Christmas TV preview part 2: Absolutely Fabulous, Outnumbered, Mrs Brown’s Boys, Top Gear & more

by Lisa McGarry

Here’s part two of the Christmas preview looking at all the laughs and fun that can be had over the Christmas period and also some serious BBC4-like stuff if you’re that way inclined

Comedy 

Absolutely Fabulous (BBC1)
To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Jennifer Saunders’ brilliant comedy, the BBC have commissioned two new episodes of the show to air over Christmas and that’s before another treat for Ab Fab fans as there is a film in the works. Eddy is still in PR but is working in the build-up for the 2012 Olympics, the third new episode is set to air at the same time as the games, and she is now worshipping Louis Vitton and Stella McCartney. Meanwhile Patsy still works for her magazine but it seems that Effy wants to be an actress after being presented as a swotty student for all those years. I think if these episodes are done well and the writers have new ideas for the characters then I say bring it on but there’s just a niggling feeling somewhere in me that this may just fail. I am pleased though that the cameo cast includes a bizarre appearance from The Killing star Sophie Grabol. 

Outnumbered (BBC1), Mrs Brown’s Boys (BBC1)
The big news this year was that there was going to be no new Royle Family this year after Craig and Caroline didn’t get round to writing one in time. While a Royle Christmas Special will air in 2012 we have to look elsewhere for our family-based comedy. Outnumbered would be the safest bet here with the Brockman family regularly getting audiences of 4.5 million for their last series despite being on a Friday night. Personally if the BBC has any sense they’ll stick this on somewhere on Christmas Day, possibly in the 9pm slot, but I’ve got a feeling this will be a post Boxing Day affair. If you like your comedy a little bit more blue then the surprise hit of the year, the BAFTA nominated Mrs Brown’s Boys, has its own Christmas Special. I am absolutely a massive fan of Outnumbered and won’t be missing this however I never found Mrs Brown’s Boys particularly funny but if you like an Irishman wearing a dress and swearing then this is the one for you. 

The Royal Bodyguard (BBC1)

David Jason has long been synonymous with Christmas specials thanks to the tradition of Only Fools and Horses and this year he returns to the BBC with a new slapstick comedy show. Jason plays Guy Hubble an almost-retired Captain who is appointed as bodyguard to the Royal Family due to his splendid credentials. However these aren’t actually Guy’s details and his appointment is due to a mix-up in fact he actually works at the Buckingham Palace car park. The hilarity obviously ensues as Guy then has to ensure all safety protocol is in place and the lives of the royals are literally placed in his hands. This does sound like quite a funny idea and it is written by the team behind The Worst Week of My Life and The Armstrong and Miller Show. As long is Jason is back on top form and not just winging it we could have a good festive comedy hit in this show. 

Lapland (BBC1) 
As I mentioned earlier there’s no Royle Family this year, thankfully Sue Johnston is still on our screens in a family-based festive comedy. In Lapland, Johnston plays the head of the Lewis family a large Birkenhead clan who are always potty for Christmas. This year the family have saved up enough to go to Lapland and see Father Christmas as well as maybe spotting the famous Northern Lights. Described by Johnston as ‘bittersweet’ this is probably not going to be just a traditional sitcom but it does have a great cast including Stephen Graham, Julie Graham, Elizabeth Berrington and Keith Barron. I am big fan of Johnston and this one does look like it could be a bit of Christmas escapism however we seem to have had a lot of trouble with Northern-based comedy dramas this year and the Johnston-starring Sugartown springs to mind. But as long as this is well written it should be a good little treat for those cold winter nights.

Rev (BBC2) 
Obviously Rev is the programme that was crying out for a Christmas special as Christmas and religion blend perfectly together. Tom Hollander’s Adam Smallbone is planning his first Advent services since his move to London and has lots of ideas for it. But this being Rev nothing runs to particularly to plan with his parishioners all having ideas of their own and Simon McBurney’s terrible archdeacon breathing down his neck constantly demanding that he maximise the church’s profits during the Christmas period. If that wasn’t enough Adam also has to deal with the fact that his father-in-law, Geoffrey Palmer in another appearance this Christmas, has turned up to constantly undermine him also. I honestly do love a bit of Rev and think this Christmas special is a great idea for fans as Adam does get overwhelmed very easily and the festive period is the ideal time for that to happen.  

