Saturday 21 September 2019

With more than 20 Christmas specials on TV tonight, which one will you nod off to?

Stephen Merchant plays a nerdy dad while Asim Chaundry is the over-enthusiastic neighbour in Click & Collect
Stephen Merchant plays a nerdy dad while Asim Chaundry is the over-enthusiastic neighbour in Click & Collect

David Diebold

COMEDY writer, director and actor Stephen Merchant probably nailed it earlier this month when he said of his upcoming one-off festive comedy drama special Click And Collect (BBC1, tonight at 9pm): “I’m very excited to be starring in a big Christmas TV special that my dad can fall asleep half way through.”

We’re all about our Christmas Eve traditions, and nodding off with our mouths open in front of the telly is high on the list for at least one person in the family tonight. Who will it be? It all depends on what’s on — and who gets to wield the remote control, right?

At a glance, there are more than 20 prime-time TV shows that could constitute a Christmas special tonight, from a festive edition of Podge and Rodge (RTE2, 9.45pm) to the annual Yuletide edition of University Challenge (BBC2, 8.30pm).

That’s quite some spectrum — from about as low as the brow will go, up to its lofty peak. And why so many in between?

Well, mainly so the shows can be pre-recorded as far back as summer, meaning networks can then cut most of the staff loose on Christmas Eve, so they can go home early and fall asleep in front of a Christmas special. There’s a neat, if somewhat sad, symmetry to it all.

In simpler times, when most of us had just five channels (so long as a volunteer stood at an awkward angle behind the telly, holding the rabbit-ear aerial above their head) a Christmas special routinely constituted the likes of Morecambe and Wise, with some big dance number in top hats, involving a hapless celebrity — or it meant Hercules Poirot off solving something, preferably in the snow.

Of course, there was a reason why Poirot always gave a detailed summation at the end of an Agatha Christie special, as though the plot were a box of hopelessly tangled Christmas lights: the reason was that at least one person on the sofa would have fallen asleep with their nose in the Baileys during all the critical sneaking-around and bludgeoning-the-butler bits.

Alas, no Eric and Ernie, and no classic Christmas Christie tonight — though, for our money, it’s not really a  Christmas special without some

degree of nostalgia, and tonight’s annual repeats of First World War-era Blackadder Goes Forth (BBC4, 11.40pm) and the Father Ted Christmas Special (RTE2, 8.05pm) — the latter of which is tonight’s “If You Only Watch One Thing” (see listings) — both hit that nostalgic nail squarely in the noggin for the night that’s in it.

Speaking of nostalgia, if I could have one Christmas television wish, it would probably be to see one of my all-time festive guilty pleasures one more time — John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979), pure vaudeville camp. And though it probably wouldn’t hold up almost 40 years on, to 12-year-old me, it was the epitome of festive spirit. A year later, I was a punk rocker. I swear.

Back to tonight, and for something funny, festive and altogether new, best bet is Stephen Merchant’s Click & Collect. Essentially a buddy caper, Merchant plays the nerdy dad thrown together with an over-enthusiastic neighbour, played by Asim Chaudhry.

And while anything described by its own network as “hilarious” should be greeted with a healthy scepticism, both stars would seem to have enough in the way of comedic pedigrees to carry it all off, even for 60 minutes.

It’s Christmas Eve as Andrew Bennett (Merchant) realises he has messed up and failed to buy the one thing his six-year-old daughter wants more than anything: Sparklehoof the Unicorn Princess. Of course, it’s the must-have toy of the season (Jingle All the Way, ring any bells?) and it can’t be had for love nor money.

Step forward irritating, over-friendly neighbour Dev D’Cruz (Chaudhry), who has somehow managed to find the very last Sparklehoof in the entire country. The only catch: it’s Christmas Eve and it’s 300 miles away.

Andrew sets off with his least favourite neighbour on a long-haul drive (Planes, Trains and Automobiles anyone?) as he desperately tries to save Christmas. For Andrew, it’s a nerve-fraying nightmare; for Dev, it’s the best road-trip of his life. Sure, it’s all drawing from a lot more tried-and-tested Christmas source material than we could fit here, and we know it’s all heading towards some sort of Christmas miracle, but to hell with it.

Pass the After Eights, granny.

Granny? Oh well, that’s one down.

Read more: Paul Whitington's top 20 movies and TV shows this Christmas

Scroll no more: 20 hidden movie gems you didn't know were on Netflix this Christmas

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