Christmas Telly Round-Up 2018

It’s New Years Day and I’m feeling charitable so this blog is brought to you in a whisper, with a cold flannel (for your forehead) and a bacon sandwich (for your mouth… if you need instructions on how to eat a sandwich, maybe don’t get out of bed yet). Read my round-up of the best Christmas telly and figure out what you want to watch on catch-up to keep the festive feelings flowing, and I’ll pop to the shops for paracetamol. Alright?

Click and Collect – BBC 1

Dev and Andy off to save Christmas

A classic tale of mismatched neighbours Andrew (Stephen Merchant, playing exactly the sort of person he always does) and Dev (Asim Chaudhry) from Bedford on a 9 hour mission to save Christmas and buy the must-have toy (Sparklehoof the Unicorn Princess) for Andrew’s daughter. Dev is the lonely chubby one, separated from his family at Christmas, and Andrew is the awkward angry intellectual, successful but bad tempered with a family who loves him for some unseen qualities. Dev teaches Andrew to be a happier man and a better father, and despite themselves they’ll be best buddies for life. Basically it’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Jingle All The Way for the small screen. It looks lovely with cosy camera angles suited to our suburban action heros. There’s great pacing throughout with real tension and subversive moments of mischief. Neither lead performance is all that over-the-top and their situation, while silly, seems entirely probable. An unexpected gem.

Click through for more shows

‘Watership Down’ – BBC1 /Netflix

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, and spending a lot of money on presents that may not be exactly what the recipient really wanted. Do you have friends and relations who give great gifts or have you been in training for weeks to perfect your thank-you face? Shining eyes under a paper cracker crown, broad grin, scrabbling around in the box hoping they’ve included the receipt? “Thanks very much for the 6 pack of pan scourers Nana!” Does that sound familiar at all?

The new Watership Down adaptation showing on BBC1 and Netflix made me think they should have kept the receipt. This was one of the early festive highlights with a rumoured budget of £20 million for state-of-the-art CG animation and seems to have put the flop in Flopsy Bunny with very mixed reviews across the board. And it’s not just the ‘we should never do remakes’ crowd feeling grinchy towards these cottontails.

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‘The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell’ – Netflix

Sometimes TV shows come along and they’re more than one blogger can handle. Welcome to this original collaborative effort between yours truly at Dead Pixel Test and Birmingham food blogger extraordinaire Laura who writes over at Full to the Brum. Your usual Dead Pixel Test fare is above, seasoned with Laura’s unique take on this singular show, and her thoughts in full on each episode is your delicious dessert buffet below.

In the week where TV fans are lamenting the silencing of an animatronic cat, I might have just the thing to cheer you up. The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell is a strange box of delights, released on Netflix in the build-up to Halloween, which is of course goth Christmas.

This out-there show is based around wholesome pastimes of baking, crafting and sewing but Christine specialises in some shocking creations. And she sets out her stall early. The first thing we see is Christine painting what seems to be an actual human skull and then absentmindedly biting off a spiders leg. Our host is a totally glamorous 1950s housewife with a sort of romantic Snow White look about her. Her set is a gorgeous pastel coloured kitchen with gothic hints in the spiderweb patterned kitchen cabinets. It’s as if the Stepford Wives weren’t obliging robots at all but had their own secret coven.

Odd enough right? Well, lets meet her team. Christine’s rag-tag adopted family are all incredible puppets made by the Jim Henson Company. The stand-out star here is resurrected roadkill Rose who leaks partially digested food out of her seams. Not letting a little thing like that hold her back she’s a insatiably horny murderous scene-stealer, with hobbies including eating herself into a diabetic coma, torturing neighbours and humping gnomes. Rankle is the sarcastic talking mummified cat from ancient Egypt (a descendant or ancient ancestor of Salem, depending on how you see it) who still expects to be worshiped. Big cuddly Edgar looks to be part Bigfoot, part werewolf, there’s a giant one-eyed fuzz ball in the basement and huge but useful tentacles that live in the fridge. The creatures, especially Rose and Rankle, definitely get the best lines. These Henson creations are certainly not kid-friendly and the show would be hideously saccharine without them.

For a program ostensibly about baking, it’s astounding that zero cakes actually get made. It’s like joining an episode of the Great Transylvanian Bake Off mid-way through a showstopper challenge when the dull and messy jobs are done. Christine’s specialities are sculpting, painting, and decorating with enviable precision. Everything she produces is extremely obsessively beautiful, everything is a masterpiece. Piped royal icing teeth and claws seem to be her trademark, which looks like the fiddliest job ever. If Marilyn Mason ever gets married again he knows who to get in to do the buffet.

Continue reading “‘The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell’ – Netflix”

‘Ordeal by Innocence’ – BBC1

Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries are an international literary language; translated, loved and understood the world over. You know there’s going to be a big stately home, a cast of shifty upper-class characters, a few red herrings and a satisfyingly complicated conclusion. It’ll all hinge on the silver sugar tongs, a classified advert in the Times or the colour of the front door which you knew from the start but discounted as an inconsequential detail. It’s clever, gratifying and reassuring all in one shot. For a real-life example, please see me and Mr H on holiday in Turkey in 2014. We were, I’m ashamed to admit, battered out of our skulls on local raki and dealing with a day-long hangover in a hotel room easily as hot as the surface of the sun. What could be more soothing to the addled brain than finding Poirot dubbed into Turkish with English subtitles? In no small part thanks to Hercule we consoled the little grey cells that hadn’t been murdered by alcohol.

