This is turning out to be a funny Christmas. Not funny ha-ha, not even remotely close – I haven’t laughed out loud, out of breath, stomach hurts, for quite a few consecutive days and that’s because the spirit of Christmas in our house is away at the moment and ‘the cat’, frankly, just couldn’t give a toss. ‘The wife’ is away looking after her Mum in Dundee, land of jute, jam and comics. Go Dundee. At the moment all our carefully planned Christmas things hang on a very slender thread but then happiness at Christmas always does hang by a very slender thread, you only have to watch the EastEnders Christmas Day episode to work that out.
I haven’t watched EastEnders on Christmas day for a long long time. I haven’t watched EastEnders full stop for a long long time. Come to think of it I haven’t consciously watched a soap for years but that’s not the reason I’m unhappy. This Christmas feels so unchristmassy I haven’t even bothered to buy The Radio Times special edition, that is if we pretend that the Radio Times has a clue. Which it doesn’t. The reason for this is the final onset of awful TV saturation. We have managed to let ourselves be subdued by a groundhog Christmas TV schedule which offers the same films, the same specials, the same lists, the same astonishingly daft talking heads proffering worthless observations about their favourite episode of ‘Minder’. Every newspaper supplement I have seen in the last week or so has confidently offered their ‘ultimate’ or ‘definitve’ or ‘essential’ guide to festive TV and between them they have failed to suggest a single event which has made my pulse go above 50. So since the Christmas TV schedules are nothing more than a bowl full of rubbish stirred in with a hint of mediocrity here is my very own ‘utterly misinformed and thoroughly lame bumper guide to Christmas TV non-nirvana’. Incidentally it is now illegal to have a yuletide TV guide issue and not use the word ‘bumper’ on the front cover. Ideally with a picture of Santa with a ruddy cognac glow.
1. Getting through Christmas Day. Most entertainment oracles now offer an in-depth, minute by minute guide whereby it is assumed that the reader/watcher is quite capable of watching solid TV from about 6am to just gone midnight. This would mean 18 plus hours of flat screen overheating and remote control stickiness with literally no minutes set aside for unwrapping presents, preparing food, eating food, clearing away uneaten food or, shudder, enjoying a bit of time with your loved ones. Do these guides not appreciate that TV is extremely guilty of making Christmas a sharply less than pleasant experience than it already has the potential to be. Most of the guides offer the same sickly, brandy buttered arse truffles: ‘The Great Christmas Bake Off’ (thank God that’s in someone’s garage, on its knees with a bag over the head), ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ (ran out of puff and recognisable celebrities about 3 seasons ago), ‘Doctor Who’ (ran out of good ideas and imagination about 3 generations ago) and of course ‘Call the Midwife’ (which I have seen roughly 5 minutes of and will never see again because I would rather close my eyes until my eyelashes and moustache hair fuse together than expose myself to a second more of it). Call the Abortionist.
2. Kids Christmas. As if Christmas wasn’t already achingly child friendly the same old toot gets rolled out just in case. Classics like ‘The Snowman’ and er ‘The Snowman and the Snowdog’, whatever the hell that is (it can’t surely be as bad as it sounds) are there along with ‘The Gruffalo’ and endless trickles of limp ‘family entertainment’, all wrapped up nicely to detract from the reality that it’s all just a distraction of the ‘shut yer face, you’ve had your presents, now your Mother and I need to pickle ourselves into bloated oblivion’ type. Tra, la, la.
3. Soapy dudds. Soaps are the hardened heel skin of television. You can file and pumice and soak and moisturise all you want but they’ll still be there in the morning – grim and relentless and crusty. And the older you get the more they become a part of you. I’ve had my time being totally immersed in a soap but when I lost interest I really, really lost interest and I still have the memory of sitting with my grandparents as they ploughed through the soap sequence for 5 hours a day, every day, to remind me that I should try harder. Or that it’s something I can look forward to doing when I’m older and don’t give a shit what other people think. Soaps at Christmas go against everything they should be aiming to achieve. They build up a protective layer of sparkle and fun and questionable authenticity to give us comfort and then, just when you think it’s safe to flicker a smile, someone gets raped by their dad or has several crucial organs shredded by a tractor accessory, or find themselves trapped in a locked burning room with their new born child and an innocent, dribble-chinned bulldog called Wrinkles. I assume this is all designed to make us feel grateful for our own lives but it doesn’t, it just makes people sad and desperate to find out what next tragedy awaits, besides another brussels sprout.
4. Christmas for adults. This is made possible with a steady golden shower of detective specials with extra special guest stars, along with a seasonal dump of religious reflection featuring saintly choirs of innocent priest-fodder sopranos warbling their way through mass in a darkened knave. Who needs another interpretation of Miss Marple? Who needs another nativity play? I know this is sacrilege (it’s a bit late to worry about that now) but who needs another Sherlock after the last season? It’s become another great concept that automatically elevated itself to grand design and in doing so popped its hubristic blister and is now covered in a self-reverential puss custard of it’s own making. In other words – it’s turned crap. And who needs Jonathan Creek in any form, let alone a yuletide gripper? I’d sooner set a Dyson on my eyeballs that watch Alan Davis do anything. Except maybe have his eyeballs sucked out with a Dyson. That would be fun.
5. And finally, films. As the gospels clearly state, on a regular basis, Jesus may have had to put up with a stable but Joseph wasn’t going to make a deal with the innkeeper involving anything less that a 52 inch flat screen HD TV with a Sky Box. That way he ensured he had access to more films than it is possible to watch in any lifetime. There is a reason we only watch Christmas films at Christmas. Equally there is a reason we only listen to Christmas songs at Christmas and those deluded types who eat a full Christmas meal every day of the year need some serious medicating. Christmas is a sledgehammer of bad taste and treacle and 99% of Christmas films are diabolical. ‘Die Hard’ on the other hand is exemplary but only gets cited as a ‘Christmas Movie’ by people trying to rescue Christmas. They’re certainly not doing ‘Die Hard’ any favours! The Sunday Times selects ‘three of the best’ movies to be: ‘Zootropolis’ (semi-funny at best), ‘The Lady in the Van’ (not seen it but surely it can’t be described as ‘one for everyone’) and ‘Captain Phillips’ (which is good but was released 3 years ago). And that, it seems is the best films TV can offer. There will of course be the rampage of stuff someone’s seen ten billion times before (though never ever all the way through) – Frozen and Bonds and Carry-Ons, and Potters and Spider-Mans and Twilights and Toys with Stories and Hobbits and the list just goes on and on and on and then apart from actual Christmas movies the same choice carries on into every single day for the rest of the year; for the rest of our lives. That said, please trust me when I say that there are few things more depressing than seeing that ‘Elf’ or ‘The Santa Clause’ are still on the box on the 3rd of January. And one of those few things more depressing is actually watching them.
Anyway, that’s just a light hearted glimpse at the Christmas TV schedule. everything’s up in the air so I’m not even sure where I’ll be this Christmas but as long as I’m in the general environs of ‘The Wife’ I’ll be just fine. And to think we’ve got New Year to look forward to, because doesn’t everyone just love New Year?
G B Hewitt. 22.12.2016