Remote Control: Drama & Comedy Reviews

Brian Donaldson finds some spoof-happy comedies and costume-loving dramas

There’s a moment in the Extras finale when Andy Millman shows his disgust that George Michael is appearing in a certain other Christmas comedy. It initially sounds like a joke for its own sake, but you’ll discover it’s based on hard fact when you tune in to The Catherine Tate Christmas Show (BBC1, Tue 25 Dec, 10.30pm). There he is in his pyjamas doing a duet with Tate’s daft Oirish nurse at the hospital karaoke while an added treat arrives in the shape of Philip Glenister, aka DCI Gene Hunt, wielding his impressive truncheon (oh come on, it’s panto season is it not?) during a Life on Mars tribute. And then there’s Kathy Burke as the daughter of the latex granny who show each other love only to reveal profane contempt when their backs are turned. Now I’m as sick and tired of ‘am I bovvered’ as much as you are, but there’s an irresistible poignancy here when we bid farewell to Lauren Cooper.

Nigel from EastEnders attempts to say ta ta to life in Holby City (BBC1, Wed 26 Dec, 9pm), not a programme that would normally be given a second thought on these pages. But as they’ve gone and done a rather neat take on It’s a Wonderful Life, there’s no harm in coming over all seasonal with this hospital sub-drama. The guardian angel is played by Richard Briers who shows Nigel how life would have turned out had he never been born. Worse, obviously, and while Paul Bradley is no Jimmy Stewart, this is far from the gloopy hour it could easily have been, dealing as it does with euthanasia and prostitution.

Harsh social topics are the concern of the glossy Oliver Twist (BBC1, Wed 19 Dec, 8pm) which features little Willie Miller as the cockney urchin, Gregor Fisher as the cruel Mr Bumble and Timothy Spall as a gloriously sleazy Fagin. While Oliver Twist takes five segments to reach its relatively happy conclusion, The Old Curiosity Shop (ITV1, Wed 26 Dec, 9pm) has been shoehorned into an hour and a half of Dickensian misery. Derek Jacobi is pretty much as you’d imagine in the role of Nell’s grandfather while the all-star cast, including Zoe Wanamaker, Martin Freeman, Steve Pemberton and, um, Bradley Walsh, all seem to be having fun. But Toby Jones is the star of the show as ratty grotesqueness personified while playing the villainous Daniel Quilp who meets a distinctly Omen 2-like end.

Billie Piper continues her revitalised career as some kind of proper actress as she gives her all (though admittedly less than she gives in Secret Diary of a Call Girl) for Shadow in the North (BBC1, Sun 30 Dec, 8.55pm), playing the kind of gutsy independent woman that has been her forte since her reinvention with Canterbury Tales and Doctor Who. And a final warm hand for the Yuletide special of Still Game (BBC2, Fri 28 Dec, 10.50pm) which is as predictable as arguments over Monopoly on Christmas night but as satisfying as falling soundly asleep for the complete duration of the Queen’s message.

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