With the holiday weekend coming up, just about every television network is dealing in reruns and special holiday programming, but why should you have to succumb to their specific licensing deals? I have compiled the Best of Holiday TV from years past—all now available on DVD and online—so you can have a creative and nostalgic Christmas break with friends, family, or solo.
30 Rock – “Christmas Special” – Jack (Alec Baldwin) hits his mother with a car and is "forced" to spend the holidays with her. He spends most of the episode trying to avoid her but later learns how his mother really afforded all of his holiday gifts as a kid, which manages to warm his heart while slightly creep the audience out. Liz (Tina Fey), meanwhile, takes on a “Letters to Santa” charity program but then gets just a wee bit racist on it, assuming she was conned into buying two grown men presents.
Arrested Development – “Afternoon Delight” – Michael (Jason Bateman) decides to spend more time with his niece (Alia Shawkat) and takes her to the Bluth family Christmas party, where his sister (Portia de Rossi) is just trying to get someone to sleep with her. They end up singing a really inappropriate duet which manages to make the staff more uncomfortable than Gob (Will Arnett)’s constant posturing. And if that’s not enough of a holiday gem worthy of tradition, there’s also a giant version of the arcade game where you use a crane to select a toy when Gob, in a giant banana suit, gets stuck and Buster (Tony Hale) has to use his killer “army” training to help his family.
Chuck – “Chuck vs Santa Claus” – A man on the run from police crashes into the Buy More and holds everyone inside hostage, including Chuck (Zachary Levi), Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), John (Adam Baldwin), Ellie (Sarah Lancaser), and Awesome (Ryan McPartlin). While Chuck tries to talk the even more hapless "criminal" through the situation, he also has to deal with some very real feelings for his fake girlfriend during this festive time. And then, of course, the bad guy turns out to be someone very different from who he appears and it is time for an even unlikelier hero to save the day.
Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” and “Regional Holiday Music” – The first year was an incomparable claymation romp through Abed’s (Danny Pudi) mind as his friends tried to help him come to terms with the holidays without a visit from his mom. But then the next tapped into a musical when the Greendale glee club had a nervous breakdown at the hands of Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), the choir director (guest star Taran Killam) recruited Abed to recruit his friends to fill in.
Friends – “The One with the Holiday Armadillo” – Ross (David Schwimmer) has the best of intentions of teaching his son about Hanukkah but the kid just wants a visit from Santa. With no real holiday options left at the costume store, he comes up with a new alternative in a weird, scaly desert creature. Things get even wackier when Santa Claus and Superman show up.
Full House – “Our Very First Christmas Show” – The Tanner family get stranded at the airport on their way out of town for the holidays. Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) is worried that Santa won’t be able to find them since they’re not home. But thanks to a little magic—or a close family friend (Dave Coulier)—they get to celebrate a non-traditional but still pretty festive Christmas evening.
Happy Days – "Guess Who's Coming To Christmas" – The first holiday special this soon-to-be classic sitcom ever aired was also the last time Richie’s brother ever appeared as a part of the Cunningham family. Not your usual holiday cheer? Well, it's okay because where one brother disappears, another is born. It was this episode, after all, in which Fonzie really became an honorary member of the family.
I Love Lucy – “The I Love Lucy Christmas Special” – Part clip show, this very special episode saw the Ricardos reminiscing over past celebrations as a family and with their friends the Mertzes, but at the end of the night two Santas show up to give Little Ricky his presents, instilling the magic of Christmas—and the idea that maybe there is a Santa Claus after all—in the audience.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “A Very Sunny Christmas” – Charlie (Charlie Day) has weird flashbacks of his childhood Christmases where he would wait downstairs on the couch for various “Santas” to come over and drop off presents before heading upstairs to “cheer up” his mom. Meanwhile, Mac (Rob McElhenney) learns that his own tradition of going from house to house to steal toys from other families is not what everyone did. So the two of them are in a holiday tailspin, trying to figure out how to make things right, and of course, they only succeed in making things much, much worse.
Modern Family – “Undeck the Halls” – The Dunphy clan dons ridiculously ugly sweaters to video-chat with their out-of-state family members and then decides to cancel Christmas because none of the kids will confess to burning a hole in the armrest of the couch. Meanwhile, Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) is bitter over getting kicked out of a caroling group who just keep showing up everywhere, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) gets the mall Santa fired, and Jay (Ed O’Neill) has a hard time letting go of his long-standing traditions to incorporate some of his new family’s.
