baskets that he bought and presents them to a completely baffled but amused Penny. Sheldon is genuinely concerned that those presents aren’t enough to repay Penny so he gives her a present he feels amounts to more than that: a hug. Leonard and Penny are bemused by this and Leonard coins it “a Saturnalia miracle.”

“The Bath Gift Item Hypothesis” is one episode in which I find Sheldon Cooper to be extremely endearing. He is genuinely stunned at the thoughtfulness of Penny’s gift and he tries so desperately to repay her with a gift in kind. It’s one of the simultaneously funny and sweet moments of the entire series and I love it so much.

5. "The One With the Holiday Armadillo" (Friends)

Friends will forever be one of my favorite sitcoms of all time, if not my favorite sitcom of all time. And with a series that ran as long as this one did, it’s not difficult to find favorite episode and, more specifically, favorite holiday episodes. While Friends excelled at their Thanksgiving episodes (Yo, Imma let you finish, but “The One Where Ross Got High” is the best of all time), their Christmas episodes were also extremely enjoyable. In particular, “The One With the Holiday Armadillo” is a classic.

In this episode, Ross attempts to provide Ben with more than just Christmas traditions: he wants to expose his son to his Jewish heritage as well. But Ben is confused – is Santa mad at him? Is that why he won’t visit? Ross is then torn, and decides that he wants to surprise Ben with a Christmas surprise as Santa but… cannot find any Santa outfits. So he dons the only costume he COULD find: an armadillo one. Ross becomes the “Holiday Armadillo” and shows up at Monica and Chandler’s in order to cheer Ben up… when CHANDLER enters dressed as Santa Claus. Ross is obviously crushed as Ben prefers Santa and Christmas to learning about Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights. But “Santa” encourages Ben to sit and listen, which cheers Ross up.

“The One With the Holiday Armadillo” is a fun episode and rare because it centers around Ross and Ben (something that doesn’t happen often), and it also has genuine sweet moments and a Joey/Rachel story. PLUS, this episode is sandwiched between “The One With All the Candy” (a great pre-Christmas episode) and “The One With All the Cheesecakes” so it’s really hard to top that.

4. "Citizen Knope" (Parks and Recreation)

Parks and Recreation is such an amazing comedy. It has a fantastic ensemble, stellar writing, and lovely moments of heart. “Citizen Knope” is one episode that embodies everything that this series is about. In it, a despondent Leslie Knope is on a two-week suspension after being sentenced to it following her “scandal” with Ben. She’s been told to stay away from City Hall, but that’s proving to be near-impossible for the blonde who lives and breathes all things political. Her campaign advisors decide that Leslie needs to relax, as she is currently also waiting to hear about her numbers in the poll for City Council. To keep her mind occupied, Leslie forms a citizens action committee in order to keep herself busy and also still involved in City Hall.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Pawnee staff has decided that since Leslie gets them each intensely personal and thoughtful gifts each year, they will do something special for her and set about making a gingerbread house replica of City Hall for their boss. Leslie is feeling energized and excited about her citizens action committee… until the results of the post-scandal poll come in, her advisors quit, and Leslie is left absolutely crushed. Chris, feeling responsible somehow, reinstates Leslie and as she returns to City Hall, is greeted by her friends and co-workers who show her their gingerbread creation. But they don’t stop there: they know that Leslie’s team quit and they announce that THEY are her new campaign team:
Ann: Your campaign advisors quit. Big deal. You're running for city council again, Leslie. With our help.
April: April Ludgate. Youth Outreach and Director of New Media.
Tom: Tom Haverford. Image Consultant, Swagger Coach.
Ann: Ann Perkins. Office Manager and Volunteer Coordinator.
Andy: Andy Dwyer. Security, Sweets, Body Man, Javelin, if need be.
Donna: Donna Meagle. Transpo', AKA rides in my Benz.
Jerry: Wh...You guys didn't tell me we were doing this. I did not know I was supposed to come up with something. I...
Ron: Ron Swanson. Any other damn thing you might need.
Leslie: Guys, it's so much work. I can't ask you to put your lives on hold.
Ron: Find one person here who you haven't helped by putting your life on hold.
Leslie: [choked up] I don't know what to say...except let's go win an election!
Everything about the end of this episode and episode itself was superb. Parks and Rec is a comedy that prides itself on its ensemble, with good reason. Leslie loves her friends so much. She consistently goes out of her way for them and always tries to make them happy. But “Citizen Knope” proved that Ron, Ann, April, Ben, Tom, Donna, Andy, and Jerry love and care about Leslie so much more than she knows. These people don’t just care about each other – they sacrifice for each other. They LOVE each other. And they’ll never let one person’s dream come to a halt if they can do anything to preserve it.

THAT is a beautiful message, right there.

3.  "The 23rd" (New Girl)

“The 23rd” is one of my all-time favorite Christmas episodes of a sitcom, in case you couldn’t tell by its placement on the list. In it, Jess struggles to figure out what to get her boyfriend Paul for Christmas, while the rest of the group is resolved to make their flights home for Christmas (especially Nick, who has missed his flight the past four years in a row). The gang plans on going to Schmidt’s office holiday party, where he dresses up as a sexy Santa every year and enjoys being able to use secrets to manipulate them the rest of the year.

Early in the afternoon, Jess and the boys drive through Candycane Lane – a street whose residents decorate their houses with tons of Christmas lights – and she insists that they all need to return after Schmidt’s holiday party to view the lights.

