Christmas TV roundup
Comedians, catastrophes and quiches dominate the festive small screen line-up
This time last year, Rik Mayall was appearing as Greg Davies’ mischievous dad in a Man Down Christmas special. Twelve months on and tragically, inexplicably, the BBC are laying on a tribute to the late, very great comedic whirlwind who died in June at the stupidly young age of 56. As poignant as it is to watch Rik Mayall: Lord of Misrule (BBC Two, Sat 20 Dec, 10.05pm ●●●●●), this is a truly fitting small screen memorial.
Narrated tastefully by Simon Callow, it uncovers some wonderful photographic and live footage of Rik at Manchester Uni where he first hooked up with life-long buddy and comedy partner Adrian Edmondson; Ade is the main interviewee omission, having revealed recently that it’s just too soon for him to talk about his late pal in front of the cameras.
Listening to those who do offer their thoughts on a life extinguished early (Michael Palin, Lenny Henry, Simon Pegg, Ruby Wax, Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton among others), common themes arise: the dashingly handsome Rik was uber-confident of his own abilities and generous to a fault with everyone he encountered. The clips you’ll revel in might depend on which segment of his work meant the most: the Comic Strip Presents, Bad News, Lord Flashheart, The Young Ones, Alan B’stard, Kevin Turvey, Bottom: it’s all there in their lurid, slapstick, and yes, revolutionary glory.
If reflecting on the sad side of life is how you get your kicks come Christmas time, it might be worth noting that Boxing Day marks the tenth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami which wiped out over 200,000 people in 18 countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. ITV, More4 and the National Geographic Channel are among those dedicating documentaries to the disaster.
Naturally enough, those three channels do what they are best at: ITV’s Tsunami: Survivors’ Stories (Mon 22 Dec, 9pm ●●●) is human interest-based, NGC’s The Next Mega Tsunami (Sun 21 Dec, 8pm ●●●) goes deep into the science using words such as ‘megathrust’ and ‘subduction zones’ while the 4 folk and Tsunami: Ten Years On (Fri 26 Dec, 9pm ●●●) attempt a combination of both approaches. The rather gloomy feeling you take away from them all is that it seems to be just a matter of time before another seabed-based earthquake creates further devastating loss of life.
The feeling that lingers after Steph and Dom Meet Nigel Farage (Channel 4, Mon 15 Dec, 10pm ●●) is one of deep despair given that a precious half-hour slot in the schedules has been handed over to such pointless trash. Two ‘characters’ from Gogglebox ‘interview’ the UKIP leader at their hotel and for about a minute and half it gets vaguely interesting as they delve into his past (Farage has had three close scrapes with the Grim Reaper). But in the main, all we are privy to is the spectacle of three posh people getting a bit tipsy and having a right old swear, smoke and laugh.
Having appeared on YouTube this time last year, Christmas in a Day (More4, Wed 24 Dec, 6.50pm ●●●) gets its first proper TV showing. Kevin Macdonald’s film features ordinary British people capturing, in You’ve Been Framed-style, memories of their Christmas experiences of 2012 (minus babies falling into bushes). So, we see folk having awkward Christmases with their family, parents getting the kids all hyped up (or wound down) for Santa’s arrival, children being non-plussed (or delighted) with the presents they receive and a goose having its neck snapped in preparation for din-dins. The film more or less has its heart in the right place, but when you see a clip or two that might ring a vague bell (such as the kids who have sent a filmed message to their Middle East-based army dad only for him to suddenly arrive at the door), it dawns that this is an extended version of the Sainsbury’s 2013 Yuletide advert. All of which explains why Macdonald requested ‘no logos’ to be included in footage sent in: not from any Naomi Klein standpoint, but because a big supermarket was effectively behind the film.
Alasdair Gray at 80 (BBC Two Scotland, Sat 27 Dec, 9.30pm ●●●) shows the Lanark writer and Òran Mór muralist in reflective mood as he ponders his own conversion to becoming a Yes figurehead and interviews himself about the criticisms of his work. It’s not afraid to show more negative sides, with him coming across as a drunken fool mislaying some valuable work in the middle of a bender and suggesting that he’s quite the control freak. But if it gets people considering his art and going back to the books, then all will be well.
With a stage production of his BFG doing the festive round at Edinburgh’s Lyceum, Roald Dahl appears to be someone whose output is returned to over and over again. Some channel somewhere will undoubtedly be showing Willy Wonka and The Witches in the coming weeks. Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench star in one of his lesser known works, Esio Trot (BBC One, Thu 1 Jan, 6.30pm ●●●), a heartwarming tale of two seniors seeking love and / or companionship in their twilight years. It’s all so darn loveable that you might even find yourself enjoying James Corden’s intermittent commentary on proceedings.
There’s really not a whole lot to enjoy about The Haunting of Radcliffe House (Five, Sat 27 Dec, 9.35pm ●●), a modern ghost-story-by-numbers effort starring Olivia Williams and Matthew Modine, playing a couple who take a six-month residency in a secluded house in deepest, darkest Yorkshire. Any comparisons with the far superior and genuinely scary Remember Me end right there, with it being all-too predictable when Modine goes all ‘Jack Torrance’ two minutes after we discover that the house is given the full poltergeist treatment by a wife who was murdered there by her demented husband.
If the festive season is partly about ghost stories, it’s also ripe for a rollicking old whodunit. And that’s exactly what we get in the thoroughly fun Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (Sky 1, Fri 26 Dec, 8.30pm ●●●●) as Ashley Jensen plays a Londonist PR guru who is heading for premature semi-retirement to a country village where she hopes to find some peace and quiet. Except she quickly becomes embroiled in an investigation into the poisoning death of philandering Andy Cummings-Browne (Robert Bathurst). There are plenty moments of proper wit (‘are you mummy’s little helper?’ ‘no, that’s Prozac’) and visual gaggery, with the cast (including Katy Wix, Hermione Norris, Caroline Langrishe and Mat Horne) clearly having a ball. And isn’t that what Chrimbletime is all about?