Film and Television Features

Slack-Jawed and Square-Eyed #5

Christmas is fast approaching and things are seemingly very much winding down, except in TV as there's more going on there than ever; the next couple of weeks featuring wall-to-wall extended specials that promise much but inevitably get weighed down by cloying sentimentality (or, in the case of Eastenders and Casualty, oddly appropriate seasonal death and despair). Although, it could be worse, thanks to the never-ceases-to-confuse scheduling of American television, they've had to put up with this stuff since the start of December.

On the plus side this year's holiday episodes have included a reliably decent special from Parks And Recreation which, like every other episode in the series, not so much flirted with as whole-heartedly embraced sentimentality and managed to just about get away with it, and arguably the greatest festive comedy special since Father Ted's (I don't have many Christmas traditions, but I have to watch that one every year) thanks to Community, which used the holiday to take aim at Glee (and most memorably the creepy infantilisation of Santa Baby) by way of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Unfortunately barely anybody watched it, and those that did mostly complained that it wasn't as good as season two's (honestly, theres no pleasing some people), so odds are that this will be the last seasonal special we'll get to see from Greendale Community College, I'm keeping everything crossed that that's not the case though (#sixseasonsandamovie).

As for Glee (Thursday, Sky1) itself, oh boy... It's been quite widely acknowledged that the show has been on a steep decline since the genuinely quite good first season (although those days already seem so long ago now), but still the incredibly sloppy plotting of seasons two and three served as fairly inadequate preparation for this. Actively flirting with awfulness in the Star Wars Holiday Special-inspired local TV broadcast that Artie was unbelievably asked to direct, the whole thing passed in a blur of incomprehensibility (Irish Glee Project winner Damian McGinty), one-note and inconsistent characterisation (Kurt and Sue respectively – remember when those two were the show's best characters?) and rehashing last year's Christmas show (Kurt and Blaine dusted off their take on Baby It's Cold Outside). Just about the only saving graces were Britney's performance of The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping (surely one of the great Christmas songs?) and Rachel's My Favourite Things (shame that everybody else had to ruin that one – although when the show inevitably goes down the pan, Lea Michele's more than proved herself worthy of starring in a Sound Of Music revival), and both were far too short to make up for everything else around it. As if that wasn't bad enough the episode ended on an stunningly flippant take on homelessness from the unwelcomely-returning Sam, whose character existed, as it ever did, at least 85% in his lips.

Equally tasteless was one of the first of this year's offerings on British TV, My Big Fat Gypsy Christmas (Tuesday, C4). To be fair to the show, the warning's right there in the title – nothing about it was going to be restrained or considered (or even accurate, as arguably the Irish travellers that it focused on aren't technically gypsies) – but you'd still think that the filmmakers would want to at least give their subjects a chance to express themselves. Instead what we got was one of the most shoddily edited, voice-over dominated 'documentaries' to ever grace our screens, in which an already subjugated, largely voiceless people were paraded in front of our screens solely for the purposes of our amusement. Just about the only question it raised was how did they manage to put together a Christmas special when the series only became a hit in the summer? Did the producers have a load of festive footage left over, or did they just force the 'gypsies' to have an early Christmas?

A similarly troublesome attitude to class popped up in the Strictly Come Dancing final (Saturday, BBC1) a not exactly seasonal programme, but a Christmas tradition nonetheless. On making it into the final two actress Chelsee Healey was congratulated on getting so far with “no previous dancing experience”. Considering the idea of the show is that non-dancing celebrities learn how to dance as the competition goes on, that seemed like something of a weird thing to say, and it wasn't hard to read it as more of a comment on how her youth, not to mention her strong regional accent, orange complexion, generous bust and bubbly attitude, made her stick out like something of a sore thumb from the rest of the line-up, either that or, if Strictly is coming to be dominated by celebrities who already have a background in dance (like Jason Donovan) then maybe they need to reassess the idea of the show.

But then there's always been a bit of a riddle of contradictions at the heart of Strictly. Trying to square the spectacularly camp Roman-themed opening (just about the only thing that set it apart from gay porn was that no homosexual man worth his salt would willingly listen to Bon Jovi) with the fact that the show featured on the front page of some of country's most conservative papers (the Daily Express headline unsuccessfully attempting to create panic by claiming that the Blackpool-staged show could be cancelled due to snow).

Despite dancing her socks off (not that she was wearing any, or really much of anything, despite how cold the Express claimed it was outside the studio), Chelsee didn't win, with the title instead going to McFly's Harry Judd. Although he started out the series by alternating between dullness and smugness, he does make for a worthy winner, albeit one I'll entirely forget about by this time next year and have to look up on Wikipedia to remind myself, as with most other years.

And on that note, that's it for this week's TV round-up. I'm planning on putting together a look back at the year's best (or more likely worst) shows in the post-Christmas/pre-New Year week, but that rather depends on if I can actually remember much of what I watched this year. In the meantime anyway, merry Christmas!