The 35 Greatest Holiday Sitcom Episodes Ever

Ho ho ho! Ha ha ha!
The 35 Greatest Holiday Sitcom Episodes Ever

It’s December, which means that even the most grinchy among us must agree: the holidays are upon us. If the TV that makes you feel coziest is not a plaid flannel Hallmark movie but a sitcom that might deliver a slightly edgier laugh, we’ve got a list of slightly less sugary-sweet options to help you escape the marshmallow world for a half-hour at a time — and all of them are available to stream right now. 

For those reading this list and checking it twice: I aimed to select just the one very best holiday episode even for shows that had several, but made an exception for especially great New Year’s Eve episodes, which is why a handful of shows appear more than once.

The Righteous Gemstones, ‘Interlude II’

In each of the three (to date) seasons of The Righteous Gemstones, the fifth episode is an “Interlude,” taking us back to a pivotal moment in the family’s past. Since the first “Interlude” brought us “Misbehavin’,” the rollicking praise song that put Aimee-Leigh and Baby Billy on the map as child performers, “Interlude II” arrived in its predecessor’s very long shadow, and more than satisfies expectations. Set during the 1993 Christmas season, it finds Eli (John Goodman) at a challenging point in his career: The church has room to grow, but its finances could be more stable. His virtue is tested when Glendon Marsh Sr. (Wayne Duvall) returns to Eli’s life from his long-ago memories and offers a $1 million donation. Naturally, there are strings attached, and the course of action Eli and his closest lieutenants take adds new dimensions to his character. When we get a break from this serious business, the Gemstone kids (J. Gaven Wilde, Emma Shannon and Tristan Borders as Jesse, Judy and Kelvin, respectively) can be relied upon to make greedy, obnoxious demands; it probably will not shock you to learn that the gift-receiving season does not bring out the best in these spoiled brats.

New Girl, ‘LAXmas’

Jess (Zooey Deschanel) has an adorable new boyfriend, Ryan (Julian Morris), and he’s invited her back to his family home in England for the holidays. Except it’s not a house, it’s a country estate, and Jess is terrified by the thought of mingling with Ryan’s fancy family. Given the season, she and all her roommates have other stresses to deal with: They’re all heading to the airport together, and it’s a mess. Jess faces off against a snippy gate agent (Billy Eichner). Nick (Jake Johnson) and Winston (Lamorne Morris) end up in the purgatory of standby. Jess has an unsettling airport bar run-in with “Pervert Santa” (Dennis Haskins). Eventually, everything works out… or does it mainly just underline who belongs with whom and why?

Designing Women, ‘New Year’s Daze’

The ladies of Sugarbaker & Associates are getting excited to celebrate New Year’s Eve together — especially Charlene (Jean Smart), who’s introducing her friends to her new man at dinner. But Shadow misses most of the night, including the countdown to 1987, and then a news bulletin interrupting “Auld Lang Syne” explains why: Peter Wallace, aka “Shadow,” has escaped from a maximum security prison, and his wish to be with Charlene for the romantic holiday is what moved him to do it now. Given that the company already employs a formerly incarcerated person in Anthony (Meshach Taylor) and haven’t all figured out how to be normal about it, this turn of events is challenging for everyone. 

A bittersweet note: The episode also co-stars Richard Gilliland as J.P., boyfriend to Mary Jo (Annie Potts); in real life, Gilliland married Smart a few months after this episode aired, and remained her husband until his death in 2021.

AP Bio, ‘Katie Holmes Day’

“Katie Holmes Day” is one of a few episodes on this list that, while not exactly about a recognized solstice holiday from any religion, is extremely Christmas-coded. As AP Bio creator Mike O’Brien explained at the time, the inspiration came from his own youth in Toledo, where the sitcom is set, and the lore that surrounded his one-time neighbor, Katie Holmes, and her late 1990s casting as Joey on Dawson’s Creek. The result is this surreal episode in which the tropes of holiday programming (mandatory cheer grinchy resistance) cross over with the traditions of the titular holiday. 

