Bad Santas Review: The Ministry of Fun turns 5 no hopers into Father Christmas

by Matt D


Channel 4 are always known for doing things a little bit different over Christmas including broadcasting an alternative to The Queen’s Speech every year since 1993. This year also sees the channel give some former convicts and jobless gents a second chance as the nation’s top Santa Agency offers five no-hopers the opportunity to become Father Christmas. The programme starts by introducing us to the Ministry of Fun, which is the number one supplier of Santas in the UK, and in particular the head of The Ministry James Lovell. James tells us of a time where he was a jobbing actor, struggling for money until one day he got a job in a grotto which changed his life and that’s why he now wants to help out those who are finding it tough at Christmas.

James and his business partner Matt dispatch their elves to hand out fliers at some of the most likely venues their potential recruits would hang about including betting shops, pubs and the job centre. James and Matt then have auditions where they learn of some of the dark pasts that their potential santas have including convictions for drunk-driving and ABH as well as a lack of employment experience. In the end James and Matt pick five candidates to go forward in the process and get the opportunity to attend the Ministry of Fun’s Santa School.

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The first of the five is Frank a former armed-robber who hopes to be the first ever black Santa that the Ministry of Fun has ever had. Frank’s life has been turned around in recent years with the birth of his son however he wants to prove to his sceptical son that Santa can indeed be a black man. Next up was Brian a man who has been unemployed for years and wants to be earning money again so he can actually buy presents for his family this Christmas. The ironically named Tiny Tim is a mountain of a man who has a myriad of convictions including GBH and battery and personally I felt that he had the look of a cage fighter about him. The one of the five who looked most like Santa, certainly in the belly area, was Steve who had to retire from his job as a timeshare salesman after a spate of medical problems including angina and epilepsy. Steve had lost contact with his children when he left their mother to go to Portugal but he was hoping to reconnect with them by showing how much he had changed providing of course he made it through Santa School. Finally the most memorable of the five was Johnny Sausage, so-named so he could be identified over all of the other Johns, an aged hippie who used to squat but now lives in his van essentially drinking and smoking his way through life.

Though the five were initially a little bemused by the benefits of being Santa soon they learn from one of the Ministry’s most seasoned St Nicks that they could earn up to £1,000 a week enough to buy as many presents as their families could want. Of course before the guys went off to Santa School they had to have some preliminary training so they were sent off onto the streets to promote John Lewis’ Christmas show with Johnny showing some character while Frank’s forthrightness got him in trouble a few times including when he told an Argentinean woman not to start any more wars. Despite some wobbles overall James and Matt were happy with the attitude all five showed but this happiness didn’t last for long when they received the CRB forms revealing the true pasts of their potential Santas. Through the forms the pair discovered that the pair shared almost 100 convictions between them with Tiny Tim in particular being a repeat offender and when it was revealed he still had a pending court date he was ejected from the programme.

Despite Tim’s exit the four continued on as they went to a primary school to help with a children’s party their general presentation disturbed one of the teachers who commented on how most of them stunk of smoke. Next up was a trip to Toys R Us were the four were surprised at how pricey the presents were and also saw Frank launch into a diatribe about the new breed of Furbies that require an iPhone app to translate them. It was at this point that the men were also told that Santa never promises anything to children but instead simply tells them he’d see what he could do. Santa School was next up as James, Matt and their elves grilled the final four on the names of the reindeer, heard their perfected laughs and see how well they applied their Santa make-up. The final task was the simulation in which each potential Santa was given a difficult child to deal with though before this even begun Johnny decided to sabotage himself by having a drink. Johnny’s inebriation was bought to the attention of Matt by a snitching Santa, presumably one who was resentful of his work being stolen by these interlopers, however when James questioned him on it he denied even looking at any alcohol. His drunken state though was bought to the attention of everyone in an embarrassing simulation with a very attractive female elf who was pretending to be a child who didn’t believe in Santa. After this had happened James was left with no choice but to fail Johnny who slunk off back to his van cursing himself for sabotaging what could’ve been a profitable venture. The good news was that Frank, Steve and Brian had all passed Santa School and now could officially start earning booking as fully qualified Father Christmases.

To me Bad Santas is the epitome of a Channel 4 Christmas programme in so much as it highlights some of the outcasts of society and attempts to give them a festive opportunity. In a way a lot of Bad Santas reminded me of Gordon Behind Bars as both focused on men trying to give society’s outcasts an attempt to change their lives . However I think that’s the only similarity between Gordon Ramsay and James Lovell someone who can definitely be described as a glass half-full man and somebody who his willing to give his bad Santas the benefit of the doubt on most occasions. He is perfectly complimented by Matt who is a little bit more realistic about the potential of their new recruits and somebody who realises that a couple may never be ready to be around children. At the end of the day everything that went on here was fairly predictable but at the same time I can’t say I didn’t warm to a lot of the characters here especially the passionate Frank and the unfortunate Johnny Sausage. There were also at least two moments during the show where I laughed out loud and I was very happy to see three of the men successfully graduate from Santa School. Even though it felt fairly manipulative throughout I have to say I warmed to Bad Santas and it did fill me with a large amount of festive cheer to the extent where I really want to see what happens next for the three newest Santas on the block Steve, Brian and Frank.

Did you enjoy Bad Santas? Did it put you in the festive mood? Leave Your Comments Below.