Felicitations to all of you and welcome to this special edition of Matt on the Box where I’ll be looking back at all of the Christmas Specials that have aired so far this year.
We start with a festive treat courtesy of one of our programmes of the year, Educating Yorkshire. Though not particularly celebrating Christmas, this special played to its strengths by combining popular clips from the series with a sort of ‘Where are they now?’ feature. For most of them, the answer was still at Thornhill Community College albeit in brand new uniforms which I’m sure looked great in HD. As the long winter nights drew in it seemed that a lot of the pupils were embarking on heartwarming love affairs. Bailey of the drawn-on eyebrows and the aggressive Thomas were now a couple and seemingly a good influence on one another. Meanwhile, the famous Ryan now had his own entourage and was dating an unseen girlfriend who he one day hoped to marry despite only dating her for just over a month. Elsewhere, the former year elevens were enjoying college, with the majority of those ditzy blonde girls now studying hair and beauty. In it addition we learn that all of these girls have been revisiting Thornhill in order to receive extra tuition from Mr Steer before they resit their Maths GCSE. Mr Steer, who did almost kill himself when trying to get these girls a ‘C’ the first time around, is quietly confident that they’ve all passed this time around. Obviously, the one pupil we all wanted to hear more from was Musharaf, the boy who’d suffered from a stammer and made a magnificent turn around thanks to English teacher Mr Burton. The speech ‘Mushy’ gave at the end of the last episode was one of the TV highlights of the year and really brought a tear to the eyes of the UK. Now a lot more sure of himself, Musharaf is studying science at college and we see how much he has grown when he comes to pick up his certificate at a special ceremony honouring Thornhill’s former Year 11 pupils. Despite it being mainly clips we’d seen before, I really enjoyed seeing what had happened to all our favourite staff and students since the cameras stopped rolling at Thornhill. It appears as if a lot of the students have learnt from how they were portrayed on the show and have seemingly improved their collective behaviours. I have to say I was glad to see that nobody had let fame go to their head and it was great to see Musharaf one last time, even if that clip of his speech still makes me cry like a big girl.
Another fly-on-the-wall show that returned for a festive instalment last week was The Call Centre. The Swansea-based show saw us return to the city’s third largest call centre and reintroduced us to the company’s larger-than-life CEO Nev Wilshire. Unsurprisingly Nev is a big fan of Christmas and is celebrating a unstable year with a big Christmas party or, for tax purposes, the call centre’s ‘Annual Conference’. To organise this year’s event, Nev has enlisted tea girl Hayley and friend Jenny who set about ordering the champagne fountain, the chocolate fountain and as many other fountains as possible. To get into the festive mood further, Nev puts together a choir which features both a former professional singer and a karaoke fan who has no discernible talents to speak of. But not everybody loves Christmas, especially the returning Griff who has to come crawling back to Nev after realising that the stand-up comedy circuit isn’t exactly profitable. Griff’s main resentment is that he has to take orders from bosses a lot younger than he is and he feels he should be left to his own devices as he gets results for the company. By the end of the show, Griff’s spirit is at its lowest and not even Nev’s offer of a ten minute stand-up set at the Christmas do can change his mood. Whilst Nev himself deserved a Christmas special, it did appear as if the show as a whole struggled to tell a story to justify this new episode. The fact that Griff had to be brought back solely to feature in this episode, leads me to believe that the producers wanted all the show’s strong characters to give fans a few treats. Despite being a fan of the show, this just seemed like a Christmas Special for the sake of it and I don’t think it offered anything that the series didn’t already give us. Having said that, I do feel that Nev is definitely one of the best TV characters of the year and it’s always a treat to see him enjoying being a leader of men.
The Call Centre wasn’t the only BBC3 programme to get a Christmas Special as we saw two Jack Whitehall comedies joining in on the festive fun. The first of these was Whitehall’s Backchat, the talk show he hosts with his father Michael. This Christmas Special was possibly my favourite episode of the series, most notably as it featured the legendary Baroness Trumpington who famously appeared opposite Whitehall on an episode of Have I Got News For You. She appeared here alongside Lee Mack, Christine Bleakley and Nigel Havers who I was incredibly surprised to learn was Jack’s godfather. In fact a large portion of this episode was devoted to the fact that Jack believes that Nigel could well be his real father. This led Michael to recount, in quite graphic detail, Jack’s conception and in one scene proved why he has been the star of this entire series. Obviously the Christmas setting allowed Jack to get some of his worst Christmas memories off his chest and confront his father, who really wasn’t that bothered. The only low point of this festive special was the weekly bonding segment, which is the sole part of the show which always feels forced. Here, father and son went to a hugging workshop that Michael inevitably bad-mouthed before later hugging Havers when he came onto stage. Thankfully, the appearance of Kris Akabusi as Santa, or Santabusi, more than made up for the slower parts of the episode and by the time Jack’s mum came round with the drinks I had a massive smile on my face. I personally feel that Backchat has only got stronger throughout its first series and this Christmas special proves that this probably won’t be the last time we’ll here from the Whitehall clan.
