TV COLUMN: ‘Pretty poor pickings’ compared the ghost of Christmas past

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.

There’s nothing like the modern Christmas television offering to bring out a TV Scrooge in even the most optimistic viewer and this year’s season offering was pretty poor pickings over the corpse turkey of Christmases past.

Back in the Olden Days, when an orange at the bottom of a Christmas stocking was still a big deal, Christmas television was the universal gift. There was something for everything and the stations, all three of them, cared what they gave.

If a modern day Scrooge was time-travelled back and forth to the ghosts of television past, present and future, he’d not notice a jot of difference, as the repeats schedule gets stuck in a time-loop of lazy scheduling.

Repeats and tired sequels summed up the holiday movie offerings. It was a movie reworking of the Twelve Days of Christmas. ‘On the sixth day of Christmas my TV gave to me… six Police Academies, five Rocky Balboas, four Ice Ages, three Home Alones, two Sex In The Cities, and a Queen’s Speech in a pear tree.’

Throw in the entire Harry-the-Potter series, the obligatory James Bond film and the Disney canon and Christmas television merged into the uniform monotony of last Christmas, the one before that, and the one before that.

There were a few promising new offerings, in the way that ‘new’ means re-adapting something tried-and-tested from the past. The Witness for the Prosecution (BBC1) looked good on the trailer, but coming as it did from an Agatha Christie short story, a two-hour drama spread over two evenings stretched the material too thinly.

The same was true of Johnathan Creek (BBC1), which wallowed slightly out if its depth in its extended slot.

The reverse was so of To Walk Invisible (BBC1), a dramatisation of the life of the Brontë sisters. Whilst their collective novels continue to revel in screen adaptations, the lives of the three semi-reclusive sisters gets far less attention. It was a shame. This was a great production, but alas came to an abrupt end as the editor, being reminded of its two-hour time slot, chopped the ending and lazily finished the story in captions. They died. The end. A mini-series would have been the better option.

Adding the needed bitter antidote to the over-sweet schedules was the annual Charlie Brooker’s Wipe 2016 (BBC2). Brooker remains the unreconstructed Scrooge, with a face like Eeyore with a dental abscess, revelling in the misery of everything - and 2016 gave him more than enough material to give his morose gurn a good outing. Brexit, Trump, the Queen’s 90th birthday, daily celebrity deaths and war galore all got a poke with his acerbic stick.

The Christmas period kept up the pace of celebrity deaths set by the rest of the year. Rick Parfitt missed out on his fair share of news coverage as he got trumped a couple of days later by George Michael.

Michael, in turn, got his media eulogy gate-crashed by the death first of Carrie Fisher, and the then the next day by her mother, Debbie Reynolds. There are still a few hours of the year left: who’d bet against more joining the list?