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Canadian crooner fills Crosby's festive shoes

Bublé special a family-friendly celebration of the season

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The old-time, old-school, traditional Christmas TV variety-show special may be a dying art form, but Canadian crooner Michael Bublé seems determined to make sure it's never pronounced dead.

The Grammy winner returns to the festive-TV schedule this week with The 3rd Annual Michael Bublé Christmas Special (Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CTV and NBC), bringing an upbeat mix of music and kid-friendly mirth that inspires favourable comparisons to the joyful seasonal contributions that Bing Crosby and Andy Williams brought to the small screen every December in the 1960s, '70s and (in Williams' case) early '80s.

Prime time can be a pretty cynical place these days, but Bublé and company are, for the third year running, committed to re-invigorating an almost-lost style of Christmas programming that invites entire families to gather in front of the ol' teevee set for an hour of simple, shared festive fun.

The special, shot in Buble's hometown of Vancouver, features guest appearances by Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and Sesame Street's Cookie Monster. The Muppet's appearance in a series of unabashedly cornball sketches with the host offers the single-digit-aged demographic a reason to watch, but mostly, the special is about the music -- straightforward and uniformly likable renditions of numerous Christmas classics with a couple of originals sprinkled in for good measure.

Bublé opens the show with an unplugged, back-corridor version of Blue Christmas that eventually moves onstage for a full big-band finish, then transitions quickly to a lovely duet rendition of Carey's recent seasonal hit, All I Want for Christmas Is You.

After the first of Cookie Monster's several laughtrack-aided appearances, Bublé dedicates a wistful I'll Be Home For Christmas to armed forces personnel serving overseas during the holiday season, and then introduces Blige, who offers up a jazz-ified version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

In what's probably the hour's most charming sequence, Bublé and a cluster of his bandmates gather onstage to perform stripped-down, acoustic versions of familiar tunes -- including Holly Jolly Christmas, Santa Baby and Jingle Bells -- which are initiated by shouted-out requests from the studio audience.

Carey returns later for a solo performance, and then Blige joins the host for a soulful singing of the old roasted-chestnut favourite The Christmas Song.

The show's finale finds Bublé sharing a candlelit stage with B.C.'s Coastal Sound Children's Choir for a beautiful and uplifting rendition of Silent Night.

What makes Michael Bublé's 3rd Annual Christmas Special work, and what makes it likely that he'll succeed in his effort to become his generation's go-to guy for festive TV specials, is Bublé's obvious affection for the season and his recognition that simple, respectfully straightforward interpretations of those timeless holiday tunes will always be well received.

When he looks into the camera and says, "I genuinely love Christmas," the sentiment seems completely, well, genuine.

Neither Bing nor Andy could have said it any better. And that's why it's reasonable to assume that audiences will continue to embrace Bublé's festive wishes as long as he wants to keep bringing them. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2013 C3

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