Christmas specials are one of TV's longest-running traditions, with live-action, animated and variety shows airing each holiday for decades. While everyone looks forward to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and A Charlie Brown Christmas every year, there's a long list of televised Yuletide offerings that get little-to-no love each year.
Whether it's an overlooked Rankin-Bass stop-motion classic or a comedian's variety special that is oft-forgotten, it's time these festive romps get the attention they deserve. Scroll through to see some of the most underrated animated and live-action Christmas specials ever.
'The Year Without a Santa Claus'
The 1974 Rankin-Bass special The Year Without a Santa Claus may not get the same annual fanfare as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, but that doesn't mean it's not awesome.
This oddball of a holiday special revolves around Santa Claus (Mickey Rooney) being too sick to deliver Christmas presents, all while two elves search for a missing reindeer and try to make it snow in a humid Southern town.
The biggest moments in this special come when the elves meet Snow Miser (Dick Shawn) and Heat Miser (George S. Irving), two feuding brothers who control the world's weather. Then each have correlating musical numbers that are equal parts wacky and catchy.prevnext
Another forgotten Rankin-Bass special that deserves more love than it gets is 1979's Jack Frost. It has surprisingly little to do with Christmas itself, but it still fits right in with its peers.
The strange-but-entertaining story sees the mythical Jack Frost (Robert Morse) become human to pursue a human he's infatuated with. The girl eventually gets kidnapped by a creepy overlord, and Jack has to take action to get her back.
It's a weird lore expansion on a mythical character that kids will be intrigued to learn more about.prevnext
Frosty the Snowman is an indisputable classic, so that often leads to a lot of hate thrown towards this CBS-produced sequel, Frosty Returns.
It doesn't have the same charm as the original, but for a younger generation of viewers, it's annual airings are just as special. Plus, it's environmental conservation theme and voice work from John Goodman make it far from the worst holiday special cranked out by broadcast TV.prevnext
'Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July'
Speaking of Frosty (Jackie Vernon), another one of his overlooked adventures is his team-up with Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards), entitled Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July.
This thing is like the Avengers of the Rankin-Bass Christmas universe. You've got the titular characters (of course), Frosty's wife Crystal (Shelley Winters), Jack Frost (Paul Frees) and even the weird time-whale (Hal Peary) from Rudolph's Shiny New Year all making appearances here.
It's a bit too ambitious with its feature-film length, but it's still great to see Christmas TV's most beloved characters on screen together to solve some sort of circus-related caper.prevnext
'Olive the Other Reindeer'
Before moving on to live-action selections, we need to address one of the mostly criminally underrated gems in Christmas programming: Olive, the Other Reindeer.
This Matt Groening-produced special is all about a dog named Olive (Drew Barrymore), who thinks she's destined to be one of Santa's reindeer. She treks up to the North Pole with the help of con-artist penguin Martini (Joe Pantoliano) and her pet flea Fido (Peter MacNicol) with hopes of making her dream come true.
With its stellar voice cast, distinct animation style and modern sense of humor that adults and kids alike can enjoy, Olive, the Other Reindeer deserves a spot in your annual holiday viewing schedule.prevnext
'Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special'
Pee-wee's Playhouse is a beloved piece of pop culture history, and its Christmas special brings all the original show's wackiness into a holiday setting.
Besides the spectacular Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens), celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Joan Rivers, Little Richard, Cher, Magic Johnson and Frankie Avalon all pop by the Playhouse for cameos. This random hodgepodge of people is just a weird as it sounds, which makes it all the more fascinating to revisit.prevnext
'John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together'
Musicians having Christmas specials is fairly common, but this one is just heads above the rest. As talented as John Denver was, the Muppets give this oft-forgotten ABC special a unique flare. From it's opening "The Twelve Days of Christmas" number to a surprisingly touching duet between Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) and Denver on "The Christmas Wish," this special is worth watching online or listening to in its soundtrack form.prevnext
'A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!'
Stephen Colbert has long-since abandoned his beloved right-wing buffoon persona he perfected on Comedy Central, and this special was forgotten by most after he moved to CBS.
A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! is a wonderfully offbeat musical holiday special that combines Colbert's showmanship with a bunch of hilarious duets with guest stars. John Legend sings about nutmeg, Jon Stewart delivers the second-best comedy song about Hannukah and Willie Nelson combines the biblical Christmas tale with his own marijuana merriment.
If those combinations don't pique your curiosity, Colbert's delightful dad sweater will definitely seal the deal.prevnext
'A Very Murray Christmas'
Bill Murray's 2015 foray into the Christmas variety genre got a lot of hype leading up to it, with cameos from George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Chris Rock and others adding to that. However, many viewers logged out of their Netflix accounts disappointed after seeing the final product.
Many expected a non-stop laugh-fest, but A Very Murray Christmas is much more than that. Murray is shown trying to assemble a live Christmas special, but it all falls apart when a blizzard hits. He is then forced to make the most of his Christmas trapped indoors by singing and chatting with the building's other occupants. It has as many somber and thoughtful moments as it does comedic ones, and that's what makes it unique.prevnext
'Bojack Horseman Christmas Special: Sabrina's Christmas Wish'0comments
While we're jumping back to animation for our last entry, it's definitely for an adult audience. The Bojack Horseman Christmas Special is an especially absurd special based on an already-absurd series. The special is centered around a Christmas-special-within-a-Christmas-special. Bojack (Will Arnett) and Todd (Aaron Paul) sit at home on Christmas and decide to watch a holiday episode of Bojack's old sitcom Horsin' Around.
The whole special is based around just how cheesy sitcoms of the '80s were, so it can get tiresome to those expecting a full-on Bojack episode. However, it's worth diving into the Netflix menu to find if you're a fan of the original series.prev