John Bishop’s Britain (BBC1), So This is Christmas (C4), Michael McIntyre Christmas Special (BBC1)
Two of the BBC’s biggest stand-up shows have also been given Christmas specials this year. First up we have John Bishop’s Britain a programme that basically sees Bishop reminiscing about various hilarious incidents and I’m sure he has a lot of Christmas memoires and stories to regale us with as well as going to celebrities and the British public to get their festive tales. Something very similar to this is Channel 4’s So This is Christmas where stand-up comics who are after a bit of money give their best Christmas memories. Then onto Christmas Day’s big comic offering and Michael McIntyre, so far we’re not sure if this will be just stand-up or if it will be a studio-based show with McIntrye welcoming guests. Personally I feel that maybe this should be a stand-up show with a couple of other comics, Tim Vine and Rob Brydon would be my picks, coming on to assist McIntrye with his Christmas duties. Everybody loves a laugh over Christmas and I’m sure these three shows will appeal to the people who don’t particularly care what it is they’re laughing at.

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff (BBC2) 
As previously mentioned the BBC are airing several programmes to celebrate the 200th birthday of Dickens and as well as Great Expectations this spoof of Dickensian text will air to mock the lighter side of his novels. The programme stars Robert Webb as Jedrington Secret-Past a man who, along with his family, is incarcerated in London’s Skint Prison. As the programme goes on Jedrington and his wife Conceptiva unlock the mysteries of the Secret-Past name and invite a host of colourful characters into their life. Stephen Fry also stars as villainous lawyer Malifax Skulkingworm along with David Mitchell, Celia Imrie, Tim McInnerny, Pauline McLynn and Johnny Vegas among others. The first episode of this will air around Christmas with the other parts fitting around the Dickens season and I have to say I’m looking forward to, I do love myself a good spoof and as long as this is nothing like the dreadful Krod Mandoon then it should be absouletly fine and a fitting start for this special two hundred year anniversary.  

The One.. (BBC1), David Croft Tribute (BBC2), The Untold Tommy Cooper (C4) 
We move on now to tributes to comic legends both alive and dead. After the success of last year’s The One Ronnie, in which modern-day comedians teamed with Ronnie Corbett to revive some classic Two Ronnies Sketches, three more comics are given the same treatment. The comedians on these programmes are Jasper Carrott, Lenny Henry and Griff Rhys Jones all of whom are known for their sketch shows. However unlike Ronnie Corbett, who is associated with many a famous skit, I would struggle to bring to mind any of Carrott or Henry’s sketches although Griff is a little easier thanks to his work with Mel Smith and the Not the 9 o’clock News Team. Even though the sketches don’t come easily to mind I’m sure these will be amusing because of those involved. Though it didn’t appear among the BBC’s Christmas schedule a tribute to sitcom writer David Croft was promised by the network on a recent episode of Points of View. I think this would probably be easiest fit among the Christmas schedule and the show could run with a night of his old sitcoms. Finally Channel 4 are airing a documentary about the life of Tommy Cooper and some of the things we might not know about him. 

Felix and Murdo (C4), Hacks (C4), The Worst Week of My Life (BBC3) 
Finishing off the sitcom line-up we have two newbies from Channel 4 and the revival of one of BBC3’s most watched sitcoms. First off Felix and Murdo is one of the Comedy Showcase specials but this time features one of our most loved comedy double acts in Armstrong and Miller. Felix and Murdo focuses on two men about town in Edwardian Britain during the first time the Olympics came to London – 1908. The programme will see Felix and Murdo indulge in some drinking and drug taking while simultaneously competing in the Olymics with no training whatsoever. I have to say this sounds like a right laugh and as a big Armstrong and Miller fan I shall be watching. Next up is Hacks a satirical look at the recent phone-hacking scandal written by Guy Jenkin of Outnumbered and Drop the Dead Donkey fame. It stars Claire Foy as a go-getter journalist and Michael Kitchen as her demanding editor and again it could be good especially as its from the man who bought us one of the greatest satirical sitcoms of all time. Finally How Not to Live Your Life returns for a one-hour Christmas special on BBC3. Having never been a fan of the show particularly I do question the channel for bringing back a show it previously axed especially when the brilliant Him and Her could easily find room for a Christmas special. 

Panel Shows (BBC1, BBC2, C4)
And if that isn’t enough comedy for you all the panel shows are filming Christmas specials as well QI will have the usual crowd alongside first-timer Brian Blessed. Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You will be taking a sideswipe at the news over the festive period as I assume will 8 out of 10 Cats. Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night will be having a special Christmassy theme and of course we will see the return of the annual Big Fat Quiz of the Year. Not so much of a panel show but A Question of Sport will also be having a Christmas special as will Total Wipeout which I know is technically a game show but it fits in well in this section.

