Directed by Peter Avanzino
Written by Mike Reiss
Starring: Dennis Haysbert, Jerry Stiller, Sean Hayes, Jason Alexander, Kevin Michael Richardson
The Christmas season is inundated with specials. Which are good from the point of view of the network that commissioned them. You can trot them out every year and get an audience big enough to make them worthwhile. It’s unusual for a special to have only one or two broadcasts, and especially strange when the show is as good as How Murray Saved Christmas.*
The story – set entirely in verse and narrated by Dennis Haysbert – is set in the town of Stinky Cigars, where all the symbols of holidays live. Characters like the Easter Bunny, Cupid, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln go about their lives, with the name of the town keeping outsiders away. And, of course, Santa Claus (voice of Kevin Michael Richardson). Murry Weiner (Jerry Stiller) is the cranky old man who runs the town diner, but when Santa suffers a concussion due an invention of Edison Elf (Sean Hayes), Murray become the only one who can deliver the presents.
It’s a witty version of the story, aimed at adults. Mike Reiss was a writer for The Simpsons and wanted to have the same sort of irreverent attitude. He certainly succeeded and the verses are terrific.
The show was run on NBC in 2014 and got poor ratings, with a lot of people complaining that it wasn’t for kids.** They ran it again the next year, but cut it from an hour to a half hour. Now it is possible to fit a long story into a half hour slot,*** but you can’t do it by indiscriminately slashing it in half. In any case, I haven’t seen it on the air since, though it can be found online.
But the show managed to mix a great deal of humor with the Christmas spirit, and even has some clever songs.**** If you’re looking for a grownup Christmas cartoon, this is well worth watching.
*Saving Christmas is probably the top plot of any Christmas special, if you don’t count remakes of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life.
**Too many people don’t understand that animated films are not necessarily children’s fare – to their loss, alas.
***There’s an excellent radio version of The Maltese Falcon using the main cast from the Bogart movie that is a marvel of condensation.
****Especially the song of the exploited elves.