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.
The best network Christmas special this season is Dolly Parton: Christmas at Home ''Home'' for Parton is the Smoky Mountains, where she grew up, and this hour features lots of pretty country scenery as Parton delivers strong, straightforward versions of chestnuts such as ''Jingle Bells,'' ''Joy to the World,'' and ''Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.'' Parton has always been a happy paradox a campy figure of fun who at the same time seems utterly sincere and earnest. She's one of the few celebrities who can pull off an old-fashioned special like this without seeming condescending or ironic. B+