Monday, December 14, 2020

Jenn’s Pick: TV Shows and Films That’ll Deliver Holiday Cheer This Year [Contributor: Jenn]

This year has been tough, but as we approach the holiday season with its carols, lights, and general cheer (not to mention copious amounts of cookies), there are a lot of go-to holiday films and TV episodes to keep you in the Christmas spirit! Let’s break down some of the media you can rely on at the end of 2020 to deliver the perfect boost of serotonin!

Dash & Lily (Netflix)

Dash & Lily is a very quick binge if you’re in dire need of a YA rom-com that also satisfies your love for New York at Christmas. Based on a book series, Dash & Lily tells the story of its titular characters who get to know each other through a notebook game that they trade back and forth. The highly-optimistic Lily loves Christmas; the cynical Dash does not. But as the two get to know each other through their writing and we see New York through each of their eyes, we get to learn that maybe life, love, and Christmas aren’t as simple as we thought.

Incredibly witty, charming, fun, and with a stunning cast, Dash & Lily is — as my friend Shawn put it — essentially a modern-day You’ve Got Mail for Gen-Z. And if that doesn’t convince you to watch, I don’t know what will.

Noelle (Disney+)

Anna Kendrick isn’t a Disney princess (yet), but Noelle puts her pretty close when she plays the daughter of Kris Kringle intent on helping her brother, Nick (Bill Hader), become Santa Claus. But when Nick escapes from the North Pole and ends up in Arizona, it’s Noelle’s job to bring her brother back before Christmas is ruined for everyone. 

Noelle is a sweet, funny tale about believing in yourself, finding the meaning of Christmas, and learning the power of family. Anna Kendrick is a star, no doubt, and it’s her perfect blend of zany humor and emotional heart that makes this film so special and will give you a much-needed dose of holiday serotonin. 

Happiest Season (Hulu)

In spite of the social media controversy over whether Harper is a terrible human being or not, Happiest Season is a gem of a Christmas rom-com. Starring Kristen Stewart as Abby, a woman who’s headed home with her girlfriend for the holidays. There’s only one problem: Harper’s family doesn’t know she’s a lesbian, and they definitely don’t know that Abby is her live-in girlfriend. The entire movie is a series of misadventures with Harper, Abby, and the entire family. We discover more about Harper and her past. We learn about the competitive nature of the family and their competitive relationships. In a family where love had to be earned, it’s no wonder Harper, Sloane (Alison Brie), and Jane (Mary Holland) turned out the way that they did.

Though the film focuses on Abby and Harper, Dan Levy and Aubrey Plaza absolutely steal scenes, and if you’re in the mood for a cheesy rom-com for the holidays, Happiest Season is right up your alley.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (Disney+)

The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best version of this story, I will accept no arguments. I owned the movie on VHS as a kid, and maintain that it’s the best for numerous reasons: it features the Muppets, it has incredibly lovely songs (“Bless Us All” made me weepy as a child and still does a little bit as an adult), and it also stars the incomparable Michael Caine).

This movie might be nostalgic for you millennials, but it’s also the perfect film to watch this holiday season if you haven’t seen it. The jokes are fun and meta and the story is familiar and timeless. Check out The Muppet Christmas Carol this Christmas!

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (Netflix)

A new Christmas story debuted this year called Jingle Jangle, which was a delightful, vibrant, and heartfelt journey into the world of an inventor and the complexities of family. Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) is an inventor who created something extraordinary when he was younger, but it was stolen by his apprentice, Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key). He also ran off with a book of Jeronicus’ inventions. 30 year later, Jeronicus has lost his creativity to invent. He now owns a pawnbroker shop but if he can’t produce a spectacular invention soon, he’s going to lose his shop. 

Jeronicus has a daughter who is now grown but fairly estranged from him. Jessica (Anika Noni Rose) sends her young daughter, Journey (Madalen Mills), who is also a passionate inventor and incredibly smart to visit her grandfather after he sends Jessica a letter. Jeronicus seems uninterested at first, but he soon learns how much she has in common with him and truly begins to bond with her and love her as his granddaughter. The rest of the story is about magic, Christmas, the power of family, and inventions. It’s a wonderful musical journey filled with Black actors and actresses — seriously, the songs are so great and Madalen is insanely talented for such a young kid! — that will fill you with the joy that only holidays can bring.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Disney+)

Look, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was a 90s heartthrob, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas is a fantastic romp featuring his comedic chops. It also stars a young Jessica Biel, and the story is pretty straightforward: Jake (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) receives a call from his father in New York, offering to give him his vintage Porsche if he can return home to New York by Christmas Eve. Jake has been reluctant to go home since his mother died, and had originally planned to take Allie (Jessica Biel) away to Cabo for Christmas. But with his father’s offer and Allie’s insistence that she wants a “real Christmas,” Jake reconsiders and agrees to make it home in time for Christmas Eve.

What follows next is a series of shenanigans when Jake’s college nemeses punish him for not helping them cheat on exams. So Jake begins an arduous journey home by hitchhiking, entering a Santa race, and so much more. It’s a really fun journey though because every person Jake meets helps set him on the path toward what Christmas really means and why he’s been avoiding celebrating it for so long.

It’s a feel-good Disney film that you should definitely add to your Christmas rotation if you haven’t already!

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (Netflix)

Is this movie everything you expect it to be? Absolutely. But is it campy, a little emotional, and filled with plenty of Dolly Parton? Also yes. Regina (played expertly by Christie Baranski) is a jaded, grieving woman who decides to evict the residents of her hometown and sell the town to a land developer to build a mall. But she’s visited by an angel (Dolly Parton) who helps her think through some of the childhood traumas, experiences, and joys that brought her to where she is that day.

