Smugglivus

8 Very Special Episodes That Remind Me There’s Still Magic in the Holidays by Michi Trota

Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.

Merry Christmas! Today’s Smugglivus post is a Christmas-inspired entry, courtesy of the awesome Michi Trota, managing editor of Uncanny Magazine, poet, writer and first Filipina Hugo winner!

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8 Very Special Episodes That Remind Me There’s Still Magic in the Holidays

When I was a little kid, my mom would record the holiday specials for the TV shows we liked watching. My brother and I were those kids who insisted on being able to rewatch our favorites, and after several years, we’d built up a pretty impressive collection: Christmas Comes to Pac-Land, the Pound Puppies and Star Fairies specials that were aired at Christmas time, Cabbage Patch Kids First Christmas, all of the Rankin and Bass holiday specials (both cel animated and stop-motion). It’s a habit that’s followed me to adulthood – every December I have my list of reliable, go-to holiday special episodes of my favorite TV shows that I will watch repeatedly throughout the season. It’s still a comforting and comfortable ritual that allows me to believe in holiday magic, even just a little bit.

Unsurprisingly, most of these episodes tend to feature found-families of misfits and trouble-makers, a heist and/or mystery, ridiculous settings, snappy humor, and are unapologetically, enthusiastically nerdy.

Leverage, “The Ho, Ho, Ho Job”

Given the events of the past year, I’ve found a lot to appreciate about stories where powerful greedy and corrupt people are served a heaping dose of comeuppance. The “Ho, Ho, Ho Job” is everything that works best about Leverage heaped in a joyous romp of an episode–a series of elaborate cons, a wronged Santa, loads of witty banter and competence porn, and of course, references to Die Hard (yes Die Hard is a Christmas movie, don’t @ me). Wil Wheaton returns as the slimy hacker, Chaos, and because it’s a Christmas episode, even the team’s greedy mark gets a chance at redemption. But what gets me every time is seeing just how much of a family this team of misfits has become after three seasons, and how much joy they get from being together.

Community, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”

What I’ve loved about Community is the enthusiasm with which the show embraces weirdness. And a Christmas special where the cast is portrayed by claymation in a Willy Wonka-esque adventure–complete with musical numbers–to find the “true meaning of Christmas” because a friend is having an emotional break down is pretty weird as fuck. But it’s a surprisingly touching meditation on accepting change, learning to trust others, and allowing yourself to love new people. Also, everyone should get a Christmas pterodactyl.

Eureka, “Do You See What I See”

I feel like the writers of Eureka saw “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” decided it wasn’t weird enough, and came up with “Do You See What I See,” and I mean that as a compliment. In brief: our heroes must save Christmas before their town is destroyed by a reality-distorting wave caused by a superpowered children’s book that turns them into different styles of animation. Even Santa shows up to lend a hand. It’s utterly nonsensical with everything including the kitchen sink thrown in (see: giant snowman ninjas) and I love every minute of it.

Delightfully, poor Sheriff Carter’s put-upon Jeep (it’s a series-long gag that the Jeep is continually blown up/smashed/crashed/crunched) is finally given a voice.

The Librarians, “And Santa’s Midnight Run”

The best way I can summarize this episode is that Bruce Campbell plays Santa, who is kidnapped by evil-doers who want to steal his power for themselves, and hilarity ensues. The tone is similar to “The Ho, Ho, Ho Job” which isn’t surprising given both Leverage and The Librarians share a showrunner–again we have a found-family of extraordinarily talented misfits, a team leader who is Bah-Humbug! about Christmas, and nothing less than the true gift of Christmas on the line. The final act is utterly unapologetic in its sentimentality about Christmas, and how hope is a precious gift we can and should share with each other, which is why I love it. Also Santa (in one of his incarnations) starts a bar fight because it’s what someone wants for Christmas.

