Welcome to the second of my Christmas Favourites posts for this year. In the previous post I wrote my about festive food and fashion, and in the next post you’ll find everything else I’ve done while out and about this Christmas. So here I’m going to talk about the entertainment I’ve been enjoying on TV, radio and online.
Note: I continued to update this post into the new year to keep everything together. So despite the publication date, the final revision was actually on January 15th 2019.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed your Christmas, and I hope you enjoy this rundown of my favourite Yuletide entertainment this year. There’s also a video to go with this post too. And don’t forget to check out my other Christmas posts & lists if this isn’t enough for you.
New TV Equipment
Before I get on to what I’ve actually watched, we’ve actually bought some new equipment to watch things on in the first place. We needed to replace the old TV set that I think has been in the house for well over a decade, so it was time to bring ourselves up to date. So we bought ourselves a HD Smart TV for the first time ever, along with a couple of additional items.
The main thing we bought was a brand new Samsung 32′ LED TV. And it’s one of those that has the Voice Guide feature, which was a big selling point for my mother in particular, who is blind.
And so far it’s working very well. The picture is lovely and clear and sharp for a start. I compared the standard and HD versions of a couple of channels through my Virgin Media box, and there is a very noticeable improvement even with my eyesight. The various apps (Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, Youtube, etc) all load up quickly and work well.
The Voice Guide is also very useful – I don’t use it as I can see well enough, but for Mum it’s great. The voice isn’t as nice as Alexa or Siri, and your options for adjusting it are very limited (just speed, pitch and volume basically, you can’t change the voice itself), but it does the job adequately. If you change channels, for instance, it tells you what channel it is, the programme that’s currently showing, and what time the programme starts and finishes. It also reads the TV guide as you go through it, tells you when you turn the volume up or down, and reads all the menus. It won’t, however, read things in most of the apps, and it obviously can’t speak the menus on our Virgin Tivo box as that’s a separate device. But it reads all of the basic functions of the TV, which is really helpful.
I was also able to turn on a high contrast option for the menus to make them easier to read in white on black. And when watching digital channels through the aerial, the TV also allows you to access audio description whenever it’s provided (just like the Virgin Tivo box does for its channels – and actually, now I have a HD TV, I should be able to upgrade to the Virgin V6 box at last).
So it’s a very good TV all in all, and quite accessible if you’re visually impaired. Samsung have a good reputation for that, and I know some other big manufacturers also have similar features. Charities like the RNIB and current users of smart TVs on Facebook forums can give you more details on things like that. My friend Emma over at Rock For Disability also wrote a Samsung TV accessibility review recently, which helped to influence my decision as to which brand to go for, so do check that out as well.
We also got this sound bar to go with the TV, because that’s a common accessory these days, given that TVs are thinner than in the past, and thus limited as to the sound they can produce. In fairness though, the Samsung TV produces quite good sound on its own, so it’s not essential to get a sound bar for it if you’re happy without one. But I do like movies and music, and I like to get really good sound from them, so I did want to get one.
The sound bar sits nicely in front of the TV, and the audio quality is great. One of the very first things I heard through it was the theme tune for the BBC News, and it had quite a bit of power to it, with a good bass sound. Other things I’ve watched since then also sound great through it. I haven’t tried Alexa with it, partly because we’ve also got an Echo Dot in the same room, so it’s not really necessary, and some of the reviews suggest that Alexa through the sound bar isn’t quite as good as through an actual Echo device. But I may give it a go at some point.
The setup process for the sound bar is quite interesting though, because you have to do it on your mobile phone. I don’t know if the app is accessible using Voiceover, but it didn’t use the dynamic enlarged text setting that I have enabled. The interface is nice and clean though, and as I have colours inverted it was still easy enough for me to read. It detected the sound bar straight away and took me through the setup process with clear instructions.
Part of the process involved walking around the room while waving my phone in the air, so it could use my phone’s microphone to hear the tones being played from the sound bar all over the room. You feel very silly doing it, but it allows the app to calibrate the sound bar to give the best performance all through the room. I don’t know if it made a difference to be honest, but we do get a nice sound from it, so I’m assuming it was worth doing.
Finally we also bought this Blu-ray player, because apart from my Mac we’ve had nothing to watch discs on since we moved in 2 years ago. And this new machine is doing the job very nicely. I’ve watched a recently purchased Blu-ray on it and it looks great, and DVDs of older shows are also looking pretty good on it too. The player also has apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime built in, but as they’re already on the TV I won’t be using those there. But the player can update its software over the internet as well, so it’s still worth being connected to the web for that.
