Ghosts (4 stars)

Ghosts

Seasonal delight from a warm cast of ghouls and their mortal housemates

A BBC sitcom that is adored by critics and audiences alike has been quite the lesser-spotted beast in recent years. But Ghosts, the current darling of us all, receives another established seal of televisual approval by being granted a festive special.

The ghoulish gang of Button Hall, plus its mortal owners Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe), get another half hour to charm our socks off, and happily they do little to tarnish a reputation as 2020's top sitcom. With its method of drip-feeding us the usually sad backstories of Button Hall's dead residents (often featuring recollections of the actual moment they were dragged off this mortal coil), there is still plenty raw material there for its team of writers (a rotating squad from within the cast, all of whom were buddies on Horrible Histories) to get stuck into for years to come.

The focus of this Christmas episode gazes upon Tory backbench MP Julian Fawcett (Simon Farnaby) as we perhaps inch closer to the reason behind his trouserless existence in the afterlife. His family-neglecting ways come into sharp focus when Mike's parents and siblings descend upon the baronial pile for Christmas dinner, bringing with them a tiny bundle of joy and the real meaning of the season (Mike takes it a stage further by unwittingly doing his best Grinch/Scrooge impersonation, to be recorded for posterity by his phone-camera wielding sisters).

The comedy is subtle (one viewing of Ghosts is never really enough to catch it all), with the writers possessing an uncanny ability at gently stirring our emotions while never dipping into the over-sentimental. This time, a carol at the grand piano and a man recognising that he should have been a better person while he had the chance are enough to set most heartstrings off into vibrate mode.

BBC One, Wednesday 23 December, 8.30pm. Also available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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