Netflix? Bill Murray? A slew of impressive guest stars including Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Michael Cera, Chris Rock and Maya Rudolph? Holiday cheer? Sounds amazing, right? Not quite. The best decision director Sofia Coppola’s (“Lost In Translation”) “A Very Murray Christmas” made was having its star pass out drunk — literally — after which, Murray awakened, flanked by Miley Cyrus and George Clooney in a newly imagined, time-worthy holiday special.
Prior to his unconsciousness, Bill Murray was just getting by: The opening 75 percent of the program, while comprised of an extremely talented cast in regards to comedy, was a bore. Taking place at New York’s Carlyle Hotel, it focused too heavily on serenading the audience with mediocre performances of sometimes recognizable, sometimes daydream-inducing show tunes and Christmas classics. The outliers came unexpectedly from Maya Rudolph’s old-school glamour performance of “Baby, Please Come Home,” complete with a cocktail waitress trio for backup and Jenny Lewis’s (remember Rilo Kiley?) half of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Murray spoke the other half of the song, opting to focus his banter toward the special’s plot rather than the original lyrics — the only instance in the show’s first act when music would have been the better than comedy.
When the music wasn’t good, it was bad, and when it was neither, the dialogue invited the type of laugh where there’s no laughing involved (it’s more of a harsh exhale through the nose accompanied by a quarter of a smile.) Poehler’s best moment was when she walked into Murray’s hotel room in the first scene holding what looked like a Christmas bell, but it was only to be two mini bottles of whiskey. Michael Cera was great in his Michael-Cera-playing-Michael-Cera-playing-a-character kind of way. But, 45 minutes in, Rudolph, Jones and Rock’s comedic touches went untapped.
Just when it was looking like 2015 would be a miracle-free Christmas, Bill Murray fell off the seat of the piano bench during the ensemble’s final carol, and the Christmas special of his (and our) dreams ensued — a winter wonderland featuring a white piano, kick lines of scantily dressed reindeer and a Bill Murray who doesn’t resemble his “Zombieland” equivalent as closely.
As Murray found his musical footing and his fatherly (now bordering on grandfatherly) charm in the first verse of “Sleigh Ride,” Miley Cyrus and George Clooney slid in on a white sled to bring some desperately needed magic. Clooney poured martinis on the piano as Cyrus steps in on vocals and finished out the tune alongside Murray with holiday spirit sparkling from their eyes as they dance.
As the song ended, fear sets in that Murray could awaken into the dimly lit, ill-conceived mess back at The Carlyle — but no fear, the snowball kept rolling as Cyrus delivered a solo performance of “Silent Night” that left no questions about her vocal talent. She lulled through lines appropriately while belting others, filling the “sound stage in Queens” as Clooney described it. Next up was the rather creepy “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin.” Its entertainment didn’t root from Murray’s itching delivery or the performance itself, but rather the comedic value of Clooney creeping among fake firs echoing, “Santa wants some loving.”
Finally, the trio that saved Christmas comes together once more for “Let It Snow,” proving their status as the ultimate holiday entertainment once and for all — but we could have already guessed that.