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The very best of Christmas 2020 TV

With this much amazing stuff on the tellybox, who needs to go out anyway? Here are 22 brilliant things to watch over the holidays.

Sylvie’s Love (Amazon Prime) – Wed 23 Dec

This American feature length drama starring Tessa Thompson and Eva Longoria premiered at Sundance in January. Shortly after, Amazon acquired the rights and this week will see its world premier on the streaming platform. It follows the story of Sylvie (Thompson), a young woman in 1950’s Harlem who falls for a saxophonist who works at her father’s record store. They meet again years later… but will they feel the same?

Yearly Departed (Amazon Prime) – Wed 30 Dec

Oh, it’s been a crap year, hasn’t it? Even worse than that one when my boyfriend dumped me and I soon after got scabies. Send 2020 off to the history books with a wry smile and a firm shove by tuning into Yearly Departed, where female comedians such as Sarah Silverman and Tiffany Haddish eulogise the year that’s gone with hilarious monologues on the weirdness that was 2020.

Jack and the Beanstalk After Ever After (Sky One) – Wed 23 Dec

David Walliams is behind this one  – and starring as the giant – and the premise is quite simple. Instead of falling to earth and dying after trying to chase Jack down the beanstalk, the giant was simply knocked unconscious and once he wakes up, he’s trapped on earth with lots of humans who aren’t his biggest fans. Sheridan Smith stars as the Woman With No Name – the most fearsome giant killer in the land.

Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse (Sky One) – Christmas Eve

Frazzled with Christmas prep and over-excited kids? Sky One has just the thing. A feature-length film inspired by the true story of when a six-year-old Roald Dahl met his idol Beatrix Potter and how it inspired him to write magical tales of his own. Stellar cast too: Dawn French, Jessica Hynes, Rob Brydon, Alison Steadman and Bill Bailey. John Hannah narrates.

Soul (Disney +) – Christmas Day

The latest Pixar masterpiece is due to be launched into the world on Christmas Day (yes, it was meant to be a theatrical release) and in a nutshell, it follows a secondary school music teacher (and jazz enthusiast) on a rather unexpected journey into the after – and before – life. So expect incredible animation, catchy songs and, ultimately, a rather deep heart-felt message on what it means to be human. There will not be a dry eye in the house.

The Midnight Sky (Netflix) – Wed 23 Dec

A Netflix Original this one and directed by George Clooney. It’s a sci-fi drama feature length film based on the 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks Dalton and concerns an Arctic scientist (Clooney) as the only man left on earth. His task is to warn a returning spaceship that a global catastrophe has occured and the astronauts should turn around to find a safer harbour. Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo also star.

Bridgerton (Netflix) – Christmas Day

I’ve kinda been waiting all year for this. Shonda Rhimes is in the producer’s chair for this Regency-era eight-part drama series, which is based on the eight novels by Julia Quinn that in turn follow the loves and misfortunes of the eight Bridgerton siblings. The first season deals with Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton, on the hunt for a suitable husband while Regé-Jean Page plays Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, who may – or may not – be in want of a wife. 

Dolly Parton’s Christmas Concert (BBC One) – Wed 23 Dec, 11.15pm

This might be just what you’re looking for on Wednesday night if the wrapping is done and the veg is prepped and that bottle of red needs finishing off; Dolly singing her favourite Christmas songs could be just the thing. If, however, you’re raging at the sellotape and cursing the lack of parsnips, it’s always on iPlayer for a later date.

Zog and the Flying Doctors (BBC One) – Christmas Day, 2.35pm

In this sequel to Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler’s Zog, Gadabout (the knight) and Zog (the dragon) have to go and rescue Princess Pearl (the… er, princess) from her uncle’s castle. Consider it 24 minutes to enjoy a glass of fizz by yourself. Just remember to lock the bathroom door.

The Great British Sewing Bee Christmas Special (BBC One) – Boxing Day, 7.45pm

Got your mince pies and mulled wine ready? Grand. Then start Boxing Day night’s viewing by watching Denise Van Outen, Shirley Ballas, Dr Ranj Singh and Sarah Pascoe try desperately to create garments of some description for judges Esme Young and Patrick Grant. The lovely Joe Lycett brings the laughs, as ever.

Black Narcissus (BBC One) – Sun 27 Dec, 9pm

I do love the Beeb’s post-Christmas pre-NY drama. Usually it’s an Agatha Christie but this year, this three-part drama miniseries sees Gemma Arterton as Sister Clodagh, who with her fellow sisters, attempts to establish an order in the Himalayas with potential romance and intrigue aplenty. It’s also the last performance of Dame Diana Rigg who died this year.

