Only at this time of year is it okay to get excited about extended episodes of shit TV. Christmas specials are a novelty that we pretend not to care about, but the moment our favourite characters don festive gear (just like us), we see the series through tinsel-tinted glasses.
The excitement over a tired EastEnders storyline, an episode of Bake Off that is really no different save for one presenter's pair of "jolly" earrings, or the gathering of a band that hasn't released new music for the best part of a decade supersedes rational judgement and boy, isn't it delightful? That sweet period of limbo between Christmas and New Year was built for the absentminded watching of feelgood TV, and it'd be mad not to indulge.
Lucky enough, this year there are a few legitimately good seasonal treats to level out your viewing schedule. In keeping with the tradition of period dramas for Christmas, the BBC's long-anticipated adaptation of Les Mis is finally on the way, as is the latest version of Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders. And if you find yourself needing to escape the family bonding sessions, retreat to the comfort of Netflix and revisit a couple of our favourite specials from years gone by. Here's what's on the lineup.
Joanna Lumley Presents 20 Years of the Black Eyed Peas
Yep, you read that correctly. Ab Fab star Joanna Lumley is presenting a show celebrating (yes, another anniversary) 20 years of the Black Eyed Peas. ICYMI, the group reformed for a tour earlier this year and the one-hour special will pay tribute to the time they've dedicated to bringing music into our lives. Apparently, Lumley is a longstanding fan and friend of the band and I got a feeling (not sorry) it's going to be, erm, interesting to watch this play out on screen. ITV One, 21st December at 10pm
There's been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about Watership Down over the years. Though many of us will have traumatic childhood memories of the Richard Adams tale, the BBC and Netflix have partnered to recreate the tale of a group of rabbits fleeing human violence in the countryside. Nicholas Hoult and James McAvoy lend their voices to the animation, as do John Boyega, Gemma Arterton and Olivia Colman. BBC One, 22nd & 23rd December at 7.20pm
Top Of The Pops
It’s been a long time since Top of the Pops was a regular fixture on our weekly viewing schedules but ICYMI, it still exists. This year, Fearne Cotton and Clara Amfo will be presenting music by some of the biggest artists of 2018, and announcing our Christmas number one. Look forward to performances from UK chart faves such as Jess Glynne, Rita Ora and George Ezra. BBC One, Christmas Day at 12.30pm
Call The Midwife
Ahead of series eight’s arrival at the beginning of the new year, BBC drama Call The Midwife is back for a 90-minute Christmas special. Picking up in 1963 after last season's emotional ending, three newcomers arrive at Poplar – Sisters Mildred (Harry Potter's Miriam Margolyes), Hilda (Fenella Woolgar) and Frances (Ella Bruccoleri) – as the nuns are tasked with caring for a group of Chinese orphans. A behind-the-scenes clip shared on the show’s Twitter feed teases a trip to the seaside for Sister Julienne and Shelagh Turner, prompting talk of who will become the next Mother Superior. Of course there will be a birth, it’s Christmas at Nonnatus House, but there are a few more surprises in store. BBC One, Christmas Day at 7.45pm
First Dates Christmas Special
Don't fall out of love with First Dates just yet, Fred and the team are back to spread some holiday romance in the famed London restaurant. This special episode will see the return of some old favourite blind daters from seasons gone by and a few surprise guests along the way. It's at this time of year that the show dedicates more time than usual to the relationship success stories, so prepare to gush for a little bit. Channel 4, Christmas Day at 9.15pm
The Great Christmas Bake Off
The Great British Bake Off loves a seasonal episode, doesn’t it? This year is no different as Prue Leith, Paul Hollywood, Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig return for the festive feature, joined by favourite contestants from recent years. Look forward to seeing mouthwatering creations by Liam Charles and Flo Atkins (2017) and Candice Brown (winner 2016), as well as a rogue appearance from The Darkness – yes, the band who brought us "I Believe In A Thing Called Love". Channel 4, Christmas Day at 8pm
What’s Christmas without a traumatic storyline on Albert Square to see you through that last box of Quality Street? No Christmas special will ever shake us quite as deeply as when Sonia lost Jamie in 2002, or Trevor’s horrifying abusive behaviour towards Little Mo in 2001, but the stakes remain typically high this year. Contrary to their happily ever after in 2005, Kat and Alfie’s relationship is on the rocks again. She’s set to find out that he’s Hayley’s biological father but apparently that’s not even the biggest reveal of the episode. Expect further death, deceit and despair. BBC One, Christmas Day at 9.15pm
