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Television: Christmas TV

I don’t know about you, but around this time of year I get into a panic. As the mother of a very astute eight-year-old, I try, every year to make sure she isn’t scarred for the rest of her life because she happened to miss out on those annual Christmas shows. You know, the ones everybody has to have seen to be validated as a human being? If you’ve never seen them, have you somehow missed out on the true spirit of Christmas?

Well, by the time you read this most of the Christmas shows will have already passed. If you’re like me, you maybe caught one of the Frosty cartoons but have missed Rudolph (psst, it airs again on Thursday, December 21, 8:00 p.m., CBS). You’ve probably missed The Grinch (airs again December 24, 7:30 p.m., TBS) and how will you ever remember to tape the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life? (Saturday, December 16, 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, December 24, 8:00 p.m., NBC). Everyone also seems to swear by The Christmas Story (on several times between now and then – really, just turn the TV on and you’re bound to find it).

Christmas and television go together, well, kind of like Christmas and money. Hand-in-hand, if you really want to play it that way. Go away and dig the Christmas spirit and you might find that a whole world exists without TV or money, one of giving and kindness and the true spirit of the season. Nah, who are we kidding? It’s about spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need, all so that your kids can watch someone else enjoy the true spirit of Christmas on television.

You see how easy it is to get cynical around this time of year? I wasn’t always the monster you’re reading now. I was made that way by the methodical practice of dreading Christmas every year like I dread -oh, I don’t know, that yearly gyno check-up or a deep cleaning at the dentist.

Every once in a while, though, that little pajama-footed girl creeps up into my bitter old soul and gets the feeling that maybe, just maybe, there is something worth believing in this time of year. And if there isn’t, there sure is a lot of good television. One of the better Christmas movies to come along is The Year Without a Santa Claus that aired last week on NBC. Yeah, I almost forgot to TIVO it, in case you’re wondering. But by some miracle (a Christmas miracle?) I managed to turn the TV on at exactly the right time and there it was.

This isn’t the original, mind you, with Mickey Rooney (1974) as Santa Claus who decides to give up on Christmas because it has just become too commercial. This is an update, directed by Ron Underwood, scripted by Tom Martin and Larry Wilson and starring the delightful John Goodman as Santa. Tell you what, if I had known as a kid that John Goodman would turn out to be Santa, you bet I would have believed in him.

The Year Without a Santa Claus is funny, smartly written, and unexpectedly moving in that special way only Christmas movies can be. It’s about Santa learning how to love the spirit of Christmas again after getting simply burnt out on it all. Goodman is pitch perfect as Santa, and it’s nice to see Delta Burke back on TV as Mrs. Claus.

Many films have come along and tried to be automatically included in that Christmas movie lineup but few have actually been good enough to cram their way in. The worst of these is Ron Howard’s live action version of The Grinch. It is almost impossible to watch that film, so badly did Howard and Co. mutilate the very memory of Dr. Seuss. I was worried that The Year Without a Santa Claus would be as bad – but thankfully, it’s good enough to warrant an annual viewing.

NBC is said to be showing The Year Without a Santa Claus late in December, around the 22nd. Be sure to check local listings. I plan to sit my eight-year-old in front of it right after the lecture about how Christmas is supposed to be about more than American Girl dolls, Nancy Drew video games, Ipods and cell phones. Cell phones?! She’s only eight!

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