Bad-ass Santas: A handful of actually pretty decent holiday specials
It can be hard to take Christmas seriously, in a pop culture sense at least. At this point, there are probably more parody holiday specials out there than there are sincere ones. Some (say, the classic Festivus episode of Seinfeld) have even taken on a real-world life of their own — not that people are doing the airing of grievances and feats of strength, necessarily, but it isn’t hard to find Festivus parties advertised wherever overly self-aware people want to put on ugly sweaters and get drunk on eggnog.
So how do you separate the parodic wheat from the pseudo-sentimental chaff? Damned if I know. But since the internet is nothing if not a collection of arbitrary lists of things that let people show off their pop culture knowledge, I figured I’d add to the Christmas flotsam with four of my favourite Christmas-ish cartoons from the last few years. Enjoy.
The Venture Bros: A Very Venture Christmas
One of the most encyclopedic pop culture parodies around, The Venture Bros has taken on everything from Star Wars to Disney Land to obscure David Bowie musical collaborations over the years, so you know its take on Christmas specials will be something special. “A Very Venture Christmas” introduced me to two of my favourite holiday characters. The first is Tiny Joseph, a super villain whose highly specialized power is really only useful when you need to sabotage a nativity set. The other is the traditional Germanic holiday demon, the Krampus.
What’s a Krampus? Well, back before Santa Claus got toned down and just started giving the naughty kids coal, he was accompanied by a fur-covered demon with a foot-long tongue who would flog the bad children and even steal the worst of them away. Yep, we’ve somehow gone from “bad kids get tormented by a demon on Christmas Eve” to “bad kids might not get as many presents as they want.”
Anyway, the Venture Bros find a magical book containing a spell to set the Krampus free, and assuming that its some sort of spin on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, read it aloud. Soon, the slobbering Christmas id shows up at the Venture soiree, and heartwarming lessons are learned by all.
Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever
Having already set a gold standard with its incredible Halloween special, the makers of Invader Zim must’ve known they’d have to pull out all the stops come Christmas time. “The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever” doesn’t quite live up to the living nightmare of its predecessor, but it comes close.
When incompetent alien invader Zim finds out about the much-beloved Santa Claus, he realizes that the fastest path to global domination is to impersonate the jolly old elf and use all that free-gift goodwill to make willing slaves of the human race. Instead of a simple Santa costume, though, he creates a nano-robot suit fed full of holiday knowledge — the perfect plan, until it starts to take over his brain, and eventually morphs into a giant abomination with candy cane tentacles and not-so-nice intentions.
Unfortunately, the only video I could find of this episode online is upside-down, so you’ll have to dig it up on your own.
Futurama: X-Mas Story
Like “The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever,” “X-Mas Story” is a cautionary tale about technology. Specifically, the message is “Don’t create a robotic Santa, because he will inevitably judge everyone to be naughty and terrorize the world come Christmas time.” Hopefully our scientists are paying attention.
The Santa Robot has showed up a couple of times since his original appearance, but his first time is still his best. Voiced by the inimitable John Goodman, he has just the right mix of holiday spirit and giddy, violent insanity to warm the heart of even the most Scrooge-like viewer. As the song says, “You better not breathe, you better not move, you’re better off dead, I’m telling you dude: Santa Claus is gunning you down.”
Clone High: Snowflake Day
This one isn’t technically a Christmas episode, as in the wonderful world of Clone High, the United Nations has banned all those exclusionary religious holidays in favour of the all-encompassing non-denominational Snowflake Day. What a holiday it is, though: traditional cabbage-patch dances, delicious lamb tacos and a gruff pirate named Snowflake Jake who delivers spices beyond your wildest dreams.
While most of the Clone High denizens embrace this new holiday — JFK’s Snowflake Day album is a festive essential — Joan of Arc just can’t get into the spirit of it. Thankfully, a homeless person who may or may not be Mandy Moore is there to help her find the spirit that she’s sure-as-shootin’ lost. Add in a secondary plot where Abe Lincoln and Gandhi invent a (coal-powered?) combination knife and fork in a surprisingly bloody get-rich-quick scheme, and you have maybe the best episode of this tragically short-lived series.