Entertainment 

Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1)

Fast becoming an annual tradition as something that can be slotted in between Doctor Who and Eastenders for the second year in a row the Strictly special will welcome stars who may not have the time and patience to participate in a full series of the show. Last year we had quite a big line-up including a cabinet minister in Vince Cable, a soap legend in June Brown plus John Barrowman and Fearne Britton but I feel this year’s parade of stars isn’t particularly going to match that. Saying that I was particularly excited by the inclusion of one name in particular that being sitcom legend Su Pollard a woman who has shied away from reality TV but I’m assuming doesn’t mind it if it’s a one-off plus she is being paired with Anton which will surely mean a big comedy number. Also competing will be Charlie ‘Janine from Eastenders’ Brooks dancing with Vincent, Impressionist and actress Debra Stephenson who will be partnered with Ian, former boxing ace Barry McGuigan who’s with Erin and Simon from Blue dancing with Katya. Although this doesn’t sound great on paper the Christmas atmosphere doubled with cheesy Bruce Forsyth jokes mean that this will be a festive favourite. Anyway it’s usually on when I’m doing the Christmas dishes so I’m only half paying attention anyway.

Text Santa (ITV1) 
ITV1 are launching a large appeal over Christmas in order to aide nine charities that can make a real different to people’s lives over Christmas. This appeal has already started but is due to culiminate in two televisual extravaganzas one on the 11th of December and the other on Christmas Eve. Hosted by new Dancing on Ice duo Christine Bleakley and Philip Schofield as well as Ant and Dec and both shows are promised to bring fun and entertainment as well as help us learn the true meaning of Christmas. This does basically sound like ITV’s attempt at a festive Children in Need but it is a good idea and I think it will benefit these charities immensely so come on folks dig deep it is Christmas and you don’t want to come off as a Scrooge now do you?

Jim’ll Fix It (BBC1)
Also someone who liked to assist good causes a tribute to the legendary Sir Jimmy Saville will air over Christmas and feature Shane Ritchie as host. I know some people have had a problem with Ritchie as a host especially as Jimmy’s name remains in the title but I do think Shane has the right air of showman about him to bring something special and truly do Jimmy’s name justice. The big question is will he be able to pull of something as memorable as those boy scouts eating on the rollercoaster?

The Bank Job (C4)
Something a bit different from the rest of the Crimbo mumbo jumbo is this show which essentially sounds like Deal or No Deal in a Bank Vault. Players take it in turns to  answer questions to win safety deposit boxes with money in them and then face the dilemma of whether to stay in the vault and risk it closing on them or leave with less money than the other players. If you’re a fan of either the Noel Edmonds show or Million Pound Drop, players have to apply via the online game, then this might be the one for you and as it’s only going to be on for five shows it’s not going to drag on like Deal or No Deal seems to these days.

Chat Shows (BBC1,BBC2, ITV1, C4) 
The big names of chat are taking over the airwaves this year over the Christmas and New Year period. Graham Norton’s show has a Christmas Special which may air on New Year’s Eve as the one did last year. Ruth Jones’ Christmas Cracker returns to BBC2 for a second year with guests including her old writing partner James Cordern, singing legend Lulu and the omnipresent Micky Flanagan as well as the Manic Street Preachers. For his first Christmas Special for ITV1, Jonathan Ross has secured Tom Cruise and the casts of both Downton Abbey and The Inbetweeners as well as Tim Minchin who has penned a special Christmas song. Finally Alan Carr will be presenting two Chatty Man specials the first to air just before Christmas and the second to be a two and a half hour New Year’s Eve special with a massive cast including Jonathan Ross, Gok Wan, David Walliams, Mel Sykes and The Stricly judges it’ll just be amusing if any of these lot pop up on Jools Holland’s New Years Eve show on the same night.

Cookery and Lifestyle Shows (BBC2, ITV1, C4, BBC4) 
Obviously it wouldn’t be Christmas without a plethora of chefs telling us the right way to stuff our turkey and soak our puddings. Channel 4 have arguably the best line up with Jamie’s Christmas, a live cook-along with Gordon Ramsay, Jimmy Doherty serving up his Christmas Dinner and organic delights at the annual River Cottage Christmas. Over on BBC2 meanwhile The Hairy Bikers will be having a Christmas Party, Lorraine Pascale will be showing us how to throw together a last minute meal in Lorraine’s Last Minute Christmas, we journey across the sea for Rick Stein’s Spanish Christmas and Raymond Blanc teaches us the secrets of Mediterranean cuisine. ITV1 meanwhile have got a Christmas special of Countrywise Kitchen and if you’re after a bit of nostalgia then head over to BBC4 where they’ll be showing us how TV cooks have performed in the past on The Roasts of Christmas Past. In addition they’ll be added Christmas tips courtesy of festive versions of Kirstie’s Homemade Homes and The Superscrimpers.

