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Dream on Silent Night, Holy Cow

This Christmas spec for the HBO comedy series has a few guffaws (earning most of them with the series' trademark, brief clips from old b&w TV shows that mirror the thoughts of hero Martin Tupper), and works up some good wacky scenes between Martin and pregnant ex-wife Judith, but otherwise strains too hard. Yuppie yocks diminish as Christmas Eve in Manhattan turns into an n.s.f. version of "Mary Hartman's" Fernwood.

With:
Cast: Brian Benben, Wendie Malick, Chris Demetral, Bryn Erin, Denny Dillon. Dorien Wilson, Reginald Veljohnson, Michael McKean, Marion Ross, Valerie Landsburg, Kerrie Klark, Patrick Neil Quinn, Vasili Bogazianos, Danny Breen, Beth Grant, Vamta Harbour, Lynn Manning, Lyndal Marks, Robin Tunney.

This Christmas spec for the HBO comedy series has a few guffaws (earning most of them with the series’ trademark, brief clips from old b&w TV shows that mirror the thoughts of hero Martin Tupper), and works up some good wacky scenes between Martin and pregnant ex-wife Judith, but otherwise strains too hard. Yuppie yocks diminish as Christmas Eve in Manhattan turns into an n.s.f. version of “Mary Hartman’s” Fernwood.

Martin (Brian Benben) agrees to take Judith (Wendie Malick) to Pennsylvania to pick up a gift for her absent husband, Richard Stone. (The Stone character, wildly successful and apparently flawless, like Sam Malone’s famed unseen brother, never puts in an appearance.)

Martin has a date with Texan phone sex gal Marybeth (Robin Tunney), but it begins snowing in Bethlehem, Pa., Judith’s water bursts (good visual here), and Martin’s stuck.

Marybeth hits Martin’s apartment to find his son Jeremy (Chris Demetral) disillusioned after a sex fallout — Marybeth provides him shelter while Judith’s in a drafty barn trying to get Martin to help her with the infant. Martin’s secretary Toby (Denny Dillon) has holy visions that don’t hold water or laughs, while Martin’s best friend, slick Eddie (Dorien Wilson), backs out of a couple of dates.

Cutting among stories adds zip to the David and Marta Kauffman script, but it’s heavy going. Betty Thomas’ superior direction rescues several iffy situations, and Benben’s shtick still works.

Malick’s wicked manners are brassily funny. Dillon’s Toby is overdone, young Demetral and Bryn Erin as his girlfriend are good, and Wilson’s sly interp is a winner. Best perf: pretty Robin Tunney as foul-mouthed Marybeth.

Production values are good, with tech credits superior. Production designer James Terry Welden is especially effective.

Dream on Silent Night, Holy Cow

(Sat. (18), 10-11 p.m., HBO)

Production: Filmed in L.A. by Kevin Bright Prods., St. Clare Entertainment and MCA TV Entertainment. Exec producers, John Landis, Kevin S. Bright; supervising producers, Jeff Greenstein, Jeff Strauss, Bill Sanders; producers, Ron Wolotzky, Robb Idels; director, Betty Thomas; writers, David & Marta Kauffman.

Crew: Camera, Richard Walden; editor, Craig Ridenour; production designer, James Terry Welden; sound, Marc A. Gilmartin; main title theme, Michael Skloff.

Cast: Cast: Brian Benben, Wendie Malick, Chris Demetral, Bryn Erin, Denny Dillon. Dorien Wilson, Reginald Veljohnson, Michael McKean, Marion Ross, Valerie Landsburg, Kerrie Klark, Patrick Neil Quinn, Vasili Bogazianos, Danny Breen, Beth Grant, Vamta Harbour, Lynn Manning, Lyndal Marks, Robin Tunney.

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