One of the few genuinely sad things about cutting the cord from cable is missing all of the dozen or so December airings of A Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC, 1965), a classic holiday special that genuinely holds up every time. Sure it’s sappy and in no way non-denominational, and you’ve seen it 100 times, but there’s a reason it airs every year besides just how cheap it is to re-air a Christmas special from almost 50 years ago. For me at least, it’s pretty great to think that Christmas is a time of year when even Charlier Brown gets to win one every once in a while.
Hulu Plus, seasons 1-3 now streaming
I searched far and wide for a free stream of those old 1970’s claymation specials and it seems nobody has them for, so instead I found the next best thing: The Community (NBC, 2009-Present) Christmas special “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”. A loving parody of holiday claymation specials done as an actual claymation special. The episode probably works better if you’re a fan of the NBC community college sitcom, but all you really need to understand is the character Abed’s tenuous and pop-culture-centric grip on reality.
Lots of shows have holiday episodes, but few are as tied up with them as The Office (NBC, 2005-Present). The second season’s aptly named “Christmas Party” episode (above) is arguably where the American version of The Office really came into its own (or descended into a sentimental betrayal of everything the show stood for if you’re a big fan of the BBC version) and it’s still one of the best episodes the series every produced. It also started a tradition of emotional holiday episodes that really explore the character dynamics of everyone at Dunder Mifflin. A mini-marathon of all the show’s various holiday episodes wouldn’t be a bad way to spend your holidays, or a bad summation of The Office in general—sometimes wonderful, sometimes kind of middling, always worth at least a few good laughs.
For the BBC, holiday specials are a regular occurrence for popular shows. In recent years nobody has done bigger holiday episodes than Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-Present). We’ve already discussed England’s premiere sci-fi show, but the holiday specials are a great way to jump into the show without worrying about its 49-year history. The Christmas specials are also just great TV with 2010’s “A Christmas Carol” ranking as not just one of the best episodes of Doctor Who in recent memory, but one of the best adaptations of A Christmas Carol in general. I always thought that story needed more time travel.
Netflix, Amazon Prime
When you think “holiday spectacular” you probably don’t think Mythbusters (Discover, 2003-Present). Scientific testing and explosions don’t sound like they’d be a good match for December holidays, but the show’s 2006 special exploring some of the myths and traditions of the holiday season is one of the best episodes to watch with the geekier members of your family this month. It manages to explore the “science” of Christmas with a tongue-in-cheek approach that doesn’t ruin the magic of the holidays.
He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special
Netflix, special now streaming
Of course for every good holiday special, there are half a dozen terrible ones. In fact, the holidays just don’t feel complete without at least one or two poorly thought out Christmas spectaculars. If you don’t have a VHS copy of the infamous Star Wars holiday special lying around, why not try He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special (Syndicated, 1985). The attempts to have He-Man and She-Ra’s characters interact was always hilariously awkward on its own, but seeing them decorate for a holiday I’m not even sure why they’re celebrating makes this one of the most fun holiday specials you’ll watch this year—even if it isn’t one of the better ones.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) Seasons 1–7:Netflix
Ultimate Spiderman (Disney XD) Season 1: Netflix
Garfield & Friends (CBS) Seasons 1–4: Netflix
Skins (BBC) Seasons 1–2: Netflix (12/15)
Bob the Builder (PBS) Various specials: Netflix (12/15)
David Daw has studied the history and future of television and has a master's in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts from San Francisco State University along with a BA in genre fiction from NYU.