Who doesn't look forward to the annual financially crippling social obligation of holiday gift-giving? Holiday-hating misers, that's who. It's December, so that means it's time to spend, spend, spend in order to prove to friends and family that you love them, or at least would like to buy their favor for another year. But what to buy? The A.V. Club has a few suggestions, which we've broken down into categories that just might match someone on your shopping list. (Note: All prices are approximate suggested retail; shop around and/or get lucky, and you'll likely find many of these items cheaper. Except for Vincent Gallo's sperm.)
For Kids Who Don't Make Enough Noise And Enjoy Twisting And Flicking Things
A three-legged, horn-snouted, apparently extraterrestrial creature, iZ plays music that users (owners?) can manipulate by touching parts of his (its?) body while iZ laughs approvingly. No, it's not part of an insidious Invasion-style takeover plot, it's the season's hot electronic toy, one that combines elements of a Casio keyboard and a dancing Coke can. Bored of one sound? Twist iZ's ears and hear another. Pump up the beat with the other ear, then manipulate his "flicker" for an exclamation of pleasure. Yes, this is as disturbing as it sounds. Plug iZ into an iPod and he works as a speaker, interrupting the music with the occasional belch. (Note: The A.V. Club has found this does not improve most songs.) Not to be confused with Izzy, the equally mysterious mascot of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, iZ seems likely to fascinate children and drive most everyone else slowly nuts. Maybe it's part of an alien plot after all.
For People Who Love Watching Video On A Tiny Screen
iPod ($300 30-gig model, $400 60-gig model)
Each year, the iPod gets a little cooler and its capabilities get more ridiculous. The newest iPods are full media players, with the capacity to display surprisingly crisp music videos, movies, and TV shows on a 2.5-inch screen. The iPods come in 30- and 60-gigabyte versions, with a capacity of 7,500 songs/75 hours of video (30 gig) or 15,000 songs/150 hours of video (60 gig). Apple just introduced the technology, so only five shows are available for download (Lost, Desperate Housewives, Night Stalker, The Suite Life, and That's So Raven), but there's a big selection of music videos, and shows and videos alike cost about $2 each. Apple has also beefed up the iPod's extras to include a stopwatch, four games, and an address book and calendar, so it's only a matter of time until iPods do everything.
Find it at: store.apple.com and most big-box retailers: Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, Costco, etc.
For Your Buddies Who Are Also Needy Third-World Farmers
A water buffalo, or a segment thereof ($250, or $25 per share)
A charity dedicated to relieving Third World hunger and poverty, Heifer International follows the philosophy that poor families don't need free milk, they need their own cows, for sustainable, long-term self-reliance. Through Heifer's website, donors can "purchase" llamas, ducks, geese, rabbits, pigs, bees, and more for needy families worldwide. And if a cow or a water buffalo is too expensive, pitch in and purchase a share in one instead. It's worth it just to be able to say "I bought you half a goat and a third of a sheep for Christmas."
Find it at: heifer.org (look for "online gift catalog" under the "give" menu option)
For Simpsons Fans Who Want To Emulate Those Python-quoting Nerds Homer Met In College
The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus 16-Ton Megaset ($200)
Anyone with even a moderate geek pedigree knows Monty Python at least well enough to sing the Spam song and quote the Dead Parrot sketch, but how many people remember the Royal Society For Putting Things On Top of Other Things, Ann Elk's brontosaurus theory, or the Fish License sketch? Thanks to the long-awaited complete-series Monty Python DVD set, completists can refresh their memories of their favorite skits and rediscover the more obscure installments while distracting themselves from the current hideously depressing careers of the surviving Pythons.
Find it at: virtually any store with a significant DVD section
For Moneyed Lovers Of Lambskin, Rhinestones, Racing Jackets, And The Movie Scarface Who Want A Product To Combine All Their Passions
Custom-made Scarface leather jackets ($3,000)
Sure, you love the movie Scarface. Who doesn't? But are you willing to pay tribute to it in full Scarface style? If so, JH Design has the product for you: a custom-made, rhinestone-studded, lambskin Scarface jacket. Available in several different designs, the jackets range from garish to merely absurd. All feature iconic images of Al Pacino's Tony Montana scowling and taking care of business in high Scarface style. Sure, you can also find down-market twill versions, but what kind of Scarface fan wears twill? Why not just go all the way and buy a My Little Pony jacket?
