Guest blogger Gav pops in to share his favourite Christmas shows.
What signifies the beginning of Christmas for you? For me it’s not town lights being switched on or ads informing me that ‘holidays are coming’ – no, it’s always been the arrival in my local newsagent of the Christmas Radio Times – which in my younger years I’d diligently study and use to plan out the shows and films I’d watch over the festive period. However, in these days of DVDs, on demand TV and streaming internet video – there’s less in there to grab the attention than ever before. So why not plan out your viewing well in advance, with this handy guide to 12 traditional films / shows that are essential to make any festive season rich in televisual goodness…..
1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
On initial viewing this feels like a fairly gentle family comedy, but on repeated viewing it reveals itself to be full of brilliantly bitter and caustic comedic dialogue. Although it gets shown on TV pretty much every year, it’s usually cut for showing in an early slot so if you can try and catch an unedited version on DVD.
2. Die Hard / Die Hard 2: Die Harder
No Christmas would be complete without mulled wine, carols, lights on the tree and a hostage situation at Nakatomi Plaza. Whether you consider them seasonal or not the first two Die Hard films are set at Christmas – and they’re also great. Hey – the second one even has snow! Yippee-ki-yay indeed!
If ever a comedy actor was an inevitable casting choice, it’s Bill Murray as Frank Cross – the modern day Scooge TV Exec in this 80s comedy. Murray’s performance is one of many that carries a film full of great ideas but which falls a little short of expectation. However there are plenty of memorable lines and scenes and it stands up to repeated viewing, despite the schmaltzy ending.
4. Father Ted – ‘A Christmassy Ted’
In my books, Father Ted is a welcome addition to any viewing schedule at any time of the year – but each Christmas brings with it another excuse to sit and watch a group of priests trapped in a lingerie department making their heroic bid for escape – an enduring image that makes me chuckle just thinking of it. Gentle but extremely silly comedy that doesn’t feel sickly sweet in the way that Christmas specials starring that other priest from Dibley do.
5. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Alastair Sim? Pah! Surely the DEFINITIVE portrayal of Ebeneezer Scrooge has to be Michael Caine’s in this often overlooked musical masterpiece from The Muppets. As amazing as Charles Dickens was, his novella didn’t have singing vegetables, a narration from Gonzo the Great or music played by Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.
6. Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
As ‘classic’ as any episodes of the 4 series ‘proper’ – this is in some ways a showcase, featuring short stories from the second and third incarnations of Blackadder (as well as a ‘futuristic’ one). However the real highlights and genius lines still belong to Ebeneezer Blackadder, the Dickens adapted character holding it all together; “Mrs. Scratchit, Tiny Tom is fifteen stone and built like a brick privy. If he eats anymore heartily, he will turn into a pie shop”.
It’s silly, child-like, colourful to the point of garishness and stars the sometimes irritating Will Ferrell in the lead role. It’s also one of the most smart, funny and heart-warming Christmas movies ever made. Ferrell is genuinely loveable as Buddy the Elf, the cast and direction are spot on and adults will love this at least as much as kids.
8. Top of the Pops / TOTP2
Since being relegated to an annual festive event, TOTP’s main function at this point in my life seems to be jog my memory on dismal earworms I’ve managed to shake off over the course of the year. Yes I’m old and so bah humbug to it (unless we get a reply of the RATM incident in 2009). Much more fun is the inevitable TOTP yuletide compilation show on BBC2 the night before. Hankies at the ready for ‘Fairytale of New York’, everyone.
9. Friends – The ones with the tinsel and stuff
For people of a certain age, this show is nearly as ubiquitous as TV itself – so it goes without saying that there’s a certain comfort and familiarity about the Christmas episodes that makes them essential viewing. My choice – The One With The Holiday Armadillo (season 7).
10. The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special (any, 1969-1977)
Each Christmas, the British TV schedules contain a broadcast that it is every citizen’s duty to watch – to sit their children in front of and to pay proper and due respect to. No, I don’t mean the Queen’s Speech, I mean the inevitable re-run of whichever Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special is on this year. Still ACTUALLY funny after all these years and a hug to the soul of anyone who remembers family Christmases of the 70s.
11. Doctor Who
Surely this is now a proper, fully formed Christmas telly tradition? The pivotal broadcast around which my whole Xmas viewing revolves – each year we get a (normally) one-off story which may or may not have a Christmas theme (but as often as not just happens to be set then). Whether you’re a confimed Whovian or not, this is always fun, fantastical and at least a little eerie – just like Christmas stories should be.
12. It’s A Wonderful Life.
Each year, as Christmas approaches, I find myself reduced to a sobbing wreck. This has nothing to do with the mounting bills or logistical tasks that lie ahead – but is instead due to the last few minutes of this brilliant, beautiful film. If you haven’t seen it you are missing out on one of the most moving and life-affirming movies ever made. Go see it! Now!
And that’s your Christmas viewing sorted. But what about celebrating New Year? Well, why not revisit the countdown clock with When Harry Met Sally? It’s got to beat Jools playing his boogie-woogie piano over the top of everyone at his annual Hootenanny.
Also recommended: A Charlie Brown Christmas, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Gremlins, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Merry Christmas Mr Bean