Whitehall’s other BBC3 project, Bad Education, was given its first Christmas Special which both starred and was co-written by the baby-faced comedian. Whitehall’s Alfie Wickers was facing another big problem as he’d been tasked by the headmaster (Matthew Horne) to direct the school play or face being sacked by the governors. Inevitably his ramshackle group of students are roped in to be the stars of the show with Stephen (Layton Williams) being the only one with any discernible talent to speak of. Alfie is then shocked when school bully Frank (Jack Bence) auditions for his production and delivers an incredibly awful audition. But because Alfie is incredibly scared of Frank he casts him as the human lead opposite Stephen in his original production ‘Robocracker’ a combination of Robocop and The Nutcracker. Elsewhere, Alfie is attempting to impress Miss Guilver (Sarah Solemani) by volunteering at a soup kitchen where his class are insulted by a mouthy tramp (played by Whitehall’s Fresh Meat colleague Greg McHugh). Right at the start of the Bad Education Christmas Special, Horne and Whitehall warn us that festive editions of shows are often sloppily written with a loose seasonal feel. I would say that was true of Bad Education to an extent as it just didn’t have the energy the sitcom normally possesses. The funniest moments were provided by Wiliiams’ Steven whether it be his one-man production of Precious or his performance in the incredibly entertaining Robocracker. Overall, while I can’t say I wasn’t entertained, I just expect a little bit more from Whitehall and his class of talented young actors.
Whitehall’s Fresh Meat co-star Kimbereley Nixon was also part of a festive special this week as we drove up North for a Christmas edition of Hebburn. We join the Pearsons as they anticipate the arrival of Sarah (Nixon), Jack (Chris Ramsay) and their baby AJ as they’re flying back from Switzerland. Unfortunately they fail to arrive back before the arrival of Sarah’s parents and her grandmother Millie (Miriam Margolyes). The arrival of another old woman in a wheelchair means there’s soon a showdown between Millie and Jack’s grandmother Dot (Pat Dunn). Upon arriving home it appears that both Jack and Sarah are enjoying their new life in Switzerland, but secretly they both confess that they hate being separated for so long. Elsewhere Gervaise (Neil Grainger) is soon trying to win back Vicki (Lisa McGrillis) and makes the ultimate gesture to her towards the end of the episode. Soon, Pauline (Gina McKee) finds herself celebrating a non-denominational winter festival when Sarah’s Jewish parents are forced to stay after their car is stolen. One of my most usual complaints about TV shows is that they drag on, but for me this special of Hebburn could’ve done with being about fifteen minutes longer. The fact that there was so much story to tell meant that some pivotal moments were lost in the shuffle among Joe’s insistence that everyone wear hats and Margolyes and Dunn stealing the show as the warring grannies. Despite this, I still love Hebburn and think that this Christmas special was still incredibly funny with characters that I still care about. I hope that BBC2 do the right thing and give this superb sitcom a third series as it more than deserves one.
Finally, Christmas is a time of giving and I’m giving you all a present by not making you have to watch the awful Citizen Khan Christmas Special. The central conceit of the show was that Adil Ray’s titular community leader was against celebrating Christmas. However, he was the only one in his family who felt this way and soon his wife was pressuring him to get festive. To this end he had to spend an enormous amount of money on a tree and donate presents to the local church. Unfortunately one of these presents happened to be one of Mrs Khan’s most treasured heirlooms. The supposed comedy then came from Khan posing as Santa in order to retrieve the item before anybody found out. I’ve said it many times on this website but I find Citizen Khan incredibly offensive. From the Khan women believing that turkey was ‘just a big chicken’ and adding chillies to the stuffing to Mr Khan’s various exploits playing Santa everything just felt incredibly clichéd. I have to say that I didn’t laugh once throughout the entire thirty minutes of watching it and I knew exactly how the show would end. Now I’ve got nothing against old-fashioned comedy if it’s done right, such as Not Going Out, but Citizen Khan just doesn’t have anything going for it at all. The reason for giving Citizen Khan a third series is beyond me and I’m really hoping people stop watching the show so it doesn’t return for a fourth.
I’d just like to end by wishing all our readers a very happy Christmas and I’ll talk to you soon
For more of my thoughts on TV follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites