NBC knows you can’t have Christmas without Dolly Parton, so here’s Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas. This rehearsal of a live special within a scripted special is two hours of old-fashioned Dolly magic, presented by the queen herself alongside Jimmy Fallon, Miley Cyrus, Jimmie Allen, and the seasonal spirits of Willie Nelson, Zach Williams, and Billy Ray Cyrus. But can Dolly Parton still deliver the holiday goods, or has she plumb run out of magic?
DOLLY PARTON’S MOUNTAIN MAGIC CHRISTMAS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: It’s impossible to sum up Mountain Magic Christmas with mere words, for this spectacle is a vibe unto itself and a trailblazer of holiday special formats. The narrative involves Dolly getting the itch to put on a big Christmas special that will capture the magic of the mountain celebrations she had back when she was a kid. Unfortunately, the production team — led by Tom Everett Scott, who is playing a fictionalized version of the special’s actual producer, Sam Haskell — only has a few weeks to scratch this itch.
This leads us to the day of the live taping and one calamitous rehearsal, where set pieces fall from the sky and a choreographer who demands more, more, and more. It’s a mess and, like Charlie Brown before her, Dolly wonders if she’s lost the true meaning of Christmas in the midst of all this glitz and glam (and oh Lordy, there is a lot of glitz and glam). That’s when Dolly’s country music pals appear as ghosts (don’t worry — Billy and Willie and Zach are alive) to help guide Dolly back on track. Along the way, we still see “rehearsals” of the staged numbers with guests like Jimmy Fallon and Miley Cyrus (playing themselves), but those numbers aren’t really rehearsals but instead are the actual numbers performed to perfection for us, the real viewers. Does that make any sense? Listen: it’s Dolly, so it works.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: This special is like if Dolly Parton directed a RuPaul’s Drag Race acting challenge, but with all of Dolly’s unique magic and charm (as well as a big NBC budget behind it).
Performance Worth Watching: I’m sorry to all of the very talented guests and actors that help bring this special to life, but the performance worth watching belongs to Dolly Parton’s wardrobe. From a satin pajama set complete with satin bustier and heels to a green velvet leisure suit with hippie holly patterned blouse, Dolly’s serving more eleganza than a ball episode of Drag Race.
Memorable Dialogue: Dolly storming into the control room in a whole lot of look saying, “Whose big idea was this big ass hoop skirt?”
A Holiday Tradition: The special itself is a tradition. You can’t have Christmas without a new Dolly Parton special!
Two Turtle Doves: There’s nothing else like this on-air this season, so why not go back a little and rewatch Netflix’s Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square?
Does the Title Make Any Sense?: “Mountain magic” is said about as often as “Christmas” in this special, so they really nailed it.
Our Take: What can one say other than, “It’s Dolly”? While watching this special, you will find yourself wondering how this special exists, why it’s airing on NBC, and why it all somehow works despite its incredibly confusing premise. The answer to all of those questions is, of course, Dolly Parton. The entire special is a testament to Parton’s persuasive power — and the audience’s willingness and just flat-out love of being persuaded by her. Dolly Parton is quite possibly the only entertainer alive with the personal mythology to fill a two-hour holiday special every year (and also a theme park), and she definitely has a public persona beloved enough to make a major network say, “Yes, we will air a Jets vs. Sharks style musical showdown about a country singer and her choir gang sending Satan — yes, Satan — back to Hell.” Dolly can do no wrong — and I mean that in the best way possible, because so much of what Dolly is doing here is so right.
To take this review into op-ed territory: do the straight, Christian, and most likely conservative fans of Dolly Parton realize that what she is doing here, in this very special, in song after song about the birth of Christ, is drag? Every minute of this special is as camp as a special can get, from the omnipresence of rhinestones — even on her bathrobe! — to the hilariously obvious use of a stand-in dancer for all of Dolly’s dance numbers. There’s so much misinformation and misdirected hatred towards drag queens and the queer community right now that it just feels wild thinking — knowing! — that this special is the common ground. Dolly Parton is queer culture just as much as she’s country culture. That’s what this special, especially compared to all of her previous specials, conveys.
And what makes this special even more special is the fact that Dolly Parton knows exactly what she’s doing. She dedicates two whole numbers to essentially staring into the camera, into the eyes of everyone watching, and saying, “Love everyone for who they are.” One of those numbers, a standout performance of a tune titled “Be That” (as in “whoever you are, be that”) had me, a gay man from Tennessee who very much has complicated feelings about the church, bawling.
I’m sorry, but It’s impossible to be an impartial critic when you see one of the world’s biggest, most inter-generational and inter-denominational celebrities telling her entire audience to shape up during a Christmas special on the National Broadcasting Company — especially right now.
And to give you an idea of the tonal whiplash of this special, she urges her viewers to be true to themselves no matter what, then sings a soulful acoustic number asking if God is listening to her prayers — and then smashcut to Dolly in antlers and a jewel encrusted reindeer jumpsuit. Honey, that is drag.
This being a variety special, albeit one within a cheesy movie about making a variety special, some numbers are better than others — and your opinions on that will vary based on your tolerance of Jimmy Fallon or love of new country music. But the glue holding it all together is Dolly Parton and her wish for everyone to just get along. And such is the magic of Dolly, you kinda feel like everyone might listen to reason for once.
Our Call: STREAM IT, especially if you’re looking for something — anything — to entertain your whole family and hopefully spark some positive conversations.