I can’t promise that if you leave your shoes out on the porch, Katie will leave you blueberry muffins, but it can’t hurt to try. And although Katie Holmes Day was a fictional holiday at the time this episode aired, that could change if O’Brien gets his way.

How I Met Your Mother, ‘How Lily Stole Christmas’

Speaking of grinchy resistance: “How Lily Stole Christmas”! A little background — at the end of How I Met Your Mother’s first season, Lily (Alyson Hannigan) took a break from her engagement to Marshall (Jason Segel) for an art fellowship in San Francisco. She chose to do this without discussing it with him and instead just blowing town, which is immature, but also the kind of immaturity one is expected to display in one’s 20s. The couple reunite in the second season, and this is the first How I Met Your Mother holiday episode to air on the other side of their temporary breakup, and it revives the conflict around Lily’s departure. Setting up all the Christmas decorations to give Marshall something to look forward to as he works on his last law school paper before the holidays, she finds an old answering machine on which Ted (Josh Radnor) had left Marshall a message calling Lily “a very, very bad word.” For the purposes of telling his children the story in the context of the show, Ted switches the bad word for “grinch” — which is fitting, since Lily responds to this wound by gathering all the decorations and absconding with them to her little-seen apartment.  

The incident forces Ted and Lily to have an adult conversation about their friendship; it’s the kind of painful yet realistic moment that shows How I Met Your Mother at its best.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, ‘The Pontiac Bandit Return’

Though Brooklyn Nine-Nine boasted many memorable recurring characters, it’s hard to top Doug Judy (Craig Robinson), aka The Pontiac Bandit. Introduced in a Season One episode as an infuriatingly elusive perp who exclusively steals his namesake car, the viewer’s periodic check-ins with Doug show a deepening and very real friendship between him and Peralta (Andy Samberg), the detective who’s never stopped trying to take him down. In this second installment of the Pontiac Bandit saga, Doug gets caught again (by Peralta, in Santa drag), but this time, he has information to trade for his freedom: Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) and Holt (Andre Braugher) have been trying to take down a drug ring, and Doug claims he can help. He is going to require some creature comforts, though.

As usual, Doug is too slippery even for the detectives of the 99, but spending the holidays with him is a treat.

30 Rock, ‘Klaus & Greta’

Finally, a TV episode takes on the real story of New Year’s Eve — what happens afterward. In the aftermath of his drunken night, Jack (Alec Baldwin) vaguely remembers leaving a romantic message for his old high school crush, Nancy (Julianne Moore). Knowing she’s on vacation with her family, Jack enlists the assistance of NBC page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) on a dangerous mission: breaking into her house in Boston to erase the message before she gets home to hear it. 

Once they gain egress, Jack finds out a lot more about the current state of Nancy’s love life than he expected.

The B plot revolves around Liz (Tina Fey) dealing with her sheltered cousin Randy (Jeffery Self) — which is only fair, since the reason he’s at loose ends this particular January is that Liz drank too much and outed him to his family. To find out how Randy’s visit leads to Liz hooking up with a then up-and-coming star of young Hollywood and the Japanese body pillow that may be his true partner, you’ll have to watch the episode.

Cheers, ‘Christmas Cheers’

This episode showcases one of the most awkward holiday gaffes one can experience — receiving a gift from someone for whom you did not reciprocate. In this case, it’s Sam (Ted Danson) finding out that, for her first Christmas at Cheers, Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) has unexpectedly bought gifts for all the employees at the bar, and he’s got to find a store that’s still open fast. As for the bar’s patrons: Cliff (John Ratzenberger) is laser-focused on bringing the most canned food for the post office’s drive so that he will win a trip to Disney World — in Florida, his favorite place on earth. Norm (George Wendt) is taking a break from complete unemployment to play a department store Santa. And Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) is ruining Christmas for everyone — including Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), who is Jewish. Then something happens to restore his holiday spirit.

