Whether you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or the customary atheistic Chinese food binge, December can mean only one thing: holiday specials! Those viewers awaiting Santa’s arrival can kill some time with Taraji P. Henson, Tony Hale or Terry Crews, while none other than Pitbull himself will hold down the fort this New Year’s. And if that’s not your jam, NBC will also be raising the curtain on their latest live-theatre broadcast, Madonna goes back on the road, and showtime returns to the Apollo. With most scripted programming taking a holiday hiatus, it’s a more eclectic month than usual — take a look at what you’ll be tuning in to this month.
Critics’ Choice Awards (A&E, Dec. 11th)
What, the Oscars and Golden Globes are too stuffy and snobby for you? Here’s a populist alternative: an awards show that recognizes fan favorites along with the frequent awards contenders. Last year’s crop placed The Force Awakens with the usual suspects of Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian; perhaps the new slate of nominees (to be announced on December 1st) will include a blockbuster we can feel positive about. It’s an even less predictable awards show than most and always good for a few surprises; if nothing else, consider this a warm-up for the gold-derby onslaught to come.
Hairspray Live! (NBC, Dec. 7th)
It began as a slightly more mainstream kitsch-curio from filmmaker John Waters; found a second life on Broadway as a feel-good musical about racial understanding; returned to the cinema with a nightmarish John Travolta in tow; and now Hairspray lives yet again, this time on TV. In the tradition of NBC’s The Sound of Music, Peter Pan and The Wiz, this production will run live to replicate the thrill and immediacy of theater. Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Kristen Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein and Martin Short will all show up, and the story of go-getter Tracy Turnblad’s efforts to integrate an American Bandstand-type program has only gained in timely resonance over the past year. “You can’t stop the beat” now sounds like a rallying cry.
Joe’s Pub Presents: A Holiday Special (IFC, Dec. 21st)
The beloved pub inside of downtown Manhattan’s storied Public Theatre hosts this under-the-radar celebration of all things Christmas, with Veep and Arrested Development star Tony Hale as Master of Ceremonies. TV’s secret weapons Bridget Everett, Jen Kirkman, Jo Firestone, and Nick Thune will all drop by for a spell, and more tempting still, funk-soul monarchs the Dap-Kings (former backing group to the late, great singer Sharon Jones) will hold down the joint as the house band.
Madonna: Rebel Heart Tour (Showtime, Dec. 9th)
Our lady Madge spent seven months bringing the live show in support of her 2015 record Rebel Heart to a whopping 55 cities. This documentary chronicles bits from the entire tour, with special focus kept on her showstopping performance at the Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia. Expect writhing aplenty from the perennial provocateur as she cycles through her hits as well as new material, and maybe even a celebrity guest or two. (Madonna invited everyone from Idris Elba to Diplo to Katy Perry onstage during her tour; word is that Perry makes an appearance in the doc.)
Pete Holmes: Faces and Sounds (HBO, Dec. 3rd)
Comedy veteran and host of the You Made It Weird podcast, Pete Holmes is currently readying his Seinfeld with the lightly autobiographical series Crashing – before that, however, he’ll pop on over to HBO for this stand-up special. The inveterate goofball riffs on everything from the perfect sleeping position to his skepticism for porno to the odd experience of being the only adult white man at an Enrique Iglesias concert. At Chicago’s historic Old Vic Theatre, Holmes works the schlubby everyman-schtick he’s made his trademark, confessing that the glitter residue a friend might find on him came not from a strip club, but from an afternoon of crafting.
Pitbull’s New Year’s Revolution (Fox, Dec. 31st)
“WhooooooOOOOO! It’s Mr. 305! Mr. Worldwide! Dale!” All this and more will be yelled when the one and only Pitbull takes over Fox’s New Year’s Eve coverage for the third year running. Last year, the talent passing through included everyone from P. Diddy to Timbaland to Earth, Wind & Fire, which is to say that pretty much anybody could show up. Isn’t the healing power of Pitbull needed now more than ever? Dale!
Showtime at the Apollo (Fox, Dec. 5th)
Over a thousand-plus episodes aired from 1987 to 2008, the original Showtime at the Apollo offered R&B, hip-hop and soul musicians a platform to show their stuff, broadcasting their performances at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in late-night syndication. So good on you, Fox, for reviving the program for a one-night stand this month, with host Steve Harvey (who we can assume will read all cue cards very carefully) bringing a murderer’s row of talent onstage: Tracy Morgan, Mike Epps, Rakim, Doug E. Fresh, Bell Biv DeVoe, En Vogue. Go ahead and make your white Christmas a little less white.
Star (Fox, Dec. 14th)
Empire creator Lee Daniels moves from the business to the talent side of the music biz for his new project, a comparably feisty drama about a girl group with dreams of fame and fortune. The trio made up of scrappy foster kid Star (Jude Demorest), her sister Simone (Brittany O’Grady) and their acquaintance via Instagram named Alexandra (Ryan Destiny) fantasize about becoming the next Destiny’s Child or TLC. But they can’t get there without the guidance of mother figure Carlotta (Queen Latifah) and weaselly talent agent Jahil (Benjamin Bratt). The road to stardom is paved with broken hopes and betrayals, so there’s sure to be melodramatics — as if we’d expect anything less from Team Empire.
Taraji’s White Hot Holidays (Fox, Dec. 8th)
Speaking of Empire … last year, Taraji P. Henson and Terence Howard held down the fort on Fox for a special marked by surprisingly little drink-throwing or weave-pulling. Henson will ditch her co-host this time around, bringing along lots of friends: Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliott, TLC, Taye Diggs, Pharrell Williams and more will drop by to put their spin on Christmastime standards. (If we close our eyes tight and pray to Santa, we might get a rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from Snoop and Missy.) Tyler Perry’s also scheduled to make a cameo, though the chances of him warbling out “Deck the Halls” feel slim.
Terry Crews Saves Christmas (CW, Dec. 20th-23rd)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s chiseled Terry Crews is a no mere mortal – so it only makes sense that he’d need an accordingly supersized special. Over four nights, with a two-hour mega-block on the 23rd, Crews and a team of food, drink and decor specialists will surprise families across America with a complete Christmas overhaul. (The somewhat odd premise makes a little more sense coming from the producer of the similar-minded drab-to-fab conversion show Bar Rescue.) It turns out that the spirit of charity and kindness for your fellow man hasn’t been completely scrubbed from Christmas after all.