10) Family Ties, "A Keaton Christmas Carol"
Questionable acting from Tina Yothers? Check. Raping a Charles Dickens literary classic so that it can be reworked for a 22-minute time slot? Yep. Lessons learned by characters and hugs given? You betcha. There's so much that is wrong with this overly saccharine episode of Family Ties that I can't help but love it. Nostalgia fucks with our heads. It makes us do irrational things like create webpages devoted to Silverhawks and troll eBay in the early morning hours hoping to find cheap Dynamite back issues. Yet it is so intoxicating that I find myself coming back every holiday season to watch Alex Keaton behave all Scroogelike before he is redeemed after visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Jennifer) and Future (Mallory). Since Alex had only two sisters and the writers clearly didn't give a shit about respecting source material, the Ghost of Christmas Present is nowhere to be found. So yeah, this episode is problematic to be sure. But you know the warm glow you get when you unbox your Christmas ornaments every year and old memories come flooding back? Same deal with this. Humbug it all you want, just remember that nostalgia is a very powerful thing. Sha-la-la-la.
9) 30 Rock, "Ludachristmas"
According to the Urban Dictionary, Ludachristmas is the "day before Christmas when you get crunk and rock out." Awesome, right? Not so much for Liz Lemon and colleagues in this episode of 30 Rock. While Jack's acerbic mother tries to prove that misery loves company by revealing the truth about Liz's suburban nightmare of family (complete with Andy Richter as her trauma-stricken brother), Kenneth attempts to get the rest of the TGS staff to forget about their planned evening of Ludachristmas debauchery and rediscover the true meaning of the holiday season. Before you can say "blerg," things get out of control and the episode's moral becomes evident: Schadenfreude is the greatest gift of all.
8) Newsradio, "Christmas"
If you don't want to be bummed out, I'd advise you to skip the above clip that features some Phil Hartman hilarity. Much as he was on Saturday Night Live, Hartman was the glue that held Newsradio together and seeing him in Christmas episodes stirs up the same kind of poignant sadness that hearing The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" does ever since the senseless death of Kirsty MacColl a decade ago. Anyways, the series did a number of great holiday episodes during its too-brief five series run, but this particular installment deserves special attention thanks to Dave Foley's slow-burn performance as the only sane person working in the asylum that is WNYX.
7) Curb Your Enthusiasm, "Mary, Joseph and Larry"
On Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David is a lovable dick whose misguided intentions and an adherence to a nonsensical code of living constantly get him in hot water. This holiday episode marks a rare occurrence in the series -- you actually relate to and feel bad for Larry. Wanting nothing more than to get through the season and have an errant pubic hair removed from his throat, he is forced to endure such relatable Yuletide stresses as handing out Christmas tips and dealing with meddlesome family members. After accidentally eating a manger scene made out of cookies baked by his wife and in-laws, he decides to make it up to them by hiring a local church group to bring their real-life Nativity scene to his house. But when Larry comments to the actor playing Joseph (a scene-stealing David Koechner) about how hot the Virgin Mary is, the stage is set for a biblical smackdown that marks the show's funniest holiday moment so far.
6) Arrested Development, "In God We Trust"
Whether they are ruining public celebrations or singing incest-laced '70s hits at the family's holiday party, Christmas with the Bluths always proves to be a good time. "In God We Trust" manages to seamlessly fit a number of ongoing plot threads (Michael's love for Gob's girlfriend Marta, George Michael's infatuation with his cousin Maeby, Buster's secret romantic life, Tobias' affliction as a "never-nude," etc) into a holiday context that culminates with a "Living Classics" pageant in which George Sr. and his grandson bring to live Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" with the help of some padded muscle suits. The only reason George Michael agrees to be involved is that his faux foam physique attracts Maeby's eye, and when he sees the cheese curl-sized penis he is supposed to wear as Adam in the performance he takes a cue from Tobias' playbook and throws on some jean shorts instead. This coupled with George Sr.'s decision to make the most of his day pass from prison and flee the scene results in the Bluth family's reputation getting yet another black eye. Fortunately for us, the ensuing awkwardness is a joy to watch. Surprisingly there are no clips from the episode available on YouTube, so instead I've imbedded a compilation of A Charlie Brown Christmas homages that were featured in the episode "Good Grief." After all, Christmas time is here.