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A Russell Peters Christmas: Ho, ho . . . no

There are certain things this column does not hold with. One is Kevin O'Leary. "I'm the merchant of truth," he says. "Merchant" my bum and "truth" my bum. Merchant of manufactured, braying, bad-ass persona, is more like it. Bring on the show where he goes to the hoosegow for a while.

Another thing this column doesn't hold with is Manchester City, a soccer club in England. Very annoying bunch, is all I'll say. And a core thing this column doesn't hold with is broadcasters airing Christmas TV specials before Dec. 1.

Joy to the world. Fine, go for it. But the drawback that arises from early release of the Christmas TV special is the onset of dread. Dread of everything Christmas and the holidays involve. Tacky tinsel and fake mistletoe, the Christmas parties with the overwrought people laughing maniacally or descending into a puddle of despair. The lineup at the post office, the hell of the department store's basement toy department. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Kill me now.

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Even Dec. 1 is cutting it fine. Tonight, along comes A Russell Peters Christmas (CTV, 9 p.m.), which is mostly an abomination. Remember when Peters used to be funny? Cheerful observational humour that occasionally touched genius. Well now he's all smarmy-arch and appears to have adopted some kind of "I'm a super-rich showbiz dude" persona. One that suggests he isn't required to be funny any more. He just has to show up.

The special is "inspired by the variety shows of yesteryear," according to CTV. True. That means the entire production is an elaborate and unfunny satire of Christmas TV specials that Peters has seen, but not everybody else has. It is loaded with guest stars who appear briefly – Michael Bublé, Pamela Anderson, Ted Lange, Faizon Love, Jon Lovitz, Goapele and Scott Thompson. Some of them look understandably bewildered at what they have landed in.

Things opens with a skating party sing-song. (It features, uncredited among the dancers, Jordan Clark, winner of So You Think You Can Dance Canada.) Then Peters does his standup routine, which features his family a lot. Predictable material – Christmas in Canada in an immigrant family. My family wasn't really poor. My family just shopped the Boxing Day specials. Brown Santas, black Santas. Mild hilarity ensues for the live audience.

Then come the celebrities and lingerie models. This segment is the attempt at mocking old-school holiday TV specials featuring cool Hollywood dudes who sat around having a drink and somebody sang a song while comely ladies sat around and beamed with delight. And then there's the bit where Pamela Anderson plays the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. Before things stumble toward an end there is a bit of animation featuring Peters as the boy who saved Christmas. Mind you, before that, the lingerie models turn up again.

Ho-hum is the gist. The special isn't very funny. It isn't very clever either, and everyone involved in the fuzzy-muzzy feel-good ending looks awkward. One's wish for the new year is that Russell Peters gets back to being funny again.


Hockey: More Than a Game (some PBS stations, 8 p.m.) is a charming one-hour special that, in a way, attempts to explain the Canadian obsession with hockey to outsiders. (It's made by the Buffalo PBS station WNED.) It hits many points lightly, including the dispute over the origins of hockey and the Wayne Gretzky legend. There is a lengthy interview with Walter Gretzky and some assertions about hockey's role in the national psyche, provided by Bruce Dowbiggin of this parish.

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Waking the Green Tiger (CBC, 8 p.m. on The Nature of Things) is about what it asserts is the birth of an environmental movement in China. As we are told, for 50 years the idea was instilled in China's population that nature must serve the people. Now, we are told, a new law that allows citizen participation in government decision-making has created a movement against the destruction of the environment. In particular the program follows the story of activist Shi Lihong, described as "one of China's first environmental filmmakers," who chronicled the removal of a large farming community to accommodate the building of a river dam. Given the general impression we have of the fate of dissidents in China, the story told here – with copious archival footage of the Chairman Mao years – almost strains credibility.

Check local listings.

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