I don’t know about you, but Christmas in the Robinson household is mostly about eating and watching television, often at the same time. Fortunately no one suffers unfortunate addictions to any soap operas, so don’t have to suffer through those tumultuous offerings and can focus more on the lighter and heart warming side of the spectrum. Here’s just some of the stuff we’ve watched over the last couple of days. You’ll note the Queen’s Speech isn’t mentioned, as we were watching The Muppets instead.
Outnumbered is a show with a natural life-span, and I’m not sure that it’s not a couple of years past the point where it should have retired gracefully. In the early days its use of real child actors and allowing them to use their own dialogue was something really very special, but as the children aged, the whole thing became considerably more scripted and, frankly, unoriginal. The fact that the kids are growing up was brought home dramatically in the Christmas special when Karen was completely unrecognisable and Ben was suddenly 2 foot taller and his voice was two octaves lower. However despite all that, I did find the episode very funny and well pitched for Christmas with the family. So, even though it’s no longer particularly innovative, maybe it is still funny enough to stick around.
Loving Miss Hatto was one of those TV movies that I only ever watch at Christmas, inspired by the true story of Joyce Hatto, a concert pianist in the 50s whose career was stalled due to her nerves. Decades later, she and her husband stumble into conning the music industry by faking recordings and relaunching her career. It was nice enough, with a solid story and charming performances from the four actors playing the young and old versions of the couple. Victoria Wood’s writing shone through with some beautiful little moments of observational comedy and it was another family friendly distraction for the evening.
Room on the Broom was a charming little cartoon that I almost didn’t bother with, but would highly recommend seeking out on iPlayer. Based on a children’s book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (The Grufallo) it’s a beautifully animated story about a witch and her cat, and the increasing number of animals that want to share they’re broom. It has a lovely rhyming narration and recurring phrases that lull you into the story with some nicely understated voice work from people like Simon Pegg and Gillian Anderson. The animation is simple, but done with a lot of humour and character for all the animals, although I am a bit hazy on why birds, dogs and frogs talk, but cats don’t; although they do laugh.
Mr Stink was also surprisingly lovely and another one that I didn’t actually intend to watch. It’s another adaption of a children’s book (written by David Walliams), but with enough humour and charm to appeal to adults. Hugh Bonneville plays the homeless Mr Stink like he’s Downton Abbey’s Lord Grantham fallen on harder times. Most of the characters and situations are played large and ridiculous, but are perfectly balanced by just a couple of realistic elements and characters who make the whole thing relatable. It’s an impressive achievement for actors, writers and directors that Pudsey the adorable dog didn’t actually completely steal the show.
Doctor Who is becoming almost as synonymous with Christmas as turkey, too much chocolate and falling asleep in front of a children’s film you’ve seen seventeen times before. Unfortunately while there was plenty that I liked, overall I thought the episode was actually a bit rubbish. Tucked into the episode were some clever, funny and occasionally quite beautiful character moments for the Doctor and his future-companion Clara. The relationship between the Doctor and his companion have always been the most important thing about the series, and this is a very interesting set-up for next season. Clara is suitably ‘spunky’, with an interesting intelligence to her which draws the Doctor’s and audiences’ attention alike and I’m intrigued as to how her story will play out.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the actual story of the Christmas episode. It felt like a show written to tick boxes and then the storyline was added in like polyfilla to pad the gaps. The horrific grinning snowmen made for a great Christmas poster, but the explanation for where they came from, what they wanted or how they were defeated was thrown together in a couple of chunks of exposition. It felt like they couldn’t decide whether the villain would be the snowmen or the frozen governess (with a Punch and Judy obsession) and so decided to put both in. There was way too much stuffed into the episode, and it was the plot that was sacrificed. I don’t know why the episode can’t be longer, or even made into a two parter across to boxing day or New Year’s Day. Or just have a one-off episode and companion for this and introduce Clara in another episode. This episode was just messy and self-indulgent, leaving me feeling frustrated and slightly sad. Not really what I was after for Christmas day.
Downton Abbey however made up for it! I described season 3 as a “pantomime soap opera”, which may not have been meant as a compliment at the time, but was exactly what I was looking for on Christmas evening. I thoroughly enjoyed all two hours of it (well, 92 minutes of it, I didn’t really enjoy the 30 minutes of sofa sale adverts). All the favourites were there – Lord Grantham mourning the changing times, Carson harrumphing, Lady Mary being a cow, the Dowager Duchess sniping from the side lines, simpering Anna, Owen conniving and Thomas being slimy. It felt just like a family Christmas.
Unlike the latest season, the plot wasn’t crammed in too much, in fact nothing really happened for most of the episode, and it was stronger because of it. All of the stories were much lighter and it was just fun to watch all of these characters, allowing the dialogue and humour to really shine through.
The Girl was another one-off drama, about the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedron during the filming of The Birds and Marnie. Despite excellent performances (impersonations?) from Toby Jones and Sienna Miller in the lead roles and an interesting and chilling story, the whole thing bored me to tears. Maybe it was the timing of it at 9pm on Boxing Day, the good will of Christmas had evaporated and I’m settling back in to my usual negative outlook.
Downton Abbey is available on itv player for a month, Loving Miss Hatto, Outnumbered, The Girl, Room on the Broom, Mr Stink and Doctor Who are all on iPlayer for a week or so.
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