In entertainment, there are spin-offs that flame out (Joey, say), spin-offs that achieve real, lasting success (Frasier, say), and then there are spin-offs that completely obliterate memory of their springboard predecessors. Though not a sit-com, were it not for the thrice-weekly inter-show pitches between its host and The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart, such would be the case with Comedy Central’s award-winning The Colbert Report.
Conceived as a satirical broadside against Bill O’Reilly and The O’Reilly Factor, and launched in the fall of 2005 with Daily Show writer and on-air talent Stephen Colbert playing a self-named, caustic, clueless right-wing blowhard, The Colbert Report (with “t” being silent in both of the last two words) was an out-of-the-box smash, injecting into the zeitgeist words like “truthiness” — Colbert’s embrace of the notion that one could “know something emotionally or instinctively, without regard to evidence or intellectual examination.” From there, the show has of course gone on to score numerous Emmy and Peabody nominations, with Colbert only further defining his mock-self-serious, ego-stoking persona through presidential primary campaigns, product solicitations and orchestrated e-campaigns to name various bridges, statues, baby bald eagles and minor league sports franchises after him.
His second hour-long DVD release, A Colbert Christmas is an affectionate, painstakingly rendered send-up of variety show-type celeb-specials of yore — canned “live studio audience” applause, low production values and chintzy backgrounds and all. The conceit of the special finds Colbert, utterly depressed at the prospect of having to pay royalties to sing existing Christmas songs, making up his own ditty, which then leads to a whirling-dervish song-and-dance routine to which he dresses himself in wintry outerwear. Unfortunately, when he tries to leave his cabin to head to New York to tape his Christmas special with Elvis Costello, Colbert finds himself “trapped” due to a huge, angry bear outside. (Bears remain one of Colbert’s steady phobias, with him frequently denouncing them as “godless killing machines.”)
Throughout his show’s tenure, Colbert has indulged in the occasional oddball musical guest and duet; he’s actually a good singer, in addition to his deft wit. So it’s no surprise, really, that Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, John Legend and Feist all make appearances in A Colbert Christmas, singing comical holiday-inspired tunes, before Costello — decked out in a little tin soldier costume — shows up for an enthusiastic, group sing-along version of “What’s So Funny (About Peace, Love and Understanding).” With Colbert contributing an angelic background vocal of response, Nelson’s number, poking fun at his, ahem, smoky image, is probably the high point (no pun intended) of the special. Most of the ditties are decently amusing but, truth be told, drag on a bit too long; far from interludes, they are the show, in essence, full musical numbers. And while that may be in general in keeping with the aping of musical specials of years gone by, for anyone who’s come to appreciate the razor-sharp satire of Colbert’s show, it also feels like a bit of doggy-paddling time filler. The show’s one real non-professional musician segment, in which Stewart stops by, and enters into a conversation with Colbert about the differences between Hanukkah and Christmas, hints at some of the amusing interplay left untapped in the creation of this show.
Housed in a regular Amray plastic case, and presented, obviously, in 1.33:1 full screen that preserves the aspect ratio of its initial telecast, A Colbert Christmas comes with a nice slate of bonus features. They include a virtual advent calendar, a bonus song, three mock “alternate endings,” and an 18-minute “Yule log” virtual fireplace, into which a couple books are tossed. All in all, A Colbert Christmas is a decent little title with some solid seasonal replay value — although one hopes its sell-through success doesn’t disincline Colbert and company from producing another holiday special further down the line. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) B (Disc)