Series: Advent Calendar 2016: Holiday TV Episodes
3rd Rock from the Sun
Season 2 Episode 12
"Jolly Old St. Dick"
Originally broadcast December 15, 1996 (otherwise known as the greatest year ever)
All of the shows on this list have had great casts. Just think of all the amazing talent we've seen so far. Jane Kaczmarek, Martha Plimpton, Alec Baldwin (twice), John Goodman, Bryan Cranston - I could go on and on. In fact, I'm going to start having a hard time coming up with new ways to say "the cast of this show is pretty good."
However - at least in my opinion - no other show on this list comes close to 3rd Rock from the Sun.
What is the show?
No, seriously, this show is as close to perfect as I think we might ever see.
John Lithgow overacts to such a delightful extreme, never once dropping the intensity for a second. Jane Curtin is indisputably in the all time upper echelon of comedic performers. Kristen Johnston is magnificent at every turn. French Stewart is like every classic comedian, from Buster Keaton to the Marx Brothers all rolled into one. Baby Joseph Gordon-Levitt was showing us all the incredible talent that people are only just starting to appreciate twenty years later. This is just scratching the surface. If any one of these actors were at this level of brilliance in any other show, they would be unforgettable (in fact, they've all pretty much done exactly that). Here, they're just part of the cast, and they drive each other to be even greater.
Oh yeah, What is the show?
The Solomon family might seem like a pretty wacky group, but there's a reason for that - they're all aliens. They arrive on Earth in the first episode, assuming the appearance of four perfectly generic Humans. They live just outside Cleveland in fictional Rutherford, Ohio, to study this insignificant little blue speck and the strange creatures that inhabit it.
The "High Commander" of the group, blowhard to end all blowhards Dick (played by Lithgow) assumes the mantle of a Physics professor at a third-rate community college. His lieutenant and head of security becomes Sally (Johnston), a six foot tall amazon woman who regularly breaks hearts as well as limbs. The information officer (and oldest member of the group) assumes the form of a teenage boy, Tommy (Gordon-Levitt), which is - as you can imagine - wrought with peril. Finally, the group's communication officer becomes Harry (Stewart), a goofy soul with a few screws loose.
If that doesn't sound like the most spectacular premise for a show, I don't know what is. It is only helped by the fact that the writing is every bit as good as the cast. The way that Dick approaches every situation like a child - with all the stubborn, selfish, naivety that you would expect - is just delightful to watch. They get sick, they fall in love, they fight, they get in trouble, they laugh, they learn, and they do it in such a wonderfully silly way. It loses some of its charm and perfection as the novelty of the whole thing wore off a little bit in the later seasons, but even at its worst 3rd Rock from the Sun is better than pretty much anything else out there.
Come for the fact that I am telling you seriously this is the greatest show ever made, and stay for the great costumes, the great sets, the unrelenting comedic pacing, John Lithgow shouting "meeee," the 90's charm, and the fact that it genuinely is one of the pinnacles of the craft.
What is the episode?
The family of aliens experiences their first Christmas. In the classic show form, the four main characters each go off and have their own misadventures around the central theme. The writers treated the first couple seasons like a sketch show, focusing on individual scenes more than the whole episode, and it shows.
Here we have possibly the purest "true meaning of Christmas" story on the list, as four aliens strive to answer the simple question, "no, really, what is Christmas?"
Look, why delay any further? I need to stop going off the deep-end for this show, and you need to start watching it.
Where can you watch it?
Like usual, it's on Netflix and the DVDs are on Amazon (don't even waste your time, you want the whole series).
What do you need to know?
Oh yeah, there is one detail to point out. Dick's primary quest in the series is to win the heart of Mary Albright (Jane Curtin's character), another professor at the school and his office-mate. At this point in the series, they are dating (at least, as much as an Alien who has been Human for not even a year could date). That's why she is a bit more affectionate toward him in this episode.
I know I am gushing pretty hard on this show. It's right up my alley and completely satisfies everything I could ever want in a show. Can you blame me for embellishing just a little bit? It's really a great show.
As Dick learns in this episode, Christmas is the time to give people incredible gifts, and I'm giving you the greatest gift of all: 3rd Rock from the Sun.
Actually, on the subject of people giving extravagant gifts . . .