"Every Christmas it's the same. I always end up playing a shepherd." - Shermy, 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'

TV Every year the Christmas Radio Times is last to appear on the news stands. This year it was published on Saturday but didn't make its way up north until at least Wednesday, which in its own way added to the excitement of discovering whether the networks had got their act together this year. There is still some very good stuff on but really I've no idea what ITV1 are thinking and overall it just seems a little bit less exciting year on year, a downward trend which can only continue. But with all the various digital stations and the extra movie reviews, the RT this year is so fat there's no way the staples are going to be able to hold the cover in place so it's bound, as usual, to fall off before new year. In the absence a new Review 2007 post (more promised soon), I thought I'd offer some recommendations -- one per day -- based on what I've seen so far (with apologies to the far more brilliant TV Cream Digest emails ...):

Saturday 22nd December, Channel 4, 16:35.
A Christmas Carol (2001)
The RT grants this a single star which may well be fair -- I haven't seen it -- but I do wish it was live action what with Nic Cage playing Jacob Marley opposite Simon Callow's Scrooge ('No, nah look Ebenasaa, hn, you reaaally need to listen to what aaahm saying now...focusss'). No the reason it's on this list is for the theme song, What If, given by one Kate Winslet who plays Belle in the movie. Frankly, I should hate every second of this, what with it being a ballad and having been written by Julian Knott and produced by Steve Mac who usually spend their time giving the likes of Westlife something to sing about from their stools. But Kate can really carry a tune and she looks absolutely yummy in the video. So actually you could bypass the film altogether and see if you can spot the promo on Freeview music channel TMF's Christmas Turkeys compilation show (which has been on twice already).

Sunday 23rd December, BBC Four, 23:20
Trade Secrets
For much of the late nineties this was a useful BBC Two schedule standby in the days when dramas used to run fifty minutes and weren't uselessly padded out to an hour. Experts in a given domestic subject (who generally looked like your auntie or uncle) would give useful hints as to how to do things around the house, what we younglings (?) tend to be called life hacks. It's great to see its return if only late on a BBC Four, which over the Christmas period, is becoming interestingly mainstream, tonight with a range of cookery programmes featuring the Two Fat Ladies and Nigella.

Christmas Eve, BBC Radio 3, 22:20
BBC Proms 2007
Radio 3 are rerunning many of this year's Proms on a nightly bases and hooray, here's the one that really sent me over the edge and made me want to listen to all of them. It's Prom 6, the one in which the BBC Singers and Tallis Scholars along with conductor Davitt Moroney reintroduced a Striggio choral work which hadn't been heard by the world for four hundred years. You can read me waxing lyrical about it here and noting my disappointment at not having recorded it but in short it’s amazing, as perfect example of polyphony as you’re likely to hear.

Christmas Day, BBC One, 18:50
Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned
Well clearly. The facetious choice would have been not to add this to the list, selecting instead the rerun of Stargate Atlantis Five are putting out at midnight (as well as umpteen episodes of Everybody Hates Chris), but what would be the point? It’s Kylie in Doctor Who on a space Titanic. To set that into perspective, celebrity casting on the show when Kylie was recording with S/A/W looked like Ken Dodd and Hale and Pace and not in an ironic way. According to the cast list in the RT, Royal Correspondent Nick Witchell will be playing himself which seems like perfect casting especially if Charles Dance wasn’t available – let’s just hope he’s not saddled with the kind of script that Huw Edwards endured during Season Two’s episode Fear Hear – "It's much more than a torch now, it's a beacon. It's a beacon of hope and fortitude and courage. And it's a beacon of love. " Oh purlease.

Boxing Day, BBC Two, 19:00
The Terminal
Good lord there’s a lot of films on through Boxing Day. BBC One turns itself into a film channel from ten am through to tea time and all of the other channels average out at about five each – so although there’s the battle of the quality dramas after 8:30 – Ballet Shoes vs. The Old Curiosity Shop – it seems wrong not to pick something and this, despite the *** RT gives it, is as good as most things. It’s not classic Spielberg, but there’s something to be said for this edgy romantic comedy which takes place almost entirely in an airport between an refugee and someone in the service industries – it’s like Mannequin with air miles. Tom Hanks, is, well, Tom Hanks with a cod-East European accent (and a hint of Monsieur Hulot), but I do think it’s one of Catherine Zeta-Jones’s best performances and Stanley Tucci is at his most reptilian. If that’s not your bag, Galaxy Quest is on just before midnight – I wonder how they deal with the weird ratio thing at the beginning.

