Christmas 2018 TV highlights

Benjie Goodhart / 11 December 2018

Settle down with the remote, the next three weeks promise a smorgasbord of televisual delights.

Christmas. A good thing or a bad thing? I mean, on the one hand, it’s a time when families come together, when people exchange gifts with loved ones, and when fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked children experience a little bit of festive magic. But on the other hand, there’s always a Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special. We’ll call it a draw.

Anyway, this Christmas sees a packed line-up, with broadcasters filling their schedules with festive gifts, that we might all have the opportunity to step away from the dinner table and watch TV, rather than have yet another fight about Brexit. All the broadcasters, that is, apart from Channel 5, whose seasonal strategy seems to consist of showing a lot of films from about 20 years ago on a loop.

Right, we’ve a lot to get through, so that’s enough waffle from me. Here’s the best (and worst) of the Christmas and New Year telly. Have a marvellous Christmas, be good to each other, watch lots of telly, and don’t put the little exes on the bottom of your sprouts, life is too darned short.

Saturday 15th December

Strictly Come Dancing – The Final, 6:30pm, BBC One: Thirteen weeks of sequins, fake tan, and saying “Thanks so much for the feedback,” through a forced smile while secretly harbouring thoughts of killing Craig, all come to a head tonight in the live final. There’s also a live performance by Michael Bublé.

Sunday 16th December

Sports Personality of the Year, 7pm, BBC One: The second marquee occasion on the Beeb in two nights, this one also relies on a public vote, but is less likely to feature Bruno Tonioli waving his arms about like an excited windmill. It’s also more likely to feature a Gareth Southgate victory.

Monday 17th December

Long Lost Family Christmas Reunion, 9pm, ITV: Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall present a festive special of the show that reunites people that time, and fate, have long since separated. Hankies at the ready.

Tuesday 18th December

Gogglesprogs Christmas Special, 8pm, Channel 4: Apparently, the job of being a TV critic is so vacuous and simple that even small children can do it. Grrr. Here, they look back at the year’s telly, including the royal wedding.

The Long Song 1/3, 9pm, BBC One: Showing over the next three nights and based on the novel by Andrea Levy, this is the story of slave July (Tamara Lawrance) and her odious mistress Caroline Mortimer (Hayley Atwell), played out against the backdrop of 19th-Century Jamaica.

Grizzly Bear Cubs and Me 1/2, 9pm, BBC Two: Gordon Buchanan visits Russia for a heart-warming show in which six orphaned bear cubs are to be released back into the wild.

Wednesday 19th December

Jamie’s Quick and Easy Christmas, 8pm, Channel 4: How to knock up a fabulous feast with just five ingredients. (If the first four are wine, I’m in.)

World Cup: Summer of Love, 9pm, ITV: A look back at the thrilling events from June and July, those halcyon days when the sun always shone, the air was thick with barbecue smoke, and just for a minute, we all believed it was coming home. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t).

The World’s Most Extraordinary Christmas Dinners, 9pm, Channel 4: How is the Christmas meal served on the ISS? And in a submarine?

Thursday 20th December

Bear’s Mission with Gareth Southgate, 9pm, ITV: Bear Grylls takes Britain’s most popular man into the wild for a couple of days of ludicrous boys own gadding about. Don’t break him, Bear – that man’s bringing it home in 2022.

Friday 21st December

100 Years of Kings Carols, 7pm, BBC Two: If this look back over a century of carols from Kings doesn’t get you feeling festive, check your pulse – there’s a chance you’ve died.

Not Going Out Live, 9pm, BBC One: The title is somewhat confusing, as it IS going out live. This is a live version of Lee Mack’s likeable sitcom. It’s always fun to watch live shows, in case someone falls over, or a sound man accidentally walks into shot.

Saturday 22nd December

Watership Down 1/2, 7pm, BBC One: Star-studded adaptation (stretched over two feature-length episodes) of Richard Adams’ novel. Probably not one to watch with the grandkids if you’re giving them a pet bunny this Christmas.

20 Years of the Black Eyed Peas, 10pm, ITV: I bow to nobody in my love and respect for Joanna Lumley, but is she REALLY the right person to present this show? What next? Jeremy Paxman presenting 30 Years of Metallica?

Monday 24th December

Child Genius vs Celebrities Christmas Special, 8pm, Channel 4: A team of celebrities have their rear ends handed to them by a bunch of egghead kidlets who can expound upon string theory while my own kids still can’t brush their own teeth.

Click and Collect, 9pm, BBC One: Stephen Merchant and Asim Chaudhry star in a one-off comedy as an unlikely duo going in search of a must-have Christmas toy. NB If you haven’t got your shopping done by the time this goes out, start working on your excuses.

Tuesday 25th December

Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show, 6:45pm, BBC One: A bit like Michael McIntyre’s normal show, but with Santa hats.

Call the Midwife, 7:45pm, BBC One: The marvellous Miriam Margolyes guest-stars in this feature-length festive special catching up with all the latest goings on in 1950s Poplar.

The Great Christmas Bake Off, 8pm, Channel 4: Liam and Flo from 2017 and Jane and Andrew from 2016 to battle in a Christmas special that was probably filmed during a heatwave in August. Let’s hope they weren’t made to wear sweaters for ‘authenticity’.

