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Radio City Christmas Spectacular

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There's something charmingly old-fashioned about The Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall, and the idea that even now, 80 years after the heyday of vaudeville, our hearts are expected to beat faster at the sight of 36 pairs of fabulous gams, raised high in a femoral salute.

When I first suggested to my fellow TV Clubbers that it might be fun to take on some holiday specials during this slow TV month, I confess that I had visions of us gleefully pecking away at "Sonny and Cher in the '70s"-style cheese. What I didn't expect was the network TV version of Leg Show. Over the course of NBC's hourlong Radio City Christmas Spectacular, I saw Rockettes in reindeer costumes (complete with antlers!), Rockettes in Santa suits (flashing their Fosse jazz hands!), and Rockettes in tin soldier outfits (getting shot by a cannon and falling backwards in slow motion!). Mostly though, I saw shins and thighs, lovingly lit and photographed in HD.

Over the years, The Rockettes–and this Christmas show in particular–have become family entertainment, which is something that NBC kept emphasizing throughout the telecast, by showing awestruck children in the audience, cradled by their delighted moms and dads. But personally, I never quite know how to react to scantily clad dancers or gyrating cheerleaders in the context of wholesome family fun. I'm not saying I'm opposed to it–unless my wife is reading this, in which case I find the whole prospect of half-dressed women on public display completely revolting–but it's definitely…curious.

But I was just as intrigued by the "New York-y"-ness of this whole Spectacular, because I'm a southern boy who's never been to NYC, and so the city's yuletide traditions–like lighting the tree, going ice skating, and yes, visting Radio City Music Hall–all seem like something out of a fairybook to my hayseed ass. In the middle of the show, The Rockettes performed a long number–so long in fact that NBC had to take a commercial break in the middle of it–that was all about touring The Big Apple on a double-decker bus, seeing the holiday sights, and then stepping off the coach to stretch the legs a little. (Or make that a lot.) It all made New York look like the capital of Christmas.

But was this show kitschy enough? Was it the old stuff? I don't want to say that we lost something vital to our culture when the TV variety show died off at the end of the '70s, but those old Christmas specials–with their painfully unfunny sketches, Ivory Flake snowdrifts, and musical numbers strewn with superimpositions and slow dissolves–still signify a certain kind of holiday warmth to those of us who grew up with them. Like the chill in the air and the smell of Scotch tape, the sound of John Denver and the Muppets on the TV in the den distracted us from our homework, and reminded us that we'd be getting some new toys soon. Not to mention all that stuff about Jesus, which is nice too.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular gave a cursory nod to Christ in its finale, reenacting the nativity in a static tableau, while steering clear of the temptation to put Rockettes in Wise Men costumes and have them kick their way towards the brightest star in the Western sky. And frankly, that absence of tacky kind of let me down at first. I came to eat corn, and instead I was served a tray of petit fours.

But either because I was hypnotized by shapely stems or because I was having nostalgic flashbacks to the happy summer I spent ushering at an amusement park musical revue, I eventually started to enjoy this Spectacular. The first weekend in December–or "Decktember," as my 3-year-old says–is traditionally the day that my wife and I break out "the Christmas box" and start decorating our front room with lights and garlands. A few weeks from now, I may well be sick of shopping and carols and sprinkles of sugar. But today, on "Christmas box" day, I'm still way into it. Thanks for the holiday cheer and taut calf muscles, ladies.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

-Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera were nominally the "hosts" of this show, but they mostly just hung out in the balcony and spoke when spoken to. I think maybe they got lost after the Macy's parade and have been holed up at Radio City ever since, awaiting further instructions in their earpieces.

-The show's Santa seemed to be saying "haw haw haw" more than "ho ho ho." Man, this war on Christmas is getting out of control.


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