December 17, 2021

Around the dial

Another family gathered around the TV watching C-SPAN

Whenever I see an article about how classic shows of the past weren't really that good, my Spidey sense starts to in, and I immediately prepare for some kind of knee-jerk reaction—you know, something along the lines of how this author doesn't really know what he (or she) is talking about, blah, blah, blah. And when I saw this Atlantic article by Tom Nichols on how most Christmas specials are terrible, I was prepared to do the same. After all, his focus is entirely on animated specials, leaving out some of the most significant Christmas shows in television history. But in this case, I'm not going to jerk my knee, because as it happens, this is something I like a lot; I feel as if I could have written it myself.

The idea that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is, well, kind of stupid, is not one foreign to this site. Its charm, and its classic status, comes almost entirely from the stop-action animation, the songs, and its connection to our childhood. But let's admit it: Rudolph's Santa is a jerk; if I'd been Rudy, with Santa asking for my help after everything I'd gone through, my answer would have been short and sweet: "Bite me, Santa!" (But then, I suppose Rudolph is a more forgiving soul than I am.) And then there's the idea that King Moonracer, who's apparently able to fly around the world gathering up misfit toys, can't fly to the North Pole himself and ask Santa's help. For that matter, why doesn't the king just fly over to Amazon and let them deliver the toys? Anyway, the point is that, unlike A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the two specials Nichols singles out for praise, Rudolph's story really isn't very good.

There is one thing regarding the Rankin-Bass specials, though, that I ought to point out—and I really am fond of them; I own most of them, including some that aren't commercially available—and that is that they work splendidly, if perhaps unintendedly, as allegories for our modern times. As I've pointed out before, Frosty the Snowman can be seen as a retelling of Christ's Resurrection, while Santa Claus is Comin' to Town works best as an allegory of the fall of Communism, with Sombertown serving as a stand-in for East Berlin. In fact, it seems to me that these readings are the only way either special makes sense. But then, that's just me.

Meanwhile, let's see what else is on tap this week:

At The Guardian, Anne Billson has binged on Christmas romcoms and she's here to see what they're all about. The Hallmark (and now Netflix) Christmas movies have been in my bullseye for a long time, but after reading this article I felt like I needed to go to the bathroom. Fantasy is one thing, but these movies not only dishonor Christmas (although they especially do that), they dishonor moviemaking itself. Remember when the Hallmark Hall of Fame produced class entertainment? One of the things that makes A Christmas Carol timeless is Scrooge's realization that life is not all about "having it all," but about sharing it all, especially yourself, and that you can never undo the past—you can only redeem the present and the future. On the other hand, if this kind of escapism is what people really want, no wonder we have so much trouble confronting the issues we face today.

At bare-bones e-zine, Jack wraps up the Hitchcock Project look at Joel Murcott's contributions to the show with the ninth-season episode "The Dividing Wall," an uneven but nasty little piece of work featuring a nuclear cannister. It isn't quite Kiss Me Deadly, and not nearly vintage Hitchcock.

I've decided this week to use the full name of John's blog, That Blog Where The Bloke With No Shirt Blogs About TV and Tries to Stay on the Subject, as he covers a disastrous rendition of A Christmas Carol as seen on The Play That Goes Wrong, a bizarre series that you really need to see to believe.

And though Christmas is just around the corner, it's not too early to look forward to New Year's, and at Shadow & Substance, Paul lets us in on the episodes that SyFy's chosen for this year's Twilight Zone New Year's Marathon

Another icon of 60s television passed this week with the death of Mike Nesmith, and at A Shroud of Thoughts, Terence shares an affectionate remembrance of Wool Hat. And don't miss several other articles that Terence has on his favorite Monkees songs.

At Drunk TV, Paul is back with another look at Hanna-Barbera animated specials; this time, it's the 1972 A Christmas Story. No, not the movie, but a sparkling special with an all-star lineup of cartoon voices. 

Finally, since I started this off by talking a lot about myself, I'll end the same way, with a link to episode 118 of Eventually Supertrain, in which Dan and I revisit Search, Dan and Tim talk about Kolchak, and Dan and Chris take on Battlestar Galactica. Don't miss it! TV  


  1. Thanks, Mitchell, and Merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks Jack, and Merry Christmas to you and your family as well! :)


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!