Review: Mariah Carey keeps Christmas spirit alive in Apple TV special

Mimi spreads holiday cheer and is joined by Ariana Grande, Tiffany Haddish and more

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Only a Scrooge would say something bad about "Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special," the Queen of Christmas' new Apple TV+ celebration of the season she holds most dear. 

The 44-minute musical ode to the magic of Christmas gives the holliest, jolliest diva of all a chance to parade around in a series of low-cut, cleavage-baring dresses while singing Christmas carols as wind machines blow her hair just so and her glittery eye shadow sparkles underneath the North Star. You were expecting less? It's all right there in the title, dah-ling. You want a Mariah Christmas, here's a Mariah Christmas, delivered to your streaming device as if dropped off by Santa himself.

Mariah Carey in "Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special."

Directed by Hamish Hamilton and Roman Coppola and filmed this year under strict COVID-19 protocols, "MCMCS" would likely have been a much more grand festival of joviality had 2020 not delivered a lump of coal to the world. Here the scaling back is apparent, as Mariah delivers a handful of songs against mostly digital backdrops as dancers twist and twirl around her from a safe social distance. Everyone does their best to smile through the awkwardness, but there's a palpable sense that something is ever so slightly off throughout the duration of the program. 

The elephant in the room is hinted at but never addressed by name. Narrator Tiffany Haddish makes an early reference to "the rough year" the people of Earth have endured, and the very loose plot, as it were, revolves around Mariah doing her best to ensure that Christmas continues even during the global bummer.

She's aided by Billy Eichner, who plays an elf who summons her to the North Pole for a Christmas emergency. It seems spirits are low and it's up to our seasonal savior to spread some joy to the world, or something. It's not the tightest script that's ever been penned, but it gets Mariah to ride on a sleigh, visit a toy factory and sing her No. 1 hit "All I Want for Christmas Is You" in the middle of the North Pole's town square. This is no time to worry about things like coherence and continuity. 

A handful of famous friends drop by: Jennifer Hudson and Ariana Grande join Mariah to sing runs on a new version of "Oh Santa," Snoop Dogg and Jermaine Dupri aid her on a version of "Here Comes Santa Claus" and even the Peanuts gang makes an animated cameo where they sing "All I Want for Christmas is You." 

It's all wholesome and kid-friendly, an ode to Christmas specials of yore and delivered with a knowing wink and a nod. There are references to Mariah's memoir, "The Meaning of Mariah Carey," which arrived this year (and makes a great stocking stuffer!), as well as to her reputation for being high maintenance.

"Mariah Carey, you are a very difficult woman to keep track of," Eichner frets, after Mariah wanders off into a snow-covered meadow to sing a solo rendition of "Christmas Time is in the Air Again," which is the most on-brand thing she could do. "It's called elusive, dah-ling," Mariah snaps back, self-referential and in her element. Even in a pandemic, nothing's going to kill her Christmas spirit, or the essence of what makes her Mariah Carey.


'Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special'


Running time: 44 minutes

On Apple TV+