Folly, Not Jolly

If television mirrors reality, we can conclude that the winter holidays are a time for joy, giving, and unavoidable disaster.

Although most shows put on their rose-tinted glasses and indulge in a nostalgic episode that melts the hearts of their viewers, the most beloved seasonal specials highlight the catastrophic potential of the holidays.

These classic holiday television meltdowns may actually work as a what-not-to-do guide for the viewer, teaching valuable lessons and reflecting typical holiday grievances:

New Girl, “The 23rd”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Jess, the charming and quirky protagonist of New Girl, can’t figure out what to buy her boyfriend for Christmas.

This challenge occurs often both in holiday television and in real life, and forms the basis for a rather predictably uncomfortable episode. True to form, Jess enters the situation with high expectations and a certain degree of panic.

Not surprisingly, the episode ends in the demise of Jess’s relationship and a fair share of awkward moments.

The holidays often embody a delicate time for romantic and platonic relationships, in addition to the stresses of reconnecting with family; Jess’ gift fiasco and subsequent breakup represent the risk of entering the holidays with towering expectations.

By the episode’s conclusion, Jess’ best friend CeCe voices everyone’s true feelings:

“Remember when Christmas used to be fun and all I had to worry about was my drunk uncle asking me out?”

Friends, “The One Where Ross Got High”
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Geoffrey Chandler.

This episode teeters on the brink of disaster from the get-go. Monica informs boyfriend Chandler that her parents, who will soon arrive for Thanksgiving dinner, hate him. To make matters worse, Monica does not want them to find out about her relationship.

Of course, her parents do discover the relationship, when Monica and her brother Ross enter into a screaming match in which they reveal each other’s most incriminating secrets.

Monica’s fiasco serves as a welcome reminder to enter the holidays with honesty. What often begins as a loving interaction between relatives can evolve into a screaming match, so family events always require a subtle hand.

While the Geller siblings argue, Rachel experiences her own crisis when she takes dessert into her own hands. Lesson learned: if you leave important tasks to inept friends, you will end up with a beef and jam trifle for dessert.

“I know the holidays can be rough,” she says, before the rest of the group attempts to spare her feelings and eat the revolting dessert.

The friends, as usual, make the best of a hilarious and unfortunate situation.

How I Met Your Mother, “The Limo”
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Public Photos.

Protagonist Ted rents a limo so that his entire gang can celebrate a great New Year’s Eve. He’s written a list of five parties to hit before midnight, and he refuses to budge in his plans for the night.

“We gotta stay psyched!” secondary character Robin exclaims, before the night inevitably spirals into a mess.

Barney realizes that Ted’s expectations are going to ruin the festivities, warning him to “stop trying to chase down some magical, perfect New Year’s,” and to just enjoy himself while he’s in the company of friends. Some situations—especially around the holidays—are simply beyond control.

Ted, as is typical of his character, fails to do so and pushes his plan on the group until the countdown approaches and they’re stuck in a traffic jam.

Thankfully, the group still enjoys a sappy countdown and spends midnight together in the back of the limo.

“Not every night has a happy ending,” Ted narrates, “but all of it’s important.”

Arrested Development, “Afternoon Delight”
Photo courtesy of

The entire Bluth family is in disarray: Protagonist Michael feels disappointed that his son George Michael decides to spend time with his girlfriend rather than complete a beloved father-and-son tradition.

Michael’s younger sister Lindsay is now in an open relationship with her husband, and is reluctant to attend the Bluth company holiday part with daughter in tow, lest she appear too motherly to potential suitors.

Lindsay’s daughter Maeby becomes understandably upset, believing that her mother no longer wants her around.

Eldest brother Gob, now the acting president of the Bluth company, alienates his employees with arrogant comments about his personal finances. They roast him at the holiday party, and he’s enraged to the point of firing every employee.

This episode, perhaps above all others, serves as a reminder of what not to do as the holiday season approaches.

All characters enter the season with high expectations and overactive egos. By refusing to adapt to the obstacles they encounter, they fail spectacularly in their efforts to come out on top of their respective situations.

The Bluths don’t consider the feelings of their friends, relatives, and coworkers, and they therefore overlook the most important aspects of the holidays: gratitude and generosity.

These episodes may be ridiculous, but through worst-case scenarios, they remind us that the holidays can sometimes involve a good deal of conflict. With an open mind and a positive attitude, however, anyone can rebound from a holiday disaster.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user fauxto__digit.