Last Christmas, Apple TV+ made an important play for the hearts and minds of viewers: It gave Mariah Carey a Christmas special. This year, amidst a host of new original Christmas programs, Apple TV+ brings her back to sprinkle more of her magic on the holiday season.
Mariah’s Christmas: The Magic Continues is a short but definitely stream-worthy follow-up to last year’s charmingly chintzy special. Honestly, can anyone get enough Mariah?
Mariah’s Christmas: The Magic Continues Review
The “Queen of Christmas,” as Apple Music 1 host Zane Lowe calls her in this brand-new show, is back. Last year, Carey’s Christmas special delivered tacky cameos from a host of showbiz types ranging from Billy Eichner and Jennifer Hudson to Ariana Grande. It was fun and exactly the kind of updated ’70s special you’d expect from co-director Roman Coppola, who lives and dies by his aggressive production design. Think the Star Wars Holiday Special or The Paul Lynde Halloween Special.
Mariah’s Christmas: The Magic Continues is and isn’t a continuation of last year’s special. It comes in at only about 20 minutes long and features just two songs: a new one and a version of Carey’s classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
The new song isn’t terribly interesting, though it’d be tough for anyone to follow “All I Want.” (It’s one of the only Christmas songs written in my lifetime that’s entered hard rotation during the holiday season.) Unfortunately this new one, featuring Kirk Franklin and his choir and singer Khalid, sounds like a hodgepodge of styles and ideas. It starts like a lounge number and ends like a gospel-tinged R&B torch song straight out of 1996. It’s fine but nothing special.
She’s the queen of Apple TV+ holiday specials
Mariah’s Christmas: The Magic Continues opens with the new number, then segues into DJ Lowe’s 10-minute interview with Carey. This is the reason to watch. Lowe is here to do a puff interview, but Carey has other ideas. She goes on bizarre tangents about how the film crew wouldn’t let her bring her dogs to set and how she’s sick of touring.
Lowe tries to put a good face on every random utterance, making it seem like the interview is going great, but he’s just no match for a half-unguarded Carey, cantilevered into a glittery dress. It must be seen. Then Mariah’s kids Moroccan and Monroe (Roc and Roe, get it?) show up and talk about how much they love Christmas.
Apple TV+ offers a number of holiday episodes this year, on kids shows like Get Rolling With Otis and Stillwater as well as as Peanuts special titled Auld Lang Syne. None of them, including this one, screened in advance for the press.
This is to a degree understandable: How much press can this stuff actually kick up? But I mean, it’s Mariah Carey — the Christmas special can’t have been inexpensive to produce, even if it lasts a shorter amount of time than it takes to microwave Thanksgiving leftovers.
An unusual choice for director
Joseph Kahn directs this year’s special, which makes me laugh a little. Kahn is one of the more prolific music video directors by day and a maker of hyper-masculine genre flicks by night. His IMDb top credits include battle rap comedy-drama Bodied, hyper-violent dystopian satire Detention and Torque, his middle finger to the Fast & Furious movies about vengeful motorcycle gangs. So basically, the most expressionistically masculine body of work possible.
Kahn is a talented image-maker (you don’t rack up that many music videos without a first-rate visual sense). However, his sense of humor always prevents his fiction from fully working for me. His films are too back-slappingly self-conscious. Thus it’s a little funny that he’s corralling Mariah Carey’s children for a Christmas special.
His touch is felt most keenly in the editing. Whereas Coppola and Hamish Hamilton kept the camera way back last year, in keeping with the old TV format of holiday specials, Kahn edits like crazy and keeps his camera twirling around the performers. He goes so far as to put individual cameras on the instruments Carey’s band members play.
It’s a bit much, but I get that he’s trying to breathe a little life into an old format that wasn’t cutting-edge when it was new. Not sure that you can really fix this genre but his attempt is appreciated, even if I like the tackiness he’s unsuccessfully trying to do away with. Still, holiday specials are meant to be the kind of thing you can’t look away from. Mission accomplished.
Watch Mariah’s Christmas: The Magic Continues on Apple TV+
Mariah’s Christmas: The Magic Continues premiered December 3, 2021, on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On The Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.