Was That The Best British Comedy Christmas TV Ever?

One of those strange cultural differences between the USA and Britain is Christmas TV. In Britain, traditionally, the big shows run an extra-special show around the time of Christmas and the New Year, themed to the season. And the most memorable then get repeated for years to come. The USA… doesn't. You've got Charlie Brown and that's about it. Instead, cinemas in the US are open and movies have been known to open on Christmas Day, something that would be an anathema in the UK, where almost everything is closed – aside from pubs.

This year, of course, everything is topsy turvy. In the US, Wonder Woman 1984 and Soul both opened on streaming TV services. Whilk in the UK, even the pubs are shut now, and the TV filming season was severely curtailed during the time that Christmas specials are usually made and filmed. So this year we have had fewer Christmas specials and more repeats.

But, despite all this, we have had three absolute Christmas crackers in three subsequent days, with the sitcoms Upstart Crow, Ghosts and The Goes Wrong Show.

Upstart Crow is a comedy about William Shakespeare written by Young Ones/Blackadder writer Ben Elton, starring David Mitchell, Gemma Whelan and in this episode, no one else. Filmed in lockdown, it was set in a previous lockdown, in a time when the theatres were closed due to bubonic plague and mass gatherings were banned. And between Shakespeare and his landlord's niece Kate, locked down together, they went through many of the lockdown rigmaroles we have also experienced this year, in a 17th-century style, wearing plague masks, stockpiling, "following the superstition", judging the behaviour of some and the over-judgement of others – and even inventing TikTik four centuries in advance, all at a time when Scotland was considering joining the Union. A polemic against all sides, it managed to incorporate a couple of jokes from its abandoned stage show from the summer, while using the experience to inspire the famous monologue of Macbeth.

Was That The Best British Comedy Christmas TV Ever?
Credit: Radio Times

Ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas took the already-a-classic sitcom Ghosts from the Horrible Histories crew, a couple trapped by financed in the falling apart mansion they have inherited, alongside the ghosts from across the centuries, also trapped in the grounds, who only the wife can see. And for the very first time I think I've ever seen in the various reworkings of A Christmas Carol, it is one of the ghosts who undergoes a Christmas revelation regarding their terrible attitude to life, to Christmas and to others, while still not wearing any trousers. Funny, poignant, and a Christmas for the whole family – biological or those who you have made your own.

And then The Goes Wrong Show from The Mischief Theatre ran a Nativity Special, incorporating fire drills imposed by the BBC, the angel Gabriel losing his halo and unable to get any of the rest of the cast to acknowledge his despair, a very naked King Herod, an inability to provide any shepherds to accompany the wise men and carols withe the sheet music constantly being replaced with other songs that, thankfully, the words fit perfectly. Perfectly judged and choreographed slapstick that kept our family hooting.

In any year, each would have been the highlight, this year, despite the troubles, it may have given us our best Christmas TV ever, alongside repeats of Gavin & Stacey, Dad's Army, Morecombe & Wise, Victoria Wood, To The Manor Born, Father Ted, The Snowman, Are You Being Served from yesteryear – and a reminder that these three shows stood with or bettered all that came before them.

In comparison, Motherland with the punch/bloody nose scene, the popular game MineKampf and two-=second wrapping was still pretty good too – just not an episode that will last the ages. Sorry, Motherland, you should have picked a different year.

Christmas 2021 will have a lot to live up to.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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