By Hillary Busis
Updated December 24, 2013 at 10:00 PM EST
Everett Collection

A Christmas Carol

  • Movie

From classic cartoons to modern-day dramas, there’s one holiday gift that keeps on giving: Plots inspired by A Christmas Carol. (Even Arrow sort of got in on the fun this year.)

In these very special episodes, one of the series’ regulars — usually the group’s designated grouch — gets grumpy around the holidays and is subsequently visited by a series of ghosts. They warn that character to mend the error of his or her ways before it’s too late. Things tend to end on a happy note, with the newly cheerful Scrooge stand-in giving gifts to the rest of the cast — and maybe even joining in some heartwarming literal Christmas carols.

Before their transformative visions, though, those ersatz Ebenezers can be pretty darn nasty — and in some cases, even murderous. But which of them are the meanest, snobbiest, greediest, scroogiest Scrooges of all? Let’s try to suss it out by reexamining 10 of TV’s most notable Carolers. (Note: This is by no means a comprehensive list.)

Beavis, Beavis and Butthead (1995)

Humbug hallmarks: During a dream in which he’s become manager of Burger World, Beavis makes his school principal work a late shift on Christmas Eve and watches porn on Jesus’s birthday. Also, he’s wasting his life away.

But after he’s visited by some ghosts… Beavis wakes up from the dream — and remembers only that in it, he got to have a VCR and some porn. Heh heh heh.

Scrooge score: 1/10. Say what you will about the original Scrooge, but he certainly wasn’t a slacker.

Alex P. Keaton, Family Ties (1989)

Humbug hallmarks: Lack of proper holiday spirit; cynicism; fixation on conspicuous consumption

But after he’s visited by some ghosts… Alex decides he doesn’t want to grow up to be a bitter, lonely millionaire and heads out early Christmas morning to find presents for all his family. (The gifts kind of suck, but it’s the thought that counts.) When he comes back, he’s even wearing a Santa beard — and he’s got a group of carolers with him.

Scrooge score: 2/10. This is about as innocuous as Scroogery gets.

Oscar Madison, The Odd Couple (1970)

Humbug hallmarks: General grumpiness, due partially to an ulcer and his anniversary with his ex-wife (December 25); refusing to play Scrooge in Felix’s stage version of A Christmas Carol. How meta!

But after he’s visited by some ghosts… (played, naturally, by his poker buddies), Oscar decides to be in the play and stop being so grumpy. By next week, of course, he’s back to normal.

Scrooge score: 3/10. As Christmas crimes go, Oscar’s are mere misdemeanors.

Fred Sanford, Sanford & Son (1975)

Humbug hallmarks: Griping that there’s no money to spend on tree-trimming; refusing to get into the Christmas spirit; habitual misanthropy

But after he’s visited by some ghosts… Fred sees the error of his ways, pledges to be less stingy, and heads off to Aunt Esther’s party — where he even carves the Roast Beast sings “The Christmas Song.”

Scrooge score: 4/10. Sure, Fred is miserly and mean-spirited — but nevertheless, it’s impossible not to be charmed by Redd Foxx.

Oscar the Grouch, A Special Sesame Street Christmas (1978)

Humbug hallmarks: Giving Mr. Hopper and Maria a dirty old sneaker in lieu of a Christmas tree ornament; insulting Leslie Uggams; bringing a group of snow shovelers ice-cold lemonade instead of cocoa

But after he’s visited by some ghosts… nothing really happens, because Oscar’s just that grouchy. (Maybe the scheme would have worked if they’d been real ghosts instead of ’70s celebrities in goofy costumes.) Dick Smothers’ “Ghost” of Christmas Future does, however, leave Oscar an injured kitten named Tiny Tim — and the gift is enough to melt even Oscar’s garbage-encrusted heart.

Scrooge score: 4.5/10. Things can’t get too ugly on Sesame Street — though that Leslie Uggams burn was pretty mean. (“I just want to tell you, Miss Uggams, that I’ve never missed any of your shows…I never see any of your shows, so I never miss them!”) Note: Oscar stars as Scrooge again in a second Sesame Street Christmas Carol, released straight to DVD in 2006.

Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1998)

Humbug hallmarks: In the present, he’s Buffy’s brooding vampire-with-a-soul boyfriend — but in the past (and as recently as season 2), he was Angelus, one of history’s most creatively cruel and ruthless vampires. Just look at what he did to poor Drusilla.

But after he’s visited by some ghosts… Angel decides to commit suicide by sunrise. (Did I mention those “ghosts” are all of people he’s killed?) The twist: The ghosts are actually manifestations of The First Evil, an ancient force that’s trying to rid the world of Angel. And in the end, he’s saved by a freak snowfall, which blocks out the sun — allowing Angel to live on, even into his own spinoff.

Scrooge score: 5/10. Angelus, of course, was one bad guy — but who could ever label nobel Angel a Scrooge? Also, neither of them’s exactly a tightwad.

King Silvus, Xena: Warrior Princess (1996)

Humbug hallmarks: Banning Solstice celebrations — Christmas doesn’t exist yet — raising taxes, evicting orphans from their humble but loving home

But after he’s visited by some ghosts… the king decides to save the children and is reunited with his beloved wife, who — surprise! — has been running the orphanage since she left him 30 years previously.

Scrooge score: 7/10. Picking on destitute orphans is mustache-twirling territory.

Ebenezer Blackadder, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988)

Humbug hallmarks: None! This Victorian mustache shop owner (British comedy, amiright?) is gregarious and charitable to a fault — in fact, everyone in town regularly takes advantage of his generosity.

But after he’s visited by some ghosts… Blackadder realizes the error of his ways and decides it’s better to be a greedy, bitter curmudgeon. Ho-ho-humbug!

Scrooge score: 8/10, when all’s said and done. Key quote: “In fact, there is something in your stocking, Baldrick, something I made for you… It’s a fist. It’s for hitting people with. And the great thing is, you can use it again and again!”

Nicole Julian, Popular (1999)

Humbug hallmarks: Fierce, unapologetic, unrelenting bitchery; refusing to let gifted dancer Carmen on the cheerleading squad because Carmen’s not a size 2; suggesting that the squad steal UNICEF money for themselves; getting her science teacher Ms. Glass fired from her second job; actually stealing that UNICEF money and taking extra cash from a blind charity collector; literally saying “bah, humbug”

But after she’s visited by some ghosts… Nicole returns the stolen money and then some, gives presents to the rest of the show’s cast, tells Carmen she’s made the squad, and even gets Ms. Glass the gift that Ms. Glass was trying to save up for. (For some reason, Ms. Glass’s sister has always wanted a hairless cat. Popular was weird, guys.)

Scrooge score: 9/10 — especially considering how short-lived Nicole’s new niceness ends up lasting. Ryan Murphy giveth, and Ryan Murphy taketh away.

Frank Reynolds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2009)

Humbug hallmarks: Being one of the world’s five worst people; buying his kids’ dream Christmas presents for himself, then laughing at their disappointment; trying to kill his old business partner Eugene while Eugene is posing as a ghost

But after he’s visited by some “ghosts…” Frank still figures that his kids are only trying to teach him a lesson so that he’ll give them better gifts. Eventually, a near-death experience (and a claymation hallucination) lead to a change of heart, and he ends up throwing a nice Christmas fete for the gang. Aw! Naturally, everything shortly becomes a shambles anyway.

Scrooge score: 10/10, last-minute gesture of goodwill and all. Even Scrooge might think Frank’s a little over-the-top.

Episode Recaps

A Christmas Carol

  • Movie
  • 86 minutes