If the supposed war on Christmas is still being waged, you’d never know it from the television listings for the next few weeks. Christmas — which conservative critics have complained has been marginalized in our cross-cultural age — is everywhere this season, often right in the titles of specials and made-for-TV movies. And one of the first examples comes on that most libertine of cable outlets, HBO.
It’s “Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas,” a music-dotted fable in the tradition of “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street,” “Elmo Saves Christmas” and assorted other holiday offerings featuring the furry gang. The “Sesame Street” franchise moved to HBO early this year, and it shows in the casting of the new special: Guest stars include Zosia Mamet of the HBO series “Girls.” (Also turning up: Jim Gaffigan, unrecognizable in a Santa suit, and Audra McDonald.)
The show, pleasant and witty, contains obligatory references to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but the story is decidedly about Christmas — or, more correctly, about the dark time in Sesame Street’s past, when Christmas was not celebrated, decorations were not hung and Santa did not bother stopping.
That might sound as if it were some kind of metaphor for the very war-on-Christmas world those aforementioned critics have trumpeted, but really it’s just a bedtime story being told to Elmo by his father. The tale results in a flashback to a Dickensian-looking period when Sesame Street was known as “the unfriendliest street in town” and ancestors of all the current gang spent their days crabbing at one another. (Oscar the Grouch’s “great-great-grand-Grouch” was, we learn, named Oscar the Malcontent.) A forebear of Elmo’s is a new arrival on the street, and he sets about changing the prevailing mind-set, introducing concepts like generosity and good will.
Elmo and HBO are actually a bit slow to board the Christmas bandwagon; the Hallmark Channel began its annual “Countdown to Christmas” weeks ago. It has already debuted original movies that include “Every Christmas Has a Story,” “Christmas Cookies” and “My Christmas Dream,” while its companion channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, has introduced “Finding Father Christmas” and “Operation Christmas.” Still to come, to name just the most imminent Hallmark Channel films: “Christmas in Homestead,” “Christmas List,” “A Heavenly Christmas” and “Journey Back to Christmas.” These films are replayed on the networks throughout the month.
Lifetime is almost as fond of “Christmas” titles, as in “All I Want for Christmas” and “A Christmas Wedding Date” (Dec. 10). The UP TV programming stunt “We Get Christmas” — which, like Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas,” began a few weeks ago — includes the world-premiere movies “A Puppy for Christmas,” “Falling for Christmas,” “The Rooftop Christmas Tree” and “Girlfriends of Christmas Past” (Dec. 4). Lifetime replays their movies throughout the month as well.
As that last title suggests, somehow the Christmas story has been invaded by singles seeking to fill a romantic or other void in their lives. TV One’s monthlong “TV Winter Onederland” has “The Christmas Swap,” which the channel describes as the story of “a down-on-his-luck single father” who “questions his decision to give up his dreams to take care of his ailing mother.” On the same channel Dec. 10: “Merry Ex-Mas,” about a “mild-mannered single mother” who sets out to foil her ex-husband’s remarriage.
So is there still a war on Christmas? There certainly is in “SuperMansion: War on Christmas,” a hilarious special episode of Crackle’s animated “SuperMansion” show that is the polar opposite of the dignified story of the cobbler. The series is about an assortment of inept superheroes, and in the Christmas special, which begins streaming Dec. 8, they have to band together to save Christmas from a psychotic doll. The plot is too bizarre for further description; suffice it to say that if you like your holiday fare demented and fearless rather than subdued, this one’s for you.