41 Easter Eggs You Might Have Missed In HBO's Watchmen

Regina King stars in HBO's Watchmen.
Regina King stars in HBO's Watchmen.
Mark Hill/HBO

*Warning: Spoilers for all aired episodes of HBO's Watchmen ahead.

Rather than being a straight adaptation of the famed graphic novel, HBO’s Watchmen explores what the world looks like 30-plus years after the events of the comics, which took place in 1985. That story ended (err, spoilers?) with the Cold War at an end due to the efforts of former masked vigilante Ozymandias, a.k.a. Adrian Veidt, who engineered a fake alien attack to bring the rival powers to a state of peace.

But the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, as evidenced by the dead bodies that keep piling up in Watchmen-the-show. And just because HBO’s Watchmen takes place decades after the graphic novel doesn’t mean we don’t get a lot of references to the very things Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon wrote about.

1. The Comedian’s Button

The Comedian's button as seen in Zack Snyder's Watchmen (2009).Warner Bros.

One of Watchmen’s most famous motifs is the yellow smiley face, based on the button that the Comedian—whose death begins the graphic novel—was wearing when he died. The button is echoed in the shape Angela Abar (Regina King) makes out of eggs when she’s cooking in episode 1.

2. The Comedian’s Blood

At the end of episode 1, there's another reference to the Comedian's death. The drop of blood on Judd Crawford’s fallen badge exactly matches the drop of blood on the Comedian’s button. A drop of blood can also be seen in one of the egg yolks.

3. The 51st State

In Watchmen’s pilot episode, Angela mentions that she’s from the state of Vietnam. The Vietnam War gets relatively sizable placement in Watchmen-the-comic, where the superpowered Dr. Manhatttan—working for Uncle Sam—is able to definitively win the war for the United States. Subsequently, it becomes the 51st state.

4. Tricky Dick

Episodes 1 and 2 venture into Nixonville, a trailer park that serves as a hotbed of Seventh Kavalry members. The place is ornamented with a life-sized statue of Richard Nixon. In the comics, the United States’s victory in Vietnam meant Nixon’s continued popularity. He got the 22nd Amendment (capping a president’s service at two terms) repealed and remained president at least through the end of 1985. A scene in the pilot shows that Nixon’s face is on Mount Rushmore.

5. The Sundance Kid

In the comics, it’s stated that Robert Redford might soon be running for president, taking Ronald Reagan’s place as the Watchmen universe’s actor-turned-POTUS. In HBO’s Watchmen, set in 2019, it’s established that Redford has indeed been president for multiple decades.

6. Adrian Veidt, Dead?

Jeremy Irons in HBO's Watchmen.Colin Hutton/HBO

At the end of the Watchmen graphic novel, former masked vigilante Adrian Veidt has succeeded in his plan to preempt World War III by, er, attacking New York City with a giant squid that everyone assumes is from another dimension. The U.S. and the USSR subsequently calm it down with all the Cold War stuff, as an extra-dimensional attack is kind of a bigger deal. However, Rorschach’s journal detailing his investigation and subsequent discovery of Veidt’s shadiness has been sent to the conspiracy-minded, right-wing paper The New Frontiersman, leaving the door open for the possibility—which is confirmed in the show—that some people may come to believe the squid attack was engineered. All that may be why Veidt (likely, but not confirmed, to be Jeremy Irons’s character) has faked his own death and gone into hiding, as hinted at by the newspaper headline seen briefly in the show’s pilot.

7. New Frontiersman and Nova Express

We see the New Frontiersman in episode 2, where it’s peddling conspiracies (true ones) about the squid rain. Also being sold by the news vendor early in the episode is the Nova Express, another newspaper from Watchmen. It’s the New Frontiersman’s ideological opposite and more respected counterpart.

8. A Familiar Salesman

The newspaper salesman in episode 2 is dressed awfully like the newspaper salesman from Watchmen, an oft-seen side character who’s a fan of conspiracy theories and gabbing (two things he shares with his HBO counterpart) and was killed in Veidt’s squid attack.

9. Electric Cars

Electric cars exist in our world, but they’re not inexpensive enough that the farmer/cop killer (and electric car driver) from the Watchmen pilot is likely to be able to afford one. In the graphic novel, that’s explained: Dr. Manhattan can synthesize the lithium required to produce the necessary batteries, meaning that even in 1985 electric cars are in high use in the Watchmen universe.

10. The Dr. Manhattan Cancer Connection

Speaking of lithium: In the pilot episode, the Seventh Kalvary is revealed to have some sort of sinister plan in motion involving old watch batteries. These particular watch batteries were banned prior to the time the show takes place because they’re made of “synthetic lithium,” which is thought to give people cancer. In the graphic novel, part of Adrian Veidt’s plan is making people think that proximity to Dr. Manhattan gives people cancer; clearly, that’s not a fear that entirely went away. Watches are a recurring motif in the graphic novel and show alike.