Thursday 27th December, BBC Four, 0:35
About the only Shakespeare on television this Christmas is a nightowl showing of Olivier’s Henry V with in-vision signing which might just be worth a punt to see how the little man or woman in the corner deals with iambic pentameter. I think the most attractive prospect for the day is probably this episode of Omnibus even though RT have declined to mention what it’s about. There used to be a useful equilibrium on BBCtv – Omnibus did the arts, Horizon did science and Arena did what it damn well felt like. Sadly, Omnibus is the one which hasn’t survived (although arguably Horizon hasn’t either after all the various rebrandings its endured) which is a shame because it was always consistently interesting in that way on BBC arts programmes used to be. One of BBC Four’s many strands throughout the period is about dance with various films and documentaries so it’ll more than likely have something to do with that and since Billy Elliot’s on before it, perhaps that means something about boys who do ballet.

Friday 28th December, BBC Three, 20:00
The Real Hustle: the 12 Scams of Christmas Special
Like Trade Secrets, The Real Hustle is shockingly addictive, perhaps because it relates to something which could realistically have some bearing on your life, unlike 99% of the rest of television. The trick is that it’s essentially a Candid Camera remade under the banner of information. Typical set-up: a bloke in a bar (the mark) will think he’s being chatted up by presenter (and former playboy model) Jess (clearly the honey trap). Whilst he’s salivating at the prospect of spending a night with her, one of the other two blokes Alex or Paul who also present the show will steal his wallet/his bag/his wife. And then we’ll see how it was accomplished and the mark will be shown looking slightly embarrassed and saying things like ‘I’ll be more careful in future’. Much of the time though it’s an evisceration of the general public as it demonstrates the raw stupidity that most of us spend our lives exhibiting, believing anything some total stranger tells us because they look alright. In a recently repeated episode, one of the blokes turned up at a car park in a florescent tabard carry some change and clip board, and after putting an out of order sign on the perfectly fine ticket machine and asks people to pay him instead which they duly do. After an hour he’d made three hundred pounds. Amazing.

Saturday 29th December, BBC Two, 21:30
The Funny Side of the News
This sounds like the kind of old fashioned talking heads show which went out in the early naughties. According the RT, we’ll see a ‘selection of bloopers demonstrating the many different ways in which news gaffes can occur and how the style of news presentation has changed’, and that’s the Reithian ethic right there – to entertain and inform. It highlights the appearance of Fiona Bruce and Angela Rippon which is odd considering they seem like the only two news readers in living memory who haven’t made any big mistakes live on air. As for everyone else – if BBC Breakfast’s Bill Turnbull or Susanna Reid could get through a link without a fumble, cracking some idiotic joke or looking smug it’d be a blessing. About the only presenter I can stand in the mornings when she’s on is Kate Silverton and now she’s been lost to us now to a ninety-minute slot in the evening. And much as I love Today on Radio 4, it’d be nice just once if John Humphries didn’t talk about the internet and blogging in particular as though someone had farted.

Sunday 30th December, BBC Radio 4, 12:04
The Best of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue
When I was younger than I am now and still at school, one of my English teachers gave an impassioned speech – as was his want – he often gave impassioned speeches that were generally off-topic – about a panel game on the radio which had been going for ever and was the funniest thing you’ll ever here. He then attempted to describe the rules of Mornington Crescent, the context of which failed to make an impression on this sixteen year old, whose brain was split between dealing with untranslated Chaucer and working out whether it was even worth working up a crush on Verity Jones since all the others had gone so well. Anyway, five or so years later I was driving somewhere with friend Chris and he put on a tape of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and I laughed like a drainpipe for two hours, so much so he actually swerved the car in surprise (I laugh loud). This is the best bits of the last year plus deleted scenes. Also, on Radio 3 at eight o’clock is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well which I would have recommended if I hadn’t already written most of this paragraph before spotting it. Emma Fielding, Sian Philips, Miriam Margolyes, Richard Griffiths, George Baker and Simon Russell Beale are in it and you don’t get much more RSC than that.