Ordeal by Innocence, the Easter Sunday BBC1 drama, is not your Turkish holiday Agatha Christie adaptation. There’s nothing soothing about this production. From the off it’s clear we’re in a nightmarish gothic horror. Producer and writer Sarah Phelps brings us a sharper, nastier, distilled version of And Then There Were None, her tremendous Christie adaptation from 2016. “Nine elaborate murders based on an extremely dodgy nursery rhyme that drive a young woman to suicide in a mansion on a deserted island is not really terrifying enough. Let’s kick it up a notch guys!”

Continue reading “‘Ordeal by Innocence’ – BBC1”

‘Requiem’ – BBC1

Warning! Spoilers for Episode 1 lie beneath!

Even before the first shadow crosses the screen Requiem is creeping me out. It’s so obviously a Sunday night drama and should have been on over Christmas for full wintery effect. But for some unknown reason it’s on BBC1 on Friday nights in February. Never mind all that though, that’s an old-fashioned way of thinking about scheduling. Who cares what day it broadcasts when it’s all up on iPlayer to watch straight away.

I’d clocked the adverts but decided it wasn’t for me. Ghosts just don’t frighten me at all. I’d much rather Scooby don’t than Scooby Doo. The genre is so well-trodden and cliche-riddled that the only gasp you’ll get from me is a sigh as I find the remote and click the button. That whole haunted house brand has termites and it’s falling to pieces. But such a high quality cast turned my head and I watched it with a ‘may as well’ shrug as a chaser after yet another disappointing Euro drama (oh Modus, what’s happened to you?).

Requiem looks gorgeous and sounds fantastic. The opening credits are a Royal Blood album cover and the music is part classical emotions, part jarring shuddering electronics, as if the Terminator was in a string quartet. This isn’t just an interesting score; this is fundamental to the story. Matilda (Lydia Wilson) is a successful cellist, riding high with her pianist Hal (Joel Fry, wonderful in everything, recognisable from Game of Thrones where he’s got a similar complicated relationship with a powerful blonde) in hipster London, her haircut, flat and career fitting in nicely to that group of people who hate fitting in. Her lovely Mum Janice (the exceptional Joanna Scanlon, last seen as fearless matriarch Viv Deering in No Offence) is sad they’re spending more time apart, but delighted for her success. Matilda seems restless, her one-night stands interrupted by nightmares of an imprisoned girl.

Continue reading “‘Requiem’ – BBC1”

‘Rich House, Poor House’

There’s no getting around it – Channel 5 has a reputation. It’s a scuzzy low-class broadcaster renowned for poverty porn. Let’s all point and laugh at the disadvantaged people in society. It’s their fault they’re poor, unemployed, stupid, ill, struggling with debt – delete as required. There are very few reasons to watch the channel at all. But the tone of the adverts for Rich House, Poor House was quite different. This programme was billed as an experiment in happiness. Would it be repellant Victorian slum tourism, or something more worthy?

In episode one we meet the Caddy and Williams families, both big families by the UK standard. The premise is that they swap homes, budgets and lives for a typical week. Each family is selected from the richest and poorest 10% of the UK.

The Williams are at the poor end of the spectrum. Mum Kayleigh and Dad Antony have 6 kids, a product of a blended family. They rent a house in a council estate in Weston Super Mare and proudly they announce they are not on benefits. They survive on just £110 per week after rent and bills. Only 22 miles away from them in frighfully middle-class Clifton live James and Claire Caddy with their 5 kids. The family is older than the Williams with some children at university. Their spending money is a frankly staggering £1700 per week, mainly I think thanks to young and hip looking Dad James with floppy Brian Cox hair who is semi-retired after selling his software company.

Continue reading “‘Rich House, Poor House’”

Christmas Telly Round-Up 2017

To be quite honest with you, the bumper Christmas Radio Times (opened gleefully way ahead of time in our house) did not fill me with joy this year. The week in which about 90% of Britain downs tools, puts on their pyjamas and watch tv all-day every-day while eating Quality Streets and drinking prosecco (a healthy balanced breakfast) usually has an abundance of great telly. Was it just me thinking it was all a bit harder to find this year? Anyway, this is my little list of tv that caught my attention over the Christmas holidays.

Click through below for seven telly offerings, some which were more coal in the stocking than a sable under the tree…

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Where is the bear?

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Channel 4)

Michael Rosen’s picture book has very little in the way of peril. While being no expert on children’s books, I have read this recently to friends’ kids. The family bereavement subplot seemed to have been slotted in to pad out an extremely short story into 30 minutes of television, and to give that little bit of Christmas pathos that we seem to expect from everything in December, especially adverts. Who would have thought that after being totally traumatised last year (at the age of 33) by Cormac McCarthy’s Stick Man (turns out his nom de plume for kid’s books is Julia Donaldson), that I’d be wistful for a seasonal cartoon with a real adventure in it.

