That time of the year is here again. Ever since the 1950s, Christmas has provided infinite fodder for the television world to do their own themed episodes surrounding the holiday. From prestige dramas to multicam sitcoms, if a show lasted more than a season or two on the air, there was a strong chance a Christmas episode was right around the corner.
Of-the-era television represented something of a renaissance for the medium, and that was true on a micro-level, as well, when it came to the traditional Christmas episode. Here are the ten best Christmas themed episodes of 90s TV shows, as ranked by IMDb user scores.
10 South Park – “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics” (1999) – 7.4
South Park has no shortage of Christmas episodes. The show’s titular small town archetype provided lots of material for the writers to riff on various stereotypical nuclear family traditions. Perhaps the least nuanced but most entertaining offering the early phase of the series offered in this department is this anthology episode that eschews the typical narrative in favor of a series of shorts featuring the characters singing various carols, the iconic standout being Cartman’s terrible rendition of “O Holy Night.” Strangely poignant and full of memorable moments, the episode has excellent replay value, even all this time later.
9 The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air – “Christmas Show” (1991) – 7.6
One of the most beloved sitcoms of the 90s and the jumping-off point for star Will Smith’s stratospheric rise to movie stardom in the next decade, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had numerous Christmas installments over its 6-year run, but this early season two gem is one of the funniest and best-aged.
Much of the fun comes when the entire family takes a trip to a ski lodge when Will’s mother begins dating a new man. Typically silly shenanigans ensue, and the young cast members really get a chance to flex their slapstick and comedic timing in their storyline.
8 Batman: The Animated Series – “Christmas With The Joker” (1992) – 8.0
One of the most beloved American animated shows of all time, Batman: The Animated Series became the classic benchmark for animated comic book adaptations due to its blend of mature themes, iconic visuals, and Mark Hammil’s legendary voice work as The Joker. This early episode is the first appearance of Hammil’s take on the character and set up the villain’s infamous rivalry with Batman.
The episode centers around Joker’s escape from Arkham to cause Yuletide mayhem in an attempt to lure Batman into various traps. It’s fun and just dark enough to add a nice animated edge to the festivities.
7 Frasier – “Frasier Grinch” (1995) – 8.0
Throughout the eleven season run, Frasier churned out quite a handful of Christmas episodes. Christmas in the Crane household was always a delightfully awkward setting. However, “Frasier Grinch” is the funniest and most memorable outing for the sitcom. The episode revolves around Frasier’s package of nerdy gifts for his son getting lost in the mail, which results in Frasier and Niles taking a hilarious last-minute trip to the mall on Christmas Eve to try and replace them.
The series’ iconically witty banter and mixture of high and low brow humor are on full display in this episode, as is the poignant final scene between Martin and Frasier.
6 Everybody Loves Raymond – “The Toaster” (1998) – 8.1
Allegedly based on one of the show’s producer’s real-life experiences, this season three episode of the hit sitcom details Ray’s attempt to give everyone in his family an engraved toaster for the holidays. After finding out his parents returned the gift and exchanged it, the show’s signature quips and familial fireworks get their time to shine.
Though the series went on to put out a lot of Christmas episodes, this early favorite is one the best examples of the humorous style that kept the show going for over 200 episodes.
5 Friends – “The One With The Inappropriate Sister” (1998) – 8.2
Love it or hate it, Friends is one of television’s biggest phenomenons ever. By the time the sitcom hit its fifth season, over 20 million Americans on average tuned in every week to watch the romantic misadventures of three men and three women living and working in New York City.
The twenty-something counterpart to Seinfeld, Friends managed a nearly yearly addition to the Christmas episode canon, but it is the comedy-of-errors chaos of “The One with the Inappropriate Sister” is easily a standout. With every one of the parallel storylines managing laughs and some Christmas fun, this is a great entry point for the series.
4 Mystery Science Theater 3000 – “Santa Claus Conquers The Martians” (1991) – 8.2
The famed “riff show” was one of the more innovative and longstanding pieces of alternative humor in the 90s. The series focused on Joel, a lonely janitor trapped in space who is being forced to endure terrible schlock films. Along with his robot comrades, Joel quips and sarcastic comments his way through some of the worst films ever made.
One of the very best episodes of the show is this episode from 1991 where the crew watches Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, one of the most outrageously strange films ever made. As with every MST3K episode, not every riff lands, but a vast majority at least usher a smile.
3 The Simpsons – “Marge Be Not Proud” (1995) – 8.4
One of the pioneering adult animated sitcoms, The Simpsons became a critical and viewer success with its combination of sardonic humor and acute social satire. The show rarely ventured too far into the family drama aspect, but they successfully experimented with that writing with this season seven Christmas episode that explored the rarely analyzed dynamic between Marge and Bart. One of the softer episodes of the typically biting series, this heartwarming episode is one of the strongest of the many many holiday episodes of the groundbreaking series.
2 The X-Files – “How The Ghosts Stole Christmas” (1998) – 8.4
Series creator and mastermind Chris Carter wrote and directed this fun and spooky episode of the acclaimed sci-fi/horror series. One of the biggest and scariest shows of the decade, the series found a wide audience with its mix of serialized mythos based episodes and standalone stories.
This standalone segment takes the show’s signature eeriness and applies it to a Christmastime gothic romance style story featuring Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin as ghosts haunting the halls of an old Maryland house. One of the season’s quirkier showings, this episode has become a Christmas classic for fans of the show.
1 Mr. Bean – “Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean” (1992) – 9.0
Rowan Atkinson created two iconic characters, Edmund Blackadder, and, of course, Mr. Bean. Whereas Blackadder was a barbed intellect, Mr. Bean takes on a mime-like vaudeville-style which brought Atkinson worldwide fame and a crossover to North America.
In this episode, the seventh overall, the runtime is split into three sketches revolving around Mr. Bean’s antics at Christmas, including shopping and the routine of Christmas morning. Mr. Bean‘s humor is timeless and universally appealing, making it no surprise it is the highest rated Christmas episode of the decade.
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