For People Who Feel A Pang Of Loss Every Time They Pick Up The Sunday Funnies
The Complete Calvin And Hobbes ($150)
Few comic strips deserve the kind of lavish-edition treatment more commonly bestowed on dictionaries and the Bible, but Bill Watterson's Calvin And Hobbes is just as useful and inspired as any reference book or scripture, and it's utterly worthy of this massive slipcased three-volume set. Emerging fully formed in 1985, Calvin And Hobbes ran for 10 years (hiatuses included) and captivated millions with the sometimes-whimsical, sometimes-satirical adventures of a sardonic little boy and his gentle-natured stuffed tiger. Like Charles Schulz's Peanuts, Watterson's strip is often remembered as sweeter and more gag-oriented than it actually was, but he actually tried to capture the truth of childhood through triangulation, by considering Calvin as a simultaneous fount of boyhood imagination, example of his generation's insufferable egotism, and exhausted observer of soul-killing conformity. All that, and Calvin And Hobbes was also the best-drawn, most consistently funny part of the comics page for a whole miraculous decade.
For The Twentysomething Who's Good With Doohickeys (Or Your Kid Brother)
Nintendo DS ($130) And Games ($20-$40 each)
Nintendo's random concoction of handheld-gaming ideas, the DS, was overshadowed a bit by Sony's more streamlined PSP, but there's lots of life left in the year-old gal. New games have poured forth in 2005, including the excellent side-scrolling fighters Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble! and Ultimate Spider-Man, and Nintendo just stepped up the wireless fun with a new online service that allows players to compete not just when they're in the same room (the system has a built-in wireless receiver) but also via the Internet with any wireless connection. The ultimate test: Mario Kart DS, a kick-ass little racing game you can play alone or against the rest of the world. Add to that the DS' weird other features (two screens, one of them touch-sensitive; a microphone; a bulky package) and you've got the clunky little brother that's more fun to hang with than the sleek PSP.
Find it at: pretty much any electronics or gaming store
For That Friend Who Always Says, "You've Gotta Try This–It's Gross!"
Jones Soda Holiday Packs ($25)
A slightly more exciting alternative to coal and switches, Jones Soda's Holiday Packs taste pretty much as disgusting as they sound–some even more so–but it might be difficult for friends or enemies to resist at least taking a sip. This year's "national" pack includes a favorite from last year–Turkey And Gravy–along with the completely unsweet Cranberry, Pumpkin Pie, Wild Herb Stuffing, and the absolute bottom of the barrel–Brussels Sprout soda, which leaves a buttery aftertaste even though it has zero calories and is vegetarian. The "regional pack"–find a local retailer at jonessoda.com–includes Corn On The Cob, the abominable Smoked Salmon Pâté, and even Broccoli Casserole, the one flavor actually less heave-inducing than it sounds. Buy it for a friend with a sense of humor, or sneak it into a foe's coffee mug.
Find it at: Target, or via jonessoda.com
For The Person Who's Always Wanted To Read Uncollected J.D. Salinger Short Stories
The Complete New Yorker: Eighty Years Of The Nation's Greatest Magazine ($100)
Yes, The Complete New Yorker. Meaning every issue from 1925 to a couple of months ago, all scanned in page-by-page–original layout and advertising inclusive–and digitized on eight searchable DVD-ROMs. Early users have reported some bugginess related to the special PDF-style reader that the discs require, but the historical value of this project is worth a few crashes and files not found. Though a lot of the most famous material herein has been reprinted elsewhere, there's nothing like seeing the actual pages that contained the first printing of John Hersey's Hiroshima, or reading what else was in the issue where Pauline Kael reviewed an advance screening of Robert Altman's Nashville. Some of the best writers of the last century (and this one) have swung through the New Yorker orbit at one time or another, and having access to their words in their original published form is like perusing a multi-tiered timeline of modern American literature.
Find it at: amazon.com
For Those Who Enjoy The Word Of God Only When It Can Double As A Weapon
The Metal Bible: NLT ($30)
The Bible is full of murders, plagues, and stories about the end of the world, so it could stand to be a little more "extreme" in its packaging. After centuries of tired old leather binding, the publishers at New Living Translation decided to give the Word Of God "the hippest exterior ever!" The Metal Bible is sheathed in a silver, orange, black, red, or green metal case, making it perfect for both concealing and highlighting the fact that you're reading the Bible. Marketed toward "style-conscious teens," some versions of The Metal Bible feature an imprint of a soda-can pop-top on the cover (instead of the more traditional crucifix), because, well, teens like soda, right?
Find it at: Newlivingtranslation.com, Bible Factory Outlet
For The Humor Aesthete Who Thinks Comedy Has Sucked Since 1947
The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection ($90)
Nerdy and handsome, geeky and serene, the face of Harold Lloyd looks eerily modern next to those of contemporaries like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Lloyd was part of their scene–he was actually a bigger star than both for a time–but his status as one of silent film's foremost innovators hasn't aged as well. It's hard to figure out why: His stunts (including a famous one on a clock tower in Safety Last!) are stunning, his sight gags are disarmingly smart, and his range as a character actor makes him much more than a comedian. The seven-DVD Harold Lloyd Collection aims to right the historical record with new transfers of 15 features, 10 shorts, and a bounty of extras, including home movies. It's a tribute to a long-gone era, but Lloyd has a strange way of squirming to life whenever the power switches on.
