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KICKING TELEVISION: Not So Christmas Special

KICKING TELEVISION: Not So Christmas Special

December is the worst time of
year for television connoisseurs, and has been since Philo Farnsworth first
slapped the magic box for better reception. December television’s doldrums are
not the result of obtrusive college football or unexpected repeats. They’re not
the fault of lackluster scheduling or Chuck Lorre. No, December television
disappoints because of the relentless and superfluous inundation of
Christmas specials.

I don’t hate Christmas. I don’t
bah humbug my way to January. I Yuletide as much as the next fella. I like
nogs. But when it comes to television, a medium for escapism, I’ve never
understood programmers’ desire to fill our early winter hours with saccharine
and sanctimonious Christmas fare. Isn’t that what the mall is for? Besides the
annual marathons of A Charlie Brown
Christmas
, Rudolph the Red Nosed
Reindeer
, and Dr. Seuss’ How the
Grinch Stole Christmas
, each and every network show feels the need to get
in the holiday spirit by adding a special episode to its commitment. This
week’s NCIS: New Orleans features a
special Christmas naval murder. Jon Cryer will make Yuletide log double
entendres. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake will wear bad sweaters. It’ll all
be awful.

Television, at its best,
celebrates the medium itself while discussing broader issues or
providing introspective views on societal complexities. Shows of the past few years that have
garnered the most critical attention (True
Detective
, Breaking Bad, Mad Men et al.) have done so because
they understand television as an art form, not simply a vehicle to pay Tim
Allen’s mortgage. TV should be a reflection of society, and occasionally an
indictment of it. Christmas is an opportunity for television to explore our
faults which are most evident during the festive season: greed, consumerism,
falsity, obesity, or wearing red and green at the same time. A true and
interesting use of the medium would be to hold it up as a mirror and reflect
upon not just the virtues of giving but our exercises in withholding, and to
use it as a mode to discuss more than just reindeer discrimination.

I spent last week on the couch
with some kind of virus that was a cross between Ebola and a Jägermeister
hangover. Armed with a remote control and 300+ channels, I set off to waste
away my days and nights in a semi-medicated haze. But, being December, instead
I was drowned in a digital sea of holiday noise. Several channels only played Elf on a loop. Another showed 24-hour Burl
Ives. Ellen, The View, and Good Morning, Tulsa,
were all adorned in pine and tinsel and myrrh. None of these shows dared to ask
about the hypocrisy of Christmas, or questioned its virtue. Adults spoke openly
of Santa, sometimes to Santa. I’m not arguing for an anti-Christmas campaign
from NBC, but perhaps some use of television to address Christmas in an
interesting manner could’ve saved me from my feverish dreams.

I know this all seems very
Scrooge-ish. My sister would certainly disagree with my feelings. From the time we were very
young, she has reveled in the majesty of the holiday special. From Frosty the Snowman to a Friends Christmas to the eight days of The Mentalist Hanukkah, my elder sibling
has spent each December raising eggnog to every Holiday-themed broadcast her
digital cable package provides. And she’s passed this on to her children,
perpetuating a disappointing affliction. My nephew Finn, all of eight years
old, now holds up Elf not only as a
Christmas favourite, but an arbiter of truth. Some chestnuts from my sister’s
wee chestnut:

Did you know it’s a fact that elf babies are smaller than human
babies?

Did you know it’s a fact that Santa’s sled is powered by Christmas
spirit?

Did you
know it’s a fact that every year Santa picks a new reindeer to lead the sled so
they don’t get too tired?

So not only does Christmas
programming perpetuate cultural deception and reinforce a superficial need
for things, but it’s also spreading playground lies. Everybody knows that
Santa’s sled is powered by candy canes and gin.

At this point I know what you’re
thinking. It could be, perhaps, that my shoes are too tight. It could be my
head isn’t screwed on just right. And the most likely reason of all may be that
my heart is two sizes too small. Hell, even as I write this, I want to slap me
with a bowl full of jelly. But I have such an affection for television, and an
appreciation for it at its best, that it pains me to see the medium wasted. To
me, the Christmas special is like a discarded canvas, an empty page, or a Foo
Fighters album. It’s a discarded opportunity to have done something
interesting. We’ve got more than enough Christmas programming in our collective
DVR to last an infinity of lifetimes. Is it asking TV too much to give us
something new and provocative in our stocking?

I like Christmas. I like
drinking on a Tuesday afternoon wearing Santa caps. I like staff holidays. I
like getting my sock and underwear supplies replenished. I like being Canadian
and knowing what Boxing Day is. I like gravy, and figgy pudding, and drunk
relatives. I like seeing my family and friends. I like the look in my niece and
nephews eyes on Christmas morning, a look of belief and innocence that we all
lost somewhere along the way. And I like the distant sound of caroling, a
church choir on Christmas Eve, and a fresh Clementine in the bottom of my
stocking. I like snowflakes lit by a winter moon. I like the promise of a year
ending, and the hope of a new calendar. But I don’t see the dichotomy of these
affections in Christmas specials. Instead I see the capitalization of a
holiday, the bastardization of spirit, and another wasted canvas.

Mike Spry is a writer, editor, and columnist who has written for The
Toronto Star, Maisonneuve, and The Smoking Jacket, among
others, and contributes to MTV’s
 PLAY
with AJ
. He is the author of the poetry collection JACK (Snare
Books, 2008) and
Bourbon & Eventide (Invisible Publishing, 2014), the short story collection Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press,
2011), and the co-author of
Cheap Throat: The Diary of a Locked-Out
Hockey Player
(Found Press,
2013).
Follow him on Twitter @mdspry.

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