Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wrapping Up and Turning Off the Christmas Lights

That's right, kids. Another year's come and gone, and Mainlining Christmas is getting washed away like the batch of eggnog that went rancid before you got to it.

We had a lot of fun this year, though, didn't we? No. Not really. Mostly we just sat through an ass load of holiday specials that were, on average, even worse than the ones we sat through last Christmas. Sure, there were exceptions. The Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special, the Community Episodes, Futurama, Arthur Christmas... and so on and so forth. But, God, those didn't make up for the rest. If I never sit through another version of the Nutcracker, it'll be too damn soon. And you know what the difference is between a good version of A Christmas Carol and a bad one? NOTHING: there is no difference. THEY ARE ALL THE SAME.

We listened to more Christmas music than most people think exists. Hell, we're over 1200 tracks now, and still growing.

I forced more fiction down your throats. Or, I guess down your eyes. Maybe your eyeballs' throats? I don't know: there was fiction involved, and it was consumed. Metaphorically speaking.

But, most of all, we put Christ in Christmas. Then, just for kicks, we drugged him and stuck him in Chanukah and Kwanzaa, too. That was uncomfortable.

So, yeah. This is it. Time to say good-bye. We squeezed two years out of an awfully weak premise: that's more than most sitcoms can say. But now the joke's run its course, and we're done.

So, sayonara. Thanks for reading. Bye forever.

Although.

You know something? We never did get around to watching a single Barney Christmas special. Not one. Same with Veggie Tales. And that really bugs me. See, at the very beginning we said we'd tackle the absolute WORST of the holiday fare. And I don't know if we actually have.

And, sure, we've seen the first two installments of both the Home Alone and Santa Clause trilogies, but then we just stopped. Before part three. We never found out how it all ends. Plus we've only just scratched the surface of old movie musicals: I bet there are ones out there that could make the ones we sat through look good by comparison.

So, screw leaving them wanting more. Screw quitting while you're ahead. You know something? We're made of Christmas slush. And Christmas slush might get washed down into the sewers with the rest of the runoff, but that's not the end of the story. No, Christmas slush comes back. You know why? Because it's magic. It's a slurry more magical than a unicorn that's gone through a wood-chipper. It's pure, uncut Christmas magic.

And that kind of magic, it comes back every Christmas. So see you next year, kids. We'll be bigger and better than ever. We're going to be so festive, Santa's going to want to move his operation HERE. But we won't let him. You know why? Because of the goddamn elves. Filthy little bastards: spreading disease, not cleaning up after themselves... we don't want them here. It'll be just us. And maybe Jesus. And lots of booze.

Because the real meaning of Christmas is in here somewhere. And we won't rest until we've found it, mass produced it, and commercialized it.

Merry Christmas. See you next year.

Summary of 2011: the Good, the Bad and the Mostly Mediocre

This year, for Mainlining Christmas, we watched 77 things, by my list: 6 Shorts, 21 Movies, 27 Episodes and 23 Specials

That includes eight Christmas Carols (versions of or episodes inspired by) and five Nutcrackers.

We also branched out a bit, with quite a few music and book reviews.

By this time last year, I was experiencing extreme time dilation. I had been convinced the next day was Christmas for about three weeks. This year I'm feeling a bit of the reverse. I feel like we have weeks still to go. This sense might have been exacerbated by the fairly high temperatures we've been having here in NYC.

Best and Worst lists are a bit tricky this year; my response to the vast majority of what we watched this year was "meh". Even the things that were great would have a difficult time going up against the best of last year, when we watched our very favorite specials and movies. Hell, things that I loved this year have a hard time beating out some great stuff I couldn't fit on my top ten list last year. Even the worst of this year... not much of it is as terribly bad as the worst of last year.

Check out my best and worst lists from last year here.

So I don't feel like I can put together just a best-of-this-year, but I can throw a few extra categories at you.

Things which I would gnaw off my own arm rather than sit through again:
Ernest Saves Christmas
Home Alone 2 (I actually left during this one, I admit)
Glee: A Very Glee Christmas
A Christmas Carol (2009 CG)
Looney Tunes: Bah Humduck!


Things which I would never ever willingly watch again, but at least were amusing to make fun of:
The Happy Elf
Nestor the Long Eared Christmas Donkey
The Little Drummer Boy
The Polar Express
The 12 Dogs of Christmas


Stuff that wasn't necessarily great, but it was weird, and I'm really glad I watched it:
Amahl and the Night Visitors
The Stingiest Man in Town
The Lemon Drop Kid
The Twilight Zone: The Night of the Meek


And finally, things which deserve to be somewhere on the extended version of my Best List. (Somewhere in 11-25?) These are things that I would be happy to add to a list of things to watch every year. In no particular order:

Arthur Christmas
Rare Exports
Community Christmas Episodes
Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Blue Carbuncle
Terry Pratchett's Hogfather

Music for Seasonal Survival

As we've continued to expand our collection of Christmas music, I keep finding new songs to enjoy. This year, listening to nothing but holiday music was hardly a trial at all. Here are some of the new tracks that got a lot of play on my iPod this month.