Justice League, “Comfort and Joy”

The DC Animated Universe (DCAU) has, for my money, set the bar for any following incarnations of the Justice League on screen, and “Comfort and Joy” somehow manages to convey just who the Justice League members are and why they are family with equal parts charm, humor, and heart into less than half an hour (if only the DC movies would take note but I digress). The episode follows three separate storylines: the Flash, whose quest to bring orphaned kids their favorite toy turns out to be harder than he expected; Hawkgirl and John Stewart the Green Lantern sharing their very different ideas of fun with each other; and Superman taking J’onn J’onzz home to Smallville for Christmas with the Kent family (Batman, unsurprisingly, is off-screen taking the Christmas shift at the watchtower).

Doctor Who, “The Husbands of River Song”

It took me a long while to warm up to Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor (no fault of Capaldi’s, and totally the fault of how he was written), so “The Husbands of River Song” gets dual credit for being what got me to finally fall in love with the Twelfth Doctor, while simultaneously (finally) giving my favorite character of the new series the happy ending she actually deserved. There’s an abundance of sharp, witty banter, a heist and hijinks, and a poignant honesty about how bittersweet River’s love for the Doctor really is and what it costs her. The moment where she realizes exactly who he is remains possibly my absolute favorite scene in the entirety of Doctor Who’s long history, and the Doctor’s final gift to River is, for me, the perfect Christmas moment.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, “Murder Under the Mistletoe”

A tragic family past, a snowstorm trapping everyone in a remote mountain mansion, a plucky lady detective with a fabulous wardrobe, and murder–what more could you want for Christmas? I think it took me less than a week to binge watch all three seasons of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, but if you’ve never seen the series, “Murder Under the Mistletoe” is a good snapshot of what to expect from the series. This isn’t a particularly humorous episode (again, there’s the whole murder thing), but the dialog is smart, the mystery is engaging, and of course there’s Phryne Fisher’s ever-electric chemistry with Detective Inspector Jack Robinson. Although after this episode I can never look at “The Twelve Days of Christmas” quite the same way again.

He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special

Yes, the writing is terrible and the plot makes no sense at all (although unsurprisingly, it’s all Orko’s fault). Yes, this Christmas special has one of the most blatantly obvious shoe-horned in attempts to talk about baby Jesus in a children’s show ever. Yes, the “Christmas in Eternia and Everywhere” song is an awful, tenacious asshole of an earworm that will burrow its way into you memory and never, ever leave. But somehow it’s all worth it for Skeletor being slowly infected by “the spirit of Christmas,” bemoaning how he wants to be evil and doing good makes him literally ill (seriously, he even saves a puppy). The fact that I haven’t watched this special sober in 10 years probably has something to do with it, but He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special manages to take me back to a time in my childhood where I believed, without hesitation, that Christmas really could make bad guys do good, even if only for a few moments. It also cemented the fact that Hordak was a far more terrifying villain than Skeletor because you didn’t see him wanting to be a good guy just because “it’s Christmas.”

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Han Solo and Chewbacca’s attempt to break through an Imperial blockade get back to Chewbacca’s homeworld in time for the Wookie celebration of Life Day is a heartwarming tale of good cheer, Wookie family traditions, and the importance of friendship–nope, can’t do it. Don’t watch the Star Wars Holiday Special, it’s a terrible idea and no one’s holiday season deserves that. Especially if you’ve already watched He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special.

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“Michi Trota is the Managing Editor of the Hugo Award-winning and World Fantasy Award finalist Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. She is a two-time Hugo Award winner, and the first Filipina to win a Hugo Award. Michi is an essayist who has been published in The Book Smugglers, The Establishment, Invisible: An Anthology of Representation in SF/F, and Uncanny. She’s spoken at C2E2, the Chicago Humanities Festival, and on NPR. Michi is a firespinner with the Raks Geek Fire+Bellydance troupe. She serves as president of the Chicago Nerd Social Club Board of Organizers and lives with her spouse and their two cats.”
Photo credit to Patricia Wilson.

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