‘The Santa Clauses’ Might’ve Made a Cute Movie, but Became a Drag of a Series Instead: TV Review

For several Christmas seasons in my childhood, “The Santa Clause” reigned supreme. The 1994 Tim Allen movie about magic, divorce and accepting the realities of both was such a go-to that soon enough, my vision of the North Pole became one and the same with this one, with its snarky elves and legendary hot chocolate I would happily push Santa off a roof to try myself. Now, though, I’m an adult woman who spends half my time reviewing shows borne of the beloved comics, movies and toys of my youth, which has rapidly become more depressing than magical.

Still: I came to Disney+’s “The Santa Clauses,” in which Allen returns alongside Elizabeth Mitchell’s Mrs. Clause to do right by Christmas and his new family, with an open mind. After all, half the point of “The Santa Clause” was how moving it could be to make adults believe in something extraordinary, no matter how cheesy or childish it might seem. With this series spinoff, premiering with two episodes on Nov. 16, Disney+ hopes to grab the attention of both kids and adults like me, who grew up knowing Santa as “Scott Calvin” and David Krumholtz as the world weary, undeniably appealing elf trying to keep him in one piece. Instead of just making another sequel movie in the vein of 2002’s “The Santa Clause 2” or 2006’s “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause,” Disney’s milking the Santa Cinematic Universe for all its worth with a six-episode series that really should ‘ve just been a movie, after all.

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The basics of “The Santa Clauses” go like this: 28 years into his run as Santa, a 65-year-old Scott (Allen) finds himself at a crossroads. His wife Carol (Mitchell), once an ambitious school principal, is restless and bored in the more anonymous role of Mrs. Clause; their teenage kids Buddy (Austin Kane) and Sandra (Allen’s own daughter Elizabeth Allen-Dick) are growing up isolated and “weird,” having known no other world than the North Pole. Then, head elf Betty (Matilda Lawler of “Station Eleven,” doing her very best with what she has) finds a new loophole clause granting Scott the option to retire. Reluctant and resigned, Scott takes it, moves the family back to Chicago, and hands the keys over to single father Simon (Kal Penn), who promptly sees the North Pole as more of a business opportunity than a responsibility.

As showrun by Jack Burditt (an alum of decidedly more adult shows like “30 Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), there are some interesting threads strewn throughout the series’ relentless Christmas cheeriness. Simon’s determination to perfect a worldwide drone delivery system that anticipates customers’ needs echoes Amazon Prime’s ongoing dominance to a damning degree, and Mitchell at least makes the most of Carol’s creeping horror that she’s abandoned her entire life and personality in service of Scott’s. Other ideas are far more half-baked, like the growing alarm that the world is at an all-time low of Christmas spirit, and therefore, is at risk of folding in on itself altogether. (If you’re wondering if Allen gets to grumble that “saying ‘Merry Christmas to all!’ is suddenly problematic,” go ahead and cross off that bingo square.)

And so the show ends up being a drag in more than one sense of the word. It works so desperately hard to fill out six episodes — a full three hours of Clause #content! — that it just ends up dragging its feet. Scenes that should be a snappy couple of minutes go on for several too long; plots that can barely stand on their own do their best to hold up entire episodes to no avail. Trying to watch more than one episode, let alone six, feels less like having a warm mug of cocoa than chugging it and crashing off the sugar high.

Most annoying, though, is the constant sense that the show’s attempts to be everything for both kids and their parents resulted in it being for neither. More than once, I found myself thinking of that brilliant sketch in “John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch” in which Mulaney, playing the part of a studio executive, sat down a focus group of children after watching a cartoon movie to ask if they liked the jokes about “fake news” or recognized the voice of Jeremy Renner. What’s the actual point of making a joke about Santa being “into NFTS — nutty, fudgy teacakes”? Kids won’t get it and adults won’t laugh, so who is it forexactly?

If “The Santa Clauses” were “The Santa Clause 4: The Santa Clauses,” its tendency to indulge the silly and saccharine could be forgiven. As a “Disney+ original series,” it’s simply bit off more “nutty fudgy teacakes” than it can chew.

The first two episodes of “The Santa Clauses” premiere Wednesday, Nov. 16 on Disney+.

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