We Pinoys continue to love musicals, especially TV variety shows with elaborate musical numbers. Every holiday season, our TV networks pull out all the stops to produce a grand Christmas special. All their contract stars are billed to keep fans happy and swooning. My Christmas wish is for the networks to showcase their stars with improved audio and visual quality—the better to appreciate what the performers can do.
With American networks, when one speaks of TV variety shows, it’s the late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live that come to mind. They offer hip entertainment with A-list guest stars just chatting with the host and being themselves. Sometimes, however, a star is better seen acting out a role in a movie than being their unlikable selves on late night television. There’s an occasional musical number, usually by grungy rock bands we’ve never heard of. Once in a while we get to see a great star like Barbra Streisand perform a duet with the host, but it gets ruined when the punch lines get political.
This current crop makes me yearn for the days when television was a treasure trove of Christmas specials that were really about celebrating Christmas.
Bing Crosby’s Christmas specials were a staple during the holidays. Because of his all-time hit White Christmas, Crosby for a lot of people is as synonymous with Christmas as Santa Claus. The cast would always include his wife Kathryn Grant Crosby and his children, all talented performers. His final show was aired in 1977 and he never got to see it. He passed away shortly after taping the show. A must-see is his duet with David Bowie. The song: Little Drummer Boy. It’s an amazing performance.
Donny and Marie Osmond may be too saccharine or “so not cool” for today’s viewers. But you need to watch the entre Osmond gang do a jazzy rendition of Sly and the Family Stone’s Dance to the Music (Donny and Marie Christmas Show, 1978). The sibling and their parents play musical instruments, i.e. Donny on the keyboard, Marie on the xylophone, Jimmy on the clarinet, and their mom on the saxophone!
Check out the Osmond brothers’ ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ with Andy Williams
If that doesn’t win you over, check out the Osmond brothers as they sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas with Andy Williams (Donny and Marie Christmas Show, 1976). Their blending of voices is exquisite. I say the Osmonds is the most underrated family in the entertainment industry.
Some of these shows, including those of Bob Hope and Julie Andrews, are available on YouTube. Anyone with a taste for old fashioned Christmases should enjoy them. The viewing experience may come across as bittersweet. One may be left missing loved ones who are no longer with us and who would have enjoyed watching Bing Crosby sing Christmas carols with his children.
A newer Christmas special tried to follow the traditional format of the classic Christmas show. A Very Murray Christmas, starring Bill Murray, was aired in 2015 and is streaming on Netflix. Directed by Sofia Coppola, it actually has a plot, and it’s about Murray fearing that his Christmas act at The Carlyle Hotel’s Café Carlyle in New York City is about to bomb. A blizzard has left almost everyone in the city stranded. Thus Murray does his grumpy old man shtick to great effect as he meets his producers. He imagines a gloomy scenario about to befall his show.
The Café Carlyle showcasing Bill Murray is a big surprise, at least for me. Headliners have included Betty Buckley, Lea Salonga, and Stefanie Powers, among others. Murray has never struck me as a song and dance man. He does sing, but he’s no Seth MacFarlane.
Bill Murray has what it takes to be a Scrooge, or even Father Christmas himself
Yet Bill Murray seems to be the right star for a Christmas show—he has what it takes to be a Scrooge, and later become as jolly as Father Christmas himself. He did play Ebenezer in the modern-day retelling of A Christmas Carol in the 1988 comedy, Scrooged, so he’s on familiar ground with A Very Murray Christmas. In a hilarious scene, he gets the show-within the-show rolling onstage, only to face an empty room with chairs occupied by name cards, indicating the A-list celebrities who should have been sitting there. Names include those of Paul McCartney, George Clooney, and Pope Francis!
As Murray suffers in misery, he learns that others in the hotel are also having their own crisis. The kitchen’s refrigerators have conked out and the food and a wedding cake are about to spoil or melt. Guests of the bride and groom couldn’t make it, so there isn’t going to be a wedding. It’s all up to Murray to save Christmas Eve for everyone and keep the holiday spirits up.
It’s wonderful to see a current star get into the Christmas spirit without being too smug. The Hollywood insider jokes are plenty, and the joke is always on Murray’s career. The script doesn’t try to be too sentimental and is not too irreverent.
And what’s not to like about his supporting cast? He has Paul Shaffer as his accompanist (he was David Letterman’s sidekick). Murray sings along with Miley Cyrus, while Amy Poehler and Julie White are on hand as his producers who give the star the old “the show must go on” routine. Chris Rock also makes a brief appearance, but they shouldn’t have made him sing.
Viewers who might find this corny are probably too cynical to celebrate Christmas. I’ll happily take Bill Murray’s Christmas present even if it’s not a masterpiece. After all, it’s the thought that counts.