Christmas television specials catch us with our guard down. We don't ask much of them, except that they give us a warm feeling, a chuckle, and maybe some distraction from worrying about whether we gave Uncle Morty the same pair of socks last Christmas.
That said, there have to be some standards. Badly written and poorly animated Christmas cartoons are thoroughly annoying wastes of time, as are shows that try to spoof or satirize Santa Claus, Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and other traditions.
There's the season's oddest special: A Very Retail Christmas. Produced by the people who brought you ALF, this half-hour has everything I don't like about Christmas shows, since it parodies both Santa Claus and Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Ed O'Neill (Married With Children) plays a Scrooge-like toy manufacturer who tries to put Santa (Chuck McCann) out of business by hiring away his elves (a bunch of wisecracking, ALF-like puppets). Somewhere along the line, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Mr. Belvedere's Christopher Hewett) pops up. It sounds awful, but it's actually funny, in a jadedly sharp-witted way. O'Neill invents ''the ultimate dangerous toy'': a robot that shoots a deadly laser beam. ''I think we've redefined the concept of 'unsafe' here,'' he crows. Puppets or not, this one is for grown-ups, who'll get all the jokes. B-