Topical humor can’t save Silverman and Rogen’s “Santa Inc” – J.
In American culture, even in non-religious circles, Christmas is sacrosanct. It’s family reunions, gifts for the kids, twinkling lights and cozy pajamas, or anticipating the 45 minutes the snow is magical before it gets coarse and treacherous.
And Christmas movies and TV shows are defined by the characters’ journeys on well-marked paths towards achieving the “true Christmas spirit.”
Taking a creative secular Christmas photo with tones other than benevolent and benevolent is on the spectrum between surprising and sacrilegious, but the new HBO Max animated series “Santa Inc.” leans happily towards the latter, with Sarah Silverman voicing Candy Smalls (a North Pole elf who campaigns to be the next Santa Claus) and Seth Rogen voicing the current Claus (who is tasked with choosing his successor).
Realizing that she must be “one of the guys” even though these guys are silly, Candy campaigns at the expense of her personal relationships and shows everyone how capable she is. As she battles internalized patriarchy, she is torn between wanting to be herself and bowing down to Kris Kringle, the board, and male corporate culture.
The reason Candy gets a chance is that Santa’s heir apparent, a black man, is poached by Jeff Bezos for a high-level job at Amazon. “I am the most progressive Santa Claus in history. I’m a real agent of change, ”said Rogen’s Santa Claus, noting that he would go down in history by naming a black Santa Claus. But because Candy “ticks two boxes, woman and Jew”, choosing her will elevate her heritage from simply historical to legendary.
The eight-half-hour episode series is scorching and eerie, a fusion of rawness and social justice issues. Along with the social critiques of corporate culture and Christmas, there are plenty of wild swings and graphic, gratuitous elf nudity. “Santa Claus Inc.” has a core of advocacy and activism adapted to today’s cultural moment, denouncing wage and professional inequalities, lackluster diversity efforts, corruption and sexism.
But if online rankings are any indicator, people didn’t like this strange amalgamation. At the time of going to press, it had a 1.5 out of 10 on IMDb (although it was No. 18 on its list of most popular titles) and 4% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Because Candy says Santa’s business has been “a white man’s game for too long,” some on Twitter have called the series a “war on whiteness.” Anti-Semitic and negationist trolling campaigns swept the trailer, creating and circulating a list of all the Jews associated with the series (the long list of producers includes Rogen and his longtime creative partner, Evan Goldberg, Silverman, Seth Green, showrunner Alexandra Rushfield and Silverman’s production partner, Amy Zvi) and highlighting the black voice actors who have supported Black Lives Matter. The Conservatives, probably never the target audience, have backed down from the perceived Liberal agenda around equality.
Others objected to Holocaust jokes ranging from mild (“Good news, sir: more American children believe in you than in vaccines or the Holocaust”) to barely contextual (“Keep the rumors in your appendix, Anne Frank ”).
These factors seem to have alienated some of the micro-audiences that would otherwise have gone all-in for a Silverman-Rogen team.
Candy’s Jewish identity does not appear through the Hanukkah wishes but through the tongue. “Bashert”, fresh out of his recent appearance in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, makes an appearance here (preceded by the f-word and followed by “it’s” supposed to be “in the language of my Jewish pals”), as does ” tzedakah ”. There’s a TV reporter named Rivka Spinster (she’s a dreidel), and while swapping beards, Candy talks about being a Passover intern and proclaims her love for haroset. Jewish viewers may sense some unease around Candy’s family, which is petite and has exaggerated features – but, you know, elves – and is also money-hungry, loud and callous. Then again, they’re also prone to full frontal flash fits and graphic sexual escapades.
Historically, Hollywood Jews, though unmistakably present and influential, have kept their Jewish identity low and understated difference, slipping more easily into mainstream culture. Jews wrote Christmas carols, produced Christmas movies, and tried to avoid anything that looked like a cultural crucifixion. And in the Jewish community, some might feel uncomfortable with this critical story told by and featuring Jews. Of course, Christmas has turned materialistic, but why we report this?
It might have been interesting to deepen the culture of the workers of Santa Inc. by establishing the North Pole as an analogue of the clothing district of the Lower East Side (harsh working conditions and low wages with sometimes revolutionary success). Rogen briefly visited this world in his 2020 comedy-drama “An American Pickle,” which garnered better, but still mixed reviews.
At the end of “Santa Inc.” Candy is able to make changes to her colleagues and has a lot of nerve to spare, but her heart is different. Despite the presence of a “mazel tov” – “Yay! Jewish phrases of joy! We are all happy now! says a character – the traditional end of Christmas is nowhere to be found. Candy’s activism has reached more lofty goals, but she is frustrated and feels the futility of fighting entrenched patriarchal systems. As one character puts it, “You can’t beat tradition; it’s Christmas.