Alicia Keys Rocks New Year’s Eve (BBC One) – NYE, 11.30pm

Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is over on BBC One belting out her hits, live on stage, from Los Angeles. It’s just part of BBC One’s NYE offering, which includes fun and games with Paddy McGuinness at 9pm, followed by a 2020 quiz and Graham Norton’s usual end-of-year talkshow with Tom Hanks and Emily Blunt.

Jools’ Annual Hootenanny (BBC Two) – NYE, 11.15pm

Jools Holland

Jools has been doing this for a long time: 27 years to be precise. They should give him a sabbatical for long service. Anyway, as we’re all staying in there could be far worse ways to see in the New Year. This year’s guests include Sir Tom Jones, Roisin Murphy, Rag’n’Bone Man, Rick Wakeman and the inimitable Ruby Turner. 

The Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures (BBC 4) – Mon 28 Dec

RI Christmas Lectures

2020: Planet Earth – A User’s Guide is the theme of this year’s academic three-parter (but it’s thankfully aimed at kids so I myself might have some chance of following it). ‘Engine Earth’ is title of the first hour-long lecture led by Prof Chris Jackson and if you have a budding volcanologist in the house, get them in front of the box for this one. ‘Water World’ and ‘Up in the Air’ broadcast on the next two evenings.

Britain’s Got Talent Christmas Spectacular (ITV) – Christmas Day, 8pm

Britain's Got Talent Christmas Spectacular

So this is still quite secretive but news has it that a selection of acts over the past 14 years will be making an appearance and the judges – Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon, David Walliams and Ashley Banjo – will be stepping onto the stage instead of judging from the side. Intriguing. 

Dancing on Thin Ice with Torvill & Dean (ITV) – Fri 1 Jan, 9pm

Torvill & Dean

This has been included almost solely on the grounds that it sounds like something Alan Partridge would try to get commissioned. But it’s not a joke. Honestly, I checked. So Jayne and Christopher go off to Alaska to try and find thick enough ice to dance a special Bolero outside in nature but climate change and Alaska’s warmest year on record seem set to thwart their plans. Just superb programming. Bravo ITV. 

The Great Christmas Bake Off (C4) – Christmas Eve, 7.40pm

Bake Off Christmas
© Mark Bourdillon

It’s time to get back in the tent with four Bake Off alum, namely James Hillery (2017), Ruby Bhogal (2018) and Jamie Finn and Rosie Brandreth-Poynter from 2019’s series. Matt and Tom Allen will be providing the laughs while Alexandra Burke is on hand to perform Silent Night. Lovely stuff.

One Night in… Hamley’s (C4) – Christmas Eve, 9pm

What happens when three comedians are let loose in Regent Street’s – and probably the UK’s – foremost toystore? I’m banking on chaos. Romesh Ranganathan, Rob Beckett and Tom Allen only have a few rules: sleeping’s cheating, if you break it you pay for it, and be out of the store before the cleaners arrive. What could go wrong?

Quentin Blake’s Clown (C4) – Christmas Day, 7.40pm

This half hour animation inspired by the book of the same name sees a toy clown try to find a new owner having been thrown away by a child who outgrew him. It sounds terribly sad but – trust me – there is a happy ending and children will go to bed with the idea that maybe toys do come to life if they’re loved enough. 

The Big Fat Quiz of the Year (C4) – Boxing Day, 9.05pm

Big Fat Quiz of the Year

Well, it’s a tradition, isn’t it? And this year deserves a severe going over by our brightest comedians. Joining host Jimmy Carr are team leaders Richard Ayoade and David Mitchell, along with Maya Jama, James Acaster, Joe Lycett and Stacey Solomon. The US election, Prince Harry stepping down and lockdown are all in the firing line.

Taskmaster’s New Year Treat (C4) – NYE 

Taskmaster

If you’ve been watching Taskmaster’s 10th series this autumn – fun, wasn’t it? If not, I’m jealous: you’ve got 10 series to go at, all on All 4. Anyway, there’s a new year special, which is delightful news and the contestants willing to embark on television’s silliest tasks are John Hannah, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Nicola Coughlan, Rylan Clark-Neal and Shirley Ballas. Greg Davies and Alex Horne will deal out the directions.

The Great New Year Bake Off (C4) – Sun 3 Jan, 7:45pm

Yes! It’s on again. Exactly the same format as the Christmas one, it’s just that Noel’s back from paternity leave and the guests are different. This time it’s Helena Garcia and Henry Bird from 2019 and two winners from previous years: Nancy Birtwhistle (2014) and Rahul Mandal (2018). Then, apparently there’s a sing-along around a piano but you don’t have to stay for that bit.

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