This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by editor Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
As much of a crusty, cranky Scrooge as I am most other times of the year—my inner monologue is pretty much just screaming “bah humbug” in reaction to anything anyone tells me—I earnestly adore Christmas specials. I can’t explain it. The cornier, the better. I watch them all.
You know I watch the Dolly Parton and Kelly Clarkson ones. I’m a sucker for Boobs (as in Bublé, Michael). When Lady Gaga and the Muppets did that bizarre thing together, I canceled all my plans. My family will inherit thousands of dollars of debt when I die because of the amount of money I have spent attending Mariah Carey Christmas concerts. Jessica and Ashlee Simpson’s “Little Drummer Boy” duet is high art, and it will remain our greatest cultural artifact when the human race inevitably destroys itself and aliens discover the remains of our existence on Earth.
There is, however, a subset of seasonal entertainment to which I have a severe allergy: that exploding industry of mind-numbingly clichéd and, let’s face it, boring Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies. If you’re not casting Lindsay Lohan in one of these, then I’m not interested. Did you forget to hire Jennifer Coolidge to play thea fun aunt who says, “The gays just know how to do stuff”? Coal in your stocking. (And I’m not going to watch your film.)
What I love about celebrity-fronted holiday specials is that there’s an inherent goofiness to them. They’re so earnest and, in many cases, antiquated in their formats. But there’s something charming in being so embarrassingly unabashed about loving Christmas. That spirit is the antithesis to those Hallmark movies, which are such factory-made, conveyor-belt productions at this point that something about them feels almost cynical almost to the point of nefarious.
This is all to say that I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to these things, and, this year, I’d like to share my knowledge with you. My own Christmas gift. God bless us every one.
If you watched the 2020 Netflix film Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square, easily one of the most gonzo—yet uplifting?—holiday musicals I’ve ever seen (cranky Christine Baranski… Parton floating in on a cloud…), then I’m sure Dolly Parton’s Magic Mountain Christmas was already at the top of your watch list. You’ve also probably streamed it at least seven times on Peacock since its release.
Dolly Parton’s Magic Mountain Christmas is a TV movie musical about putting on a TV movie musical, taking place both at Dollywood and in 30 Rock, featuring the likes of Miley Cyrus, Jimmy Fallon, and Ana Gasteyer. Willie Nelson and Billy Ray Cyrus appear as ghosts (?). The legend herself sings a surprisingly titled song, “Go to Hell.” (She’s addressing the devil, of course.)
Dolly Parton presiding over a musical holiday special that makes not a lick of sense? That’s what Christmas means to me.
I was delighted that Matt Rogers, a comedian, actor, and podcast host, was given his own holiday special on Showtime—and that the resulting project is so unimpeachably him.
Matt Rogers: Have You Heard of Christmas? is now available to watch and stream. If you’re a “reader”—their word for listener—of the Las Culturistas podcast that he co-hosts with best friend (and Saturday Night Live star) Bowen Yang, you already know that; Rogers has plugged the special roughly every three minutes on the pod for the last month. (Not a dig! I respect the hustle, and it worked: I watched the special the weekend it premiered.)
The beauty of Las Culturistas is that Rogers and Yang feel like kindred spirits to you, because of how candid and freewheeling their conversations are. I do admit to there being a rift in my (imaginary, not-real-at-all) friendship when Rogers, after he bafflingly expressed his distaste for my beloved Real Housewives of Potomac star, Robyn Dixon, on a recent episode. But there was something invigorating about watching his special that made me, a gay man obsessed with Mariah Carey and Christmas, feel seen.
Have You Heard of Christmas? is that tricky blend of so smart in its satire of the form, and yet so ridiculously silly. Playing an exaggerated character, Rogers is a bit craven for attention and cocky. His series of songs spoof the treacly self-serious ballads that are common this time of year. The crowning achievement of the special is “Hottest Female Up in Whoville,” a song styled as if it were written by Carey to be performed by Christine Baranski’s character in The Grinch, Martha May Whovier. Lyrics include, “Ice pussy, I’m the Whoville thriller,” and, “I’m-a definitely fuck this Grinch.” It’s so dumb, but so brilliant.
But as much of a highlight of the season those specials have been, none compare to The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Show, which might be the most fun one I have ever watched. Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme are two of the most successful RuPaul’s Drag Race alums. Their holiday show has become an annual tradition since it began in 2018. In 2020, they filmed a movie version of their act, but they also tour a retooled show every year, which I got to watch live last weekend in New York.
They landed on a tone that was the perfect blend of heartfelt and crude, a peak example of drag humor at a time when we need that naughty catharsis or a raunchy laugh—but also can’t file away the reality of a LGBT community under attack in a world brimming with hate. It was orgasmically funny; I was pa-rump-a-pum-pumming all over myself with laughs. More, especially as Jinkx and DeLa addressed the crowd at the end, it felt meaningful.
December obviously has no shortage of these special episodes and events. Abbott Elementary, Ghosts, Bob’s Burgers, and Mythic Quest have all either already aired or are about to air standout examples. I plan to make last year’s Ted Lasso holiday outing (which premiered in August) regular seasonal viewing, especially when I need a good cry and have already watched the Emma Thompson/Joni Mitchell scene from Love Actually on YouTube too many times.
But what has seemed special to me about these, well, specials is their embrace of the silliness. There’s still a sense of delirium in the world right now, as we attempt to navigate endless dark news cycles and a litany of events that make us question our sense of reality. The whimsy, cheekiness, and, sometimes, glorious stupidity of holiday specials are a welcome change of pace.