The 10 most utterly depressing TV Christmas specials of all time
‘Tis the season to be… utterly despondent?
Earlier this week we listed our favourite sentimental, uplifting made-for-TV movies. Now it’s time to forget all that mushy stuff, and name and shame those misanthropic Scrooges who ruined Christmas with the most depressing seasonal programming we’ve ever encountered. What’s that in my Christmas pudding? A 5p coin? Oh no, it’s just the taste of salty, salty tears. The weather outside may be frightful, but staying inside with the doom and gloom of these TV specials is much, much worse….
Garfield: “A Garfield Christmas”
In 1987, we thought we were in for a treat when Jon, Garfield and Odie ventured out to the Arbuckle farm to spend Christmas with all the family. There we are enjoying a sweet song around the piano with Jon’s mum, dad and brother, when BOOM. Zoom out to Grandma, rocking in a chair by the window in complete solitude, until Garfield takes pity and jumps on her lap. Now with company, Grandma can reminisce about her dead husband.
“Since Grandpa passed on I’ve whiled away many a lonely hour, rockin’ and strokin’ my cats”, she confides in Garfield. “Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and I can still feel his strong arms around me”. Let’s not forget at this point that, to the humans in his universe, Garfield is an ordinary cat, without superior intelligence and coherency in the English language. So we’re basically watching an old widow talking out loud to a cat that’s not even hers about how desperately alone she is. Merry f***ing Christmas.
ALF: “ALF’s Special Christmas”
That same year, family sitcom ALF managed to outdo Garfield in the sadness stakes.
“What do you say to a little girl who’s not going to see another Christmas?” a doctor asks fake Santa Claus about Tiffany, a terminally ill child who lies dying in hospital on Christmas Eve, crying about the prospect of her limited days left alive.
I mean, “The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished”? Since when did lines like that belong in family shows in the first place? Let alone in their Christmas specials. The misery doesn’t stop there, though. Oh, no no no! Why, ALF then has to talk George – the man who dressed as Santa to cheer Tiffany up – out of JUMPING OFF A BRIDGE, so depressed is he over the recent loss of his wife. “Sleep in heavenly peace” indeed. It was a silent night for the canned laughter.
My So-Called Life: “So-Called Angels”
Ah yes, the one in 1994 where bisexual Rickie chooses a life on the freezing winter streets over the regular beatings he receives at home from his father. It then takes meeting the ghost of a homeless girl who ran away from home and later froze to death to convince Angela’s mum Patty to have some sympathy for her daughter’s best friend Rickie. What the hell? Wouldn’t seeing poor bashed up, blameless Rickie be enough to make you take him in? I guess not. It’s the ’90s, after all.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S: “The One With Phoebe’s Dad”
No episode about meeting long-lost parents is going to leave us with dry eyes, but we really weren’t expecting a downer like this one in 1995, where Phoebe gets psyched up about meeting her estranged father after tracking him down and driving to his house, only to find herself unable to go in and face him after all, worried that he might shut her off.
Also totally disheartening are the gifts that the friends exchange, including wiper blades and a bottle of new car smell, toilet seat covers, a bottle of cola, and a packet of ribbed condoms. Great. That’ll put a Christmas smile on your face.
The West Wing: “Noël”
The West Wing had a stubborn habit of bringing us less-than-cheerful Christmas episodes. 1999 saw the Season One special “In Excelsis Deo”, replete with a dead Korean War vet, a fatal hate crime against a homosexual youth, and the ongoing controversy surrounding Leo’s prescription drug abuse. 2000 topped it though, with its storyline about Josh and a pilot who deliberately crashed his plane into a mountain.
Somehow telepathically bound by sharing a birthday, Josh is haunted by the pilot and begins having panic attacks induced by the sound of music – not ideal over the Christmas period. He spirals out of control, to the point of punching through a window and cutting his hand really badly. And the episode doesn’t exactly end on an uplifting note, either…
Mad Men: “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”
…and thank God for that, because if Christmases like this one rolled around more frequently we’d be pretty bummed out. Meanwhile, Don Draper cums many times a year. In this episode from 2010, a drunken Draper is back on philandering form, getting it on with both his neighbour Phoebe, and his secretary Allison after the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Christmas party. We’re left feeling especially icky by the encounter with the secretary, as a cruel Don carries on with business as usual the next day in the office, while slipping Allison a wad of another kind – two fifty dollar notes – in a Christmas card. It feels like some kind of cold payment for the regrettable night before, and we’re not very merry about it.
Doctor Who: “The Snowmen”
Back in 2012, Stephen Moffat and co. delivered us a metaphorical lump of coal on Christmas Day when they brought Clara back to life (after we’d seen her killed in “Asylum of the Daleks”), only to kill her off again by dragging her off a cloud and into the frosty arms of death. Why would they do such a thing to us?!
“The only force on earth that could drown the snow: a whole family crying on Christmas Eve”, declares the Doctor of the evil snowflakes that pulled the curtains on his partner. Well that’s just great, guys. Thanks very much for the festive cheer. Luckily we knew it wouldn’t be the end for Clara just yet, but that knife still cut pretty deep.
Downton Abbey: “A Journey to the Highlands”
Unfortunately, the title of this 2012 Christmas special meant the highlands of heaven for one Matthew Crawley, who fatally crashed his car on the way back from meeting his first-born son at the hospital. Literally no one saw it coming. This also dooms Lady Mary to many years of searching for a new man, which is probably the most painful thing of all.
EastEnders: Christmas 2002
Of course, nothing does a better job of depressing the hell out of us at Christmas than the soaps. Especially mean-spirited was the ‘Enders bosses deciding to kill off fan favourite Jamie Mitchell. After an on-again-off-again relationship, Jamie finally got engaged to girlfriend Sonia Jackson, but their romance didn’t last long when Jamie was a hit by a car driven by Martin Fowler. Jamie died in hospital after suffering damage to his spleen, and we all got very emotional indeed.
Coronation Street: 50th Anniversary Special
There are too many horrible storylines to choose from, but Corrie‘s pre-Christmas 50th anniversary celebration was particularly eventful, with Molly informing Tyrone that her baby isn’t his, Charlotte attacking John with a hammer but then being killed by her own weapon, a gas explosion destroying much of the bridge while also burying various characters, and not to mention that tram careening off course and taking half the Street with it.
So there you have ’em; the most grim ‘Christmas celebrations’ in television history; so far… We’ve got a host of potentially upsetting seasonal programming coming up this year, what with the last ever episode of Downton Abbey, another Doctor Who special, Sherlock, and of course, those bloody soaps. What do those cold-hearted screenwriters have in store for us this year? Only time will tell.