Of course it’s that time of year again and thankfully I have all of your Christmas TV all wrapped up.
And we start off with BBC1′s big Christmas hitter and that would be the annual Doctor Who episode. The fifth of the specials this was historic in a number of ways. It was the first non-David Tennant Christmas Special of the modern era it was also the first to feature a Doctor who was still paired with a regular companion coming into the special. Not that Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond featured that much as she was on a intergalactic cruiser with new husband Rory which is about to crash on a planet populated by the miserly Michael Gambon who refuses to help the situation by changing the control of the clouds and The Doctor’s job is essentially to convince Gambon’s Kazran Sardick to change his ways. As you’ve probably guessed this is essentially the story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol albeit featuring The Doctor changing the past by befriending young Kazran and making him different from his horrible father who also, like Scrooge, is a debt collector but his collateral is keeping the family members of the people who owe money in large glass containers. Katherine Jenkins is in one of these containers and just happens to have a voice which can control the sharks that swim around the sky and every year at Christmas The Doctor and Kazran let Jenkins out to have one day of fun. Obviously a romance builds between Jenkins and Kazran but he realises it can’t continue after it is revealed that Jenkins’ character has only one more day left to live. After last year’s Doctor Who special which was very serious indeed and was building up to the final appearance of Tennant’s Doctor it was nice to have something a bit more cosy and Christmassy. Michael Gambon’s involvement added a little bit of gravitas to proceedings and it’s startling to find out that he hasn’t played the character of Scrooge in an original Dickensian tale. Jenkins was also used in a way that showed of her assets i.e. her singing voice and kept her acting to a minimum. While the story didn’t really stay with me as much previous specials I think it was good to have something that you could sort of relax watching and it kind of suited Matt Smith’s Doctor that this was lighter in tone. Overall a success but I would’ve liked to see a little plot teaser of what’s maybe to come in the 2011 series.
Also back for what seems like another annual tradition is The Royle Family’s Christmas Special which, after last year’s sojourn to a caravan, returns exclusively to Jim and Barbara’s house as the family celebrate Christmas. After a small appearance in last year’s special it was nice to see Ralf Little back full time as Anthony and with pregnant girlfriend Saskia in toe. We also had a bit more plot than in previous years as Joe and Cheryl were about to move from next door following Mary’s death however Mary was still present this time in an urn that Joe bought with him to the Christmas meal. Anthony was also to propose to Saskia a secret which he told everyone and one that inevitably escaped before Anthony had a chance to pop the question. But it was Ricky Tomlinson who monopolised proceedings as he injured one and then both of his toes and got Dave and Anthony to carry him around all day. I feel that it’s always nice to have The Royles around at Christmas as it makes me feel all cosy and warm and this was certainly the best of the three Christmas specials that Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne have presented because it goes back to the core of what The Royle Family was all about, that being the family unit. The one problem I have with the specials is that at an hour long there seems to be a bit of filling in the gaps, if it were slimmed down to say about 45 minutes it would be a lot slicker and some of the jokes that didn’t really work would’ve been binned. I also felt there was enough build-up here for a possible return to a series even if it were only three or four episodes long it would still be nice to have The Royles back and also to have Jim berating the current crop of rubbish T.V. shows. And it would also be good to see Anthony’s wedding day as we were told constantly 2011 will see two Royle weddings in one year.
Preceding both The Royle Family and Doctor Who was Ronnie Corbett sort of celebrating his 80th Birthday by revisiting some of the more famous Two Ronnies sketches in The One Ronnie. However this wasn’t Ronnie Corbett playing both roles instead he was joined by a plethora of modern comic talent while the jokes themselves had been updated to fit a 21st Century Sketch show. A case in point was the opening presentation of the classic shopkeeper sketch featuring fork handles and the like. This time Harry Enfield played the Greengrocer to Ronnie Corbett’s customer who’d come into the store to complain about his apple not working. It really made you think about how much of today’s technology is based on names of fruit and vegetables or sound a bit like grocery items with the Eggs Box 360 being my personal favourite. Other sketches featured Catherine Tate in the famous scene in which a bar worker interrupts Corbett before he is able to finish his sentence while James Corden did what Ronnie Barker was famous with a sketch in which he listed a load of different items this time being a lot of suspiciously named band members. Matt Lucas and David Walliams were the other comics who featured heavily in the show being present in at least half a dozen sketches some of which worked (Walliams’ superhero confronting Corbett’s aging sidekick) and some of which that didn’t namely a spoof of daytime quiz shows which just wasn’t as good as Mitchell and Webb’s Numberwang. But thankfully there were more hits than misses and the show also featured a nice monologue from Corbett in fact the only thing that felt out of place was a random appearance by Charlotte Church who came on to sing her latest hit I much preferred the final song featuring all the male cast members in drag. A nice treat to start the night of Christmas T.V., The One Ronnie was a nice mixture of nostalgia and modern comic sketch show and worked quite nicely.