11. Manhattan on Mars

Don Johnson as Judd Crawford in HBO's Watchmen.Mark Hill/HBO

When Judd Crawford informs the wife of the murdered cop of her husband’s death in the pilot, on the TV in her house there’s a livestream of Dr. Manhattan playing around on Mars, where he’s presumably been since the end of the comics. (The elaborate sandcastle he’s building resembles both Veidt’s manor and the structure being built out of magnetic toys by Topher Abar in episode 2.)

12. Airships

Another bit of technology made possible by Dr. Manhattan is airships, which can be seen serving as a sort of airborne billboard for the upcoming show American Hero Story: Minutemen. The Tulsa police department makes use of a different sort of airship that looks remarkably similar to that used by Nite Owl in the comics.

13. Owl Goggles

The police department’s airship isn’t the only bit of Nite Owl-inspired tech from the HBO show. The goggles Angela uses in episode 2 are also remarkably similar to the ones the second Nite Owl uses, though his don’t have X-ray capabilities. (But hey, it was the '80s.)

14. American Hero Story: Minutemen

In addition to being a riff on Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story franchise (not part of the Watchmen universe, at least as far as we know), American Hero Story: Minutemen references the “Minutemen,” the first group of masked vigilantes. They were in operation throughout the 1940s before disbanding. In the pilot, we see a commercial for that same show. Several characters watch it in episode 2.

15. Hooded Justice

One of the founding members of the Minutemen was Hooded Justice, who in the world of Watchmen opted to retire instead of reveal his true identity to the House Un-American Activities Committee. His outfit—a giant cloak and hood paired with a noose—is similar to the outfit worn by Bass Reeves in the silent film from the first scene of HBO’s Watchmen. (Reeves switches out the noose for a lasso.) We see more of Hooded Justice in the bit of American Hero Story we see in episode 2; there, it goes into the theory that Hooded Justice was a circus strongman named Rolf Müller. In the prequel spinoff Before Watchmen, this theory is explained to be incorrect.

16. Dollar Bill

Another member of the Minutemen was Dollar Bill, notable for being the only superhero in the employ of a private organization. (National Bank, in his case.) A National Bank poster featuring Dollar Bill can be seen in the Seventh Kalvary cattle ranch base attacked by the Tulsa police in the pilot.

17. The Moth

In episode 2, we get a reference to Minuteman The Moth, one of the few original masked superheroes still alive during the Watchmen comic. (We don’t see him, but it’s referenced several times that he’s in an asylum somewhere.) In HBO’s Watchmen, journalists who get around on motorized wings are called “Moths.”

18. Face/Mask

In the pilot episode, Judd Crawford tells cop Looking Glass to “go ahead, pull your face”—meaning his mask—“down.” The mask has a similar silhouette to Rorschach’s mask, which he also refers to as his “face.” During the scene where Looking Glass interrogates the Seventh Kalvary member during the Pod scene, reflections make his mask look even more like Rorschach’s.

19. Squids

When Angela goes to her son Topher’s career day, you can see a poster in the classroom explaining the “Anatomy of a Squid.” That’s a callback to the Veidt-engineered “alien” squid attack, which most people in the world of HBO’s Watchmen clearly still believe in. In the show, there’s also the occasional “squid rain,” presumably engineered by the government in order to keep up the ruse.

20. “The Future is Bright”

Early in the pilot episode, you can see a man holding a sign saying “The Future is Bright.” That’s the inverted version of the sign Rorschach carries around Manhattan when not wearing his mask. That one reads “The End is Nigh.”

21. Countdown

Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in HBO's Watchmen.Mark Hill/HBO

Another fearful-turned-optimistic image can be seen in episode 2, where Angela and Cal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) watch a clock as it counts down the minutes to Christmas. The clock is an exact replica of the Doomsday Clock from the comics, gradually tracking humankind’s journey toward nuclear annihilation. A clock with the same design is seen on Madison Square Garden after the squid attack, covered in blood and surrounded by corpses. The same clock face can be seen in the background in the episode 2 scene where Adrian Veidt’s servants perform his play. Veidt’s pocket watch and the timer from the episode 2 scene in Angela’s bakery where she interrogates Will for the second time have a similar design. All clocks read a few minutes to midnight.

22. The Watchmaker’s Son

The aforementioned play, written by Veidt, depicts the origin story of Dr. Manhattan. In the Gila Flats Test Base in the 1950s, a scientist named Jon Ostermen goes into the Intrinsic Field Subtractor to retrieve the watch he repaired for his girlfriend, Janey Slater. The Subtractor is turned on, and Osterman becomes Dr. Manhattan. The name of the play is The Watchmaker’s Son, and Dr. Manhattan’s father was a watchmaker. The play ends with Osterman saying “Nothing ends. Nothing ever ends,” which is one word away from Dr. Manhattan’s final words in Watchmen.

23. Poison Pill

When the Tulsa cops go after the Seventh Kalvary, one of them manages to kill himself with a poison pill before Angela can take him in. This echoes a scene from the Watchmen comics, where Adrian Veidt’s wannabe assassin kills himself in the same method. (It’s later revealed that Veidt both hired the assassin and force-fed him the pill in order to convince Rorschach that the Comedian’s killer is someone with a grudge against masked heroes.)

