WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2015 – Though we haven’t been privileged with advance copies, we learned this week that Netflix was to launch its first-ever Christmas special Friday. Given the high quality of recent Netflix originals (“Longmire,” “Daredevil,” and now “Jessica Jones”) this one may be worth a try, even sight unseen. (But see UPDATE below.)
Shades of “Scrooged!” The very title of this made-for-download special — “A Very Murray Christmas” — is your first tip that something interesting is afoot. In this show, Bill Murray and his weirdly attractive cynical personality return to the holiday genre, joined this time by a considerable number of his closest film and TV friends.
Special guests/characters range from the ubiquitous Paul Shaffer to Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Jason Schwartzman and even that immortal if obnoxious Queen of Twerk, Hannah Montana… er, Miley “the Tongue” Cyrus. (And she’s actually wearing clothes… probably a good thing, given this writer’s rapidly aging ticker.) So move over, Mick Jagger.
Murray plays himself in this one, with a nod, perhaps, toward his old Lounge Lizard character in those thrilling days of vintage “Saturday Night Live” episodes. You know, the ones we watched religiously every week back in the day when people actually cared about the show and when there wasn’t a damn thing to stream since that hadn’t been invented yet.
We first discover Netflix Bill reluctantly trapped by contract and circumstance, serving as host for a live, internationally broadcast New York TV Christmas special that gets knocked off the air by a blizzard. Now what do we do, kids? If you look outside, you can’t even see those city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style… They’re buried in drifting snow.
So, hell, let’s do a show… for ourselves! Shades of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland! Throw out the script! Party time! And if she shows ups, let’s see what us old macroaggressive dudes can talk Miley into doing…
It’s at this point that the almost vaudeville-style part of the story gets underway, at first quietly and unobtrusively in the bar of the hotel where Bill’s now-aborted show was about to unfold. The bar segment is propelled by several characters and cameos, as well as some improbable (and bad) singing by several of the revelers, at least according to sources who got a sneak peak.
But via a fanciful plot twist, we’re ultimately transported from this intimate bar setting to a fabulous soundstage that’s reminiscent of what you’d see in a 1930s movie musical. It’s loaded up with lots of fake holiday trappings including fake snow, outrageous showgirls and a gleaming white piano in full-Liberace mode. Eat your heart out, Las Vegas.
This Netflix streaming special was penned by Murray, Mitch Glazer and the production’s director, Murray’s longtime pal Sofia Coppola, who back in 2003 directed Murray in the arty, surprise hit “Lost in Translation.”
That film was also notable for the first major appearance of a young ingénue and soon-to-be-major-motion picture-star Scarlett Johansson as a rock star’s neglected bride.
As for tonight’s show—well, we don’t know, since we didn’t get that preview DVD. But with its running time of slightly under an hour, we’re willing to give it a shot. We’ve already lost days of our lives pursuing far more foolish endeavors.
BTW, we just checked and this new Christmas special is already up on Netflix and ready to stream.
So after dinner, we’ll pour ourselves a couple of stiff ones to insulate against the latest unwelcome onslaught of frigid air here in the DC metro region; haul out the microwave popcorn; plop down in front of the Samsung flatscreen and our ridiculous array of high-quality surround sound speakers; and then waste yet another evening indulging in holiday foolishness and fun, including second-guessing the dialogue.
It’s been an awful year and we’re entitled.
See you at the show.
UPDATE: We watched the show last night and here’s the deal. The opening scenes are slow and uninspired, with the inside TV/inside entertainment biz stuff falling surprisingly flat. Nothing much happens until Bill stirs up some action in that hotel bar scene, which brings online a few competent entertainers this Boomer reviewer admits he’s never encountered before. Sofia Coppola treats the whole event like a classic French movie that’s full of feelings but devoid of plot. Which you may or may not like, depending.
Via a more or less clever deus ex machina plot twist, we do eventually find ourselves (and Bill and company) transported to that glitzy stage we spoke of earlier. Things liven considerably as dancers show up in holiday attire along (finally) with Miley Cyrus and George Clooney materializing as well.
With a now white-clad Paul Shaffer commanding that white piano and an extra keyboard, we’re joined by an offstage orchestra and it’s showtime, albeit briefly. Bill, whose Lounge Lizard voice has grown raspier with age, belts out traditional Christmas tunes, occasionally joined in his vocals by George Clooney who should definitely not quit his day job to pursue a singing career.
But the surprise of the night is Miley Cyrus. She show up tastefully attired, believe it or not, in a relatively standard issue, bright red, white-trimmed super-minidress and hat à la Santa’s elf-style. She proceeded to sing a pair of Christmas classics in a relatively straightforward fashion, proving that, even post-Hannah Montana, the the barely adult Miley can still actually sing, and quite well, if she sets her mind to it.
The only Miley turn-offs here were those tiny, tacky tats traveling up each bare arm, looking more like greenish, extended needle tracks rather than reasonably classic works of art. Why attractive young women do this remains beyond my ken, although Madonna may still lurk behind the Original Sin of contemporary female exhibitionism. Perhaps some day, Miley will think better of this and get those nasty things erased.
All in all, Bill’s “Very Murray Christmas” is a nice, slow-paced, nostalgic hour of holiday fluff that conjures up wistful memories of Christmases long-past but doesn’t set the world on fire. Some Boomers will enjoy it, others won’t care, X-ers will find it iffy, and millennials will ignore it unless they’re hoping to see a nude Miley Cyrus swinging from the rafters like an uninhibited version of Tarzan’s Jane. (Which they won’t.)