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Stephanie and Christina from Gogglesprogs

Gogglesprogs (Channel 4)

Cult telly, now mega-hit format Gogglebox (viewers talking about telly, on the telly, to you the viewers) is by turns charming and irritating, depending largely on whether you like the particular family passing comment and whether they agree with you. However, the mini-people version Gogglesprogs is always a treat and it was lovely to check in with these favourite nieces and nephews this year. My, how they’ve grown. Mr H and I had bets on who was going to cry (always Christina, always Molly). We did not expect it to be serious and sensible Ashton, crying at the complicated emotions and longing for lost childhood thrown up by Toy Story 3. He’s no older than 11 and already he’s so grown up. Old before his time and very wise. What a guy.

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Long to reign over us

The Windsors (Channel 4)

People either loved or hated the first series of this exceptionally silly royal satire, which was on Channel 4 in April 2016. I’m guessing there’s a big intersection in the Venn diagram labeled “extremely silly” and “Daily Mail reader”. Surprised there’s not an e-petition for them to be charged with treason and locked in the Tower. But then Netflix had to go and make The Crown, which is almost exactly the same – writers making up behind-the-scenes stories and motivations for our most recognisable and unknowable dysfunctional family. Ok, so in The Windsors Kate is a proud tyre-selling gypsy, Camilla is a scheming bitch desperate to be Queen and brash Fergie and her awful sloany daughters have to stay in the stables at Christmas because Charles won’t let them in the house. None of these are plots on The Crown, yet. Yes it’s vicious Spitting Image style satire, but it’s funny because it’s all quite likely in our collective imagination.

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Big bad sad wolf

Revolting Rhymes (BBC1)

It’s unusual to have a cartoon version of Roald Dahl’s characters without much of a nod to Quentin Blake. This two-part special had was soft and warm where Blake’s illustrations are scratchy and angular. But style and content couldn’t have been more dissimilar. This mixed-up series of fairy tales is rather slow and ponderous to start with but the end of the first episode really ramps up the revolting elements. It’s almost too unsettling for children and certainly freaked me out. Who walks around in a coat made from the skin of her enemies? Little Red Riding Hood, of course. Strange as someone who is still nervous around wolves, thanks to their terrifying presence in all the best children’s books, this made me feel quite a lot of sympathy for the Big Bad Wolf. Dominic West’s vocal talents made him angry, vicious and vulnerable. Probably felt quite at home among these sadistic killers.

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Saiful Islam is this year’s RI presenter

Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (BBC4)

It’s a good thing that the lectures are only an annual event. Sadly they’re never as interesting as you remember and always quite a chore to watch. What with it being an actual televised scientific lecture from the Royal Institute in London there are too many moving parts and moving experiments on and off stage interrupt the flow. Usually at least you get to see kids taking part in exciting experiments but episode 1 was all about generating alternative sources of electricity so all Saiful Islam could really do was send a series of children around the building to read numbers off of various screens. And it was all a bit depressing really as the target remained firmly out of reach. It made renewable energy seem difficult and a bit pointless; hardly their intention. I think most people watch the lectures halfway through a chocolate orange and a game of Monopoly, hoping for some science knowledge to be stirred by osmosis. This is a shame as BBC science tv can do so much better.

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Cunk asks the hard questions about Christmas

Cunk on Christmas (BBC2)

Diane Morgan’s brilliant comedy creation makes a welcome return after the amazing Cunk on Shakespeare shown in May. Her investigations are always nonsense, always with an element of truth. It’s deft comedy dressed up as daft documentary. I’d worried now that she’s a big hit she might not have much of a shelf life, like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G but she continues to baffle historians and other boffins who surely know she’s a comedian playing the interviews for hugely awkward laughs. Cunk’s musings are so ridiculous and the documentary style is so beautifully done that you can’t see the joins. She’s an absolute wonder and might even have more staying power than Charlie Brooker’s Wipe series, who elicited more sympathy than laughs in his annual review of the news. Who’d be a political satirist in 2016?

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Sue Perkins’ new chums, and not a cake in sight

Insert Name Here (BBC2)

Sue Perkins has a new job guys! We don’t need to worry that she’ll struggle to make ends meet in 2017 without cakes. This comedy panel show actually had its first full series in 2016 but was a bit hidden away in the schedules. There’s nothing revolutionary or even very exciting about the format (questions on famous people who all share a first name). Honestly, despite being a big fan of Sue Perkins, I didn’t have high hopes but it seemed to find its niche rather well. The host and team captains – Richard Osman (the clever one) and Josh Widdicombe (the naughty one) – seemed to gel after the first couple of episodes. I also liked how BBC historians including Kate Williams and Ruth Goodman got to appear very knowledgable and let their hair down a bit. Hopefully this Christmas outing means some more viewers for the second series due this month.

All the shows above are available either on BBC iPlayer or All4 for you to catch up while you finish up the chocolate and cheese and pretend you don’t have to go back to work/ school this week.