24. From Russia with Love

Regina King as Angela Abar and Andrew Howard as Red Scare in HBO's Watchmen.Mark Hill/HBO

In the Watchmen comic, soon after Adrian’s attack on Manhattan—which ends the Cold War—New York starts to love all thing Russian, as evidenced by a couple of posters and storefronts (“Burgers ’n’ Borscht”). This dovetails nicely with the alter ego of one of Angela’s fellow cops, who wears a bright red and yellow tracksuit, has a Russian accent, says he’s a Communist, and goes by the nickname Red Scare.

25. “Who Watches the Watchmen?”

The Tulsa police department’s motto is “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?,” Latin for “Who watches the Watchmen?” In the comics, that’s a slogan used by the superhero-hating public, which riots after the police go on strike to to get the vigilantes outlawed.

26. Have a Drink

Judd Crawford’s office at police HQ, as seen in the pilot, has two Easter Eggs. One is a mug in the shape of an owl, a clear nod to the two superheroes known as Nite Owl. (One from the Minutemen, one from the Watchmen.)

27. Under the Hood

The other Easter egg courtesy of Crawford: A copy of Under the Hood, a memoir written by Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl. Chapters of his book were included in the text of Watchmen.

28. 1985

Regina King in HBO's Watchmen.Mark Hill/HBO

Angela’s passcode for her lair is “1985,” the year in which the Watchmen comics take place.

29. Nostalgia

On Adrian Veidt’s desk, there’s a glass doodad that looks awfully similar to a bottle of Nostalgia perfume, one of the many products made by Adrian Veidt’s corporation.

30. The Pale Horse

In the first and second episode, Adrian Veidt rides up to his country manor on a white horse. The phrase Pale Horse is quite prominent near the end of Watchmen. A band with that same name is playing at Madison Square Garden the night of the squid attack. Everyone who was listening to them dies.

31. Ancient Obsession

The name of Veidt’s horse is Bucephalus, taken from the name of Alexander the Great’s horse. In the comics, Veidt is obsessed with Alexander the Great, going so far as to replicate his journey through the Mediterranean and Northeast Africa. Veidt’s obsession with Alexander the Great is again seen a bit later in the episode, when the play he wrote includes the line “as impenetrable as the Gordian knot itself.” The impossible-to-untangle Gordian knot, which Alexander the Great famously cut through with a sword, is used by Veidt as a metaphor for his own plan to stop the Cold War by faking an extradimensional attack.

32. “Unforgettable”

During the pilot, as Veidt chats with his servants, a cover of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” can be briefly heard. That song plays a role in the comics; its lyrics are juxtaposed with a scene where the second Nite Owl and the second Silk Spectre get physical in the former’s ship.

33. To-may-to, To-mah-to

Jeremy Irons in HBO's Watchmen.Colin Hutton/HBO

At Adrian Veidt’s estate, tomatoes grow on trees. An explanation: Veidt’s interest in genetic engineering, also evidenced in his fleet of clone servants. (In the comics, Veidt hasn’t gotten to humans yet, but he does have a genetically engineered Lynx named Bubastis.)

34. Senator Joe Keene

Late in the Watchmen pilot, as Judd Crawford drives off to meet his grim fate, we hear someone on the radio talking about ex-senator Joe Keene (“a real cowboy, unlike our current Sundancer-in-Chief”) and his son, Joe Junior (also a Senator). The latter appears in person in the second episode and will reportedly continue as a supporting character throughout the season. The first Senator Keene introduced the Keene Act, which made being a masked vigilante illegal.

35. More Nite Owl, Anyone?

The final scene of Watchmen’s pilot reveals that Judd Crawford has been killed by an elderly man who was seen as a child escaping the Tulsa Race Massacre at the beginning of the episode. You might need subtitles on to notice it, but as Angela discovers her boss’s body, an owl is hooting in the background.

36. Psychic Powers

In Watchmen’s second episode, Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.) jokes that he killed Judd Crawford using “psychic powers.” It’s not true, but it’s also not impossible. In the world of Watchmen, psychic powers are actually real. Adrian Veidt used them (or, rather, the stolen brain of someone with them) to pull off his squid plot.

37. Black and Yellow

A still from HBO's Watchmen.Mark Hill/HBO

The Tulsa police department’s color scheme—black uniforms, canary yellow masks, and batons—matches the color scheme of Watchmen’s cover, where the yellow is from the Comedian’s aforementioned smiley face button.

38. Manhattan Powers

In episode 2, Will name-checks three of Dr. Manhattan’s powers from the comics: He can grow, he can make copies of himself, and he can change the color of his skin.

39. Happy Halloween

In one particularly gutting scene from the graphic novel, the first Nite Owl—by now an old man and completely minding his business—is murdered by people who confuse him for his successor. His body is found by a trio of trick-or-treaters: a ghost, a pirate, and a devil. There are also a trio of trick-or-treaters in episode two: Cal and two of his and Angela’s kids. They are a ghost, a pirate, and (wait for it) an owl.

