My Christmas TV Diary

Check out my review of the Christmas film I’ll Be Home For Christmas that I wrote for Scientific Kitty.

Top Gear
Jeremy Clarkson’s scripts aren’t quite what they used to be—although, determinedly, he still seems to make himself win all the races. Top Gear is the original scripted reality show, documenting the real lives of three increasingly endomorphic middle-aged car enthusiasts, and mixing it with the scripted slapstick of The Chuckle Brothers.

In this particular episode, the boys travel to India to promote the British motorsport industry. They do this by sprawling union flags across the bonnets of their British vehicles and by attaching a painted banner with “Eat English Muffins” written on it to the side of a train. Thank God the BBC are sending these overpaid TV presenters to a country that we have previously ruled, so that we can subtly remind them that we’re still boss! How honoured the natives must be to discover that Jeremy Clarkson, a man with the physique of Hank Hill, has chosen to come to their country and drive about bellowing, “POWER!” non-ironically. What a treat it must be for them, and what a treat for us Brits, too.

How I laughed when the train pulled away, tearing the hand painted banner in two, so that it read: “Eat English Muff”, a moment that I’m sure was even more fun to shoot than it was to write.

Us Brits, eh? Best TV in the world, we have. Because everything is shit and depressing in Brit TV land, just like our real lives. Whereas most American comedies aim to successfully mix cleverly crafted jokes and character development (most fail, of course), British comedies tend to focus on how reprehensibly awful all the characters are. The BBC’s Lapland is no exception, following the mundane antics of an overbearing extended family during their Scandinavian Christmas holiday. This is their first Christmas since Dad died, and the family have felt obliged to do something different this year, despite all of them being utterly joyless curmudgeons. This, supposedly, is what the BBC thinks people want to watch at Christmas: snarky, drab programming in which nothings goes right.

One of my favourite programmes, The Larry Sanders Show, paints practically its entire cast in a similarly negative way, although what makes it different from so much British TV is that it’s genuinely funny and compelling. Despite their many flaws, you actually like the characters in Sanders, even if you’d never in a million years want to known them in real life. They have pathos; you find yourself rooting for them, even when they’re at their most despicable. Lapland doesn’t understand this, which is why I’ve spent the entire length of the show fantasying about attacking each of the characters with a pen.

Santa Claus: The Movie
11 o’clock. Christmas Eve. ITV 3. It seems like an odd time and channel to air this nostalgic Christmas classic. After all, this is a children’s film. Perhaps they thought that this would only appeal to people like myself, and felt that fucking Shrek would appeal more to children of the 21st century. They certainly don’t make ‘em like this any more. Stupid 21st century children.

Arthur’s Perfect Christmas
I’ve slept on the sofa practically every Christmas since I was about 15, due to the fact that all the beds in the house are taken during. But I don’t dislike it. It means I can wake up first thing on Christmas morning and plunge right into Christmas telly, before I completely lose interest later in the next day. For the past 5 or so years, BBC has kicked things off with Arthur, a programme that has long been a favourite of mine.

“It’s like a shit Hey Arnold,” somebody once told me. But it’s not. It’s wholesome, engaging, and also, at times, genuinely quite funny. It also contains a lot of literary and pop culture references that will appeal to much older viewers. For example, there’s an episode where they pay homage to the brilliant Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.

Arthur’s Perfect Christmas is a lovely little Christmas special, even if the title is completely misleading. The eight-year-old, anthropomorphic aardvark (yeah, he’s an aardvark. What did you think he was?) buys his mother what he believes is the perfect present: a little glass bird to replace the one that his clumsy oafish uncle broke the previous year. On Christmas morning, however, he drops the present and the little bird smashes. Fortunately, his uncle saves the day by replacing the present with something ever so slightly less thoughtful. But I mean, it’s hardly the poor anthropomorphic aardvark’s perfect Christmas, is it?

“Mom mildly pleased with Christmas gift: check. Christmas not completely ruined: check. It’s a perfect Christmas!”

Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
“Switch over to E4 now to watch the programme that spawned the whole Gypsy Wedding phenomena,” suggested the Channel 4 narrator, failing to point out that “the whole Gypsy Wedding phenomena” is entirely fictitious, and simply a Channel 4 ploy to get idiots to laugh at gypsies. During a time of economical collapse, budget cuts and mass unemployment, Channel 4 has heroically turned its sights towards the working class and travellers. In this bizarre act of punching down, they seem to believe that tackiness is in urgent need of ridicule, and have devoted an entire series to highlighting the gaudy lives of travellers.

Unfortunately, though, much like the working class, their culture happens to bare a startling resemblance to our own. Oh, well, let’s just laugh at them anyway.

