Poor Christine “Old Christine” Campbell.
Try as she might, and frankly she really doesn’t try all that hard – particularly not if there’s wine or sex with the Christmas tree guy to be had instead – she can’t actually manage to actually lead the sort of life she thinks she does.
In her happy slice of narcissistically-infused delusion, she is a successful gym owner (she owns the gym yes but successful? Highly debatable), a doting mother (more neurotically -inclined and a tad neglectful really, telling son Ritchie (Trevor Gagnon) in one episode to leave an English muffin, ketchup and cheese in the sun to make pizza for his school lunch) and caring friend (to acerbic BFF Barb, played by Wanda Sykes) and sister (to simpering Matthew, Hamish Linklater) who struggles to enforce any real boundaries with his domineering sibling).
In reality, of course, she is none of these things, except by happy accident, usually favouring her own poorly-attended wellbeing over those of the people closest to her.
So it will come as no surprise that in the festive episode of season 5 of The New Adventures of Old Christine, where Old Christine manages to buy a tree and not decorate it, choosing instead to spend Christmas Eve with Matthew eating supplies from their earthquake kit while they hide in her house from the neighbours all gathered at their annual holiday get-together, she is doing as little as possible to celebrate “the most wonderful time of the year”.
In typical Old Christine fashion, she is also feeling guilty about doing so little – it’s the perfect storm of laziness; no real effort and guilt at making no real effort – and decides, well is pushed into deciding by the arrival of Matthew’s on-again loopy girlfriend Lucy (played by Michaela Watkins, who dresses in winter gear in eternally summery LA because she believes that is Christmasy and almost dies of heat stroke) to join her neighbours at their big drunken festive bash.
Of course this being Old Christine’s life, nothing goes even remotely according to plan even when she decides to act like a normal member of the human race.
After a warm welcome, during which the hosts of the party, Jeannie (Molly Shannon) and Josh (Daniel Roebuck) admit to Old Christine that they had speculated, along with the other neighbours that that she was a prostitute or a drug dealer, and that children are scared of her house, and many glasses of wine, she feels like she is finally part of a wonderful community of like-minded souls.
Jeannie: You may be judgey, but I’m not that kind of person.
Christine: You thought I was a prostitute!
Jeannie: Okay, you got me. I’m totally that kind of person.
Jeannie and Josh drink as much as she does – there’s even a flask in the jacket Old Christine borrows from Jeannie – and share the same twisted sense of humour and Old Christine quickly decides, with no reading of any warning signs of which there are many (she is, after all, oblivious to anyone but herself and even then blissfully un-self aware), that they are her new Best Friends Forever.
This sense of camaraderie and closeness with other human beings can’t last of course, even at Christmas, and Old Christine soon discovers, after going carolling with her Stepford Wives-like neighbours, that they are altogether too close in a redneck Appalachian kind of way.
And so in one festive episode, where we finally get to see the neighbourhood in which Old Christine lives, assuming you can even call it that, she meets with her nieghbours, bonds with her neighbours before deciding that the old strategy of hiding in the house was the wisest course of action after all, lamenting to Matthew that “it’s a really messed up world when we are the two most normal people in it.”
Meanwhile Old Christine’s ex-husband, with whom she maintains far too close a relationship – he offers to have sex with her in one episode to make them both feel better in one of the most dysfunctional coping techniques ever – is celebrating made up European holiday Kinderclausen with pregnant ex-fiancee, now girlfriend New Christine (Emily Rutherford) who as usual is type A obsessive about the various observances they must adhere to, one of which is putting homemade presents under the Kinderclausen ladder.
Everything is going reasonably well – as well as a holiday that includes putting apples and herrings on your door to signify your children are good, and involves creepy Santa-esque figures Cinder Pa and Unter Ma can go – when New Christine tells Ritchie, who is none too fond of his homemade present when the baby-to-be has new presents galore all prettily wrapped under the ladder, that as the eldest child, and thus most valued member of the family (another sacred part of Kinderclausen law), he is given the task of naming his new sibling.
Old Christine: “What the hell is Kinderclausen?”
Richard: “It’s the way that New Christine’s family celebrates Christmas. It’s from the old country. It’s just like normal Christmas that normal people have except it comes 10 days earlier and it’s weird.”
As you might expect when you tell an unhappy teen he can name his brother or sister any name he wants, and it’s binding, Ritchie doesn’t pick something as orthodox as Bob or Sally, opting for X-Box 360, the present he really wishes he’d got instead of New Christine’s handmade sweater which, freakily enough, has some of her own hair woven into it.
New Christine doesn’t handle this at all well, much as she doesn’t handle many things well when they don’t go her way, and despite it breaking with Kinderclausen tradition, decides, with forgiveness asked of tough-as-nails UnterMa (who doesn’t sound all that forgiving or Mrs Christmasy at all), to cave and get Ritchie what he really wants.
X-Box 360 safely in hand, he is given another chance to pick a proper name.
No prizes for guessing how well that goes.
“It’s Beginning to Stink a Lot Like Christmas” is classic New Adventures of Old Christine:
* Old Christine is self-centred and utterly lacking in imagination or motivation until she is and then wishes she hadn’t been so inspired
* Matthew’s reunion with his loopy ex goes as you might it would and ends as you might expect with Lucy convinced Santa is real and the world is mocking him in cruel and utterly unforgivable ways, Matthew saying she’s crazy and the couple breaking up again.
* New Christine, a bundle of highly-strung Type A nerves drags Richard into another one of her elaborately-staged, slightly-odd – OK really odd – celebrations where the only one who wins is Ritchie.
So Christmas is kind of a bust for all everyone in the show which means of course that we the viewers get to laugh, as usual from start to finish, eggnog spilling everyone as we chortle about how bad some people’s Christmases are.
And then weird Uncle Hector walks in and you realise how true to life the episode really is …