wonderful life

Monday, November 30

It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown ABC | 8:00pm

A Charlie Brown Christmas ABC | 9:00pm

The 1965 special A Charlie Brown Christmas is celebrating 50 years of somber music and sad little trees.

The 1965 special A Charlie Brown Christmas is celebrating 50 years of somber music and sad little trees.

 

Kristen Bell hosts a retrospective called It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown, November 30 on ABC called It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown, to mark the half-century since A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1965. Then at 9, it will air the special itself.

 

There’s so much about A Charlie Brown Christmas that you’d never see on network television holiday specials now, I suspect. A special that, if not for children, is certainly intended to be accessible by children would never use that “guzzling Irish coffee in a bar on a snow-blanketed night in New York when you just got stood up but you feel weirdly OK about it” Vince Guaraldi music. Mass-marketed entertainment doesn’t tend to trust kids’ capacity to appreciate either stripped-down scores or the natural blues of winter that much. The kids’ chorus singing would be replaced by a Demi Lovato version of “The Little Drummer Boy” or something like that. Pardon the cynicism, but … wouldn’t it?

Watching the special now, its bleakness is palpable and bracing. It opens with Charlie Brown defining his problem in part as, in these words, “I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” Straight-up dread, straight-up emotional emptiness. When Linus — who is, in many ways, the nice one — tells him, “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest,” it feels like the kind of improvisational brutality in which kids really do specialize.

And that’s not his only problem. Charlie Brown says things like, “I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?” I know nobody likes me. That’s unvarnished, and while the special will end with everyone telling him “Merry Christmas,” you will not really see much evidence in the next 20-plus minutes that they do, in fact, like him. He’s sad, for real, and he lives in that feeling, and he uses the word “depressed” to describe it. As with most things in Charlie Brown’s life, it is a load that will be temporarily lifted, but never resolved.

He’s so desperate for help, in fact, that he continues to pay Lucy five cents to think poorly of him in more sophisticated language. Her solution to his need for “involvement” is to make him the director of the Christmas play, a doomed scenario from the start, no?

But of course, it’s also unlikely that a special would end with a character reading Scripture with the earnestness of Linus. (It might be unlikely for a character to exist with the earnestness of Linus in the first place.) But as common as it is for viewers to remark on the religious content of the special, that content doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It doesn’t exist to say, “It’s a religious holiday, and therefore you should spurn its secular aspects.” Quite the contrary: Linus’ reading inspires Charlie Brown to redouble his efforts to decorate his sad little tree. And it inspires his friends to follow him and, when he becomes overwhelmed with sadness about said sad little tree, to help him.

So as much as A Charlie Brown Christmas is about the significance of the religious tradition as what Christmas is “really about,” it sees that tradition at least in part as a gateway to, and an inspiration for, other actions. It doesn’t only suggest Christmas isreally about the Bible story; it suggests Christmas is also really about friends, dogs, cooperating, the beauty of humble things, singing out loud, and hope. It’s just not about writing your Christmas list and asking for, as Sally does, “10s and 20s.”

The only thing you really can’t recapture from 1965 is scarcity. It was once the case that Christmas specials could be seen only at Christmas. Now, you and your family can watch Charlie Brown anytime you want, anywhere you want. It’s convenience at the expense of a certain kind of preciousness, to be sure. But if you still want to be the kind of person who watches things when they happen to be on, Monday night is the night for that sad little tree.

Tuesday, December 1

A Christmas Carol ABC Family | 11:00am

Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas ABC Family | 1:00pm

Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 2:30pm

Frosty’s Winter Wonderland ABC Family | 3:30pm

The Year Without a Santa Claus ABC Family | 6:00pm

The Polar Express ABC Family | 7:00pm

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer CBS | 8:00pm

Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas ABC Family | 9:00pm

Wednesday, December 2

The Christmas Shoes ABC Family | 7:00am

Jack Frost ABC Family | 1:30pm

Christmas in Rockefeller Center NBC | 8:00pm

The Santa Clause ABC Family | 8:30pm

How the Grinch Stole Christmas NBC | 9:00pm

Thursday, December 3

Mickey’s Christmas Carol ABC Family | 9:00am

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus ABC Family | 2:00pm

Toy Story That Time Forgot ABC | 8:00pm

The Wiz Live! NBC | 8:00pm

Shrek the Halls ABC | 8:30pm

Fred Claus ABC Family | 8:30pm

CMA Country Christmas ABC | 9:00pm

Friday, December 4

A Very Murray Christmas Netflix

I’ll Be Home For Christmas ABC Family | 10:00am

Prancer ABC Family | 12:00pm

Elf ABC Family | 7:30pm

Saturday, December 5

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas ABC Family | 12:30am

A Very Brady Christmas ABC Family | 7:00am

Home Alone: The Holiday Heist 9:00am

Little Drummer Boy ABC Family | 12:00pm

Just in Time for Christmas Hallmark Channel | 8:00pm

It’s A Wonderful Life NBC | 8:00pm

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation ABC Family | 10:00pm

Sunday, December 6

Karen Kingsbury’s The Bridge Hallmark Channel | 8:00pm

Monday, December 7

Love Actually ABC Family | 1:00pm

Tuesday, December 8

The Mistle-Tones ABC Family | 12:00am

Wednesday, December 9

Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas ABC Family | 4:30pm

Thursday, December 10

Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey ABC Family | 11:00am

Coat of Many Colors NBC | 9:00pm

Friday, December 11

Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe ABC Family | 12:00am

The Hollywood Christmas Parade CW | 8:00pm

Saturday, December 12

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas ABC Family | 12:30pm

On The Twelfth Day Of Christmas Hallmark Channel | 8:00pm

The Flight Before Christmas CBS | 9:00pm

Monday, December 14

Mr. St. Nick ABC Family | 7:00am

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas ABC Family | 9:00am

Tuesday, December 15

Santa Baby ABC Family | 1:00pm

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause ABC Family | 6:00pm

Toy Story That Time Forgot ABC | 8:00pm

Shrek the Halls ABC | 8:30pm

Thursday, December 17

Disney Prep & Landing ABC | 8:00pm

The iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2015 8:00pm

Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice ABC | 8:30pm

Friday, December 18

Holidaze ABC Family | 12:00am

Christmas Cupid ABC Family | 10:00am

Yes, Virginia ABC | 8:30pm

A Home for the Holidays CBS | 9:00pm

Saturday, December 19

I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown ABC | 8:00pm

A Christmas Melody Hallmark Channel | 8:00pm

Sunday, December 20

Christmas Land Hallmark Channel | 8:00pm

Wednesday, December 23

I Love Lucy Christmas CBS | 8:00pm

Thursday, December 24

A Christmas Story TBS | 8:00pm

It’s A Wonderful Life NBC | 8:00pm

It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown ABC | 8:00pm

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol CW | 8:00pm

A Charlie Brown Christmas ABC | 9:00pm

Friday, December 25

CMA Country Christmas ABC | 8:00pm

Monday, December 28

Happy New Year, Charlie Brown ABC | 8:00pm

Rudolph’s Shiny New Year ABC | 9:00pm

Tuesday, December 29

Kennedy Center Honors CBS | 9:00pm

Thursday, December 31

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest 2016 ABC | 8:00pm

Pitbull’s New Year’s Revolution, Part 1 FOX | 8:00pm

New Year’s Eve With Carson Daly NBC | 10:00pm

Friday, January 1

Tournament of Roses Parade NBC | 11:00am

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