Normally, I am not a Christmas person in the manner of which many people decidedly are. This year is unusual, though: Festivity feels imperative, and while I am likely a big old bitch for 11 months out of the year, December feels like a nice time to let love in. I erected a small but mighty fake Christmas tree and take pleasure in watching the reflection of the lights against my TV. I fell asleep on the sofa while a fir-scented candle was burning on the coffee table. I am considering making cookies and sending them to people I love but have not seen in months. Much like the television ads and press conferences have been saying, this is not normal. But I am making do the best I can.
I caught a few minutes of the Boris Karloff-narrated original, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, on TV recently, and was soothed by pleasant memories of childhood. I couldn’t bring myself to rewatch the 2000 live-action version starring Jim Carrey because I really do not like the live-action Grinch. One day I watched the animated version from 2018 starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It scratched the cozy nostalgia itch, and relaxed me much like a weighted blanket, mostly because I turned the thing on when I was a tad too high and needed something simple.
Here are the things the Grinch and I have in common: we live alone, we have pets that we prioritize over everything, and both could be reasonably described as “not very nice.” This is why I am drawn to him, but this is also why I reject the holiday season: the Grinch’s presence causes me to take stock of the grinch within and see if I want to change it up. Last year, a grinch-adjacent fictional character, Baby Yoda, forced me to confront my own vulnerability. This year, I will concede to the pandemic’s influence and allow my heart to grow 10 times its size for the month of December and see if it shrinks back to its wizened self once the New Year rolls around. The first act of my newfound generosity of spirit was to watch the live-action musical, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical!, starring Matthew Morrison.
Network television’s insistence on creating television “events” results, more often than not, in disaster. My secret, shameful love of musicals and the fleeting feeling that I’m “missing out” on what could be a watershed cultural moment draws me to tune in to these nightmares, but I had not been planning on watching the Grinch because I have better things to do with my time and also, I do not care for Matthew Morrison. He is familiar to me only for his time as Mr. Schue on Glee, a ramen-noodle-haired, over-eager puppy dog of a man whose smarm ruined whatever small pleasure I derived from that program. I understand that this is one of the only traits I share with Gen Z. The kids are all right. But when I heard that Morrison would be donning the slime-green furry suit of the Grinch and letting a makeup artist give him Kris Jenner face all so that he could sing and dance on national television, I ate the biggest chunk of weed I felt I could for a school night and settled in for what I assumed would be hell.
The story was generally the same, but the narrator in this version is an old version of Max, the Grinch’s dog, played with a sly glee by Denis O’Hare; nice that he’s getting a check! It is difficult to find fault with anyone’s decision to participate in this spectacle, as there are thousands of Broadway actors who have been out of work since March with no end in sight. Everyone, even Morrison, gets a pass for this one. Let me be clear: this Grinch musical was not good. But at times, it was at least interesting.
Aesthetically, the Seuss vibes were relatively high. The set looked like the illustrations in the book and the Whos of Whoville still have Kris Jenner’s face—the tip of the nose a ski jump, the bridge, too pinched. The costumes were colorful and bright and the children’s faces, covered in freckles. Everything was copacetic until Matthew Morrison broke the fourth wall, leaned close to the camera, and hissed, “I hate your couch.” My couch has its issues but who among us does not have an issue with some shit in their house right now? I don’t need the Grinch’s opinion on the matter, but the fact that he deigned to offer it in the first place has put me off. This is precisely how the Grinch is supposed to make me feel; the shtick is working. Could it be that Matthew Morrison is actually good? The year is strange enough and my heart can only take so much. Soon after this thought occurs to me, I take it back; after watching him ‘roid rage around his lair after a bad-faith reading of a banner written by children, I think that Matthew Morrison’s interpretation lacks the bizarre quality of Jim Carrey which is necessary to this character. His Grinch is just terrible, with an extremely short fuse and a menacing quality to his movements that I find discomfiting and rather inappropriate. Unrelatedly, I’m happy that I’m very high.
“I kept my social distance before it was cool,” says Matthew Morrison, before launching into his big number, “One of a Kind,” a song celebrating everyone for the special snowflake that they are. It’s like a less-visceral “Rose’s Turn” with Fosse-adjacent choreography. If that sounds appealing to you, I do not want to yuck your yum. I cannot say the same for myself. Not to body-shame the Grinch, but he’s shaped like a bowling pin, with a big fat ass. The Grinch’s ass is so fat that he gets stuck in the fireplace while breaking and entering. Every person who slips on a Grinch costume also inherits a donk. Morrison revels in the grinch’s voluptuous proportions in a way that I’d rather not think about. During “One of a Kind,” he air-humps his reflection with a vigor that sets that ass a-jiggle. I fear that image will live with me for some time.
The OG Grinch is not sexual, but it feels necessary to note that the internet is responsible for things like this photoset of a sexy grinch, featuring a cheeky individual spreading it wide for the camera while dressed in a fursuit the color of over-boiled asparagus. Kylie Jenner released a Grinch-themed makeup collection in November, announcing the drop via a photo of herself dressed in Grinch by way of Fashion Nova, sitting on a throne of Grinch-skin, wearing a sparkly green suit and clutching her thighs with matching stiletto nails. Matthew Morrison’s interpretation of the Grinch will probably fuel sensual fantasies in some dark corner of the internet for years to come, another entry in the canon. I hate to think about it, and so, I won’t.
What was most striking about the experience is that watching the show felt like the familiar slog of watching an awards show—frequent commercial breaks that were a relief instead of a nuisance, time moving both faster and slower than it should. Forty-five minutes in, and I had only been assaulted with Morrison’s noxious presence for about half that time. A Christmas miracle. Blessedly, I felt the unique boredom that comes from watching something obligatory and dreadfully dull, a neutral sensation made slightly more bearable by the original songs, most of which were very bad. But about halfway through this thing, I started paying attention only some of the time, looking up if I heard Morrison’s dulcet tones, and never loving what it is that I saw. The climax of the musical, the Grinch’s emotional breakthrough on the top of the mountain, dragging a bag of stolen presents on a sleigh lacked the oomph of the animated version. I knew that this was the time I should start to feel tears building behind my eyes. The villain was becoming the hero; he was finding and feeling his heart. I tried to feel something but simply gave up. Fifteen minutes later, I watched the grim spectacle of the cast doing curtain calls to an empty studio. Just like everyone else, they were making the best of it.