TV’s about to unleash its Christmas treats and small-screen addict Julia Raeside’s here to help narrow down your choices.
My mouth is full of mince pie and I’m sat right next to the Christmas tree like I’m actually plugged into and charging myself up from a direct source of Yule. This being the case, I feel ready to share my Christmas TV recommendations with you.
So sit down and pay attention because this is important. The Bishop of Leeds (for real) said last week that gathering around your TV with loved ones is a great way to bond with friends and family. As long as you put down your phones. This list of festive treats is only for those who promise to cast aside their smart phones and give themselves completely over to the audiovisual holly, because if you don’t, the Bishop of Leeds will come down your chimney and tut at you.
“Peter Capaldi’s Doctor finally gets to grips with River Song (Alex Kingston). The mere idea of these two cavorting through time and space together is making me bounce on my chair.”
First up is the return of one of my favourite historical comedies of all time. It might actually be my favourite. Julia Davis and Barunka O’Shaughnessy’s Hunderby (Sky Atlantic) is back for two dementedly festive episodes and we rejoin the characters shortly after the end of the first series. Doctor Fogarty (Rufus Jones) is to wed his sweet Helene (Alexandra Roach) while the unfortunate Hester (Rosie Cavaliero), now proven to be his sister rather than his wife, follows them about like a gooseberry in a bath chair. Meanwhile, Dorothy, revealed last series to be Hester and the doctor’s mother, sees her place at Hunderby threatened and will stop at nothing to bugger things up for the rest of them. The overwhelming sense of fun in this show is totally infectious. Everyone is having such a whale of a time, hamming it up and playing with the words, that you cannot help but enjoy it.
You’ll notice most of my festive choices are from a bygone era. I want pure escapism at Christmas, not gritty reality. So I will mostly be living in the past and pretending the internet hasn’t been invented from about December 23 onwards. The first episode of Hunderby was on last night, so watch it on catch up. The concluding part is on next Thursday (Dec 17). Don’t miss it.
The BBC’s big Christmassy treat this year fits in nicely with my old-fashioned requirements. Dickensian (BBC1) is a new 20-part serial, stripped across a fortnight (with two episodes a day) featuring characters from Charles Dickens’ novels. They’re tasty half-hour chunks of Victorian domestic saga and cross the streams with abandon as Fagin from Oliver Twist pimps out Nancy to Jacob Marley and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations wanders past The Old Curiosity Shop. It is the most mulled, comforting and beautifully executed festive thing I’ve seen in a long while and absolutely what you’d want to watch by the light of the tree with a port in your hand. The first two episodes are on Boxing Day on BBC One and continue every week day after that.
Although it isn’t really a Christmas thing and not at all historical, the last ever episode of Peep Show (C4) can’t go by without a mention. We first met Mark and Jez in their Croydon grief palace 12 years ago (12!) and now it really is time to close the door on their hapless man-baby shenanigans. This series has an upping of games all round, from the writing to the performances of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, not to mention Matt King as Super Hans who has featured heavily, perhaps because the writers know he is such a favourite with the fans. We’ve had the chance to enjoy a hammered Olivia Colman buried alive in a ball pool and the flaring of Johnson’s delicious nostrils one last time. But end it must. I’ll be raising a glass to them all on Wednesday 16 December at 10pm and you should do the same. Paper hats at half mast.
Returning to my historical theme, my inner history geek is excited about The Great History Quiz: The Tudors (BBC2), which is timed perfectly to wrap presents to on Christmas Eve at 9pm. There’s nothing we love better than a quiz in our house and team captains Lucy Worsley and Dan Snow are sure to make this one a hoot. Along with two teams of experts, including Horrible Histories’ Greg Jenner, and Dr Jonathan Foyle, the architectural historian who is forever dangling off high buildings in a hard hat, enthusing about their design, this is designed specifically to make me happy. With these ingredients, it makes sense to make The Great History Quiz a regular thing doesn’t it? Make it so, BBC2.
Finally, let’s have a canter through your likely stopping off points on Christmas Day itself. The one that most people seem excited about is the last ever episode of Downton Abbey (ITV) which goes on for approximately eight hours and features nearly every single character’s individual story coming to a neat and satisfactory end simultaneously. You can’t say Julian Fellowes doesn’t know how to please a mass audience. Without giving anything away, the family has its traditional festive gathering, there is a big sparkly tree and all the ladies wear nice dresses. The end.
I take great hope that the scheduling of Christmas Day Doctor Who (BBC1) at 5.15pm means the whole family can enjoy it. Unlike previous years in which things have usually gotten a bit too scary and we’ve had to turn it off and accompany crying/terrified children back downstairs to ply them with tree chocolates and cuddles. Most exciting of all is the chance to see Peter Capaldi’s Doctor finally getting to grips with River Song (Alex Kingston). I haven’t seen it yet, but even the idea of these two cavorting through time and space together is making me bounce on my chair.
On Boxing Day evening I shall be mostly back in 1939, attending an elegant house party that descends quickly into a blood bath as the guests start getting murdered. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (BBC1) is on at 9pm and perfectly placed for me to get out my cocktail shaker because the characters are all guaranteed to be drinking martinis since they live in the 1930s. Poldark’s Aidan Turner stars as the enigmatic Phillip Lombard, a man with a past and the cast also includes Anna Maxwell-Martin as the downtrodden servant who must tend to the guests’ every need. But who are their mysterious hosts and why are they being systematically bumped off? The second and third episodes are on the next two nights so you won’t have to wait long to find out.
Finally, on New Year’s Day, Sherlock (BBC1) returns in full Victorian get-up (I told you, no escaping the past this Christmas) as Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman play Holmes and Watson as originally intended, back in 1895. From Freeman’s impressive moustache and mutton chops to Cumberbatch’s silken topper, writers Moffat and Gatiss go for broke if the pictures are anything to go by. This particular festive one-off has been kept in a locked room and closely guarded from prior peaking. So it really will be like opening the last present under the tree. Exciting! The episode is called The Abominable Bride and sees the detective duo in pursuit of an apparent apparition, as a man tells them his recently dead wife has returned to haunt him, wearing her wedding dress. It’s snowy, spooky and guaranteed to be as clever as a library.
See you in 2016. x
Julia loves TV and writes about it for the Guardian and other people. She also enjoys talking on the radio which she mostly does for the BBC.