It’s that most wonderful time of the year — if you’re a department store Santa, a pine tree salesperson, or a child of privilege. For the rest of us, Christmas (and any other holiday of the season) can be a time of frenzied angst-fueled gifting, unmet expectations, and forced jollity. So we should be grateful that we can retreat into the holly-and-hot-toddy dream world built by Hollywood and brought to our local cinemas and home video screens every December.
Hark! There it is, funneled into our brains as we sit and watch in wonder: families are reunited at yuletide after tribulations; dogs and/or cats “save” Christmas for pet owners; cranks learn the true meaning of the celebration, whether it is unselfish compassion for our fellow humanoids or something more religious in tone having to do with a newborn baby swaddled in a grubby desert manger 2,000 plus years ago. Our halls are decked with this stuff.
I may not be a church-going Christian; I’m more of a pantheist, if anything. But I am caught up in the fuss, frolic, and feels. And one of the inevitable ways I get in the spirit is through a long-running TV special: A Charlie Brown Christmas, the first and greatest of the animated programs inspired by the long-running Peanuts comic strip written and drawn by the late, beloved Sonoma resident Charles Schulz. I’m on board from the first notes of composer-pianist Vince Guaraldi’s dreamy ballad, “Christmas Time is Here,” one of the most beautiful melodies associated with the season.
BLASTS FROM THE PAST
All of the Andy Williams family Christmas TV specials are nearly forgotten, even though the 1960s crooner was a perennial presence on network television every December. Most shows of that ilk are too time dated and era specific to get much contemporary replay other than on a netlet such as Me TV or a cable outlet such as TV Land. The only exceptions seem to be clips like Bing Crosby doing a 1977 cross-generational duet of “The Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie, revisited for the oddity factor.
Most viewers don’t recall that The Simpsons cartoon sitcom was launched by a Christmas-themed special. Meanwhile, the stop-motion animated Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer get trotted out every year, along with the zillionth broadcast of the heart-warming 1946 Frank Capra movie It’s a Wonderful Life and, in an annual marathon of repeat showings on the 25th, the frankly awesome 1983 feature film, A Christmas Story, based on the nostalgic, prickly/funny Jean Shepherd stories about a working-class Depression-era Midwestern family.
But it’s A Charlie Brown Christmas — wherein the elementary-school-age Peanuts (including hapless round-headed Charlie) get a lesson in what really matters during the holiday — that invariably moves me.
SOMETHING MORE IN STORE
I do yearn for something more than that to generate viewing joy — and I don’t mean the expected/dreaded Christmas episode of The Big Bang Theory or Empire or Family Guy. So I was pleased to learn of a project that’s probably a bit more snarky than the usual holiday pabulum. Coming on Dec. 4 to wherever a digital signal can reach: Actor and comedy titan Bill Murray in A Very Murray Christmas. This bauble is a present from the folks at the video streaming service Netflix, and it will be available throughout the rest of the month.
Murray has at least one holiday-themed movie in his filmography: Scrooged, a comedic modernization of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. This is another thing altogether. Directed by Sofia Coppola (who gave Murray one of his best seriocomic roles when she cast him in her piquant movie Lost in Translation
), it’s being described as homage to the Christmas TV variety shows of yore — like the Andy Williams and Bing Crosby extravaganzas or John Denver cavorting with The Muppets. The jocular Murray plays himself in the project, which presumes that he’s planning to shoot a holiday television special in Manhattan, the place where his career took off in the 1970s when he was a “Saturday Night Live” cast member. A snowstorm shuts down the city and may prevent his guests — including George Clooney, Paul Shaffer, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Jason Schwartzman, Jenny Lewis, and Miley Cyrus as themselves — from showing up. Somehow, I think they will make it. After all, a Christmas miracle is yet another staple of movies and TV.
I have no doubt that I’ll be checking into A Very Murray Christmas — just as soon as I get comfy with A Charlie Brown Christmas. Priorities, priorities.