I look forward to TV Christmas specials every year like an excitable puppy going on a car ride. I even watch a bit of Eastenders shortly before Christmas day, so I can be in the know enough for the Christmas special to make sense; when I say make sense, I mean make an Eastenders kind of sense.
The TV Christmas specials, in the UK more than in the US I think, really are quite special. They are little television events, often standing alone separately from the show, and at the same time maintaining the character of the show and often refers to the main story arc if there is one.
Frequently shows come back to life, after their original run has ended, just for Christmas specials, like the Royle Family did until last year, and Absolutely Fabulous did this year and in the past. I often love those as much as I love the specials of a running show; they make me feel as if the shows I loved so much and said farewell to, have lives of their own, which they continued living outside the television box.
This year I felt was lacking in Christmas specials, for the first time since I moved to London. There may still be a few more to come, but none that makes as happy and excited as much as the past specials did. To console myself for this outrageous shortage of Christmas television I turned to a few of my favourite Christmas specials from previous years to keep me company in this drought of Christmas TV.
The Fast Show
Being a sketch show it is easy to plant it on TV detached from any context, and for a long time this is how I saw it; something I watched here and there in special occasions. It was only after watching a whole series off hand with friends that I realised just how brilliant The Fast Show is, and how awe inspiringly talented actors as well as writers Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson are.
What impressed me most of all in the Fast Show was just how the sketches could suddenly break my heart just as quickly they made me laugh. One exceptionally brilliant examples of that was the very drunk Rowley Birkin QC, who seems to be in a state of an eternal Christmas, and was consistently funny, sketch after sketch, until suddenly he wasn’t.
Of course I can’t mention The Fast Show without taking a moment to bow down before my favourite characters Ralph and Ted. The full impact of Ralph and Ted’s story revealed itself, in my opinion, only after watching all of their sketches woven into the show. Their Christmas sketches enhances their effect in my view, because other than the main point which runs through all the sketches, the Christmas sketches reveal something quite personal about each of them.
A high pitched mmmmmmmm.... Always comes out of me at the end of this one.
The Royle Family – Queen of Sheba
Before there was a David Brent there was a Jim Royle, and before there was Tim and Dawn there was the brilliant Denise and Dave. The Royle Family will probably forever be one of my all time favourite television comedies. How can I not fall in love with a family whose one of its most important members is TV?
The Royle Family ended its original run in 2000 with a Christmas special. Six years have gone past, The Royle Family has turned into a cherished memory together with other beloved comedies, and then it lifted its head again with the glorious Queen of Sheba Christmas special, which was a little bit of television heaven.
Since then The Royle Family has had a special almost every year, and though they were all great fun, with The Golden Egg Cup (“There’s been a merder!”Caravan holiday) a very close second, Queen of Sheba is still my favourite of the Royle Family Christmas specials.
There was a special planned for this year, but Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, who created the show and play Dave and Denise, did not finish it on time; and so, sadly I won't be celebrating Christmas the Royles this year.
Doctor Who- A Christmas Carol
The Doctor Who Christmas special is always the one I look forward to the most. Admittedly, most of its Christmas specials didn’t really live up to the expectations I was building, and though I liked The Runaway Bride (I think I am the only one who did) it wasn’t as good as some of the regular episodes. None of its Christmas specials were very special to me, but it is the one special I wouldn't miss for the world; such is the power of Doctor Who.
As I previously pointed out with the exception of The Eleventh Hour I wasn’t quite taken with Moffat’s initiation to the show, and series 5 left some doubts as to my future relationship with the Doctor. Therefore my expectations of A Christmas Carol weren’t very high.
Not only was Doctor Who- A Christmas Carol the most Christmasy of all other Doctor Who Christmas specials, but it was also the episode where I finally got to see the Steven Moffat I have come to love in the Russel T Davis era; the Moffat who knows all the rules so well only to collapse them and build his own; the Moffat who combines a beautiful moving story and compelling characters with beautifully crafted plot moves and developments.
A Christmas Carol turned out to be, in my opinion, better than most of the episodes in the series that preceded it. It was the episode that brought my hopes back for the series that followed, thought of which I wrote here. So far, Only the Moff, in a stroke of an episode, has managed to change my mind about a show I was ready to despair of.
It seems that Moffat is going for classic tales in the Christmas spirit for his Who specials and I love it! I love the fairytale aspect of it all and I love the special kind of atmosphere created just for the Christmas special. It really does make it a stand alone special kind of episode within the Doctor Who series.
I enjoyed this year’s The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, but for me it didn’t quite have as strong effect as A Christmas Carol had,and wasn't quite as good. I felt that some of the guest appearances were just there as decorative fillers and I didn’t really understand why they were there. Therefore A Christmas Carol remains not only my favourite Doctor Who Christmas specials, but one of my favourite Christmas specials, and one of my favourite non special Doctor Who episodes.
Extras – Christmas Special
I know I may be the minority here, but I was always a bigger fan of Extras than I was of The Office. Not that I didn’t like the office, but while Tim and Dawn annoyed me most of the time, I fell in love head over hills with Andy Milman and Maggie Jacobs. Maybe it’s because I know and have worked quite a lot in this world of films and television and can very much relate to the stories of Andy and Maggie. Or maybe it is because I prefer characters that have personality independent to their love interest. Either way the Extras Christmas special is not only my favourite of all Christmas specials, but it is also one of my favourite pieces of television glory Christmas or not.
Maggie’s story in the special is one that I am not ashamed to say is very close to my heart. It might seem a little sad that I find myself in such a miserable character, but it doesn't make me sad and I don’t think Maggie is as glum as she may seem at first look. I love her, and to think that Gervais and Merchant would have a character like her in their minds comforts me in a way.
But it isn't only Maggie that makes this Christmas special so special to me. It is Andy’s journey and personal torment of what he yearns for, which climax in the so candid and painful speech he gives to the cameras of Big Brother at the end. It might be awkward to admit, and Ricky Gervais is an honorary doctor of awkwardness, but the dilemmas he goes through, and the way he feels, as stupid and awful as they may be, are also very true. At least for me they are.
Don't watch this clip if you haven't seen the special.
As I look at those loveable Christmas specials which made Christmas day something I most look forward to since I moved to London, I can’t help but feel a little let down by the poor selection of specials this year. Only Doctor Who and Absolutely Fabulous stood out as refreshing new specials in a sea of previous years’ reruns.
I can only hope that this means that everyone has been very hard at work to make some excellent television for the new year; kicking off with a new Sherlock Holmes, for which the combination of trailers and teasers over Christmas made me jump up and down with uncontrollable joy, I can’t help but feel optimistic about the television of 2012.