Holiday specials have been kicking butt ratings-wise this year, perhaps as a temporary antidote to everything else that’s happenings in the world. Most of those have been classics, though ABC scored big with the new “Shrek the Halls” and follows it up with “Elmo’s Christmas Countdown,” a Sesame Workshop production that really is that rarest of commodities — fun for the whole family. Granted, a little of that grating Elmo voice goes a long way for anyone over 8, but for the most part, this is an old-fashioned Christmas variety spec, down to goofy numbers and occasionally painful use of big-name stars.
Ben Stiller has the most expansive role as the voice of a hyperventilating elf who misplaces the Christmas Countdown, and if he and Elmo can’t find it, the holiday won’t come. So with help from other fabric-covered friends, the pair go about recovering the squares — each triggering a little musical interlude, with the likes of Sheryl Crow or Anne Hathaway seeming to have a jolly old time interacting with the Muppets characters.
OK, so watching Jamie Foxx half-rap his number is awkward, and a comedic bit with “The Sopranos’ ” Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa (trying to play Bert and Ernie) surely must have sounded better on paper. Another segment with Ty Pennington of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” feels more self-promotional than magical.
On the plus side, ABC News’ Charles Gibson proves Brian Williams isn’t the only hip anchor in town by lending his voice to reindeer newsman Charles Blitzen, and it’s grand hearing Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys belt out holiday tunes, even if they’re duets with fuzzy hand puppets.
Perhaps foremost, it’s nice to see a network spend a few bucks putting on something aimed at kids at a time when most of them have outsourced their Saturday-morning lineups by brokering the space to outside suppliers.
So an entire hour of network primetime devoted to a feel-good fantasy for tykes? As Elmo might say (repeatedly, in fact — until you want to stuff the little guy into a washing machine), “It’s a Christmas miracle!”