One of our most timeless Christmas tales comes from a novella first released back in 1843, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The story introduces us to miser Ebenezer Scrooge, a man only concerned about making money, even if it comes at the expense of others — including his overworked and underpaid employee, Bob Cratchit. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by four spirits who show him the error of his ways: the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. Once the spirits show Scrooge the mistakes of his past and Cratchit’s family, including his ill son Tiny Tim, Scrooge becomes a kindler, gentler man and makes things right with Cratchit.
There have been numerous TV and film adaptations of “Carol,” and because the story is so timeless, numerous TV shows have done their own versions of the familiar redemption tale for their Christmas episodes.
Here are my three favorites:
3) “Family Ties,” “A Keaton Christmas Carol” (CBS All Access)
No surprise that Alex (Michael J. Fox) is the Scrooge of this story, as he threatens to call the cops on carolers and refuses to participate in the annual Keaton family Christmas photo. But after being visited by ghosts in a dream, Alex rediscovers his Christmas spirit — especially when he sees a bald version of himself in the future.
2) “Animaniacs,” “A Christmas Plotz” (Hulu)
Warner Bros. CEO Thaddeus Plotz, tired of Yakko, Wakko and Dot causing so much damage around the studio lot, fires security guard Ralph right before Christmas. This spurs a visit from the three spirits, played by the Warner siblings, who show Plotz a scary future where Ralph’s son takes over the studio and fires Plotz to get revenge.
1) “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Christmas Story” (Amazon Prime)
No spirits appear in this one, but the sentiment remains the same as Ben (Will Wright), the richest man in Mayberry, nearly ruins Andy’s Christmas with his bah humbug attitude and miserly ways. But Ben has a change of heart when he witnesses the heartwarming Christmas celebration Andy (Andy Grifffith) throws in the courthouse. This is, surprisingly, the only Christmas episode the show ever made.
When it comes to the actual “Carol,” my favorite adaptation is “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (Disney+), which first aired on TV in 1984. This faithful version puts Scrooge McDuck and Mickey Mouse in the main roles of Scrooge and Cratchit. The first time I saw it as a kid, I was completely frightened by the scene where the Ghost of Christmas Future shoves Scrooge into his grave and the coffin opens to reveal the flames of hell. Just typing those words now makes me realize why.
No matter which version you prefer, it’s the moral of the story that makes TV writers mine the tale time and time again — that kindness and generosity are as valuable as gold.