The Santa Clauses, Season 1 (2022)

Well, I didn't entirely hate it, which makes this my favorite installment in the Santa Clause franchise by a wide margin. To be fair, I haven't seen the trilogy this is sequeling since reviewing them, which was between nine and twelve years ago, so it's possible I'd have a more favorable reaction now. Possible, but unlikely: the stuff I recall disliking about those movies isn't the kind that tends to age well.

Regardless, the new Disney+ limited series picks up in real time, sixteen years after the end of the third movie. Santa and Mrs. Claus have two kids: Buddy (who was born at the end of the third movie) and Sandra. Mrs. Claus - or Carol, as she used to be called - is going through an identity crisis, Buddy dreams of seeing the human world, Sandra seems completely uninterested in anything that isn't an animal or a witch, and - due to declining Christmas spirit - Santa's magic seems to be failing. When he learns about a "Secessus Clause" which would allow him to retire, hand the mantle over to another human, and return to a normal life, he reluctantly invokes it, selecting Simon (played by Kal Penn) as his replacement. Simon, a well-meaning tech bro trying to raise his daughter after the death of his wife, sees the North Pole's technology as an opportunity to expand the reach of his corporate empire, which quickly grows into an Amazon-like operation. He transitions to a model where Christmas (or at least a version of Christmas) will occur daily, which naturally drains the mystique out of the holiday. Christmas spirit becomes scarcer, and the elves start disappearing.

The remaining elves reach out to retired elf, Bernard, now living as a mortal (since they wanted David Krumholtz back, and it turns out that actors age), who brings Tim Allen to the Yuleverse (or at least that's what Allen dubs it) to see the Santa Clauses of the past. It's here the series introduces its main twist, which basically retcons away the entire premise of the first movie.

See, it turns out the previous Santas weren't human: they were ethereal beings created by Christmas magic. Each would serve for a while, then pass the coat over to the next entity in line, who would be that generation's personification of Christmas. But given how fast times were changing, they decided to hand the mantle to a human instead of another ethereal being. Scott Calvin was chosen for the job, and the whole "Santa falls off a roof and dies" bit was a trick.

To be clear, this change invalidates everything that made this series unique. Thank God.

He brings this information back to his family, who instantly decide to stop Simon and save Christmas. Also, the kids have powers: Buddy can see and sense magic, while Sandra can speak to animals. Mrs. Claus can beat up robots left over from the 3rd movie, but this isn't supposed to be a Christmas power, and it's badly shot so don't get your hopes up.

With the help of La Befana, they battle Simon and his army of drones for the coat that will grant its wearer the power of Santa. At the end, Simon seems to win, but his daughter sees him, causing him to rethink his choices. He's never been a bad person, so much as one who got carried away, and he effectively gives up and allows Scott to try and fix everything. Everyone hugs, and... I don't know... there's some poorly explained Christmas magic that re-empowers the lost Christmas spirit, bringing back all the elves. They're short on toys, so they give everyone magic snow globes from... was it the second or third movie? I could probably look it up. I mean, I wouldn't even have to go to Wikipedia. I could probably just check our reviews for the second two movies. It would take less time than typing all this out. I mean, I'd be done by now if I just looked it up. But honestly I don't care.

The magic magics some magic, Buddy kisses his girlfriend, and Scott's back in the coat. Also, Mrs. Claus is much happier being Mrs. Claus now that she knows she's the only Mrs. Claus in history, rather than one in a long line of symbolic women. That seems reasonable enough. [Editor's note: actually, the reveal raised even more problematic questions for her - if there had never been a Mrs. Claus before, then why did she have to live under this set of elf-made rules that made her unhappy for 30 years?][Author's response: Crap. Lindsay's right.]

Stretched over six half-hour episodes, this is basically one long movie or two short ones in length. There's of course quite a bit I'm glossing over - Simon and his daughter got a lot of time, a few characters from the original series got cameos, and there were a bunch of semi-important elves - but that's the gist.

My guess is the retcon to the lore is going to annoy some fans of the original movie, and I don't begrudge anyone upset over the change. Regardless of what I think about that film, the core concept of the series boiled down to "What if a random guy became Santa," and that's been thoroughly excised. Scott was now fated to wear the suit, there was nothing random about the encounter, and the prior Santa was never alive, let alone dead.

But, again, I never liked the movie, and I don't think anything they've subsequently done with the series had much merit. I'm not saying they couldn't have salvaged it, but I'm not exactly sad to see it go. Especially because overall I thought the new stuff was... well....

I guess it was fine? It certainly wasn't better than fine, but it wasn't awful, either. The series mostly drags for the first half then picks up when the Calvin-Claus family attempts to assimilate into the modern world. There are a handful of decent jokes and character quirks through this that make episode 4 watchable, then episode 5 introduces a slew of past Santas, including a fun take on Krampus. The last episode is pretty by-the-numbers family entertainment. They didn't go out on a high note, but I didn't find the finale particularly boring, either.

Throughout, the series is pretty good about exploring and developing lore. They wisely address questions that have been analyzed online for decades (such as why we never saw a Mrs. Claus when Scott reached the North Pole at the end of that first Christmas). In addition, I thought Sandra's animal powers were cool, and new elf Betty was a nice replacement for Bernard. Buddy was annoying at the North Pole but had some of the best moments when they reached Chicago. La Befana was fun throughout, but of course she was - has anyone ever fumbled La Befana?

Of course, there's no shortage of stuff that doesn't work. For every joke that lands, four others fall flat. I've never found Tim Allen all that good in this role, and - while getting older helps - he's still not all that interesting of a lead. Likewise, the "all elves are kids" thing runs into the same problem they had in the three movies: only a few manage to sell the idea they're playing timeless entities as opposed to children in funny costumes. The CG effects are also pretty rudimentary compared to most of what we're seeing on TV these days, though I'm not sure that hurt this all that much.

The fact they managed to sort of transform The Santa Clause into a functional series is an accomplishment in itself. This series was at best passable, but the news it's being picked up for a second season fills me with indifference rather than dread. That's much better than I'd hoped.