REVIEW: The Christmas TV Companion book

The Christmas TV Companion:
A Guide to Cult Classics, Strange Specials, & Outrageous Oddities
1701 Press, softcover
Release date: November 10, 2009
Author: Joanna Wilson

The Christmas TV CompanionI cover many subjects here on The Film Frontier. Beyond key ones like Star Trek, Star Wars, Superman, and Elvis Presley, I also give love to, among others, The Twilight Zone, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Charles Schulz’ Peanuts gang from time-to-time. I like to think this is a rather eclectic combination not soon to be found anywhere else.

To some degree, however, all of these topics and more are covered in The Christmas TV Companion by Joanna Wilson. (Fair warning to Superman fans: the associated reference is just an “also appeared in” credit for Margot Kidder on one page.) The book’s main revelation to me is demonstrating a common thread among all of these topics I previously thought were so diverse: Christmas.

The Christmas TV Companion takes readers on a journey through some of pop-culture’s best and worst Christmas moments. Hold on tight for this ride from the traditional to the blasphemous and every point in between.

Core sections of the book are Macabre, Sci-Fi, Variety, Animation, and Dark. With dozens, perhaps hundreds of productions referenced, Wilson is obviously well-versed on her topic. When reading books like this, I fact check by looking at what the writer states about topics on which I am knowledgeable. Wilson’s Elvis, Star Trek, and Star Wars references are all correct – which leads me to trust her on the multitude of other topics covered.

While some shows warrant a line or two, 1978’s infamous Star Wars Holiday Special (is it possible to write the name of that special without including “infamous” in front?) merits five pages of coverage, including a photo of Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur from the show. The special was actually my first exposure to Star Wars, as a three-year-old. I remember very little of it, as I likely fell asleep – which is probably a good thing.

One of my favorite features of this book is the “Make Your Own Marathon” concept. We geeks have been doing this for years, and Wilson’s suggestions add new and creative elements to setting up such marathons. A Star Trek-themed marathon and an Elvis-themed marathon are among the several she provides. She also includes tips on creating your own based on a subject of your choice.

Fellow Trekkies, I can hear you asking, “The only Christmas scene was in Star Trek Generations. How can you have a Star Trek Christmas marathon?” I will not reveal all, but I will throw you a clue as to how these marathons of loose associations work: A certain Star Trek: The Next Generation actor has also appeared as Ebenezer Scrooge.

The Elvis marathon mentions the 1968 ELVIS television special, which aired during the holidays that year, as well as several other Christmas TV shows that have included Elvis in some fashion. An unfortunate omission was Perry White (Lane Smith)’s appearance as “Santa Elvis” in the 1994 “Season’s Greedings” episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Superman even pulls Santa Elvis’ sleigh to deliver toys to orphans. Written by series star Dean Cain, it is one of my favorite episodes of the series.

Very little else is left out, though, and the variety that serves as this book’s strength may also leave your head spinning at times. The Christmas TV Companion works best as a fun reference to thumb through, rather than something to read cover-to-cover. You probably want to keep this book near a computer or notepad, too, as you will find yourself wanting to seek out certain specials or look up more about some topics.

For instance, one of my favorite Christmas songs is “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” I had no idea until reading this book that the song’s original lyrics were actually quite depressing and changed at the last moment for its first appearance in the Judy Garland movie Meet Me In St. Louis. Curious about the original lyrics? You can find them here. You can bet I will start keeping an eye out for Carol for Another Christmas, Rod Serling’s take on A Christmas Carol that aired in 1964, too.

I must give credit to 1701 Press for including an index. A book like this demands one. A couple of recent Elvis books by other publishers lack indexes, and I was beginning to think they were going out of style.

If you are a Christmas special addict like me, you will be glad to know that Wilson’s current project (of which this book is actually derived) is a “comprehensive encyclopedia of Christmas on TV,” due out next year.

With about 135 pages of content outside of the thorough index, it would be easy to underestimate The Christmas TV Companion. Do not let this book’s seemingly short length fool you, though. Each page is full of information. Often Wilson even covers the margins with more trivia on the various productions, performers, or creative types mentioned. Whether by design or fortuitous accident, The Christmas TV Companion appears just small enough to make a perfect stocking stuffer.

The Christmas TV Companion goes on sale Tuesday. It is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Overall Experience: 9 (out of 10)

(1701 Press provided a review copy of this book free-of-charge.)