'A Christmas Story Live!' recap: A terrifying descent into madness

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The 1983 Bob Clark film A Christmas Story is the kind of movie where even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve seen it. That leg lamp. The pink bunny suit. The (legally mandated?) marathon airings on Dec. 25. At some point A Christmas Story became THE Christmas story (sorry, manger buffs!), and I suppose it became inevitable that it would not only be adapted into a Broadway musical, but that that musical would then be performed LIVE on network television. Because, ladies and gentlemen…

Retelling the story of a 1950s suburban child’s quest to receive a firearm for Christmas, A Christmas Story Live! was — like the original — both frank and heartfelt at the same time. Starring Maya Rudolph and Chris Diamantopoulos as the parents, with supporting work by Jane Krakowski, Ana Gasteyer, Fred Armisen, and David Alan Grier, this production itself was another spare-no-expense exercise similar to Fox’s earlier Grease Live! triumph. I noticed only a few live-TV flubs — a prop fell off a door, and Maya Rudolph said “put the purkey in the oven,” and in both cases the actors openly riffed in response, as though the flubs were intentionally added in order to remind us that the otherwise perfectly choreographed production was, in fact, live television. Either way, it was all very well done. This cannot be denied.

BUT. Lurking at the edges of A Christmas Story Live!‘s warmhearted core was a palpable darkness threatening its characters at nearly every turn. Not since the hit film It have children been in more constant peril from a dangerous outsider lurking in the shadows. I’m talking, of course, about Matthew Broderick.

If you thought Pennywise was a relentless and audacious stalker of children, this guy was next level. For three hours we watched him creep through this neighborhood, peering into windows and brazenly entering people’s homes without shame or remorse.

When we first met Broderick’s character, he was walking the snowy streets muttering to himself and claiming to hear voices. At some point he decided to enter a home and terrorize a young family — Ralphie Parker, his kid brother, and their parents. We immediately got the impression this sort of home invasion had been going on for a while, because, and how do I put this kindly? Ralphie looked TERRIFIED ALWAYS.

Like, Ralphie was only a child but he was already clearly broken from the stress of a strange and sinister man lurking around every corner of his home, watching them all. Why weren’t the parents doing anything about it? Was the man invisible? A phantasm only children and innocents can see?

At one point, the children begged their parents to take them to the mall, seemingly so that they could get at least an hour of peace away from this mysterious villain. But then, guess who was at the mall, wearing a disguise that would allow him to get closer to the local children?

Yep. Honestly my heart was racing when this happened. Any minute he was going to bite a child’s arm off.

And the parents? Oblivious. Obviously Ralphie’s not doing well, just look at his glazed, tortured eyes. And things weren’t much better back home.

Here, Broderick just stood there watching the family eat, and then seemed almost ecstatic when a heating vent began spewing toxic gas into the room. This man was no friend of theirs. It was no wonder Ralphie’s little brother was NOT thriving.

But Broderick wasn’t merely targeting these two poor kids. No, there was a whole neighborhood of fresh meat out there.

Yep, just a grown man playing on a merry-go-round with children he’s never met. Quick, children! Run to your classroom where you’ll be safe!


Later, all the children were so frazzled from the ghoul in their midst, they had no choice but to dance in unison like joyless automatons. Now, one thing A Christmas Story Live! did well was prove that maybe child labor laws are too lax? Because if you’ve ever wanted to see a dozen very young kids dancing long, exhaustively choreographed musical numbers while wearing heavy wools in the Southern California heat, then this was a great production for that. My guess was that standing just outside of frame was a mean-looking woman with a stripped peacock feather just waiting for one of them to miss a step. “Faster, you tiny imbeciles! With pizzazz!”

Jane Krakowski played the teacher, but despite an effervescence and sunny disposition, she seemed unable to notice the pain in Ralphie’s eyes, or the pleading, almost desperate messages he’d been scribbling in his composition book. “A STRANGE MAN IS TERRORIZING MY FAMILY.” On the plus side, she was a great dancer, and that is the least we should require of our nation’s teachers.

As if the nightmare couldn’t get more feverish, then Hugh Jackman showed up and did a number from his new circus movie while a bearded woman screamed at everybody. Made me kinda homesick.


