TV review: ‘Santa Clauses’ is magical enough, with a few coal lumps


Santa Claus (Tim Allen) returns in "The Santa Clauses." Photo courtesy of Disney

Santa Claus (Tim Allen) returns in “The Santa Clauses.” Photo courtesy of Disney

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 14 (UPI) — The Santa Clauses, premiering Wednesday on Disney+, is overall a decent Santa Clause 4, at least in the first two episodes. Santa occasionally breaks character and reveals too much of the real Tim Allen, but it’s still more entertaining than Santa Clause 3.

Scott Calvin (Allen) is still Santa Claus. His kids with Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) are teenagers, and his first son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd), is all grown up with a family of his own.

There are some strong themes about what Christmas means in the modern day. One Christmas Eve, Santa finds his nice list is too short.

This is not only a relevant theme about the rise of naughtiness in society, but Santa also realizes modern kids no longer need Santa and therefore stop believing in him. That’s enough to build a Santa Claus show around, but unfortunately Allen can’t help himself.

Santa will drop some one-liners that sound a lot more like Allen standup than Santa Claus. When Santa complains that saying “Merry Christmas to all” has become problematic, anyone living in the real world in which people say “Merry Christmas” if they feel like it will feel like they’re watching some right-wing science fiction.

Last Man Standing creator Jack Burditt created The Santa Clauses, so it seems more sympatico to Allen’s personal beliefs than the movies. Allen is really sweet as Santa, and even as his curmudgeonly Scott Calvin alter ego, but it’s jarring when the real Allen comes through.

Santa and the elves start getting more lenient on the naughty and nice list. Santa Claus learning to expand beyond a binary judgment system would be clever, but unfortunately Santa takes more of a “get off my lawn” approach to updating North Pole policy.

Elves suggest renaming the naughty list to the misunderstood list. They decide offenses such as classroom disruption could be from ADHD, so they won’t count that as naughty.

There also are some unfortunate, and unnecessary, fatphobic jokes about Santa gaining 200 pounds after marriage. Poor Mitchell gets saddled with that one.

With fewer kids believing, Santa starts reverting to Scott Calvin. This means losing weight, and Santa gets body shamed for being thin.

That probably sounds like a clever reversal of fat shaming to someone who’s never experienced it. Unfortunately, by mocking a fictional character who wants to maintain his jolly belly, it’s still fatphobic.

When Allen is just being Santa he has some funny one liners. They’re not laugh-out-loud, but they’re pleasant tongue twisters, dad joke puns and reactions to real-world heat.

There’s plenty of physical comedy, too, with exaggerated slapstick and magic shenanigans. There are Christmas covers of popular rock songs too performed by the elves.

There are some fun callbacks to the original Santa Clause movie, and elves reveal a fourth clause to Santa. Each sequel added another clause to keep the story going.

Catching up with the Calvins/Clauses and the new North Pole elves is good. The elves are played by new child actors because the kids from the movies have grown up in real life.

The supporting cast members are exaggerated to a Disney level, but the family is sincere. The Claus family has lived in a fantasy world for so long they crave a little normalcy, which is just as relevant as Santa’s separation from Charlie due to his mythic responsibilities.

The Santa Clauses also introduces a new character, Simon Choksi (Kal Penn). Simon is a single father to Grace, and he’s trying to invent a faster delivery system for an online retailer.

It’s clear Simon is going to need some Santa magic to make his invention work, and teach him to pay more attention to Grace.

There is a heartwarming Christmas show in The Santa Clauses. Hopefully, subsequent episodes can get out of their own way and focus on the universal magic that even secular viewers can enjoy.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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