Y’know, once websites like Hulu.com and Netflix can start streaming shows the day of their broadcast, nobody will have any reason to watch network television anymore. I say that specifically as a message to the people at NBC’s New Orleans affiliate who preempted last night’s episode of Community so they could show the same three talking heads rambling on about a court case for an hour and a half without saying anything original or insightful. Fortunately, Hulu saved me. But before that, let’s look at a couple of other of Yuletide offerings you can now watch online.
Last year, you may recall, I reviewed the first Christmas special in many years produced by the Walt Disney Corporation and Shadow Government, a delightful half-hour special called Prep and Landing, all about the elves whose job it is to prepare a house for Santa Claus’s visit. The special was successful enough that Disney is working on a sequel for Christmas 2011, but to tide us over, they produced a new 7-minute short called Operation: Secret Santa. Wayne (Dave Foley) and Lanny (Derek Richardson) are back for a new top-secret mission… steal a special box from Santa’s office and deliver it to Mrs. Claus (voiced by that up-and-coming future superstar Betty White).
This is a cute follow-up to last year’s special, if you take it for what it is. For one thing, the first special gets the lauded honor of being Disney’s first Christmas special in years and (I think) the first ever CGI TV special by Disney Proper. It also did the job of world- and character-creation for this franchise, leaving little of that for this new short. But there are several solid laughs that lead into a wonderful, heartwarming, Christmasy conclusion. If I know Disney (and I think I do) they’re probably planning a DVD/Blu-Ray release of both of these shorts, along with with next year’s special, that will hit stores immediately after the third cartoon airs. I’m looking forward to that — these specials have definitely earned a spot on my shelf near Rudolph, Charlie Brown, Clark Griswold and Jack Skellington. You can watch both the original special and this year’s new short over at ABC.com’s Prep and Landing Mini-Site.
For the past two years, I’ve reviewed the new Christmas episodes of one of my favorite shows, NBC’s The Office, which you can view for a limited time over at Hulu.com. This year’s episode is Classy Christmas, and is online in two parts. When Michael Scott finds out his ex-girlfriend Holly (guest star Amy Ryan) is coming back to the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin for a while, he decides to throw the classiest Christmas party of all time in an effort to win her back. Meanwhile, Angela brings in her new boyfriend, Darryl tries to get his daughter to want to spend Christmas with him, Pam seeks advice on the greatest Christmas present ever, and Jim and Dwight enter into a snowball fight of truly epic proportions. I’m really glad this was an hour-long episode, because there was way too much going on to even think about fitting it into 30 minutes. Condensing this would have meant cheating some plotlines and throwing others out entirely. Instead, the story fit the 60 minute running time nicely. This, of course, is Steve Carrell’s last season on the show, and there’s been much speculation that his departure would somehow involve the return of Holly, the only woman who’s ever really been right for him. This episode certainly feels like it’s setting things up for the second half of the season, while at the same time fulfilling its promise as a Christmas episode. It wasn’t a perfect episode — I’m not really crazy about how terrified Jim was of Dwight’s snowball onslaught, or about how two HR reps somehow missed the fact that Jim had blood on his shirt, but despite those few caveats, I think this may have been one of The Office‘s best Christmas episodes.
I’ve saved the best for last. If you’re not watching Community, it’s the best show you’re not watching. If you are watching it, it’s the best show you’re watching. The show follows a group of students (and, frequently, faculty members) at Greendale Community College. The show began as a sort of standard “group of misfits” comedy, but has transformed into one of the smartest shows on TV, offering up pointed satire of all forms of motion pictures while still crafting fully-developed, engaging characters. It’s already a Christmas miracle. Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas begins with the highly genre-aware Abed seeing himself and his friends in a classic stop-motion animation style on the last day of classes before Christmas. As the group tries to figure out why Abed is hallucinating, they wind up on a journey through a Winter Wonderland to find the true meaning of Christmas.
As always, the show lampoons virtually every facet of Christmas specials, up to and including the frequent musical numbers the cast breaks into. But they never do it in a mean or cruel way — instead there’s a nudge and a wink that makes you understand that just because they’re poking a little fun at the classics doesn’t mean they don’t also love them as much as the rest of us. The dedication to the story is incredible here, with the entire running time of the episode done in some of the best stop motion animation television has produced in decades. And the story manages to develop many of the characters on top of that — we learn something really important about Abed’s family life and psyche, we get another little tease about the bizarre relationship between Jeff and Annie, and we see Chevy Chase walking around as a snarky little teddy bear. And the song at the end makes it pretty clear, even to the most cynical among us, that yes — they really do know the true meaning of Christmas.
And it’s a beautiful thing.