Just like their UK counterparts, American comedy shows can’t resist the lure of doing a Christmas special. Countless shows have opted to produce a special festive outing for “the holidays”, and much like with the UK’s output, it varies wildly in terms of quality. Luckily though, there is plenty of gold out there to choose from:
The Simpsons – Marge Be Not Proud
It was hard to decide on which of The Simpsons’ Christmas offerings warranted a place on this list. Miracle on Evergreen Terrace is a solid outing and the long-distant pilot episode The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire still has an undeniable charm. For me though the best Christmas outing was actually the oft overlooked Marge Be Not Proud where Bart’s desire to own Bonestorm leads to him getting caught shoplifting and thus get banned from the mall. This is a development which jeopardises Marge’s beloved Christmas tradition of going to the mall and getting a professional family photo taken. It’s a consistently funny episode, with Milhouse’s screenname of “Thrillho” and Homer’s referring to “that guy who gives those sermons at church” as “Captain Whatshisname” being personal favourite moments. The cherry on the cake though is the heartfelt finale where Bart gives Marge her present and manages to finally regain his mother’s trust.
South Park – Mr Hankey. The Christmas Poo
South Park has done a couple of memorable Christmas outings over the years, with Woodland Critter Christmas also being well worth a watch. However their finest festive offering remains the deranged and disgusting brilliance of Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo. The story focuses on Kyle, a Jewish boy reluctant to take part in the School’s traditional Christian holiday play who instead starts to promote the values of the little-known secular character, Mr Hankey. It’s undeniably childish in parts, with an abundance of poop jokes as one might expect, but the sequence where Mr. Hankey teaches the townspeople the real meaning of Christmas is still a perfect feel-good ending.
Community – Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas
Community was always a show willing to try something new. It gave us movie pastiches, paintball adventures, bottle episodes, and then for its Christmas special it even dabbled with stop-motion animation. The episode’s premise revolves around walking pop-culture encyclopaedia Abed who has begun to see the world in stop-motion and firmly believes that this means that the festive season ahead will be of special significance. This leads to the study group joining him on an adventure to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas. Abed’s mental condition and his friend’s worries about him are worked in to the plot seamlessly and their dedication to helping him through the difficult Christmas season is a heart-warming sight, even in stop-motion form.
The Office – Christmas Party
The American take on The Office really hit its stride in the second season with the show’s writers finally nailing their own comedic tone. A fine example of this came in the Christmas special episode which revolved around the office’s secret Santa which Michael soon turns into a Yankee swap as he doesn’t like the present he was given. This causes problems for Jim as his well thought out present for Pam ends up in the hands of Dwight instead. This episode features everything that’s great about the Office, constant jokes, great characters and yet another twist in one of TV’s great love stories as Pam and Jim share another beautiful moment.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – A Very Sunny Christmas
As you might expect from It’s Always Sunny, their take on a Christmas special isn’t exactly as joyous and jolly as that of a typical sitcom. As Christmas approaches, Dee and Dennis seek revenge on Frank for the many years he’s ruined their Christmases by buying the gifts he know they really want and keeping them for himself. Meanwhile, Mac and Charlie make some depressing discoveries about their own beloved childhood Christmas memories and the questionable actions of their respective parents. A brief foray into claymation during the finale adds a classic Christmas touch, but rest assured, in true Sunny form, the episode’s end is every bit as bleak as it is hilarious.