When I were a lad Christmas telly were the best viewing of the year. They showed big films. They made new episodes of the great comedies and the stars gave up their holiday evenings simply for our entertainment. Admittedly, sometimes it appears they went on a jolly overseas, and the use of tinsel and a sprig of holly did not always convince me that the shows were new, but TV channels made an effort. And then, the multi-channel revolution took place. And big films were on all the time, repeated every 15 minutes as long as you shelled out some cash to Uncle Rupert. And the Christmas specials became overlong special episodes destroying everything you liked about the original. Oh, and the cult of celebrity started to apply throughout the season, and harmless shows became celebrity specials.
And so it continues. Some of the worst of television is on at Christmas.
As an example consider the ITV schedule the Saturday before Christmas:
6.40 Celebrity Family Fortunes
7.30 Downfall of a Celebrity: Gareth Gates
8.30 Celebrity Who Wants to be a Millionaire
9.30 Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes
The worst show though was on the Beeb. Vernon Kay – whose miraculous TV presenting career will continue in the new year with some celebrity duet show on the Beeb – presented Duet Impossible a bizarre show where real live modern “stars” (Katie “there are Nine Womble bicycles round the back of Mike Batt’s house. That’s a fact” Melua; Lulu (obviously it wasn’t filmed in Scotland, her accent was its traditional anglo-friendly midlantic rather than her prrrrrounouned brrrogue on herrrrr occasional visits to herrrrr homeland); Boy (boy?! there’s a laugh – over forty and proud of it) George; and some bloke that used to be in a boyband) were paired with someone dead (or whose career had passed away some time ago). This pairing was accompanied by camera trickery of the sort familiar to Tommy Sheridan or anyone that’s seen the Radio 2 advert (ELvis introduces the band). It led to the disturbing: Lulu dueting with Marvin Gaye, while flirting with an image of the long dead great. This means that in reality Lulu was flirting with green screen, while being whooped at and hollered at by the discerning studio audience. This necrophiliac imagery was disturbing enough, but the bloke from the boyband coquettishly looking at the camera while filmed in sepiavision alongside an ageing Peggy Lee meandering her way through Fever – as her voice had gone some years before – while clicking fingers adorned with the longest fingernails this side of the Witch in the Wizard of Oz was an insult to the audience. The culmination of the show – George playing with himself was an onanistic tribute of the sort best left to the proposed Channel 4 masturbation week coming soon in 2007.
This was the culmination of a bad week for the Beeb. Little Britain Abroad followed the ONly Fools and Horses Miami special school of Christmas specials. When the stars are enjoying a holiday they’ll not produce anything worth watching. The Vicar of Dibley remained resolutely laughter-free, serving – as has the film career since Four Weddings – to view Ben Elton as the pivotal force behind the scripts fo Blackadder. Doctor Who produced its worst episode since the return (and I include Fear Her) - Catherine Tate? a mindless runaround swamped by Murray turning it up to 11 (on which the final Tachyon TV podcast perfectly identifies his musical influences as Peter and the Wolf and Bod) and RTD demonstrating that with his eye on the balls of Torchwood, and the anticipated Sarah Jane Adventures, he’s possibly spreading himself too thinly.
IN fact, for me the telly highlight of the week – aside from Brooker on Screen Wipes and a charming C4 animation of Peter and the Wolf – involved chubby funster Ricky Gervais and his humiliation at the hands of Garry Shandling. Gervais can’t interview. He compared Shandling to Bingo from the Banana Splits. He failed to fend off Shandling’s suggestions that Gervais’s comedy was problematic and anti-semitic. And with each utterance, the importance of the benevolent giant – Stephen Merchant – to the success of Gervais became ever more apparent. If you get the chance to see the repeat – enjoy.
CHristmas viewing may yet be redeemed by Wind in the Willows and Sarah Jane Smith, but we’ll see.
And so farewell to 2006 and to my regular reader best wishes for the New Year.