Every era gets the Christmas specials it deserves.
Remember those terrible, wonderful, tacky Truly Fake Holiday Specials hosted by Bob Hope and Ann Jillian, Donny and Marie Osmond, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams and a heap of colorful sweaters? How can we forget them? We’re reminded of them every time we turn on a cable show like Bravo’s “Great Things About the Holidays.”
But whimsical recollections of extravaganzas past do not a Christmas special make. Separated by a gulf of nostalgia and camp sensibility, these clip shows are the holiday equivalent of WE’s miniseries “I Can’t Believe I Wore That!”
It’s fun to think we donned polyester bell-bottoms and laughed at Sonny and Cher pretending to be Scrooge and Marley, but would we be caught dead wearing or watching them again?
Like every show on Bravo (and the Target ads that sponsor them), Christmas entertainment is now supposed to be suffused with a knowing, ironic sensibility. And we’re all supposed to be too hip to ever be square again.
As if to punish us for banishing the plastic snow from Truly Fake Holiday Specials, we’re offered earnest facsimiles like “Celebrate! Christmas with Maya Angelou” (7 p.m., Hallmark).
Now don’t get me wrong. Angelou seems warm and wise, but this hour consists largely of her offering snippets of insight about the meaning behind Christmas traditions.
“It would not be Christmas without the laughter of children,” she observes. It’s a little like being forced to spend Christmas with your English teacher or the parson’s wife. It’s probably good for you, but don’t confuse it with fun.
But all is not lost. Halfway into “Celebrate,” the songwriting team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson arrives to gush about Angelou’s wisdom and her legendary holiday feasts.
And soon they’re at the piano.
The very presence of this prolific and seemingly ageless hit-making duo is enough to warm the heart. They’re a welcome reminder that even “Celebrate,” a tepid bath of Hallmark platitudes, is a Truly Fake Holiday Special. After all, it was probably filmed last August, with the air conditioning turned up to obliterate a Los Angeles heat wave.
OK, we don’t see Angelou singing in front of an ersatz Bavarian village accompanied by the June Taylor Dancers. But we do get to hear her assembled family warble “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and a host of other carols, accompanied by the writers of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Time and ubiquitous hipness may prevent Kathie Lee Gifford and even Martha Stewart from making their annual rounds, but the Truly Fake Holiday Special will live on in our hearts as long as there are artificial trees and plastic tinsel in the world. Now sing after me, you fans of traditional holiday fakery: “There Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing. ….”
Children’s letters to the North Pole take center stage on “Dear Santa” (8 p.m., Fox).
The Peanuts gang returns in “I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown!” (8 p.m., ABC).
“C.S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia” (8 p.m., Hallmark) offers a biographical sketch of the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
“Three Wishes” (9 p.m., NBC) offers a boy the chance to meet his hero, Bill Gates.
A brave first step on “Bernie Mac” (9 p.m., Fox).
“Costas NOW” (9 p.m., HBO) looks back at the year in sports.
Hal’s homemade holiday on “Malcolm in the Middle” (9:30 p.m., Fox).
Skeletal clues on “Numb3rs” (10 p.m., CBS).
Blood on the tracks on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (10 p.m., NBC).
“Movies That Shook The World” (10 p.m., AMC) looks at the blurry 1999 shocker “The Blair Witch Project.”
A trio of desperadoes adopts a dying mother’s infant in the 1936 Western “Three Godfathers” (6:30 p.m., TCM).
A mother’s spirit seeks a family reconciliation on “Ghost Whisperer” (8 p.m., CBS) … Wrestling on “WWE SmackDown!” (9 p.m., UPN) … Vince has paycheck envy on “What I Like About You” (8 p.m., WB) … Annabeth takes on a drug lord on “Close to Home” (9 p.m., CBS) … Santa’s gift screams “Faux-faux-faux” on “Hope & Faith” (9 p.m., ABC) … On back-to-back episodes of “Reba” (9 p.m., WB), calories (8:30 p.m.,) and therapy (9 p.m.) … A visit from three spirits on “Hot Properties” (9:30 p.m., ABC) … Farrah feels unpopular on “Twins” (9:30 p.m., WB).
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