So we’re really pleased with all of that equipment. Even though all 3 items are from different manufacturers, they all work well together – adjusting the volume on the TV actually adjust the sound bar, for instance, and the TV automatically switches to the Blu-ray player when that’s switched on. It’s all been worth the investment and will hopefully last quite a while.
Christmas TV & Radio
So now moving on to the stuff I’ve been watching and listening to so far, and a few of the things I’m looking forward to seeing. This is the section of the post that I’ll keep adding to the most over the festive period, so keep checking back. And feel free to recommend other stuff I might want to check out too.
Black Mirror – Bandersnatch (Netflix)
I love Black Mirror, the sci-fi series that is often very dark, disturbing and thought-provoking. There will be a 5th series in 2019 apparently, but ahead of that they’ve produced a very special, and rather brilliant, interactive episode. Don’t worry, I’m avoiding spoilers here.
Set in 1984, it’s about a young guy named Stefan, who is developing a video game based on an old choose your own adventure book. And, just like those old books, you’re regularly asked to make decisions about what he does, with only 10 seconds to decide. A few early choices are designed to get you used to the concept and have relatively minimal impact (though there are one or two callbacks to them later). And a few choices are eventually forced upon you in some way, with good reason.
But most decisions have a major impact, affecting the scenes and available choices that you’re presented with later on. The more you watch and try out different choices, the more you realise and appreciate that many scenes have multiple variations, some more subtle and important than others, and there are loads of different endings. There are even one or two paths that are a bit tongue-in-cheek, feeling a bit ‘meta’ and breaking the fourth wall, which are good fun. It’s all very impressive and the transitions when you make choices are seamless on a technical level. It must have been mindbending to write and film it all.
The overall story, if you make it through to one of the main endings, is about 90 minutes, but there’s over 5 hours of footage to find altogether. Each time your story does conclude, you’re given the chance to go back a bit to try something else, but you’re often still limited by the choices you made earlier (and the film neatly and concisely recaps the route you’ve taken to remind you). So if you want to see everything, you will need to go back to the beginning and take different paths sometimes. You can fast forward through the scenes you’ve seen before, of course, though as soon as you make a new choice you’ve never done before, keep watching normally from that point, as many later scenes that seem familiar will have changed in some way.
So I really enjoyed trying everything out, it was pretty addictive. And I was very pleased with myself that I found most of the different endings. Someone has already, of course, produced a flow chart of all the different paths, and by checking that I was happy to discover that I’d found most things, there was just one path with a couple of variations that I’d missed, so I was able to find that. So I think I’ve pretty much seen everything now, perhaps apart from one or two other minor variations during the story that I’m not so concerned about.
So I do recommend it. It’s not for the faint of heart, it is very dark and does get quite disturbing in parts, as is the norm for Black Mirror. There is some strong language and parts where it can get a little bit gory. But if you don’t mind that, it’s wonderful. It’s also worth noting that there is audio description available, which is great. It doesn’t read out the choices to you, admittedly, so perhaps that could be improved in future. I don’t know if things like Voiceover will already read the options on mobile devices or computers. But the fact that they have recorded audio description for all the footage is appreciated.
It’ll be interesting to see if Netflix do this for anything else in the future – I know they had initially tested it with some kids shows, but hopefully they’ll do it for some more shows for the adults in the future. It’s certainly an interesting new way to enjoy a bit of TV!
- Doctor Who – Resolution (BBC1) – I’ve really enjoyed this latest series with Jodie Whittaker, I think she’s done a superb job as the first female Doctor. The companions have been good too, and it’s been great to see Bradley Walsh among them. It was also wonderful that a recent episode featured blind actress Ellie Wallwork, who was very good. And the New Year’s Day episode Resolution was great. It’s always fun to see the Daleks appear, and Jodie’s Doctor of course had to face them at some point, it’s pretty much a rite of passage. To have this particular Dalek rebuild itself from bits of scrap gave it an interesting look as well. It was also nice that they tied up Ryan’s father’s storyline by bring him and Ryan closer together, and letting the dad in on where Ryan’s been. So I’m really looking forward to series 12. It’s a pity that it won’t be broadcast until 2020, so we’ve now got a whole year without the Doctor, but I’m confident it’ll be worth the wait.
- Outlander (Amazon) – I’ve started watching series 4 which came out on Amazon Prime recently, and that’s been great as usual. It’s set in another new location, which again has stunning scenery, and it will be interesting to see how the story progresses this season. We’ve even had a blind character early on, which was an interesting surprise. I haven’t yet caught up with all the episodes released so far, but I’m making good progress.
