For several Christmas seasons in my childhood, “Santa Claus” reigned supreme. Tim Allen’s 1994 film about magic, divorce and accepting the realities of both was such a hit that my vision of the North Pole soon became one with this one, with its snappy elves and legendary hot chocolate, Merry Santa Claus push off the roof to try myself. However, I’m a grown woman now, spending half my time reviewing shows drawn from the beloved comics, movies, and toys of my youth, which has quickly become more depressing than magical.
Still, I’ve come to Disney+’s The Santa Clauses, in which Allen returns alongside Elizabeth Mitchell’s Mrs. Clause to do what’s right until Christmas and his new family, with an open mind. After all, The Santa Clause was only half about how moving it can be to make adults believe in something extraordinary, no matter how cheesy or childish it might seem. With this series spin-off, which premieres November 16 with two episodes, Disney+ hopes to grab the attention of kids and adults like me, who are starring Santa Claus as “Scott Calvin” and David Krumholtz as the world-weary, undeniably appealing elven attempt to keep it in one piece. Rather than making just another sequel in the vein of 2002’s Santa Clause 2 or 2006’s Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Disney is milking the Santa Cinematic Universe with a six-episode series that really sucks should After all, I was just a movie.
The basics of The Santa Clauses go like this: After 28 years as Santa, a 65-year-old Scott (Allen) finds himself at a crossroads. His wife Carol (Mitchell), once an ambitious headmistress, is restless and bored in the rather anonymous role of Mrs. Clause; her teenage children Buddy (Austin Kane) and Sandra (Allen’s own daughter Elizabeth Allen-Dick) grow up isolated and “strange” as they know no other world than the North Pole. Then head elf Betty (Station Eleven’s Matilda Lawler, who’s doing her best with what she’s got) finds a new loophole clause that gives Scott a chance to retire. Reluctantly and resignedly, Scott takes it, moves the family back to Chicago and hands over the keys to single father Simon (Kal Penn), who promptly sees the North Pole as more of a business opportunity than a responsibility.
As host of Jack Burditt (an alum of much more mature shows like 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), there are some interesting threads scattered throughout the series’ unrelenting Christmas cheer. Simon’s determination to perfect a global drone delivery system that anticipates customers’ needs reflects Amazon Prime’s continued dominance to a devastating degree, and Mitchell is at least making the best of Carol’s creeping horror that she’s devoting her whole life and persona to the service asked by Scott. Other ideas are far more immature, such as the growing concern that the world is at an all-time low in the Christmas spirit and is therefore at risk of folding altogether. (If you’re wondering if Allen has to grumble that saying “Merry Christmas everyone!” is suddenly problematic, then go ahead and cross out the bingo square.)
And so the show ends up being a smuggle in more than one sense of the word. It’s working so desperately to fill six episodes – a full three hours of Clause #content! – that in the end it only drags with its feet. Scenes that should be a few minutes long, some last too long; Plots that can hardly stand on their own do their best to hold up entire episodes in vain. Trying to watch more than one episode, let alone six, feels less like having a warm mug of cocoa than chugging at it and the sugar high crashing.
What’s most annoying, though, is the constant feeling that the show’s attempts to be everything to both kids and their parents meant it wasn’t for either. More than once I found myself thinking about that brilliant skit in “John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch,” in which Mulaney, who was playing the role of a studio executive, sat down with a focus group of kids after watching a cartoon to help them who liked jokes about fake news or recognized the voice of Jeremy Renner. What’s the point of making a joke about Santa Claus being “fanatic of NFTS – nutty fiddly teacakes” anyway? Children won’t understand and adults won’t laugh, so who is it? to theexactly?
If The Santa Clauses were The Santa Clause 4: The Santa Clauses, its tendency to indulge in the silly and saccharine could be forgiven. As the “Disney+ Original Series,” it’s simply bitten off more “nutty, fiddly teacakes” than it can chew.
The first two episodes of The Santa Clauses will premiere on Disney+ on Wednesday, November 16th.