Bill Murray's shown multiple movie faces over the past 35 years, from the hell-raising man-child of "Stripes" to the rom-com lead of "Groundhog Day" to embodying Hunter S. Thompson and Franklin D. Roosevelt to becoming the shared understated muse of Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola.
But February's "Saturday Night Live" 40th anniversary celebration marked the return of the Bill Murray that launched his career: the committed, all-out sketch comedian with the in-on-the-joke wink. Murray revived Nick, his smarmy lounge singer, and belted the absurd "Love Theme From Jaws."
"Jaws, get away from me... won't you leave me as I am?" Murray bellowed as Paul Shaffer pounded the piano.
We'll gladly take Nick as he is, and just maybe a touch of him will be back as Murray sings again Friday on Netflix’s "A Very Murray Christmas." The special, judging from clips, promises to lampoon old-school variety holiday shows with a mix of the old-school "SNL" approach and Murray's long-evolving quirky, meta style.
When he started on "SNL" in its second season, Murray joined a creative team filled with members of the first generation to grow up with television – and to never grow tired of parodying its conventions, even if deep down they loved the medium. From Nick to his Hollywood gossiper persona who lavished faux affection on celebrity "knuckleheads," Murray began conjuring the aura of irony that would characterize his eclectic career.
He extended his comedy brand beginning with "Meatballs," but quickly displayed deeper ambitions. Starting with his dramatic turn in "The Razor’s Edge," he set out to bust expectations along with ghosts.
We'd see flashes of the old silly-smart "SNL" Bill Murray mostly during bits with David Letterman, who made him his first and last guests over a three-decade-plus span. Murray famously got "Physical" on the 1982 debut of "Late Night" and popped out of a cake as "Late Show" bid viewers farewell in May.
Letterman didn't make it to "A Very Murray Christmas," but Shaffer will be there – along with George Clooney, Miley Cyrus and "SNL" alums Amy Poehler, Chris Rock and Maya Rudolph, among others. Coppola directed the hour-long film, which sets Murray in the snowbound Carlyle hotel on the night of what was to have been his live TV cabaret holiday special. Murray is forced to do what he does best: he wings it.
Like every other day of the year, Bill Murray spends Christmas on his own terms. Check out a preview (above) of "A Very Murray Christmas" as he brings his offbeat cool to the winter holiday season.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.