Christmas episodes are very hard to get right, a fact that is discussed on TV forums every year around this time.  They either swing completely into overly sweet and sickening, or attempt to teach a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas and become pandering and insulting to the audience’s intelligence.  And let’s face it, not every show is like Community, which can take a pop culture reference and run with it to crazy places and yet still remain uniquely itself.  This week, Brothers & Sisters offered it’s final installment of 2010, and I must say that I was somewhat surprised with how much I enjoyed it.  Since a regular episode of this show can become overly sweet or pandering, a Christmas episode should be something to stay away from; it wasn’t without problems, mostly in the set-up portion, but as far as I’m concerned the good outweighed the bad.

The whole episode is predicated around the fact that Nora, fed up with going holiday-crazy every year, decides to up and leave Pasadena all together and spend Christmas in Santa Fe with Dr. Karl.  Her four present children, who were of course complaining about her yuletide-overdrive setting just moments prior, react with horror at the thought of her not hosting (well, except for Sarah, who was so Grinch-y this episode I half expected Paige to appear with a single antler tied onto her head to pull her mother in a sleigh overloaded with all the toys from Sarah’s new radio station’s Secret Santa).  Justin goes into a panic because he’s invited his nurse love-interest from a few shows back to his family’s Christmas (does anyone know Nurse’s name?).  Well, technically, she invited herself in an incredibly odd sequence where she goes from annoyed at Justin for disappearing for a month to joining him at a major family because of an unexplained and rather bizarre obsession with figgy pudding.  Kevin and Kitty immediately square off for the right to host the holiday now that Nora has bowed out, a storyline which actually rang true and provided the biggest laughs of the episode.

As I said, most of the problems with the show came in the set-up of the plot.  Is there really anyway Nora would actually think she could spend a major holiday away from her precious offspring?  Is Sarah really so Scrooge-ish that she would fire an elderly woman at the radio station three days before the holiday?  Who in their right mind invites themselves to someone else’s family Christmas after one date and radio silence for a month (seriously, as far as I’m concerned, they’ve established that Nurse is a psychopath.  I’m saying she goes after someone with a knife before the season’s out).  And would Kevin and Kitty really stoop to such depths to…actually, that one works.  It’s been long established that the Walkers will go to the mat over a game of charades, so spitting poison at each other over holiday rights makes sense.

While the children all spin downward in Pasadena, Nora is relaxing in Santa Fe.  Well, to be more accurate she’s spinning like a top, deprived of her children and (since they aren’t calling her) not feeling needed.  At the height of her misery, she declares that her children would be better off without her.  Dr. Karl pops her a pill to help her sleep, and before you know it we’re in the Brothers & Sisters version of It’s a Wonderful Life, where Nora gets to see what would have happened to her children if she had left them.  Extended dream sequences like this are hard to do, but I do think the show pulled it off, if only because everyone was clearly having such fun with the silliness; the storyline was It’s a Wonderful Life, but the tone was pure Clue.  As it happens, sans Nora, the Walker children don’t turn out so well.  Sarah’s a cold, heartless bitch, Kitty’s a slob with no purpose, Kevin’s a closet case with two kids (and an awful moustache) and Justin’s a drug addict.  Meanwhile, Holly is their step-mother and before you have time to say “Kitty’s wearing Uggs!?!” the four children and Holly have hatched a plot to kill Nora with some poisoned egg nog.  The entire thing is so over-the-top that, for me, it circled past ridiculous-ridiculous and hit the sweet spot of fun-ridiculous.

Nora wakes up from her dream screaming her head off, and is off to Pasadena in a flash.  Of course, she walks in and finds her children at her home, having decorated it without her and thrilled to have her back.  And naturally, she doesn’t just find them but also Nurse (who no one knows), Kitty’s boy toy Seth (who no one knows) and the old woman that Sarah un-fired from the radio station after she realized that she actually did possess a soul (who no one knows).  The entire tableau, with the addition of these three, couldn’t help but strike me as a real false note.  Really it should have been the core cast around the tree, realizing that their family will always be together.  Even the Amazing Disappearing Evan, who showed up tonight for a minute or so, and then (if I’m not mistaken) was again missing in action while his mother made out with her grad student boyfriend.

In terms of plot development tonight, we get two small tidbits: one, Uncle Saul has reconnected with the man who infected him with HIV all those years ago.  Richard Chamberlain played Jonathan, and was wonderful in his two brief scenes; I hope we see more of that story develop.  Also, we find out that Seth is actually Dean Whitley’s son, Kitty’s boss who we met briefly last episode, played by the great Christine Rose.  I’ll admit I didn’t see that one coming, and I look forward to seeing her eviscerate Kitty before Kitty eviscerates her back.  Judging from the previews, that could be as early as January 2nd!

