Christmas television has been going roughly since the day after Halloween (earlier in fact: Hallmark Channel premiered its Jane Austen update “Christmas at Pemberly Manor” four days before), and we approach the day itself with many of its most cherished films and specials having come and gone.
That does not mean you will be left wholly on your own to weather the holidays. TV will continue to perform its traditional duties as a balm to the lonely, a bond for the family, or an excuse not to have to talk to anyone. It’s Styrofoam peanuts for the psyche.
Let us begin at the beginning, as it were, with broadcast television, the good-old-fashioned kind. You take what you get there, but you don’t have to think hard.
ABC, corporate child of Disney, has repeats of its computer-animated “Prep & Landing” (2009) and “Prep & Landing 2: Naughty vs. Nice” (2011), already dragged out once this year, 8 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday; the subject is elves who ready homes for the arrival of St. Nick. “Beauty and the Beast,” the Disney feature, which has nothing to do with Christmas but may distract your children while you wrap and stuff, is on for Monday at 8 p.m.
“Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade” arrives Christmas morning at 9 to delay the unwrapping and de-stuffing. It features musical performances by Gwen Stefani, Andrea Bocelli (and son Matteo) and acts I had to look up to know who they were because I am nearly as old as Santa, including Brett Eldredge, Aloe Blacc, Maddie Poppe and Why Don’t We.
NBC has Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” on for Christmas Eve, 8 p.m. Monday; it’s a movie that lasts two hours and 10 minutes spread across three hours of prime time, so count the commercials and think of Mr. Potter. Christmas night sees the Chuck Jones-directed, Boris Karloff-narrated “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which is an animated classic (8 p.m. Tuesday), followed by the live-action “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” a Jim Carrey movie.
CBS, taking the holiday easy, has repeats of “God Friended Me” on for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, which I guess vaguely nods toward Christmas. Fox repeats the 2011 “Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas” (7 p.m. Sunday), of which I wrote at the time, “Christmas has been strapped on to ‘Ice Age’ like antlers on a dog”), followed by a repeat of its repeat of the first full episode of “The Simpsons,” the Christmas-themed “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (8 p.m.)
Local public television will carry the 59th annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration, featuring local musicians and dancers, on Christmas Eve, live from the Music Center on KOCE, otherwise known as PBS SoCal, from 3 to 6 p.m., with a replay on at 9 p.m., and a Christmas Day encore at noon.
KCET will broadcast the 55th annual student-and-faculty Wassail Concert at Chapman University (9 p.m. Monday), which is also where the Huell Howser archives are located, the power of Huell compels me to say. And on Christmas night at 9 p.m., PBS stations here, there and everywhere will air the “Call the Midwife Holiday Special,” in which four Chinese orphans join the nuns at Nonnatus House.
Basic cable’s Hallmark, which makes Christmas movies like there will never be another Christmas, has four more premieres left in the calendar year. “Jingle Around the Clock” (8 p.m. Saturday), “Christmas Made to Order (8 pm. Sunday) and “The Greatest Christmas Blessing” (8 p.m. Tuesday), a holiday movie spun from the channel’s Canadian Western “When Calls the Heart” (looking forward to its sixth season, in case you were occupied elsewhere). “A Midnight Kiss” (Dec. 29) rounds out the year in a New Year’s mood. Romantic love, familial love and the spirit of giving are the usual subjects, as if “It’s a Wonderful Life” were continually being stripped for parts. If you’ve ever bought or received a Hallmark card, you know what this is about.
One movie that has earned its place among the perennials, as opposed to those that will keep turning up year after year merely because they have “Christmas” or “Santa” in the title, is Bob Clark’s 1983 “A Christmas Story.” Its now-traditional 24-hour airing over at TBS (from 8 p.m.) and TNT (from 9 p.m.) begins Monday, Christmas Eve, notwithstanding some internet-upsetting fake news that it had been canceled due to the bullying scenes. Have some sense, people.
