The Santa Clauses is to this year’s Christmas TV as a lump of coal is to stockings; as funny as a migraine, as sweet as sour milk, and devoid of the magic and warmth that made the original a holiday staple.
In this new Disney+ series, Santa Claus isn’t an individual – he’s a “continuum” with no before or after. The question of the pop culture Santa is a bit different, as it’s a generational choice more than anything else; some people will say Edmund Gwenn, others will say Richard Attenborough, and younger kids will probably see Kurt Russell as their Father Christmas.
Tim Allen is the “big man”, to me. From a decade full of festive bangers, The Santa Claus is still a widely-held favorite, mixing its ’90s high-concept energy with earnest Christmas cheer, and a sardonically jolly Santa.
Although, The Santa Clauses makes something clear from the first falling snowflake: no amount of nostalgia could justify or save this series from itself.
This review is based on the first two episodes and is spoiler-free.
The Santa Clauses tries to come full circle
The show begins on Christmas Eve, with Santa (Allen) and his right-hand elf Noel (Devin Bright) sweeping across the frosty water of the Hudson as they carry out their deliveries. Something’s not right with Santa, though – his magic is temperamental, he’s losing weight (down to three chins with “the body of an MMA fighter, not an M&M eater,” he jokes), and even falls off a roof, like his predecessor.
Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell) is getting worried, and his kids (Austin Kane and Elizabeth Allen-Dick, the latter of whom is Allen’s real-life daughter) are either obsessed with virtual reality or animals. Fortunately, the Clause that gave him the job has an addendum – he can retire, but needs to choose a replacement.
It’s a cute premise, one that wisely ditches the pantomimic, wacko turns of the sequels (god help kids’ dreams if Toy Santa returns to the screen). It’s also an excuse to bring back Eric Lloyd as Charlie and David Krumholtz as Bernard – though, if this parade of cameos excites you, you ought to get a life.
If the opening titles don’t scare you, the music will
Add the opening titles of The Santa Clause to this year’s best horrors list. It’s the most unsettling phantasmagoria of wavy lights and haunting imagery since Mandy, from the lip-waggling, CGI reindeer to Allen’s demented, mallow-chomping Santa. His face zooming through the blur of the snow globe is tantamount to the Woman in Black flying toward the screen.
Some of the visual effects are abominable; there’s a cat that’s halfway between a Looney Tunes character and something from Hoodwinked, and that’s before we get to the glitter spew. Small screen means small budget, but cheapness doesn’t need to look this ugly.
Then there’s the music. What’s more depressing, the slight remix of Eye of the Tiger – sorry, “Eye of the Kringle” – or “Elves Just Wanna Have Fun”, with the lyrics: “We wake up to sugar and spice, no place in the world is as cozy or nice.”
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The thing is, it doesn’t make sense that it’s terrible. Jack Burditt, who worked on 30 Rock and Last Man Standing, is the showrunner, and there are moments that made me laugh. “So we’re just doing home invasions now?” Noel asks, for example. “Two Santas? Ugh, this isn’t the Vatican,” Betty (Matilda Lawler) quips.
But the script is filled with howlers and moments that desperately want to cheat their way to making you enjoy yourself. “Please let it be Harry Styles,” one elf mutters upon hearing there may be a new Santa, while another accuses him of “brat-shaming” by putting a misbehaving girl on the naughty list – which, it turns out, is now called the “misunderstood” list on account of kids having ADHD. If you rolled your eyes reading that, imagine watching it.
There’s also the most underwhelming usage of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Also sprach Zarathustra maybe ever – why would you bother when Deep Space Homer perfected the parody?
Why does The Santa Clauses exist at all?
Its many, many references aside, the story itself basically steals the Christmas spirit fears of Elf and blends them with today’s online-driven shopping. For example, Kal Penn plays Simon Choksi, a Jeff Bezos wannabe who wants to emulate Santa’s method of traveling the world to deliver all of his toys and tech in 60 minutes or less. He also grows suspicious upon noticing a 17% share of the market credited to “other”, aka Santa’s workshop.
The question has to be asked: what led Disney to this gross overestimation of people’s fondness for The Santa Clause franchise? Allen is hamming it up, which effectively drains his performance of the smarminess that made his transformation into Santa so brilliant. I only feel sorry for the kids who are part of it, who’ll forever have this egg-nog blotch of an acting credit on their resumé.
The Santa Clause review score: 1/5
The Santa Clauses isn’t naughty, nor is it nice – it’s a weird, vapid echo of the franchise’s failures, only this time it’s crying for you to like it, which is almost worse.
The Santa Clauses Episodes 1 and 2 will be available to stream on November 16. You can sign up for Disney+ here.