Christmas TV Specials: Love Them or Hate Them?

It's that time of year again, and with the Christmas season comes a plethora of TV specials. But do you love them or hate them?

multiple writers
15th December 2021
Image Credit: BBC

Love Them:

Ah, Christmas telly. Love it? Hate it? For some, reserved for those sleepy hours after Christmas dinner… for others, gathering around for the family favourite Christmas special is a treasured festive tradition. Whilst yearly repeats of Julia Donaldson animated shorts seem to have become a strange BBC1 staple (which, I hasten to add, I adore), it’s the Christmas TV Specials I look forward to each year.

Seeing my favourite characters navigating the ups, downs, disasters, and joys of the season is a great reminder that things don’t have to be perfect.

Taking last year’s Ghosts Christmas Special as a particularly glittering example of the genre, I love a TV special that brings us close to the warmth and festivity of Christmas (you know, that Christmassy feeling), whilst peeping into just how awkward – and, well, messy Christmas can be. Ghosts’ take is just that – hilarious, awkward, packed with lines you’re likely to hear around the house this season.

And yet, the episode takes the time to breathe for just a short, beautiful, scene. Alison and the ghosts gather for a haunting performance of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, in my mind a must-see Christmas TV moment, which stirs the comedy and deep heart of the series to a beat of real sincerity. Perhaps the timing was important here – we were all facing a truly bleak winter, and yet, those beloved characters came together across the barriers of space and time to sing together. It’s a brilliant episode, one which demonstrates just how well the Christmas special can reach into the darkness and find the light. Indeed, in an earlier article, I expressed my love for the Blackadder Christmas Special, which inverts the classic A Christmas Carol structure to a darker edge than you’d imagine at Yuletide.

In short, I love how good a bit of Christmas telly makes me feel. Seeing my favourite characters navigating the ups, downs, disasters, and joys of the season is a great reminder that things don’t have to be perfect. Watching the next Ghosts Christmas Special is one way I’ll be getting into the mood for Christmas this year – whether I’m feeling especially festive, or not.

Ellie McVay

Hate Them:

It’s that time of the year when the telly gets swamped with everything Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, and specials litter literally all of TV for like three weeks. I get it, it’s December, everyone wants to be festive, sure sure sure. And sometimes the specials work and they’re good. But a lot of the time they just feel shoehorned and just don’t work. Don’t get me wrong I do love a bit of shit TV, but I think it just irritates me a bit more because it’s often just rehashing the same tropes and stories and so much of the time Christmas specials are just... boring. 

Producers and directors of even usually quite good shows get fixated on fitting storylines into a Christmas-centric theme, which is sometimes pulled off, but often just kind of sits a bit weird, interrupting an ongoing story or whatever. And it’s also just a lazy and samey choice. 

Similarly, often shows will use Christmas as an excuse to ‘get the gang back together' and make a one-off Christmas special to celebrate this ‘fun, festive season. Yeah, again sometimes this works but I really just don’t think that just doing an episode just because it’s Christmas validates making an episode of a show normally just unrelated to Christmas, or bringing a cast back together when the vibe doesn’t work anymore…

Maud Webster

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