Welcome back to our run down of Christmas TV as this second instalment looks at some of the also-ran shows that aired during the festive period, starting with two continuing series that debuted during the holiday fortnight.
The first of these is Last Tango in Halifax’s third series which reunited us with Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid) as well as their respective broods. I’ve been a fan of Last Tango since it first began and particularly liked the darker second series which explored the past of Gillian (Nicola Walker) in a lot more detail. With Last Tango’s writer Sally Wainwright busying herself with Happy Valley in 2014, I felt that she may not have enough time to wholly devote herself to a third series of this excellent family drama. These fears were compounded by the major story running throughout the first episode in which it was revealed that Alan had a secret son, Gary (Rupert Graves), who was the result of a brief affair Alan had conducted. The introduction of Gary to me felt like a way of just putting another obstacle in the way of the drama’s central couple’s happiness. However, after a lacklustre opener, Last Tango really kicked in in episode two as the emotional fallout from Gary’s arrival started to take its toll on Celia. Celia’s realisation that Alan wasn’t completely perfect left her reeling and as a result she decided not to attend the wedding of her daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) and her partner Kate (Nina Sosanya). This second episode completely restored my faith in Wainwright’s storytelling abilities and it’s clear that she knows her characters inside out, a fact witnessed by the icy way Caroline ejected Alan from her wedding.
Indeed, as somebody who has watched the series since it first started, I feel like I know these characters and therefore their reactions feel utterly genuine. That’s possibly why I initially rejected the introduction of Gary into the series, however episode two gave Rupert Graves the opportunity to flesh out the character a little more. But Last Tango in Halifax wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is if it were not for the drama’s four central performers. Last series I found that both Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid had taken somewhat of a backseat to their younger counterparts, however the opening episodes of series three have really put them back in the spotlight. Reid has been particularly good in bringing out the pricklier aspects of Celia’s character and in particular her truly feelings about Caroline’s sexuality. One of Reid’s strengths is her ability to convey her emotions through a couple of facial expressions that allow the audience to know exactly what she’s thinking. Though she’s not been as prominent a presence as she was in series two, Nicola Walker has still been magnificent and showed a skill for comic timing during a particularly memorable scene in episode two. But so far this series has belonged to the excellent Sarah Lancashire who, as Caroline, has presented her frustration with Celia in a believable manner. Lancashire portrays Caroline as a formidable yet vulnerable woman whose cool exterior has started to melt thanks to her relationship with Kate. Ultimately, after a shaky start, it’s great to have our Yorkshire friends back with us for a third series of Last Tango. Whilst I hope that Wainwright finds a way to reunite the characters once again, I feel that the actors are doing a great job of telling the writer’s brilliantly constructed story and I for one hope the series runs and runs.
The other returning series in this instalment sees us return to Torquay for a fourth series of Channel 4′s fly-on-the-wall documentary The Hotel. Although bumbling Mark Jenkins is still with us his beloved Grovesnor is no longer the hotel of the title and he himself is now a lowly member of staff at the family-run Cavendish Hotel. The premise of the programme is more than a little contrived and is essentially an advert for The Cavendish as well as a way for Mark to maintain the exposure he received during the most recent series. That being said Mark is a brilliant TV personality due to the fact that he doesn’t realise how ridiculous he actually is. From making the bar’s happy hour last all night to attempting to build Britain’s biggest scone, all of Mark’s ideas are in the right place even though he doesn’t think them through first. Now he’s not in charge of the hotel any more, his ideas have been scrutinised by everyone from bar manager Mike; who appears to have a genuine grudge with Mark, to the hotel’s owners themselves. One element of this new series I’m not a fan of is the fact that Mark’s former employee Alison keeps turning up, presumably as their chemistry was one of the best elements of the previous series. But Alison’s recurring turns make for some rather unrealistic moments especially when Mark decides to phone her late at night. What I do like about The Hotel is when it focuses on The Cavendish’s guests and most notably its focus on a single dad with very different twin boys. The fact that a hotel can welcome in all manner of guests means that it’s a prime location for any documentary crew and I find the production team have done well so far to find some interesting subjects. However, The Hotel is first and foremost about the brilliant Mark Jenkins who continues to be a wonderfully watchable presence as his hair brained schemes continue to be scrutinised by his sceptical colleagues.