Friends, ‘The One With Phoebe’s Dad’

Arguably the show’s first Christmas episode (“The One With the Monkey,” from Season One, is mostly set on New Year’s Eve) is also, in my opinion, the best. Having heretofore only gotten brief mentions of the sad and often dangerous youth Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) has survived, we find out the man her grandmother (Audra Lindley) has always told her is her father is just the stock model who came with her various frames. Reluctantly, her grandma tells Phoebe where he lives upstate; Phoebe brings Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) for moral support, but also because they plan to do all their holiday shopping at an outlet mall on the way back. 

After the heartbreak Phoebe felt in Season One when Joey dated her identical twin sister Ursula (also Kudrow), trying to make herself approach her father’s door is the most emotionally challenging work Kudrow had to do on the show to date. 

There’s lighter fare, too. Back in the city, the unemployed Monica (Courteney Cox) and underemployed Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) refuse to believe Ross (David Schwimmer) when he claims their super, Mr. Treeger (Mike Hagerty), isn’t fixing their radiator because he disdained the Christmas cookies they gave him in lieu of a holiday tip. This episode falls right after Rachel and Ross nearly got together but then didn’t, and as fun as it is when they get together as a couple, seeing Rachel abuse Ross is pretty satisfying too.

Black-ish, ‘Black Santa / White Christmas’

Dre (Anthony Anderson) has had a lifelong love of Christmas, and particularly of Santa. He says in his opening narration that Santa was “the first white man (he) ever loved,” which was complicated, because his father, Pops (Laurence Fishburne) forbade Dre from believing in Santa as a kid, refusing to let anyone else take credit for the gifts Dre received. In adulthood, Dre — defiantly still treasuring his love of Santa — has been jealous of the heavyset colleague who gets to be a celebrity the one day each year when he gets to play Santa at the office Christmas party. Dre decides to make it his project this year to be Stevens & Lido’s first Black Santa.

But that’s going to be a problem, because the agency just named HR head Angelica (Ana Ortiz) its first Latina Santa. In the B plot, Dre’s wife Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) tangles with his mother Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) over control of the Christmas dinner. The contrast between Dre’s quixotic Santa quest — less than a year after Megyn Kelly notoriously declared on Fox News that both Jesus and Santa Claus were white — and the extremely relatable family power struggle make the first of Black-ish’s several holiday episodes still the best.

How I Met Your Mother, ‘The Limo’

Though this episode arrives only halfway through the first season of How I Met Your Mother, the viewer has already seen enough of Ted not to be at all surprised that a drip like him has historically had disappointing New Year’s Eves. With the specters of past bummers in mind, Ted rents a limousine to take him, Lily, Marshall and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) to five parties before midnight, so that they can check the vibe and count down the new year at the best one. Problems arise as members of the party peel or get peeled off over the course of the night.

Tell your kids/ask your parents what nightlife looked like before texting. Calamities aside: There are kisses at midnight.

GLOW, ‘A Very GLOW Christmas’

This was not supposed to be the series finale of GLOW. The show was not only renewed for a fourth and final season but had filmed the first two episodes when COVID happened. Then, in the fall of 2020, GLOW was un-renewed, and more than three years later, I’m still not over it. So it’s very brave of me to include an episode with this much emotional freight for me personally on this list.

With that out of the way: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling have spent the better part of a year getting increasingly antsy and bored doing the same show over and over again every night at Las Vegas’s Fan-Tan Hotel & Casino. Now it’s almost Christmas, and they’re very ready to get some time away from each other for the holidays. Carmen (Britney Young) tries to cheer everyone up by organizing a secret Santa draw, but when everyone acts like this is just another obligation, she pivots: They should play their wrestling characters in a very special adaptation of A Christmas Carol! Much like “Freaky Tuesday” earlier in the season, the chance to tweak characters they’ve gotten sick of (hey, probably like TV actors) proves invigorating, and everyone’s so focused on making the new show work that no one really notices that Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Bash (Chris Lowell) are working on a side deal that could change everything.

Community, ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’

Community slid pretty quickly into elaborately themed episodes — who can forget its take on GoodFellas with chicken fingers in Season One? — but “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” is on a whole other level. In a spin on Rankin-Bass’ beloved stop-motion holiday specials, Abed (Danny Pudi) reacts to the holiday by mentally replacing his friends and instructors at Greendale — and himself — with clay-sculpted avatars.

Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Jeff (Joel McHale) bring Abed to Dr. Ian Duncan (John Oliver) for treatment, but Duncan has selfish reasons to want to study Abed without necessarily helping him. With his guidance, the whole study group journeys into Abed’s clay fantasy and learns a lot about the spirit of the season and repressed trauma.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, ‘Not A Christmas Story’

As the episode title indicates, this is, well, not as much of a Christmas story as most of the episodes on this list. For starters, it takes place in November. Sue Ann (Betty White) is shown in holiday garb, but that’s because when we see her she’s just finished pre-taping her Christmas special. However, it does capture a very common Christmastime experience: forced togetherness fraying nerves. A snowstorm traps everyone at the station, and while they can at least eat Sue Ann’s made-for-TV Christmas feast for sustenance, everyone’s cabin fever keeps them from getting into the faux holiday spirit.

Even Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) — who can, famously, turn the world on with her smile — loses the ability to tolerate her co-workers, though at least her bad mood doesn’t destroy any office property, a claim Lou (Ed Asner) can’t make. Despite the technicality of its temporal setting, “Not A Christmas Story” delivers a climactic moment sweet enough for the season, cut with just enough acidic flavor.

Clone High, ‘Snowflake Day: A Very Special Holiday Episode’

Like Katie Holmes Day, Snowflake Day is not exactly Christmas, but in another sense… isn’t it? In the not-so-distant future (?), when cloning dead world leaders and celebrities is possible, religion-specific holidays have been abolished; instead, everyone celebrates Snowflake Day, which has its own customs. Rather than Santa, it has a pirate mascot called Snowflake Jake (Neil Flynn); his usual gift is spices; and the traditional meal is lamb tacos. Against this backdrop, Joan (Nicole Sullivan) — a bitter Snowflake Day denier — meets a beautiful unhoused girl, or possibly angel, who is definitely not Mandy Moore (Mandy Moore). Not Mandy and her disadvantaged friends may not have much, but sure as shootin’, they do have the Snowflake Day spirit — and they, unlike Abe (Will Forte), know it has nothing to do with impressing Cleo with an irresponsibly expensive gift. Showing how arbitrary Christmas traditions are by transposing them into utter nonsense: simply always funny.

Arrested Development, ‘Afternoon Delight’

Control of the Bluth family’s real estate development company has, at this point in the series, fallen to GOB (Will Arnett), who’s sure the Christmas party will be the setting for his many grateful employees to toast him. Being GOB, he doesn’t appreciate that he’s turned staffers against him by constantly boasting about how expensive his suits are (and the montage of GOB adding a few hundred dollars to the price every time he brings it up is an all-timer). Once GOB has destroyed morale for the whole office, Michael (Jason Bateman) and Maeby (Alia Shawkat) take their own turn making everyone feel weird.

Forced holiday fun in the workplace is bad enough; adding unsavory implications certainly doesn’t help! Still, in its way, it does make for a very Bluth Christmas.

Mad About You, ‘Met Someone’

When Mad About You begins, Paul (Paul Reiser) and Jamie (Helen Hunt) have already been married for a little while, so we don’t get their meet-cute — a key component of any romantic comedy — until this first-season holiday episode. In the cold open, Paul is at a newsstand buying the very last (mangled) Sunday New York Times; we don’t realize this is taking place in the past until Jamie appears with hair past her shoulder, snatching the paper from Paul and lying that she needs it because it supposedly contains her parents’ obituaries, following their death in an earthquake. (“Really?” “Beams hit them.”) Paul is immediately ensorcelled by this beautiful liar, and when she drops a dry cleaning ticket, he decides to pick up her items and continue the conversation, but shows up in the chaotic swirl of her office Christmas party. No spoilers, but: things work out!

The Office, ‘Christmas Party’

It’s hard to say that the office Christmas party of The Office’s “Christmas Party” is more awkward than the one in “Afternoon Delight,” what with “Afternoon Delight” being performed by an uncle and niece seeming to realize what they’re doing while doing it. But it’s rough! Plans are in place for a casual Secret Santa gift exchange with a $20 spending limit, which Michael (Steve Carell) has ignored by buying his Secret Santee, Ryan (B.J. Novak) an iPod. But when a homemade oven mitt, Michael’s gift from his Santa, Phyllis (Phyllis Smith), disappoints him, Michael decides to make it everyone else’s problem by switching the game to Yankee Swap.

As usual, Michael’s selfishness has ripple effects throughout the office, and his way of rescuing the party by getting everyone drunk works — as well as serving as a perfectly bittersweet ending for a holiday episode of this often bleak show. Not so bleak: star Angela Kinsey, who played accountant Angela, has explained that this was the episode that prevented the show’s cancellation.

Bob’s Burgers, ‘Nice-Capades’

One of the best things about Bob’s Burgers is that its kids act like kids. Of course, their antics are heightened from what you might find recognizable from children you know in real life, but their interests and obsessions are credibly childlike. For example, around Christmas time, they’re particularly aware that their behavior is being monitored by Santa, and that they will experience consequences in the form of withheld gifts. The comedy of errors in “Nice-Capades” starts with them picking a fight with a man (Henry Winkler) sitting in the mall massage chair they want to use. Alas, he’s the mall’s Santa, and tells them he can report on them to the real Santa. Further spats follow until the Belcher kids (Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal) try to undo their transgressions by staging Nice-Capades on the mall skating rink, performing a whole routine about the many Nice List-worthy actions they’ve taken over the year.

It’s a kid problem, addressed with a kid solution, but it also acknowledges the reality — to a certain point, kids can only understand virtue if it’s a little bit transactional. Merry Christmas!

The King of Queens, ‘Mentalo Case’

The titular Mentalo is a toy Doug (Kevin James) loved as a kid and is moved to try to acquire on eBay until his wife Carrie (Leah Remini) tells him he can’t keep bidding into the mid-three figures. Spence (Patton Oswalt) brings him to a toy fair, where they find out that Deacon (Victor Williams) has just bought the Mentalo and, since he called it “weak-ass,” assume he got it for Doug. But he didn’t, and this is just the first of several gift-related misapprehensions that leave almost all the characters crabby and disappointed come Christmas Day — a teetering plot that manages not to topple over, and gives us one Christmas winner in order to send us into our own holiday without feeling too sour or misanthropic.

Futurama, ‘Xmas Story’

Whereas Clone High imagined a near future in which Christmas had been abolished entirely, Futurama projects to the 31st century, when Christmas still exists: it’s just horrifying. Mom’s Friendly Robot Company created a Robot Santa who could assess naughtiness or niceness with speed humans could never hope to achieve, but his standards are so high that he judges everyone naughty, and instead of just denying them presents, he tries to kill them. Take this concept to its logical conclusion and you end up with people bunkering at home on Christmas Eve as Robot Santa carries out a one-android Purge on cities around the world. A reckless decision from Fry (voice of Billy West) gives Leela (Katey Sagal) an opportunity to rescue him heroically, and for once, forced holiday togetherness makes everyone feel less annoyed than safe.

South Park, ‘Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo’

As the legend goes, co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone got South Park greenlit on the strength of their proof of concept, “The Spirit of Christmas: Jesus vs. Santa,” so the holidays are part of South Park’s DNA. The first season couldn’t have gone by without a Christmas showcase, and we got one just nine episodes in with “Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo.” Kyle (voice of Stone) is forced by his mother Sheila (Mary Kay Bergman) to quit the school’s nativity play, because the family is Jewish and the play is, you know, pretty explicitly Christian. When Kyle sings to himself about how lonely it is to be Jewish at Christmas, he unintentionally summons Mr. Hankey.

Kyle is mocked for his belief in Mr. Hankey as the town spirals further and further into insanity trying to strip all the religion out of Christmas — but, of course, it can’t last. 

In an era when South Park has continued raising (or lowering) the bar for shocking comedy, and when practically every TV plot point is reported weeks or months in advance, it may be hard to imagine how hard this episode hit viewers (me) who had absolutely no idea it was coming. And if you eat fiber on Christmas Eve, he might come to your town this year!

NewsRadio, ‘Christmas’

The gag of NewsRadio is that the generally even-tempered Dave (Dave Foley) is a ruthless taskmaster. But not even Mean Old Man Nelson can play along with that image at Christmastime, and tells the staff they may all leave early — provided they’ve finished all their work. One by one, each employee comes in with a sob story that convinces Dave to finish their work himself, which is fine with Lisa (Maura Tierney), since she’s supposed to go back to Dave’s hometown of Milwaukee with him and meet his family for the first time, something she’s unaccountably nervous about. In the B plot, Mr. James (Stephen Root) calls on Matthew (Andy Dick) for his unerring gift picks.

This one will resonate with anyone who’s ever marked time in the office in the last hours before Christmas knowing no one else is doing anything productive either and you might as well all just sneak out.

30 Rock, ‘Ludachristmas’

The staff at TGS is known for their hard partying, and has only cemented that reputation since ungovernable maximalist Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) joined the cast. But even for this group, the annual Ludachristmas celebration stands out as the wildest, most dangerous party of the year, which is why Tracy is especially irritated that a legal issue has him in a court-ordered alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet for the holiday. Kenneth is also irritated, but because he judges the staff for their turpitude instead of honoring the true meaning of the holiday. And while these two opposing forces give the episode its title, the more memorable plotline involves Liz including Jack in a visit from her parents, Margaret (Anita Gillette) and Dick (Buck Henry) and her brother Mitch (Andy Richter). 

Jack may sincerely want to join a wholesome-seeming Pennsylvania family, but his mother Colleen (Elaine Stritch) refuses to let it happen. Given the savage vitriol Jack and Colleen could throw at each other, the show was always very judicious in its deployment of her character, giving her comparatively few appearances that much more impact.

Will & Grace, ‘All About Christmas Eve’

In oversimplified terms, Will & Grace is about the titular platonic friends frequently failing to form lasting romantic relationships because they’re so obsessed with each other. That changes when Grace (Debra Messing) has a whirlwind romance with Leo (Harry Connick Jr.), resulting in their marriage. “All About Christmas Eve” is set during the newlyweds’ first holiday season: Grace is thrilled to attend The Nutcracker with Leo, but also faintly jealous of Will (Eric McCormack) getting to hole up with Karen (Megan Mullally) and Jack (Sean Hayes) in Karen’s lavish hotel suite, lounging in robes. 

When Leo, a doctor on call, gets beeped to deal with a medical emergency, Grace tries to give his ticket to Will, and the two wrangle over Grace continuing to treat Will as her backup. Amid Jack and Karen’s usual shenanigans, there is some thoughtful writing about how friendships change through different stages of life — and also about how disgusting hot buttered rum is.

Malcolm in the Middle, ‘Hal’s Christmas Gift’

Finances have never been great for the Wilkerson family, but the Christmas they share in Season Six is tougher than most. The plan is for everyone to make gifts for each other, which is fine with Hal (Bryan Cranston) when he thinks he can just half-ass it because everyone else will, too. But everyone else does not half-ass it. In desperation, Hal abandons the gifts he had prepared and claims there’s a surprise for the family to find. No one finds any clues, because there are none, so when Reese (Justin Berfield) asks if they need to travel to find it. With impressive, or terrifying, determination, Hal sticks to his lie, piling everyone into the van to drive to parts unknown, to find… nothing. A deus ex machina of a credit card ultimately saves this from ending in disappointment for everyone, but the majority of this episode, which bravely stares into the intense darkness of late-stage capitalism at Christmastime, feels almost radical.  

