Bill Murray’s Netflix exclusive show A Very Murray Christmas brings a modern twist to the idea of a traditional Christmas special. When a massive snowstorm hits New York City, Murray is fearful that nobody will turn up to his Christmas show. As he starts to interact with more and more of the guests at the Carlyle Hotel his performance begins to take shape and things start to seem a lot brighter for ol’ Murray.
The show begins with Bill Murray singing about having ‘the Christmas Blues’, effectively setting a benchmark ‘low point’ from which Murray is to move away from throughout the course of the programme. Unfortunately though, the melancholic tone of this first song lingers undesirably over the first half hour of A Very Murray Christmas as the show fails to build up any momentum. Murray’s vocals seem largely unenthusiastic and tired in the first half, and the almost non-existent plot doesn’t help to inject any life into the special either.
The only glimpse of energy in the first half comes from Chris Rock, but this is short lived as it is almost immediately snuffed out when he is forced into performing a duet with Murray. Rock’s awkwardness, despite obviously being meant to be there for comedic effect, only serves to make Murray seem rather pathetic, and not in an sympathetic sense either.
However, the special does turn itself around somewhat around the 30 minute mark when French rock band Phoenix and Murray perform the uplifting tune ‘Alone at Christmas’. This is the first time when Murray seems half alive, as he repeatedly jumps toward lead vocalist Thomas Mars when it is time for him to sing his part. Despite being a self-confessed song that “nobody knows”, ‘Alone at Christmas’ marks the turning point where A Very Murray Christmas stops being a sad winter’s tale and starts becoming something more enjoyably festive.
The latter half of the show isn’t perfect by any means, but it is much better than the first part. A good example of this comes when the cast sing one of the most popular Christmas songs performed on the show: ‘Fairy-tale of New York’. Just as the clock strikes twelve and Christmas Eve rolls over to Christmas Day, no song is more fitting for the star-studded cast to mark the occasion with than this. However, you wouldn’t be able to tell that these characters are supposedly excited for Christmas by looking at their facial expressions. At numerous points throughout the song many of them seem positively bored and as if they have actually been inconvenienced by having to be there in the first place. It is one thing producing a sombre lull as the characters take shots together and enjoy one another’s company, but another for them to be practically falling asleep on one another!
Thankfully the best part of A Very Murray Christmas comes right at the end, drawing the show to close on a high point. After taking one too many shots, Murray falls off his piano stool in a classic slapstick fashion and finds himself falling into a dream sequence where George Clooney, Miley Cyrus and himself have to perform the grand Christmas show that the entire special has been, albeit slowly, leading up to. One of the funniest scenes is coincidentally in this segment, as George Clooney repeatedly leans out from behind a Christmas tree to sing the lines “Santa Claus wants some lovin’”. It is simple, yet entertaining, and it instils exactly the kind of vitality that A Very Murray Christmas lacks in for the most part. Whether or not this is the result of Clooney’s infamous charm I don’t know, but it certainly works to improve the mood.
Plus, during the dream sequence, quite often the vocals themselves are left to Miley Cyrus, an actress who can actually sing, much unlike Jason Schwartzman who is made to perform a very pitchy rendition of “I Saw the Light” earlier on in the show. Schwartzman’s vocals are meant to be comedic, but they just fail to have any impact and instead make the show seem merely poorly produced. Once the focus is shifted onto the voice itself and onto generally producing a quality finale for the show, things become much better. Instead of trying to draw comedic value out of the awkwardness of the cast members, in the dream sequence comedic effect comes from the quirkiness of the trio, something that feels much more natural than the ironically forced ‘rawness’ of the hotel scenes.
However, all in all I wouldn’t say that the show was entirely bad. A Very Murray Christmas is the kind of show that is probably most suitable for being watched right after Christmas dinner when everybody is feeling bloated and tired: it doesn’t require a lot of thought and makes for a nice backdrop for the festivities. There’s not a lot of substance to it, but it is most certainly wholesome and festive.