Last week I hailed the premature opening of the Christmas season with a listicle of great movies to watch this Christmas. Now that it’s actually December, it’s the time of the Christmas TV special. Yes indeed, this is the time of year often most exciting for fans of British television especially, as the production houses in Blighty race to create the most eagerly anticipated Christmas programming (I’m looking at you, Doctor Who). And so, in the spirit of watching way too much TV, here are some Christmas specials you might not have seen but I highly recommend.
4. Thomas’s Christmas Party (1984)
Everybody’s favourite little blue engine is back! The culmination of the first series of the now-immortal kid’s TV favourite Thomas the Tank Engine And Friends, “Thomas’s Christmas Party” sees Thomas, Toby, and Terence the Tractor head off to rescue Mrs Kyndley from being snowed in. Truly an uplifting special, as we are taught that sometimes at Christmas, you have to wear stupid hats (Thomas puts up with his hated snowplough to please an elderly friend or relative), sometimes you have to stay home to go to work while your family goes on a fun holiday (Terence stays behind at Mrs Kyndley’s and misses the party to clear the snow), and at Christmas you are likely to stand on a piece of Lego (at the end, the Fat Controller addresses the engines from a podium which appears to have been constructed from orange Lego pieces).
Whilst it’s true that some of these references might only apply to me or just be far too obscure to be funny, it’s also true that “Thomas’s Christmas Party” is a joyous little piece of television, with a real charm and Ringo Starr.
3. Da Kath and Kim Code (2005)
Created by Australian comedy personalities Gina Riley and Jane Turner, Kath and Kim are the epitome of the cashed-up bogan Australian, and have become Aussie icons in their more than 12 years of existence. If any Australians were going to be sucked into The Da Vinci Code fever, it was Kath and Kim.
Writing as one who’s had an on-again, off-again interest in the show, I laughed out loud for most of Da Kath and Kim Code. The ridiculous subplot of the albino monk trying to run over Kath’s husband Kel, accompanied by the frighteningly Satanic “Confutatis” from Mozart’s Requiem; Kath’s supposed love affair with Michael Bublé (who appears as a jerk version of himself); plus a bunch of clever satire on Australian Christmas cultural norms elevates this above the normal episodes of Kath&Kim. Now all they have to do is retcon series 4 and Kath&Kimderella: The Movie and they’ll seem like they’re going out on a high note!
2. Rocko’s Modern Life, “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” (1994)
I was but a wee babe when this was released, and yet it has become compulsory Christmas viewing in this household. The Christmas special of Nickelodeon’s surreal Rocko’s Modern Life, “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” tells the story of the time Christmas elves moved into Rocko’s neighbourhood just as everyone was forgetting the meaning of Christmas.
Being a much more adult programme than it would initially seem, Rocko’s Modern Life is often more of a dark satire on 90s life in America – and considering the level of cultural imperialism going on from the US at the time (entire children’s programming blocks on our own ABC were dedicated to American cartoons), the satire applies just as much here in Australia. This episode is no exception – Christmas is all commercial in the world of Rocko, and the political correcting of the holiday has extended so far as to eliminate store Santas, instead replacing them with the thoroughly un-jolly and boring “Fruitcake Man”.
Luckily, Rocko is here to remind everyone about the importance of caring for each other and forgiving your jerk friends for ruining your party. Sharply written and with a snappy visual style, this is actually a hilarious and fairly uplifting episode of a very enjoyable show. If nothing else, its bizarre tagline reminds us that you have to look deeper than the Christmas buffet for joy and happiness.
Honorable Mention: SpongeBob SquarePants, “Christmas Who?” for this image of a distraught SpongeBob discovering Santa isn’t real (or is he?)
1. The Goodies, “Earthanasia” (1977)
Another show which has become a bit of a household institution here despite having been off the air for decades is The Goodies. “Earthanasia” concerns the decision by the United Nations to blow up the planet, citing racism, over-population, inflation, and strikes – basically, irreconcilable differences.
Naturally, the Goodies react to the news in their own special way – Bill decides to bail because the other two are boring, Graeme tries to unlock Tim’s repressed childhood using crank psychology, and Tim basically goes to pieces over anything and everything. So, pretty normal Goodies behaviour, really.
What sets this one apart is the ever-heightening sense of insanity as the episode plays out over real time. When Graeme finally breaks Tim by revealing the Muppets aren’t actually real, all hell breaks loose, leading to Bill and Tim undergoing major personality revisions. Innately quotable, this is a family favourite.