Those weeks between mid-December and mid-January can hold lots of holiday joy, but they are a veritable wasteland of TV reruns (I know, I know…the dreaded r-word). We’ve got to wait until January 15 for most of our favorites to come back to the small screen with new material, but what about our TV rituals? I expect to settle in and watch my favorite sitcoms on Thursday nights; whatever am I to do? Well, thanks to the magic of Hulu, Netflix, and other video on demand services we can travel through past Christmases instantly when those reruns start to feel a little stale.
Ludachristmas (30 Rock Season 2)
There’s nothing like Christmas in New York and there’s nothing like a New York Christmas on 30 Rock. Travel back to Liz Lemon’s first Christmas-themed escapade (Season One’s was decidedly non-festive) which includes Tracy with a Lindsay Lohan style ankle bracelet to keep him from consuming Christmas spirits, a visit from Liz’s brother, who, thanks to a traumatic accident, is still stuck in 1985 and thinks he’s 17 when he’s actually 40, a plot by Jack’s mom to drive the “perfect” Lemon family insane and Kenneth’s attempt to teach the TGS staff by taking away their annual drunken Ludachristmas celebration and replacing it with bible study.
Find it on: Netflix, Amazon Downloads or iTunes ($1.99), Hulu Plus
Christmas Party (The Office Season 2)
This is what started it all; it’s the reason we wait all year for mid-December when we can see yet another office party gone awry. It’s the first ever The Office Christmas Party. Back when Michael was the craziest one in the building he turned Secret Santa into Nasty Christmas and that special brand of face-palm awkwardness was our reward. We get our first glimpse at just how crazy Jim was about Pam (aww) and Meredith gave Michael a very unwanted Christmas present.
Find it on: Netlfix, Amazon or iTunes ($1.99), Hulu Plus
Christmastime in South Park (South Park, various seasons)
It’s a smorgasbord of South Park Christmas “cheer.” The collection includes seven South Park Christmas specials including episodes that give us Santa double fisting machine guns, Kenny’s resurrection from Season 5, a murderous, yet cuddly cute Woodland Critter Christmas, and of course, adventures with Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo. (Hiiiiiiiie-dee-ho!)
Find it on: Netflix, Amazon Downloads (for a fee), South Park Studios
Afternoon Delight (Arrested Development, Season 2)
Ah, Arrested Development. If I could have one Christmas wish (okay, one TV related Christmas wish), I would wish for more Arrested Development. Since that’s not an option as far as I know (although those swirling AD movie rumors are always fun to believe), we must resort to a few classic episodes and, in this holiday season, there’s only one episode that captures that old-time holiday tradition: awkward encounters with your relatives. When George Michael ditches his dad and their Christmas tradition, Michael and Maeby spend the afternoon together and sing a duet that makes just about everyone feel like throwing up in their mouths a little bit.
Find it on: Netflix, Amazon or iTunes ($1.99), Hulu Plus
Undeck the Halls (Modern Family, Season 1)
It was our first Christmas with Modern Family, and it’s totally representative of the show’s dynamic; the Dunphy's are threatening to take Christmas away from the kids, Manny and Gloria test Jay’s patience with the culture clash of including their Colombian traditions in Christmas and Cam gets a mall Santa fired. Merry Christmas, right?
Find it on: Amazon or iTunes ($1.99), Hulu Plus
Comparative Religion (Community, Season 1)
Of course, it’s hard to top this year’s “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” episode, but in case you’ve already watched it 15 times and are looking for something more vintage, last year’s Christmas episode was pretty damn good too. We saw the potpourri of the study group’s religions reach a head, Jeff challenged a school bully and the whole thing ended with carols and friendship (but of course not without a massive bully smack-down in piles of fake snow). Try to remember that just because this year was AWESOME, it doesn’t refute previous season’s perfectly hilarious and lovely holiday episodes. Plus how can you not love 'Oh, Christmas Troy?'
Find it on: Amazon or iTunes ($1.99), Hulu Plus
MythBusters Christmas Special (Season 5, episode 1)
It’s been long enough that you’ve probably had time to forget which way these Christmas and New Year’s Eve themed myths busted on this classic episode. Take a look back and figure out if reindeer could really hold Santa’s sleigh, how to keep the needles from falling off your Christmas Tree and how much you’d have to yodel to start an avalanche in some wintry wonderland. Ahh, science.
