Holiday TV programming: From Kelly Clarkson to Robot Chicken

Kelly Clarkson will host the holiday special "Kelly Clarkson's Cautionary Christmas Music Tale."
Kelly Clarkson will host the holiday special “Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale.”
(John Shearer / Invision / Associated Press)

The holiday season, which is mostly to say the Christmas season, has already begun on television; indeed, if you measure the holiday by Hallmark Channel or Lifetime, it has been going on all month. And it’s not going to get any less cheery and joyful and guilt-ridden — such is the driving force of many holiday narratives, after all — in the days between now and the new year.

So make yourself an eggnog, the way you like it — for me, this means not making myself an eggnog — and settle down by this warm and crackling fire made of words, while I guide you, selectively, through a forest of holiday specials, not counting holly-decked, tinsel-strewn, special episodes of, like, every series on TV, from “The Mindy Project” (Fox, Tuesday) to the flesh-eating reality of “Monsters Inside Me” (Animal Planet, Dec. 18).

Thanksgiving used to be the start of Christmas, quasi-officially, with the arrival of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy’s Parade (Thanksgiving morning on NBC, by the way).


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The day itself is traditionally celebrated by the watching of television, especially if your relatives had a color TV and you didn’t and “Jason and the Argonauts” was on and you didn’t want to talk to anyone anyway. This year brings such holiday-friendly, family-binding events as “The National Dog Show” (NBC), now with the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, Rat Terrier and Chinook; HBO’s “Sport in America: Our Defining Stories”; and “Listening Is an Act of Love: A StoryCorps Special,” in which oral histories get animated. There will be “Punkin Chunkin” on the Science Channel, wherein pumpkin-hurling machines compete in a Delaware cornfield. And “Adventure Time” will play on Cartoon Network all day, so you’ll know where to find me.

In practice, however, Thanksgiving now falls about halfway through the holiday programming season, thanks mostly to the Hallmark and Lifetime channels, which go head to head in a race to see how many new Christmasy TV movies they can mount each year, beginning in early November. (Hallmark boasts 1,200 hours of holiday programming this year, which almost constitutes a cry for help.) The quality of these works ranges from the merely completed to the better-than-expected, but they are just what many people crave at this time of the rolling year.

There are literally too many to mention here (check or for titles and times), but certain themes recur: that small towns are better than the city, that running some quirky small business is better than being a corporate executive, and that you are more liable to find true love with that guy or girl you used to know in high school (back in your small town), who is probably running some quirky small business, than with that successful jerk you’re dating when the movie begins. It’s the Rom-Com Meaning of Christmas.

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Also in that ballpark are “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas” (Dec. 8 on Up), with Drew Lachey as a big-city rock star in, you know, a small town; “Holidaze” (ABC Family, Dec. 8), a what-if fantasy, with Jenny Garth dreaming of what would have happened if she’d stayed in her small town; and the undoubtedly bigger budget “Hallmark Hall of Fame: Christmas in Conway” (ABC, Sunday), with Andy Garcia building a backyard Ferris wheel for wife Mary-Louise Parker, who is unwell.


Music, of course, is very much part of the season, though perhaps not quite the thing it was when variety still was king and you might find David Bowie dropping in on Bing Crosby in a fake English manor for a chorus of “The Little Drummer Boy.” Nevertheless, this year brings specials headlined by Kelly Clarkson (the intriguingly titled “Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale,” NBC, Dec. 11), Michael Bublé (NBC, Dec. 18), Celine Dion (CBS, Dec. 18), Heart (AXS, Christmas Day) and Mary J. Blige (Thanksgiving Day-Dec. 1 on Revolt TV, which is for real).

Personally, I am excited for “Christmas With the Aquabats!” (the Hub, Dec. 21), featuring the ska-punk superheroes in a save-Christmas story, with Matt Walsh and Robert Smigel guesting. It’s worth mentioning as well the “Call the Midwife Holiday Special” (PBS, Dec. 29) set in 1958 and featuring an unexploded bomb, polio immunization and a royal visit. Those in a less sentimental frame of mind might prefer the Robot Chicken “Born Again Virgin Christmas Special” (Adult Swim, Dec. 16) or the “NTSF:SD:SUV” holiday edition, “Wreck the Malls” (Adult Swim, Dec. 12).

Finally, I alert you to the “I Love Lucy Christmas Special” (CBS, Dec. 20), which colorizes two episodes from 1956: “Christmas Episode,” basically a clip show, and the deathless “Lucy’s Italian Movie” (the one with the grapes) — and stitches them together. I don’t hold much stock in colorizing, the electronically rechanneled for stereo of black and white film, but when Lucy’s on TV, there’s nothing better on.

Also: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Dec. 14 and 24, NBC). Because I knew you’d ask.