When Paul and Jess exchange gifts, he tells her that he loves the gift… and then that he loves her. Jess is unable to reciprocate and tells Nick about her struggle at the holiday party. His advice? She needs to tell Paul if she doesn’t feel the same way about him. But a miscommunication leads NICK to telling Paul that Jess doesn’t love him and the trio – accidentally locked outside on the balcony – faces the most awkward few moments ever. (Meanwhile, Schmidt and Winston and Cece are inside at the party having issues and stories all their own.)

Paul and Jess break up, leaving the latter heartbroken on the drive to the airport after the party. Nick, upon seeing Jess’ gloom, pulls onto Candycane Lane and instructs everyone to get out of the car. It’s late, however, and the street is already dark, the residents having turned off their lights hours ago. Cece, Winston, Schmidt, Jess, and Nick then proceed to shout for the neighbors to turn on their lights because there’s “a girl who really wants to see the lights” outside. Slowly but surely, all of the residents turn on their lights, to the elation of the group. They celebrate in the street, hugging and laughing together. (And Nick misses his flight again.)

The reason that I love “The 23rd” so much is this: it is such a prime example of why the New Girl group works so well as an ensemble. Everyone bands together at the end for Jess, with Nick leading the charge. They care about one another. They support one another. They DO things for one another, even if it’s as silly as driving through a street with houses adorned with Christmas lights. The final scene at Candycane Lane is so heartwarming and delightful and perfect that it earned this episode the bronze medal of Christmas episodes.

2. "Christmas Party" (The Office)

I would just like to remind everyone that Jim gave Pam a teapot in this episode with a letter that we never saw, but came back in the final season of The Office. I would like to remind everyone that Jim filled the contents of the teapot with inside jokes and trinkets he knew would make Pam smile. I would like to remind everyone that this is one of the greatest Jim Halpert moments and that “Christmas Party” is one of the greatest Christmas episodes of all time.

Other things happen in this episode of The Office, too, which make the entire episode great: the office holds a Christmas party where they decide to hold a Secret Santa gift exchange and draw names. There’s a $20 limit on the gift, but Michael ends up spending $400 on an iPod for Ryan. When he receives a handmade gift from Phyllis, he decides to shake things up a bit and enacts a White Elephant gift exchange, where players can steal someone’s gift or open a new one from the pile. All bets are off when Dwight ends up with Pam’s gift and the rest of the office is left competing for the iPod.

Pam, at the end of the episode, wins the iPod but trades it for Jim’s gift (he had been noticeably distraught when Dwight ended up with it) and the two open the contents of the teapot together with Jim sneaking out the letter from the teapot and into his pocket. Meanwhile, Michael decides to buy alcohol and everyone spends the rest of the evening enjoying the Christmas party and themselves (and their gifts).

“Christmas Party” is such an amazing episode of The Office because it features everyone together, involved in a wacky shenanigan (White Elephant gift exchanges get intense, y’all). Michael is at his best comedically when he’s at his worst/most selfish, and Jim is at his best as a character when he’s with Pam. The teapot reveal will never get old, nor will the enjoyment of the White Elephant exchange. And that makes “Christmas Party” the silver medalist in this category, to be honest.

1. "Regional Holiday Music" (Community)

I love few things more on this earth than making fun of Glee. So when my favorite sitcom parodied the FOX hit comedy, I thought: “I’m in love.” Truly, “Regional Holiday Music” is one stellar episode of Community and it’s one of the best Christmas episodes all-around. (Additionally, the episode featured fantastic original songs like “Glee,” “Teach Me How to Understand Christmas” and the Troy/Abed Christmas Rap.)

The episode centers around the study group becoming the glee club – not by choice but by brainwashing thanks to their fellow study group members (and led by the influence of Mr. Rad, played by the delightful Taran Killam). Abed succumbs to Mr. Rad’s insistence that the study group participate in the Christmas pageant because – in the film student’s words – they’ve all had a “dark year.” And so, one-by-one, the study group begins to fall under the spell of the music, where the Glee jokes run rampant (the reference to Brad and the Kings of Leon joke are the best things this show has ever done) and the insanity grows until the pageant arrives and Mr. Rad’s true intentions are revealed to Abed: the choir teacher didn’t just want the study group to join the pageant. Oh, no. He wants them to become the glee club… permanently.

(This understandably horrifies Abed.)

But then Britta ruins the pageant with her singing, Mr. Rad reveals that he killed the former glee club, and Abed walks out of the room, apologizing to the study group. All he wanted was for them to have a nice, happy Christmas and he seemed to ruin it for them all. Back at his apartment, Abed settles in for the Inspector Spacetime Christmas special when he hears something – at the door is the study group, singing “The First Noel.” They enter and apologize for their own behavior, and decide to celebrate Christmas the way they should: together.

“Regional Holiday Music” was a sentimental episode because it was the final episode to air before a very long, dark, undefined hiatus for Community. I remember sitting on my bed, watching the final scene (“We’ll see you all after Regionals”) and crying because my show had not only managed to pull off a perfect parody of Glee, but also because the study group was together at the end of it all. No matter what, these seven people always manage to find one another in the end, and that touched me.

What about you all, dear readers? What are some of your favorite Christmas-themed episodes? Hit the comments below or tweet me and let me know!  And, as always, have a great day! :)

1 comment:

  1. Great list! Friends had some of the greatest holiday episodes; I can't get over some of their Christmas ones especially the Holiday Armadillo. "My favorite part was when Superman flew all the Jews out of Egypt."
    Christmas Party might be the best Office Christmas episode. I'm not sure anything tops Jim almost showing his true feelings for Pam, and Michael's insane need for attention. :)