Find it on: Amazon ($1.99)
Saturday Night Live (Season 24, Episode 9, Host Alec Baldwin)
Go back to that magical time when Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey teamed up on something other than 30 Rock (not to downplay the brilliance of their current alliance). Fey was head writer, Will Ferrell was still a cast member and the show produced a comedy classic in the NPR Delicious Dish segment that gave us Pete Schweddy’s Christmas balls. Mmm, balls.
Find it on: Netflix, Hulu Plus (Just the Schweddy clip)
A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas (Family Guy Volume 2)
Do you miss the old days of Family Guy? Back when it was really offensive? Take a trip down Quahog's memory lane and watch the episode that gave us Stewie taking an Exorcist-style picture with a mall Santa, KISS saving Christmas from pterodactyls, Brian burning down the Christmas tree (and the house) and Lois going Ho-ho-horrifically insane on all things filled with Christmas joy.
Find it on: Netflix, Amazon Downloads ($0.99), Hulu Plus
She of Little Faith (The Simpsons, Season 13)
After the commercialization of the church scandalizes Lisa, she turns to Buddhism. She then suffers through a holiday season without being able to join her family in Christmas celebration because she’s no longer a Christian. Richard Gere makes the most tolerable guest appearance he’s ever made and convinces Lisa that she doesn’t have to renounce her family’s holiday traditions to be Buddhist. Ahh, remember back when The Simpsons actually shared wonderful little nuggets of wisdom like that?
Find it on: Netflix (Hard Disc only)
The movie tagline sort of sums it up: "Four guys from the suburbs hit the road...and the road hits back." The four middle-aged friends who like to jump on their motorcylces and go riding around once a week are: Doug (Tim Allen) a dentist embarrassed by his job; Bobby (Martin Lawrence) a henpecked husband who wants to break away from being a plumber; Dudley (William H. Macy) a mild-mannered computer programmer and resident geek; and finally Woody (John Travolta) an entrepreneur with seemingly the most going for him. In actuality Woody is about to hit rock bottom but rather than be honest with his friends he convinces them all to hit the open road with him--to feel the wind in their hair so to speak. And as they go looking for adventure they soon find that they’ve embarked on a journey they will never forget. Uh-huh. Who would have thought these four actors would make a movie together? Casting Wild Hogs looked like the best part about making the movie as the producers probably sat around coming up with different variations (wonder who else they considered--Tom Hanks? Steve Carell?) Comedy veterans Allen and Lawrence have fun riffing on one another doing their shtick here and there while Travolta (the only real biker of the bunch) and Macy easily keep up with the antics. For the most part these guys click but I’m sure everyone did this purely for the money—and the Harleys. Ray Liotta gets to play the menacing villain once again as the leader of a motorcycle gang who has it out for our hapless quartet. Of course this time Liotta plays it for laughs and does a nice job with it. Even Marisa Tomei makes an appearance as a small town denizen who falls for Macy’s Dudley as the boys end up defending the town from Liotta and his thugs Magnificent Seven-style. You can see every plot point coming a mile away plus a few director Walt Becker probably didn’t even know were in there. But honestly from the guy who directed Van Wilder what did you expect? Becker is handy with a camera and totally knows where the film’s bread is buttered focusing all his energy and attention on his four stars. Unfortunately in doing so Wild Hogs mostly misses out on the poignancy of say a City Slickers even though it tries real hard to get us to connect with these middle-aged men trying to recapture youth--or whatever. But listen this isn’t supposed to change the world; Wild Hogs is just pure dumb fun about a group of guys wearing leather and riding hogs. Period.
