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Colbert's Christmas Special

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  November 20, 2008 01:34 PM

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When Stephen Colbert’s holiday special zooms in on a miniature nativity scene, and a fourth wise man turns out to be a tiny Willie Nelson in a robe, and he sings a spiritual song that includes the line, “Let not mankind bogart love,” you know that “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!” is going to offer a small chuckle or two.

And it does, no less and definitely no more. “A Colbert Christmas,” Sunday night at 10 on Comedy Central, is a mildly amusing creation designed as a hokey Perry Como or Andy Williams holiday fantasy. The hour is modeled after those 1960s-70s-era star-vehicle specials in which the laughter, the lipsyncing, the mountain-lodge setting, the hair mousse, the snow flakes, and the seasonal spirit were all obviously artificial. In Colbert’s hands, of course, everything is faker than fake, right down to the Yule-log video in the fireplace.

The show is decked with boughs of irony.

The faux joviality is so thick, at times I found myself thinking of “The Pee-Wee Herman Show” as Colbert had his little adventures around the cabin set. Toby Keith begins the nonstop series of guest visits, singing a song against those who refuse to say “Merry Christmas” and bemoaning the separation of church and state. Like too much in the special, the song is overlong -- the joke gets twice, maybe even thrice, as much time as it deserves.

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Ditto John Legend’s segment, in which he sings an absurdly sexy song about nutmeg and Feist‘s turn as an angel on a tree. And Colbert and Jon Stewart perform a hit-or-miss duet about Hanukah that’s mostly miss, as in “Be sure to tell the Pontiff, my people say good Yontif.” Oy. By the time it’s over, Elvis Costello has done some clowning that may have you wondering, “What’s so funny…”

But it would be foolish to say that “A Colbert Christmas” is bad, since it is so intentionally tacky and awful. It is a decent parody of a cheesy genre. Suffice to say, the show has enough moments to make it worthwhile for Colbert fans. Watching Colbert as Colbert is always a good time, as he carries on in his bombastic, clueless, flag-waving, materialistic, and, yes, merry way.

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