The ABC Murders
Rupert Grint stars as Inspector Chrome in this new three-part adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic. John Malkovich leads as detective Poirot and Broadchurch star Andrew Buchan will be Franklin Clarke. The story, set in the 1930s, follows Poirot’s desperate race to catch a serial killer whose only trace is a copy of The ABC Railway Guide which he leaves behind at each crime scene. BBC One, Boxing Day at 9pm
Take That: We've Come A Long Way
It's a big year for anniversaries, it seems. This Christmas we're preparing to mark 30 years of Take That so, of course, the BBC has a special programme to celebrate Britain's beloved man band. It'll feature interviews, performances and a moving look back at their three decades together. Before you ask, yes, Robbie Williams will make an appearance and join in the band's reflection, and there'll be plenty of time allocated to the devoted fans who have been there along the way. If you're in need of further context, allow me to direct you to Refinery29's interview with Take That's number one fan. BBC One, 28th December at 7pm
It's almost here. The umpteenth adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel set just on the cusp of the French revolution is landing on your telly screens this Christmas. The BBC's big six hour-long episode package might be without music (sorry, no singalong this year) but the cast is pretty exciting. The formidable Olivia Colman stars as Madame Thénardier and Lily Collins takes the role of Fantine. BBC One, Sunday 30th December at 9pm
Jodie Whittaker’s first festive run as the Doctor takes place in the new year rather than on Christmas Day, and though it’s a big sway from tradition (the festive episode has aired on 25th December for 13 years), fans seem sure it’ll be worth the wait. She’ll be back with Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) to face "the most dangerous creature in the universe" who has been buried on Earth since the 9th century. The threat is expectedly intense. BBC One, New Year's Day at 7pm
Inbetweeners: Fwends Reunited
It's finally happening. Sixth form's most entertaining foursome are getting together to celebrate 10 years of The Inbetweeners. This special one-off episode sees Simon, Neil, Jay and Will reunite in that ridiculous yellow car for one night only. There'll be behind-the-scenes clips from old episodes, returns to some of the show's funniest moments and surprise guests. Channel 4, New Year's Day at 9pm
And for when you're done with family time and wish to return to some old favourites online...
Black Mirror: White Christmas
Be warned: there are new Black Mirror episodes on the horizon. We might not know specifically when they’re going to drop (although some internet sleuthing suggests 28th December might be the day) but we do know that Miley Cyrus appears in one episode and another episode will be interactive in some way. Nervous? Us too. But while we wait for Charlie Brooker to give us what we want, circle back to the series' only existing festive episode, White Christmas. To refresh your memory, no, of course it’s not an hour of jolly holiday fun. This special is set in a mysterious, remote, snowy outpost. Find out how two men came to arrive there and how their stories intertwine. Clue: it has something to do with technology having gone a bit rogue. Netflix, available now
Christmas at Downton Abbey
You weren't ready to say goodbye to Downton, were you? Never fear, one of the programme's best loved episodes is available to stream and you won't regret reactivating your Amazon Prime subscription for the occasion. If you don't remember what happened, Christmas at Downton Abbey takes place just after Bates was arrested, which casts an unpleasant air of tension while the rest of the household scurries around in preparation for the season's festivities. Amazon Prime, available now
Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special
Brace yourselves because it’s been 10 years since Gavin and Stacey’s wild Christmas in Essex hit our television screens. Stacey’s family make the drive from Barry to Billericay to spend the big day with the Shipmans (and Smithy, Dawn and Pete of course) and have some big news to share. Needless to say, things don’t quite go to plan but the beauty (and hilarity) is in those tiny festive nuances that writers Ruth Jones and James Corden embedded within the episode. Christmas BBC One, New Year's Day at 7pmJohn" written in them, presents wrapped in foil and the novel joy of mint-flavoured Baileys. BBC iPlayer, available now