- The Flash (Sky One) – The current series has been very enjoyable as per usual. To bring them up to their Christmas break they had a three part crossover story with The Arrow and Supergirl (each year they do a crossover with their fellow Marvel shows). It was a bit out of place with the main season as a result, and felt a bit too far fetched and weird even by their standards, but it was still fun. I’m looking forward to seeing the regular season of The Flash resume in the new year though.
- Not Going Out Live (BBC1) – They haven’t started a new series of Not Going Out just yet, though apparently a 10th series has been commissioned. But this Christmas they did a special live episode, and it was brilliant. They packed a lot into it, including impressive juggling and singing performances, amusing ad-libs and topical references, and a plot that cleverly allowed them to make jokes at their own expense about performing live. It really felt like they were enjoying themselves. This review by Youtuber Amy McLean (whose channel is worth following) sums it up nicely.
- Click & Collect (BBC1) – This isn’t from a series, but was a one-off special starring Stephen Merchant and Asim Chaudhry. Stephen’s character Andrew has been tasked with getting his daughter’s dream Christmas present, a sparkly toy unicorn. Unfortunately, it’s the most popular toy of the year, so when he passes up the first opportunity to pick one up, he discovers it’s sold out everywhere. But his over-eager neighbour Dev finds the one remaining unicorn available online. It just means a 4-hour journey to Carlisle to pick it up, so the two of them go on a road trip to get it, with various mishaps along the way. It’s very funny and well paced throughout, with a few sweet moments as well, and it has a good soundtrack too. So I really enjoyed it.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (Blu-ray) – I bought this remastered edition recently, and binge-watched all 6 episodes in one night, having not seen it for years. It’s not actually in HD quality given the age of the footage, but it still looks pretty good, and sounds good too (you can even choose between the original and new sound mixes). And most importantly it’s still very funny and enjoyable to watch after all this time. The extras on disc 2 are the same as on the previous DVD release, with a very interesting documentary, plus a few other interviews, outtakes and trailers. And then disc 3 has a whole bunch of new stuff that’s well worth digging through. Here you get all the animated sequences in HD (which look wonderful), some of the surviving live action location footage (also in HD where possible and with some facts shown on screen throughout), a fascinating and extensive compilation of never-before-seen studio footage as they record the programme (giving you a very intimate and revealing insight into how the show was made), a nice variety of other interviews with Douglas Adams and others involved with the series, plus a few other trailers and random things. The song performed by Marvin the robot on Blue Peter, for instance, was an interesting surprise! So it’s a really comprehensive and enjoyable set, one that big fans of the show will love. Even though the actual episodes aren’t in full HD, it still looks good, and I would say it’s still worth upgrading from the old DVD set to this new version given the new extras.
- The Big Bang Theory & Young Sheldon (E4) – I’m still enjoying these as usual. It’s a shame it’s the final season of The Big Bang Theory, but I also think it’s a wise decision, so they go out on a high. And they are on good form with this final season as usual. For Young Sheldon, meanwhile, I was in two minds as to whether I wanted to watch a second series, but I have continued to watch it and it is good, There’s even been a crossover of sorts between the two shows, with characters from Young Sheldon appearing in VHS footage in The Big Bang Theory recently. I also have the previous series of Big Bang on Blu-ray that I bought last month that I need to watch soon, and check out the extra features for.
- Family Guy (DVD) – I bought season 18 on DVD this month, and I’ve watched the first few episodes, which are very funny as usual. There’s very little in terms of extras, just a few deleted scenes, but the episodes are what you mainly buy it for anyway.
- Still Open All Hours (BBC1) – This light-hearted comedy with David Jason as Granville had another nice Christmas special this year. Their festive specials aren’t as amazing or memorable as some of the other comedies I like, but they’re still enjoyable.
- Classic Sitcoms – Each year I like to watch some of the classic Christmas specials from the past, as they never get old. So far this Christmas I’ve watched:
- 2Point4 Children – Misery & Babes In The Wood. These are 2 great episodes, where they have to endure Christmas at Bill’s mother’s house, and end up in a scary deserted house when they got lost one night. It’s a real shame they haven’t released the final 3 series on DVD, I wish they would. Their Christmas specials were always really funny, and they always had those enjoyable music numbers at the end too.
- Blackadder – Blackadder’s Christmas Carol. This is a really funny twist on the Dickens story, with Blackadder learning that it’s better to be bad than good. And because of the flashbacks from the ghost of Christmas past, you get to see more of Queen Elizabeth and the Prince Regent, who are brilliant characters from the second and third series.
- Bottom – Holy. Mad, rude, violent and hilarious, as always with Rik & Ade. This sees them inviting Richie and Eddie inviting Dave Hedgehog and Spudgun round for Christmas, with a disastrous Christmas dinner and appearance of a baby on the doorstep. It’s very funny, and the DVD version is longer than the TV edit, because of material that to be cut for time when originally broadcast.