The final of the Christmas specials differs drastically from those have come before as it is the festive edition of one my favourite Guilty Pleasure shows from 2010 – The Only Way is Essex. Given the horribly complicated-to-pronounce title of The Only Way is Essexmas it basically picked up where the series finale left off that being with announcer Denise Van Outen’s question will Lauren go to Dubai? And will Mark be kissing Lauren, Lucy or Sam under the mistletoe? In fact it tuned out Lauren didn’t go to Dubai but Mark didn’t split up with Lucy at the end of the series but instead left it until the Christmas special after Lucy got fed up with Mark and Lauren’s shenanigans. But the plot thickened as it turned out that Mark and Sam had been having secret liaisons which Lauren found out about and also dumped Mark leaving Mark and Sam to leave the Essex Christmas do together. The other storylines saw Lola try and replace one of their members who dropped out and Arg try and win round Lydia by spending less time with Mark and buying her loads of Christmas presents including a pig. As all the stories seemed to revolve around Mark there was little for the rest to do Amy and Harry basically reacted to Sam’s news and Kirk was cut out completely and has since left the show. But what we all wanted to know was what Nanny Pat used to stuff the turkey? The answer was lemons. In fact since becoming the cult favourite on the show Nanny Pat’s profile has been raised and she featured on the panel judging who would became the new member of Lola and was even present at the Christmas party in a nice Christmas Tree costume. I know a lot of you won’t have a clue what the hell I’m banging on about but The Only Way is Essex is one of those shows that sort of hooks you in even though you realise that all these two-timing bastards and dolly birds with horrible plastic surgery don’t really deserve your time and attention you can’t help but love it every time camp Harry tells someone to shut up or when Nanny Pat regales us with one of the tales from her youth. There’s a new series coming in 2011 and I urge all of you to watch one episode and see if you’re not addicted after that.
As well as all the specials the Christmas period also seems to have focused on nostalgia by looking back at periods in recent history and also by reviving various brands. The show that falls into the latter category is Upstairs Downstairs which originally aired between 1971 and 1975, 35 years after it finished it returned over three nights in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The programme was co-created by actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins the former appearing as Rose the Chamber Maid but the latter having to opt out after theatre commitments stood in the way. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of Upstairs Downstairs it focused on both the inhabitants and servants at 165 Eton Place a large fancy house in London. We return to Eton Place in 1936, with Rose now working as the head of an agency which helps the upper classes employ servants and so when the new inhabitants of Eton Place Sir Hallam Holland and his wife Lady Agnes need servants they come to her. Surprisingly Rose quickly moves in and head of household with Anne Reid as the Chef, Adrian ‘Pete from Gavin and Stacey’ Scarborough as the head butler and Newt from Hollyoaks as the Johnny the footman. Atkins also finally stars in her creation as Hallam’s mother Lady Maud who grabs all the best lines and also brings along a fake-bearded Art Malik and a monkey. The plot revolves around Hallam and Agnes having to deal with being the owners of Eton Place and dealing with servants as well as the historical aspects of the era namely the abdication of Edward VIII and the growing threat of the Nazi Party. The main problem with Upstairs Downstairs, and it’s through no fault of its own, is that it suffers from being shown shortly after the magnificent Downton Abbey has finished airing. That had much more structure and plotting to it and also seemed a lot more formal whereas in Upstairs Downstairs the barrier between the Upstairs and Downstairs seems a little bit more flimsy than in Julian Fellowes’ creation. Also there didn’t seem to be a lot going in terms of characterisation and a lot of the servants were very one-dimensional indeed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the programme and I think if it had been given a little longer to develop it would’ve been a lot better instead of having three episodes squashed together maybe the BBC will realise this and given Atkins and Marsh a bit of a chance to develop their ideas in 2011.
