The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown (2 stars)

Dawn French as The Vicar of Dibley

Dawn French as The Vicar of Dibley

A lame lockdown return of Dawn French's amiable parish priest

The epitome of mainstream BBC comedy, The Vicar Of Dibley brought Dawn French to a substantially bigger audience than anything reached by her work in the Comic Strip or with her pal Jennifer Saunders. But whether she's wearing short trousers, a fatsuit or dog-collar, French's comedy shtick has remained solid in its determination to be chummily accessible.

In a series of three lockdown mini-sermons, she slips effortlessly back into the role of Geraldine Granger, skipping through this god-awful year with messages of hope featuring a string of groanworthy jokes (her recollection of the nation offering a clap for carers is punctuated with a lame double entendre) and painfully predictable set-ups (preaching patience and virtue, she is openly hostile to someone persistently ringing her doorbell). Of course, we can blame much of this on writers Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer whose commercial tendencies haven't always resulted in such poor material.

In the second episode, things get a little more serious as they tackle personal grief, striking just the right note on providing memories of Emma Chambers who played the ditzy Alice Tinker, and who died suddenly two years ago, French faltering briefly and genuinely at her co-star's passing. They fare less well with a clumsy tribute to Black Lives Matter with Geraldine attempting to nail the All Lives Matter brigade before taking the knee. How close Curtis and Mayhew-Archer came to sticking in a ripped-trousers punchline is a matter for speculation, but given their character's continued obsession with cakes, biscuits and chocolate, it must have been a sore temptation. Perhaps the only saving grace of this lockdown triple-bill is that as far as festive fare goes, The Vicar Of Dibley will never scrape the same cringeworthy barrel as Mrs Brown's Boys.

BBC One, Monday 7 December, 8.50pm. Watch on BBC iPlayer.

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