Did we like it?
A pretty good festive comedy drama, which was sprinkled with slightly too much seasonal saccharine and was perhaps half-an-hour too long.
What was good about it?
• ITV1 seemed to have steadfastly resolved to pillage actors from classic BBC sitcoms from the past 30 years in the hope that they will congeal into a hilarious comedy drama through their own fertile talent.
• And despite our misgivings about the scattergun nature of this technique it did yield dividends as we enjoyed The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith as the hapless assistant hotel manager who is thrust into the role of manager after incumbent manager Barry’s (who played Julius in The Thick of It) father was taken ill.
• Shearsmith played Ashley as a more likeable version of the vindictive Ollie Plimsolls of LOG’s legendary Legs Akimbo Theatre Company, who evntully achieved some kind of spiritual redemption after he rescues Maurice from the burning hotel.
• Maurice was played by Warren Clarke who agreeably sleepwalked through his role as the bumptious, officious ex-copper (think Dalziel without the wit), but who ultimately gained some humility as he slowly realised than no one other than his long suffering wife Rita (Barbara Flynn) actually liked him.
• Sam Kelly (Porridge and ’Allo ’Allo) as Dennis and Darren Boyd (Saxondale) as Tim were the father and son who had come to Eastbourne to scatter the ashes of their wife/mother Muriel in the town where Dennis and she had first met. He had developed a debilitating obsession with Muriel’s ashes, such as when Tim was driving to the hotel with her urn strapped in the backseat like a child. “”Don’t drive so fast,” scolded Dennis, “you know your mother gets car sick!”
• Alexander Armstrong (Beast) was philandering clergyman Miles who spent his whole time at the hotel keeping his illicit dalliance with a younger member of the cloth ‘Melons’ (Katherine Jakeways – The IT Crowd) secret from his wife Diane (Anna Chancellor) while battling his angina ailment. They also provided the funniest gag after Diane had learnt of her husband’s infidelity, he timorously said: “It’s two minutes past midnight! It’s Christmas Day!” “Why don’t you open your present now?” she replied acidly, handing him a bent and twisted golf club covered with torn wrapping paper.
• Peter Vaughan (Porridge) was the grumpy hotel porter who acted as Ashley’s dissatisfied father figure whom he forever strove to impress, something he eventually accomplished after he saved Maurice.
What was bad about it?
• That familiar jarring effect of comedy crashing into drama. Alongside the comic potential of each character was an often tedious sub-story – Tim had just split up with his girlfriend after she got bored of him, hotel flirt Avril was suffering from cancer and Diane was an alcoholic. And when Maurice’s son Christopher told his father “I just can’t stand you”, we felt nothing more than a mental shrug of the shoulders.
• It quickly established that annoying sense of fatality about the situations of whatever can go wrong will go wrong, which is hilarious in the hands of say Laurel & Hardy but met with mixed results here. For every moment of mirth such as Muriel’s ashes ending up in the turkey stuffing and when Tim and Dennis subsequently try to scatter her ashes on the pond only to be set upon by “wild swans” there were two moments of predictability such as the carol congregation crashing through the frozen pond, Miles getting trapped in a sauna with a young woman in nothing more than a towel or the underused Rasmus Hardiker as incompetent kitchen worker Luke becoming concussed after falling down the chimney dressed as Santa Claus.
• It was doused in a voluble spray of nauseating festive cheer as it had a happy ending with Ashley earning his spurs as hotel manager, Tim and Dennis finding love in the arms of Diane and Avril respectively and Maurice evolving a conscience. We’re surprised they didn’t have an epilogue when they all turn up on LK Today to be fawned over by a beaming Lorraine.