Skipping forward a few decades we find Toast, the dramatisation of Nigel Slater’s memoirs of growing up in the 1960s and beyond and discovering both his love of cookery and his sexuality. Set initially in Wolverhampton it saw the young Nigel growing up with two parents who had very little in the way of culinary skill preferring instead to serve up Fray Bentos pies or the toast of the title. Sadly Nigel’s mother dies when he is quite young and his father, played by Ken Stott, installs Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs Potter as the new housekeeper. Although Mr. Slater’s attraction to Mrs. Potter is obviously a physical won he also won over with her cookery skills, Nigel never warms to Mrs. Potter however has he sees her as beneath the family. As expected Mrs. Potter soon becomes Mrs. Slater and the new family move to the middle of nowhere. Several years later Nigel starts to learn home economics and begins a war with his new stepmother of who can impress his father with their food. Around this time Nigel also starts working at a local pub and develops a crush on the son of the pub’s owner who encourages him to follow his dream which he does eventually by leaving home once his father dies and journeying to The Savoy where the real Nigel Slater playing the Head Chef gives him a job. Toast fit ideally into the post-Christmas pre-New Year’s slot – a healthy dose of nostalgia focused on a few of the negative aspects of the 1960s as well as the positives. This was also a very well put-together coming of age story as Nigel discovers his love of food as well as who he is as a person. The acting was also superb, Oscar Kennedy who played the younger of the two Nigels led the cast for the majority of the programme and was excellent as was Freddie Highmore, in his first mature role, playing the older Nigel. Ken Stott as Mr. Slater portrayed a multi-layered character who on the outside seemed quite rough but also had some tender moments with his son like when he is presented with a burnt fish but still compliments his son on going to the effort. But it is Carter who steals the show as Mrs. Potter a somewhat selfish and insecure woman who pulls no punches but again displays vulnerability towards the end of the programme. Warm and filling, Toast was a slice of life that was well worth digesting (okay awful puns over).
And again we jump to the 1980s for another filmed biography this time looking at the relationship between Bob Geldof and Harvey Goldsmith between the winter of 1984 and summer of 1985 as they staged Band Aid. For a 90 minute programme, When Harvey Met Bob was very flimsily plotted with its basic premise being that Bob Geldof was quite flighty and lied heavily about the acts that were booked on both sides of the Atlantic and also about the T.V. deal that they had booked. As well as following Geldof and Golsmith’s relationship and story it also looked at Geldof’s relationship with his much harangued assistant played by Lead Balloon’s Antonia Campbell-Hughes who spent most of the time looking tired and running about a bit. While the build-up was okay the best part of When Harvey Met Bob was the last 20 minutes or so that looked at the Live Aid event itself and in particular the final moments where Paul McCartney sung Hey Jude, his mic went out and the crowd sung it for him. Unlike Toast there really didn’t seem to be a clear structure to When Harvey Met Bob and a lot of it was Geldof and Goldsmith on the phones or in meetings with various executives as well as Geldof trying to convince McCartney to play in an odd scene set in Macca’s garden which I’m sure didn’t actually happen. One thing the show did have going for it was two really good performances from its male leads. Ian Hart, although he doesn’t look anything like him, made for a good Harvey Goldsmith playing him as a man with a professional reputation to uphold and who grew tired of Geldof’s antics. But it was the relatively unknown Domhnall Gleeson who made the programme what it was playing Geldof as passionate and wild-eyed with a real enthusiasm for what he was doing to the point of lying his ass off. Overall the show was a bit of an oddity, while I enjoyed it, I found it incredibly slight and felt it didn’t really fit in with the Christmas broadcast and may’ve been better off placed in a January slot where there’s not a lot of drama available.
And finally we come to the only programme this week which started over Christmas but will be continuing well into 2011 and that is Matt Lucas and David Walliams’ new creation Come Fly With Me. Once again they are playing a cornucopia of oddities but instead of being scattered across the country they are all contained in one airport. Come Fly With Me spoofs docu-soaps such as Airline and Airport but both of those programmes had their heyday in the late 1990s/early 200s the spoof is slightly delayed. While it would take about a day to list all the characters that Lucas and Walliams portray some of them are more prominent than others. For example there are Simon and Jackie, Britain’s first husband and wife pilot team who came to be after Simon cheated on Jackie and then rather than leave him Jackie re-trained as a pilot to keep an eye on him. Elsewhere there is ground-crew member Taaj, the two Scouse check-in girls and the Fly-Lo owner Omar Baba a character who was obviously based on Easy Jet owner Stelios. Come Fly With Me is a mixed bag, one thing I like about it is that it doesn’t really rely on catchphrases and some of the characters don’t appear in every episode. But like Little Britain there are still some one note characters for example the Immigration Officer who is really bad at his job or the Coffee Stand worker who always ‘runs out’ of supplys so she can go and play on the jackpot machines with the petty cash. Some of the characters are better observed for example Taaj is a very funny character and has a lot of potential as do the two rival check-in workers. At the moment I’m finding that Come Fly With Me is an improvement on Little Britian or certainly the show’s final series in which it just relied too heavily on toilet humour. As long as Lucas and Walliams can keep their laughs light and the flow of the episodes quick then there is a good chance that this might be one of the T.V. highlights of 2011.
What did you think of the Christmas offerings? Leave a comment below
Next Week: The Magicians, Zen and Eric and Ernie