Who would have guessed that the entry in NBC’s comedy lineup that has put shards of glass in an old man’s eye and married a berry-addled guy off to a raccoon and used crotch-focused heat-vision cameras to catch cheaters would be the one that actually gets Christmas?
What did we learn on The Office this week? Angela is sleeping with Dwight (which the viewers knew) and you can’t check a drunk into rehab against her will. Given that I was in fact questioning the teachings of the Mormon Church (and every other major world religion) not after having a drink but while missing this Thursday lineup to see a surprisingly limp Christmas performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Princess Unicorn’s horn piercing the sky restored my faith in funny but did little to restore my faith in Christmas. What did we learn on 30 Rock? Lonely white ladies and traumatized executives will ruin Christmas every time (although they can try to make up for it by singing a boozy rendition of “The Christmas Song”). A Tracy Jordan reference to Basquiat will crack me up every time, but Jack deciding not to murder his mother isn’t exactly “The Gift of the Magi”. Both shows were funny, and 30 Rock even had as sentimental an ending as they ever will, but the cynicism I so appreciate the rest of the year clashes slightly with the season.
It was My Name Is Earl that really got into the Christmas spirit, even if they lit exactly as many drunks on fire as The Office did. They’ve had brilliant Christmas episodes (mostly focusing on reuniting feuding families before), but “Orphan Earl”‘s message that being generous to people who have hurt you is liberating cuts right to the heart of the season. The morality police often draw a bright line between “naughty” and “nice” TV by excoriating anything that addresses sex or incorporates swearing but giving a pass to empty sitcom garbage that tarnishes souls and makes people stupider just by shooting low. My Name Is Earl, which had a sex-for-money transaction as part of a scam last night, blows up that kind of simple-minded categorizing by keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long (or at least from September through May).