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HBO Max's Santa Inc. is silly and salacious, but it could've been more subversive

  • Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman raunchy and satirical animated HBO Max tribute to the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials, created by Shrill's Alexandra Rushfield, "is proudly crude and immature without wholly abandoning the holiday spirit," says Daniel Fienberg. "Often that immaturity comes at the expense of Santa Inc. ever being nearly as subversive as it thinks it is, but I’m not sure anybody involved here is likely to take my wish that the series were a bit smarter and maybe a hair more refined seriously." Fienberg adds: "Still, Santa Inc. works on some traditional levels, especially when it comes to its ensemble. Silverman’s Candy even resembles her Wreck-It-Ralph character and she plays right into the sort of enthusiastic, high-energy dirtiness that has always been the comedian’s hallmark. Rogen’s Santa boasts the actor’s reliable well-intentioned bluster and Nicholas Braun’s Devin, a frat boy with an internship at Santa Inc., has an obsequiousness that owes more than a little to Succession‘s Cousin Greg. (Leslie) Grossman and (Gabourey) Sidibe are probably the show’s most consistent sources of laughs, while the TV geek in me enjoyed cameos from such previous Rushfield collaborators as Aidy Bryant, Beck Bennett and John Cameron Mitchell, all from Shrill, and Love star Paul Rust."


    • In elevating itself above its subject matter, Santa Inc. ends up feeling dour and heavy, a televised lump of coal: "There’s a germ of an idea here: In trying to break out of the pack and be seen by the incumbent Santa (Rogen) as worthy of being tapped, Silverman’s Candy Smalls sees all the aspects of what goes into making Christmas work for kids worldwide," says Daniel D'Addario. "Her ambition is winsome and is a rare aspect of the show that feels properly pitched at a grown-up audience without losing balance. Elsewhere, though, the show’s attempted witty touches — making the reindeer, for instance, methamphetamine addicts in order to explain how they travel the globe so rapidly — tend toward the miscalibrated. When the show displays a visual wit or a loopy joy with wordplay, it makes it feel all the more like a waste of energy that it, elsewhere, depicts Mrs. Claus dancing on a candy-cane stripper pole. That doesn’t say anything, really; it just suggests a readiness to provoke. The visual emblems of Christmas as celebrated nowadays are hardly beyond subversion, but just doing so with a story seemingly designed to raise hackles isn’t worthy of the talent that’s clearly on display here. The juxtaposition of the admittedly gaudy trappings of a season of joy and Santa Inc.’s calculated raunchiness tend to feel less irreverent than attention-seeking in a way the sheer joke-writing can’t justify."
    • Santa Inc.'s YouTube trailer hit with anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying comments: "It’s not clear precisely what attracted the attention of antisemites and Holocaust deniers," reports The Daily Dot's Claire Goforth. "That two Jewish people, Silverman and Rogen, are starring in the Christmas special seems to have factored in, as many of the comments reference their religion. Far-right groups and figures are also circulating a list of people involved with the production identifying those who are purportedly Jewish or sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement."

    TOPICS: Santa Inc., HBO Max, Alexandra Rushfield, Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen, Christmas, Holiday Programming