"The Christmas Party" is the Christmas episode of the short-lived sitcom, Phyllis, a spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that featured Mary Richards' friend, former neighbor, and landlady Phyllis Lindstrom now moved to San Francisco with her daughter Bess after the death of her never-seen husband, Lars. It was broadcast in the show's second and final season on December 27, 1976.
As the episode begins, a joyous Phyllis has just finished making Dan a sweater, which she shows to Audrey (the mother of her late husband Lars), who in her ditzy haze wonders if the sweater's virgin wool can be verified as to which sheep were or weren't. Audrey hates Christmas shopping, with so many people always on top of her; Phyllis laments that it reminds her of Lars. Audrey reveals that she and Jonathan (her current husband) are vacationing for the holidays, a choice between Hawaii and Mexico, which he will make a surprise. Coming home wearing a loud Hawaiin outfit, Jonathan has trouble on two levels - comprehending and preference - making it clear to Audrey where they are going. The episode leaves it somewhat up in the air. Mother Dexter, Jonathan's acid-tongued elderly mother, is also leaving, going back east to visit her mother, aged 104. The arrival of Bess home from college alleviates Phyllis' worry about spending the holidays alone. This is just as quickly dashed as Bess tells Phyllis she is going on a no-parents ski trip. Phyllis decides to make a Christmas event with her friends at the office.
Her co-workers tell her there usually is no Christmas party, but decide to hold one anyway. Office Manager Dan, citing too much work, automatically vetoes the idea without debate. Upset but afraid, Leonard confronts Dan, just as quickly backs down, but then finally argues Dan to a compromise, where the party will take place on Leonard's side of the office. Bad news for Phyllis is, Dan considers her to be on his side of the office, and citing civic responsibility (they work for the San Francisco Municipal Authority) and a project due, says they will work straight through the party.
The next day, Phyllis is literally inches from the festivities, all while assuring Dan it is no distraction to her. With Dan frequently coming out of his office to ask Phyllis questions, the party-goers resort to sneaking Phyllis vodka and snacks via a toy train set on the next desk. As Phyllis becomes tipsier she nonetheless maintains the facade of avoiding the party while keeping to all of Dan's requests, till it reaches an absurd level. Despite masterful timing for each of Dan's many comings and goings, Phyllis finally pushes her luck too far while leading a chorus of "Deck The Halls", prompting Dan to take her inside his office, where he castigates her for and expresses disappointment in her dishonesty. A disheartened Phyllis at first moves to leave but then makes a slightly vodka-and-whatever-else fueled rebuttal. While praising Dan's virtues, Phyllis accuses him of being so blindly devoted to his views of civic duty that, if called to Bethlehem that first Christmas, he would have told the angels he was working. Phyllis then polishes him off by handing him his gift before leaving, obviously somewhat fearful that she just got herself fired. Dan emerges from the office, smiling while wearing the extremely ill-fitting sweater and asking to join the party.
At home that evening, Phyllis talks to Bess, each missing the other, and Phyllis deciding to keep with their tradition and not open her presents until Christmas morning itself. Shutting off the lights before turning in, Phyllis turns around, turns them back on, and forwards the mantlepiece clock to 12:05 AM - technically Christmas morning, and wishes herself a Merry Christmas before starting on her gifts.
- On many television shows, especially older sitcoms, episode titles were not necessarily known of by the audience, often used as markers for the show's creative staff to recall prior episodes when needed. This is a possible reason for the episode's title, in this case, being so generic.
- Dan's deadline for his plot-driving report seems odd, as is his insistence on having it done on Christmas Eve. Similar to Bob Cratchit's argument against Ebenezer Scrooge's office remaining open on Christmas Day in A Christmas Carol, logic would presume that the vast majority of Dan's superiors would themselves be off or away for the holiday season, with most not even glancing at the report until well after the New Year. In the episode, nothing special about the report's nature is cited as to why it is so urgent, save for the deadline itself.