The Christmas Challenge 2012: Completed!

I did it! Challenge accepted and completed. The Christmas Challenge is over! And what a great — or at least harried — 25 days it has been.

But overall, I enjoyed it. It was rough to keep up with (and get my Christmas shopping done…let alone my day job), but I saw a wide variety of shows and episodes to represent the season. I watched old favorites and shows I’d never seen before. I watched August Christmas airings and post-holiday catchups. From Fridge Day to Festivus, I caught everything in between.

And now, as I look back at this vast amount of time that I used up, watching episode after episode, recommending what I loved and hated, here’s a brief list of what I loved most — and loved the least.

Naughty List:

  1. Frasier: What a depressing “Christmas” episode. Bleck. Get me my 23 minutes back (and him a new sweatshirt).
  2. Yo Gabba Gabba: I’m still trying to get over the horrific episode that was this one. Sadly, I can’t blame Christmas. Just the show itself.
  3. Curb Your Enthusiasm: Not my type of humor. And I’m still getting over the certain hair that was stuck in his throat the entire episode.
  4. Hannah Montana: Not very funny. And not very Christmasy Definitely skippable.
  5. 30 Rock: It’s not that this episode was bad. It just wasn’t memorable. And at Christmas, that’s a problem.

Nice List:

  1. Leverage: Parker’s Christmas spirit alone makes this one worth watching. Plus it snows at the end. How can you pass that up?
  2. Full House: A great flashback to my youth while the Tanner kids were still cute. Worth revisiting.
  3. Brothers and Sisters: For a series I was lukewarm about, this episode was a hysterical treat.
  4. The O.C.: I had never seen this show before, but I loved the comedic moments. Great chemistry between the characters (just ignore the drama).
  5. The Wonder Years: The coach as Santa? I loved seeing him in a more comedic, reactive role. Just great all around.

Honorable Mention — Bones: While a decaying Santa isn’t everyone’s choice for the holidays, this is the only one that made me teary at the end. A special kudos to you, Bones.

Overall, it was a great 25 days. Check out the slideshow below to see all the episodes I reviews, and check back next year, when I hope to do it again!

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Challenge: Dawson’s Creek

DAWSON’S CREEK
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

It’s no surprise I chose to review a Christmas episode of Dawson’s Creek. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see my occasional #DawsonsCreekrewatch tweets. I thought I’d catch up to this episode before Christmas naturally, but sadly, I’m a few episodes behind. I had to skip ahead.

It’s funny. When I think of this season’s Christmas episode of Dawson’s Creek, I think of Dawson giving Joey a picture for Christmas that he took of her and Pacey, a beautiful black-and-white photo that’s both touching and symbolic of his growing acceptance of their relationship.

But as it turns out, that wasn’t this episode. That must be the next one. This one did have a Christmas feel, with lights and winter trimmings, but it wasn’t surrounded in the Christmas spirit. Joey and Pacey were attending a networking function for one of Joey’s prospective colleges. And where Pacey shined, Joey fell into the shadows. Meanwhile, Jen was hiding from her college essays, but Grams and Jack had a plan of attack.

The real Christmas part of this episode came where Dawson and Gretchen were concerned. Gretchen hoped for another holiday tradition — the annual Leery Christmas party. This little tradition hadn’t happened in the past few years, since the Leery’s had their on-again-off-again relationship, but Gretchen took the reigns and made the party happen. Even Mr. Brooks got to come (but only because he was helping out dear Dawson with his own college admission woes).

The festive atmosphere may not have lasted through the whole episode — really, only in the Leery party scenes — but it was Christmasy. And in good Creek fashion, it ended with emotional turmoil, as Pacey and Joey catch Gretchen and Dawson under the mistletoe.

Recommendation: It’s your usual episode of the Creek, so I enjoyed it. But maybe not for Christmas specifically.

Christmas Challenge: Fat Albert’s Christmas Special

FAT ALBERT’S CHRISTMAS SPECIAL

While this may not be an “episode,” per say, it was aired on TV (from what I read, at least), so I think this one should count for the Christmas Challenge. (Unlike Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol which I watched only to discover it was a short film, not aired on TV first. Sigh.)

Let’s just say this: Fat Albert does not stand the test of time. The jokes are not funny. It’s all very slapstick, Scooby-Do kind of stuff that might’ve worked in the ’70s but just doesn’t work for me.

Nonetheless, it is Christmastime in the city, where Fat Albert and the crew are planning for a Christmas pageant. They’re interrupted when a mean old man wants to tear down their clubhouse. What makes matters worse, a family that has no home and no jobs — and is expecting a baby — comes into the clubhouse for shelter.

If that sounds like a lot, add in the fact that the old man (Terrence? I forget his name) hires Fat Albert to try to get more customers in his store in exchange to keep the club house open, and the rest of the group thinks he sold out. Then you find out the reason the mean old man’s so mean is because his wife died, so maybe he should think about what she’d want him to do. Plus, the expectant family’s son runs away (the one that has been born), while two others run to go get a doctor for the mom-to-be.

That’s a lot to stick in 23 minutes.

So yeah, it didn’t get my seal of approval. A little too much going on and not quite funny enough. Plus, I didn’t remember any of the characters from back in the day.

Recommendation: Skip it. Unless you’re really tied to the show, you’re better off watching something a little newer.