Find it at: virtually any store with a significant DVD section
For The Retro-Gaming Enthusiast Whose Experience Isn't Complete Without A Strip Of Wood Veneer
Atari Flashback 2 ($30)
The gameplay is repetitive and clunky and the graphics might as well be carved from stone blocks–so why is that old Atari 2600 joystick so hard to put down? The Atari Flashback 2 shrinks the original early-'80s system a bit, but retains the shape (and the wood grain) and controllers (the set comes with two), and includes 40 built-in games–mostly originals you'll remember, but a few "lost" and a couple just written. Some are fun because they're just so awful-looking and unfun: In Human Cannonball, you adjust the angle of a cannon based on wind speed before firing–and that's it. In Hangman, you play Hangman. But then there are the old classics–Pitfall, River Raid, super-blocky Centipede, even Pong… They don't have cutscenes, dozens of weapons, or plots, but they can still be massively engaging. And at 75 cents per game, they're a bargain.
For Drunken Parents Who Need To Know Which Miter To Wear To Their Office Christmas Party
Baby Be Of Use books ($9 each)
How To Dress For Every Occasion, By The Pope ($12)
Every holiday season sees a sudden upswing in the number of stocking-stuffer and novelty-type impulse-buy books sitting next to bookstore registers, but few of this year's crop are likely to be as cute or acerbic as McSweeney's Baby Be Of Use series, a pair of ultra-simple pictorial board books giving infants their marching orders: Baby Mix Me A Drink is a visual guide to a few basic cocktails, while Baby Make Me Breakfast depicts a post-bender meal in which aspirin is one of the courses. The art is adorable, though seven pages isn't quite enough space to develop any complicated subplots. Lemony Snicket alter ego Daniel Handler stretches out a bit more with How To Dress For Every Occasion, By The Pope, a loveably energetic book that reads like a sartorial guide from Lynda Barry's Ernie Pook's Comeek character Marlys. Are sandals acceptable popewear? What about a "Go Knicks!" tunic? The Pope tells all.
Find them at: store.mcsweeneys.net, local bookstores
For Little Girls Who Aspire To Be Mommies, Just Like Angelina Jolie
Newborn Nursery Dolls ($100)
Venturing where Cabbage Patch Kids never dared to go, the Newborn Nursery is a line of super-realistic dolls that look like newborn babies (down to the creases on their wrinkled feet), weigh as much as newborn babies (about four pounds), and feel like newborn babies (well, newborn babies coated in soft vinyl). Their eerie little heads are even specially weighted, requiring support at all times. But the realism doesn't end there. At stores across the country, the Newborns are displayed behind glass partitions in mock hospital-nursery environments, complete with cribs, swaddling blankets, and salespeople dressed as doctors and nurses. Of course, the Newborns aren't really up for sale. They're up for adoption, and in order to take home a little bundle of creepiness, prospective parents have to prove they'd make good mommies by filling out lengthy questionnaires full of probing queries like "Will you change your baby's diaper?" and, naturally, "Will you love your baby?" After a nurse/clerk checks the parent/buyer's answers, and the parent/buyer forks over $100, the Newborn is as good as adopted/bought.
For The Movie Buff Who Wants To Relive Quentin Tarantino's Childhood
42nd Street Forever, Vol. 1 ($20)
The idea of an exploitation film is usually more exciting than actually sitting through one, and most of that idea can be gleaned through trailers. The grindhouse genre sold itself with brain-jangling scenes of sex, violence, and fantasy, accompanied by carnival-barker narrators reading lines like "We strongly recommend that impressionable young people who are upset or affected by scalpel-slashing, arm-twisting, axe-hacking motorcycle maniacs now close their eyes for the remainder of this coming attraction." The two hours plus of vintage drive-in previews on 42nd Street Forever run the gamut from tame B-movie sci-fi to 3-D T&A, but nearly all promise more than any sane viewer can take: more flesh, more gore, more shocks, and more truth. You'll have to keep telling yourself, "It's just a trailer. It's just a trailer."
Find it at: amazon.com
For Someone Who Hates Comedy But Enjoys Receiving DVDs In Watermelon-Shaped Packaging
Gallagher: The Smashing Watermelon Collection ($30)
Three discs. Eleven comedy specials. All Gallagher.
