A Very Murray Christmas
- Starring Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, George Clooney and Miley Cyrus
- Released Friday, Dec. 4
- 4 stars out of 5
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This article was published 2/12/2015 (2127 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In an oddly refreshing display of truthful advertising, the new holiday TV offering A Very Murray Christmas delivers exactly what its title promises.
It’s a Christmas special. And it’s very, very, VERY Bill Murray.
It’s fair to say, in fact, that A Very Murray Christmas — which arrives on Netflix on Dec. 4 — is a show that only a Bill Murray fan could love.
But here’s the thing: is there anybody who’s not, on some level, in some secretly tickle-susceptible corner of their being — head, heart, funnybone, feet, whatever — a Bill Murray fan?
It’s Murray’s oddly universal appeal, the result of a career that has spanned four decades and meandered onscreen from wacky and silly and subversive to pensive and moody to melancholy and back again, that basically guarantees this hour-long seasonal spoof will be declared an instant classic.
A Very Murray Christmas — which was directed by Murray’s Lost in Translation collaborator, Sofia Coppola — is a throwback of sorts, tipping its hat to those days-of-yore yuletide specials in which crooners such as Andy Williams and Bing Crosby would employ the flimsiest of storylines and sets as an excuse to wander through a televised hour, singing seasonal songs and engaging in seemingly impromptu duets with celebrity friends they encounter on the fake-snow-covered streets.
In the case of Murray’s show, however, there’s a slightly darker hue to the ruse — the special opens with the former SNL star staring out of a hotel room window at a snowstorm that has engulfed New York City; ol’ Billy is feeling down because he’s supposed to be doing a live TV special from the hotel ballroom downstairs, but none of his guests or audience members have been able to make it to midtown Manhattan to take part.
With long-ago crooner-sketch counterpart Paul Shaffer tickling the ivories, Murray launches into an on-the-edge-of-campy version of Christmas Blues (a downbeat ditty that’s surely near the top of any Dean Martin devotee’s must-hear holiday list).
Murray and Shaffer make their way downstairs, where the special’s pushy producers (Amy Poehler and Julie White) try to reassure him that everything’s going to be OK and that the show, for contractual and financial reasons, must go on.
Of course, it isn’t and it can’t, and of course, they know that. So when the power goes out in the hotel, giving the producers an insurance-claim reason to scuttle the special, they bail quicker than you can say "And to all, a good night."
That leaves Murray and Shaffer at loose ends, so they wander into the candlelit lounge to have a few Christmas cocktails with the sad assortment of hotel guests who are also stuck waiting out the storm.
It doesn’t take long, of course, for Murray to start making music with his newfound friends — trading lines with a tuneful waitress (Jenny Lewis) on Baby, It’s Cold Outside, trying to cheer up a jilted bride (Rashida Jones), and simply getting out of the way when a glamourous stranger (Maya Rudolph) belts out a show-stopping version of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).
The well-lubricated lounge session also includes a contribution by the kitchen staff (the band Phoenix, playing an original composition called Alone on Christmas Day) and an all-patrons rendition of the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York, but it isn’t until an apparently overserved Murray topples off the piano bench that A Very Murray Christmas really gets up to full festive speed.
The dream-state version of Murray suddenly finds himself in a tinsel-covered, snow-white Tipsyland, with special-guest pals George Clooney and Miley Cyrus arriving via showgirl-drawn Santa sled. The music kicks into high gear with Bill dueting with Cyrus on Sleigh Ride and belting out a funky Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ (with unexpected but welcome help from Clooney).
Cyrus, pop music’s current empress of public excess, subdues herself long enough to deliver one of the special’s highlights, a performance of Silent Night that is simple, traditional, respectful and beautiful. And while no one is ever going to confuse Murray’s halfway-croaky crooning with the song stylings of Dino, Bing or Andy, his well-weathered voice can carry a tune well enough to let his oafish but undeniable charm do the rest of the work.
A Very Murray Christmas isn’t perfect, but it clearly wasn’t intended to be. What it is, however, is a whole bunch of winking, smiling, ain’t-my-cool-friends-cool fun, and that’s all that’s needed to give "Murray" and "merry" exactly the same meaning for one very memorable Netflix-streamed hour.
After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.
A Very Murray Christmas
Updated on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 6:20 PM CST: Adds trailer.
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