Over the Christmas period we waved goodbye to two British sitcoms both of which finished with a wedding. Although not officially the final episode, the Christmas Special of Not Going Out felt like the end of the road especially as it featured Lee and Lucy’s wedding. As somebody who’s never really believed in the Lee and Lisa romance I was a little shocked when the couple got together at the end of the last series. However, upon watching this special, it seemed as if Mack wanted to his characters to live happily ever after which I feel was a nice little thought. But this being Not Going Out it was a long walk to the aisle for Lee, especially after his dad Frank turned up and again attempted to ruin his life. With Frank and Lee waking up in a police cell it was only a matter of time before things escalated which happened when Lucy’s dad Geoffrey also ended up behind bars. Mack’s farcical dialogue worked a treat as the audience quickly realised that Lee and Lucy’s wedding would yet be another of the central character’s cavalcade of cock-ups. Like with the final episode of Miranda, there were a few treats for fans of the show who have been watching since the very start. Firstly, after being absent for two series, Tim Vine returned just in time to act as a best man for his best friend Lee. The post-wedding sequence also featured a mini clip show as many of the sitcom’s more memorable characters turned up for Lee and Lucy’s wedding. If I were being picky I would’ve liked Miranda Hart to have made a brief cameo as Barbara the Cleaner but I’ll let her off as she seems to have had quite a busy Christmas. As much as I like Not Going Out I feel that this should be the final episode as watching Lee and Lucy together won’t be nearly as funny as watching them apart.
The other show that’s coming to an end can barely be described as a sitcom that being Ricky Gervais’ tragi-comedy Derek. I initially stuck up for Derek when it started but I just didn’t think that the programme had legs beyond the first series. My main issue isn’t with the character of Derek but rather with the fact that Gervais opted to play the simple-minded care home employee. Thankfully this final episode of Derek was carried by the brilliant supporting cast, most notably Kerry Godliman as care home manager Hannah. The special itself was based around Hannah’s wedding to Tom, an occasion that was lovingly crafted by Gervais. There were also some fine conclusions for the other characters most notably greasy Kev who revealed that he was still a virgin. Kev has been a character that I’ve never been a massive fan of but his speech at Hannah’s wedding was disgustingly beautiful. Derek also experienced personal growth himself as he embarked on an awkward romance that had a rather sweet conclusion. One thing this special proved is that Derek contains individual moments that work splendidly, such as Hannah finding happiness. It’s just that Derek isn’t put together incredibly well and I feel that Gervais has been stringing it out longer than necessary. One thing that I feel this episode needed was the return of Karl Pilkington whose role as the home’s handyman was one of the few highlights of the first series. As it was I don’t think many people will look back fondly at Derek and I feel that it will ultimately be seen as one of Gervais’ few misfires.
Talking of comedy one of the funniest experiences of this entire festive period was sitting down on Christmas night and watching two hours of Alan Carr: Chatty Man. It’s true to say that the comedian’s chat show can vary in terms of the guests he has on but for the most part this Christmas Special was utterly hilarious. It did help that I needed a pick up after that incredibly depressing Eastenders episode but I didn’t expect to laugh quite as much as I did. Carr was especially funny during a segment involving Gino d’acampo’s cooking lesson as he tried to make tiramasu. It was especially fun seeing Alan winding up Gino by mispronouncing the name of the dish and adding more and more alcohol to the dessert. Carr also seemed to be loving being in the presence of chat show royalty Terry Wogan who helped Alan host a very special Blankety Blank. Although the appearances of McBusted and Emma Willis were less memorable they still provided their fair share of entertainment. At the heart of the fun though is Carr who is just somebody who is able to go with the flow and not really care how much of a fool he makes out of himself. I feel that Channel 4 were wise when they locked the comic into a golden handcuffs deal as he is one of their most valuable assets. When I look back on Christmas 2014 I think Carr’s show will always stick in my mind but then again so will the repeat showing of Sharknado 2 that aired on SyFy shortly afterwards.
Next time we usher in the New Year with Broadchurch, The Undateables and Celebrity Big Brother