There are only a handful of actual holiday classic films. Whether “Die Hard” is among them, or is a Christmas movie at all, has been the subject of some Christmasological debate. But IFC has evidently settled that question in its favor, and has stretched its Christmas night stocking to bursting with “Die Hard,” “Die Hard With a Vengeance” and “Live Free or Die Hard,” for those for whom the unwrapping of presents does not constitute sufficient mayhem. Yippee ki-yay, ye merry gentlemen (and ladies).
Streaming services like Hulu, Amazon and what’s that other one … oh yes, Netflix, each are chockablock with Christmas content, original and acquired; unlike broadcast and cable television, with their real-time schedules (excluding the SVOD services many such networks networks now run), they are as bottomless as Santa’s bag. If much of what they offer is of middling quality and interest, they do offer much. Did you miss “A Legendary Christmas With John and Chrissy” when it aired on NBC back around Thanksgiving? It’s still living on Hulu.
Netflix has a much-advertised new original picture, “The Christmas Chronicles,” a save-Christmas movie starring Kurt Russell as an off-course Santa; its main points of interest are its production design and Lamorne Morris in a small role as a Chicago cop. Better is “Angela’s Christmas,” an animated short based on a children’s book by Frank McCourt (“Angela’s Ashes”), in which Angela, age 6, confiscates baby Jesus from the local church nativity because it’s freezing in there and he’s practically naked. And because it wants to be all things to all people, it is also producing Hallmark-style holiday movies, on a slightly bigger budget, to equally slight effect. Look them up and sort them out for yourself.
Beyond the streamers, there are YouTube, Vimeo and DailyMotion, which are technically streamers as well, but made of user-uploaded content and free to use. (YouTube also produces original content through the subscription YouTube Premium.) They operate as platforms for the distribution of content both legitimate and illegitimate, and though theft of intellectual property is of course nothing I wish to condone I am also happy that things otherwise lost to time and economy are available to see, until the lawyers take them down.
They are infinite attics crammed with old Christmas odds and ends – specials from Judy Garland, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, the Carpenters (1977, with Kukla and Ollie; 1978, with Gene Kelly, singing and dancing), Bob Hope and Julie Andrews in an offbeat British hour from 1973 heretofore unknown to me. Vimeo, which has an artistic bent, is full of interesting handmade Christmas cartoons and short films of more recent vintage.
The greatest gift the web has brought me this year is the 1965 revisionist fairy-tale musical “The Dangerous Christmas of Little Red Riding Hood,” currently posted on Daily Motion, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, who had written “Funny Girl” a couple of years before, featuring a 19-year-old Liza Minnelli as Red and Cyril Ritchard as the Wolf. (Ritchard played Captain Hook to Mary Martin’s Peter in the 1950s “Peter Pan,” a classic of classic television.) The wolf, telling his side of the story, is socially aspirational and longs for the society of others not his kind (“I’m through with being an outsider. … Just because I’m a miserable wolf don’t mean I ain’t refined”). The unruly wolf pack from which he wishes to distance himself is played, unpredictably, by the Animals – yes, the “House of the Rising Sun” rock-band Animals.
And then there is a little game I call Random Christmas Video Roulette in which you enter “Christmas” and any other word into a search engine, then refine by “video.” (Or search from within YouTube or Vimeo or Daily Motion and skip the refining.)
So, for example, “Christmas” plus “platypus” brings up the song “The Twelve Days of Aussie Christmas” (“On the first day of Christmas, my best mate gave to me a platypus up a gum tree”), some “Phineas and Ferb” content and two different ventriloquists with platypus dummies. (“Figures,” to use the preferred term.) “Christmas” plus “bowling” produces a video on how to make a bowling pin into a snowman (from Maymay Made It Crafts) and an old Mad TV sketch, “Michael Moore’s Bowling for Christmas,” in which Paul Vogt as Moore accosts a family as they pick out a Christmas tree: “That’s a pretty big tree … You know what’s also big? The profits made by logging corporations given cushy tax breaks by George Bush.”
And you can take that anywhere you like — Christmas plus pizza, Christmas plus Bigfoot, Christmas plus Hanukkah, clouds, pigs, sealing wax, whatever. The possibilities are as good as endless, and Christmas is almost here.
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd