Move over, Rudolph: Streaming adds to the flood of holiday specials


(CNN)Far from the holiday specials of the past — which dutifully arrived on the major networks each year, from Frosty and Rudolph to Charlie Brown and the Grinch — much of this year’s barrage of Christmas specials will stream into the season.

Apple TV+ made news by acquiring the Charlie Brown specials, moving them off of ABC (before making them available via PBS). But that’s just the tip of a tinsel-topped iceberg of content, with several cable channels (Freeform, Hallmark and Lifetime among them) heavily turning their schedules over to holiday fare.

As for the relative newcomers to this annual programming onslaught, streaming services — some of which didn’t even exist last Christmas — have also gotten into the act, with a lineup of original movies and series intended to woo subscribers.

The following is just a smattering of what’s on tap over the next few weeks, including a few mini-reviews to help separate naughty options from the nice ones, as programmers vie to find the next perennial “It’s a Wonderful Life” (again scheduled for Christmas eve on NBC) or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Dec. 1 on CBS).

    Given that those specials were just that — special — when they rolled around every year in the pre-DVR era, that’s unlikely. But appropriately for the holidays, hope springs eternal.

    Music specials! This year, everyone wants in on the old-time Christmas special act, which includes: “CMA Country Christmas” (ABC, Nov. 30), Carrie Underwood (HBO Max, Dec. 3), Mariah Carey (Apple TV+, Dec. 4), Dolly Parton (CBS, Dec. 6), “High School Musical: The Musical: The Holiday Special” (Dec. 11, Disney+), Argentine pop singer Diego Torres (HBO Max, Dec. 18), and a Garth Brooks-Trisha Yearwood live concert (CBS, Dec. 20).

    “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” (Netflix): Recently launched on Netflix, this energetic original musical stars Forest Whitaker as a toy maker — robbed of his best ideas — who rediscovers the holiday spirit when his granddaughter enters the picture.

    “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” (Disney+): Spoofing the legendarily bad 1978 “Star Wars” holiday special, this animated hour celebrates “Life Day” — and 40-plus years of cinematic history — with the characters from the most recent trilogy.

    “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” (Nov. 22, Netflix): Featuring original songs from Parton’s holiday album, the movie perhaps not surprisingly has an inordinately high sugar content, with Christine Baranski as the Scrooge-like figure who intends to evict the inhabitants of a small town, before finding holiday cheer (and a few other surprises). The songs aren’t especially memorable, so the movie — directed and choreographed by Debbie Allen — falls into the category of those you really have to be in the mood/spirit to watch.

    “The Happiest Season” (Nov. 24, Hulu): A modern twist on the holiday movie, as Mackenzie Davis (“Irresistible”) brings Kristen Stewart home for the holidays, without having come out to her family or told them that they’re a couple. Messiness ensues, with a supporting cast that includes Mary Steenburgen, Aubrey Plaza and “Schitt’s Creek’s” Daniel Levy.

    “12 Dates of Christmas” (Nov. 26, HBO Max): A dating show with a holiday twist, as singles look for love at a “fairytale castle” in Austria.

    Godmothered (Dec. 4, Disney+): Jillian Bell is a fairy godmother-in-training in this movie set around the holidays, trying to assist the single mom who had actually reached out for help when she was a young girl.

    “Illumination Presents Minions Holiday Special” (Nov. 27, NBC): An animated special featuring the strange-talking characters from the “Despicable Me” franchise, consisting of four new shorts.

    “Dear Santa” (Dec. 4, on demand): A documentary look at Operation Santa, the 100-year-old program of the US Postal Service to take needy children’s letters to Santa and fulfill their wishes.

    “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical!” (Dec. 9, ABC): “Glee’s” Matthew Morrison stars as the irascible Grinch in this stage version of the story, being performed in London.

      “A Creepshow Holiday Special” (Dec. 18, Shudder): In the “something different” department, the horror anthology series is bringing its own spin to the Christmas-themed special with an episode written and directed by its producer, Greg Nicotero, on the AMC Networks streaming service.

      Yes, in 2020, even the holidays come with a touch of horror.