It’s that time of year again for Christmas specials. And now more than ever, there’s a thirst for something new. Holiday classics such as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Rankin-Bass specials are all decades old at this point and beginning to show their age. While parents may love them, can you blame kids for wanting a classic of their own?
Friday at 8 p.m., NBC is definitely giving it the old holiday try with its one-hour animated special “How Murray Saved Christmas.” It’s got all the elements of greatness, including a script by “Simpsons” writer and “The Critic” co-creator Mike Reiss, based on his children’s books, songs by Reiss and “Family Guy” composer Walter Murphy and a voice cast that includes Jerry Stiller, Jason Alexander, Dennis Haysbert, Kevin Michael Richardson, Tom Kenny, Billy West, John Ratzenberger, Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille. The biggest fans, though, may be the grandparents.
The story is set in Stinky Cigars, a remote little town that uses its unfortunate name to scare off tourists who might discover its biggest secret: it’s the home of every holiday character ever. Santa Claus lives here, as does Baby New Year, the Easter Bunny, Christopher Columbus, Mardi Gras king and others. It’s sort of like if all those trees from the opening of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” just got together into a single ZIP code.
There are also a few other residents in the town, such an enterprising little elf named Edison and Murray Weiner, the middle-aged owner of the local diner who, with his love of hot pastrami and meat knish, shouldn’t surprise anyone with his lack of knowledge about the finer details of Christmas.
But when Santa becomes incapacitated, it’s left up to none other than Murray to don the red suit and deliver toys to boys and girls around the globe.
Strangely, despite Murray’s obvious Jewish-ness, there’s not one mention made of Hanukkah in this holiday town. Instead, we learn that Murray is the symbol of an entirely different holiday, a made-up one at that. Forget the so-called war on Christmas, in this fantasy-land, there’s Christmas or there’s nothing, apparently.
Unfortunately, despite chuckles here and there, the special’s sensibility will probably hold more appeal for viewers closer to Murray’s age than the boys and girls looking for something to watch and re-watch. For every clever gag, like the Bing Crosby-inspired search engine “Bingle,” there’s a tired notion, such as a neurotic groundhog that sounds like Woody Allen or references to Richard Nixon.
The entire special, dialogue and narration, is told in rhyming couplets, in the style of “The Night Before Christmas,” which is soothing one minute and irritating the next. Though the frequent songs are fun.
It’s the kind of special that harried parents may want to turn on for their own tired parents to help babysit the kids. They’ll enjoy the extended tribute to milkmen.
Who says the holidays have to be all about the little ones?
Follow me on Twitter: @patrickkevinday