“A Full House For Christmas”
I am not normally one to really think much of Christmas episodes at all. They tend to bring out the worst in lesser sitcoms, and for shows that have been around for a while, it’s easy to see the creativity strain under the weight of Christmas cheer. Not so in Taxi‘s first Christmas episode, which is far less of a sitcom than usual and much more of a stageplay. The emotional crux of the episode centers around Louie’s little brother Nicky, a pro poker player in Las Vegas, and how he never writes or calls home anymore, and how it hurts their mother. Dark and sad and small for a sitcom, but maybe not so for Taxi, considering the raw, almost inappropriately personal note the show started on.
Making Louie an emotionally available character for the audience has been tricky for the writers in past episodes, but here, it works — probably because there’s finally someone worse than Louie in the room. It’s simultaneously showing us the worst, least likable, most purposefully despicable character trying to do something good for their mother — get Nicky to take her on vacation in Las Vegas — and be upstaged in their own awfulness. Danny DeVito is never really given a chance to shine as an actor in his sitcom roles. He’s an incredible and versatile actor, but his two sitcom roles, for which he is probably best-known to certain groups of people — Louie on Taxi and Frank Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — don’t allow much stretch room. This is a rare occasion that Louie calls for humanity to back his general unpleasantness, and DeVito proves what a great actor he is in this episode; he carries the entirety of it on his back.
The sitcoms that do Christmas episodes best — 30 Rock, Community, The Office, Bob’s Burgers — usually take some extreme look at the holiday to avoid making the same clichés over and over again. Taxi goes introverted and dark; the idea of siblings fighting over their mother at Christmas is much closer to anyone’s reality than perhaps we’d like to see on a sitcom. That’s a good thing; when do sitcoms mine this material so openly and intimately today?
It’s not a perfect episode. It’s too formless and can’t pack everything it wants to into its sitcom running time. But it is an admirable episode, and an enjoyable one to watch for its emotional honesty (and DeVito’s acting). It made me like a Christmas episode.