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Stocking stuffer: Netflix's A Very Murray Christmas


Making Murray-ment with George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Paul Shaffer. Netflix photo

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Not everything on Netflix is extra special. Not even a Christmas special.

It seemed to be a fair assumption that A Very Murray Christmas would find the host grooving and goofing on the holiday season by reprising his smarmy Saturday Night Live lounge singer, Nick Ocean. But for the most part, Bill Murray is taking all of this quite seriously during the frequent times he breaks into song. His vocals are, well, tolerable. Just don’t expect anything even remotely close to the effortlessly smooth and melodic stylings of Bing, Frank, Nat, Perry, Andy or Dino.

The due date is Friday, Dec. 4th and the setting is a snow-bound New York City, where Murray as himself is supposed to front some sort of live Christmas special from the famed Cafe Carlyle. But none of his announced guests can make it, leaving him to sing “I’ve Come Down With Those Christmas Blues” in his hotel suite while the ever-faithful Paul Shaffer tickles the ivories.

It’s very awkward going at first. Two handlers, one played by Amy Poehler, try to persuade a mopey Murray to go on with the show. There’s also a brief drop-in by Michael Cera as the show’s producer. Neither of these interludes works comedically, or at all for that matter. Still, Murray very reluctantly begins his show with “Jingle Bells” before his somber mood again intervenes. “I’m so alone,” he laments.

At this point, many a viewer also might be ready to chuck it all in and find an unapologetically sappy Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime. At least you’ll know what you’re getting into. But wait, there’s some hope -- in the form of Chris Rock. He wanders into the hotel and is embraced by Murray before declaring, “There’s no (#$%*+!*) way I am doing a live television special.”

Which means, of course, that they’re soon breaking into “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Rock’s best efforts to be a vocalist are amusing opposite Murray’s straight-ahead approach. And for the first time there’s a chance that this might be more than coal in your stocking or another sock and underwear set from grandma.

But alas, there’s a power failure at the Carlyle, which jettisons the live special for good and leaves Murray to commiserate and connect with the hotel staff. A waitress, played by Jenny Lewis, duets with him on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” before Maya Rudolph drops in to arguably commit sacrilege by singing Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home”). Shaffer again is at the keyboards, as he was for all those many years during Love’s annual visit to Late Show with David Letterman. Some things should be left to posterity, though. Rudolph’s effort is game and brassy, but just doesn’t feel at all right.

Murray also plays marriage counselor to an arguing bride and groom played by Rashida Jones and Jonathan Silverman. Then David Johansen, as a hotel staffer, plunges into “It was Christmas Eve in the Drunk Tank” and attendant lyrics.

All of this achieves a somewhat homey effect before the heavily boozing Murray passes out and envisions his Christmas special as it might have been. It’s a beautiful faux snowy white studio setting, with Miley Cyrus and George Clooney arriving on a sleigh. “I thought I’d make a martini or two,” says Clooney, who later joins Murray on “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ ” by contributing the refrain.

Both men are in Dinoesque black tuxes while Cyrus wears a strapless red and white semi-Santa Claus suit. Her performance of “Silent Night,” while sitting atop Shaffer’s piano, has a good deal of power and range. For the big finish, all join in on “Let It Snow.”

A Very Murray Christmas is as uneven as a child’s first effort to build and frost a gingerbread house. It’s also different, which sometimes works in its favor. The timeless crooners from Christmas specials past have nothing to fear here. Still, with a few belts and a fireplace in play, this should all go down pretty easy, breezy.

GRADE: B-minus

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