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Hate TV Christmas Specials? Try These


Now we'd like to tell you about some holiday-themed fare that you might want to watch - after you've listened to the news on NPR, of course. The little elves in TV land are offering up quite the trove this year. The Hallmark Channel has been especially busy. It will air dozens of holiday movies this season. And everybody from NBC to BuzzFeed has a holiday special. We're joined now by NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, who's watched a lot of it and even has some recommendations for people who say they hate holiday fare.

Hi, Eric.


MARTIN: And I take it that you might be one of those haters.


MARTIN: Would that be...

DEGGANS: Yeah, it might be.

MARTIN: ...Accurate? Yeah.

DEGGANS: Yeah, it might be.

MARTIN: What's wrong with them?

DEGGANS: Well, my main problem is that a lot of the traditional shows and movies are formulaic, and they're kind of boring. They're all about the sentimentality. And I know viewers will find comfort in familiarity and the sentimentality, but I find it a little suffocating.

You know, my mom loves the Hallmark Channel (laughter). And so when we're hanging out, I have to watch 24/7 Hallmark Channel movies. And my problem is that it's the same kind of people facing the same kind of romantic and family conflicts. You know how this story's going to end. I guess my idea of a really great Christmas special or movie is something that pokes fun at that stuff rather than fully embracing it.

MARTIN: OK. You sound like one of these people who puts truffles in their mac and cheese.

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But I'm going to keep moving on and just say...

DEGGANS: I'm not that bad (laughter).

MARTIN: We'll see. Did you find any movies to watch this season that you could stand?

DEGGANS: OK. This won't change your mind, but (laughter) I liked Netflix's "The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina: A Midwinter's Tale." Now, this special is basically a bridge between the first season of the show they aired this year and the second season of the show, which will air next year. And fans know that it's this sort of modernization of "Sabrina The Teenage Witch." And the holiday special sort of focuses on seeing the witches celebrate the solstice instead of Christmas. And they're facing down these sort of Christmas-themed bad guys - you know, spiritual bad guys. And there's even a connection to Sabrina's deceased mother, which I think is something that fans of the show who have been following the plotlines will really enjoy.

MARTIN: And you've also found a show that brings together commentary on the news with the holidays in a different way. What's that show?

DEGGANS: OK. So this is "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee's" holiday special called "Christmas On I.C.E." - like the government Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency.

MARTIN: Oh, so it's like...

DEGGANS: Yeah, you get it.

MARTIN: ...I-C-E - got it.

DEGGANS: I-C-E - yeah. OK. So (laughter) she says this special is going to be a, quote, "liberal Christmas variety spectacular" that's going to donate a portion of the proceeds to family response teams that are trying to help kids that have been separated from their parents at the border because of Trump's immigration policy. Now, the show airs on Wednesday. I haven't seen a screener of it, but Bee herself put out a video kind of explaining the show. Let's check it out.


SAMANTHA BEE: You know, Christmas is a time for families - even those families that we've separated. Our special will raise money to help bring immigrant families back together. And we'll have all the traditions you've come to expect - joy, the border wall. No one knows when we'll hit rock bottom.

DEGGANS: Anyway, I do like the idea of keeping the plight of less fortunate people in mind during the holidays. So this does kind of feel a little Christmassy in a way.

MARTIN: In a way, yeah.


MARTIN: OK. So you've told us about a few shows that reinvent the Christmas special - kind of rethink it. Is there a show out there that you were looking forward to that actually tried this but maybe fell a little short?

DEGGANS: Well, OK. Now, I love me some John Legend and some Chrissy Teigen - you know, John Legend, the wonderful singer and actor, and his wife, Chrissy Teigen. They're a great couple. But they did a Christmas special on NBC that was a little disappointing. The music was great, including this bit where they actually went caroling with stars like Meghan Trainor and Jane Lynch, and they surprised real people at their homes. But then they just tried to stitch it together with these skits that kind of fell short. They did one where Chrissy and John each make their own kind of mac and cheese, and they had a special guest try to decide which one was better. Here's a clip.


JOHN LEGEND: Who better to settle our mac and cheese dispute than comedian Neal Brennan?


NEAL BRENNAN: Thank you.

CHRISSY TEIGEN: That was weird.


BRENNAN: Guys, I'm vegan.


TEIGEN: Well, this is more important.


BRENNAN: So you guys want me to throw away my personal ethics for your little contest?

TEIGEN: Putting aside your personal ethics is what the holidays are all about.


DEGGANS: And bad comedy. So...


DEGGANS: That didn't work out so well. But I still love me some John and Chrissy. They just need to work a little harder on the scripting next time.

MARTIN: And some of us like the regular mac and cheese, so...

DEGGANS: Thank you very much.



MARTIN: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

Eric, thank you.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.