Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star
CHRISTMAS is upon us again and although it’s a tad different to the usual, it still has many of the same components as any other year with the added bonus of an All-Ireland Final in December. Up the Déise.
No matter what’s going on around us at Christmas, television scheduling is always a hot topic. Admittedly technology and new platforms have taken a great deal of the power away from the television stations and that’s not a bad thing, but I still like to see what the networks are offering. As usual there’ll be a smattering of decent fare, but you can bet your last mince pie there’ll be plenty of dirge too. There will be less people in and out of our houses this festive season, less parties and social venues to go out to so best be prepared and have any entertainment sorted in advance.
I can tell you now if you haven’t watched The Undoing, which only aired recently; you have missed one fine drama series. Starring a rather stylishly dressed Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, it is immensely compelling. Beware of spoilers as you’re best watching this show without any prior knowledge. Look it up and give it a whirl.
‘You’ll love the slightly sombre Mr. Blennerhasset who takes photographs of dead people for a living; apparently it was a thing at one point to pose your dead loved one for a post mortem pic to remember them by.’
For sheer craic and comedy brilliance, I can’t recommend Curb Your Enthusiasm highly enough. I’ve been a fan for nearly 20 years as I stumbled upon it back in the early noughties. I’ve loved it from the start and have watched most episodes now multiple times. The brainchild of Larry David, co creator of legendary comedy sitcom Seinfeld, it’s just one hilarious poke at our habits, foibles and rules. It features guest appearances from several well known stars. A riot of ridiculousness and hilarious situations and it’s sure to provide you with a hefty dose of fun over the holidays. By now there are loads of episodes to get lost in.
Another gem I’ve been enjoying lately is an Irish-Canadian television drama called Dead Still. Set in Dublin in the 19th century, it’s delightfully quirky and someone recently described it as the “most un RTE thing” that RTE has done in years. You’ll love the slightly sombre Mr. Blennerhasset who takes photographs of dead people for a living; apparently it was a thing at one point to pose your dead loved one for a post mortem pic to remember them by. He gets in to a few scrapes along the way aided by his lovely niece Nancy and his assistant Conall Malloy. It’s available on the Player and features a telly rarity surely, a Cork Detective who’s really quite funny.
Rather than depend on the schedulers picks for Christmas movies, over the last few years, I’ve made a conscious effort to build up my own little collection of my most loved Christmas films. A perennial favourite of mine is Scrooged with the brilliant Bill Murray and I tend to watch it before anything else once December rolls by. I’ve always loved his performance in this 80’s reworking of the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. He’s just superb as the mean spirited, tightwad TV mogul Frank Cross whose only interest in the season is the huge numbers of telly viewers his channel attempts to woo for the big ratings. He meets his old love played by Karen Allen, who was Indiana Jones’s paramour in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Can she get through his heart of stone and resurrect a little Christmas spirit? There’s even a guest appearance by the one and only Lee Majors and the jazz legend Miles Davis pops up busking in the street on Christmas Eve.
Have you seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? Chevy Chase and Beverley D’Angelo star and it’s a hoot from start to finish as we watch poor old Clark Griswold’s hopes of an idyllic family Christmas unravel bit by bit. His hillbilly relative comes to stay, wonderfully played by Randy Quaid and it really hits the spot if a good old comedy caper is what you’re after.
Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, not one for the kids, and Jingle All the Way with Arnold Shwarzenegger also make my list.
I’ll never ever tire of the Frank Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life with the awesome James Stewart as a man on the edge who feels all hope is gone and faces financial ruin. A story that would warm the hardest heart, it’s as timely in 2020 as it was in 1939 and I love it. Equally inspiring is the beautifully shot 1970 musical version of A Christmas Carol simply called Scrooge with a terrific performance in the title role from Albert Finney. I doubt there’s ever been a better Scrooge.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory based on the Roald Dahl classic is an annual treat. I just can’t warm to Mr Depp in the remake, but the 70’s version is so special to so many kids and adults alike, it’s got a very warm place in many a heart.
Gene Wilder was sublime as the magical, if eccentric chocolate factory wizard and hopefully kids watching this year for the first time might even learn a few things about ‘boring’ old topics like greed, gluttony and deceit. We can hope.
Mind you, I can’t keep away from the tin of Roses when watching this.
I’ve just realised that my favourite Christmas movies were all made quite some time ago. I attempted to watch the much promoted new Netflix Jingle Jangle recently and, to be honest, it just didn’t work for me. Great actors, beautiful sets, amazing costumes, huge choreographed numbers to a John Legend soundtrack and yet it just didn’t come together in my view. I didn’t even get to the end. I will keep looking and try one or two more before December is out.
For music documentaries, concert performances and interviews, you can’t go wrong with Sky Arts, a veritable treasure trove of everything from pop to rock to opera and it’s a great fallback if you’re at a telly loose end.
If these little nuggets are of some use to you, I’ll be well satisfied. Should you watch any of the aforementioned and be disappointed, don’t worry, have another turkey sandwich, Brendan O’Carroll is at hand.