What did you watch this Christmas?

The Widow the Witch and the Wardrobe

Time for “What did you watch this Christmas?”, my chance to tell you what I watched on TV over the Christmas holidays – and this week – and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case we’ve missed them.

First, the usual recommendations: The Daily Show, Modern Family, Happy Endings and Suburgatory. Do watch them.

With so much going on, I have a bit of a backlog and I’m probably going to miss something out, but here goes.

  • Absolutely Fabulous: the bits I watched were quite funny. But I didn’t watch much of it.
  • Alphas: Obviously, I haven’t watched any of this since the first three episodes but I decided to tune in for the finale of the first season to see if it had got any better. It was a bit better, and the ending was a moderate game changer, but it still feels a bit soulless – sci-fi for sci-fi’s sake without any real heart beyond producing a number of episodes per year.
  • Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe: An end of the year summary of the year’s news and TV. Less happened in it this year that usual, with few interesting additions beyond Brooker, and Brooker himself seemed even gloomier and more miserable than usual. Raised a few laughs though.
  • Doctor Who: Quite nice, but nothing too remarkable. Some nods to continuity (Androzani Major) and a few tears were elicited towards the end, but this was just a bit of Christmas fun and loveliness really.
  • Sherlock: I actually really liked this – a very weird, odd love story, but I think Lara Pulver worked well as Adler. Shame that (spoiler alert) Sherlock has to save her in the end, since it would have been better for her to have won and perhaps felt sorry for him as per the original story. But very good, if a little silly at times.
  • Small and Far Away/Unintelligent Design: Two documentaries about Father Ted, one really rather nice and touching, the other just an excuse for some clips from shows that weren’t Father Ted.
  • Top Gear: Obviously better for having Clarkson in it, but it’s now getting too ridiculous and staged to be truly enjoyable.
  • The Victoria Wood documentary: Sorry. Can’t remember what it was called, but it was only okay, and it was nice to be reminded of Wood and Walters as well as some of her better sketches. But not dinnerladies.

Still to be watched: Great Expectations, Stephen Fry’s 100 Greatest Gadgets, Three Inches, The Royal Bodyguard, Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait, The John Craven Years, The Pharaoh Who Conquered the Sea, Hacks, and Mad and Bad: 60 Years of Science on TV. Anybody watched them? Any of them any good?

And in books:

  • Death comes to Pemberley: PD James indulges in Jane Austen fan fiction, somehow bringing together all of Austen’s characters for a great big murder-mystery. So far, what I’m discovering is that it’s not a very exciting book and that if you have a bunch of characters all called ‘Mr x’ or ‘Mrs y’ and that some of them change name by marrying, it’s bloody difficult to keep track of everyone. I’ll let you know if gets better, because so far, Lizzy Bennet hasn’t done much beyond set up a drawing room.

    “What did you watch this week?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

    • My Christmas watching involved a lot of watching things very late at night, and then (ahem) watching them again… Enjoyed Dr Who, but as you say, not really anything out of the ordinary.
      LOVED Sherlock. It made me laugh (particularly the nudity which got the Daily Mail so aerated) and I loved the way Irene Adler and Sherlock played off one another. Only thing I was sorry about it’s been SUCH a long time since the last series, I couldn’t for the life of me remember how Moriarty came to end up having Sherlock at his mercy, and wasn’t convinced by him dropping everything so readily. But that’s a mild carp, I thought it was fantastic, and we watched as a family and all loved it.
      Have a feeling Outnumbered is one I slept through and didn’t get round to watching again, I know you hate it, Rob, but it remains one of my favourites. No 2 child very excited because she goes riding at the same place the little girl in it does. (Riding AND celebs she said, it doesn’t get better then that).
      Loved Great Expectations, but it’s not one for the purists, and same old same old, fell asleep at end of last episode, so I need to rewatch that too. The hitherto uninterested in Dickens 13 yo was totally hooked which I was very pleased about.
      We watched The Borrowers en famille and thought it was lovely. And I didn’t fall asleep.
      Ab Fab ok – not like the glory days, but the second episode rather better I thought. Not sure we need a film…
      The Royal Bodyguard is very silly, but entertaining thanks to David Jason.
      Oh and I loved Hacks.
      Sherlock and GE were my favourites though.
      Re your reading material, much as I love PD James and Jane Austen, that’s not a combo that springs to mind as an obvious one. I found the Jane Austen Zombies book dull as ditchwater once you’d got over the amusement of the Bennet girls dispatching zombies.Have a feeling I’d have the same reaction to this…
      I’ve barely read anything over Christmas. Every time I tried to, you’ve guessed it, I fell asleep…

