At Christmas we take a few days off work to spend time with the TV. This year I mostly watched Harry Potter grow old and stroppy. By the sixth or seventh film in the wizarding series – Harry Potter and the Galloping Hormones – he’s basically James Dean with a wand. Daniel Radcliffe is much shorter though. In that sense, Harry Potter never really grew up.
Talking of which, who saw Outnumbered – the sitcom about chatty kids that has put me off human reproduction? These supposedly hilarious youngsters talk incessantly; their parents suffer every insult with that wary irony that writers think defines modern parenting. I propose an alternative comedy called Seen and Not Heard. Actually, I’d rather the children weren’t seen either – but this is television and you’ve got to throw the audience a bone.
Christmas was made better this year by a superb adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution – a twisty, turny courtroom thriller on BBC One. We think of Christie as having an old-fashioned preference for “who” dunnit rather than “why”, but this drama showcased her keen eye for human psychology. The task of the mystery writer is to create a villain who seems convincingly innocent for nine-tenths of the plot, only to reveal them to be just as convincingly guilty in the last five minutes. Few achieve perfection: you’re often left shouting “Oh, pull the other one!” at the TV. Christie, however, does it every time.
And so do Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, the minds behind horror spoof Inside Number 9. This year’s special, The Devil of Christmas (BBC2), was a parody of all those delicious Seventies ghost plays, such as The Stone Tape, with their hammy acting and predictable outcomes. Pemberton and Shearsmith added a twist of their own that – honestly – gave me nightmares. Their gift is to detect the horrific side of English bourgeois life. In this case, the final 30 seconds said more about the age of Jimmy Savile than other dramatists might have accomplished in several hours. Not just good TV but great TV. Happy New Year to you all.
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