We touched on this in our “Get Blitzen’d” drinking game, but the holiday specials that have temporarily taken over our TVs tend to run the gamut from beloved to delightfully cheesy (and beloved) to just plain bad... but that doesn’t mean that we don’t love the bad ones too. For every A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life—the latter of which actually flopped in theaters when it was released, btw—there are at least three A Boyfriend for Christmas-es eating up the airwaves. But sometimes, sometimes, we can’t help but enjoy those wannabe classics just as much as their more prestigious counterparts.
For your reference and ridicule, here are some of my beloved-for-all-the-wrong-reasons holiday guilty pleasures; let's hear yours in the comments!
To Grandmother’s House We Go (1992)
Who didn’t love the Olsen twins during the height of their Full House reign? They were all cute and little and they had that adorable detective video series and they occasionally even demonstrated the ability to emote like real human beings.
To Grandmother’s House We Go was the first of many, MANY cheesy '90s Olsen twin movies (that I totally rocked on VHS), featuring the naughty—but ultimately nice—kiddos deciding to give their overworked mom a vacation for Christmas by running away to Grandma’s via bicycle. Along the way they meet a nice truck driver who buys them a lottery ticket and accidentally get kidnapped before finally ending up at Grandma’s house... at which point they win the lottery with the formerly curmudgeonly truck driver who is clearly slated to be their new daddy by the time credits roll.
The Full House cast cameos alone are worth at least a watch.
The Star Wars Holiday Special is so infamously bad that even George Lucas is ashamed of it—and he’s the man who reduced the magic of the Force to a glorified bacterial infection. It was only broadcast once, but that has hardly stopped legions of masochistic geeks from finding other ways to appreciate it’s beautiful awfulness.
There is no Christmas in a galaxy far far away, but that’s okay because the Wookie holiday “Life Day” makes a pretty good substitute (or, you know, blatant rip-off). The Empire tries its very best to thwart Han Solo and Chewbacca’s attempts to bring holiday cheer to Chewie’s fuzzy family back on Kashyyyk, but not even Boba Fett (in his first official/not-official appearance) and Darth Vader can defeat the power of Christmas—I mean Life Day—magic.
The shiny stars of A New Hope all reprise their roles—yes, even Harrison Ford—and Carrie Fisher sings the program's theme song to the tune of the iconic Star Wars theme. Musical guests include Jefferson Starship and Bea Arthur. It’s a masterful display of TV holiday magic, I tell you, masterful.
A Smoky Mountain Christmas (1986)
For all my whining and complaining about the poor oppressed country singers on The Voice, I grew up in a house that used to watch Grand Ole Opry reruns semi-religiously and when I was but a wee one, Dolly Parton was totally my buxom blonde hero... which is the only explanation I can think of for this mind-boggling addition to my personal list of Bizzaro Christmas Traditions.
Directed by The Fonz and co-starring John Ritter, A Smoky Mountain Christmas features Parton as a successful country star who's overwhelmed by her career, which drives her to take up with seven runaway orphans in a cabin in Tennessee. Its basically Snow White + rhinestones + Christmas + Dolly Parton’s rack, with the result being cheesy, twangy '80s goodness. So many holiday specials restrict themselves to ripping off holiday classics; I applaud A Smoky Mountain Christmas for broadening the horizon a bit.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Santa Claus (1959/1993)
MST3K itself is not a guilty pleasure—it’s a sign from the TV gods that they love us and want us to be happy. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the holiday standard from the Satellite of Love, but Santa Claus gets a special place on this list because the source film is just so bizarre and sucky that I’d probably watch it even without Joel, Crow, and Tom Servo’s always-appropriate commentary.
The reason for the utterly cracked-out take on Ol’ Saint Nick is actually completely understandable; in the '50s, the concept of Santa Claus as American kids know him was still pretty much just an American thing and hadn’t yet taken over the world. When a Mexican film studio decided to introduce Santa to the Spanish-speaking world, well, they took some artistic liberties... or just didn’t know any better.
Thus, in his giant space castle, Santa exploits child labor to fill his sleigh, tracks his naughty and nice candidates via high-tech spy-cams, and battles Satan with a little help from Merlin. Yes, that Merlin.
Ok, so I originally watched this purely for the Jared Padalecki dimple-action, fully expecting (and accepting) that it would burn out my retinas... and then I was surprised by how much I didn’t hate it. For being a barely factual biopic about one of America’s most resented and successful contemporary artists, Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage actually features a rather impressive cast: Marcia Gay Harden, Aaron Ashmore, Edward Asner, and Lawrence of Arabia himself: Peter O’Freaking Toole.
It hits all the staples—a prodigal son returns to his small hometown for Christmas, a botched nativity ruins everyone’s day, and saintly Momma Kinkade is down on her luck, but a Christmas Miracle saves everything and reminds us all what Christmas is really about.
Honestly, if you ignore the fact that it’s a movie about the guy who got drunk at Disneyland and peed on the Winnie the Pooh statue, it’s really quite enjoyable.