Last year’s NTSF Christmas episode employed a specific genre style—found footage horror—incongruously matched with the holiday, which made for a fun an unexpected bonus at the end of a strong season. But this year’s episode suffers from being too generic. There’s a terrorist plot at a mall with an evil Santa (Thomas Lennon) and his elven henchmen, who conspire to steal a shipment of the year’s popular kids toy—a pit bull doll—and a group of hostages including Trent’s two sons Cherokee and Jericho.
Once the terrorists took hostages, I was really holding out hope for a Die Hard parody. It’s the perfect Christmas action movie (despite the supposedly “no hater” attitude thrown its way by nonbelievers) and would be a perfect fit for NTSF. But “Wreck The Halls” doesn’t go in that direction, instead exploiting some extensive gumball physics and putting Daisy and Piper in conflict with each other controlling the shoppers trapped outside the mall.
Alphonse is rather delightful in his belief that this particular mall Santa is the “real” Santa, and a close friend, but it doesn’t really tie into anything with his character like “Christmas Activity” did with his “Alaskan voodoo mysticism.” It contradicts a much funnier version of Alphonse’s character. I hate to say it, but “Christmas Activity” is superior in almost every way, so much so that I went back and re-watched it after “Wreck The Malls” and was still impressed by the blend of funny one-liners and commentary on the dominating presence of Christmas over other holidays. Bringing the NTSF team together in one house and then splitting them apart in the horror tropes worked much better than dividing most of the team.
This whole season has been marked by the success of various cast members, which took them away from the stronger ensemble feel of the second season. And as anyone would expect, it meant that this season hasn’t had the same ridiculous team energy. All of these performers can do well when paired up by shooting schedule necessity, but it’s just not as good as when the whole gang gets together.
Not to jump on the Love Actually dog pile that has drowned the internet for the past month as the 10th anniversary of that film rolled by, but I’ve always taken issue with the beginning and end of the film at the airport. Skewering that ridiculous Hugh Grant monologue at the beginning might be my favorite part of Lindy West’s overly (and at times justifiably) vitriolic column on the film. The association of a specific emotion with a public place, like the joy of marriage proposals at a fancy restaurant, always seemed off to me. But when I think of Christmas, I always think of wandering a local mall, decked out in oppressive holiday decorations. And this episode didn’t explore that aspect of Christmas either.
There’s no distinct point of view here like there has been in the best episodes of the show. It’s just a big jumble of comedic experiments, most of which whiffed this time around. NTSF episodes are only 10 minutes long, and there are certainly a bunch of laughs—mostly courtesy of Lennon. But the biggest one is the title card. (“Tonight’s episode of NTSF:SD:SUV:: is brought to you by a grant from the Welsh Tourism Board. Visit Wales. They have cliffs!”) That’s not a good sign, especially when there’s a Christmas action holiday classic like Die Hard ripe for parody with these characters.
It’s sad that NTSF ends the year on a down note, but I keep thinking that the reason the show has suffered is because it has been a springboard for Kate Mulgrew and June Diane Raphael into other projects. Adult Swim probably won’t make an announcement on another season for a while, if there is one. Ending the show here seems like a logical way to conclude the run, given the limited availability of the cast, the network’s penchant for trying out new programming in the quarter-hour format, and the shrinking number of tropes available for parody. NTSF found ways of turning the limited cast numbers in its favor with a bunch of big guest stars this season, but that made for episodes of wildly varying quality. After three seasons and two Christmas specials, it might be time for the San Diego office to go dark.