This time of year is rife with holiday episodes, and for the most part, I think we TV audiences agree that we'd rather our favourite shows take an extra week off rather than produce what is often a badly-written show with too much room given to guest stars playing the parents of our lead characters (negative bonus points if one of them is Jane Kaczmarek, Elliott Gould or Candice Bergen).
But sketch comedy shows are the exception. Something about the holidays brings out the best -- and frequently the most acerbic -- in comedians, which is why I'm actually excited to watch the "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" holiday special (CBC on December 13 at 8PM). As cast member Mark Critch explains, "Christmas is about being together as a family even if the family hates each other. There's a slow build from forgetting to put out your sister's potato salad to your father yelling, 'I drink because I hate you!'"
While most shows need to be taken out back and mercifully shot after about five seasons, sketch comedy has a longer lifespan, and "22 Minutes" demonstrates this perfectly. Nearing 20 years old, the show is not only still funny, it's still controversial. Since joining the permanent cast in 2007, Geri Hall has twice been singled out for her attempts to get political interviews, and she was once even led away in handcuffs when she tried to get a word with PM Stephen Harper. (After the ordeal, the PM did agree to a sit-down with her and asked if she likes handcuffs. Can we get him to stick to guest appearances on "Murdoch Mysteries" from now on, please?) More recently, Mary Walsh tried to ambush Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in front of his house, in her trademark Marg Delahunty gear, and Ford called 911. However you feel about Ford, it's pretty amazing that Walsh's Delahunty character is still viable after all these years.
I often think of "22 Minutes" as Canada's "Colbert Report," while Rick Mercer plays the gentler, more obviously sympathetic Jon Stewart. But Critch ties "22 Minutes" to an older brand. "It's a franchise that could last as long as the cast keeps changing; like "Saturday Night Live," there will always be times when people say the show is hot or 'it used to be funny.' It goes in cycles. But seriously in five years we're hoping to finally be given the 23rd minute," he jokes.
Critch and his castmates are definitely more than aware of the US competition. "I watch all of them -- especially Colbert. Colbert's current head writer was a writer on "22 Minutes" for years." (Dear Stephen, You're welcome. Love, Canada.)
When Ford was all worked up about being ambushed by Walsh, a Toronto Sun reporter went so far as to call the stunt part of a lefty conspiracy, concocted by those pinkos at CBC. Of course, you'll never get a comedian to be serious about politics, but Critch points out that sometimes, comedy skews left because some things just aren't funny. "You can kick up, but you can't kick down," he says. "A cartoon of a hobo kicking a man in a top hat in the ass is funny, a man in a top hat kicking a hobo is not funny; that -- and cancer."
So sorry guys. I know you were hopeful, but it looks like no cancer jokes in the holiday special.
The "22 Minutes" Holiday Special airs Tuesday December 13, 8PM ET/PT, CBC, and includes guest appearances by Gordon Pinsent, Kevin O'Leary, Jim Cuddy, Jian Ghomeshi, 'Survivorman' Lee Stroud, Great Big Sea, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Liberal Leader Bob Rae, former regular show cast member Greg Thomey and 'Republic of Doyle's Allan Hawco.