13 Best Off-Beat Christmas Episodes
Christmas isn't always spent sitting around the tree. These TV shows had other ideas...
Holly jolly it’s that time of year again. The windows are frosted, the trees lit, and the eggnog is strong. The best part about the holidays, aside from strong eggnog of course, is the television. All your favorite fall shows take a stab at the Christmas motif and all your favorite characters are clad in their most hideous sweaters. But for some of us the best episodes are the ones that are way out of the box, where reindeer, Santa, and gift giving are faint.
So here is a list of the best off-beat Christmas episodes comedy television has to offer…
The X-Files “How The Ghosts Stole Christmas”
A Christmas episode set inside of a haunted house? Only The X-Files could pull off a premise this bizarre. The idea came from series creator Chris Carter and executive producer Frank Spotnitz. Carter ultimately wrote and directed the episode which saw Mulder and Scully get locked inside a haunted mansion on Christmas Eve.
As the story goes, a murder-suicide supposedly took place inside the mansion in 1917 and the young couple has haunted the house every Christmas since. Like most X-Files, it was an ambiguous ending that didn’t solve much, but through the ghosts of Christmas-past, the episode examines both Mulder and Scully’s motives and relationship.
The ambitious bottle episode used only four actors (the series’ lowest total) and one set. Joining David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, the ghosts were played by comedy TV legends Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner. While it’s not Chris Carter’s best work, Tomlin and Asner make it a holiday trick-or-treat worth revisiting.
Still at the height of X-Files mania following the 1998 release of The X-Files feature film Fight The Future, the episode was a yuletide frightfest that capped off an ambitious run of early season six episodes.
Hey Arnold “Arnold’s Christmas”
Nickelodeon’s animated classic Hey Arnold got off to a hot start from moment one. It wasn’t until its beautiful and surprisingly emotional season 1 Christmas episode, however, that it was clear the show was something special.
In “Arnold’s Christmas” the already incredibly magnanimous and selfless Arnold (last name forever omitted) pulls off his most incredible act yet. For the boarding house’s Secret Santa gift exchange, Arnold is pared up with Vietnamese-American neighbor Mr. Hyunh. Arnold decides to get him the best Christmas gift ever. So like any normal elementary school child he… REUNITES MR. HYUNH WITH HIS LONG-LOST DAUGHTER.
Arnold pulling off this Christmas miracle is one of the more unexpected and emotional twists from a Nicktoon ever. It doesn’t hurt that the rest of the episode is filled with Christmas magic too. Even Helga Pataki gets in on the action, learning that the season isn’t just about flashy gifts, “it’s about showing people you really care about them.”
American Horror Story: Asylum “Unholy Night”
Looking for a nightmare before Christmas? Then look no further than American Horror Story: Asylum, for our money the series’ madcap highpoint, and its eighth episode “Unholy Night” which delivers the present you didn’t know you wanted this season: character actor extraordinaire Ian McShane as a malicious, murdering Saint Nick. In backstory sequences, it’s revealed that McShane’s character killed five families, 18 total people, in one night. He was as busy as the big man himself!
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McShane, who is so unhinged and vile yet capable of lighting up the screen like a Christmas tree, delivers most of the episode’s highlights, but Lily Rabe, who plays possessed nun Sister Mary Eunice, seems to be having a ball, manipulating an equally game James Cromwell and tormenting a distraught, back-against-the-wall Jessica Lange. Surely there are better episodes of Asylum, but sadly they don’t contain Ian McShane in a shabby red suit.
Arrested Development “Afternoon Delight”
It’s time for the annual Bluth Company Christmas party and this year George Michael decides to spend it with Egg…we mean Ann, disappointing his father. Michael instead takes Maeby to the party and the two find themselves in an awkward situation while singing karaoke to “Afternoon Delight” not realizing, until it’s a little too late, that the catchy tune is really very dirty. Whoops.
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It’s hard to convince anyone of how un-Christmas this episode is, other than to just explain what happens. Lindsey is at the party too trying to score a date. Meanwhile Baby Buster is earning awards from “Army” and Gob is presidential in his three-thousand-dollar suit. Lucille and George get a little “afternoon delight” of their own… in the form of some high-grade cannabis. Not to worry the episode comes full circle when Lindsey and George Michael make the same incestual mistake with some “Afternoon Delight” at a second Bluth Company Christmas party.
What says holiday cheer better than pot brownies, men in banana suits, sexual harassment, and incest? Bah humbug!
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia “A Very Sunny Christmas”
“Merry Christmas, Bitches!” Everyone’s Christmas is ruined in this holiday episode. Frank is in town to make sure Dennis and Dee have a terrible Christmas while Charlie and Mac, who love the holidays, find out some disturbing news that ruins their cheer. Charlie’s mom is a Christmas prostitute. And Mac’s parents were thieves. What else would you expect from the gang on Christmas?
