At this time of year, Noel likes to put searches for "holiday" and "Christmas" on the TiVo and see what comes up. This year he's harvested a bumper crop of Christmas-themed sitcom episodes from all across the TV spectrum, from Happy Days and Bob Newhart to Becker and 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter.
The plots are pretty standard. People obsess over getting the right gifts for each other. They try to find the perfect tree. They attempt to make up for the shortcomings of Christmases past by engineering an ideal Christmas in the present. They get sloshed on eggnog and sing carols and do what everybody does in sitcoms: bond with their families, natural or engineered.
I find myself touched by this slow parade of sentiment. Christmas doesn't necessarily bring out the best in sitcoms in terms of originality or humor. But it's that family element that almost always comes to the fore and reminds us what our culture makes of its entertainment and its holidays. We're too independent to be completely tied down to the families we were given, but we long for the acceptance and closeness and belonging that only family can afford. And so all these shows hinge on us assembling something to do that job for us.
Watched all in a row, the message can't help but come across. I'm lucky to have a family that loves me. Especially at Christmastime. And especially since we don't have to go through three acts in 22 minutes to get there.