George Lucas once famously said he’d like to take a hammer to every copy of the notorious STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (1978). When the festive season comes to the small screen, things can get disturbing. Some shows decide to grab Christmas by its baubles and face it head on. Others, like all good atheists, just pretend it doesn’t exist. But how do American genre shows do it? Is there Christmas in space? Can vampires singalong at a carol service? This December THN asks you to wrap up warm, grab a mince pie and a glass (or four) of brandy as it’s time for the best (and in some cases, only) US genre show Christmas episodes.
Who better to host a black Christmas than psychic ex-FBI agent Frank Black? In this Season Two offering we see Frank alone on Christmas Eve, estranged from his wife and caught in an ever-lasting Dantesque loop of buying the wrong present for his daughter. Mocked by shop assistants, not given a seat at his daughter’s nativity, it all looks a bit like harsh times. But the spirit of Christmas past visits Frank when his daughter draws an angel, helped by her grandmother. That’s her dead grandmother by the way. ‘Something about this time of year makes me consider time,’ notes Peter, Frank’s shady contact in the Millennium group – and yep, this motif is well and truly stuck home harder than that last bit of ropey tinsel as we see spirits of people destined to die in the coming year wander hazily down the high street, and an ominous man mutter lines from Macbeth in Frank’s ear. It’s time for Frank to face his demons and find forgiveness from his troubled past. It’s time to go visit Dad. ‘Why didn’t we talk about this years ago?’ asks Frank. Good question. Probably because any Christmas episode worth its turkey stuffing requires some kind of reconciliation. And Frank even smiles. Well, just a little bit.
You know you’re in for a good episode of BUFFY when you get one of the ‘old times’ flashbacks: snippets of the former glory days of Angelus and Darla, Spike and Drusilla when they were bad and sexy, had dodgy Irish accents (I’m looking at you Angel) and clearly engaged in a bit of car-key on the table activity. Buffy is all, like totally mopey this year (the perils of having a dead, on-off boyfriend) so is facing up to a quiet Christmas. Angel’s having a hard time of it too; he’s seeing dead people – his previous victims specifically. And does he want a lot for Christmas: answers, forgiveness, redemption. But it turns out it’s not just Angel’s (newly re-installed) soul that’s giving him the guilt-trip. The ultimate evil, The First, is trying to push Angel over the edge into murder. We’ll meet The First again in Season 7, but here once Buffy manages to save Angel from his past we get one of the most iconic moments in BUFFY; heavy snow falls on a normally hot Californian Christmas. It hides the sun, allowing Buffy and Angel to take a stroll down the high-street in daylight for the first time ever. ‘Am I a thing worth saving? Am I a righteous man?’ asks Angel. Of course he is – soon he’ll go and make amends on his own spin-off TV show. It’s a miracle in Sunnyvale.
We should all know from EASTENDERS that Christmas is a time for dragging up painful events from the past. This festive themed episode of THE X-FILES (a two parter – EMILY finishes the story) centres on Scully and how she’s dealing with the after-effects of her abduction and sister’s murder (David Duchovony was busy doing promo for the big-screen flop PLAYING GOD). A ghostly phone call (possibly from beyond the grave) tells Scully to look after a child, Emily, whose mother has just killed herself. Scully soon becomes convinced that Emily is her dead sister’s child and gets completely involved in the case. There’s lots of obligatory wintery, slightly damp shots of detached houses and Scully looking expressionless, as per usual for THE X-FILES. Why does no one turn their lights on? Things always look better when you’re not sat in the dark, worrying about alien-human hybrids and your stolen ovaries. Soon, in a now familiar trope, Scully’s visited by a series of early memories – Christmas past if you will. These feature her dead sister, a crucifix (remember even though Scully’s the scientist who’s always raining on Mulder’s parade she’s also into God in a big way) and a dead bunny in a box. Just what you always wanted for Christmas.
Demon-hunting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester get a holiday surprise when they investigate some dodgy looking Christmas wreaths. Turns out the ancient Gods of Saturnalia are looking for a few tasty holiday snacks. It’s not all bad though as sacrifices mean nice weather, bumper crops and general all round WICKER MAN goodness for the rest of the community. The Martha Stewart and Bing Crosby of paganism have worked hard to assimilate into society. They bake cakes and play bridge on Tuesdays. It’s all jolly laughs as the brothers try to escape them. ‘This might pinch a bit dear,’ Mrs God says, cutting Dean’s arm with a big knife. The brothers tussle with their bonds, trying to fight back and not lose fingernails – wait! Fingernail prising is not festive. And the Gods’ basement looks like a missing scene from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. But of course the undercurrent here is it’s Dean’s last Christmas as he’s done a Robert Johnson. He wants the whole angel on the top of the tree shebang, but Sam’s not so sure. Obligatory flashbacks of Christmases past show festive scenes that would rival those of the Crachit family, but at least Tiny Tim’s dad always came home at the end of the day. ‘Those weren’t exactly Hallmark memories,’ Sam tells Dean, and there’s even less reason to celebrate now. Finally they reach a compromise. After all, nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ more than opening a selection of gifts (porn, chocolate, car oil) lovingly chosen from a petrol station.
After cancelling shore leave, Picard is in his ready room staring at his little models of all the previous Enterprises when he receives a ghostly visit from Q, dressed as the Spirit of Christmas Past. He’s whisked to Holodeck Three where…hum… actually sorry, wrong Patrick Stewart drama.
So there you have it. Rejoice one and all, for when (and if) Christmas comes to US genre showsyou can expect a tree, albeit one decorated with entrails and with an alien foetus in pride of place at the top. And while you’ll certainly have a guest or two, they’ll probably be ghosts – metaphorical as well as literal. But on the plus side at least they won’t drink all the booze.