Holiday episodes tend to be a bit generic. How many times can you rework A Christmas Carol or The Gift of the Magi into a sitcom plot? Here are a smattering of episodes worth mentioning either because they're rare, different or doggone it, because I just like "˜em.
Bewitched had many traditional Christmas episodes during its eight season run, but 1970's "Sisters at Heart" was controversial enough to require a special introduction by Elizabeth Montgomery at the behest of the show's sponsor, Oscar Mayer:
The plot that was making the network so jumpy was young Tabitha's desire to be sisters with her African-American friend, Lisa. In order to make them look alike, Tabby zaps black polka dots onto her flesh, and white ones on Lisa's. No doubt the episode would still be controversial today, thanks to Tabitha's brief appearance in blackface. The original story was submitted by a 10th grade English class at L.A.'s Thomas Jefferson High School.
2. Gilligan's Island
"Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk," the Christmas episode of Gilligan's Island, was primarily a clip show. The castaways are understandably miserable spending the holiday away from home, on a desert island where even a year-old fruitcake would be more appetizing than yet another coconut cream pie. They reminisce about their first days on the island via carefully selected scenes from the pilot—carefully selected because the characters that eventually became the Professor, Mary Ann and Ginger were played by different actors in that episode.
The gang's gripe session is interrupted by a visit from Santa Claus, who looks and sounds suspiciously like the Skipper. Santa reminds them that they've got a reason or two to be merry this Christmas—at least they're all alive and thriving. And, most importantly, they genuinely like one another and live together like a family. At the same moment Jolly St. Nick makes his exit stage right, the Skipper arrives stage left. Who was that bearded man?!
3. Green Acres
This episode provides a new twist on the "longing for an old-fashioned Christmas" trope. Oliver Wendell Douglas wants to celebrate the holiday as the American Farmer of yore—to go out with axe in hand and chop down his own tree, and to decorate it with popcorn from his own corn crib. Of course, nothing is ever that simple in Hooterville. First he finds out that there is a conservation law in effect that prohibits him from cutting down trees, even on his own property. Then he is unable to work up any outrage among his neighbors, who prefer the "modern" method of buying an artificial tree from Drucker's Store, complete with spruce spray squeezers, imitation sap oozers, strings of wax popcorn and fiberglas candy canes.
4. The Simpsons
Even though it was actually the eighth episode produced, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was the first full-length episode of the series to air. It was broadcast on December 17, 1989, and it certainly set the tone for the rest of the series. It's Christmas time, and Bart decides that a "Mother" tattoo would delight and surprise his mom. Marge catches him in the tattoo parlor at the "Moth" stage and has to blow the family's entire Christmas present budget on a laser removal procedure. Homer's expected Christmas bonus doesn't come through, so he takes a job as a department store Santa to earn extra money. When Bart climbs in his lap, he utters "I'm Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?" for the first time. In a last-ditch attempt at raising cash, Homer goes to the dog track and bets on a long shot named Santa's Little Helper. The sluggish greyhound lost the race, but won a new home with the Simpson family.
5. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Nothing starts those visions of sugarplums dancing like Lou Grant barking "Three French hens!" And how many chances do we get to see Mary Tyler Moore sporting a World War I German spear-head helmet? Sue Ann Nivens, The Happy Homemaker, is taping her Christmas show ("Holiday Yummies from Worldwide Tummies") in early November. A sudden snowstorm has stranded the WJM newsroom staff, so Sue Ann enlists them to flesh out her dinner table. The only problem is that Murray, Ted, Lou and even gentle angelic Mary have been sniping at each other all day in a series of petty arguments and no one is in a festive mood.
6. All in the Family
"The Draft Dodger" first aired in 1976, four years before President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to those men who'd fled to Canada to avoid conscription into the military during the Vietnam War. David Brewster, a draft-dodging pal of the Meathead, has been living in Canada but decides to risk a visit to the U.S. in order to spend the holidays with his old friend (since his own father refuses to see him). Meanwhile, Archie has invited his old friend Pinky Peterson (whose only son died in Vietnam) for Christmas dinner. Mike and Gloria struggle to keep David's fugitive status a secret from Archie, but once it's revealed, it results in a heated debate. Archie, a World War II veteran who served his country when called, argues that no one wants to go to war and get killed, but a true American obeys his government. Pinky, on the other hand, believes that if his son was still alive he'd welcome David at the dinner table. A poignant and thought-provoking episode that in many ways is still relevant today.
Loyal readers know the drill: now is the time to tell me which episodes I omitted, why my taste stinks, or what they love about the shows mentioned herein. Oy to the World and a Happy Festivus to all!