Broadway: Carols for the Cure Volume 13 (Various, 2011)
There are plenty of fun tracks on this CD, but I kept coming back to just a few. Because I can't point you anywhere to hear these recordings, I'm excerpting a bit of lyrics of each.

St. Nicholas Sky
This rock anthem from the cast of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark is better than any music actually in that show. I really warmed to this song quickly, and I think they did a great job with it
I dream the (light?) with open arms and wander out into the stars
Remember when the world was ours - I look for you.
And I - all I have to do is close my eyes, and I will (watch?) the darkness come alive
And, how I wish that you could be with me tonight, under the cold St. Nicholas Sky.

A Christmas Carol
This is a short hilarious ditty from the cast of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. It mocks several traditional carols and is overall fabulous.
Christmas Time is here, by golly / Disapproval would be folly
Deck the Halls with hunks of holly / Fill the cup and don't say when
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens / Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens
Even through the prospect sickens / Brother, here we go again.

Waiting for the Snow to Fall
This is from the cast of Billy Elliot. It's a lovely song for Christmas in the city, a mixture of melancholy and hope.
This city has a way of making orphans of us all
We're coming here to make it - sometimes we're lonely and small
But once a year, the city is magic and bright
There's something in the air that just feels right
Every inch is decorated, what a lovely sight - and I'm waiting for the snow to fall.


A New Thought For Christmas
(Melissa Etheridge, 2008)


Glorious
Now this is the best way to blend carols into a new song, I think.


It's Christmas Time
Rock out, Melissa.


Also nice from this album: Light a Light and Ring the Bells


The Hotel CafĂ© presents... Winter Songs (Various, 2008)
This female singer-songwriter sampler has some tracks I just love.

All My Bells are Ringing (Lenka)
I find the beat here - almost a light doo-wop style - totally adorable and addictive


Mistletoe (Colbie Caillat)
A somewhat meditative song about love; I really like the chorus.


Also great: Winter Song, Sleigh Ride, Maybe Next Year


Holly Happy Days
(Indigo Girls, 2010)

Yeah, I can still be a sucker for the Indigo Girls

The Wonder Song
This would normally have too many religious overtones for me, but the harmony here is just so nice and warm. I can't resist it.


Your Holiday Song.
Okay, I can also still be a sucker for multi-culti holidays. Especially when it's this good-natured and sweet.



Happy Holidays.

Futurama X-Mas Specials: 1999, 2001, 2010

Before we wrap up our second year of Mainlining Christmas, we really need to correct an oversight. We've been meaning to get around to covering the three Futurama Christmas specials since day one, but we kept putting it off. Ironically, we were putting them off because we wanted to save them for when they were needed. Say, when we'd exhausted our supply of holiday specials and were waiting for Netflix to ship us something.

Well, it turns out that's never going to happen. Contrary to our naive assumptions, the internet contains hundreds if not thousands of hours of holiday cheer. I dare say we could run this blog every Christmas for a decade and not run out.

Lucky us.

So, rather than rob our list of reviews of these three for yet another year, we're tackling them now. After some of the crap we've seen recently, these are a welcome relief.

XMas Story (1999)
This was the first of the Futurama holiday specials, and it introduced us to Robot Santa Claus, voiced brilliantly by John Goodman. It turns out that the mythical Santa's now real, thanks to a kindhearted robotics company. However, while their hearts may have been in the right place, their minds weren't: in a subtle tip of the hat to Asimov's "I, Robot", Santa's naughty and nice thresholds were set incorrectly, resulting a seasonal murderous rampage. Fry, of course being unaccustomed to this, isn't prepared for the killer Santa and nearly gets himself (and everyone else) killed.

Of the three, this is both the best and the most restrained. The Christmas aspect permeates the episode, but there's also room for character development. The relationship between Fry and Leila is built upon, and Leila's history is touched on.

The holiday concept is still somewhat grounded, at least compared to what came next, though the concept is brilliantly twisted. This one's highly recommended.


A Tale of Two Santas (2001)
The sequel, released a few years later, is still very good, though it's definitely more focused on revisiting a popular concept than it is in exploring the main characters and their relationships. This episode delves a bit further into the mythos of Robot Santa, visiting his workshop on Neptune. Fry, determined to save Christmas, succeeds in overthrowing the evil Claus and replacing him with Bender. Unfortunately, things don't go as well as hoped during the Christmas run, and Bender winds up on death row.

There are some good jokes - it's still one of the better dark Christmas comedies out there - but I don't think it rises above that.


The Futurama Holiday Spectacular (2010)
There seems to be a law of diminishing returns at work, which would be a harsher indictment if the first special weren't so damned amazing. Yeah, the second's worse than the first, and this one's the worst of the bunch... but it's still pretty good.

Robot Santa makes an appearance, but he's more or less just there for a cameo. Rather than telling a single story, this one explores three separate tales. And, instead of focusing on Christmas exclusively, each third focuses on a different holiday, at least after a fashion.

The segments are solid little shorts, and are certainly worth your time. But, despite the return of Al Gore's head in a jar (played, as always, by Gore himself), it's not one of the stronger episodes.