Here, Broderick was interacting with Maya Rudolph, thus proving that he was NOT a ghost and that she WAS aware of his presence. And that just made everything even creepier. The parents were IN on it? They were OK with the strange man entering their home and staring at their children all damn day? What kind of f***ed up family was this?

ANOTHER disguise? This time as the leg lamp delivery man? Ah well, Broderick might have been a creep, but at least he was ambitious.

Like, I don’t even know what to tell you at this point. Remember this classic moment from A Christmas Story? How about this one…

Yep, the old tire-changing scene! But with the addition of one terrifying lurker.

“Fudge, this is fudging horrifying, motherfudger.”

For a brief moment, it felt like maybe Rudolph had come to realize the pain and anguish that regular visits from a potential child predator had caused her family, but it turned out she just didn’t like that her son had used the F word. Priorities!

Like, what?

Here she was placing a phone call to another local mother, but they both seemed too terrified to say anything out loud about the man who had been stalking their town, as though saying his name out loud would conjure him. But guess what? He had already been conjured, and he was in the kitchen with your unattended child while you were on the phone!

This is a difficult image to look at.

Here is when Ralphie disassociated from reality and imagined he was being attacked by zombies, but I think maybe his childlike imagination was just trying to make sense of the clear and present danger he’d been dealing with lately.

God, not even the neighbor’s house was secure. It was cool that Ana Gasteyer and her family were so proud of celebrating Hanukkah that they had to burst into song about it, but that just meant they weren’t paying attention to the fact that the front door was unlocked!

You know, sticking one’s tongue to a frozen flag pole is a lot less charming when there is a hungry-eyed lurker just watching them all. But a triple-dog dare is a triple-dog dare, I guess.

We did not get a cutaway of how Broderick was reacting to this moment, and I for one am grateful for that. But judging from these kids’ expressions, he wasn’t up to anything good:


Aren’t there cops? Or a PTA? Anybody?

Could nothing be done to keep this man out?

Ralphie’s little brother had HAD IT. He had reached his breaking point.

Get out of here!!

At this point, the family took another desperate trip to the mall, and you knew it was desperate because they went there on Christmas EVE. On the upside, David Alan Grier as Santa Claus is the Platonic Ideal of Santa Claus. On the downside, the trip to the mall was merely borrowed time, as only hours later it was back to business as usual:

Yep, that man was now watching a child sleep. He did not lean over and suck the life essence straight out of his mouth, but I am absolutely certain he was considering it.

Look at this classic moment of the Old Man mourning his broken leg lamp. Now look in the window behind him.

And it’s not like the neighbors were going to have the decency to call the cops and report a prowler. God forbid.

If this doesn’t give you chills then I don’t know what to tell you.

But it was already too late. Broderick had made his move. Farewell, neighborhood children! May your parents band together in a lynch mob and get the justice you so richly deserve. Rest in peace.

Then this happened, and it was unclear where Broderick was in the house while Ralphie was changing into this bunny suit, but I am hoping and praying for the best. It’s all I can do really.

Perhaps sensing that they had to do something, Ralphie’s parents finally relented and bought him a firearm. He might not be able to protect the whole family, but he’d be able to buy himself a few seconds should Broderick decide to make any sudden lunges, and that could make all the difference.

Then the neighborhood dogs ran in the back door and ate the turkey, and the family had to go to a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner. You know. That part.

But don’t worry. If you were concerned that A Christmas Story Live! would repeat the sliiiiiightly racist scene of the Chinese waiters singing “Deck the Halls” improperly, the waiters sang it perfectly here, and then Ken Jeong was like, “Did you expect this to be more racist, audience?” Told!

Anyway, we ended with a bit of Christmas cheer… Ralphie and his brother and his parents, full of candied duck, walking through the town square enjoying each other’s company on this holiest of nights. Because when you think about it, that’s what Christmas is all about… It’s about fami— OH MY GOD.

They will never escape him! Not ever!

Guys, A Christmas Story Live! was quite a thing. I hope that when the sugarplums are dancing in your head tonight, they aren’t also stalking through your personal space and emerging from the shadows when you least expect it. Happy holidays and lock your doors! Other than that, good show. I like these live musical things, they’re wild.

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