Shatner Claus: Dear God, Why?

Since I was supposed to write this article last year, but the album failed to drop in time for Shieldmas, I’m going to be very upfront with you: while I cannot confirm this, empirically speaking, what assorted experience I have had with Shatner Claus leads me to believe that listening to the entire album would destroy whatever mental faculties you somehow retain even once you decide to listen to it.

I imagine that most of you have some idea of who Bill Shatner is, but in case you don’t: he’s from Montreal, and he was, by all accounts, a decent stage actor who’d done a couple of film roles before he was chosen to be the id of Cold War America Captain James T(iberius) Kirk of USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), in which capacity he served for three years of television and several movies that have spawned some memes, and the rest, as they say, is T.J. Hooker.

There’s other stuff (he paid someone else to worked very hard to write a sci-fi series named TekWar), but ultimately, we’re here for William Shatner not as a writer, not even as an actor, but as a singer. That puts us up against a rather intractable problem:

William Shatner can’t sing.

Don’t believe me? Just watch:

What was your favorite part of that video? Was it the 1970s special effects? Was it that Shatner clearly never learned to stop acting for the cheap seats? Was it that he had so little self-awareness at this point that his complete seriousness is almost entertaining? Whichever one it was, I hope that gives you some clue, however scant, into what we’re dealing with.

To be fair, Bill Shatner does not take himself anywhere near that seriously anymore. You see, after the Star Trek movies, after T.J. Hooker, contemporaneously with TekWar, he started work on his memoirs, and reached out to his old Star Trek costars to see whether they would help him reminisce about the old days, maybe provide some testimonials about what a wonderful, funny, and handsome man he was. Unfortunately, Shatner’s colleagues remembered those times very differently, and told him so, in no uncertain terms, over and over again. (James Doohan, who played chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, and who refused to be interviewed for said memoirs: “I like Captain Kirk, but I sure don’t like Bill.”) That, Shatner says, led to him reevaluating what a gigantic jerk he had been to, well, nearly everyone he had worked with or for in the last four decades. As a result, William Shatner, who once wore lifts purely out of spite and complained about how much more fan mail Leonard Nimoy got than him, became William Shatner, who laughed at himself constantly and, in a true feat of acting, played a befuddled and out-of-touch old man for several years on Boston Legal.

Yes, yes, I know this is supposed to be about Shatner’s Christmas album and not the fact that, say, whoever runs his Twitter account is terrible and, I’m reliably informed, confusingly into anime, but here’s the thing: Shatner Claus is a perfect example of the New Shatner. It’s painfully unambitious from start to finish—the production is entirely prerecorded, karaoke-style, and it’s perhaps two ticks above the level of a garage band that can’t keep a lineup together longer than six months. The carol selection (now there’s a turn of phrase) is actually fairly skillful, insofar as it avoids sticking Shatner—who, again, can’t sing—with anything too difficult for his careworn pipes.

No, instead, what you get is Henry Rollins bringing so much misplaced energy into “Jingle Bells” that Shatner’s counterverses feel almost like you’re being anesthetized. You get a rendition of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” in which Shatner is trying to shove a poem written in anapests into the familiar iambic pentameter of his Shakespearean training. You get him stepping on a woman with an actual singing voice doing her best to belt “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” You get maybe 30 percent of Iggy Pop singing “Silent Night,” because why not? Who’s going to stop him? Half the time, you get Shatner deciding to ad-lib for an entire minute like the world’s pushiest Christmas party host.

By the third, or fifth, or seventh track, or however long you manage, the impression you get is of a man who knows that his audience expects him not to try, and just like in his acting days, Bill Shatner gives the audience exactly what they want.

I suppose there’s worse things in the world, really, than overproduced Christmas garbage from a man who knows we’re all laughing with him—wait, is that Feliz gosh-danged Navidad I’m hearing? Why does it have mariachi horns? Why is Shatner the one butchering Spanish when there’s an actual mariachi musician on there?

. . . you know what, I’ve suffered enough. I’m out. Happy holidays, enjoy whatever you celebrate, so long as you don’t listen to this album while doing it.