About Christmas TV History

Friday, December 6, 2013

Glee Christmas (2011)

As promised, I'd like to share with you how the 2011 Christmas episode of the musical TV comedy series Glee pays tribute to the Judy Garland Christmas Show from 1963.  It's so nice to see younger generations of TV viewers being introduced to classic Christmas TV entertainment.  To see my original review of Garland's spectacular 1963 Christmas episode click HERE.   I wrote about the 2011 Glee episode "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" in my latest book Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1.  This book discusses the highlights of the best musical moments in TV sitcoms and dramas.  [Later volumes will focus on Christmas musical moments in children's TV programs, Christmas movies, animated TV specials, and eventually TV variety specials].  The following review is an excerpt from Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1.

The music from this 2011 Glee Christmas episode was also released as an album.

"The third season of Glee produced another outstanding holiday episode, 2011’s “Extraordinary Merry Christmas.”  Although the Glee Club members promise Coach Sylvester they will volunteer at a local homeless shelter, most of them cancel when a new opportunity arises.  The New Directions star in a musical Christmas special for local television.  Under Artie’s direction, “The Glee Holiday Spectacular” combines the best of two of his favorite TV specials:  the Christmas episode of The Judy Garland Show and the Star Wars Holiday Special.  In a side story, Finn feels pressured to spend a lot of money on a special Christmas gift for Rachel in order to make her happy.  In the end, the Glee Club members join Quinn and Sam at the homeless shelter to help out, and Rachel comes to recognize the specialness of the gift that Finn gives her.

Mercedes takes the lead in "All I Want for Christmas Is You."

Rory sings "Blue Christmas."  Rory is played by Damian McGinty, one of the actors/singers selected from the competition show The Glee Project which ran on the Oxygen Network.

This episode includes nine Christmas songs.  The show opens with Mercedes singing the Mariah Carey holiday standard “All I Want for Christmas is You” as she and the other students decorate the music room for Christmas.  Irish exchange student Rory Flanagan sings the moody Elvis Presley holiday favorite “Blue Christmas” to express his loneliness and how much he misses his mother during the holiday season.

Rachel's song "River" is deemed too melancholy and rejected from the song list for Artie's TV special.

During a rehearsal for the upcoming TV special, Rachel sings the melancholy song “River” written by Joni Mitchell before Artie cuts it from the final production.  Does this sad song remind you of Christmas?  The original recording, sung by folk singer Mitchell, appears on her critically acclaimed 1971 album Blue

Next, Rachel and Blaine lead the rest of the Glee cast in singing the song “Extraordinary Merry Christmas” as they continue to prepare for the upcoming show. This song is an original--written specifically for the episode, not a cover song like the others in the series.

Artie's tribute to the Judy Garland Christmas Show includes shooting it in black and white.  The opening scene is Blaine sitting in the window singing "Let It Snow."

Blaine's opening scene is just like Judy's opening scene also shot looking through the front window while she sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

During the taping of the TV special, Blaine and Kurt sing “Let It Snow” on a set that looks just like the one in Judy Garland’s TV special--a re-creation of Judy’s own living room on Rockingham Dr. in her Brentwood home during the taping of the 1963 Christmas TV show.

The Glee set recreates the set from the 1963 Judy Garland Christmas Show.

In this shot of the 1963 set, you can see the two couches (where guests are seated), the rear bookcase, the coffee table, the fireplace (off camera to the right), there's a white piano (off to the left) and the raised seating area in the background.

At the piano, Rachel sings “My Favorite Things” and later Finn and Puck dressed as Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, perform a rockin’ version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in the style of Bruce Springsteen’s version of the holiday classic.

The cheesy variety show continues on Glee.  Rachel, Mercedes, Blaine and Kurt sing "My Favorite Things" a song closely associated with the holidays, originally from the musical The Sound of Music.

In the 1963 Judy Garland Christmas Show, there are several songs from popular Broadway musicals including two songs from Oliver!  Jack Jones (above) sings "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" a song from My Fair Lady and later Liza Minnelli performs a song-and-dance routine to "Steam Heat" which is originally from the musical The Pajama Game.

Dressed as a sexy female Santa, Brittany sings a lively version of the 1980s hit “Christmas Wrapping.”   Brittany’s song is accompanied by a ribbon twirling dance routine with the other New Directions dancers including Tina and Mike.  This production number actually pays tribute to a dance number in the original Judy Garland Christmas Show, in which a frenzied group of Santa Claus dancers bursts through her front door to perform a fast-paced Charleston dance number.

Brittany and others perform an energetic dance routine to the 1980s song "Christmas Wrapping."

The ribbon twirling dance number should be seen as a tribute to this frenzied dance number by Santas from the 1963 Christmas show.

After the taping of Artie’s TV special, the Glee cast sings the 1980s holiday charity hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” at the homeless shelter.

The Glee episode ends after the taping of their TV show.  The high schoolers show up at the homeless shelter after all.  The 1980s song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was originally a charity fundraising song recorded by Band Aid to raise money for famine relief.

The appeal of this third season Glee Christmas episode is the tipping of their hat to two somewhat rare but real TV specials from the past: the 1963 Christmas episode of the black-and-white variety series The Judy Garland Show and the 1978 bomb Star Wars Holiday Special which aired only once on TV but has since cast a long shadow.

The Glee episode's references to the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special are limited to several costumes and the opening credits sequence to Artie's PBS special.  The font used in this title card is meant to imitate the familiar lettering used in the opening of The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Puck and Finn join the Glee variety show to perform a rocking version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" dressed in costumes as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.

The only elements from the Star Wars TV special here are the Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Chewbacca costumes.  However, Artie’s TV special recreates many elements from the original Judy Garland Show including the living room set which looks identical to the 1963 set.  Other similarities include the fact that Artie’s special is also shot in black-and-white, Kurt addresses the camera to invite viewers into the living room set, and the Santa Claus dancers.  While Judy’s original TV special included several songs from the musical Oliver!, this Glee episode includes Rachel singing “My Favorite Things” from another Broadway hit, The Sound of Music."

At the start of Artie's TV variety special, Kurt steps out the front door of the TV set, addresses the TV cameras, and invites TV viewers into his "bachelor chalet" set to enjoy the entertainment.

Kurt's invitation is an imitation of the opening of Judy Garland's Christmas Show where she steps outside the front door with her children to invite the TV viewer into her "home" to enjoy the evening's entertainment.

One more TV tribute: you should recognize Rory's reading of the biblical story of the Nativity as a reference to the 1965 animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas--in which Linus reads from Luke 2 in response to the true meaning of Christmas.

The TV series Glee frequently makes cultural references to past Christmas entertainment--usually in the musical selections the high schoolers choose to express themselves with.  It's also wonderful to see them make references to iconic Christmas TV history by acknowledging the Star Wars Holiday Special and paying tribute to the Judy Garland Christmas Show.  How good are you at spotting and identifying Christmas TV historical references?

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