TV Review | A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!

Parodies of Christmas specials are hard to pull off.  Christmas sentiment tends to erode edgy comedy.  Take Dave Foley’s The True Meaning of Christmas Specials from a few years ago – Foley apes Bing Crosby-style specials too much for the show to be funny.

Then again, Robert Smigel constantly hits bullseyes with Christmas-themed Saturday Night Live “TV Funhouse” segments.  “Christmas for the Jews,” “The Narrator That Ruined Christmas” and a couple of cartoons referencing Peanuts are holiday classics.  The “Christmas Day” episode of TV Funhouse, where the Anipals snort Christmas cheer, is almost sublime.  It is possible to create edgy comedy while respecting the holiday season’s right to exist.

Sadly, Stephen Colbert’s more a Foley than a Smigel with A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! (The Comedy Network: December 13/15, 10 ET/PT; December 24, 6/11 PM ET/PT; December 25, 8 AM ET/PT)  Parts of A Colbert Christmas are funny enough – his opening spiel, where he mispronounces “broadcasting” and adds to the glut of festive jingles – sets the tone for fun to come.

The main weakness of the special is adherence to the Crosby/Perry Como variety-show conceit.  For instance, there’s a running joke about reindeer and mice being goats with funny headgear, not that TV viewers will notice.  Another running joke has Colbert and guest stars under the mistletoe, prompting the phrase “well, this is awkward” from Colbert.  Making fun of comedy clichés doesn’t make them any better.

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! is also scattershot in its musical numbers.  Willie Nelson’s paean to weed isn’t funny despite Colbert’s best choral efforts.  John Legend’s ode to nutmeg/excuse for sexual double entendres is.  Toby Keith’s middle finger to political correctness could have been better.  Feist is just there to be Feist.

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! is a quite enjoyable Christmas special, even if it isn’t vintage Colbert.  The Jon Stewart and Elvis Costello appearances are quite good, and Colbert is making a concerted effort to entertain.  It’s too bad that the special features on A Colbert Christmas‘ DVD release sound funnier than anything in this special, but even weak Colbert has some merit.

If A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! airs every year, it’ll be a welcome sight.  After all, much worse specials have been given yearly airings.

Cameron Archer

Owner/Writer at Gloryosky
Cameron Archer runs this site, and is a freelance arts writer. He has contributed to Canadian Screenwriter since 2011. He is a CMG Freelance member.
Cameron Archer