This Christmas we’re treated to a stocking full of Christmas specials by the BBC. ITV on the other hand showed a load of Harry Potter films and Paul O’Grady doing something with dogs. The crown for the BBC’s Christmas day entertainment, or the fairy on the tree, or the brandy sauce on the pudding, was Call the Midwife. I’ll be honest I was only introduced to this drama a few Christmases ago when, like most people at Christmas time, I found myself at my parents’ watching what they wanted to. I knew of the programme’s existence but never got around to watching it. Earlier on Christmas day I had the joy of carving the turkey and extracting some extremely anaemic looking sausages from out of the bird’s cavity. Being squeamish about, well, basically everything from watching an operation on TV to handling raw meat, this experience had left me quite traumatised. As I settled down later in the evening with a tin of Quality Street and found myself watching Call the Midwife I was faced with several scenes reminiscent of my lunchtime experience as babies dropped out of humans like money out a Christmas card.
The thing about Call the Midwife is that it’s very nice and full of terribly, terribly nice posh people. There are also very poor people, but it’s the job of the terribly, terribly nice posh people to look after them. I never saw the program when Miranda Hart was in it but I got the impression she was playing a terribly, terribly posh and was a terribly, terribly nice person. I had seen pictures of Trixie, the blonde one played by Helen George and I was surprised to find out when I watched the program that even the slapper was terribly, terribly posh and terribly, terribly nice; as was the ginger one who looked and sounded like Joanna Lumley; as was the young one and even the nuns were terribly, terribly nice.
Normally the midwives spend their time in London’s East End being terribly terribly nice and terribly, terribly posh looking after the terribly, terribly poor people having terribly terrible births. On this occasion however the midwives went abroad. So this Christmas day we witnessed them being terribly, terribly nice and terribly, terribly posh to lots of terribly, terribly poor South Africans whilst also single-handedly trying to break down apartheid. By the end of the episode they had saved at the life of a doctor; rebuilt a pipeline and made a terribly terrible man have a change of heart and become terribly terribly good. Call the Midwife has always prided itself on its gritty realism compared to say Downton (none of the Granthams ever gave birth in a dirty hovel with Minty from EastEnders on the other side of the door) but like Downton, Midwife manages to conjure up that combination of a warm feeling tinged with the bit of self-satisfaction that we are not as poor as the terribly, terribly poor people from half a century ago.
The same could not be said for Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special. This again is a program which I was aware of but had always passed me by. Perhaps that was a good thing. Mrs Brown’s Boys makes no attempt to hide the workings behind the program. After its opening titles, we see the sets, we see the studio audience, we even see the director in the gallery. This isn’t so much of breaking the fourth wall as tearing it down, building a conservatory, inviting some of your mates around and doing an am dram show.
One of the most popular/annoying elements of the show are the bloopers. Most programs would make a blooper reel and have another show made up of the outtakes when people fluff their lines or corpse. But Mrs Brown keeps them in. I’m not sure if this is just to save on edit time, but people do seem to enjoy the bloopers more than the gags. The fact that half the cast is related to Brendan O’Carroll who plays Agnes Brown may be part of the reason. You can tell that the best lines come from him ad-libbing and trying to get his nearest and dearest to corpse, usually successfully.
Other than this, the sitcom is very much a studio-based sitcom with all the action taking place in either Mrs Brown’s kitchen, living room, or at the local pub. We have all the 1970s stereotypes; the gay hairdresser, the neighbour with her hair in rollers and the brassy barmaid. It also has a fair amount of slapstick; this episode featuring an elaborate pratfall involving seven Christmas trees. To be honest other than Miranda Hart, not many comedians these days are happy to fall flat on their face so it’s quite nice to see this end of the pier tradition still alive in the 21st century.
The thing with Mrs Browns Boy’s is I don’t quite understand if this is some deconstructed, Postmodern, and very clever pastiche of a sitcom or whether it’s just a bunch of people having a laugh and not being particularly politically correct about it. (I think I do know, it’s the latter.) Whatever you may think its popular and was recently voted in the Radio Times as the most significant sitcom of the 21st century. If you can get past the lousy acting, the stereotypes and the paper thin scripts there are a few laugh out loud gags in there. Perhaps the rest of the viewing population is just more willing to wait for them than I am. Instead of a blooper reel from Mrs Brown there should be a gag reel where all of Agnes’s best one-liners are put together into one episode.
Channel 4 decided against having a man in drag as part of the Christmas schedules, well they had just done a four part documentary with Grayson Perry last month hadn’t they? They did take us behind the scenes of one of the West End’s new flagship shops by revealing the run-up to the opening of the new Lego store in Leicester Square in London.
In Inside Lego at Christmas we met a man who had so much Lego that he bought another house to store it in. Even more amazingly we were introduced to his wife. Yes a real wife! Apparently, they met at university so I guess she knew even then what she was letting herself in for. We met the team in the Czech Republic who were building a two-storey size model of Big Ben to feature in the new stores’ window. At this point I could hear murmurings from all the Brexiteers across the country saying “typical, get the Czechs to build a great British Monument! There’ll be no more of that once we leave the EU”. We also met the man attempting the Guinness World Record for building a structure with the most Lego bricks. Well I say building; it was more cladding steel frame as this structure had to sustain the weight of two Land Rovers.
But the most amazing thing that we saw in the new Lego store was the Mosaic maker where you sat in a Photo-Me booth and instead of a strip of five badly framed photos which reeked of developing solution popping out, this machine created a print out of your face made from Lego bricks and then produced a box with all the relevant parts you to go home and create it and hang it on the wall. All right it cost £100, but still pretty amazing. I think I’ll have to carve a few more turkeys and birth the sausages before my mum will buy me that for Christmas.