Every era gets the Christmas specials it deserves. Remember those terrible, wonderful, tacky Truly Fake Holiday Specials hosted by Bob Hope and Ann Jillian, Donny and Marie Osmond, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams and a heap of colorful sweaters? How can we forget them? We're reminded of them every time we turn on a cable show like Bravo's "Great Things About the Holidays."
But whimsical recollections of extravaganzas past do not a Christmas special make. Like every show on Bravo (and the Target ads that sponsor them), Christmas entertainment is now supposed to be suffused with a knowing, ironic sensibility. And we're all supposed to be too hip to ever be square again.
As if to punish us for banishing the plastic snow from Truly Fake Holiday Specials, we're offered earnest facsimiles like "Celebrate! Christmas with Maya Angelou" (6 p.m., Hallmark). Now don't get me wrong. Angelou seems warm and wise, but this hour consists largely of her offering snippets of insight about the meaning behind Christmas traditions. "It would not be Christmas without the laughter of children," she observes. It's a little like being forced to spend Christmas with your English teacher or the Parson's wife. It's probably good for you, but don't confuse it with fun.
But all is not lost. Halfway into "Celebrate," the songwriting team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson arrives to gush about Angelou's wisdom and her legendary holiday feasts. And soon they're at the piano. The very presence of this prolific and seemingly ageless hit-making duo is enough to warm the heart. They're a welcome reminder that even "Celebrate," a tepid bath of Hallmark platitudes, is a Truly Fake Holiday Special.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Children's letters to the North Pole take center stage on "Dear Santa" (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ The Peanuts gang returns in "I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown!" (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ "C.S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia" (7 p.m., Hallmark) offers a biographical sketch of the author of "The Chronicles of Narnia."
¢ "Three Wishes" (8 p.m., NBC) offers a boy the chance to meet his hero, Bill Gates.
¢ A brave first step on "Bernie Mac" (8 p.m., Fox).