Blankety Blank, Motherland, Call the Midwife, All Big and Tiny Creatures


HOW have you been on TV for Christmas? In the last nine months, television was the refuge, but the closet was bare at the end of the year, when several productions were cancelled because of ‘It’.

An understatement is nude. The closet was so bare that the wall was broken off, cut up and used as firewood. (On this “kitchen cabinet recycling” concept, there is a six-part series, if any commissioners out there are interested. Shot with Zoom, of course.).

A Baby Reindeer’s First Christmas (Channel 4, Christmas Eve) was about as ridiculously adorable as the title suggested. The Cairngorm reindeer herd is the only free-ranging pack in Britain, but they kindly come down the mountain every Christmas to support Santa (the film aired just before bedtime, so it was aimed primarily at the rug rats among the Santas).

A young man named Holy Moly was the star of the film. Without her mother, not only had Holy Moly come down the mountain, she had lost antlers and was being bullied. The good people who cared for the herd fixed the antlers and, with the other young animals, she was able to start “reindeer school”

This was a lovely way to spend an hour if you can stomach the cheesy attempts to inject drama (‘Will Lupin be able to pull herself together and work with the other reindeer to help Santa?’).

With Bradley Walsh unwisely attempting to follow in the footsteps of Terry Wogan and Les Dawson, Blankety Blank (BBC1, Christmas Day 1) celebrated a prime-time revival. Jimmy Carr (called “JC” by “Brad”), Sue Perkins (“Perky”) and Danny Jones of McFly were among the celebrities on the word comparison panel (“Jonesy”).

With everyone trying to be intentionally sarcastic about the Blankety Blank checkbook and pen, it was a half hour of low-level smut and infatuation, and the prizes included an inflatable hot tub. If they had just repeated an old Tel or Les show instead of rehashing the hack, there would have been more laughs.

It’s a sign of how annoying it was for the rest of the panel that Jimmy Carr came across as a good guy. In reality, if there were someone insane enough to bring back the quiz, he would be a better host.

Motherland (BBC2, Wednesday) returned, cursing the Christmas season with the slummy Mummy set, visiting family, too much to do, etc. It was all the authors and performers could do to check in, utter a funny line or two, and get the hell out of there, with the same half hour allotted to them. Perhaps that was why it appeared tired and thin in the show. How thin, you’re asking? Well, a white carpet has been pressed into service, the old comedy chestnut. In the end, even Motherland, one of television’s most caustic looks at modern parenthood, gave in to the season’s demands and melted into a nostalgic mush.

If only the Motherland set had half the nuns and nurses’ smarts on Call the Midwife (BBC1, Christmas Day). Lately, it’s been a rough time at Nonnatus Home, with Valerie leaving for South Africa and nearly closing the shop, and now people who normally came for Christmas dinner are canceling in droves. “I’m opening the petticoat tails,”I’m opening the petticoat tails. “I guess we’ll need two each.” I hear you, sister.

The circus came to town right when you felt it couldn’t get any worse. Except that (almost) everybody, particularly Phyllis, who had always dreamed of becoming a trapeze artist, loved the circus, as one does when one is a middle-aged woman with a perm. This led to an unfortunate incident with a rather silly scene when Call the Midwife “jumped the shark” Otherwise, the tale of Gloria, a young woman after enduring too much loss, hoping for a Christmas miracle, was spot on. Like the athlete she was, we cheered her on.

A remake of a classic was the latest kid on the block this year. A deserved success with new audiences and those familiar with the original was All Creatures Big and Small (Channel 5, Tuesday). All the requirements were fulfilled by the festive episode: a boy playing Joseph with a tea towel on his head; Siegfried playing Santa Claus; Tristan being charming; James being noble; and Mrs. Hall getting excited while keeping the whole show running.

By taking the soon-to-be-married Helen to a job delivering puppies, James added to the action. The name of the collie un un was Suzy.


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