A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

On the page for their new Christmas special, Netflix tags A Very Murray Christmas as "Witty, Quirky, Irreverent, Deadpan." This is probably as good a description as any I'm going to offer, but the internet isn't going to fill itself up with inane blather.

If I weren't copying off of Netflix's test answers, the other way I'd describe it would be a traditional Christmas special from a post-modern perspective. It's almost a deconstruction of the classic formula that doesn't actually want to give up that formula. Sound weird? It is.

I'm sorry. Not weird - quirky.

The quirky special opens with Bill Murray in his hotel room with Paul Shaffer, both playing themselves. After a quick blues tune, Amy Poehler and Julie White barge in, somewhat confusingly not playing themselves. They're producers, here to drag Bill downstairs to perform for a live TV special, despite the fact all their other guest stars canceled due to a storm. He's under contract, after all.

Murray pushes back, but they get him to the stage. He chokes in the opening minute, then finds and abducts Chris Rock over the commercial break, forcing him to appear on stage. At this point, it was beginning to settle into a groove: the plot was going to focus on them putting on this special despite the storm, with random celebrities popping in every few--

The power cuts out due to the storm, which nullifies the contract. Chris Rock takes off in the confusion, and the producers gleefully call the special off and leave, as well.

Okay. New plot.

Murray and Shaffer head down to the bar and begin establishing a new supporting cast. There's an engaged couple whose wedding was called off due to the storm, a group of cooks horrified by the idea their food's going to be ruined, a waitress trying to keep everyone's spirits up, and a handful of others. The couple takes on the biggest role - the stress is threatening to break them up for good, so Murray takes it on himself to get them back together. It takes three or four musical numbers, but eventually they seem alright. The clock strikes midnight, and everyone wishes each other a Merry Christmas. Drinks are passed around, and everyone is--

Bill Murray collapses on the floor, and the scene cuts away to him waking in a massive set, preparing for the musical extravaganza the storm had denied him. I honestly wasn't sure whether he'd died and gone to heaven or if this was supposed to be another dream sequence (it was the latter - having him die would have been gutsier, but I suppose you only get to pull that twist once per career).

Up pulls a sleigh carrying George Clooney and Miley Cyrus, who sing several songs with Murray. Very little happens, but Murray seems satisfied for the first time in the special. Eventually, he wakes up in his hotel room on Christmas day. There's one last short musical number, then Murray wishes a Merry Christmas to his friends and everyone else, looking out the window over the city of New York (conspicuously lacking the snow from the prior day's storm).

There's some good comedy and fun musical numbers, but those elements aren't exactly rare in this genre. What this thing has going for it is production value, mostly due to the direction of Sofia Coppola. I'm one of a very small number of people who found Lost in Translation overrated, but I certainly don't deny she's a good director. Every shot in this special is beautiful and visually fascinating, even when the story meanders.

The musical numbers are nothing special, aside from the song choices and star quality of the performers. Along with obvious classics (Let it Snow, Baby It's Cold Outside, etc.), there are some surprising additions, like A New York Fairy Tale and Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin' (Clooney's backup singing for that is pretty hilarious). These are a bit of a mixed blessing, though - at times, they almost seem more like viral videos than part of a whole.

The special is certainly worth seeing, though, thanks to Murray's presence and Coppola's direction. The writing is clever - witty, even - as the characters deadpan their way through this quirky and irreverent musical deconstruction. Just don't expect something revolutionary.