Case Number 20330: Small Claims Court


History Channel // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // December 15th, 2010

The Charge

If you can survive the holidays, you can survive anything.

The Case

Not every television channel can run endless repeats of It's a Wonderful Life during the holiday period, hence the need for in-house seasonal fluff programming. History Channel's 2009 special Surviving the Holidays with Lewis Black arrives on DVD to provide empty distraction while you digest that turkey dinner.

The ever-acerbic Lewis Black is the host of the program guiding viewers through the different sections of the show with his trademark ranting. Occasionally, he interviews other comedians to prompt their anecdotes and funny comments about the holidays. It looks and sounds like Lewis Black, but this is the most family-friendly side of the comedian that's ever been recorded. He cracks up at every tepid joke his interviewees offer. Black even submits to playing a department store Santa to a lineup of youngsters. It's definitely out of character from the Black most people are accustomed to seeing but let's chalk it up to the spirit of the season. That's to say, everyone can use an extra paycheck at this time of year.

The holiday special considers our traditions spanning the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, with stops along the way to remark on Black Friday, Chanukah and Chrismukkah. Bob Saget, David Alan Grier, Craig Ferguson, Sarah Vowell and Richard Belzar are some of the recognizable entertainers who say things that are kind of funny.

"The minute people hear Black Friday something gets triggered in their brain. They start to jump and stampede people at Wal-Mart. So they should change the name to Mauve Friday."
-- Joy Behar on shopping

A handful of historical experts and authors reveal the true stories behind some notable dates or common beliefs. These factoids are mostly short explanations without much substance or examination. The bulk of the show is filled with comedians and television personalities most people have never heard of testing comedy bits to the camera. Most of these are filmed in front of a white limbo background that is a consistent visual mood but it also reveals how cheap and mechanical the production is. Often, numerous anecdotes are cut together so one comedian's bit is broken up as several shots before the punch line is given. It's like the editing style acknowledges that no single bit is very amusing so here are three at once.

"At a party, I saw a woman's sweater that wouldn't stop blinking. I don't know how it worked but after three glasses of wine I wanted to unplug her."
-- Lewis Black on decorative lights

During the holiday season, there are a lot of traditions we observe that don't make a lot of sense and some beliefs we accept without questioning their logic or origin. Why wholesale slaughter of turkeys on a given day? Why cut down a tree so as to decorate it indoors? Surviving the Holidays with Lewis Black recognizes these behaviors but doesn't really illuminate them. Its worse sin, though, is assembling so many comedic people and then getting little else from them but bland and obvious comments that aren't funny. And what is there to say anyway? We all know shopping is insane, the myths are suspect and relatives are annoying. The few instances when the comics share personal memories manage to be more interesting and sometimes humorous. Those moments work because they feel authentic (though perhaps some are inventions), are familiar to our own experiences and aren't delivered in a style that resembles a routine.

"For a less stressful Christmas, be Jewish."
-- Craig Ferguson

The video is passable for a television show mostly made up of videotaped interviews. The picture is slightly soft and there's some digital noise in the shadows. The audio is good enough that you can hear all the dialogue without trouble. The back cover promises close caption subtitles but I couldn't find them. Included as a bonus feature is a two-minute montage of additional footage.

The Verdict

If you've been good, Santa won't leave this one under your tree. Guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 William Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 55

Perp Profile
Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Bonus Footage

* IMDb