Reality Shows and That Sort of Thing(C4, ITV2, E4, BBC3) 

If you’re already missing Brendan and the coach then fear not because there will be a three-week Coach Trip Christmas Special  in which the seven pairs of strangers are heading across Northern Finland and ultimately to Lapland but who will get there and who will be voted off along the way. Fans of the favourite old constructed reality will be OK as both The Only Way is Esssex and Made in Chelsea will be giving us some Christmas fun in the common and posh areas of the capital. Then there’s the Christmas special of Channel 4’s breakout hit entitled Big Fat Gypsy Christmas this will follow members of the travelling community and observe their customs during the Christmas period. Weddings will also be on the agenda over on BBC3 with a very special edition of Don’t Tell the Bride. A ceremony is upcoming as a soon to be married couple meet their partner’s respective extended families in Home for the Holidays and there’s more festive oddities in Christmas Lights a Cutting Edge special looking at how some people go all out when decorating their houses for the big day.

All Singing, All Dancing (Various Channels) 

The two big channels will be going head to head on live music this year. BBC1 have managed to get the rights to Take That’s Progress Live while ITV1 are hoping that Michael Buble will bring in the punters with his special entitled Home for Christmas. BBC4 meanwhile will be presenting a different side to music as they host an Easy Listening Christmas featuring a concert with guests including Carole King and Richard Hawley and also on BBC4 a Country Music Season will feature various documentaries and live performances. This being Christmas there will be the two traditional episodes of Top of the Pops as well as Songs of Praise and Carols from Kings. BBC4 will also be bringing the Alice Royal Ballet which will be a ballet version of Alice in Wonderland and Channel 4 have managed to get Matthew Bourne to present a very special Christmas show of his own.

The Gruffalo’s Child (BBC1)
Following the success of The Gruffalo in 2009 this year’s Christmas TV will feature a follow-up The Gruffalo’s Child. Once again this will be one for the whole family as James Corden returns this time joined by an all-star voice cast including Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, Shirley Henderson, Rob Byrdon and John Hurt.

Factual 

Top Gear Christmas Special (BBC2) 

This year Jeremy, Richard and James will be heading off to India to try and boost the British economy by embarking on a trade mission. Driving across the country in three classic British motors with boots full of British goods they will try and sell some of our most treasured inventions to one of the world’s biggest countries. Personally I feel this could be a bit of a mistake sending Clarkson over to a foreign country surely this is rife for people complaining about his racist comments, all I’m saying is that he needs to be on his best behaviour.

A Night with the Stars (BBC2) 
Professor Brian Cox is back once again to present a lecture on the changing nature of the night sky and he will be accompanied by lecturers in the subject plus famous astronomy fans and people who just want to get on the T.V. 

Dickens Documentaries (BBC2/BBC4)
Finalising the Dickens season we have an Arena Special on Charlie plus Sue Perkins looks at life through the eyes of Catherine Dickens in Dickens’ Wife and Armando Iannucci unpicks the dialogue in David Copperfield to explore Dickens as a revolutionary storyteller.

More from BBC4
If you want to shy completely away from Christmas jollity then you can enjoy the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures including the intriguingly named Meet Your Brain. They also have a very special season entitled Night Night which will explore night time and will be marking the shortest day of the year with a night of programmes.

Films 

Finally all the big movies heading to the small screen this Christmas. BBC1 have snagged the rights to premiere Ratatouille, Monsters Vs Aliens and Madagascar 2 and will also be airing more films for the kids on BBC3 including Wall-E, Cars, Shrek and Bee Movie. Over on Channel 4 the kids may enjoy the premiere of Penelope as well as Christmas favourites Elf, Fred Claus and The Muppet’s Christmas Carol as well as real treat in Film 4’s Studio Ghibli Season including the premiere of Ponyo. For the grown-ups there are the premieres of Tropic Thunder on BBC1, Revolutionary Road, Young Victoria and Defiance on BBC2 and Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Bruno on C4. Again BBC4 are going for something completely different in an Epics Season including the premiere of Mongol. And if all that fails Film4 are showing the original Star Trek Films as well as the latest JJ Abrams effort.

So there you have it, everything you need for Christmas. Let me know what you think of these shows and what you will be watching in a few weeks.

This post was written by me, guest blogger Matt Donnelly!

Follow me on Twitter: @mattstvworld and read my blog mattstvworld.blogspot.com