The number of Christmas-related television episodes produced in the U.S. alone is staggering. Other holidays might rank well — Halloween is usually pretty big with sitcoms, for instance — but Christmas is the undisputed champ of TV tie-ins. A lot of these are, well, pretty forgettable: no one’s going to go to their grave cherishing the memory of seeing The Dukes of Hazzard‘s “The Great Santa Claus Chase.” But there have been some truly unforgettable TV Christmases over the years, and thanks to the magic of the Intertubes, you can relive most of them with ease. (If you want to just mainline the nostalgia, you can hit up BetaMaXMas.) Whether you’re home from college on a winter break or just looking to pass the work hours, these classic TV Christmases will get you through the season. In no particular order:
- “Noel,” The West Wing: The second-season Christmas episode of The West Wing follows Josh as he talks with a therapist and makes a major breakthrough regarding the PTSD that’s been plaguing him since the assassination attempt of the first season. Filmed in Virginia, the episode uses the White House’s Christmas events to great effect and ends on a note of hope and forgiveness that’s perfectly in tune with the holiday season.
- “Christmas Party,” The Office: The American version of The Office was never stronger than in its earlier seasons, and the second year’s “Christmas Party” is a hilarious example of how good the show is when it fires on all cylinders. Michael’s overbearing attempts to throw a fun Christmas party backfire before working out, and we even get some nice moments with Jim and Pam. Plus who doesn’t love seeing Dwight rail against Yankee Swap?
- “Marge Be Not Proud,” The Simpsons: This one barely edges out “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” the first episode the series ever aired, thanks to its more polished story and jokes. The presence of producer New York native James L. Brooks means the series often looks for moments of genuine warmth, and this Christmas episode features some great moments between Bart and Marge as the young boy gets caught shoplifting and decides to make it up by giving Marge the family photo she’s always wanted.
- “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo,” South Park: The guys at South Park have never been subtle. Only they could get away with using an anthropomorphized human turd to attack the dangers of political correctness. (And it works, too.)
- “The Best Chrismukkah Ever,” The O.C.: The O.C. burned up almost all of its creative juice in the first season or two, but at least we got episodes like “The Best Chrismukkah Ever” in the bargain. Smart humor, soapy melodrama, and teen-angst alt-rock for the new millenium. Never gets old.
- “The One With the Holiday Armadillo,” Friends: “My favorite part was when Superman flew all the Jews out of Egypt!” If you aren’t laughing already, you might be dead inside.
- “Comparative Religion,” Community: Community is one of the best comedies on the air today, and the first season’s “Comparative Religion” was a hilarious and epic throwback to 1980s hero-vs.-bully flicks while also frankly exploring the importance of religious tolerance. All that, plus Anthony Michael Hall? Sign me up.
- “So-Called Angels,” My So-Called Life: Television shows that deal with homelessness tend to do so in a treacly and cheesy manner, especially series aimed at teens (off the top of my head, Saved by the Bell and Growing Pains each had some groaners). But the short-lived, critically revered My So-Called Life dealt with the issue with skill and honesty, just like it did with everything else.
- “Xmas Story,” Futurama: Nothing says Christmas like a homicidal robot Santa, right? Futurama‘s typically twisted take on the holiday skewered expectations but also let the characters come together in their own way. Sounds like an ideal holiday.