And a few drops of something extra for your egg nog:

– “Nothing like a good massacre to put you in the Christmas spirit.”

– “It’s not my fault that you invited some Christmas-starved girl over here to gawk at us like we’re some kind of holiday diorama!”

– “Is it the Golden Girls tree-toppers?”  DO THESE EXIST?!?  I need a Dorothy yesterday!!!  Can you imagine the jokes you could make as you put a Blanche in top of the tree? “Ah declayuh, girls, mah panties haven’t smelled lahk pahn needles since Ah dated that lumbahjack.”

– The difference between Kitty and Kevin’s decorations was extreme but really quite funny.  Kitty’s sparse little Christmas shrubbery juxtaposed with Kevin’s “oh-my-god-a-gay-elf-exploded-in-your-apartment” look made me chuckle.

– “Why does it say ‘Santa’s Village’ on your box?”  This was an innocuous question, but it really could have started in a much dirtier place.

– “Mom couldn’t be more gay tolerant if she twirled a baton up Santa Monica Boulevard in a Cher costume!”

– Justin is apparently planning on being a paramedic now, which, let’s face it, is what he should have been trying to do in the first place.

– “Donner can’t keep his hands off Blitzen.”

– Anyone else sad we didn’t get to see Dream Nora?  And what happened to Dream Tommy?  Post your guesses below!  I’m saying that without his mother there to keep him from turning out exactly like his father, he became a serial philanderer as well and wound up killed by one of his jealous mistresses.

  • Myra Weaver

    Why did Saul want to honor the “Jewish blood that runs in all of us” when they aren’t Jewish? He does seem to be, but that would mean Nora is Jewish, and, therefore, all the kids. Was this just a lame attempt to work Chanukah into the show? Or did I miss the show when they changed their name from “Walkerstein” ?

  • tom jarnett

    The Holdens are Jewish. Ida, Nora, Saul, all of them. That’s been made clear several times in earlier episodes, particularly one where Paige wants to know more about her Jewish heritage and insists they light the Chanukah candles.

  • Suzanne Wilkinson

    Do you know the name of the song and who sang it at the end of the show “wish I had a stream to skate away….” or something like that?

    • That’s “River,” originally sung by Joni Mitchell. Not sure who the cover artist was for that specific one though. I always wonder why people play that song at Christmas…it’s incredibly depressing!

      • Jim

        Because the song contains the first few phrases of Jingle Bells at the beginning, and it was intended. But why do all holiday songs need to be happy?

        • Paul

          I suppose you’re right, they don’t need to be. It’s just that song isn’t about enjoying the holiday time, it’s about being sad it’s the holiday because everyone else is happy and you’re depressed. It’s a song that could really translate to any time you’re feeling blue, while it seems most holiday songs are really of that moment.

          That being said, everyone should play whatever the hell they want to on the holidays 🙂

  • Silence Dogood

    It’s funny how no one has yet commented on the overtly ridiculous product placement they had for Macy’s.
    An almost twenty second scene talking about Macy’s.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like Macy’s and the Make-A-Wish Foundation is a good cause, nevertheless, I think it is evident who provided all the Christmas decorations, not to mention the dinnerware in the flashback.

    • It was fairly overt, wasn’t it? I know product placement makes some people crazy, but it really doesn’t bother me. I think I just view it as the part of the price for my DVR…if they take out the product placement all my shows will go off the air because no one watches commercials any longer 🙂

      • Silence Dogood

        Yeah it was.
        And I agree with you completely.
        It doesn’t really bother me either, I just love to point it out.
        (Such as ETrade, I think, during the showdown between the Joker and Batman in The Dark Knight)
        But this was so overt that it was borderline parody.
        That’s why I thought it was worth mentioning it.

        But either way, there wouldn’t be any good shows (or movies) without ads or product placement.
        A necessary evil. ;-p

  • Kris

    @ Myra-

    The Holdens ARE Jewish. Nora AND Saul.

    What I found to be poor writing, was Nora’s sudden change to apparent Christianity.

  • Matt

    @ Kris – poor writing? (tons of that nowadays, but not in this plot point’s case…). Did you watch season 1? It was pretty clear that Nora has never been down with any organized religion… and, that they typically celebrated Christmas anyway (which was a plot point, as they celebrated Hannukah for Paige that year).

  • C

    what was the song that was playing during Nora’s dream squence?

    • Paul

      That’s “The Carol of the Bells.”

      • c

        who did the song carol of the bells in the sequence?

        • Paul

          I believe This Ascension.

  • Gabe

    I loved the dream sequence. I thought it was on par with the dream sequence on Friends when Phoebe has a heart attack. Loved it, loved it!