New Year’s Eve, Film4, 23:20
For a brief period there was always something to watch on the Eve as Channel 4 gave a run down of the best bits of tv from over the previous year, which was a chance to see what you’d missed (in case your wondering and I’m chuckling as I say/write this – I gave up going out on New Years Eve years ago). Now there’s pretty much nothing but movies, reruns and reruns of theme nights and a bunch of prerecorded 'as live' music shows. The limit is probably ITV’s Countdown to Midnight: Take That and Guests at the O2 Arena (the guests being the Sugababes) which we’re informed ‘includes a live countdown to the arrival of 2008’ which is about as ambiguous a phrase as these things can get (do they really expect us to believe that Gary and friends at the O2 gigging and not with their families?). Taking all that into account and the fact I’ve got The Third Man and the accompanying documentary (BBC Four) on dvd already, I think I’ll be seeing in the new year with Kevin Smith’s post-Clerks studio stumble, the underrated Mallrats which is still one of his funniest films and features one of the best opening monologues of any movie ever: ‘One time my cousin Walter got this cat stuck in his ass. True story. He bought it at our local mall, so the whole fiasco wound up on the news. It was embarrassing for my relatives and all, but the next week, he did it again. Different cat, same results, complete with another trip to the emergency room. So, I run into him a week later in the mall and he's buying another cat. And I says to him, "Jesus, Walt ! You know you're gonna get this cat stuck in your ass too. Why don't you knock it off ?" And he said to me, "Brodie, how the hell else am I supposed to get the gerbil out ?" My cousin was a weird guy.’ Wouldn’t you rather see that than Katie Melua ruining What A Wonderful World at Somerset House on BBC One?

New Year’s Day, Five, 09:00
O Thou Transcendent: the Life of Ralph Vaughn Williams
You’ve got to love Five (the channel not the defunct pop group). At one end of their schedule you can still find Disorderly Conduct featuring 'real-life car accidents and drugs raids' narrated by T2’s T-1000 Robert Patrick whilst at the other they’re seeing in 2008 with a three hour documentary about Vaughn Williams. As a recent convert to classical, I’ve learnt that the director Tony Palmer has made many successful films about composers and directed a famous series with Richard Burton playing Wagner. Probably because of its length and timeslot, Palmer has been trying to drum up a bit of interest by implying that he pitched this to the BBC a few years ago who sent him back a letter which said that this isn’t the kind of thing which fits into their vision, but they would be interested when Mr. V. Williams premieres his first work. Ho ho, except the commissioning department at the beeb has no record of the approach and Palmer wasn’t prepared to produce the letter. Either way, I’ll be there – or rather my dvd recorder will be since I’ll still be sleeping off the kryptonite condom scene from the previous selection.

Wednesday 2nd January, More4, 20:30
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Because it means that the US writer’s strike has been resolved amicably and we can all get back to the job of laughing at President Bush. It’s great that RT is still optimistically listing the show in the schedule even though there hasn’t been new episodes in weeks and More4’s been showing documentaries such as Unreported World in the gap. Since The West Wing stopped, or stopped being written by Aaron Sorkin at least, this has been my primary source of information about US politics, except for the two-ways which are hardly ever funny because the timing’s usually off – not even the mighty Dave Gorman could get those things to work. But as it stands, this boy’s not going to be returning any time soon. Still whatever More4 sees fit to replace it with will probably be infinitely more interesting than most of anything else playing during the post chrimbo hangover.

Thursday 3rd January, BBC Four, from 19:30
Irwin Allen Night
Episodes of The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space and Land of the Giants all make an appearance here, besides a documentary profile of the producer of all these shows Mr. Allen and one of his big screen opuses Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (giant rubber squid included). In the good old days when I couldn’t tell the difference and Channel 4 were stacking out their schedules with the things I think I watched every episode of all of these, even though most of them were all the same. Still there wasn’t anything more exciting at the time than suddenly seeing LiS in colour at the opening of the second series, the Jupitor ship finally taking off from one planet … only to crash land on another. Despite the appearance of the at no point having starred in Charmed Lacey Chabert, the 1998 film was a crime. Matt LeBlanc seemed to play his role as though he was playing Joey from Friends playing Major Don West and the essence of the show (Space Family Robinson) was generally ignored. A later tv movie idea which would have seen the surviving members of the cast, older, finally reaching home sounds infinitely more appealing.

Friday 4th December, Channel 4, 21:00
Greatest Comedy Catchphrases
‘Is ‘e avin’ a laff? Is ‘e avin’ a laff?’ Ricky Gervais seemed to make a rod for his own back by creating an example of something in order to be satirical about it, especially since precisely the kind of viewer he was taking the piss out of has unwittingly absorbed the thing and thrown it back in his face. It’s not mentioned in the RT's synopsis of this show but things like ‘Loadsamoney’ and ‘Don’t Mention The War’ are. I haven’t really got on with this kind of comedy for over a decade – since The Fast Show ended at least – so this sounds like utter torture. But it is on for three hours so someone’s bound to say something interesting about the phenomena and I might be able to pick up a few key phrases that I may have missed which means that when something like ‘The computers says no’ in my face I might finally have a chance to work out what the hell they’re saying and not projecting my usual blank air of blankness…

And alas no sign of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Festival television really isn't as good as it used to be is it?

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