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‘A Clusterfunke Christmas’: Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer’s Comedy Central Answer to Hallmark Movies

The two "SNL" alums roast more than chestnuts in this holiday sendup where the jokes are earned, not exactly inaccurate, and made with a heavy dose of appreciation underneath.

A Clusterfunke Christmas

[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]

Where to Watch ‘A Clüsterfünke Christmas’: Comedy Central

Maybe you have a family member or a loved one or someone you live with who is currently pumping an all-day Christmas song radio station or streaming playlist. Perhaps you are that very person for someone else. If either of those apply, I guarantee there’s a song missing from the rotation. It’s called “All I’ll Have for Christmas is Fruit” and it’s a new holiday staple and it arrives about 5 minutes into “A Clüsterfünke Christmas.”

The Comedy Central movie that contains it, written by Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer, is a feature-length riff on Hallmark movies. Much like the thing they’re recreating with a signature twist, it feels like the physical embodiment of a peppermint-flavored checklist, a collection of holiday movie mandates that here get a little bit of a jokey boost.

One of those is “All I’ve Have for Christmas is Fruit,” a soundalike, music rights-skirting treat that has 57% of the Mariah Carey staple’s title and very little other lyrical overlap. Sticking this song in the background that early on is an effective tone-setter for the rest of “A Clüsterfünke Christmas.” Dratch and Gasteyer (along with director Anna Dokoza, who’s also worked on “Special” and “Kevin Can F**k Himself”) put together the movie equivalent of a Comedy Central roast, where the jokes are earned, not exactly inaccurate, and done with a heavy dose of appreciation underneath.

Their version stars Vella Lovell as (naturally) Holly, a (you guessed it) no-nonsense corporate person with a very demanding and niche position. Sent on a scouting trip to a cozy New England town for a possible real estate acquisition, she ends up staying at the Clüsterfünke Inn, a place that a 3.5-star AirBnb review might describe as having “plenty of charm.” Dratch and Gasteyer play the kindly landlords of the place, operating the family business as past generations have before them. (One of the better jokes is a pan over the wall of past Clüsterfünke pictures that shows the eerie family resemblance through each new stage of photography.)

Naturally, the Clüsterfünke sisters’ big helper is their sweet hunky lumberjack nephew Frank (Cheyenne Jackson). Wouldn’t you know it, he and Holly start off on the wrong foot before slowly warming to each other over a series of hot cocoa-fueled chats. The longer Holly stays in this northern Maine enclave — where everybody knows everyone else and the only ounce of conflict is whether or not the big local tradition will happen without a hitch this year — the more brisk winter air somehow melts her Grinchy heart.

Maybe it’s the calendar coming to a close, but this makes for an intriguing triple bill with “Saturday Morning All Star Hits!” and “MacGruber,” two other recent shows that take a well-established genre formula, make a pretty competent version, and then shake things around enough to give them an off-kilter feel. “A Clüsterfünke Christmas” isn’t built around getting more and more outrageous as things go along. It’s more about trying to answer all the questions that Hallmark Movies raise but work very hard not to acknowledge. How does someone get this passionate about the hospitality industry? What are these people’s sugar budget? How did everyone get so invested in a pretty basic tradition? And where is that music coming from??

Dratch and Gasteyer unpack all those taken-for-granted archetypes and add in some extra silliness for fun. Lovell and Jackson are great poking at the conventions of a budding couple forced into each other’s arms. It isn’t long before a pair of exes start to complicate their pre-Christmas fling, one of whom is a classic embodiment of the kind of pompous old money snobs that are as close as Hallmark Movies get to a villain. The scenes with those two bantering Clüsterfünke sisters are the strongest in the bunch, mostly because they do the best at adding the right amount of weirdness to the template.

Of course these by-the-book basic cable originals are written and made with a pattern in mind. But there’s a reason they work for a growing chunk of the TV viewing audience. Watching “A Clüsterfünke Christmas,” the end product from a group of people clearly attuned to those beats and that very specific checklist, is the best kind of holiday regifting.

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