For no real reason other than boredom and the uncontrollable need at this time of year to make "best of" lists - I present my favorite holiday episodes.
"So-Called Angels" (My So-Called Life) - Singer/songwriter Juliana Hatfield guest stars as an angel (or possibly a ghost) in an incredibly touching and sad Christmas episode. Ricky is beaten and thrown out of his house in the dead of a Pennsylvania winter. Angela tries to help him and the angel she believes to be a melancholy homeless teen but is distracted by petty fights with Patty. In the end mother and daughter come together to help Ricky and remind themselves, their family, their friends and us that love is what Christmas is really about.
"In Excelsis Deo" and "Noel" (The West Wing) - I've mentioned before that the first two seasons of The West Wing were some of the best television writing I've seen and these two episodes are certainly a good example of that. The first season's "In Excelsis Deo" gave us the story of a former marine who froze to death on The Mall wearing an old coat Toby had donated to charity that still had one of his cards in the pocket. Toby arranges an honor guard for the vet with the help of Mrs. Landingham who attends the ceremony with him and the man's mentally retarded, homeless brother. We also learn that Mrs. Landingham's twin sons were killed in Vietnam on Christmas day. Season two's "Noel" sees Josh having a hard time coping with the PTSD from being shot. Adam Arkin is brought in as a therapist to help him come to grips with what is setting him off and help him try to process it. Yo-Yo Ma performs.
"An Echolls Family Christmas" (Veronica Mars) - Veronica Mars started strong for sure but this episode that was originally bumped from it's pre-Christmas air date to mid-January was where it really hit it's stride. Logan and Weevil both became more layered characters and we were introduced to Logan's parents played with delicious aplomb by Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin. This is also the episode where you can begin to see some of the friendship that remained between Logan and Veronica.
"The Best Chrismukkah Ever" (The O.C.) - The world is introduced to the super holiday that combines the power of Jesus and the power of Moses into...something that's really just fun to say.
"Rory's Dance" and "Forgiveness and Stuff" (Gilmore Girls) - These episodes aired on two consecutive nights back in the first season of Gilmore Girls. I liked the show right from the beginning but these are the episodes where I really fell in love. Rory takes Dean to her school dance and afterward they end up falling asleep at Miss Patty's. When she realizes what happened, Rory runs home to explain to Lorelai but unfortunately Emily stayed the night in Stars Hollow and is there to witness the scene and everything falls spectacularly to pieces from there. This show always did the complexities between the three generations of Gilmore women well but this two-parter was the best it ever was.
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" (Kate & Allie) - Kate, Allie, Jenny, Emma and Chip hire themselves out as "elves" to do other people's Christmas tasks (shopping, wrapping, baking, etc.) and plan to take the money and spend Christmas on a family ski vacation. Unfortunately on Christmas Eve (or possibly the 23rd, my memory of the specifics isn't great), their apartment is robbed and they have to start from scratch using their own money until the insurance check comes through which means the ski weekend is off and there is not Christmas for them. They pull through with some holiday spirit in the end and the cutest little Christmas twig since Charlie Brown.
"A Very Supernatural Christmas" (Supernatural) - This isn't a show prone to pulling on the heartstrings and it doesn't usually do Christmas episodes, but last year it did both and the result was awesome. In addition to guest starring Marrilyn Gann (Rose Abbott from Everwood) as a demon, it featured some back story on the Winchester brothers' childhood and then ended with a really nice brotherly moment. I'm not going to lie to you, I misted up.
But by far, my favorite Christmas episode ever, is:
"The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee" (Sports Night) - A black star athlete for a Tennessee college football team refuses to play at the stadium if they continue to fly the Confederate flag. 5 of his teammates, some of them white and none of them starters, join him in protest and the school threatens to pull all of their scholarships, sending most of them to jobs pumping gas rather than college educations. Luther is an alumnus of the school and wants the station to do a piece praising what the Confederate flag stands for but Dan would rather have Isaac do an editorial imploring Luther to pressure the school to keep the kids in school and take down the flag. He does just that and delivers a monologue that's got me tearing up at the thought of it. The subplot of this episode focuses on Casey's inability to care about anyone but himself in the manner of his complete disregard for the names and jobs of the many, MANY people besides him who are responsible for putting "Sports Night" on the air. Dan and guest star Janel Maloney finally convince him that Christmas might be a good time to recognize the people around there that they couldn't do it without so as both the show and the show-within-the-show come to an end Casey and Dan give shout-outs to gaffers and key grips and focus pullers and various other crew members using the names of those individuals who have those actual jobs on the show. It's a nice moment that I always thought must have been very special to the families of those people they named.