The Nanny – “Oy to the World” – Brighton (Benjamin Salisbury) is focused on selfish, material things during the holiday season and Fran (Fran Drescher) decides he needs to be taught a lesson. But before they can make it to the homeless shelter at which they were going to volunteer, a big gust of wind knocks them to the North Pole where they have to save Santa (Charles Shaughnessy) from an evil version of Ms. Babcock (Lauren Lane).
The O.C. – “The Best Chrismukkah Ever” – Seth (Adam Brody) introduces Chrismukkah to Ryan (Ben McKenzie) and the world, while Marissa (Mischa Barton) has some 'discount shopping' to do and finds herself in embarrassing situation(s).
The Office – “Christmas Party” – Michael (Steve Carell) goes all-out on his Secret Santa gift and then turns it into Yankee Swap instead when he is hurt that he did not receive the same special thought.
Parks and Recreation – “Citizen Knope” – Everyone in the Pawnee Parks Department tries to find Leslie (Amy Poehler) the perfect holiday present, while she decides to take action to get things done faster within her own department by forming yet another committee. We have two words for you: Candy Swanson.
Raising Hope – “It’s a Hopeful Life” – A nod to the classic It's A Wonderful Life, the Chance family goes to the movies and are surprised to find similarities to their own life, which transports Jimmy (Lucas Neff) into a cinematic dream state where he imagines what life would be if he never met Lucy (guest star Bijou Phillips) and never had Hope.
Saved by the Bell – “A Home For Christmas” – In this hour-long Very Special Episode, Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) falls for a young girl who works with Kelly (Tiffani Amber Thiessen) at a men’s clothing store in the mall. The girl gets fired because her mean boss Mr. Moody thinks she stole a sport coat, and Zack finds her and her father living in their car in the parking lot. Turns out, he had lost his job, too, and they’re homeless. So Zack’s mom invites them to spend the holidays at their house, and Zack’s dad even helps to get the guy a job.
The Simpsons – “The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” – The first official winter holiday celebration for the now legendary animated series. Picking up where their previous year's sketch on the Tracey Ullman Show left off, the plot, which has become classic, was in 1989 just wacky. Bart needs tattoo removal surgery, which eats up the family's entire Christmas budget, so Homer attempts to win enough at the dog track to provide his kids with good presents. Naturally, he loses all of his money, but he returns with something even better: the new family pet, Santa's Little Helper, a scrawny, abused mutt who was going to be put down because he was no good as a racer.
South Park – “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo” – Kyle feels ostracized for not being able to take part in the Christmas festivities and begins seeing his, well, poo come to life. Of course, he’s the only one who sees it so his family thinks he’s going crazy, but well, we all go a little crazy during the holidays, right?
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – “The Christmas Show” – Matt (Matthew Perry) is determined to bring some holiday cheer to the show full of bitter, jaded staffers who are determined to debunk the magic of Christmas and instead criticize the material elements that have taken over. Sure there are some Scrooge-like sardonic jokes thrown in for the equally bitter and jaded audience, most notably a Santa statue giving the Hitler salute. But when the union musicians decide to call in sick to help get some out of work victims of Hurricane Katrina day gigs, even the Grinchiest of grinches' hearts grow three sizes.
Supernatural – “A Very Supernatural Christmas” – Dean (Jensen Ackles) is dealing with his last holiday season before having to go to Hell, and he wants to go all out and celebrate with his brother, Sam (Jared Padalecki), who is more reluctant, thanks to never having any happy memories of the holidays of their youth. Though they do have to take on some Pagan Gods and risk losing their teeth in their case of the week, the episode also delivers some very sweet family flashbacks and the closeness of the brothers through the years.
Will & Grace – “A Little Christmas Queer” – Will (Eric McCormack) takes his friends home for the holidays, where he is dismayed to see how open-minded his mother is being about his little nephew probably being gay. Jack (Sean Hayes) helps Will’s nephew put on a Christmas pageant for the group, while Karen (Megan Mullally) tries to figure out what’s in the family’s signature drink, and Grace (Debra Messing) flirts with Will’s brother.