American Horror Story: Asylum - “Unholy Night”
Ian McShane’s portrayal of “bad Santa” Lee is a shining beacon of awesomeness in a not-too-Christmasy show. While a young man, Lee was arrested for petty theft and sent to prison, where he was gang raped while a guard whistled Christmas carols. As one might imagine, this screwed up Lee pretty badly, and upon his release, he kills a corner Santa, steals his costume, and starts a Christmas rampage that leaves 18 people dead. He is locked up in Briarcliff Asylum and, after ripping out a guard’s throat during last year’s Christmas party, he is given solitary confinement. This year, Sister Mary Eunice is possessed by evil and decides to let Lee out of his chamber… and gives him a shiny new Santa suit.
Frasier - “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz”
On Christmas Eve, Frasier’s Jewish girlfriend, Faye, and her mother visit Frasier on their way to the airport. Mrs. Moskowitz doesn’t know that her daughter’s boyfriend is not Jewish, so Frasier agrees to pretend he is to maintain a peaceful vacation for Faye. I was raised in a Jewish home, so this episode rings especially true with me. It manages to hit every major Jewish stereotype without being condescending or mean-spirited. My favorite: when Frasier serves his guests wine, and his brother Niles suggests they might be expecting Jewish wine. He pours several spoonfuls of sugar in, and Frasier declares it dreadful. “Perfect!”
30 Rock - “Ludachristmas”
This episode stands out not necessarily because of the cheery Christmas aspects of Liz Lemon’s “perfect” family, but because of Jack Donaughy’s acerbic mother. Colleen arrives and is determined to prove that, if provoked, the Lemons will “tear at each other like transvestites at a wig sale.” Meanwhile, the rest of the staff prepares their annual Ludachristmas party, only to be lectured on the true meaning of Christmas by Kenneth.
Seinfeld - “The Strike”
In “The Strike,” we are introduced to Festivus, Frank Costanza’s answer to the crass consumerism of Christmas. Instead of a Christmas tree, they decorate with a plain aluminum pole (“I find tinsel distracting”); Festivus dinner opens with the Airing of Grievances (“I got a lot of problems with you people!”) and the holiday doesn’t conclude until they are done with the Feats of Strength (“Stop crying and fight your father!”).
The Simpsons - “The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”
In their decades on the planet, The Simpsons has had zillions of Christmas episodes. This one is a classic for a few reasons. This Christmas episode was technically a special, and the first full-length iteration of the cartoon that started as shorts during The Tracey Ullman Show. Because of the success of “The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” Fox picked up the show to series, and changed the landscape of television. In the episode, Homer finds he is short on cash to buy his family Christmas gifts, so he takes a job as a department store Santa. After taxes and costume rentals, he is left with virtually nothing, so he tries to double it at the dog track. He loses, but ends up with an even better Christmas gift than something store-bought: Santa’s Little Helper, the greyhound who Homer bet on, who is abandoned by his heartless owner.
Community - “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”
Abed is often considered “crazy” by his friends, just because he sees real life as a TV show. When the holidays come around, Abed is sad and imagines the world - and his friends - as a traditional claymation Christmas special. He convinces his friends to join him on his quest to fulfill his Christmas wish and discover the meaning of Christmas.
Futurama - “Xmas Story”
Fry is sad during his first Christmas in the future, so the gang introduces him to Xmas, the modern equivalent of Christmas. Xmas is a bit different than Christmas: palm trees are used as Christmas trees because pine trees are extinct, and Santa Claus is an evil murderous robot. In the year 2801, the Friendly Robot Company created a robot Santa that could automatically determine who is naughty and who is nice. Robo-Santa was programmed with far too high of standards and deems everyone naughty. If he catches you out after dark, he will “chop off your head and stuff your neck with toys from his sack of horrors.” The Planet Express crew works together to defeat robo-Santa, and gather around to sing the traditional holiday classic, “Santa Claus is Gunning You Down.”
South Park - “Mr. Hanky, the Christmas Poo”
It’s a Christmas show… about poop. What more do you need to know? Kyle, the only Jew in South Park, is made to participate in the school Christmas pageant. He suggests singing a song about Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo - pretty self-explanatory. Mr. Hankey appears, but only to those who believe in him. Kyle is only believer; everyone else just thinks he is carrying a poo in a box. He is institutionalized and Kyle finally convinces Mr. Hankey to reveal himself to the rest of the town. He does, and reminds everyone what the real spirit of Christmas is.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia - “A Very Sunny Christmas”
Sunny is consistently one of the most f*cked-up shows on television - and Christmas is no exception. The gang discovers that they all had messed-up Christmases as kids: Frank used to buy the presents that Dennis and Dee wanted, but didn’t share them with the kids; Mac finds out his perfect family Christmases involved breaking and entering and stealing; and Charlie learns that his mom was a Christmas prostitute. They set out to right the wrongs of childhood, with predictably bad results.