The plot is a bit all over the place, and there are more storylines than you can count but by goodness is it energetic in its campiness. Additionally, Dolly Parton wrote all the songs and basically created the whole film herself. That deserves some respect. Plus, Jennifer Lewis is in it and she is an absolute star. I’m fully convinced that Dolly’s an actual angel after watching this film and that Christine Baranski can elevate anything that she is in. And if that is all you take from this film too, that will be enough. 

“The Polarizing Express” — Psych (Amazon Prime; Peacock)

To kick off our discussion about Christmas television episodes, I wanted to talk about Psych. But I don’t know that I can say it any better than I did when I wrote about this episode years ago, so here goes:

In the vein of It’s a Wonderful Life, Shawn is forced to imagine what life would be like if he didn’t exist. Through some pretty hilarious and zany visions of Gus, Lassie, Henry, and Juliet’s lives, Shawn jokingly recognizes that their lives are better because he returned to Santa Barbara. But what made this Christmas episode so important was that there were moments within the visions where the characters would stop and stare at Shawn and he — and we — would realize truths about them: that Shawn doesn’t appreciate Gus as much as he should, that he doesn’t respect Lassie as much as Lassie deserves to be respected, that Juliet is a woman who isn’t as tough as she lets on, and that he needs to care about and for his father.

Those realizations carry over into reality: the reality where Shawn got himself suspended and his father fired because of his methods on a case. Shawn is lax and selfish at the beginning of the episode, thinking only of how HIS life has impacted the people around him. What he begins to realize through his dream sequences is that often he is too concerned with his own life and fails to appreciate the people who care about him and always go out on limbs for him. So Shawn decides to solve his real-life case using the by-the-book method he often disregards. He consciously chooses to treat the people in his life more carefully and more thoughtfully than he normally would thanks to his revelation. He decides to be mature and considerate and it pays off, as the team solves the case. Shawn returns to his father’s house later that night to repair their relationship and finds Henry asleep. In a moment of beautiful tenderness, Shawn tucks his dad in and then notices a Christmas card for him. We aren’t quite sure what Henry wrote in the card, but we do know that it visibly affects Shawn.

And for all these moments and so many more, “The Polarizing Express” deserves to be on your holiday watchlist. Also if you haven’t yet watched Psych, what are you waiting for?! It’s an amazing show.

“The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” — Doctor Who (HBO Max)

I was very tempted to put “A Christmas Carol” or “Christmas Invasion” on this list, but I decided instead to go with another Christmas special classic, “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.” The plot seems relatively straightforward for Doctor Who — the Doctor (Matt Smith) is the caretaker of a widow and her children in 1941 England. It’s an homage, of course, to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and in typical story fashion, the children escape to a magical world and something goes horribly awry. It’s a combination of the magic of fairytales with the sci-fi of Doctor Who. But the focus is truly on family. And when the Doctor sees the power in that, he decides to visit a few of his closest friends for the holiday: Rory (Arthur Darvill) and Amy (Karen Gillan). In a sweet, touching end of the story, the Doctor realizes it’s been two years since he’s seen his friends and yet... they always set a place at the table for him at Christmas dinner. He cries happy tears and the episode ends.

I love Doctor Who Christmas specials. My best friend and I watch them together every year, so it’s part-nostalgia, part-love for the show itself. But honestly, if you don’t get even a little bit weepy at the end of this one, you might be a Cyberman.

“Regional Holiday Music” — Community (Netflix)

Once upon a time, I loved Glee. And then I stopped, but when “Regional Holiday Music” aired, I was reminded of all of Glee’s absurdities all over again! Though “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” is a true work of art, this one has to be my favorite Christmas special that Community did. The inclusion of Mr. Rad (Taran Killam) was a pitch-perfect parody of Glee’s Mr. Schue. Everything from the musical interludes, the veiled reference to Brad, and a Kings of Leon joke makes this episode one for the books. But it’s more than just a clever dig at the FOX musical comedy; it’s a legitimately heartwarming story about friendship during Christmas. The final scene of the episode hit so hard when we watched it live because the show had been pulled from the schedule and while the choir sang “we’ll see you all after regionals,” those of us watching had no idea when we’d actually see our beloved Greendale Seven again.

Every year, “Regional Holiday Music” cheers me up, makes me laugh (seriously I dare you not to crack a smile during “Teach Me How to Understand Christmas”), and reminds me of exactly the kind of brilliance Community was capable of.

“The 23rd” — New Girl (Netflix)

New Girl is my favorite show. This is no surprise. And “The 23rd” may just be my favorite Christmas episode of all-time (sorry, The Office and Community). The episode focuses on our favorite ragtag group of friends trying to make it through a holiday party. Nick needs to make it to the airport on time to get back to Chicago from Christmas, even though he’s never EVER made his flight. Jess, meanwhile, is struggling with the fact that her boyfriend told her that he loves her and she doesn’t feel the same way. Cece is dealing with her jerk boyfriend (played by Stephen Amell) and Schmidt is trying to prove to Cece how much he cares about her.

At the end of the night, the group drives away from the party, dejected at how the evening turned out. But Nick has one last trick up his sleeve when he sees Jess’ dismay: he takes the whole group to a street with houses known for their incredible Christmas light displays. The street is dark already because it’s late, but the group makes a loud enough ruckus that the neighborhood relights their homes for a few moments.

“The 23rd” is everything you could want in a Christmas episode. It’s sweet. It’s hilarious. It drives plot forward. It features a lovely moment for the show’s main ship. But most importantly, it’s representative of the heart of New Girl. It’s an episode about doing anything for the people you love, no matter how absurd, and that... that is New Girl.

So what are your favorite Christmas episodes? Check out some of our past articles about my favorite Christmas classics and some other favorite holiday TV comedy episodes!


Post a Comment