For The Aspiring Graphic Designer Who Also Enjoys Looking At Lovingly Photographed Old Batman Toys
Chip Kidd, Book One: Work 1986-2006 ($40 softcover, $65 hardback)
The book equivalent of a four-disc box set, this hefty tome finds famed book designer Chip Kidd paying tribute to… famed book designer Chip Kidd. A self-designed career retrospective, Chip Kidd, Book One: Work 1986-2006 collects many of Kidd's best-known covers (and many obscure ones) alongside sketches, discarded designs, correspondence, interview excerpts (including one with this publication), and other bits of miscellany. As an ode-to-self, it might seem incredibly egotistical, were it not for Kidd's funny, self-deprecating running commentary and his actual designs, which more than justify the loving treatment. And who else could design a book up to Kidd's exacting standards, anyway?
For That Annoying Friend Who Watches Too Much British Television
Little Britain and The Kumars At No. 42 first-season DVD sets ($30 each)
Since The Office proved the British have done something funny since Monty Python, other popular shows from the UK hope to catch on here. The Kumars At No. 42 follows an Indian family and its wannabe talk-show host son, Sanjeev. In each episode, Sanjeev attempts to interview celebrities (many unrecognizable to Americans) while his chatty mother, father, and grandmother interject with pointless and/or inappropriate questions. The show seems mostly improvised and the guests uncoached, as they regularly crack up at the Kumars' bizarre antics. Little Britain, a character-driven sketch show, marries Mr. Show's two-man absurdist dynamic with the copious cross-dressing of Kids In The Hall. Creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams play a variety of hilarious weirdoes: a man who pretends he's wheelchair-bound, a transvestite no one mistakes for a woman, a man who's gay just to be different, etc. The quick pacing keeps the scenes from overstaying their welcome, unlike similar shows.
For Lovers of Patriotic Über-Kitsch From Prominent Cold War-Era Comedians
Yakov Smirnoff Giclee Prints ($100 and up) and Yakov Matroyshka Nesting Dolls ($13)
When it comes to gaudy displays of patriotism and Christianity, prominent Cold War-themed chucklemaster Yakov "What a country!" Smirnoff puts the average country singer to shame with his collection of Jesus-loving, flag-waving, terrorist-hating Giclee prints. Painted in a style that can best be described as "high kitsch," Smirnoff's portfolio includes five paintings of the American flag, three paintings of The Statue of Liberty, and two paintings of Jesus chuckling. Granted, Smirnoff's artwork makes Lady Liberty look like a homely transvestite, while Jesus resembles a blissed-out hippie, but craft isn't really the issue. Each piece comes signed by Smirnoff. The gift shop on Smirnoff's website also features Smirnoff nesting dolls, each of which comes complete with no less than three representations of the American flag. It's patriotastic!
Find it at: yakov.com
For Those Who Think A Mere 35 Hours Of Crude '80s Football Comedy Is Not Nearly Enough
1st And 10: Complete Collection ($20)
Some shows have tantalizingly brief runs that leave audiences panting for more. But who needs a few perfect hours of droll masterpieces like The Office or Fawlty Towers when you can head down to Wal-Mart and experience nearly two full days full of crude, nudity-filled pigskin hijinks courtesy of 1st And Ten: Complete Collection? Yes, 1st And 10: Complete Collection, a Wal-Mart exclusive, compiles all 40 hours of the Delta Burke/O.J. Simpson/Shannon Tweed sitcom about the wacky misadventures of the fictional California Bulls. It's the perfect chance to immerse yourself in that bygone era in which HBO was known less for the quality of its groundbreaking original programming than for the quantity of naked boobs on display in its homegrown shows. Best of all, the whole kit and caboodle is available for a mere $20, marked down from $180. That works out to less than 50 cents per hour of bone-crushing hilarity!
Find it at: walmart.com
For Extremely Lazy Starfuckers With A Lot Of Money Lying Around
Vincent Gallo's Semen ($1 million)
The official merchandise website of The Brown Bunny director-star Vincent Gallo features a number of unique holiday bargains, including such one-of-a-kind gems as Gallo's "Childhood Hopalong Cassidy Bedspread" ($6,000) and his personal copy of the 8-track Chris Squire: Fish Out Of Water ($200), autographed for some reason by Gallo rather than Squire. But by far the cream of the crop (so to speak) is Gallo's offer to sire a child on any lucky millionaire who meets his racial criteria. The offer itself is a study in eye-popping hilarity, with Gallo asserting the quality of his genes as displayed in his facial features and penis size, and qualifying the offer with discounts and caveats. ("Natural insemination" is $500,000 extra, though Gallo may choose to waive that fee "after being presented detailed photographs of the purchaser." Also, Gallo has some, uh, charming opinions about race-mixing.) Note: No response to The A.V. Club's request for a review sample of the material in question had been received by press time.
Find it at: vgmerchandise.com, under "miscellaneous"