The weirdest thing about “A Very Murray Christmas” is that it really isn’t all that weird.
Despite the presence of Bill Murray, an actor who telegraphs impure thoughts with just the cock of an eyebrow, his long-anticipated Netflix special that debuts Friday turns out to be as subversive as a Dr. Seuss tale written under the influence of rum-raisin cookies.
All his A-list guests, with the exception of a disarmingly off-tune Chris Rock, are on their best behavior. George Clooney pays tribute to his aunt Rosemary Clooney in the playful Albert King number “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’,” and Miley Cyrus rides in on a sleigh rather than a wrecking ball to blow the tinsel off the tree with a reverent version of “Silent Night.”
For genuine mischief, put these nontraditional holiday specials on your wish list.
“The Beverly Hillbillies — The Thanksgiving Story” (Season 7, 1968): Let me tell a little story ’bout a clan well-fed. During the height of CBS’ hillbilly heyday, the Clampett family heads to Hooterville for Thanksgiving in the ultimate crossover dinner with a table filled out by members of “Green Acres” and “Petticoat Junction.” Probably too late in the year for Jeb to get a gander of them purdy girls swimmin’ in the water tank, and just as well.
“Star Wars Holiday Special” (1978): The space opera as a comedy musical. Art Carney! Harvey Korman! What else could the fans want? There were Stormtroopers for some pew-pew excitement, plus you got new characters — like Chewy’s son, Lumpy. (Never saw him again.) Many kids learned on that fateful November day: No matter how cool something might be, they’ll find a way to “Jar Jar” it up soon enough.
“RuPaul’s Christmas Ball” (1993): Although taped in New York in front of an audience that appears to have been borrowed from “The Jerry Springer Show,” this fab-ulous special aired only in the U.K., depriving thousands of good little American boys and girls from the sight of La Toya Jackson engaging in some S&M fun with the host, a broken-down Liza Minnelli impersonator and ultra-chill greetings from Nirvana. What a drag!
“Mr. T and Emmanuel Lewis in a Christmas Dream” (1984): A Salvation Army Santa teaches a latchkey kid about the true meaning of the holidays with the help of a David Copperfield cigarette trick and the Rockettes dressed up as tin soldiers armed for Black Friday. The only thing missing: Mr. T pitying the fool who didn’t bring frankincense.
“A Special Sesame Street Christmas” (1978): Oscar the Grouch discovers the holiday’s true meaning with the help of Imogene Coca, wearing one of Flavor Flav’s discarded clocks around her neck, a befuddled Henry Fonda trying to assemble a bulldozer toy from a fire escape and Michael Jackson, who barely lifts his nose out of a ghost book to acknowledge his presence in the most misguided Muppet adventure since Grover’s attempt at “Death of a Salesman.”
“Bewitched — Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember” (Season 4, 1967): Darrin gets arrested in Pilgrim-populated Salem — and not because he had shape-shifted between York-form and Sargent-form. Samantha makes a big speech, humiliating the men who believed in witches, and then she used witchcraft to get Darrin off the hook. It’s like staging “The Crucible” and ending with a list of the people who really were Soviet agents. Eventually both Samantha and Endora are convicted and pressed to death beneath a board heaped with rocks. TV Guide still lists it as the most depressing season finale ever.
“The Bob Newhart Show — Over the River and Through the Woods” (Season 4, 1975): The mild-mannered comedian pops open a few buttons in the ultimate version of the “Hi, Bob!” drinking game. In this intoxicating Thanksgiving outing, the men engage in the time-tested holiday tradition of getting smashed and ordering moo goo gai pan. Still a small wonder that executives didn’t green-light a spinoff for the delivery guy.
“Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol” (1978): Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by the Ghosts of Dated Impressions in this one-man production tailored for the Charles Dickens Theatre in Branson, Mo. Make this a family event, if only for an excuse to teach your grandchildren about the miracles of Jolly Ol’ Paul Lynde.
“Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Late Show With David Letterman” (1986-2014): For as long as we can remember, Christmas with Dave meant Paul Shaffer doing his Cher impression, Darlene Love belting out “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” and comedian Jay Thomas knocking a meatball off the top of the studio tree. The annual antics were retired last December, but you can keep the spirit alive by cranking Love’s classic from “A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector” on Christmas Eve and dining on a meatball grinder.
“I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown” (2003): Even “Peanuts” fanatics will need a session with Lucy the Shrink after enduring this crass attempt to cash in on a beloved franchise. Rerun — Linus’ little brother, not, unfortunately the Santa-shaped sidekick from “What’s Happening!” — whines and whines (and whines) about wanting a canine companion for the holidays. Peace and goodwill toward men will just have to wait.