Christmas episodes are a venerated TV tradition, providing longtime viewers a chance to celebrate alongside characters they’ve grown to know and love. At their best, they also serve as great introductions to TV shows—first-timers can learn volumes about characters and their storylines based on the way they react to the holidays.
Over the last few years, there have been some great Christmas specials that my friends and I keep revisiting every holiday season. Here are some of my recent favorites:
At the Bluth Company Christmas Party, “Afternoon Delight” (Arrested Development, Season Two) is the karaoke song of choice.
A “Christmas with the Joker” (Batman: The Animated Series) is anything but dull for the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder.
In a subtle homage to A Christmas Carol, Angel confronts the severity of his crimes in “Amends” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Three).
The Doctor celebrates the holidays aboard a cruise ship modeled after the Titanic, so it’s no surprise that he ends up needing to save the day in “Voyage of the Damned” (Doctor Who, Season Four).
When Lily finds out that Ted called her a “Grinch,” she calls off Christmas. Meanwhile Marshall is off on his own holiday adventure in “How Lily Stole Christmas” (How I Met Your Mother, Season Two).
It took Lost four seasons to cover three and a half months on the Island, so we didn’t get a Christmas episode until “The Constant” (Lost, Season Four). The wait was worth it.
When “The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee” (Sports Night, Volume One) are suspended for standing by a teammate’s good conscience, the entire cast and crew learn a lesson about tolerance and gratitude.
Toby is pulled out of his comfort zone in “In Excelsis Deo” (The West Wing, Season One) when his business card turns up in a homeless veteran’s pocket, and Charlie wonders why Mrs. Landingham is down during the holidays.
“Final Grades” (The Wire, Season Four) is not for the faint of heart, but the fact that it shows us people trying so hard to be kind affirms the holiday spirit—even if the very most they can do is very little at all.