I hate Christmas specials. Who's with me?

From the Great British Bake Off to Downton Abbey to The Call Centre, no show is safe from the Santa-hat black hole

In early December, when the big fat Radio Times arrives in the shops and Twitter is taken over by festive hysteria, I start to worry about the ensuing two weeks of bad television, and begin hoarding box sets to see me through until January. I hate TV Christmas specials. Yes, that's right, call me the Grinch and hide all the red Starbucks cups: I hate them all. Even Downton Abbey, Top of the Pops, and "classics" such as The Vicar of Dibley and Only Fools and Horses. And don't try to plead with me by shoving a DVD of that final episode of The Office in my face. I hate that too.

As anyone who has ever found themselves away from home on 25 December knows, other people's Christmases are boring. They are someone else's in-jokes and another family doing the day in the wrong order. So why would I want to watch Zoë Wanamaker having a festive meltdown on the My Family Christmas special when I can see my sister's hungover boyfriend being sick on the kitchen floor just as my mum's putting the turkey in the oven?

Reading this on mobile? Click here to watch.

There's no lazier plot device than Christmas. It's an excuse to give any real storylines a week off. Community's two festive specials are prime examples – one was based entirely in Shirley's garage and another in Abed's imagination, and never really referred to again. The same goes for the Keeping Up With the Kardashians Christmas episode, normally filmed in October. Every year, they don't really do anything apart from showing us old photos of them as kids, although strangely, old family friend OJ Simpson never seems to pop up.

Reading this on mobile? Click here to watch.

No show is safe from the Santa-hat black hole. Bad Education, The Call Centre and University Challenge have lined up totally unnecessary Christmas editions. I can imagine that working in a call centre in December is miserable, and nobody needs to see already awkward students in Christmas jumpers. The Great British Bake Off Christmas special is especially pointless, because it doesn't seem to involve any sort of competitive element, and there is no way I'm going to suggest my mum tries a different mince pie recipe. She's been making them exactly the same way since 1983, and not even Mary Berry will make her do them differently.

Festive TV makes me feel claustrophobic. Christmas is already the same every year without fail. The same food, the same jokes, the same fights, the same passive-aggressive asides. Or is that just my family? The last thing I want is old shows dragged into the mix – both Birds of a Feather and Open All Hours (now Still Open All Hours) are back on the box. It's as if we are stuck in a timewarp and we will never get out. It's Groundhog Day, but this time the singer from Busted has moved to Essex to live with three screeching idiots. And, of course, we'll have to watch that Only Fools and Horses episode where Del and Rodney, dressed as Batman and Robin, surprise a mugger, and a Vicar of Dibley episode, and probably The Office, and the inevitable Top of the Pops, where Fearne Cotton will hysterically call all of the most overplayed songs of the year "amazing" until you're regurgitating turkey sandwiches in disgust.

Reading this on mobile? Click here to watch.

You would think I'd be happier that Downton Abbey's Christmas special isn't even set during the Christmas period. I'm not. Because what's the point? Why are you taking up precious TV hours with what seems like an extra episode tacked on the end of the series? Remember when Top Gear's Christmas special went to Bolivia in 2009? I enjoy a wander through my tie-dyed gap-year memories as much as anyone, but let's face it: it was in no way festive. In fact, having non-Christmassy Christmas specials is even worse, because it just seems like a trick to make us watch a normal episode, while we're trapped in front of the TV because we're too full of food to move.

Reading this on mobile? Click here to watch.

All I'm saying is, tensions will already be high on Christmas Day, due to cabin fever, daytime drinking and that weird Sheridan's liqueur that only comes out in December. The last thing you want is a Christmas-themed episode of Mrs Brown's Boys. Which is on BBC1 at 9.30pm on Christmas Day, if you really hate yourself.

The five worst Christmas specials

The Office (2003)

Has anyone ever chosen to buy "meaningful" over "comedy gift" in the office secret Santa? No. Unrealistic.

Only Fools and Horses (1996)

If someone turned up to a wake in fancy dress, you'd probably be quite upset at the intrusion. You definitely would not laugh. Ridiculous.

The Vicar of Dibley (2004)

Why does this regularly pop up in Christmas TV schedules when the topical jokes are now nine years old?

Community (2010)

I only made it two minutes into the one-off, stop-motion animated episode before switching off in a rage brought on by the Christmas version of the show's theme tune.

A Very Glee Christmas (2010)

The final insult: there's a whole ALBUM of songs to go with this atrocity.


Issy Sampson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Black Mirror Christmas special to feature in Channel 4 winter lineup
News: Charlie Brooker has created a new feature-length special of his dystopian series, called Yuletide.

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

21, Aug, 2014 @10:03 AM

Article image
Christmas TV 2010: how was it for you?

Vicky Frost: Which shows were the pick of the festive crop – and which had you reaching for the off switch?

Vicky Frost

04, Jan, 2011 @11:46 AM

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2020, No 2: I Hate Suzie
Billie Piper was on searing form as a B-list celeb whose life is unravelling in this unflinchingly honest portrait of womanhood

Hannah Jane Parkinson

21, Dec, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
BrainDead: the absurd new thriller that will make your head explode
Part sci-fi comedy, part political saga, this wonderfully weird show from The Good Wife creators reveals the key issue afflicting America: space bugs

Stuart Heritage

26, Aug, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Six to watch: TV's best businesses

Daniel Bettridge: From Sterling Cooper to Wernham Hogg – we run down the best companies on the small screen. Would you work for them?

Daniel Bettridge

30, Mar, 2012 @1:17 PM

Article image
Six to watch – shows set in newsrooms

Julia Raeside: With news gripping us, The Hour's news-based drama seems prescient. Here are six more shows that caused a splash

Julia Raeside

19, Jul, 2011 @11:21 AM

Article image
Could dark dating-show satire UnREAL kill reality TV?
This deliciously cutting behind-the-scenes parody depicts a world where racism, misogyny and utter callousness are the route to good ratings – and makes it difficult to watch the real thing again

Rebecca Nicholson

14, Jul, 2015 @2:56 PM

Article image
Why Sports Night was Aaron Sorkin at his best
Sarah Hughes: Even an inappropriate laughter track couldn’t derail this slice of sports newsroom life, which featured William H Macy, Felicity Huffman, Robert Gillaume and more acting their socks off

Sarah Hughes

19, Nov, 2014 @12:52 PM

Article image
Jennifer Grey: 'I don't understand people who re-enact Dirty Dancing'
The star of some of the greatest 1980s movies on what it’s like to return to the era in new comedy Red Oaks on Amazon Prime, and why she has never done ‘the lift’ again

Gabriel Tate

12, Oct, 2015 @12:01 PM

Article image
What makes perfect family viewing?

Julia Raeside: We're watching more television as families. But which shows have the power to please everybody – and what are you currently watching together?

Julia Raeside

18, Jul, 2012 @2:23 PM