Holiday television was once relegated to tinsel-themed episodes on the broadcast networks and the occasional TV movie thrown in, with the Hallmark Channel doing the heavy lifting. Now? It’s an embarrassment of … something: Cheapo movies, reality shows, old classics you can dig up on streaming and more.
Everyone’s looking for something the whole family can watch without descending into chaos. With that in mind, here’s a sampling of what’s on offer this year. If a junk drawer were a TV list … well, happy digging.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (available now on Apple TV+): It’s not the holiday season until I hear the melancholic piano and shuffling percussion of the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “Christmas Time is Here,” a staple thanks to the Peanuts gang — but not longer a staple on broadcast TV now that it’s on a streamer, but the good news: Apple TV+ is providing a free window for nonsubscribers Dec. 22-25.
Sitcoms and other TV classics: You can create a streaming bonanza of these oldies but goodies. From the earnest with “Little House on the Prairie’s” 1974 episode “Christmas at Plum Creek” (Peacock) to the political with “The West Wing’s” 2000 episode “Noël” (HBO Max) to the comedic, with everything from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (the 1970 episode “Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid” on Hulu) to “The Office” (the 2005 episode “Christmas Party” on Peacock) to “Girlfriends” (the 2003 episode “Merry Exmas” on Netflix) to “Happy Days” (the 1974 episode “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas” on Paramount+).
Christmas movie marathon (starting Dec. 1 on Freeform): Through Dec. 25, the basic cable network will turn into the equivalent of the radio station that switches to an all-Christmas format during the holiday season. The lineup includes: “Home Alone,” “The Preacher’s Wife,” “Jingle All the Way,” “The Grinch” and “Miracle on 34th Street” and more.
Retro but new
“A Christmas Story Christmas” (available now on HBO Max): In the 1983 classic “A Christmas Story,” Peter Billingsley stars as Ralphie “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” Parker and it is based on the childhood memories of writer Jean Shepherd. In this sequel, Billingsley is back as Ralphie, now an adult in the 1970s with a wife, kids and period-appropriate sideburns, who reconnects with his mother as well as his childhood friends over Christmas.
“Baking It” (Dec. 12 on NBC): A special holiday episode of the Peacock baking competition series hosted by Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph will feature their famous friends competing against one another. (The regular season of the show, which is five episodes, drops weekly on Peacock starting Dec. 12 as well.)
“Dr. Seuss Baking Challenge” (Dec 13 on Amazon and Freevee): This eight-episode series is hosted by Tamera Mowry-Housley along with pastry chef judges Clarice Lam and Joshua John Russell. Bakers will compete for $50,000 and be tasked with creating edible cakes and more inspired by Seuss characters and stories.
“Mary Berry’s Ultimate Christmas” (Dec. 19 on PBS): Berry became a household name to American audiences thanks to her tenure as a judge on “The Great British Bake Off.” With this new special, she prepares the “perfect three-course Christmas dinner” — from planning to shopping to prepping to actually cooking the darn thing. The menu includes canapés and lemon and herb roast turkey with apricot and chestnut stuffing. If you’re feeling stressed out about hosting for the holidays, you can count on Berry to be a welcome and comforting presence with some practical advice.
“The Binge 2: It’s a Wonderful Binge” (Dec. 9 on Hulu): A sequel to 2020’s “The Binge” which is set in a world where booze and drugs are banned except for one day a year (the premise is a straight rip-off of “The Purge”). In the new film, that day happens to land on Christmas. Never saw the original, let alone heard of it, so I can’t offer much more than this description offered up by the movie’s marketers: “Watch a holiday adventure like you’ve never seen before that includes magical story books, catchy songs, beautiful stop-motion animation and a Christmas saga that won’t be soon forgotten … and drugs! Lots of them! Merry Bingemas!”
“A Hollywood Christmas” (Dec. 1 on HBO Max): This one’s pretty meta: A riff on the standard-fare TV Christmas movie, about a filmmaker who has made a name for herself directing … standard-fare TV Christmas movies. With a handsome network executive as her nemesis-turned- love interest? Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha! That’s one way to sell a pitch — flatter the ranks most likely to greenlight it. Also: There’s apparently a “wayward elf dog” among the cast of characters to make it a truly Hollywoof Christmas. Sorry, not sorry.
“Must Love Christmas” (Dec. 11 on CBS): Liza Lapira (of CBS’s “The Equalizer”) stars as a romance novelist famous for her Christmas-themed books who finds herself trapped in a small town (check) by a snowstorm (check) and caught between two love interests (check and check).