Santa Inc (ITV2) | ITV Hub
And Just Like That… (Sky Comedy)
David Baddiel: Social Media, Anger and Us (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Impeachment: American Crime Story (BBC Two) | iPlayer
In the realm of stop-motion animation, ITV2’s eight-part US comedy Santa Inc, starring Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen, is best described as a festive-themed, potty-mouthed Wallace and Gromit. I’m not about to argue for comedy with a swear jar, and profanity is to be expected from an adult animation featuring Silverman and Rogen, but in Santa Inc it’s such a relentless bombardment of pointless crudity (“It’s Christmas fucking Eve”; “You token elf cunt”), the humour is all but flattened, as if by a descending Monty Python foot made of hard old plasticine.
For all that, the show, created by Alexandra Rushfield (Shrill), didn’t really deserve its US reception, which was so dire (a 4% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes!) that I sympathise with Rogen’s view that the mainly Jewish-made series, with liberal subtexts, may have been targeted by “white supremacists”. Along with lively animation, it has a strong cast and a decent premise: Santa’s north pole operation restyled as a quasi-Amazon warehouse, complete with rehab-bound celebrity reindeer and overworked employees.
Silverman plays Candy Smalls, an elf striving against workplace sexism to be Santa’s successor, while Rogen is an amiable, wannabe progressive Claus, “the coolest, dopest Santa ever”. The cast includes Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) as a frisky reindeer, and Nicholas Braun (Succession) as an overimpressed intern with shades of Cousin Greg.
From the two episodes I sampled, where Santa Inc goes awry is in the lazy, dated presumption that subverting the concept of Christmas is all it takes; that we’re all going to be shocked into hilarity by the notion of reindeers addicted to crystal meth, or Santa receiving a blowjob from Mrs Claus (under his robe, small mercies).
The show is funnier when it stops trying to be a yuletide South Park, and sweeter and sharper in its throwaway moments: Santa arriving in a snow globe vehicle; a snowflake who whinges: “This is harassment.” Santa Inc doesn’t warrant its online kicking, but it remains a cracker in search of a bang.
Over to Sky Comedy, where And Just Like That… , the 10-part Sex and the City sequel, with Michael Patrick King at the helm, arrived saddled with differing expectations. High, because of the at times inspired TV series about men-obsessed New York thirtysomethings that ran from 1998 to 2004. Low, because of the subsequent film spin-offs, of which the execrable Sex and the City 2 was like being menaced by a zombie franchise clomping towards you in tattered Manolo Blahniks.
The now-fiftysomething leads, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), are all married, while the ultra-libidinous Samantha is awol, thanks to real-life froideur between Parker and Kim Cattrall – an absence lamely explained here as a professional spat, which is surely an opportunity missed. Samantha should have been crushed to death at an overexuberant orgy.
I wanted to enjoy this (why shouldn’t an aged-up SATC be funny?), but having viewed the first two episodes, I’m thus far underwhelmed. The fashion is creaky (at one point Carrie channels Norma Desmond through Molly Parkin), it’s unconfident about things like age (Miranda’s grey hair; Carrie’s primness on a sex podcast), and it tackles its own narrow, privileged Big Apple past too simplistically in the form of new diverse characters.
Miranda, returning to college, shares excruciating scenes with her lecturer (Nya Wallace, played by Karen Pittman), but would a former New York lawyer really start babbling about a black woman’s hair braids? Conversely – spoiler alert – when Carrie’s husband, erstwhile toxic bachelor “Big” (Chris Noth), perishes after a Peloton bike session (resulting in a real-life rushed-out Peloton ad depicting him running off with the instructor), it’s all screen tumbleweed and scant pathos. Let’s hope And Just Like That… improves with the speed and ease its title suggests.
In the BBC Two documentary David Baddiel: Social Media, Anger and Us, the comedian and author, who has more than 790,000 Twitter followers, pondered the toxic effects of social media, saying: “I want to find out if something originally designed to help us talk to each other is just leading to everyone shouting at each other.”
While acknowledging social media’s uses as a marketing tool/ communications forum/ ego massage, Baddiel also explored the darker sides: rage (the documentary opened with a TikTok family’s car being firebombed), algorithms and cancel culture (“The revenge of the forgotten?” wondered stylist Ayishat Akanbi); lack of regulation and ever sinister sociopolitical forces; the vulnerability of users such as Baddiel’s daughter, Dolly, who spoke eloquently of how her past struggles with anorexia were exacerbated by social media’s lure of an off-the-peg identity.
Along the way, Baddiel had his brain scanned as he was pelted with positive tweets (cue dopamine hits) and abusive ones (fight or flight). He also took a Twitter break, later “readdicting himself”. This was an ambitious documentary that endeavoured to place everything (big tech, global politics, human nature itself) on the same microscope slide. Social media emerged, as it always does, as a vast, grinning, grimy genie that, for good or ill, has escaped from a bottle long since smashed.
Still on BBC Two, Impeachment, American Crime Story’s 10-part retelling of Monica Lewinsky’s affair with Bill Clinton, has felt sluggish at times. However good Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of Lewinsky’s betrayer-in-chief, the gruesome, self-important Linda Tripp, there’s been far too much time spent watching her trudge to her Pentagon work cubicle with her calorie-controlled lunch.
In this penultimate episode, Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) faces the grand jury. Bombarded with humiliating questions – “Did the president stimulate your genitals?” – she drifts away to stunned near silence. Feldstein has portrayed Lewinsky delicately but justly, keeping the focus on her. Clinton (Clive Owen) is rightly relegated to a mere plot device, grovelling for his wife’s forgiveness: “Twenty-five years – you’re the only one whose opinion I give a shit about.” It took its sweet time, but finally, with this episode, Impeachment became a woman’s story; a rousing of feminine furies.
What else I’m watching…
Succession has a gift for amazing series finales, and this one soared and convulsed: a full-blown family opera of confession, breakdown and brazen Judas moves that changed everything. Flawless performances all round, but Kieran Culkin’s bruised, squirming Roman was a revelation.
Season two of the fantasy epic starring Henry Cavill and Freya Allan, full of brooding kings, wafting sorceresses, elves, grunting sword fights in studded armour, swirling, ominous mists and intense women with mysterious powers. Superior magick for those that like it.
I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! final
Won by Danny Miller (Emmerdale). Thank you, Wales, but that’s quite enough of the draughty castle vibe. Might the show return to Australia for 2022? Richard Madeley (taken ill this series) could return and do his full shift.