(Here’s a quick update on my commentary on Carrie Underwood and the very best of Christmas TV. The Carrie part remains the same, but there are a few additions to the list at the bottom – an extra night for the classic “Grinch” … two cable showings of “Wonderful Life” … and a changed night for the Patrick Stewart “Christmas Carol.” Here’s the update.)
Carrie Underwood’s new Christmas special is the ultimate in sleek simplicity.
It has no gimmicks, no guests (except briefly). It has no distractions and – this is streaming – no commercials. It simply has a great voice, warmly caressing each song.
It also reminds us of something else: Even in this crowded, cluttered season, there are some TV moments that are really worth watching – or re-watching.
I’ll list some others (and their air dates) in a minute, but first let’s look at three: There’s Underwood’s concert, debuting Thursday (Dec. 3) on HBO Max … and this year’s “Christmas at the Tabernacle Choir” concert, which debuts Dec. 14 on PBS (check local listings), with Kelli O’Hara … and last year’s Tabernacle Choir concert (with Kristen Chenoweth), rerunning Dec. 10 on BYUTV, via cable or streaming at www.byutv.org.
The similarities are striking: Each singer grew up in Oklahoma – Underwood on a farm, O’Hara on a ranch, Chenoweth in suburbia. Each wanted to sing “O Holy Night”; Chenoweth and Underwood did, O’Hara couldn’t, because the Tabernacle concerts avoid repeating from year to year.
But then there’s the key difference: Tabernacle concerts are recorded a year in advance; we get to enjoy the mega-size – a 100-piece orchestra, a 360-voice choir, a 20,000-person audience.
Underwood, by comparison, offered a social-distance concert – no audience … neatly distanced musicians and back-up singers. That adds to the sleek quality of the concert.
This is a singer who has never shied away from religious themes. Two of her past hits – “Jesus Take the Wheel” and “Something In the Water” – fit perfectly alongside the standards.
Beautifully shot, the special puts Underwood in some grand gowns … and in a Fleetwood Mac concert shirt, when she does “Little Drummer Boy” with her 5-year-old son. Her mother also appears briefly (showing a teen Underwood singing “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”) and John Legend is the only other guest, for a duet of a gorgeous song he co-wrote.
Beyond that, this hour is purely Carrie, a Christmastime gem. While I’m up to it, let me list a few holiday shows this year (subject to change) that are definitely worth catching.
– “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a perfect blend of Dr. Seuss’ story, Chuck Jones’ animation and one booming song. It’s 7 p.m. Dec. 6 and 8 p.m. Dec. 13 on TBS; then 7 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18and 8 p.m. Dec, 19 on TNT. Also, 8 p.m. Dec. 25 on NBC.
– “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was perfectly crafted, simply because there was no time to mess it up. Facing a tight deadline, neither CBS nor the sponsor second-guessed its unusual approach. This year, it streams on Apple TV+, beginning Dec. 4. Non-subscribers can find it online, Dec. 11-13. Also, PBS Kids (and some PBS stations, check local listings) will air it at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13.
– And we’ll add one obscure one: The hourlong version of “How Murray Saved Christmas” is filled with wonderfully witty songs. The best time to catch it is 9 a.m. Dec. 17 on AMC. The channel also airs it at 5 a.m. on Dec. 10, 17 and 22; that’s overnight, on Dec. 9, 16 and 21.
– “A Christmas Story” (1983) alternates between warmth and dark humor. You can catch it at on TBS at 8 p.m. Dec. 4 and 6 p.m. Dec. 5, then on TNT at 8 and 10 p.m. Dec. 21. Then both channels have a 24-hour marathon, airing it every two hours. That starts at 8 p.m. on TBS and 9 p.m. on TNT.
– “A Christmas Carol” exists in many forms, but one of the best is the Patrick Stewart version (1999). It’s at 8 and 10 p.m. Dec. 17.
– “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) is 8 p.m. on Dec. 11 amd 9 a.m. Dec. 12 on TNT, then has its annual Christmas Eve showing, at 8 p.m. on NBC.
– Several others aren’t strictly Christmas films, but traditionally show up now. “The Sound of Music” (1965) is 7 p.m. Dec. 20 p.m. ABC … “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) is 8 p.m. ET Dec. 23 on Turner Classic Movies … and “The Wizard of Oz” has many TNT airings – 8:30 and 10:45 p.m. Dec. 19, 9 p.m. Dec. 25, 8 and 10:15 p.m. Dec. 28.
– Underwood’s concert is available Dec. 3 on HBO Max, starting a diva flurry. Mariah Carey has a new one Dec. 4 on Apple TV+; Dolly Parton has a new one at 8:30 p.m. (but 8 p.m. PT) Dec. 6 on CBS.
– O’Hara’s Tabernacle concert airs twice on PBS (check local listings) – 9 p.m. Dec. 14 and 9 p.m. Dec. 24. That’s the 60-minute version; a 90-minute one is on BYUTV (all times ET) at 8 p.m. Dec. 17; 4:30 p.m. Dec. 20; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 23 and 11 a.m. Dec. 25.
– And the 90-minute versions of previous Tabernacle concerts are on BYUTV. It’s Chenoweth at 8 p.m. ET Dec. 10 and Sutton Foster at 8 p.m. Dec. 3 and 11 p.m. Dec. 20.