As a somewhat old person who has vague recollections of “variety show” TV programs that my parents forced me to watch as a youth, I approached Netflix’s “A Very Murray Christmas” with equal parts excitement and concern. Excitement because, like most sentient life forms, I adore Bill Murray, and concern because, well, I’ve never really enjoyed the musical/comedy randomness of the “variety show” format. Perhaps it’s just a generational thing. But, like I said, this is Bill Murray we’re talking about. So normal rules don’t really apply.
Loose, laid-back, and sometimes adorably weird, A Very Murray Christmas reunites the celebrated comedian with his Lost in Translation director–the consistently cool Sofia Coppola. The result is an affectionate homage to a format that may be alien to younger viewers, but provides a consistent batch of offbeat humor and novel renditions of various Christmas standards. If you’re looking for a whole lot in the “plot” department, prepare to be disappointed because, as we discussed, this is a variety show throwback: skits, quips, and Christmas-themed musical numbers are the order of the day here.
The premise is that Bill Murray is warming up to host a huge, star-studded Christmas gala live from a swanky New York hotel, but a massive blizzard hits the city, leaving Mr. Murray nothing in the way of special guests and (aside from the always reliable Paul Shaffer) not much in the way of musical accompaniment. Then the power goes out, the show gets canceled, and Bill Murray basically just wanders through the hotel and sings (or makes jokes) with pretty much whomever he happens to come across. It’s the random, almost stream-of-consciousness, nature of the show that makes it so appealing. Mr. Murray is, as always, a charming host (who, yes, actually can carry a tune reasonably well), but the fun of A Very Murray Christmas lies within discovering which guest–and which song–lies behind the next door. It’s all very quaint, nostalgic, and comfortable.
We won’t spoil all the surprises, but A Very Murray Christmas makes great use of an eclectic ensemble cast–Amy Poehler, Michael Cera, Rashida Jones, Chris Rock, and Maya Rudolph provide some great moments–as well as a tongue-in-cheek dream sequence show-stopper that’s kitschy, classy, and kooky in equal measure. Come to think of it, “kitschy, classy, and kooky” is a great way to describe Bill Murray himself, and it’s pleasing to note that his legions of fans will probably kick back with this strange little Christmas special on an annual basis.