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‘A Very Murray Christmas’ review: An uneven mix

Paul Shaffer, left, George Clooney, Bill Murray and

Paul Shaffer, left, George Clooney, Bill Murray and Miley Cyrus celebrate Christmas. Credit: Netflix / Ali Goldstein

THE SHOW “A Very Murray Christmas”

WHEN | WHERE Begins streaming Dec. 4 on Netflix

GRADE B

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Bill Murray, along with Paul Shaffer, must put on a TV Christmas music special from Manhattan’s Café Carlyle in the middle of a blizzard. It’s not going to be easy, especially after the power goes out. He gets help from some friends, including Amy Poehler, David Johansen, Miley Cyrus, Rashida Jones, Chris Rock, Jason Schwartzman, George Clooney, Michael Cera, Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, Julie White and the band, Phoenix.

MY SAY While pretty much gone now because the prime-time variety series is extinct, the “Christmas variety TV special” was a reliable visitor to millions of homes during the ’60s and ’70s. The format was locked tightly into place: There was Bing, singing some gold-plated standard (like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) when who should appear from just offstage? Judy Garland! Or maybe Frank Sinatra! In a display of seasonal amity and goodwill, these dear ol’ showbiz pals draped their arms across each other’s shoulders, then finished off the song together.

It was glorious — also hammy, indulgent and a little bit more about ratings than Christmas.

But that’s also the spirit with which to approach “A Very Murray Christmas,” because otherwise this hourlong joke doesn’t work. Genial and good-natured, there’s an unexpected wistfulness here, even melancholy. Could Murray, 65, actually be indulging his own nostalgia for those bygone specials? He could, and that’s the other point.

This won’t appeal to all viewers, and I suspect not even most viewers. The comedy is uneven, the singing as well. The guest list is fascinating, but also perplexing. Why, for example, is Phoenix here? Were Vampire Weekend or the Flaming Lips otherwise engaged? Here's one reasonable answer: Sofia Coppola, who wrote this, is married to Thomas Mars, lead singer of Phoenix.

Plus, it was great to see underappreciated — and underexposed — talents like Jenny Lewis and Julie White along for this strange holiday ride. (But overexposed Miley Cyrus — again? Pass).

Sure, it’s indulgent, but so were those old TV specials. Besides, Murray is a national treasure. He’s earned the right.

BOTTOM LINE Amusing, odd, fascinating, indulgent and not quite as funny as you might expect, or hope.

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