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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/19/2008

Friday List: TV's Most Awesome Holiday Episodes

By Jen Chaney

Guest Celebritologist Jen Chaney weighs in with a Friday list designed to get everyone in a festive mood ... to watch TV.

Earlier this week, I published my annual list of unconventional holiday movie and DVD fare, which sparked a lot of solid recommendations during this online discussion, as well as the usual round of "How dare you not include 'Love, Actually'!" outrage.

Ah, the "Love, Actually" outrage. Such a fine December tradition.

This being Friday and a day that Liz usually reserves for list-making, I decided to craft a complement to the unconventional movie/DVD list. So I bring you this rundown, in no particular order, of the 10 Most Awesome Holiday TV Episodes of the Past 20 Years.

I limited the time frame to 20 years just to keep this in the contemporary realm (and also so someone wouldn't yell at me for leaving out a pivotal Christmas episode of "Green Acres" or something). Most of these are on DVD (or available online), so feel free to view them back-to-back in a couch potato-fied expression of yuletide cheer. And, as always, feel free to quibble with my choices and remind us of other solid holiday episodes in the comments section.

"Moonlighting": "Twas the Episode Before Christmas"
Maddie and David argue. Ms. Dipesto acts all flaky. It's pretty much a typical episode, except for the end, when the entire cast and crew shatters the fourth wall and sings a lovely chorus of "The First Noel" as they drown in fake snowflakes:

"South Park": "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo"
There are so many excellent holiday episodes of the Cartman Show to choose from, but this one -- only the 10th episode of the series -- solidified Trey Parker and Matt Stone's reputation for taking viewers to shocking, hilarious places. If I had found a clip of this, I'm not even sure I could post it on the Washington Post Web site.

"Seinfeld: "The Pick"

How could I not choose season nine's "The Strike," otherwise known as the Festivus episode? Because "The Pick" -- from season four, in which Elaine bares a little too much on her Christmas card -- is just flat-out funnier.

"The Wonder Years": "Christmas"
Yes, it's a little sappy. But I have a major soft spot for this show and, especially, this episode, in which Kevin and Wayne beg Papa Arnold for a color TV and Kevin frets over what to give Winnie Cooper for Christmas. Come on, you know you tear up at the end when Kevin finally opens that mysterious present from the girl he loves.

"The O.C.": "The Best Chrismukkah Ever"
Seth Cohen embraces both Hannukkah and Christmas and creates a new holiday term that almost, but not quite, rivals Festivus: Chrismukkah. The word has remained in the lexicon ever since this episode aired in 2003. Well done, Adam Brody. Well done.

"Six Feet Under": "Pilot"
My favorite HBO drama -- yes, I love it even more than "The Sopranos" -- begins with a horrible car accident, a funeral and a lot of shouting. Would you expect anything less from the Fisher family?

"The West Wing": "In Excelsis Deo"
Toby's attempt to do right by a homeless war veteran marks one of the finest episodes from "The West Wing's" golden era. A perfect one for all you political types in need of a good, solid sob.

"The Office": "Christmas Party"
I love "A Benihana Christmas." But I had to go with this episode from season two because it marked the moment when the American version of Ricky Gervais' landmark series really found its own voice. You can't go wrong with a Yankee Swap, people:

"The Simpsons": "Grift of the Magi"
I love so many of "The Simpsons" holiday episodes, even the primitively animated first one about Santa's Little Helper. But this one -- featuring Funzo and a full-on crazy Gary Coleman -- might be my favorite. "What'choo talkin' 'bout, everyone."

"Arrested Development": "Afternoon Delight"
The "Living Classics" Christmas pageant episode from season one is fabulous. But this holiday gem from season two -- featuring Michael and Maeby's karaoke mishap, Gob behaving as the worst boss in Bluth Company history (which is saying something) and a huge miss for Tobias ("The Blue Man Group finally calls for Tobias with a life-changing opportunity. Unfortunately, he can't hear it, so his life stays the same.") -- is the show at its absurd, outrageous best. You can watch the whole episode here. Consider it my -- or rather, Hulu's -- holiday gift to you.

By Jen Chaney  | December 19, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
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Dear Jen Chaney,

Somehow you knew that it would be a slow day at work for me and posted the perfect distraction.

Thank you.


P.S. I cried a little bit at the West Wing clip. It happens.

Posted by: aesully | December 19, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I still love the X-Files season 6 episode "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas". Mulder and Scully in a haunted house on Christmas Eve being psychologically destroyed by psychoanalyzing ghosts played by Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin. This was one instance where the show did comedy well.

Posted by: jfphile | December 19, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Alright here goes:

The Doctor Who Christmas Special-Voyage of the Damned, Kylie Minogue and the Titanic, classic mix.

South Park-Red Sleigh Down, they brought back Kenny.

I can't top your West Wing pick, that was just too good of an episode.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 19, 2008 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Jen, thank you for taking us back to that moment at the dawn of time when Bruce Willis still had hair.

Happy holidays, all!

Posted by: northgs | December 19, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I have to second the love given to "Voyage of the Damned" -- any show that sends the Titanic hurtling towards Buckingham Palace on Christmas day is just bloody brilliant.

I'd also like to throw in "The Tick Vs. Multiple Santa" for consideration: "Arthur -- it's a Yule Tide!".

Posted by: CentrevilleMom | December 19, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Loved the House episode with the secret Santa.

I Love House!!! (I typically hate medical dramas d/t the fact they are totally unrealistic or it relates too close to my life, but love House!)

Posted by: hodie | December 19, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

I know we all have a love/hate relationship with Friends (and Jennifer Aniston), but one of my favorites happens to be The One with the Holiday Armadillo. Last year at work, they decided that we would have Holiday Armadillos instead of Secret Santas.