    • Mark Carroll

      Hmmm. I’m not sure where to start. I haven’t been watching much of my own choice, because I’ve been busy for a while and avoiding distractions. Next week should get much easier though.
      We did actually watch some old South Park: I liked the series 7 (I think?) Christmas episode with the woodland critters and the pregnant porcupine. We saw the Jim Carrey weird-animation Scrooge which was okay, and somewhat weird at times. We have seen various crime dramas, among which the most exciting was an episode of Person of Interest, which was certainly quite passable but didn’t quite live up to the outstanding reviews.
      The Christmas Doctor Who was okay; the premise was reasonable, but somehow it didn’t exactly blow me away. There was nothing specific that I noticed myself disliking, but I thought last year’s much better, partly through a clever plot. Also, in general, while I don’t demand hard sci-fi, the series has lately felt like it was stretching credibility hard indeed.
      I saw “The Bells of St Mary’s” with Bing Crosby. It was very much as one’d expect. I rewatched “Withnail & I” which certainly remains good, though I watched it closed enough to Doctor Who that seeing a doctor was a bit distracting.

    • Mark Carroll

      I forgot to mention, we also saw “Cars 2”. It was far from clear to me that “Cars” left good material for a sequel, but, given my low expectations, it actually turned out to be better than I expected. The kids liked it, which I guess is the important thing.

    • I thought Sherlock was TV gold and the second AbFab special wasn’t far behind.
      Who was a bit ‘meh’.
      I quite liked Endeavour funnily enough, which combined with my deep love for Death in Paradise must be a sign that I am now safely in the grip of ‘safe’ television and will have to start wearing slippers. Eek.

    • The other David

      While it was great to see the girls back at it in AbFab (the bit with Saffy walking out of prison was a good twist), it did feel a bit dated. I’ll agree with you, Rob, and the other posters that, while fun, the Xmas Doctor Who was just alright. But of all the shows, Sherlock took the cake. Great story, great acting — an all around winner. And while I was looking forward to Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe, I was rather disappointed in it. He just seems to get more cynical and angry the more he watches. I can see him on his front porch with a shotgun telling the kids to get off his lawn in 30 years. And while Hacks was enjoyable, it just rehashed the NI/News of the World story in fictional form which seemed rather redundant (at least to those of us who followed it closely). All the characters were just caricatures of the real people with the only exception of Rebekah Wade/Brooks (who didn’t feature in the story). While the rise to editorship of the fictional paper mimicked Brook’s career, the character was shallow (as well as lack of flaming red hair) and made the other caricatures of the real life people seem cartoonish and merely a pretense for some petty knocks at them.
      For shows not mentioned above, I would have to recommend Mrs. Dickens’ Family Christmas. Sue Perkins does a masterful job in presenting the program, and it’s interesting to hear about the man who did so much to create the modern idea of Christmas being such a b*****d to his own wife. I’ll never look at A Christmas Carol the same again. And while you (and, I’m surprised, no one else) didn’t mention Downton Abbey, it was my favorite Christmas show. Made up for all of the silliness of season/series 2.
      I was a little surprised to see you’ve got Mad and Bad: 60 Years of Science on TV lined up to watch. With few mentions of documentaries on here, I thought you’d avoided them (at least in this forum). That point aside, I thought the program was a good attempt at looking at the history of science and technology on the tube. If you’re looking for others, I would recommend King George and Queen Mary: The Royals Who Rescued the Monarchy, Timeshift: The Smoking Years and The Grammar School: A Secret History. Regardless of what you may think of the monarchy, it was still interesting to see how King George and Queen Mary transformed the monarchy. The last two are interesting if you’re into modern British history. The Timeshift program for me was particularly intriguing as I’m a current smoker, and it’s interesting to contrast the world of then with the view on smoking and smokers today.
      Regardless, keep up the good work, Rob. Here’s looking forward to another year of the great TMISNE!

    • I was underwhelmed by the ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas special, which really bothered me because I gave up my shot at using the hot tub on Christmas night! But once I got home to NYC, I watched it again and felt more favorable towards it. Especially glad that they didn’t lay on the similarities to the CS Lewis too thickly. But Bill Bailey and the other Androzani stooges threw me right out of the moment.
      I also watched John Neville in the 1966 “A Study In Terror” as Sherlock Holmes. A great cast of actors and I liked the Hammer horror overtones.
      My cousins and I also enjoyed a mini-marathon of the thee ‘Futurama’ episodes late Christmas night.
      Outside the holiday parameters, I’m finally watching the original ‘State of Play’ and loving it. And TCM just aired a handful of vintage ‘Screen Directors’ Playhouse’ episodes which have been of interest to this televisiologist……

    • Oh Endeavour! How could I have forgotten that? Really loved it, and hope it makes a new series. I thought young Morse was excellent.
      And I also watched the documentaries on George V and Queen Mary, which were fascinating, though second one was a little repetitive in places. But really interesting snippet of relatively recent history.

