30 December 2015 | bob the moo
A so-so modern spin on the old festive variety show
The Christmas variety show, or festive special, is a type of show where famous people put on bad Christmas sweaters and get together in a studio made to look like a big log cabin. I assume they shoot it in June or July, and they film 'natural' moments hanging out enjoying the festive spirit and perhaps sharing a song while sipping on fake film brandy. I am not a fan of such shows as they mostly cannot avoid the sense of being forced and awkward. So perhaps it is deliberate that this modern version of these shows has the same qualities.
In this spin we join Bill Murray as he does a live Christmas Eve show which nobody turns up to due to a blizzard in New York. With the show cancelled quite quickly, Murray finds himself in the hotel bar, where he chats to those there and sings Christmas songs. I have read criticism that this is not funny enough, which is odd because these specials are rarely thigh-slapping affairs, and nor is this one. In a way I am fine with that, because the deliberately awkward chats are part of the construction rather than a failure of the guests to have chemistry, however yes I must concede that a lot of it doesn't really spark or be as entertaining as it could have been.
The guests (playing themselves or others) are mostly reasonably well used and get into the spirit of it (although Clooney is wasted). Murray himself is not too bad, even if he is playing the caricature of himself that people seem to adore. There is a slight feeling of 'all famous mates getting together, slapping each other's backs, while the viewer pays", and the special doesn't do enough to avoid that feeling, even if mostly the cast do add a lot to the events. The songs are reasonably good throughout, and as festive background the scattering of musical numbers and chatting set-ups is well done. It looks good and is well polished, even if for me it was only an average viewing experience. I did like that it captured the spirit of the variety show, but in this way I guess it should not be a surprise that I didn't really love this since I am not a fan of the genre. It is a fun addition to the genre, which plays well with its modern spin, but this adherence to the structure and style did mean that it didn't work for me personally, and may be too wry and knowing for those audiences that actually do like this type of show.