7 Popular TV shows that upset fans with controversial holiday episodes

Dec 22, 2015 at 6:02 p.m. ET
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Who doesn't love curling up on the couch and watching the holiday episodes of their favorite TV shows? You're basically guaranteed a heartwarming helping of holiday spirit and a happy moral wrapped in a big, cheery red bow. But in the case of these controversial Christmas episodes, it's clear something went horribly awry.

1. ALF's "ALF's Special Christmas" (1987)

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If you're in the mood for something warm and fuzzy, don't let ALF's furry exterior fool you — this cat-craving alien's 1987 Christmas special was anything but. We recommended watching with a stiff glass of eggnog, 'cause you'll need it. Let us put it this way: one of the special's main characters is a man named Mr. Foley, who is in such a depression following the loss of his wife that he actually plans to kill himself. In fact, he almost does just that by jumping off a bridge. Bleak, right? There's more, including an 8-year-old girl in the hospital dying from a terminal illness. Even fans of this sarcastic extraterrestrial were shocked by how disheartening the special was.

2. South Park's "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" (1997)

South Park
Image: Billy Chilly 5/YouTube

Presumably, the title of the episode gives you a pretty good indication as to why this holiday episode was one of South Park's most controversial. Granted, viewers expect an edgy show like South Park to push the boundaries of what's appropriate. And while fans of the show do consider it a classic, there were other groups who caught wind of it (*giggle*) and were none too pleased with the idea of a walking, talking, singing lump of feces wearing a Santa hat. Even the show's co-creator, Matt Stone, admits "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" was initially jarring for viewers, saying at first even fans were horrified by the holiday stool. When the oldest private entertainment channel in Russia aired the episode, a Russian Pentecostal organization called for the Russian government to revoke the channel's broadcast license because they found Mr. Hankey so offensive.

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3. Glee's "Previously Unaired Christmas" (2012)

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In Season 5 of Glee, "Previously Unaired Christmas" was the series' final episode before the winter hiatus — and it was actually the holiday episode that was supposed to have aired the prior December. In an introductory clip to the episode, Jane Lynch (who played Sue) breaks the fourth wall by directly speaking to the audience about why the episode was originally canned. "In October 2012, on the Paramount sound stages, the cast and crew filmed a Christmas episode entitled 'Rough Trade Santa,'" Lynch said. "Upon viewing the director's cut, Fox executives recoiled in horror and then locked the episode in a lead vault, where it languished for an entire year." She went on to explain the network decided to air the episode after much public outcry, but only with substantial edits made to ensure it would be viewed as "less controversial."

4. Star Trek's "A Most Illogical Holiday" (1968)

Star Trek
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If you caught this episode on TV, consider yourself lucky. Although it was filmed during the series' run in the late '60s, "A Most Illogical Holiday" never made it to network TV. It did appear in syndication in 1975, but only once. When asked about the episode at 1978's IgunaCon II, Harlan Ellison (who is rumored to have written it) didn't disguise his disdain, describing the special as "a quiescently glistening cherem of pus." There simply isn't enough space here to go into the inexplicably strange aspects of Star Trek's holiday episode, but suffice it to say it involves Mr. Spock as a messiah; a murderous Santa; a tyrannical mastermind computer; and Romulan Ale eggnog, naturally. One popular fan theory insists that writer and producer Gene Roddenberry personally destroyed the episode to prevent it from airing.

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5. Top Gear's "Patagonia Special" (2014)

Top Gear
Image: BBC/YouTube

BBC's Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson rounded out a year filled with controversy with the flagship car program's Dec. 27, 2014 episode. In the special, he appeared to mock criticism he received earlier in the season for using the derogatory term "slope" in reference to an Asian person. At the time, Clarkson commented of a man walking over a bridge in Burma, "That is a proud moment, but there's a slope on it." The backlash was intense for the television host, but it didn't deter him from joking about it on the Christmas special — looking out over a bridge in Patagonia, Clarkson quips, "That is a proud moment, Hammond, but is it straight?" Clarkson was further criticized for another perceived slight that took place during the Christmas episode. When it was discovered that the license plate on Clarkson's Porsche read "H982 FKL," locals in Argentina believed Clarkson was making a deliberate reference to the 1982 Falklands War (between Argentina and the U.K.). The locals became so enraged, in fact, the crew had to flee under police protection.

6. Dragnet's "The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas" (1952)

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In what is widely considered the most controversial episode ever of this classic series, Sgt. Friday (Jack Webb) and his partner investigate the disappearance of a young boy. After finding blood in the backyard and a cartridge from a rifle, the truth tragically emerges — the boy, Stevie Martin, was accidentally killed by his best friend, Stanley Johnstone, when the boys were playing with a .22 rifle Stanley's father bought him for Christmas. When the episode originally ran in radio format in 1949, it became the target of an intense letter-writing campaign from the National Rifle Association. However, it proved so popular that it ended up running for three holiday seasons on the radio before being turned into the TV episode.

7. Family Guy's "The 2000-Year-Old Virgin" (2014)

Family Guy
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Much like South Park, viewers expect the animated series Family Guy to generate some controversy. But not everyone appreciated the show's brand of humor in 2014 when — to borrow NewsBusters' summation — they went "above and beyond the usual sacrilege." In a Christmas episode titled "The 2000-Year-Old Virgin," character Peter Griffin and his pals try to help Jesus Christ lose his virginity by throwing him a birthday party (aka Christmas) he'll never forget. At one point, Griffin offers up his own wife, Lois, in exchange for a massage chair. However, upon learning Jesus is a sex-crazed liar, he retracts the offer. Christians were obviously not amused.

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