We’re all familiar with the classic feel-good holiday specials that get everyone into the spirit around this time of year - A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty The Snowman, et cetera. While it’s perfectly delightful to gather around with family and watch that sort of thing, the Christmas-themed content I’ve enjoyed this December is far less wholesome and far more entertaining. With that said, here’s a review of my favorite not-so-family-friendly Christmas specials.
The Sopranos – “...To Save Us All From Satan’s Power” (Season 3, Episode 10)
It’s the first Christmas since the watery demise of Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, and much to his dismay, Bobby Baccalieri is forced to replace him as Santa Claus for the annual gift giveaway at Satriale’s. This proves to be an ill-fated arrangement since Bobby ends up picking a fight with a five-year-old he accuses of trying to snag extra presents, which is great because we get to hear:
1) Bobby indignantly shouting, “Now you’re goin’ on Santa’s list and ya get nuthin!” 2) The collective accented “Wooooah, heeey!” that erupts from the crowd when the child curses at him in response.
Besides just being funny, Bobby’s inappropriate role as Santa also prompts a flashback to the winter of 1995, when the crew suspects Pussy could’ve been betraying them all as an FBI informant much earlier than they were aware of. His temper and defensiveness, plus the recollection that he already had his Santa suit on when he arrived at the party, leads Tony Soprano to believe he was wearing a wire the entire time. Whether this is actually true remains unanswered, however, and the Godfather reference during the flashback scene when Silvio jokingly impersonates Al Capone, gestures toward Pussy and goes “It was you, Fredo!,” teasing the ambiguity of the whole situation.
At the end of the episode, Tony puts on a painfully forced grin after receiving a Big Mouth Billy Bass from his daughter. The same novelty toy made an appearance in a previous episode, haunting him with memories of Salvatore, who now “sleeps with the fishes.” Given this context and the fact that Tony’s reaction to his first encounter with this thing was to break it over the head of the guy who bought it, the amount of restraint it takes him to act smitten over the awful gift is even more hilarious.
Favorite Dialogue Exchange:
Paulie: “Yeah, that’s strange, that Mr. And Mrs. Claus didn’t have kids of their own.”
Silvio: “Probably why they got into it in the first place.”
Paulie: “I used to think the elves were their kids.”
Silvio: “They were running a sweatshop over there.”
Paulie: “There was somethin’ on TV. The original elves were ugly, traveled with Santa to throw bad kids a beatin’, and he gave the good ones toys.”
Trailer Park Boys: Xmas Special
Ricky is bailed out of jail by Julian just in time for the holidays, but at first he’s less than pleased to be deprived of all the partying taking place on the inside. His character development throughout this special culminates in the middle of a church service when he doles out free hash, wrestles an incredibly hammered Jim Lahey wearing a grocery bag as a beard, and delivers a crass yet oddly heartfelt speech detailing how he discovered the true meaning of Christmas - “gettin’ drunk and stoned with yer friends and family, people that you love.”
Now, I know I prefaced this by saying these specials aren’t wholesome, but because I’ve watched every single episode of Trailer Park Boys and am emotionally invested in the show I usually tear up during the final scene. Bubbles opens a gift from his parents that abandoned him when he was a child - even though he was saving it for their return - because Ricky and Julian have become his family. As if that premise in it of itself wasn’t enough to make me a sappy mess over these characters, there’s a note inside the box that mentions how Bubbles is “lucky to have a friend like Julian, and that Richard boy (he) tries to help out with schoolwork.”
Favorite Dialogue Exchange:
Ricky: “I’m sendin’ a letter off to the big guy tomorrow.”
Ray: “To Santa Claus, Rick?”
Ricky: “Yeah, the big guy.”
Bubbles: “The big guy? That’s God.”
Ricky: “Yeah, God. That’s what I said, Santa.”
Ray: “Ricky...you know Santa and God aren’t the same guy, right?”
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – "A Very Sunny Christmas: Part 2" (Season 6, Episode 14)
Keeping up with the theme of trauma that seems to be a commonality among this little collection of specials for some reason, part of this episode delves into Mac and Charlie’s childhoods as they unearth the dark reality behind their memories of past Christmases. Mac realizes that what he naively describes as the tradition of running away from the Christmas tree so that the “next family” can retrieve their presents was actually his parents stealing from people’s homes. This discovery only puts a slight damper on Mac’s holiday spirit, but Charlie is far less able to properly cope with what he finds out. The histrionic mental breakdown that ensues when he spots a Santa at the mall and the subsequent vicious attack he inflicts on the poor man makes me wheeze with laughter every time.
Favorite Dialogue Exchange:
Mac: "Yeah, then we wake up at Christmas and celebrate by throwing rocks at moving freight trains."
Dee: "Why would grown men throw rocks at trains?"
Mac: "Why wouldn't we throw rocks at trains? It's beats throwing rocks at passing cars, or at people."
Charlie: "It’s awesome. That's what you do on Christmas morning. We've been doing it since we were kids. Look, whatever. I'm sorry that we love Christmas and we have awesome Christmas traditions and you guys hate Christmas"