40. Plenty o’ Pirates

There might be a lot of owl stuff in Watchmen so far, but let’s not ignore the pirates. There’s the aforementioned Halloween costume. In the background of that scene, you can see what appears to be a LEGO sculpture of a pirate ship being attacked by a giant squid. (Of course.) One of the Tulsa detectives is named “Pirate Jenny.” There’s a connection to the graphic novel: One of Watchmen’s subplots, excised from the 2009 movie, involves a pirate ship called the Black Freighter. In one of the in-universe essays that accompanies each issue of Watchmen, the popularity of pirate comics is explored. It turns out that one of the writers was hired by Veidt to help with the whole squid thing.

41. Silhouette Lovers

Early in episode 2, Angela drives by a painted silhouette of two lovers kissing. This is the same silhouette as one given prominent placement in the comics’ pages. One of the Minutemen was also named the Silhouette, but we don’t know much about her.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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The 40 Best Christmas Television Episodes

Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.
Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.
Masterpiece on PBS

If the gifts, cookies, PTO, full-fledged trees indoors, license to wear ugly sweaters, and general sense of cheerfulness aren't enough to make you look forward to Christmastime more than any other time of year, there's one last selling point that just might make you change your tune to "Jingle Bells": the possibility of your favorite TV show airing a Christmas episode.

Watching characters you've come to know so well in other contexts navigate an emotionally-charged holiday atmosphere is not only extremely entertaining, it can also deepen your understanding of what the holiday is about—or at least give you a break from your own eccentric extended family to laugh at someone else's.

Settle in with a gallon of eggnog and gear up for this year's yuletide festivities by revisiting our top 40 Christmas television episodes of all time (listed in alphabetical order by series titles).

1. 30 Rock // "Ludachristmas"

With Christmas in New York City, family dysfunction, and unabashed partying, "Ludachristmas" is a 30-minute encapsulation of what the holidays are all about—the only thing missing from this 30 Rock episode is Ludacris himself. From Jack’s hilariously malevolent mother to Kenneth's painfully boring (but essential and meaningful) portrayal of Christmas to Liz's not-so-happy-after-all family, just about every audience member can relate to this. Christmas is the best time of the year! Just ask Tracy, who couldn't help but wildly celebrate and disobey his 30-day alcohol probation mandated by a judge. —Thomas Carannante

2. Alfred Hitchcock Presents // "Back for Christmas"

Alfred Hitchcock might not be known for holiday cheer, but the Master of Suspense did put his distinctively dour stamp on this yuletide installment of his long-running anthology series, and it's one of the few episodes he directed himself. In “Back for Christmas,” John Williams (not the composer) portrays Herbert Carpenter, a man who offs his wife Hermione (Isobel Elsom) in England and believes he can conceal her body in the foundation of their home. While relaxing in America during a holiday break, he receives distressing news from across the pond. His late wife’s Christmas gift to him was a wine cellar—one that will require excavating his basement floor. And now you understand why Hitchcock, despite his Santa-esque proportions, was considered less than jolly. —Jake Rossen

3. Arrested Development // "Afternoon Delight"

Don't disrespect President Gob in his $5000 suit or else you'll face the consequences, which the entire Bluth Company does at the annual holiday party when Gob mistakes some forced compliments from an employee as a roast. The only thing worse (and more hilarious) than that is Michael singing "Afternoon Delight" with his niece, Maeby, before realizing the lyrics are inappropriate for such a duet. Lucille is even more neurotic during the holidays; Buster enjoys his Christmas detour from Army at the arcade; Tobias's ruptured eardrum (thanks to Lucille's poking and blowing) forces him to miss a life-changing call from the Blue Man Group; and the locals continue their Christmas tradition of destroying the famed banana stand—COME ON! —TC

4. Black Mirror // "White Christmas"

No amount of seasonal cheer can alter the bleak outlook of Black Mirror, and its holiday special is no exception. Trapped together in a cabin with snow piling up outside, Matt (Jon Hamm) and Joe (Rafe Spall) discuss the circumstances that have brought them together. Matt was an expert in artificial intelligence and ruthlessly captured the consciousness of people to become part of a sentient personal assistant device; Joe admits he killed his fiancée’s father with a snow globe after an argument. The cabin seems like a prison, and both of their fates are intertwined. By the time Matt is wandering the streets, rendered unseen and essentially invisible to the outside world, and Joe is trapped in a purgatory of his own making, you’ll be wishing for the Grinch to help cheer you up. —JR

5. Cheers // "Christmas Cheers"

As is par for the course with Cheers, nothing about season 6's Christmas episode is remotely subtle—which, of course, is why we love it. From It’s a Wonderful Life playing on the bar’s television to Norm’s Santa suit (and Santa-suited friends), the whole episode makes you wonder if maybe you’d rather skip the big family shebang this year and spend the holidays in a cozy bar with a frothy pint instead. —Ellen Gutoskey

6. Community // "Comparative Religion"

“Comparative Religion” is hardly a canonical episode of Community. This is, after all, the show best known for its high-concept, over-budget homages. “Comparative Religion” has none of that, though it does feature an exceptional guest spot from Anthony Michael Hall. Instead, the episode focuses on building the characters of the study group, dealing out simple but hilarious jokes (“We're trying to get Jeff ready for the fiiiiiiiiiiiiiight,”), and giving the world the gift of Christmas Troy. —Noam Radcliffe