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This is the only Christmas episode in the Sunny series probably because there’s really nowhere to go from here. In the sphere of holiday episodes “A Very Sunny Christmas” takes the cake for being the most holiday un-holiday episode. Allow me to clarify, imagine singing the tune to Holy Night—probably the most traditional Christmas song—but with the lyrics to “Red Solo Cup.”
Parks and Recreation “Christmas Scandal”
It’s Christmas time in Pawnee and Leslie gets herself accidentally involved in a political sex scandal. This episode involves a tree-lighting ceremony. Other than that it shows no sign of classic holiday tropes. It’s like doing the network a favor by including a holiday episode, but then bypassing any resemblance to any sort of holiday essence.
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Parks and Recreation does have other holiday episodes like “Citizen Knope” where the Parks crew tries to find Leslie the perfect gift. We chose this one, however, because of it shows little sign of holiday tropes. Other than a tree-lighting ceremony, the episode can basically take place anywhere in the season.
The Inbetweeners “Xmas Party”
Oh friend, there’s very little Christmas in this episode. Lots of classic Inbetweeners hoopla though. Don’t ask us why this is a Christmas episode. There is a Christmas prom but it looks like every other party.
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This episode is another one of those beloved holiday episodes that don’t depress people because really they have nothing to do with the holidays at all! Favorite moment: Will tries to make out with the biology teacher because it’s Christmas and it’s The Inbetweeners dammit!
The League “Kegel the Elf”
There’s a lot to celebrate this holiday season. Jenny and Kevin are both in the playoffs. Unfortunately Ellie is having a little trouble in school. She’s running three-way-trades during lunchtime and told a fellow classmate to “take a ride on her suck stick.” To try and solve the problem, Jenny and Kevin buy Ellie an Elf on the Shelf that will keep and eye on her and report to Santa.
The other holiday episode that didn’t make the list but is still great is “Krampus Carol,” which has so much humor, inappropriateness, and ridiculousness to love. Oh and also Jeff Goldblum. So why did I choose “Kegel the Elf?” It was simple really, Ellie named her elf Kegel. Merry Christmas and remember Shivakamini Somakandarkram!
Seinfeld “The Strike”
The start of the famous Festivus! Lot goes on in this episode. But the most important part is with a feat of strength the world is changed forever because Frank teaches us all about Festivus!
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This is a Christmas episode that introduces a brand new holiday greater than any Chrismukkah. Frank is a genius. Thank you Frank, in your honor we will make a donation to the Human Fund.
Louie “New Year’s Eve”
Talk about bumming people out for the holidays. “New Year’s Eve” starts out with Louie watching his daughters open their Christmas presents. And then it cuts to a flashback, and probably one of the most remembered moments, the doll scene. Louie is trying to hard to find the perfect gifts for Jane and Lily. Jane adores her little doll and we see Louie wrapping the doll when he notices that the eyes have fallen out and are rattling inside the doll’s skull. Louie does everything he can to fix the doll and ends up making it worse. We see him frantically taking apart the doll and putting it back together again. Needless to say there is lots of cussing and power tools.
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Then New Years comes and Louie is all alone. Louie is invited to his sister’s, played by Amy Poehler. On the way to the airport he runs into Liz, who he dated earlier in the season. She collapses on the bus and Louie rides with her in the ambulance to the hospital. She dies ten seconds before midnight. Are you in tears yet? This is not a holiday episode!
The Office “ A Benihana Christmas”
The Office is filled with so many amazing and ridiculous Christmas episodes it’s so hard to choose just one. But let’s go with “A Benihana Christmas” because well it’s jam-packed with hilarity and absurdity.
Carol breaks up with Michael and so the guys take him to Benihana where Michael and Andy meet two waitresses they decide to bring back to the office. Michael is unable to decipher which is his waitress so, in classic office tomfoolery, he decides to mark one of them.
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In the end Michael invites the waitress to Jamaica, the trip he was going to gift to Carol, but the waitress declines. No worries, we all know who goes on that trip instead…
OK so we couldn’t just leave it at that. HAD to make mentions of some of the other episodes. So here are some (very) quick highlights:
Dwight as BelsnickelMeredith on fireKevin on Michael’s lapAdventures of Jimmy HalpertTeapotPrincess Unicorn
South Park “Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo”
Obviously no television Christmas list is complete without this very disgusting episode of South Park. In case you haven’t guessed, it’s all about poo.
30 Rock “Ludachristmas”
The Lemons and Jack’s mother, Colleen, make it to 30 Rock to celebrate the holidays while the TGS crew gets ready for their annual Ludachristmas party.
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Kenneth tries to teach the crew about the true meaning of Christmas and it leads to them running out and trying to tear down the iconic Rockefeller tree. Although this is not our favorite 30 Rock installment it is a great holiday episode. It has family, friends, Ludacris, conservative CEO’s and their cold mothers.