Opinion

Many of us return to the well-loved holiday specials every year — your Rudolphs, your Charlie Browns — but the Christmas Episode is also tradition.

Many of us return to the well-loved holiday specials every year — your Rudolphs, your Charlie Browns — but the Christmas Episode is also tradition.

Most sitcoms do them; in the days before streaming, they aired in the weeks leading up to The Big Show.

Encountering a Christmas episode in reruns in July or during an unseasonal series binge watch is a bit like eating a candy cane in April, but it’s no accident that many holiday episodes end up being the classic, well-quoted ones. The holidays, with their pressures and relatives and parties, are loaded with comedic potential, sure, but they’re also a chance for a sitcom to show its heart.

Thanks to streaming, you can pretty much watch anything, anytime, so we’ve assembled a little advent calendar of seasonal episodes to get you into the spirit.

It’s a veritable mixtape of old and new sitcoms that you’ve probably seen before — though we cannot be held responsible for spoilers if you haven’t — all collected in a handy-dandy guide for bingeing with cookies and eggnog.

Bob’s Burgers: "Father of the Bob"

Season 5, Episode 6

Streaming on: Disney+

This animated sitcom about the burger-slinging Belcher family does all holiday episodes very, very well, so you can’t really go wrong with any of them. But "Father of the Bob" serves as an excellent origin story about Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) and his complicated relationship with his dad, Big Bob (Bill Hader), who also runs a diner. Nothing opens old familial wounds like the holidays, but this story has a truly touching resolution.

 

Community: "Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas"

Season 2, Episode 11

Streaming on: Netflix

In a loving nod to all of the classic stop-motion holiday specials that came before it, this episode is, you guessed it, stop-motion animation. The Greendale Community College gang goes on a magic Christmas journey to reconnect with the spirit of the season after the pop-culture-obsessed Abed (Danny Pudi) hallucinates (or does he?) that he and the rest of the study group are claymation characters — sorry, "silicon dolls with foam bodies over ball-and-socket armatures."

 

Fresh Off the Boat: "The Real Santa"

Season 2, Episode 10

Available for rent: AppleTV, YouTube and Google Play (trust us, it’s worth it)

Loosely inspired by Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name, this sitcom about a Chinese family in 1990s Orlando features one of the best modern TV moms, and that is inimitable Jessica Huang (Constance Wu) — a Tiger Mom with a heart of gold. In this episode, she decides that Santa has some room for improvement — "look at how long it took him to promote Rudolph; clearly he’s not good at spotting talent" — so she "fixes" him for her youngest son, Evan, telling him Santa is a scientist who went to Princeton and spends two hours every night talking to his mother. The real gift in this episode, however, is the invention of Lao Ban Santa.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: "Christmas Show"

Season 2, Episode 13

Streaming on: Crave

Will (Will Smith) and the Banks family head to a ski resort in Utah for a family reunion over Christmas, and things go awry when the "kids" — Will Smith was definitely 23 — answer the door to a stranger. Aunt Viv (Janet Hubert, the original)’s sisters are the MVPs of this heartwarming episode, which is as equally full of laugh-out-loud one-liners as it is ’90s neon sweaters. Fun fact: this is the first time we see the Carlton Dance.

 

Friends: "The One With the Girl From Poughkeepsie"

Season 4, Episode 10

Streaming on: Crave

Frankly, Friends traditionally does the Thanksgiving Episode better than the Christmas Episode, but there are a few holiday bangers in the mix, too. Christmas mostly hums in the background while Monica (Courteney Cox), a chef, is getting bullied in her new kitchen so she hires Joey (Matt LeBlanc) only to fire him, and Ross dates a girl from Poughkeepsie. So why did we include this one? Three words: Phoebe’s Christmas Song.

 

The Mindy Project: "Christmas"

Season 3, Episode 11

Steaming on: Prime Video

Dr. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling), our delightfully delusional boy-crazy anti-hero, thinks her boyfriend, the handsome but insufferable Dr. Danny Castellano (Chris Messina), is going to propose during the holidays — but the gift he ends up giving her is so much better than a ring. Kaling’s famed love of rom-coms shines through in this episode, which has a bit of everything: mistaken identity, New York at Christmastime, and, of course, Wreath Witherspoon.

<p>Fox</p><p>Dr. Mindy Lahiri (show creator and star Mindy Kaling) is a hopeless romantic.</p>

Fox

Dr. Mindy Lahiri (show creator and star Mindy Kaling) is a hopeless romantic.

 

The Office: "A Benihana Christmas"

Season 3, Episode 10

Streaming on: Netflix

In this super-sized episode, Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Angela (Angela Kinsey) plan duelling Dunder Mifflin office Christmas parties, while Michael Scott (Steve Carell) nurses a breakup by playing first 30 seconds of James Blunt’s Goodbye My Lover over and over again and taking the men of the office to a very messy lunch at Benihana. Come for the awkward office party politics, stay for the Pam and Jim (John Krasinski) sweetness.

 

Schitt’s Creek: "Merry Christmas, Johnny Rose"

Season 4, Episode 13

Streaming on: Netflix

Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), patriarch of the down-on-its-luck Rose family, wants to have a Christmas party just like the ones he used to know — as in, when he was rich and was not living in a motel in Schitt’s Creek — but it isn’t coming together as he thought. As its title suggests, this charmer of an episode, written by Daniel Levy (who plays Johnny’s son, David Rose), is a delightful wink at Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown and features a stellar CanCon cameo.

 

Seinfeld: "The Strike"

Season 9, Episode 10

Streaming on: Netflix

The episode that gave us Festivus is such a classic you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s from an earlier season. As a response to the commercialization of Christmas, Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller, in a series-best performance), father of George Costanza (Jason Alexander), created his own alternative holiday, which famously includes such traditions as the Festivus pole and "the airing of grievances." Fun fact: Festivus was originally created by author Daniel O’Keefe, and this episode was co-written by his son, TV writer Dan O’Keefe.

 

The Simpsons: "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire"

Season 1, Episode 1

Streaming on: Disney+

On Dec. 17, 1989, Matt Groening’s groundbreaking animated sitcom premièred with a Christmas special. It’s a canny choice, actually: the holidays are a perfect backdrop for a crash introduction to the dynamics of the Simpson family, as well as those of many of Springfield’s denizens in a stunningly economical run time. When Homer doesn’t get his Christmas bonus, and Marge must spend the savings she’s squirrelled away on a tattoo removal for Bart, Homer takes his paltry earnings from a Santa side-hustle to the dog track, and bets everything on a certain greyhound with a seasonal name.

 

Ted Lasso: "Carol of the Bells"

Season 2, Episode 4

Streaming on: Apple TV+

It’s a risk, perhaps, for a streaming show — even a feel-good show such as Ted Lasso — to do a full-on Christmas episode in the middle of August. But the risk paid off: "Carol of the Bells" is an instant classic.

The show is about Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), a fish-out-of-water American football coach who is now leading a UK football (the other kind) team, so it makes sense that holiday episode would deal in themes of service to others as a salve for loneliness, and the importance of the families we choose for ourselves. There’s even a cute Love Actually reference that won’t make you cringe.

jen.zoratti@winnipegfreepress.com

Twitter: @JenZoratti

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Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.