Michael Bublé’s ever-increasing presence
Here he is, ladies and gentleman. Here’s St. Christmas himself, singing all the old hits with the enthusiasm of Virgin Media call centre employee. One could even be forgiven for thinking that Mr. Bubble has sold his sole to Christmas; he’s simply everywhere this year, prancing and crooning his way down artificial Christmas streets. But I can’t help thinking his music is a little too easy, almost as if he’s been sent a CD of pre-existing backtracks by his record company, which he then proceeds to perform low-energy, half-hearted karaoke to.

Black Knight
Get it? BLACK Knight. Yeah, that’s the film’s only joke. Martin Lawrence, an irritating theme park employee, accidentally travels back to the Middle Ages, which happens to be a time that’s surprisingly kind to African Americans. While there, Lawrence unleashes his obnoxious shtick on everybody he encounters and, of course, madness ensues! HAHAHAHA!

True Movies
Fortunately, to combat depressing programming, True Movies exists, countering the typical Christmas glumness with nice movies like The Man Who Saved Christmas (starring Jason Alexander), with nice stories and nice characters. This channel’s mantra: “Don’t just make money, make memories.” Sure, it’s a little cheesy, but given that most the other channels appear to follow the mantra, “MAKE FUCKING MONEY, YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!” I found it oddly uplifting.

That line, the one I just pretended was the channel’s mantra, is actually taken from soppy Christmas film The Christmas Shoes, which was originally brought to my attention by the comedian Patton Oswalt. Oswalt commented on the film’s jolly theme song, including the unforgettable lyric: “Daddy says there’s not much time…and I want her to look beautiful when momma meets Jesus tonight.”

Still, as dreadful as that may sound, and having just watched the Black Knight, I have to say that this channel, with its endless torrent of saccharine made for TV movies, has warmed my heart. It’s like a drug, deadening my disdain for what’s currently on terrestrial television.

Strictly Come Dancing
Craig Revel Horwood’s uncompromising, well-reasoned rhetoric and savaging wit is really what makes Strictly. With his extended vocabulary and venomous tongue, nobody escapes unscathed, even Sue Pollard. What a master of biting criticism he is. I’d hate to imagine the roasting he’d give me, if I danced inadequately for him. I bet he’d say something like, “You looked like a bad dancing man doing a bad dance that was bad.” Ooh! Burn! What a dazzling wit he is, that man who’s paid by the BBC to criticise others when he can hardly form sentences, let alone scathing remarks.

Quiz of the Year
After performing a sarcastic rendition of Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair”, Jamie Oliver asks, “What has happened to music?” Yeah, what has happened to music since 2001, and the release of Oliver’s Cookin‘ compilation CD, featuring 18 pukka tunes, including Toploader’s unforgettable smash hit “Dancing in the Moonlight” and “Blow Your Mind” by Jamiroquai. Gone are those magical, middle-of-the-road indie days. Remember Feeder? Remember when bands played real instruments and sang real words, not these modern day fake ones?

Eastenders is a staple in most British homes during Christmas I suspect, and understandably so—there’s literally nothing else on at this time. All the other channels just comply and roll over, broadcasting programmes that guarantee that nobody with half a brain will continue watching.

As I don’t own a television, I only ever watch Eastenders at Christmas. And yet I’m still able work out what has happened during the entire year within the first five or so minutes of the Christmas day episode. This Christmas ‘stenders taught me following: a) Stacey Slater’s mother has a non-specific mental disorder, which causes her to be overbearingly irritating; b) all Asians are sinister; c) duffle coats are flame retardant; d) handing a USB stick to a police officer and saying, “I’d like to report a murder,” doesn’t prompt the police officer to say anything, but does indeed lead the murderer’s arrest.

Bloody Birthday
“Petrifying prepubescent frights,” is how the Horror Channel (or “horror channel” as it appears in the guide) described this low-budget ‘70s horror. God, I love the Horror Channel, with its low-budget, but wonderfully fascinating programming. Where else would something like Bloody Birthday be allowed to air? The film’s plot: thee children born at the exact moment of a total eclipse grow up as amoral killers. I mean, don’t get me wrong; this film is awful. But compared to fucking Shrek 2 (currently on ITV), this is infinitely less depressing.

Mrs. Brown’s Boys
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Mrs. Brown’s Boys has been created as piece of anti-Irish propaganda. But it hasn’t. It’s genuinely real. While good comedies are often moved about the schedule until they lose their audience, becoming simply too unpopular to re-commission, the BBC seems bizarrely proud of this creation. It has the subtleness of an episode of Heil Honey, I’m Home!, but at least that, I’m pretty sure, was supposed to be ironic to some degree. This appears to have set off with the intention of parodying the largely redundant studio audience sitcom format (like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, even though that was made during a time when those shows were extremely popular), but the writer/writers couldn’t suppress their love for writing old lady falls over jokes.

This particular episode, in which nothing fucking happens, finishes with a soppy scene where one of Mrs. Brown’s boys returns home for Christmas. This is somewhat undermined, however, by the previous scene where Mrs. Brown is seen repeatedly smacking a tray over her husband’s head, much to the amusement of the audience.

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