Christmas Challenge: Dinosaurs

DINOSAURS
Refrigerator Day

Is it Christmas? Well, technically not. But given that they’re buying presents in festive green and red wrapping paper, decorating a fridge with ornaments and tinsel, and singing songs that sound remarkably close to the usual Christmas themes, I’d say it’s what Dinosaurs calls Christmas. After all, it’s not like they could do a real Christmas episode. Humans aren’t even in existence yet (let alone Mary, Joseph, and Jesus).

Nonetheless, it counts. And it’s entertaining. One day a year, all the dinosaurs celebrate the one invention that helped all of their lives: the refrigerator. Hence, they have decorations, presents, and traditions (including a pageant).

Of course, when Earl buys all his gifts before getting his bonus, then discovers he’s not getting one after all, things go south. The fridge is repossessed, and Earl is spiraling in depression. The family decides to return gifts to the store for more money — something unheard off at this time in history — and while they don’t get it all back, at least they get a little.

And their little innovation sparks a grand new practice in retail. As thanks for the idea, not only do they get all their presents back, but they get their fridge and a bonus…just as long as they sign away their rights for the “return” idea.

It’s a fresh perspective on the holidays, and by far my favorite part was watching the family try to convince the store to return the gifts. “But we already have a lot of that stuff to get rid of! Why would we want more?” It’s just really fun.

Recommendation: Perhaps not something for annual viewing, but definitely a good one to check out. Despite being over 20 years old, the fresh perspective on holiday and new lyrics to remembered songs make it delightful.

Christmas Challenge: Mad Men

MAD MEN
Christmas Comes But Once a Year

Much like every other episode of Mad Men, who knows where to start with this one. I’ll focus in on the Christmas parts, because I can dwell on only so much regarding Creepy Glen and how wrong Don’s sleeping with his secretary was (I still cringe at that).

But the holiday Christmas party was entertaining. Starting off as something that was supposed to be modest and small, Roger discovers that one of his most powerful clients — Lucky Strike — was going to be attending. Stop the presses, it’s time to make this a real party. Suddenly, drinks are flowing, dances are starting, and everyone’s on their best and most merry behavior.

Of course, the guy from Lucky Strike realized what power he wielded. The funniest part of all was his forcing Roger to play Santa, then taking a picture of him with every employee on his lap with the new Polaroid the company gifted him. Nice job.

But all the festivities must come to an end, and the next day the team returned to an office littered with empty cups and hangovers. And with Don’s indiscretions (paying off the secretary afterward…uggh) on every viewer’s mind, we’re left to think about how the holidays are in real life, not just what people pretend in Manhattan. Don walks home alone with arms full of presents for his kids he won’t see on Christmas morning, with the usual ’60s tune chasing him down the hall.

Recommendation: Like most Mad Men episodes, it’s a very well-done episode. The party scenes will make you laugh, but it’s not one that will get you in the Christmas spirit.

Christmas Challenge: New Girl

NEW GIRL
The 23rd

Turn on your lights!

Strangely enough, I had forgotten about this episode until a friend mentioned it to me. It’s strange because the first time I watched it, I enjoyed it. And this second time, I enjoyed it, too. It’s a shame it wasn’t so memorable.

Of course, the ending is. But let’s get there. The group goes to Schmidt’s company Christmas party, in order to celebrate before everyone parts ways for the holidays. Schmidt’s playing sexy Santa, a role he doesn’t love, and Winston befriends a new kid who doesn’t like anybody — but him. Meanwhile, Jess and her current beau are having issues. As it turns out, Paul loves Jess, but she’s not there yet.

That would be fine, except that Nick accidentally tells Paul this before she’s decided what she wants to do with the relationship. What makes matters worse is that the three of them are locked out on a balcony, hashing it all out together.

In the end, Paul can’t take things slower, when that’s all that Jess wants and needs. So she’s left bummed.

Seeing Jess bummed is hard for anyone to handle, so Nick misses his flight home for the fifth year in a row to take her to Candy Cane Lane at 2 am. Of course, it’s 2 am. The lights aren’t on. So then you have a cute scene where the group screams to “turn on your lights,” all so that Jess can get a magical moment on Candy Cane Lane.

Despite Paul’s appearance in the episode, it’s really fun and cute. I love Winston and the kid, and I just love the group screaming at Candy Cane Lane.

Recommendation: Watch it. It may not be a yearly tradition, but it’s worth watching more than once.

Christmas Challenge: The Wonder Years

THE WONDER YEARS
A Very Cutlip Christmas

Now this one, I remember from my childhood. Whether it was from my fanciful child days or syndication in later years, I don’t know, but I remember it.

Last year, I reviewed an episode of The Wonder Years that I didn’t remember. I still enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed this episode, when Kevin discovers that his hated gym teacher is actually Santa at the mall.

It was a lot funnier than I remembered. And a lot more heartfelt. The scene where Kevin discovers Cutlip (and vice versa) was hilarious. Cutlip’s reaction alone was worth rewatching (and in fact I did, when I wanted JC to see it). Overall, Cutlip was a joy in this episode, contributing to a number of laugh out loud moments in his subtle way. Nice job.

But what was heartfelt? Well, why he was Santa, of course. A 20% discount at the mall was great, but more so, it was the fact that kids like him as Santa. The kids in his gym class, not so much — as we later see by the menacing crowd of students that come looking for him.

But what to their wondering eyes don’t appear? A vision of Cutlip, wearing a beard. That’s right. When they looked into the face of the man in red, they only saw their childhood fantasy, another Santa granting wishes to children.

Recommendation: A great episode and definitely worth watching…and rewatching. Maybe even year after year!