Tis the season for …TV holiday specials! And who better to season your greetings than Empire‘s Cookie! Meanwhile, Fox mounts one mistletoe of a live musical hullabaloo, Comedy Central tries to find the funny in fake news and HBO delivers a documentary on a man who made real news. Plus Carol Burnett fans are in for a treat and Game of Thrones devotees will get a dose of Kit Harrington to tide them over until winter is over. Baby, it’s cold outside! So here’s the television shows, specials and one-offs you need to tune in to this month. (You can check out our streaming recommendations for December here.)
The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special (CBS, Dec. 3rd)
Without Carol Burnett, there would be no 30 Rock, because there would be no Tina Fey, because there would be no Saturday Night Live; her landmark variety program set the blueprint for decades of TV comedy. This one-night event salutes the lasting influence of the woman and her legendary sketch show, complete with a stacked lineup of guest stars (Jim Carrey, Bill Hader, Kristen Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert) stopping by to genuflect. Yes, there will inevitably be earlobe-pulling. Long live the queen.
A Christmas Story Live! (Fox, Dec. 17th)
“You’ll shoot your eye out!” “Drink your Ovaltine!” And, of course, the infamous “fuuuuuuudge.” Every other line of the immortal Yuletide stroll down memory lane has been absorbed into the quote canon, and now the perennial favorite gets the Fox’s live-TV-musical treatment. Featuring several new songs from Pasek and Paul (the duo behind ditties from La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen), the special joins an adult Ralphie Parker (Matthew Broderick) as he narrates recollections from his eccentric family’s calamitous Christmas festivities. Chances are you know the drill by now – the tongue on the pole, the leg lamp, the Red Ryder BB gun – but that familiarity is precisely what makes this the nostalgic yuletide joy that it is.
The Fake News With Ted Nelms (Comedy Central, Dec. 13th)
Comedy Central will not be deterred in its ongoing quest to mine laughs from our national slide into utter insanity. Former Daily Show correspondent Ed Helms portrays the fictitious title character, a straight-faced anchor who delivers lies just close enough to the truth to disorient his viewers. (Somewhere, the ghost of “Stephen Colbert” smirks, eyebrow arched.) The promo copy claims that with the volume switched off, viewers won’t be able to tell the difference between Nelms’ jiggery-pokery and CNN. We’re up to the challenge.
Gunpowder (HBO, Dec. 18th)
Remember, remember, the Fifth of November – and rouse your memory with this three-part historical drama detailing the events that led to the notorious Gunpowder Plot annually acknowledged by Guy Fawkes Day. Game of Thrones star Kit Harington assays the lead role of Robert Catesby, the fed-up Englishman who took it upon himself to dispose of King James I in explosive fashion. He gathers accomplices. He draws up a plan. He evades the watchful eye of royal spymaster Robert Cecil (Mark Gatiss, another import from GoT). No better time for a reflection on the value of radical disobedience than the present!
Happy! (Syfy, Dec. 6th)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one (and there’s no way you’ve heard this one): Christopher Meloni plays a hard-drinkin’, hard-druggin’ cop-turned-hitman who, following a near-death experience, begins seeing a little blue flying unicorn. His new imaginary friend named Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt, natch) is on a mission of mercy, imploring the tough guy to rescue a young girl from a psychopath in a Santa suit. Those of you who already sensed a bugfuck comic book source, please come collect your winnings; DC legend/creator Grant Morrison is the series showrunner, too. Watch it with someone you love, i.e. your imaginary friend.
Knightfall (History, Dec. 6th)
As those of us who’ve seen National Treasure already know, the Knights Templar were a clandestine Christian militia that searched for the Holy Grail from the 12th to the 14th century. This upcoming historical epic pins down a few more facts than Nic Cage’s franchised wild-goose chases, focusing on the valiant Sir Landry (Tom Cullen) and his undying quest to retrieve the holy chalice. As the King of France attempted to get the Knights under his thumb, a traitor from within their ranks plotted a betrayal, etc. Don’t be shy with the Monty Python jokes.
Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady (HBO, Dec. 2nd)
If Wolf’s voice was an instrument, it would be the shehnai, India’s more piercingly nasal equivalent of the oboe – and yes, that’s a compliment. The former Wall Streeter, current Daily Show-er gets her first stand-up special and digs into the perils of dating, her feminist bona fides and the white-hot shame of droopy testicles. Come for the mop of curly hair (she’s made her character “grown-up Annie” into a late-night fixture); stay for the heroically profane sense of humor that once tied together masturbatory routines and the JFK assassination.
The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee (HBO, Dec. 4th)
There’s no greater honor in American life than to be portrayed in a film by Tom Hanks … but an HBO documentary is a close second. The late journalistic pillar Ben Bradlee gets both, with the former coming from Steven Spielberg’s latest feature The Post and the latter courtesy of this nonfiction deep dive into the man’s biography. As the executive editor of the Washington Post during Woodward and Bernstein’s groundbreaking Watergate investigation, Bradlee fearlessly defended the First Amendment and locked horns with then-sitting President Nixon. That’s the most high-profile of his successes, but as this profile proves, he also shepherded the paper through many historical flash-points. Long live the Fourth Estate.
Psych: The Movie (USA, Dec. 7th)
It’s been a little over three years since pseudo-psychic Shawn (James Roday) and his partner Gus (Dulé Hill) last bluffed their way through a case. But fan demand has preempted a presumably pineapple-filled retirement to get the bro besties back on the job. Their new nemesis: Zachary Levi’s suspiciously-monikered, Bowie–hat-tipping Thin White Duke. This project’s very existence centers around giving the people what they want, so expect plenty of the slick one-liners the sitcom made its stock and trade.
Taraji’s White Hot Holidays (Fox, Dec. 14th)
Chances are you can’t bring Taraji P. Henson to your holiday party – but now you can bring your holiday party to Taraji P. Henson. Fox has pulled off a Santa-caliber Christmas miracle by beaming the firecracker Empire star into America’s living rooms for her third annual night of cheer, goodwill and Ying Yang Twins appearances. They’re just two of the many guests slated for the star-studded variety program; DJ Khaled, Method Man, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Tituss Burgess and musical performances from Fergie, Chaka Khan and Ciara, are also on deck. Sharpen up that eggnog and throw it in the face of your nearest enemy, just like Aunt Taraji taught you.