Once December rolls around, it’s pretty much all Christmas TV all the time, whether it’s holiday-themed offerings from the Food Network (Cake Wars: Christmas; Holiday Gingerbread Showdown; Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge) or FX’s intriguing take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, starring Guy Pearce as Scrooge and Andy Serkis as the Ghost of Christmas Past (Thursday, Dec. 19). Hallmark rolls out its endless stream of holiday romances and almost every network sitcom and drama features a heartwarming holiday episode.
With such a glut of programming, it’s impossible to single out the best Christmas television shows, but here are a few suggestions, depending on what you hope to unwrap:
Family Channel, Dec. 24, 6 p.m.
Though it met with somewhat mixed reviews upon its release in 2003, the intervening years have shown this Will Ferrell Christmas comedy to be a gift that keeps on giving; it’s regularly ranked among the best Christmas movies ever. (It was made into a Broadway musical in 2010.)
It’s the story of Buddy (Ferrell), who was adopted by elves in the North Pole as a boy. Now a grown man who doesn’t fit in among his tiny peers, he travels to New York City to find his real father (James Caan), a Scroogey book publisher who has no time for the giant, naive Buddy and his wide-eyed, Santa-loving, syrup-guzzling ways.
It’s a sweet, funny, family-friendly film, and though it’s unlikely to unseat It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street as an all-time Christmas classic, it certainly holds up to annual viewing.
It also has a great supporting cast, including Ed Asner, Mary Steenburgen, Peter Dinklage and Zooey Deschanel, who stars as a honey-voiced department-store elf and also pops up in...
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Craving a Christmas variety show in the spirit of yuletides of yore? The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show delivers a 45-minute, deliberately dated homage to the star-studded concept, complete with stilted banter, celebrity duets and bad lip-syncing. Musgraves — often looking a lot like Cher in her revealing, spangled ’70s-style outfits — goes through as many costume changes as Santa goes through cookies on a sparkling, candy-coloured set that resembles a giant dollhouse. The Grammy-winning country star and her band welcome such musical guests as James Corden, Leon Bridges, Camila Cabello, Fred Armisen and Deschanel — who joins Musgraves on a charming rendition of Mele Kalikimaka — with narration by Schitt’s Creek’s Daniel Levy as a sardonic elf.
The skits are a bit painful and the songs, although pretty, could stand more innovative interpretations. However, Musgraves’ simple delivery of her original tune Christmas Makes Me Sad is a welcome nod to the dark side of the season.
(If you don’t know Fred Armisen from Fred Claus or Camila Cabello from Cardi B, maybe the genuinely old-timey offering A Classic Christmas on PBS will be more up your alley: Marion Ross of Happy Days and Gavin MacLeod of The Love Boat host an all-star special of carols and popular standards, featuring performers of yesteryear such as Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Gene Autry, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, the Carpenters and many more. Originally shown in November, it will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 4 a.m.)
Before she was a superstar, Musgraves penned songs used on the CBS country-music drama Nashville, which starred Eric Close, who turns up as the director of...
Hallmark Channel and W, Saturday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m.
Considering the Hallmark Channel seems to churn out nothing but star-crossed holiday romances this time of year (many of them shot in Winnipeg), it must be a Very Special Offering to land a spot in the Hallmark Hall of Fame. This 2019 movie features Scott Wolf and Kristin Chenoweth as a widowed dad and a choir director, respectively, who fall in love (as the hilariously generic title indicates) after his golden-voiced son joins her choir... but will a secret keep them apart?
As nice as it is to see actors in their 50s as romantic leads, it might hurt your heart a little to see former Party of Five heartthrob Wolf and Tony winner Chenoweth sing into festive spatulas and make goo-goo eyes at each other. However, director Close has several Christmas-themed films under his belt, and his time on Nashville surely acquainted him with both melodrama and melodies — and there’s no disputing Chenoweth’s musical bona fides, as viewers can see on…
PBS, Monday, Dec. 16, 8 p.m.
Kristin Chenoweth? More like Kristin Kringle, as the diminutive Broadway belter takes centre stage in this perennial Christmas special, this one a little less Kringe-worthy. This year’s airing of the annual hour-long concert (the full 90-minute show will be available on demand at BYUtv.org Dec. 20) features Chenoweth’s performance with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during its 2018 Christmas concert — a tradition featuring favourite holiday music, dancing and storytelling, all backed by an orchestra, the famed 11,623-pipe organ and the 360-member choir.
The coloratura soprano is clearly delighted to be onstage with the venerable choir (founded in 1847), flirting with director Mack Wilburg and going through almost as many costume changes as Musgraves. A devout Christian, she brings a special passion to the sacred carols, including a chill-inducing O Holy Night.
Family, Saturday, Dec. 21, 6:25 a.m.
No, Chenoweth isn’t in this one (though she did star in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown on Broadway). But for lots of folks, the holiday isn’t complete until they’ve watched this Peanuts classic.
The Family Channel obliges as the exclusive Canadian broadcaster of this animated annual tradition, which has been aired every year since it was created (though that early timeslot might call for the PVR).
The first TV special based on the comic strip by Charles Schulz, 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, tackles a lot — seasonal depression, the commercialization of the holiday and the importance of remembering the origins of Christmas. The jazzy soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi has sold millions of copies and the gentle piano ballad Christmastime Is Here has become part of the canon.
Family also airs It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown at 6:55 a.m. on Dec. 21. On Christmas Day, viewers can catch I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown at 6:30 a.m. and on Tuesday, Dec. 31, celebrate with Happy New Year, Charlie Brown at 7 p.m.
Senior copy editor
Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.