[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hristmas day would be nothing without TV specials being there to entertain us. And we all have those particular Christmas episodes that we like to watch over and over again. To get you in the Christmas spirit, four Boar TV writers are here to tell you their especial favourites.
Morecambe and Wise: ‘The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special’
When it comes to Christmas Specials, nothing beats the golden oldies. Long gone are the days when Morcambe and Wise ruled the Saturday nights of British television, but even now re-runs of their epic Christmas episodes are making an impact.
Though originally aired before an age of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, they manage still to be hilarious for all ages – from my 93-year-old Nana to the youngest of the family. It’s funny because it’s silly… and it isn’t so obviously rude that we find ourselves coughing out the expletives to protect the youngsters. The quality may be slightly fuzzy – these were the days before High Definition – but there’s something lovely and nostalgic about watching old TV, laughing at the seventies fashions and haircuts, as well as the skits.
Morcambe and Wise are the perfect comedic pair, putting today’s Ant and Dec to shame. They produced the highest rated TV programmes of the era, with ten specials between 1969 and 1980. Even now, they still haven’t lost their sparkle.
With guest stars mercilessly mocked and perfect comedic timing, ‘The Morcambe and Wise Christmas Special’ is brilliant for all the family, if you can catch it.
American Dad!: ‘Rapture’s Delight’
When Stan (Seth MacFarlane) is annoyed that he can’t get a seat at a Christmas service, Francine (Wendy Schaal) helps to ease his frustration – unfortunately, this is at the exact moment the Rapture occurs, leaving the couple on Earth. Upset that he has been left behind and aware of the seven years of Hell that are about to descend, Stan tries to ditch his wife and make it to Heaven. However, after Francine is kidnapped, Stan must help Jesus fight his way into the lair of the Antichrist to help save her.
What I’ve described hardly sounds like something massively upbeat and Christmassy, but this is truly one of the great Christmas TV episodes of recent times.
The episode, ‘Rapture’s Delight’, starts off all festive, but quickly becomes a wonderful animated horror tale. American Dad! often fuses Christmas with classic horror to great effect, with other episodes taking on The Exoricst and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
However, throughout all of this, it remains darkly funny, with the entire episode being quotable and hilarious – clumsy Christmas sex metaphors, a vastly inappropriate kids information video, and Stan shooting a child in the head all being comedic highlights – and, at the end, a heart-warming tale of a couple’s love and the true meaning of Christmas. If you’re after a non-conventional celebration of the holiday, this is it.
Black Mirror: ‘White Christmas’
Usually, Christmas telly tends to be as warm, merry and family friendly as possible (EastEnders aside, of course). However, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror went in the opposite direction into truly unsettling and dark territory for its festive special.
In case you’ve never watched Black Mirror before, it’s an anthology series that explores the unexpected and potentially dangerous consequences of new technologies. Worryingly, the show’s absurd and twisted storylines have been strangely prophetic at times – the first episode, which aired in 2011, featured the Prime Minister having sex with a pig, for instance.
For the Christmas special, ‘White Christmas’, Black Mirror features three interwoven stories with each one introducing a new technology and its adverse side effects. Perhaps the most unnerving example is the episode’s concept of Cookies, which are self-aware digital copies of people that are tortured into submission.
With an exceptional cast that includes Jon Hamm and Oona Chaplin; shocking twists and a genuinely disturbing ending, ‘White Christmas’ could be the most thrilling and thought-provoking instalment of Black Mirror yet. Just don’t expect it to fill you with Christmas cheer.
Friends: ‘The One with Phoebe’s Dad’
Even though I can’t think about Friends and festivities without remembering the Holiday Armadillo, the episode that best evokes the spirit of Christmas for me is ‘The One with Phoebe’s Dad’ (Season 2, Episode 9).
The main plot concerns Phoebe’s (Lisa Kudrow) efforts in tracking down her biological father. This is my favourite Christmas episode because it balances poignant scenes with festive moments very well. The viewers aren’t assailed with cheesy dialogues about spending Christmas time with friends and family. Instead, this aspect of the holiday is subtly illustrated through the plot, as Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) offer moral support whilst Phoebe tries to gather courage to knock on her father’s door.
This doesn’t deduct from the festive atmosphere in any way. A Christmassy mood is effectively created through the decorated sets and the sub-plots of the episode, which include Monica (Courtney Cox) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) tipping with cookies and Joey and Chandler’s last-minute present shopping.
The characters are all engaged with the holiday without going overboard. For instance, Phoebe wishes everyone a “Happy Christmas Eve Eve!” and Joey reflects how quickly Christmas has come about. However, those moments are well integrated into other everyday situations. For example, as Monica and Rachel prepare for a Christmas party, Ross (David Schwimmer) attempts to fix his relationship with Rachel. This prevents the episode from seeming unrealistically focused on the holidays.
Thus at the end, as the friends gather to open their presents from Joey and Chandler, the viewers have no reason to feel deprived. The episode still indulges in Christmas spirit and shows us glimpses of the essence of Christmas, all well incorporated into the world of Friends.