7. Community // "Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas"

Born of a vague, technical approval from an executive and a “screw-it” attitude, "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" is peak Community. With its striking stop-motion aesthetic, it earned the show its sole Emmy—for Individual Achievement in Animation—and sent director Duke Johnson on the path to 2015’s Anomalisa, but its real legacy lives in the simple fact of its existence. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” does what only Community could, balancing studied homage, formal wanderlust, and unbelievable heart in an all-too-brief 23-minute package. —NR

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm // "Mary, Joseph and Larry"

Larry David’s holiday spirit is on full and awkward display in this seasonal episode that sees the comedian ruining Christmas for his wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) by accidentally eating cookies intended for a family nativity scene. Finding that the true meaning of Christmas involves not upsetting his in-laws, Larry goes in search of a solution and finds a live nativity that might be able to save the day. On Curb Your Enthusiasm, you can expect he’s likely to just make everything delightfully worse. —JR

9. Doctor Who // "A Christmas Carol"

Christmas specials are just as much a part of Doctor Who canon as regeneration or Daleks, which means there are several holiday-themed episodes from which to choose. But the 2010 edition, featuring Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, was a clever retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—which, when you think about it, is sort of about time travel anyway. Which fits perfectly into the series’ legendary sci-fi pedigree. —Jennifer M. Wood

10. Downton Abbey // "Christmas at Downton Abbey"

After two dramatic seasons of will-they-or-won’t-they-get-together storylines—plus one scandalous post-coital death, a miraculous recovery from paralysis, and a convenient case of Spanish flu that killed off a romantic rival—(distant) cousins Matthew and Mary Crawley finally seal the deal. Which, in this case means: Matthew proposes, Mary tells him he better do it properly (she likes things done properly), she says yes, the ASMR-inducing music swells, and they spin around in the snow to celebrate their newly betrothed bliss. Don’t knock it ‘til you watch it. —JMW

11. Friends // "The One With the Holiday Armadillo"

Whatever your feelings may be about Ross Geller’s questionable behavior as a parent, boyfriend, professor, doctor (of paleontology), or person in general, you must admit his histrionics as the holiday armadillo have earned him a place in the Christmas television hall of fame. In the absence of any available Santa Claus costumes, Ross dons a terrifying armadillo suit to teach his half-Jewish son about Hanukkah—but when Chandler appears dressed as Santa Claus, and Joey bursts in dressed as Superman, it turns into the weirdest Christmas pageant of all time. —EG

12. Futurama // "Xmas Story"

Futurama’s ability to be heartfelt and charming seconds after a sophomoric gag is a great strength, and this first Xmas episode strikes that strange balance. John Goodman as murderous Robot Santa is a treat, but Fry and Leela’s bond growing deeper over their shared loneliness—he as an unfrozen future man, she as an alien of unknown parentage—is a building block for what’s to come. Oh, and Zoidberg saves the day! Now, let us all sing "Santa Claus is Gunning You Down.” —Sam Dunn

13. Gilmore Girls // "Forgiveness and Stuff"

Gilmore Girls is rife with enchanting snowfalls, steaming mugs of coffee, and a general sense of coziness throughout, so a solid series binge come December is totally justified. If you only have about 45 minutes of free time, however, this episode from season 1 is worth a rewatch. Familial tensions run high when Richard suffers a heart attack, and we get to see all the characters (Lorelai and Emily in particular) at their worst, then best, then worst again, then best again, and so on. It’s not only classic Gilmore Girls, it’s classic “any family during the holidays.” Messy, relatable, and ultimately impossible not to love. —EG

14. Hey Arnold // "Arnold’s Christmas"

One of the first iconic tear-jerkers in this young adult series, Arnold gets lonely Vietnamese boarder Mr. Hyunh (long before he became a country star) in their household's Secret Santa drawing. His grandiose Christmas plan is to reunite the recent immigrant with his daughter Mai, whom he had allowed to escape on a helicopter 20 years prior. After many fruitless attempts, Arnold surrenders hope, only to watch Mai arrive on his doorstep anyway, thanks to his guardian angel, the head-over-heels Helga. We're not sure why one cartoon was legally allowed to make us cry so deeply and for so long. —Adam Weinrib

15. The Honeymooners // "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

First aired on actual Christmas Eve 1955 (television used to be a smidge more magical back then), Ralph Kramden learns a lesson in generosity, courtesy of the Ghost of O. Henry (figuratively, not literally). After blowing his Christmas money on a bowling ball for himself, he then regrets it and sells the ball to buy his wife a real present. She then gifts him … a now-unusable bowling ball bag, leading to a tender moment and oft-remembered Kramden monologue about the real joy of the holiday. —AW

16. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia // "A Very Sunny Christmas"

What does the Gang want for Christmas? For Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson), it’s the respect of their father Frank (Danny DeVito), a selfish ogre who buys their most desired gifts then keeps them for himself. They attempt to course-correct by stuffing him into a couch so he can hear his old co-workers discuss what a terrible person he is. For Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day), it’s rediscovering the joy of the holiday after finding out Mac’s parents broke into homes to steal presents and that Charlie’s mom apparently traded sexual favors with Santa for gifts. That this all involves Charlie assaulting a mall Santa and Frank running around naked and gasping for air is par for the course on Sunny. In attempting to find the true meaning of Christmas, the Gang is that rare television holiday special oddity: They learn absolutely nothing. —JR

17. Lizzie McGuire // "Aaron Carter’s Coming to Town"

Basically, Lizzie, Gordo, and Miranda learn that teen pop star Aaron Carter will be filming a music video nearby and immediately start scheming ways to meet him. Using the classic Disney blueprint of sneaking into anywhere—head-stacks peeking around corners, really weak disguises, etc.—they finally find themselves in Aaron’s dressing room. Lizzie convinces Aaron’s less-than-pleased manager to let one of them meet the singer (because ’tis the season, am I right?). Next, Lizzie pulls the ultimate Christmas move by suggesting Miranda use this opportunity to further her music career. Cute.

But the true Christmas miracle happens when Lizzie “realizes” she “forgot” her tape recorder in Aaron’s room. She knocks on his door and that’s when it happens—that’s when Aaron Carter opens the door, asks “Is this yours?,” Lizzie goes “Yeah.” Then comes Aaron's iconic line: “Merry Christmas, Lizzie McGuire” (totally having had peeped her name on the tape recorder). Oh, and would you look at that? Lo and behold, Aaron Carter has mistletoe over his door, so he kisses Lizzie. If you, like 11-year-old me did at the time, are wondering how kissing a famous celebrity would change the plot of the remaining seasons? Don’t, because none of this is ever mentioned again. The episode ends with the gang joining Aaron Carter on stage to sing everyone’s favorite Christmas song: “I Want Candy.” A true Christmas classic. —Angela Trotti

18. Mad Men // "Christmas Comes But Once a Year"

It’s jarring even nine years later watching cowboyish Lee Garner Jr. emasculate Roger Sterling, he of the equal and opposite swagger, by forcing him to wear that Santa suit. Notably, this episode saw Megan begin to emerge; she’s almost Zen-like in her competence compared to the smoldering emotional wreck anyone too closely connected to Don Draper becomes. Dr. Faye gets hard-done here by that drunken black hole of sexy amorality, too, and we’ll never forgive holy-hell-what-a-lil’-creep Glen Bishop for doing weird things in Sally’s room. —SD

19. Mad Men // "Christmas Waltz"

In its fifth season, Mad Men gave us the best Christmas present money couldn’t buy: Don Draper and Joan Harris just hanging out and drinking. Sure, plenty of other stuff goes down in “Christmas Waltz”—Lane Pryce seals his fate by forging Don’s signature, Harry Crane gets it on with a Hare Krishna acolyte in his office, everyone ignores Pete Campbell getting a shot at Jaguar—but sometimes it’s the little things that feel the best. Don and Joan commiserating in a Midtown bar like the old friends they now are is a particularly heady Christmas magic. —NR

20. Mr. Bean // "Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean"

Rowan Atkinson is often referred to as "The Man With the Rubber Face," and much of that is due to his run as the largely silent but painfully expressive Mr. Bean. But he earned a new distinction with this Christmas episode: The Man With the Turkey on His Head (skip ahead to the 19:35 mark above). Yes, long before Friends made it a thing, Mr. Bean—who was always ahead of his time—was doing it. —JMW

21. Mystery Science Theater 3000 // "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"

The best way to appreciate 1964’s low-budget bomb Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is through the lens of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which riffed on the movie in 1991. In the movie, Santa is kidnapped by aliens so he can dispense gifts to their children. In the margin of the screen sits Joel (Joel Hodgson), Crow (Trace Beaulieu), and Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), who attempt to make sense of this misfire. By the time the gang is singing “A Patrick Swayze Christmas,” you, too, will believe in Santa and his ability to breathe unassisted in a Martian atmosphere. —JR

22. The O.C. // "The Best Chrismukkah Ever"

In this episode, Seth uses the Christmas-Hanukkah hybrid holiday he calls Chrismukkah to justify not having to choose between the two girls he’s dating simultaneously, and the pressure of the holidays drives Marissa to both shoplift and drink herself into oblivion. Did the showrunners turn down the dial on the melodrama in the spirit of warm and fuzzy Christmas feelings? No. Did we expect them to? Absolutely not. The endlessly soapy, can’t-stop-watching quality that makes The O.C. such an angsty teen classic is on full display here and, as it turns out, it’s even more fun with Christmas decorations in the background. —EG

23. The Office (NBC) // "Christmas Party"

Considering that the Dunder Mifflin employees all purchased gifts with specific recipients in mind, Michael’s decision to turn the Secret Santa into a Yankee Swap is equal parts disastrous and hilarious: Everyone vies for the iPod that Michael bought for Ryan, and Jim’s trinket-filled teapot for Pam almost ends up as Dwight’s nasal cleanser. Alcohol flows freely, emotions run high all around, and one unlucky regional manager ends up getting flashed by an employee. Does this sound like your office’s Christmas party? In the name of all that is holy, we hope not. —EG

