Christmas is a time to eat, drink and be merry and once all that's done and dusted it's a great opportunity to crowd around the tellybox for some quality family viewing. Amid the blockbuster movies and obligatory soaps there are the classic episodes we love to watch each year and here are some of the best:
1. Father Ted - A Christmassy Ted
It wouldn't be Christmas without the Father Ted special and this is up there with one of the very best episodes. Ted wins the Golden Cleric for helping a group of priests escape from Ireland's largest lingerie department. He starts writing an acceptance speech which he sees as a chance to get his own back on everyone who has fecked him over through the years. Meanwhile a mysterious old school friend of his named Fr Todd Unctious shows up unexpectedly. Mrs Doyle is proud of herself for guessing his name (eventually) but she has her own battle with the Teamaster 2000. This unforgettable visit to Craggy Island has been a fixture on Christmas TV since it was first aired back in 1996.
2. The Royle Family - Christmas Special
The Royle Family Christmas specials could be a bit hit and miss but the finale to Season Two was a real cracker. Denise is heavily pregnant and bossy as ever and Barbara is dismayed to learn that the turkey wasn't her best effort. Jim is his usual grumpy self ("This is the one day of the year we all get together to watch the bloody television and look at the shite they put on!") The show ends with Denise going into labour at the house and Jim of all people is the only one there to comfort her. This brilliant episode hits the perfect balance of comedy and drama; it will bring tears of laughter and sadness to your eye.
3. The Simpsons - Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
There have been several Simpsons Christmas episodes throughout the years but this one is notable for being the first full-length episode to air on TV. Homer loses his Christmas bonus thanks to the Scrooge-like Mr Burns and becomes a store Santa to earn more cash for presents (though he thinks one of the reindeer is called Nixon). He bets his measly wage on a greyhound called Santa's Little Helper, and although the dog loses miserably, the Simpsons end up adopting him and everyone's a winner in the end. Though it may seem strange now looking back on our first visit to Springfield, it's comforting to know that Bart is still a tearaway, Barney's a lovable drunk and Homer still hates Flanders, Patty and Selma.
4. Friends - The One With The Holiday Armadillo
This remains one of the most memorable of all Friends episodes, not just the Christmas ones. Ross want to teach Ben the about Jewish festival of Hannukah. Trouble is the only costume he can get forces him into becoming the Holiday Armadillo (as Monica remarks: "You must be tired coming all the way from... Texas.") Chandler then arrives as Santa and the confusion begins. Not for the first time Chandler and Ross end up in a ridiculous and awkward situation with hilarious results, though Rachel gets the best line: "It looks like the Easter Bunny's funeral in here!"
Catch Ross in action right here.
5. The Office - Christmas Party
With Ricky Gervais going onto become a huge star and The Office itself being brilliantly reimagined in the US, it seems like so long ago now since this Christmas special took over our TVs. While the antics of David Brent and Gareth provided the humour, and Tim and Dawn's will-they-won't-they romance was the real heart of the show. Their story gets the ending everyone was crying out for, and Brent even finds the one woman in the world who is interested in him. This special has the ideal mix of humour and drama and the perfect ending that all fans desired.
6. Community - Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas
This typically ambitious episode of Community is filmed entirely in stop-motion animation. Abed is upset and the gang work together to try and help him out and at the same time find the true meaning of Christmas. Initially the meaning turns out to be Lost Season One on DVD (symbolising a lack of a payoff) but Abed soon learns that it's all about spending it with the ones you love, be it friends or family. The show is full of the usual clever humour and has some neat songs, but it's touching to see everyone rally together to help out a pal who is hurting. Oh and Annie looks adorable even as an animated figure!
7. Seinfeld - The Strike
For some reason Seinfeld never really took off over here, though it was an absolutely massive hit in America back in the 90s. The Christmas episode "The Strike" is a big fan favourite. George's crazy father, tired of the commercialism of Christmas, creates a new holiday for December 23rd called Festivus ("A Festivus for the rest of us!") The traditional Christmas tree is replaced by a 10 foot aluminium pole and Festivus activities include the Airing of Grievances and the Feats of Strength. Seinfeld was always noted for guest stars who went onto become household names and this one features Bryan Cranston, aka Heisenberg himself from Breaking Bad.
8. The West Wing - Noel
I notice there seems to be a lot of comedies on the list so here's something a little different. The West Wing episode Noel centres around Josh, one of the President's chief advisors, who has badly cut his hand in the run up to the holiday season. He offers a flimsy excuse for the injury but his friends and co-workers know that something else is wrong and do their best to help him out. The ending where he is confronted by Leo, the Chief of Staff, is a beautiful moment and may be one of the best scenes in the whole series.
9. Blackadder - Blackadder's Christmas Carol
Many TV shows and films from this time of year are based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but this one retells the classic story in reverse. Here Blackadder is the complete opposite to Ebeneezer Scrooge, a generous and thoughtful Victorian shopkeeper who gets completely taken advantage of by everybody. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future visit to show him what life would be like if he was a selfish villain. He ends up liking this version better and by the end of the show has turned into a complete and utter scoundrel.
10. Peep Show - Seasonal Beatings
In this hilarious episode the ever-neurotic Mark decides to host Christmas dinner at his apartment. Trouble is he is quite strapped for cash and finds it difficult to satisfy his demanding family, his unhappy girlfriend Dobby and man-child Jeremy (who is rather miffed with his presents of firelighters, tongs and a sleeping mask). And then to top it all off Super Hans shows up as the self-professed Father Spliffmas. This is the Christmas dinner from hell as Mark battles with his overbearing Dad to be the alpha male ("Cauliflower is not traditional!") and when you're not cringing you'll be in stitches laughing.
Catch some of the funniest moments here.
Words: Peter Boyle