Round-up: What's on TV this Christmas
- Brian Donaldson
- 11 December 2015
We're Doomed, Billionaire Boy, Peter and Wendy, Stick Man, Fungus the Bogeyman, Mrs Brown's Boys and all the best festive telly reviewed and rated
If you’ve ever wondered how the hugely popular sitcom about our dear old boys of the Home Guard came about, then those questions are neatly answered in TV drama We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story (BBC Two, Tue 22 Dec, 9pm ●●●●). It’s all rather good timing, too, with a Dad’s Army movie coming in 2016 (starring Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon and Toby Jones) while here, the focus is on how writer Jimmy Perry and producer David Croft managed to get their ideas past a deeply suspicious BBC hierarchy.
Once that not-inconsiderable feat was achieved, they encountered problems with casting (Perry’s attempts to write a part for himself were blocked by Croft while Arthur Lowe’s temperament and unsociable nature nearly stymied the whole project) and opening credits (the iconic animated sequence eventually replaced scenes of actual marching Nazis after protests from focus groups and senior members of the cast). Paul Ritter and Richard Dormer are both splendid as Perry and Croft (who later went on to deliver equally popular hit comedies such as Hi-de-Hi! and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum) while John Sessions as Lowe, Mark Heap as Clive Dunn and Keith Allen as Beeb boss Paul Fox are excellent. The only downside is that it all feels a little rushed and cut off in its prime at the 60-minute mark.
There are also some running-time issues with Peter and Wendy (ITV, Sat 26 Dec, 8pm ●●●), which delivers a (very looooong) spin on JM Barrie’s classic tale of Neverland, a hungry crocodile, a tinkling fairy and a mean bloke with a hook. We start off in the present day as a young girl prepares to have a crucial operation on a potentially fatal heart condition. Under anaesthetic for surgery, she dreams of being Wendy in the Peter Pan story (the brilliant surgeon and the nasty Hook are both played by the interchangeably suave / sleazy Stanley Tucci) while the Lost Boys are other kids in her ward and Tucci’s medical students double up as Hook’s terrible band of pirates. While there is plenty of swash, the whole thing buckles slightly under the weight of its convoluted concept. No matter how much freshness you attempt to spray onto a classic tale, perhaps some stories have just been told too many times.
Could it be that David Walliams is the new annual king of Christmas telly? Billionaire Boy (BBC One, Fri 1 Jan, 7pm ●●●) is the fourth of his children’s fiction to be adapted for the small screen over the festive period. Following rigidly in the paths of previous works such as Mr Stink and Gangsta Granny, this one features devious women (Catherine Tate as a gold digging Geordie), rubbish men who just about come good (John Thomson as the dad whose toilet-roll invention pulls his family out of poverty and parachutes them into super-richdom) and a boy-hero who battles the shallowness of adults to eventually win the day. And yes, David Walliams drags up as a scary woman.
Far less enjoyable is his one-off (we hope) sketch show Walliams and Friend (BBC One, Thu 24 Dec, 10.05pm ●●). The ‘friend’ in question is Joanna Lumley who does a decent job at sending up the various public versions of herself but it’s all couched in poorly scripted and repetitively unfunny routines, despite the efforts of stand-up Mike Wozniak and impersonator Morgana Robinson. And yes, David Walliams drags up as a variety of scary women.
Channel 4’s festive offerings are a little uninspiring this year, but one thing they may have achieved is bringing forward the date of class warfare. The Rich Kids of Instagram (Channel 4, Mon 21 Dec, 9pm ●●●) will have even the most mild mannered looking out their pitchforks as an array of truly awful 20somethings throw their money around (quite literally in a few instances) and into our faces as they flaunt their wonderful jet-setting lifestyles on social media.
Slightly more in keeping with the seasonal spirit is a screening of Julia Donaldson’s heart-warming animated tale of a man-stick who goes missing after his early morning jog leaving a grieving family of wife and child-sticks behind. Stick Man (BBC One, Fri 25 Dec, 4.45pm ●●●) could only really be hated with someone who suffers from hylophobia (that’s an acute dread of wooden objects). Martin Freeman voices the titular chap who has some very close shaves with immolation, drowning, premature burial and being gnawed to death by an otherwise friendly mutt while repeating the mantra of who he is, what he’s not and where he needs to be. Moral of the story: never ever go jogging.
For someone who has avoided Brendan O’Carroll’s sitcom like a mixture of the plague, smallpox and Ebola, the 2015 / 2016 Christmas and New Year instalments of Mrs Brown’s Boys (BBC One, Fri 25 Dec, 9.45pm; Fri 1 Jan, 10.30pm ●●●) come as something of a pleasant-ish surprise. The plots are water-biscuit thin, the impending double-entendres can be seen from outer space and the various characterisations are skimpily-drawn, but the show still has a winning way. It’s most likely coming from the live feel of the programme with all its bloopers and corpsing kept in, while Agnes Brown’s bursts of cursing feel grounded and real.
There’s nothing even vaguely real about the three-part adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ snot, grime and filth-laden Fungus the Bogeyman (Sky 1, Sun 27 Dec, 6pm ●●●). Underground, a disgusting army of green-skinned trolls go about their messy way while one of their younger number attempts a clean break to live among the humans. Overground, there’s a tedious sub-narrative about a family (Keeley Hawes, Marc Warren and a hacked-off teenage daughter) falling slowly apart that will presumably have some relevance as the mini-series develops. Without getting all Heat on you, the most dramatic thing about Fungus is the weight loss of Timothy Spall.