“You’ve just eaten the baby Jesus!”

Monday, December 17, 2007 by

Apropos the time of year, five of television’s greatest ever Christmas episodes:

Ever Decreasing Circles (Christmas special)
The loudest laugh you’ll ever hear in a BBC sitcom turns up in this, when Richard Briers wakes up on Boxing Day to discover lying next to him in bed is … Well, you can guess. It’s a hysterical, touching, slightly surreal and avowedly inspiring episode that avoids all cloying sentimentality and goes instead for clumsy, authentic emotion.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (“The Blue Carbuncle”)
A shameless bit of Granada period festive finery, but what’s not to like? Holmes and Watson spend the best part of an hour schlepping round London on Christmas Eve on the trail of an elusive goose, encountering shysters, tinkers, vagabonds, washerwomen and rozzers aplenty. Everywhere and everyone is decked out in seasonal splendour and suffused with yuletide spirits, even, yes even, Holmes himself. The moment when they discover the location of the titular gem is simply fantastic.

Yes, Minister (“Party Games”)
“Mrs Hacker left these for you to sign: your personal Christmas cards. But it won’t take long. Only eleven hundred and seventy-two.” The story of a shady lady from Argentina, drunken pratfalls, a Prime Ministerial resignation, butter mountains, wine lakes and the Emulsified High-Fat Offal Tube. And, ultimately, the sight of Paul Eddington getting to become Prime Minister: the perfect Christmas present you could wish for in any year.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (“Mary, Joseph and Larry”)
This is an especially great episode because Larry starts off by going out of his way to do good – putting up with his in-laws, distributing generous tips at the golf club – and yet can’t help but contrive to be his own worst enemy, accidentally eating a batch of cookies depicting the nativity because he thought Jesus “looked like a monkey”. Hiring a local performance troupe to hastily restage a crib scene in his driveway, more trouble ensues when he tries to get the bloke playing Joseph to agree that “the woman playing Mary is hot”. Still, at least the ensuing tussle dislodges the pubic hair stuck in Larry’s throat.

The West Wing (“In Excelsis Deo”)
I’m going to say this is the best of the lot. The 48 hours before Christmas Day are filled, variously, with the President popping out to a second-hand bookshop, his secretary revealing it’s the anniversary of her sons’ deaths in Vietnam, his press secretary flirtatiously jousting with a reporter, two of his senior staff laying their careers on the line for his chief of staff, and his communications director taking it upon himself to arrange a full military funeral for a homeless Korean War veteran. It sounds a jumbled, disjointed mess, but it’s the complete opposite, embracing every cliche and convention of “the Christmas episode” then turning them all on their head. There’s rarely been a more shiningly sincere example of festive television.


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