Frasier, ‘Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz’

While out holiday shopping with Roz (Peri Gilpin), Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) has a chance meeting with Mrs. Moskowitz (Carole Shelley). As a Jewish mother, overhearing him mention a menorah he needs to buy is all it takes for Mrs. Moskowitz to suggest setting him up with her unmarried daughter, Faye (Amy Brenneman). Shocking both singletons, Faye and Frasier hit it off over coffee, but when she brings her mother by Frasier’s on their way out of town for the holidays, Faye is shocked to see all the Christmas decorations Martin (John Mahoney) has set up in the apartment: Mrs. Moskowitz had told Faye Frasier was Jewish, and while Faye doesn’t care about his faith, she’d rather avoid a fight with her mother, particularly with a flight from Seattle to Florida to spend together. Time for hijinks: Niles (David Hyde Pierce) tries to coach Martin in passing for Jewish.

For a one-off character, Mrs. Moskowitz is very well-drawn, and when she and Faye do eventually have it out, it leads to not just one but two of the funniest fights of the series.

Roseanne, ‘Santa Claus’

Just in time for the holidays, the determinedly misanthropic Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has actually made a friend, Karen, to the relief of both Darlene’s parents. But when Roseanne (Roseanne) is playing Santa at the mall, one of the kids who comes to tell her his Christmas wishes is… Karen’s son. It turns out Karen (Lee Garlington) is not one of Darlene’s classmates, but a fully grown adult woman who runs a used book store where Darlene likes to hang out. As usual, Roseanne is confused by Darlene, even though the two of them have more in common than Roseanne ever has with her more conventional daughter, Becky (Lecy Goransen); and as usual, Darlene and Roseanne’s fight and reconciliation are delicately written and emotionally satisfying.

And: some excellent clowning by Laurie Metcalf’s Jackie, assisting Santa in the role of Mrs. Claus.

Designing Women, ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’

If you’re going to do an episode about kids losing faith in the idea of Santa Claus that doesn’t end up affirming his existence, you have to be pretty sure there aren’t any kids in your audience that do still believe, and, okay, yeah, probably a safe bet with Designing Women. In this case, the dubious Christmas celebrant is Mary Jo’s son Quinton (Brian Lando), and Mary Jo’s heartbreak over him losing this piece of his childhood leads her colleagues to go over-the-top trying to convince him that Santa is real. This being a sitcom, their efforts have disastrous results, but ends on a reminder of what Christmas is really for: Dixie Carter, in character as Julia, holding both her castmates and America hostage while she sings a carol on network TV.

I kid! It’s actually lovely. (That was something she demanded to do, though.)

The Simpsons, ‘Marge Be Not Proud’

The Belcher kids of Bob’s Burgers might be naughty, but nothing they needed to atone for in “Nice-Capades” rose to the level of Bart (voice of Nancy Cartwright) committing a crime of opportunity by shoplifting Bonestorm, a groundbreakingly violent video game that Marge (Julie Kavner) has refused to buy for him — not even for Christmas. Bart successfully intercepts an answering machine message from Try-N-Save security guard Don Brodka (Lawrence Tierney), but Brodka still bans Bart from the store; thus, when Marge decides they should all go get their holiday photo taken there, Brodka ejects Bart. Marge is quietly shattered by this escalation of Bart’s baseline mischief, and Bart is mortified to have done something so wrong that it’s changed their relationship, maybe forever. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s also one of the more quietly devastating yet hilarious jokes in the show’s run. 

Bart eventually figures out how to restore Marge’s trust in him, but in the meantime, it really captures the crushing shame of knowing your parent isn’t mad — they’re disappointed.

