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The Top Nine Underrated Christmas Specials

Christmas is a time for traditions, a sense of continuity between troubled contemporary times and a simpler, wholesome past. It only makes sense that we revisit the same movies and tv specials this time of year, but it doesn’t make sense that we only revisit the same handful over and over and over again.

That’s because for every Grinch and Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas special there are dozens that never found a giant audience, or that briefly made a splash but faded into obscurity over time. They are lost children of the Christmas entertainment industry, and they deserve to find a good home.

That’s why we’re taking the time to remind you of some of the best and, lately, seldom-discussed Christmas specials. You probably saw a few of them years ago. Pay them another visit. And if you missed them the first time around, it’s time for to make your introductions.

After all, every Christmas tradition had to start somewhere. Start your next one with our picks for…

The Top Nine Underrated Christmas Specials:

Most Christmas specials are hopeful, but Blackadder's Christmas Carol is joyously cynical. It's the story of an impossibly nice man who gets a vision of the past and future as a reward for his good deeds, only to discover that he'd be happier if he was a total a-hole. Deliciously mean, and absolutely hilarious.

Photo: BBC

When you're not looking, your toys come alive. But this Christmas there's a new sci-fi action figure who doesn't know she's a toy. Years later, Toy Story would tell almost the exact same story and get all the praise, but The Christmas Toy is just as sweet and, maybe, a little bit more emotional.

Photo: Lionsgate

Several of the Doctor Who Christmas specials become instant classics. This should be one of them, but it's often overlooked. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is the heart-wrenching story of the time the Doctor owed a woman a favor, and how he tried to pay her back - and almost completely screwed up - with a trip to an alien planet full of living Christmas trees. Keep tissues handy. You'll need them.

Photo: BBC

The pint-sized alien Invader Zim has a new plan to conquer the world, by impersonating Santa Claus and tricking all of humanity to teleporting themselves to their doom. But his plan is too good, and he's overpowered by his own Christmas biotechnology. Absolutely absurd, totally malevolent, and a total delight.

Photo: Nickelodeon

Rowan Atkinson is back with a more lighthearted, and even funnier Christmas special. Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean is a series of silly vignettes about the mostly silent buffoon's adventures during the holidays, including a nativity scene gone overboard, a Christmas tree fiasco and - of course - a giant turkey on his head.

Photo: ITV

Everyone remembers Rudolph, but Rankin/Bass produced many more Christmas specials that don't get nearly as much love. One of the best is Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, an ambitious fantasy about how Santa Claus came to become Santa Claus, and how all the traditions and tropes we take for granted got started in the first place. Smart and endearing.

Photo: Rankin/Bass Productions

An animated remake of a mostly-forgotten live-action A Christmas Carol TV musical may sound like a gamble, but it pays off in The Stingiest Man in Town. Scrooge, as always, has a lessen to learn, but he'll do it with some of the most delightful songs you'll hear in a special like this.

Photo: Rankin/Bass Productions

A mouse with a chip on his shoulder writes an ungrateful letter Santa Claus, setting a sequence of events in motion that almost ruins Christmas for everybody in town. It's a weird premise for a Christmas special, but it works, thanks to more great music and lot of spirit.

Photo: Rankin/Bass Productions

Berkeley Breathed's beloved comic strip Bloom County came to television with a funny and unusual Christmas special about a penguin who just wants to fly. Berkeley Breathed was notoriously unhappy with how it came out, but he's being too hard on himself. 

Photo: Amblin Television
Top Photos: Nickelodeon

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.