She's a hip-hoppin' be-boppin' mean ol' nanny who whips a mean stew and your butt for not doing your homework—and now she's back! Alas we don't speak of the Mrs. Doubtfire sequel but rather that of Big Momma a.k.a. FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence). Agent Warner has cut ties with the FBI at the behest of Sherry (Nia Long)—who as you no doubt recall is the granddaughter of the real Big Momma—since she's pregnant with Malcolm's baby. But wouldn't you know that he gets sucked back in after a former colleague is killed. Posing as Big Momma he's hired as a nanny to a suburban family the deadbeat dad of which is involved in the murder and a crime plot. She does it all—cooks cleans dances and even runs down bad guys but it's a race against time to stop the potential national security crisis. That is a race against the film's (mercifully) short running time. Although Lawrence's resume includes some of the dregs of comedy it's hard to argue that he is truly blessed when it comes to physical comedy and comedic timing. He continues both trends here this time without the help of the breakthrough actors of the past two years Paul Giamatti and Terrence Howard who yes both starred in the first Big Momma's House. That means Lawrence's urban mania is truly on its own and absurd and juvenile as the film may be even film snobs can't hold back a few laughs at his Big Momma outlandishness. Longreturns for no more than a select few scenes and to provide a minor conflict in the story. The notable newcomer is CSI's Emily Procter as the sterile mother who hires Big Momma. She does a serviceable job as a suburban Petite Momma. Might she be the next Giamatti or Howard to bolt to bigger and better things in time for the next sequel? No.
Big Momma's House 2 is right up director John Whitesell's alley. He's the guy behind such misses—though not necessarily financially—as Malibu's Most Wanted and See Spot Run and he's right at home here. Whitesell doesn't hold back in (literally and figuratively) pulling the robe off Big Momma but he clearly knows that nothing is to interrupt Lawrence's antics not even the thin story line. Aside from that he knows quite well how to execute thinly veiled rip-offs of the aforementioned Mrs. Doubtfire as well as countless other hidden-motive comedies (i.e. Kindergarten Cop Houseguest et al). Because while the main guise is the Big Momma fat suit Whitesell parades the film about as a feel-good/family flick.
Now that word is out of Dr. Dolittle's ability to talk to animals his business is booming. Distraught pet owners ambush him outside his home and furry critters tap on his window during dinner all wanting some sort of advice. Joey the Raccoon has a special request: he has been sent by the God Beaver to solicit the doctor's help in saving their forest from developers. Dolittle reluctantly agrees to look for endangered species living in the forest so that the law can be invoked to protect it. He discovers Ava a lone Pacific Western Bear living in the soon-to-be-demolished forest and sets out to find her a mate. Enter Archie a performing circus bear. Dolittle convinces Archie that he would be happier living in the wild and to help the bear adjust to the wilderness the doc relocates his own city-dwelling family to the forest much to his teenage daughter Charisse's (Raven-Symoné) dismay. But the match between the two bears is not exactly made in heaven and when the plan backfires the animals organize and plot a worldwide strike.
Murphy seems lately to have traded in his adult-oriented comedy of the past (Beverly Hills Cop 48 Hours) for one that appeals to a younger audience (Dr. Dolittle Shrek). In Dr. Dolittle 2 Murphy is funny and comfortable enough in his role as the doc who can talk to creatures big and small but it is the animals that generate the biggest laughs. Smooth-talking Joey the Raccoon voiced by Michael Rapaport ( Men of Honor) positively steals the show with lines like "Mafia? We don't know anything about no Mafia do we boys?" The flighty voice of Lisa Kudrow who plays the endangered bear Ava is appropriate enough for the part but you can't help but wonder if it's Phoebe Buffay wrapped in a bear pelt. Norm Macdonald narrates the entire film as Lucky the Dog but the lines are surprisingly vacuous and Lucky spends most of his on-screen time peeing on things and making passes at wolves. A grown-up Raven-Simoné (The Cosby Show) returns to her role as Charisse Dolittle and is convincing enough as the brooding rebellious teenager fed up with animals clambering up her balcony and vying for her father's attention.
As with the acting the animals easily steal the show. The filmmakers use different methods to achieve realistic animal interaction including motion-control cameras that filmed the animals separately and later created a composite shot. Digital animation techniques animate some of the animal's mouths and facial features while others like Joey the Raccoon are completely animatronic and required several people to operate them during filming. These special effects must have burnt up most of the budget however because the outdoor sets with their moss-covered Styrofoam rocks look totally fabricated. The animals were amusing to watch and delivered good one-liners but they were mostly about defecating and bestial libido. Sadly not even the animal kingdom is able to transcend social stereotypes like Pepito the Mexican chameleon who gets excited at the mention of tacos or the French beret-clad monkey who is perpetually drunk. The film also portrays the life of a circus bear in a curiously positive light--unless they really do take bubble baths in swank accommodations--that clashes with the whole animal rights theme.