Review by KC Carlson
First of all, despite what it says on the back of the box, the disc does NOT take 18 C batteries (not included). There’s obviously no slot in the DVD to put them! (Oh, and they’re really grumpy about exchanging 18 opened C batteries down at the Buy More. Word to the wise.)
A Colbert Christmas is Stephen Colbert’s star-studded Christmas special for 2008. Airing Sunday, November 23 — and released on DVD two days later — Colbert plays his “Stephen Colbert” character from The Colbert Report, trapped in his rustic cabin by (what else?) a bear, while receiving visits from his musical guests Elvis Costello, Toby Keith, John Legend, Feist, Willie Nelson, and the not-so-musical Jon Stewart.
The music is the strongest part of the show, which is no surprise since the songs are a collaboration between lyricist (and former Daily Show head writer) David Javerbaum and musician Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne, That Thing You Do!, Josie and the Pussycats).
Willie Nelson (as the fourth Wise Man) duets with Colbert on a Bing Crosby/David Bowie-esque “Little Dealer Boy,” a song about the amazing “herb” that he would bestow upon the baby Jesus. Feist, playing a heavenly angel intercepting Colbert’s phone call to God, sings the clever “Please Be Patient” while keeping Stephen on hold. John Legend sings a lusty ode to “Nutmeg,” while Jon Stewart demonstrates his huge comedic talent by portraying the worst singer on Earth on “Can I Interest You in Hanukkah?”
But possibly the two best musical moments are “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding” (go Nick Lowe!), which is sung by the entire cast, and the duet between Colbert and Elvis Costello on “There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In,” complete with Elvis’ hysterical fake piano playing.
The only serious misstep is Toby Keith’s “Have I Got a Present For You,” based somewhat on Bill O’Reilly’s War on Christmas. If you buy into Colbert playing a character based on O’Reilly as a complete idiot [joke omitted], you might find this hysterically funny. It actually goes too far, and relies far too much on some disturbing imagery (admittedly well presented by Colbert’s crack video graphics team) for a Christmas comedy special, even as a parody. This is probably the sequence that gets the special its “Parental discretion is advised” disclaimer. Sure to be a massive YouTube hit, however.
The soundtrack to the special is being released on Tuesday at the iTunes Store (and possibly other locations), but it appears that there will be no physical CD release (at least at this time).
While I admired the songs a lot, the rest of the special fell flat for me. The writing wasn’t as focused as it is on The Colbert Report, and hard as it is to believe, I thought the “Stephen” character was much too stupid here. Too many of the jokes were just dumb and others were forced. Although I have to admit, those of you looking for a good “anti-Christmas Special” Special (but NOT anti-Christmas) will probably have a great time. The thing that made me laugh the most was the Schulz-like drawings of the cast on the back of the DVD box as faux Peanuts characters straight out of the dance sequence from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
The DVD also has bonus features, including a 25-Day Video Advent Calendar (which I can’t review as Stephen made it very clear not to open more than one per day), several shocking Twilight Zone-esque alternate endings, a bonus song — “Cold, Cold Christmas” — sung by Colbert, and an option where you can play the special with or without a live audience (aka laugh track). Perhaps it’s funnier with the laugh track.
What isn’t very funny is the Book-Burning Video Yule Log. Video yule logs are funny. Book burning is not. This baffles me. Don’t go here. A portion of the proceeds from this DVD will benefit the charity Feeding America, formerly America’s Second Harvest. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)