This weekend’s edition of our biweekly viewing guide features a lineup of true classics, and one show that looks good enough to eat.
All times Eastern (check local listings for time and channel in your area).
The Great British Baking Show: Christmas Masterclass — Friday, 9 p.m., PBS
British baking experts and judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry show off their own skills here. Hollywood makes turkey stuffing, cranberry Chelsea buns, mince pie and panettone. Berry whips up Christmas pudding with brandy butter, classic Christmas cake and a Yule log.
Mary Poppins (1964) — Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
What can I say except, “Supercalifraglisticexpialidocious?” Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke star in Disney’s delightful musical fantasy about an extraordinary nanny who changes the lives of a London family in Edwardian England (otherwise known at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, just over the hill from our offices in Hollywood).
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) — Saturday, 8 p.m., CBS
In case you missed it the first time CBS aired it, everybody’s favorite red-nosed reindeer is back for an encore.
SPOILER ALERT — if you haven’t seen it, don’t watch this video!
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — Saturday, 8 p.m., USA Network
A lapse in the copyright for this Frank Capra film turned it from an unmemorable flop into a holiday staple — since TV stations could play it over and over for free!
Call it luck or Divine Providence, but that legal hiccup bequeathed to the world a Christmas classic (the copyright was renewed, and the film was restored to its pristine B&W beauty). If you pay attention to the whole movie, and not just its hugging-and-loving ending, you’ll discover that this Christmas rose has thorns.
As Catholic deacon and movie reviewer Steven Greydanus points out:
“A figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes,” New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote in 1946. “A terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams,” another New York Times writer wrote in 2008.
Neither description is even approximately correct. Variously celebrated or castigated for its sentimentality and schmaltz or for its darkness and subversiveness, It’s a Wonderful Life is wiser, richer, and deeper than many of its fans and nearly all of its critics allow.
The truth is that It’s a Wonderful Life is both darker and more subversive than its popular reputation as cheery holiday “Capra-corn” would suggest, and more robustly hopeful than cynics and hipster deconstructionists would have it.
Christmas Eve becomes the night that despondent George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) decides to take his own life — and it’s also the night that the Lord, knowing George’s pain and hearing the prayerful petitions of all those who love him, sends a angel-in-training (Henry Travers) to save him.
It’s not perfect theology (angels don’t have wings, when bells ring or not); and humans in heaven don’t turn into angels), but it’s a near-perfect holiday treat.
Frozen (2013) — Sunday, 8 p.m. ABC
A gargantuan hit and spawner of untold numbers of toys, Halloween costumes and cover versions of “Let It Go,” Disney’s animated fairy tale (loosely inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”) still gives Deacon Greydanus some pause.
I recommend clicking here and reading his whole review, which mentions, but doesn’t address at length, the calls for some in entertainment to give Elsa — half of the separated-sister-princess do at the heart of the film — a same-sex relationship (which may be implicit in the film to some, but is not explicitly stated at all).
Here’s a bit:
Frozen may be the most tragic fairy tale in the Disney canon, which is saying something. Sure, Rapunzel was stolen from her parents and raised in a tower by a witch, but at least she had her books, her art, her astronomy and her pet chameleon Pascal. Her life was painfully limited, but within those constraints, she achieved some measure of accomplishment, fulfillment and even happiness.
Now consider poor Anna, who grows up literally outside Elsa’s closed door, plaintively singing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” And Elsa never, ever opens the door to her sister: literally at first, and later emotionally, for pretty much the entire movie.
Throughout the film, Anna talks as if she knows Elsa: “Elsa would never hurt me,” she keeps saying, but all she really has of her sister are childhood memories — and even those aren’t reliable, because they’ve been magically tampered with. You see, Elsa did hurt Anna once, though it was an accident.
I haven’t seen “Frozen” (heresy, I know), but reading Greydanus’ review doesn’t particularly make me want to. But if you have a preteen girl in your house, I think I know how you’ll be spending your Sunday TV night.
Image: Courtesy Walt Disney Studios