There’s a lot to make fun of about ABC Family, but for some reason, I like some of their original series. Switched at Birth is clearly the front runner for me — I’ve watched it since the beginning. But I was pleasantly surprised by Chasing Life as well. Both of these ended on cliffhangers over the summer, and I’ve been anxiously awaiting their returns in January.
And yet, when I heard these two shows were going to have Christmas specials, I was dismayed. Sure, I might want to see these characters again, but a Christmas special? What will that do with the tension? The show’s canon?
As it turns out, both shows failed when it came to Christmas cheer, but for different reasons. Here’s why.
Switched at Birth
I’ll presume that if you’re reading this, you likely saw the finale of Switched at Birth. If you haven’t, well, you may want to skip down a bit. But at the end of the summer, we were left with a twist where instead of Daphne sauntering into a jail cell, Bay took the blame. Given that Bay has no criminal record but is certainly not the #1 perfect kid, her fate is really up in the air.
And yet, here we are at Christmastime. It was as if the events of the past season — or really, the past seasons — had never happened. In fact, this episode could have been placed in the middle of any season (preferably one without a cliffhanger). It was completely contrived for a rating ploy, trying to get fans to watch.
Sure, it was cute enough. But it just made no sense being placed in the middle of this season. It added nothing to the show and certainly didn’t work within the show’s canon. As someone who desperately clings to canon (I was a Buffy fan, after all), this bugs me.
Ultimately, if a fan missed this episode, they really wouldn’t miss out on the show at all. They could return in January with no lags in memory or plot holes to fill in. They’d be all set. I suppose for a Christmas special, that makes sense then. It’s really optional watching.
Chasing Life, on the other hand…
While Switched at Birth was a full-on Christmas episode separate of the series plot, Chasing Life was in the thick of it. If you hadn’t seen the finale, you would have been lost. In fact, they even needed a “previously on” to help you remember.
And if you chose to skip the special, you may have no idea where the plot went since that summer cliffhanger, since it not only answered the question of what happened and moved forward with April’s story.
In fact, this episode felt like just that: an episode. Christmas felt like a forced afterthought. Or maybe something someone concocted in May, only to have someone else “brilliantly” suggest moving it to December for a Christmas special.
Now, on the bright side, the episode was compelling. It picked right up where we left off. And it even had a whole second cliffhanger at the end.
The problem was this: The Christmas theme made no sense. There were aspects of the episode — like April’s hair loss — that felt like it should have been spread over at least a couple episodes. And Leo’s decision and transformation, well, we were already wondering his fate at the end of the last season so it felt redundant to wonder the same question again now.
And most of all, if you missed the special, you missed out on part of the series.
So here’s the problem with these ABC Family episodic specials. You don’t know how they’re supposed to be watched, whether it’s going to answer your pressing questions from the finale (like Chasing Life) and leave you missing out if you don’t watch; or whether it’s just a fun little add-on that has no value except for basic enjoyment. And depending on the tactic you take, you can get a pretty crappy product: like a regular episode that has a holiday theme forced into it or an episode that’s unsatisfying because it’s so shallow in its concept (hello, Freaky Friday).
I get it. It’s Christmas. And it seems like a lot of fun. But unless there’s a real focus on quality over quantity (of eyes on the screen, that is), let’s keep it a silent night.
*Photo by ABC Family