Torvill & Dean, 9pm, ITV: Will Tudor and Poppy Lee Friar star in this feature-length special, written by the great William Ivory, about the rise and rise of ice dance’s finest exponents. Co-starring Anita Dobson and Stephen Tompkinson.

Mrs Brown’s Boys 1/2, 10:15pm, BBC One: Sigh.

Wednesday 26th December

The Midnight Gang, 7:30pm, BBC One: David Walliams appears in this adaptation of his own book, about a gang of kids in a hospital for whom the excitement begins after the lights go out each night. Festive family fun, squared.

The Morecambe and Wise Show: The Lost Tapes, 7:50pm, BBC Two: Until recently, these two half-hour episodes, dating from 1968, were believed to have been lost forever, like when you accidentally recorded over your sister-in-law’s wedding in order to tape Burnley v Leeds United. But they were found, implausibly enough, in a derelict cinema in Sierra Leone, and have been restored and coloured, ready to be shown tonight.

The ABC Murders 1/3, 9pm, BBC One: The Agatha Christie adaptations have become a welcome Christmas staple in recent years. This one, showing over the next three nights, follows a twisted serial killer as he travels the length and breadth of the UK’s railways, committing his terrible deeds along the way. In the most unlikely bit of casting you’re likely to see this, or any other, Christmas, John Malkovich plays Hercule Poirot. Rupert Grint also stars.

Thursday 27th December

Travel Man: 96 Hours in Jordan, 8pm, Channel 4: The best travel show on TV returns with a one-off, featuring host Richard Ayoade sampling the delights of Jordan with David Baddiel.

Friday 28th December

Take That: We’ve Come a Long Way, 7pm, BBC One: The band, complete with former member Robbie Williams, look back at an astonishing 30 years as one of the biggest acts in pop history. My wife will be watching. I’ll probably play Scrabble on my phone.

Billy Connolly: Made in Scotland 1/2, 9pm, BBC Two: Speaking of longevity in showbiz, the brilliant Billy Connolly has been at the peak of his profession for almost 50 years. In this nostalgic two-parter, he looks back at the forces that made him.

Sunday 30th December

Britain’s Wildest Weather 2018, 7:30pm, Channel 4: We all love a bit of weather. We’re British, what else are we going to talk about?

Les Miserables 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: Dominic West stars as Jean Valjean, in this sumptuous six-part adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel. Also starring David Oyelowo and Olivia Colman, this drama will prove a disappointment to anyone expecting some rousing musical numbers.

Monday 31st December

Raymond Briggs: Snowmen, Bogeymen and Milkmen, 9pm, BBC Two: It’s 40 years since Briggs wrote (or rather drew, as it is entirely without words) the Christmas classic, The Snowman. This career retrospective of a brilliant (and utterly lovely) man includes interviews with friends, colleagues and admirers.

Tuesday 1st January

Doctor Who, 7pm, BBC One: The success of the tremendous Jody Whittaker has been to make us all wonder why there wasn’t a female doctor years ago. Now, she stars in her first festive special. Something evil is stirring from across the ages under the earth. Eeek!

The Great New Year’s Bake Off, 7:40pm, Channel 4: Featuring Dr Tamal, former winner Candice, the utterly brilliant, fabulously talented and wonderful Kate, and Steven. One of the contestants is a good friend of mine, but professional strictures and a commitment to impartiality mean I cannot reveal who.

Luther, 9pm, BBC One: Idris Elba’s ridiculously hard DCI John Luther is back, and as usual, he’s looking into a series of nightmarish murders (does the man never, ever investigate some light shoplifting?) Patrick Malahide, Wunmi Mosaku and Hermione Norris co-star.

The Inbetweeners: Fwends Reunited, 9pm, Channel 4: A night of programming to mark the 10th anniversary of the puerile, immature and brilliantly funny sitcom.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 1/6, 9pm, ITV: Jeremy Clarkson waves around ostentatious cheques and leaves ridiculously long pauses for the next six nights.

Mrs Brown’s Boys New Year Special 2/2, 10pm, BBC One: Happy feckin’ 2019.

Wednesday 2nd January

Countdown: Champion of Champions, 2:10pm, Channel 4: Sort of like the massive, bloody conclusion of a series of Game of Thrones, except featuring bespectacled accountants from Hastings.

Bradley Walsh and Son: Breaking Dad 1/4, 8pm, ITV: New travelogue featuring the Doctor Who star and presenter of The Chase, in the company of his 20-year-old son Barney, as they travel 2000 miles from LA to New Orleans.

Thursday 3rd January

Food Unwrapped Diet Special, 8pm, Channel 4: Oh bog off. That’s me back to bed until next Christmas.

The Cruise: Shanghai to Sydney 1/6, 8:30pm, ITV: New series that, according to the blurb, is “following the lives of almost 5000 passengers and crew”. That seems to me to be trying to fit in slightly too much into six 25-minute episodes, but what do I know…?

21 Kids and Counting, 9pm, Channel 4: Britain’s largest family are expecting a new arrival, number 21. I can’t even cope with two…

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