24. The Office (NBC) // "A Benihana Christmas"

Though "Dinner Party" may be widely regarded as the best-ever episode of The Office, then “A Benihana Christmas” deserves honorable mention at the very least. In this hour-long Christmas special, Michael Scott cancels Christmas (and threatens to take New Year’s away) but ultimately ends up taking Dwight, Jim, and Andy to Benihana to get drunk before they return to the office for not one, but two dueling Christmas parties (one that starts at 3 p.m., and a “way more fun party” that starts at 2:45 p.m.) The episode’s soundtrack alone is worthy of a Grammy, featuring covers of classic hit songs like Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” by Kevin Malone and a 30-second preview of James Blunt's “Goodbye My Lover,” which Michael plays on a loop to mourn his breakup with his realtor Carol (played by Nancy Carell, Steve Carell’s real-life wife). “A Benihana Christmas” answers a lot of questions—for example, how does one correctly butcher a goose?—but also keeps viewers wondering … does Michael know how to ride a bike? —AT

25. The Office (UK) // "The Office Christmas Special"

More than a year after "Interview," The Office's season 2 finale, which initially felt like the series finale, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant returned to co-write and co-direct this two-part Christmas special that revisited the Wernham Hogg gang—past and present—and answered some truly burning questions, including: Why was there a documentary crew filming this office at all? What happened after the documentary series aired? How many copies of David Brent's cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now" did Juxtaposition Records actually sell? How is Tim faring with Gareth as the new office manager? Did Dawn and Lee ever get married? And who does your tampons? Just like its two official seasons, The Office Christmas special mixes brutally uncomfortable humor with moments of true sentimentality—none more so than when Tim finally gets the girl. —JMW

26. Rugrats // "Chanukah"

Rugrats was one of the only depictions of a Jewish family on TV when it aired on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. The show made cartoon history when Tommy, Chuckie, and Angelica reenacted the story of Passover in 1995, and a year later, the Rugrats celebrated another Jewish holiday. "Chanukah" follows the same format as the Passover episode, with the babies playing characters in a retelling of the miracle. Grandpa Boris fighting with his rival Shlomo over who will play the lead in the synagogue's Chanukah play also makes for an entertaining B-plot. —Michele Debczak

27. Saturday Night Live // "Justin Timberlake/Justin Timberlake, 2006"

Though SNL always boasts underrated holiday vibes (even the set dressing always feels warm and highly wreathed), this episode features the most Bulk Christmas, in terms of modern classics. It opens with Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Maya Rudolph crooning "Santa's My Boyfriend," and prominently features the Emmy-winning, 16-bleep Timberlake-Samberg digital short that NBC execs called "Special Christmas Box" during their publicity push (the box, of course, contains a d***). Also noteworthy? Bill Hader and Timberlake singing the Alvin and the Chipmunks classic "Christmas, Don't Be Late" in the monologue. Don't forget. —AW

28. Scrubs // "My Own Personal Jesus"

The hospital on Scrubs always has a way of shaking the faith of at least one main character every episode, and when it finally happens to Turk—Donald Faison, the show's beacon of positivity—after a Christmas Eve shift beset by tragedy, it just hits a little harder. But Scrubs’s humor just wouldn’t be the same without some heartbreak to go along with it, and Turk’s despair is eventually rewarded with a Christmas miracle that restores his faith and gives us one of the best uses of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” you’ll ever see on TV. —Jay Serafino

29. Seinfeld // "The Strike"

Going home for the holidays can get a little dull by December 26, but at least our holidays all end. But n the Costanza household, no celebration—no matter how languid—is ever finished until George can pin his father to the ground, a process that could take days. It's all part of Festivus, the Costanza-specific holiday first explored in this late-season episode. This isn't even to mention that we're dealing with a rare Seinfeld episode where Kramer has a job; he returns to H&H Bagels after a decade-long strike for the holiday season, and swiftly uncorks a steam valve. —AW

30. Sherlock // "A Scandal in Belgravia"

Watching a nearly naked (and surprisingly strapping) Sherlock Holmes display all of his cheeky arrogance in Buckingham Palace is Christmas-themed in that it is the best gift many viewers have ever gotten. That aside, this episode also features an awkward yet heartwarming holiday party, during which Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock exhibits some mind-blowingly uncharacteristic behavior in the spirit of Christmas: After pelting Molly with a barrage of verbal abuse, he apologizes, wishes her a merry Christmas, then kisses her on the cheek. If that isn’t Christmas-y enough to qualify its inclusion on this list, I’ll eat my deerstalker hat. —EG

31. The Simpsons // "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire"

Marge loses the holiday spending budget when Bart’s tattoo requires removal and Homer’s work bonus doesn’t come through. An attempt to win it all back at the dog track flops, but they don’t come home empty-handed: Santa’s Little Helper is in tow. Watching this very first episode of The Simpsons can be jarring. The character designs aren’t dialed in, and their movement is gelatinous. But the core conceit of a family that loves one another despite their flaws is present. Homer’s brain may not be in the right place, but his heart is. —JR