Happy Endings, ‘No-Ho-Ho’

It’s hard not to feel sorry for my friends whose December birthdays are within days of the biggest gift-giving holiday on the calendar. Here’s who I don’t feel sorry for: Jane Kerkovich-Williams (Eliza Coupe). Jane was born on Christmas, but no one in her life knows that, because she just rewrote her own story and decided her birthday was going to be July 16 in order not to compete with Jesus. “No-Ho-Ho” revolves around her closest loved ones finding out the truth. This being Happy Endings, however, there is also the usual insanity among the group, from Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) displaying a kink related to unwrapping presents, and Max (Adam Pally) spending the holiday season wearing a backpack full of eggnog. Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) has an obsession of his own — a hip-hop dancing Santa decoration — that gives the episode a gorgeous dance-off tag.

Seinfeld, ‘The Pick’

The titular pick involves Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), as his Calvin Klein model girlfriend Tia (Jennifer Campbell) spots him in traffic scratching his nose, though the angle of her vantage point makes it look like he’s picking his nose. This would be uncomfortable for anyone, but is especially devastating for the fastidious Jerry, who can’t get her to listen as he protests his innocence. But what qualifies the episode for this list is what happens to Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Thinking it might be nice to send out a holiday card with her photo on it, she agrees to follow Jerry’s recommendation and have Kramer (Michael Richards) take her portrait. It’s not until the cards have all been mailed that Jerry notices there’s more on the card than Elaine has intended.

As Elaine feels her life unraveling, George (Jason Alexander) picks the wrong moment to complain that he never received a holiday card.

No one does bewilderment like Alexander. A triumph.

The Wonder Years, ‘A Very Cutlip Christmas’

All things considered, Kevin (Fred Savage) had a pretty idyllic childhood. But the day comes for all kids when they’re confronted by the realities of capitalism, and that happens for Kevin in “A Very Cutlip Christmas.” 

The Cutlip of the title is Coach Cutlip (Robert Picardo), the (improbably named) gym teacher at Kevin’s school. Since at least half of TV comedies have historically been written by people who did not excel in phys ed, the hated gym teacher is a common trope, and Cutlip is a perfect exemplar of the form. Kevin and his friends feel tortured by him, and Doug (Brandon Crane) particularly wishes they had some kind of blackmail material they could use against them. Here’s where capitalism comes in: Kevin happens to be at the mall just in time to catch Cutlip supplementing his teacher’s income with a shift as Santa. Desperate for Kevin not to reveal his secret and undermine his fragile authority, Cutlip starts lightening up on Kevin in class. Their alliance is not meant to last, but the incident does give Kevin a lesson in empathy, and in the many ways Santa Claus matters for all kinds of different people. 

Friends, ‘The One With the Routine’

Chandler having just moved across the hall with his girlfriend Monica, Joey has a new roommate in Janine (Elle Macpherson), a professional dancer. She doesn’t think much of the opportunity to be on “Dickin’ Rockin’ Dickie Eve,” but if any of her new friends want to join her as “party people” in Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve’s pre-taped segments, they’re welcome to. Ross and Monica would, it turns out, like that very much (and can’t wait to see how jealous their parents get when the kids tell them). Joey also agrees to join Janine so that he can spend even a fake party getting to know her better, so he’s disappointed when the stage manager (Patrick Bristow) separates them to dance with other partners.

Oh, you didn’t remember that part? Because a dance routine that Ross and Monica have been doing since their youth knocked the romantic storyline entirely out of your head (and also Janine/Macpherson was kind of a dud)? I get it. Here you go.

Everybody Loves Raymond, ‘The Toaster’

Everybody Loves Raymond is 65 to 113 percent about Ray (Ray Romano) having a fractious relationship with his parents, Frank (Peter Boyle) and Marie (Doris Roberts). Tension between them has extended to gift giving, but this particular year, Ray thinks he’s really come up with a great idea: he’s bought high-end toasters and had them engraved with a message of love from himself, his wife Debra (Patricia Heaton) and their three kids. After Debra’s parents are effusive about a gift Ray wavered on, he checks in on his own parents to see how it went over, only to find out… it didn’t.

The scene in which he and Marie wade into the post-Christmas chaos to try to get their gift back is nearly operatic in its mounting tension.

It’s rare for the elder Barones to recognize how their lack of consideration affects other people, but this reversal is what makes “The Toaster” an instant classic.

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