    • Agree that Doctor Who, whilst all very lovely and offering warm snuggly feelings, was rather on the ‘not hurrying to watch again’ list. A real shame as it DID have a lovely visual and underpinning line in it about ‘being together’ but it didn’t sing to me (as we say in our house for really good things).
      Sherlock on the other hand was a thing of great beauty and brilliance: I was bravo-ing it before the final flash-back scene and cheered all the louder for that. I’m la-la-la-ing any critics. It was just BRILLIANT TV.
      Watched Great Expectations too – agree it was not for the purists, but I was enraptured by Gillian Anderson’s performance (isn’t Havisham only meant to be about 50 in the book?) even if Pip was altogether too boy-bandy. Adored Herbert Pocket (the ever reliable Harry Lloyd, turning over his maleavolent turn in DW).
      Missed The Borrowers which I am sad about, and totally did not bother with Ab Fab or Downton Abbey, two programmes I have never really ‘got’ and which I was not going to start with now.
      The Timeshift programme on smoking was excellent though. Oh btw – did you catch any of the Royal Institution science lectures? Entertaining enough, but I did feel Prof Bruce Hood was trying a bit hard to be ‘wiv da kids’ and often moved on too quickly to the explanations. Hacks was very predictable but nevertheless enjoyable. And I’m amazed you haven’t seen ‘Mad and Bad’ on TV before as I’m sure that’s been on several times already…
      Oh and I watched ‘The Ladykillers’ on Film4. The original (only) film. Not that travesty that came out recently.

    • Drat! I forgot to mention Endeavour, which I too thought was rather very good and would definitely want to see more of. Not least because the excellent Roger Allam is in it. Hurrah!

    • MediumRob

      I forgot about Endeavour, too (still watching it) – 10-15 minutes before I got into it, but I’m really liking it so far. Lots of nice Morse continuity references in a Casino Royale stylee, some obvious (the Jag, beer, etc), some not so obvious (Colin Dexter in the background, ‘first bus to Woodstock’).
      Re: documentaries. I only tend to cover ones on areas that interest me or that are about television itself.

    • SK

      So before I forget?
      Final Black Mirror: bit pointless, not sure what it was saying? Closest I could guess is, ‘Shiny new technology will just be used to have the same sorts of arguments that people have always had, as human nature doesn’t change,’ which while perfectly true, doesn’t really fit with the rest of the series which was all about how much worse the modern world is.
      The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff: amusing enough, but not nearly as good as Bleak Expectations. Best line came very early.
      Great Expectations: Interesting adaptation. Lots of scenes without Pip present, which changes the discourse significantly: for instance, the audience were clued into the Estella/Miss Havisham dynamic a lot sooner. I was fine with losing all the tedious Wemmick bits, but my friend who thinks he’s the best thing in it was less impressed.
      Hacks: Awful. Tuned in for an updated Drop the Dead Donkey, got a totally humour-free retelling of a story everybody knows. Hint: references are not the same thing as jokes. Didn’t laugh once before the first commercial break, and that to me means a comedy has failed. Turned it off.
      Sherlock: nice sparkly dialogue, worked well. With regards to Sherlock’s heroics at the end, I think that’s just Moffat’s inability to resist piling twist upon twist upon twist. However — at the very end, was I mistaken or did that ‘phone have texts on it that it shouldn’t have had because that ‘phone was in Sherlock’s possession when they were sent (ie the ‘I’m not dead’ one), so they must have been sent from a different ‘phone?
      New Girl episode one: Oh Channel 4, you have sent me down memory lane trying to work out what it is you are punishing me for. I thought I liked kooky as a female attribute but it turns out that, like with garlic or heroin, you can have too much.
      Doctor Who: not really a story, as that would imply some characters having plans, meeting opposition, etc, more a linear tour through some Christmas imagery. As such very difficult to actually say anything about: it was just there on the screen for an hour and then it wasn’t. Mr Smith is very good at the Willy Wonka, though.

    • Toby O’B

      Does anybody know if “Endeavour” will be making its way over to the U.S. on either PBS or BBC-A?

    • Not that I’ve seen. Sorry!

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