32. The Simpsons // "Marge Be Not Proud"

In just 22 minutes of television, “Marge Be Not Proud” serves as a crash course in everything that made The Simpsons the premier comic institution during its golden years. First, you’ve got classic gags, like the deadpan brilliance of Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge, Homer getting hoodwinked by an Allan Sherman record, and the introduction of “Thrillhouse”—or, more fittingly, “Thrillho.” But all of these sight gags and quotable moments wouldn’t still be remembered nearly a quarter-century later if not for the emotional sincerity of the story, which sees Marge and Bart rebuild their strained relationship after Bart gets caught shoplifting a video game at the local department store right before Christmas. If the show’s seventh season is remembered as its peak, then this is the absolute pinnacle. —JS

33. Six Feet Under // "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

On the first anniversary of their patriarch's death, the Fisher family reflects on their first Christmas without Nathaniel, as David stresses about bringing his new boyfriend home for the first time. This episode isn't all Christmas dinner and funereal tears, though; it opens with a Santa on a motorcycle getting hit by a car. Ta-da! —AR

34. South Park // "Red Sleigh Down"

“My children, you should know something ... I'm packing.” Thus spake Jesus, our half-Rambo, half-Blade dispenser of righteous violence, as he annihilated a legion of extremist militants. Bringing Christmas to Iraq—Cartman’s grand plan to get off Santa’s Naughty List—is harder than it looks, and the Messiah ultimately pays with his life, sacrificing himself to save Santa Claus and our boys in an outrageous mishmash of 2001’s Black Hawk Down and 1999’s Three Kings. But the topper? Kenny just kind of showing up after being dead for a calendar year. It's a Christmas miracle! —SD

35. Tales From the Crypt // "And All Through the House"

Based on the 1950s pulp comics of the same name, Tales from the Crypt was often more campy than scary, but for its Christmas episode, the HBO series went full horror. "All Through the House" follows a woman being terrorized by an escaped asylum patient dressed as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The terrifying tale is the perfect antidote to all the feel-good content clogging the airwaves this time of year. —MD

36. Veep // "Camp David"

As is often the case for Selina Meyer, things go horrifically awry in this particular holiday gift exchange. The always-callous Veep regifts the antique pen her daughter gave her during their family Camp David retreat to Chinese President Lu, then accidentally hands the robe she received to her daughter's partner, Marjorie, eventually leading to the terms of an illicit deal being very much scrapped. Don't you hate when Christmas regifting causes an international incident? —AW

37. Victoria // "Comfort and Joy"

It's 1843 and Christmastime has arrived at Buckingham Palace, where a pregnant (again) Queen Victoria is facing her first holiday without her beloved governess-turned-confidante Baroness Lehzen. So Prince Albert is determined to make it Victoria's best Christmas ever and goes about transforming the palace into a yuletide wonderland full of dangling Christmas trees, gifts galore (including an orphaned princess), and family members that no one really wants to deal with. Though Albert (incorrectly) gets a lot of credit for bringing a variety of German Christmas traditions to England, we'll let accuracy slide in this case because what the show recreates is a thing of beauty—and a reminder that donning a crown doesn't mean that you don't also have to deal with overbearing parents, dysfunctional siblings, and/or frustrating in-laws. —JMW

38. The West Wing // "In Excelsis Deo"

Every episode of The West Wing is actually a Christmas episode if you believe, as I do, that President Bartlet is just a very tan Santa Claus with southern-gentleman vibes (he’s from New Hampshire, which is technically south when compared to the North Pole). This one, however, has many other added elements of holiday cheer, including a scene where the President sneaks into a bookshop for some last-minute Christmas shopping—which he forbids anyone from telling the press about—a scene where Josh gives Donna a book with a heartfelt note inside (They hug! It’s important!), and a subplot where Toby organizes a military funeral for a homeless veteran who died wearing his coat. —EG

39. The Wonder Years // "Christmas"

Kevin doesn’t end up getting the color television he so badly wants in this episode, though he does learn that Christmas isn’t about the “tinsel and wrapping paper,” but about memory. Oh, sweet Kevin, it was never about the tinsel or wrapping paper—it’s about what’s wrapped in it. Anyway, given that the holidays are a time to gorge on the sappy, saccharine feelings that you try to bury for the other 11 months of the year so you can get some dang work done, this episode is definitely worth indulging in. —EG

40. The X-Files // "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"

The ghosts that steal Christmas in this episode are a pair of lovers played by Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin who, after dying in a murder-suicide pact so they could spend eternity together, terrorize Mulder and Scully to the point where they practically can’t tell up from down. It’s trippy, it’s spooky, it’s tons of fun, and it’s all ultimately irrelevant when compared to the final scene of this episode, during which “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays in the background while we watch—through a frosted windowpane, no less—the will-they-or-won’t-they partners exchange Christmas gifts even though they had decided not to. —EG