Christmas television is a bit of a busman’s holiday for TV critics. For a change, we get to enjoy the view without any of the stress. No making notes, no keeping an eye on the deadline clock.
And what we want to watch is often different to what we have to watch. So here’s what I’ll be treating myself for over the three big days.
A Ghost Story for Christmas: Count Magnus (BBC2, 10pm) is another first-rate MR James adaptation from Mark Gatiss. Jason Watkins is perfectly cast as a smug travel writer whose curiosity about a Swedish count unlocks something nasty.
The hilarious motherland (BBC1, 9.30pm) hurls an already strung-out Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin) into the most stressful Christmas ever when she has to host not only the grandparents but also her friends, the hapless Kevin (Paul Ready) and the droll Liz ( Diane Morgan).
David Walliams latest fairytale romp Red Riding Hood: After Ever After (Sky Max/Showcase, 8pm) catches up with Red 50 years after she vanquished the hungry wolf. Family fun with an environmental message amid the silliness.
Wonderland: The Story of Christmas (Sky Arts, 7pm) sifts through a selection of beloved festive literary treats from the likes of Dickens, Edith Nesbit and C.S. Lewis — who regarded exchanging gifts and cards as crass commercialisation.
Delightful seasonal one-off London Zoo at Christmas (Channel 4, 8pm) finds out what happens when Christmas trees are introduced to the elephant enclosure and Thug the hippo gets a new ingredient in his Christmas dinner: broccoli.
A smashing voice cast including Idris Elba, Tom Hollander and Gabriel Byrne feature in the beguiling animation The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (BBC1, 4.55pm), based on Charlie Mackesy’s book. A little boy lost in the snow encounters the above animals while looking for a home.
The cleverly-titled Christmas Carole (Sky Max/Showcase, 8pm) is another spin on the Dickens classic. Suranne Jones is the heartless head of a company making a fortune from Christmas tat, who gets a visit from three ghosts played by Jo Brand, Nish Kumar and, best of all, Morecambe and Wise, brought to life by ace impersonators Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel.
Five names associated with Channel 4’s formative years (when it was the best channel around): Gaby Roslin, Tony Robinson, Miquita Oliver, Terry Christian and Claire Sweeney, do their worst for The Great Christmas Bake Off (Channel 4, 8.25pm).
Soothing, pre-big day calm is in abundance in Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Christmas Fishing (BBC2, 8.40pm). They venture further afield than usual, with a trip to Norway.
2FM’s breakfast crew Doireann Garrihy, Donncha O’Callaghan and Carl Mullen prank the public in The Full Irish Hidden Camera Show (RTÉ1, 9pm). A tedious format at this stage.
Video of the day
In what’s become a Christmas Day tradition on TG4, another renowned Irish figure from the film world is celebrated in a new documentary from Brian Reddin.
Cyril Cusack: Lár an Stáitse (TG4, 9.30pm) looks at the great actor whose 75-year career began in the early days of Irish silent cinema and spanned the stage, film and television.
Cusack’s first film role was as an eight-year-old in the silent 1918 film knocknagow, and his final TV appearance was an episode of young Indiana Jones Chronicles, aired posthumously in 1993.
The channel’s second new documentary of the night, Dessie: Glor na Bó Finne (TG4, 10.25pm), celebrates the life, times and music of renowned Irish singer Dessie O’Halloran, who died in 2019, and includes previously unseen material.
Unless you’re a fan of fair city (RTÉ1, 8.25pm) or Mrs. Brown’s Boys (RTÉ1, 9.25pm; also showing on BBC1 at 10.25pm), you probably won’t be spending much of today in the company of our national broadcaster.
The title A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story (BBC4, 7pm) gives a clue to the involvement of that lover of the macabre Mark Gatiss, who adapted the Dickens classic for this Nottingham Playhouse production, filmed in the theater last year. Gatiss also plays Jacob Marley, alongside Nicholas Farrell as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Can Ant & Dec’s Limitless Win (ITV1, 8pm) and the last ever episode of Doc Martin (ITV1, 9.05pm), which is a 90-minute festive special, breaking the near-total ratings dominance BBC1 has enjoyed in the UK every Christmas Day since Downton Abbey ended in 2015?
They butt scheduling heads with Ghosts (BBC1, 7.25pm) and Call the midwife (BBC1 7.55pm), which is set during the Christmas of 1967. A new season kicks off on New Year’s Day.
ST STEPHEN’S DAY
Five years after season three, the 75-minute Detectorists (BBC2, 9pm) sees a precious find threatening to break up the friendship of Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook). You know it won’t.
One-off special A Note for Nature (RTÉ1, 6.25pm) blends stunning footage, on-location musical performances and a message about the need to protect our wildlife from the most destructive species on earth: us.
Think bake Off, but with snow instead of pastry, and you’ve got celebrity competition, The greatest snowman (Channel 4, 7.30pm).
Could a murderous ghost be on the loose in the Christmas episode of Death in Paradise (BBC1, 9pm)? Probably not. Siobhan McSweeney from Derry Girls guests as a true crime podcaster.
If you have had enough of feasting on festive fare, the five-part miniseries Treason (Netflix) is a knotty spy thriller with Charlie Cox (Daredevil, Kin) as the newly-appointed head of MI6.