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Bah Humbug: Why Christmas telly this year is depressingly bad

PUBLISHED: 13:22 02 December 2018

John Malkovich stars as Hercules Poirot in a new version of The ABC Murders, part of the BBC's Christmas line-up Photo: BBC/Mammoth

John Malkovich stars as Hercules Poirot in a new version of The ABC Murders, part of the BBC's Christmas line-up Photo: BBC/Mammoth

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Christmas telly schedules have been unveiled hoping to add some seasonal sparkle to some dark nights but Arts editor Andrew Clarke is rather underwhelmed by the lack of imagination

Mrs Brown's Boys is fast becoming a Christmas fixture Photo: Alan Peebles/BBCMrs Brown's Boys is fast becoming a Christmas fixture Photo: Alan Peebles/BBC

It’s that time of year again. Christmas lights have been switched on. The panto season is underway, complete with its ritual call and response of “Oh no he isn’t – Oh yes he is”, and so it’s only right that the Christmas telly has also been unveiled.

Our favourite shows are given extended slots, dusted with a coating of seasonal sparkle, given a heart-warming storyline set in a snowy landscape or, if it’s a panel show, decorated with extra coloured lights and Santa hats.

Christmas is all about tradition and giving audiences more of what they know and love but, even bearing that in mind, the BBC’s line-up of Christmas treats looks particularly tired. There is such an air of deja vu about the big attractions that you could be forgiven for thinking that you had stumbled into some weird Christmas Carol/Scrooge-like compilation of Christmas’ past.

Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special -  Craig Revel Horwood, Darcey Bussell, Father Christmas (the real one) Shirley Ballas, Bruno Tonioli Photo: BBCStrictly Come Dancing Christmas Special - Craig Revel Horwood, Darcey Bussell, Father Christmas (the real one) Shirley Ballas, Bruno Tonioli Photo: BBC

They are even touting ‘new’ episodes of the Morecambe and Wise Show – which in reality are recently recovered, missing believed-wiped episodes, not seen since 1970, and have undergone a vigorous wash and brush-up to fit them for modern broadcast requirements.

Nostalgia has its place – and I shall undoubtedly be watching – but nostalgia and unimaginative safe bets is seemingly all that we are being offered.

There will be the usual tense rows in Albert Square in the Christmas episodes of EastEnders, Lee Mack will be starring in a live episode (really?) of Not Going Out, Goodness Gracious Me will be celebrating its 20th anniversary, while Mrs Brown’s Boys, Call the Midwife, Strictly Come Dancing all get the traditional Christmas special treatment. I really hope that Call The Midwife somehow manages to do something other than another Christmas baby story. Yes, I know there are the obvious links to the Christmas story and its about mid-wives but please, please do something to ring the changes. Try a one-off character piece rather than a traditional episode.

Call the Midwife remains an imoportant part of the BBC's Christmas scedules. Picture shows  Trixie (HELEN GEORGE) Photo: Neal Street Productions - Photographer: Des WillieCall the Midwife remains an imoportant part of the BBC's Christmas scedules. Picture shows Trixie (HELEN GEORGE) Photo: Neal Street Productions - Photographer: Des Willie

The situation is not much better over on ITV where the snow will be once again laying on the cobbblestones of Coronation Street and they are treating us to a bio-pic about Torvill and Dean which will be high art when compared to the undoubted awfulness of a Love Island Christmas special.

Where is the exciting new drama? Where is the bright new family comedy? Where is the prestige new feature-length special? The BBC will point to its star-studded new series of Les Miserables with Dominic West who is taking on the role of Jean Valjean alongside David Oyelowo as Javert and Lily Collins as Fantine. But, my argument is why are they spending lots of money making another big budget version of this story when the Hugh Jackman-Russell Crowe Hollywood movie has just been made and is freely available to anyone who wants to see it?

There are plenty of great works of literature out there. Why not introduce the audience to something that perhaps they haven’t seen before? Compounding their error the BBC are also unveiling a new Poirot adventure The ABC Murders. Again, surely Poirot deserves a rest? The iconic David Suchet series only came to an end in 2014 (and is still screened on ITV 3) and since then we have had Kenneth Branagh’s over-the-top take on the detective in Murder On The Orient Express. Do we really need yet another Poirot? I think not – particularly if John Malkovich’s portrayal of the detective is going to be shorn of his famous waxed moustache and Belgian accent.

Morecambe and Wise have been brought back into the BBC's Christmas mix after missing episodes have been found and restored. Photo: BBCMorecambe and Wise have been brought back into the BBC's Christmas mix after missing episodes have been found and restored. Photo: BBC

If the BBC wanted another period detective series why not adapt Nicola Upson’s terrific Josephine Tey series, set in the 1930s, starting with An Expert In Murder? Taut, character-driven stories which would offer audiences something new.

It seems to me that the commissioners of programmes either than little imagination or no longer have the courage to champion something new and will always fall back on the tried and trusted.

Having said that there are some glimmers of hope. Stephen Merchant and Asim Chaudhry will be starring in a one-off comedy film while Mark Gatiss will be indulging in his love of Yuletide horror with The Dead Room on BBC4 but that is pretty much it.

Television rarely gets switched on in the Clarke household over Christmas and judging by this we won’t be reaching for the remote this year.

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