The best Christmas specials blend bitter with sweet because it's just not the holidays if you're not feeling conflicted. Blame it on the year's end or dare to go deeper than Santa's pass/fail verdict, but Netflix's A Very Murray Christmas Special offers a moody mix of Christmas riffs that resonates with authentic spirit that captures that cheery clash. As Amy Poehler's character proclaims early in the special, "Everything that's fun is always hard."
The premise is simple: A storm has knocked out electricity and public transportation in all of New York City, preventing any of Bill Murray's celebrity guest stars for his holiday variety show from making it to the Carlyle hotel, where he is live-broadcasting. Told in three parts (including a pristine white winter wonderland fantasy), it opens with a droopy Murray wearing adorable antlers and literally crooning "Christmas Blues." Most of the singing is charming and cutesy – Jenny Lewis as a waitress dueting with slick-talking Murray on "Baby It's Cold Outside," the easy hilarity of Chris Rock's call-and-response antics on "Do You Hear What I Hear?" But when the singing gets serious – Maya Rudolph knocking off stockings on "Christmas (Baby Come Home)," Miley Cyrus seriously lovely on "Silent Night," both electrifying surges of peppermint in the cup of Christmas cocoa Murray is crying into – that's when Murray's coy song and dance skews legitimately special.
Of course, you can't go wrong with Paul Shaffer on piano. Doubling as the program's music director, Shaffer even sneaks in a non-Christmas song, "I Saw the Light (Only You)," which could serve as a pretty sweet reminder that the holidays don't have to consume us.