One thing you can definitely count on seeing on television during December is a parody, homage or-dare I use the word-pastiche of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” You would be hard-pressed to come up with other single work of fiction that has become the basis for so many episodes of American TV shows. One of the reasons that the story of Scrooge’s transformation works its way into so many TV shows is that its story of redemption is the guiding emotional force behind the narrative of almost everything that comes out of Hollywood.
So ingrained into the zeitgeist of December television viewing in America is this tradition that an episode of “The Simpsons” that adapts the trope introduces a metatextual element courtesy of a scene in which Homer Simpson is surfing through a night of television on which every channel features some kind of takeoff of “A Christmas Carol.” Homer’s experience with brief scenes of “Family Matters” and “Star Trek” utilizing Scrooge’s experience sets him on the road to redemption himself.
“The Odd Couple” take an interesting approach to paying homage to “A Christmas Carol.” Sloppy and abrasive Oscar Madison is not feeling the Christmas spirit when his anal-compulsive roommate Felix Ungar wants him to play Scrooge in a performance of Dickens’ story intended to raise money for a charity. The mixing and matching of Madison’s real life lack of the Christmas spirit with the storytelling putting the other characters of the sitcom into the characters of the Christmas story is one of the more creative additions to the tradition.
Another imaginative example can be found in the episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati” that keeps pace with the evolving tradition of this sitcom’s weirdly serious vibe beneath its jokes and gags. Where “WKRP in Cincinnati” manages to work past being just another ripoff of the Dickens tale is the way it presents the evolution of the radio station business as part of the background of visitations by the ghosts of Past, Present and Future. The redemption of Mr. Carlson, the station manager, is made bittersweet by the realization that such salvation is not to be experienced by the industry as a whole. The radio stations that were individually owned and operated entities of the past gearing their content towards their specific communities wind up as homogenous automated behemoths indistinguishable from one market to the next.
The majority of episodes in which a TV show seeks redemption for a character do so in a way in which the Scrooge part is depicted as part of a dream or some other element of fantasy. Usually, this has to be done because the Scrooge figure is a regular character and the show has to find a way to keep his salvation and change of personality from becoming a permanent fixture. “Xena: Warrior Princess” brilliantly subverts this approach by making the figure of redemption a non-recurring character and by convincing the character that he is part of a supernatural occurrence that the audience is allowed to see is constructed of phony background of a theatrical production. Philosophically speaking, what goes on in Xena’s “A Solstice Carol” episode may well make it the ultimate parody, homage or pastiche.