Posted by: eet7e | December 19, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I would have to nominate The X-Files Season 6 episode "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" episode as well. I loved watching Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin dissect Mulder and Scully's relationship, as nerds on the Internet had done for years. And I loved Ed Asner's line about Mulder, calling him a lonely man chasing "paramastabatory illusions that you believe give your life meaning and significance, which your pathetic social maladjustment makes impossible for you to find elsewhere."

Posted by: ALC3653 | December 19, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I gotta third the West Wing one. That was just beautiful. And Mrs. Lanningham's story of how she lost her boys in Vietnam at Christmas just put that extra sweet/sad touch on the story.

I don't know a lot of special Holiday episodes that spring to mind. But, I love almost all the Rankin:Bass Holiday specials.

Posted by: epjd | December 19, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I just can't believe no one mentioned "Edward Scissorhands" as a great movie with a Christmas scene during the chat the other day!

Posted by: kkn4 | December 19, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I have to say that the Christmas episode from the short lived show "Relativity" was one of the best Christmas shows ever. All of the women sitting around the copuch singing "Do you hear what I hear?"

I also loved the very first Christmas episode from "Thirtysomething" when Michael brings home the Christmas tree to find Hope and the baby lighting a menora. Very cool and great cinematography.

Posted by: tridentbulldog | December 19, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

is it just xmas scenes we are commenting on? because the thanksgiving episode from 'cheers' is one of the best, ever. gobble gobble!

Posted by: afarris | December 19, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Or the Mad About You episode where they were trying to sneak the turkey into the kitchen so nobody would know they got it from the deli downstairs. Can't remember if that was Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Posted by: dablues1 | December 19, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean - come for the creche with the t-rex, stay for the Sally Ann band conduction, and finish with the turkey on the head.

Posted by: kiosk | December 19, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Okay, I'm a Whedon kinda person, so "Amends" is up there for me. Not a fuzzy, happy episode, perhaps, but it's a Joss Whedon scripted episode, which made it a good one.

Are we not mentioning the recent Stephen Colbert's Christmas special? Or does it not qualify since it's more of a special than a Christmas episode? I do know it cracked my husband and I up.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | December 19, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

"Midnight of the Century" episode of "Millennium" -- Frank Black receives a Christmas card mailed to him from the past by his long-dead mother, leading to his reconciliation with his estranged father (played by Darren McGavin).

"'Twas the Night Before Bumpy" -- Mr. Bumpy and Squishy set out to steal Santa's bag, and discover the meaning of Christmas.

"The Tick Loves Santa" is the name of the animated "The Tick" episode.

Posted by: hlabadie | December 19, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

"A Pinky and The Brain Christmas" -- With its special Christmas version of the theme song, Brain's scheme to get a hypnotic Noodle Noggin doll in every household on the planet, and his discovery of Pinky's one request from Santa.

Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?
I think so, Brain, but apply North Pole to what?

Two episodes from "Futurama," "A Tale of Two Santas" and its sequel "Xmas Story," in which Fry, Bender and the Planet Express team deal with a killer Robot Santa Claus. Reportedly, the first episode so traumatized Fox executives that they withheld the second episode a year until the show had been moved to a later time-slot.

Posted by: hlabadie | December 19, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

I can't stand the Mr. Hanky South Park episode, but the one with the satanic woodland creatures made me laugh until I cried.

And for sheer sweetness, can't beat the first-season Gilmore Girls episode "Forgiveness and Stuff."

Posted by: newsahm | December 19, 2008 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Jen forgot the ORIGINAL South Park episode, "Jesus versus Santa Clause," the one that contains the famous line, "Dude, you can't say 'pig@#$ker' in front of Jesus!"

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 19, 2008 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Goes back a ways, but the Hill Street Blues Christmas episode, which ends with Belker late at night watching Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, is a great one.

Posted by: ostrlao | December 19, 2008 8:32 PM | Report abuse

So how come no one has mentioned the original WALTONS movie, THE HOMECOMING, which was basically the pilot episode for the show. That's one of my all-time favorite Christmas shows.

Posted by: ledoux67 | December 20, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget M*A*S*H!

Death Takes a Holiday is one of the finest episodes ever! Winchester's fury over his family tradition being disrespected; Hawkeye, Hot Lips, and BJ fighting to keep the soldier alive through the night; Winchester being taken down a peg or five; Mulcahy standing up to the surgeons about the importance of his work; and Klinger and Winchester at the very end.

"Merry Christmas, Max."
"Merry Christmas, Charles."

Posted by: wendystengel | December 20, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Two "Magnum, P.I." episodes from the early-mid 1980s -- "Thank Heaven for Little Girs, and Big Ones, Too," from the first season, when Magnum is hired by some schoolgirls to find their teacher, and "Operation: Silent Night" from the fourth season, in which Magnum, T.C., Rick, and Higgins are stranded on Kooholawe on Christmas Eve as the Navy prepares a gunnery bombardment of the island.

And who could forget that heart-warming episode of "Veronica Mars," "An Echolls Family Christmas," filled with adultery, a stalker, and a stabbing swirling around Aaron Echolls? With Lisa Rinna before she had all those collagen treatments.

Magnum's fourth season also had the best July 4th themed episode of any television series ever, "Home from the Sea."

Posted by: hlabadie | December 20, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Who can forget the episode of Designing Women when Suzanne shoots Anthony?

Posted by: jhershelredpuppy1 | December 21, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

The show may not have lasted long, but the one Christmas episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip featured a group of New Orleans jazz musicians performing an amazing version of "O Holy Night."

Posted by: alewis856 | December 22, 2008 8:39 PM | Report abuse

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