- Father Ted – A Christmassy Ted. That classic extended episode where the priests get lost in a department store lingerie department. To be honest, many of us visually impaired people can easily get lost in places like that as well!
- Harry Enfield – Christmas Chums & Yule Log Chums. These haven’t been released on DVD, so I was delighted to stumble across them on Netflix, as I hadn’t seen them for many years and so didn’t remember them that clearly.
- Men Behaving Badly – Jingle Balls. This is a fun extended episode where Tony and Gary make a mess of Christmas as you’d expect them to, with their poor long-suffering partners having to put up with them. They’re as crude and silly as always, and it’s great because of it.
- Only Fools And Horses – Gold have been repeating many episodes of this series as usual, including Christmas specials, so I’ve watched a few of those. I’ve got them all on DVD anyway, but it’s nice and convenient to watch them when they appear on the TV.
- Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – Jessica’s First Christmas. This is always a very funny show, I love the Frank Spencer character. In this episode he helps out with the local church’s nativity play, is very enthusiastic about their baby Jessica’s first Christmas, and gets a job working for his neighbour.
- The Vicar Of Dibley – The Christmas Lunch Incident, Winter & Merry Christmas. I love this show, so have watched a few of the Dibley Christmas specials on DVD this year. These are the brilliant episodes where Geraldine has to eat multiple Christmas dinners to please her parishioners, the parish put on a Christmas show at Owen’s farm where Alice has a real baby, and everyone gets together to celebrate Geraldine’s 10th anniversary in Dibley. BBC1 also broadcast the Christmas lunch episode this year, dedicating it to John Bluthal, who played Frank Pickle, as he died in November. And back in February this year we sadly lost Emma Chambers, who played the wonderful Alice Tinker, at the age of just 53. So it felt all the more appropriate to watch the show this Christmas.
- The Last Leg (Channel 4) – This series is always great fun on a Friday night, and they had 2 specials over the festive period. Roy Wood from Wizzard appeared in their enjoyable Christmas special, performing his classic I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. And their extended New Year’s Eve special was great fun, with lots of guests including Lost Voice Guy, Johnny Vegas, Richard Ayoade, The Horne Section and many others. It can be hard to find something good to watch on New Years Eve sometimes, so I’m very glad this one. It should have been broadcast closer to midnight though really, it would have been great to have them do the countdown.
- Have I Got A Bit More News For You (BBC1) – This has been as good as usual this series, and I always watch the extended editions rather than the half hour versions. Danny Dyer was an unusual choice of guest host on one episode, but he did ok. I prefer the more frequent guest hosts like Alexander Armstrong, but it’s interesting to have the occasional wild card thrown in like that.
- Mock The Week (BBC2) – They did their usual Christmas special with some of their favourite moments from across the series, clips of them discussing festive topics, and a selection of outtakes.
- A Year In The Life Of A Year (BBC2) – This is a spoof review of the year, whereby clips from TV shows and movies are mashed up and dubbed over, to create a very different and very funny recap of the year’s cultural highlights. For instance, this year we had Paddington Bear in court recalling a rather harrowing experience, Derek Jacobi reading a book of the film Trainspotting to children, and a remake of Elton John’s Candle In The Wind in tribute to Geoffrey Hayes from Rainbow. The comedy is often very adult in nature, but it’s brilliantly written and very cleverly edited. And it fills the gap left by the absence of Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Wipe, which I’d love to see come back, that was always good too.
Comedy Game Shows
- QI XL (BBC2) – Their “Pubs” special this Christmas was very good fun and very interesting as always. The show always find ways to surprise about things you thought you knew, and is always very funny. They had a good group of guests on this special as well, and the show “P” series so far has been very good as usual. Sandi Toksvig has been very good as the new host, it must be said. The related podcast No Such Thing As A Fish, by the researchers behind the show, is also very interesting. Stephen Fry was a special guest on a recent episode, which was great. And their new Audiobook Of The Year is well worth a listen (see my November Favourites for more about that).
- Would I Lie To You? (BBC1) – Their Christmas special this year is great, especially the contributions from Noddy Holder from Slade and comedian James Acaster,
- 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown (Channel 4) – The Christmas special for this was good fun as always, with David Mitchell and Kathy Burke being good team members.
- The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year / The Big Fat Quiz Of Everything (Channel 4) – This annual pair of quiz shows hosted by Jimmy Carr are always a good laugh, and the Quiz Of The Year helps to remind me about some of the things I’d forgotten about fro the last 12 months. The guests can be a mixed bag, and this year there were a couple I didn’t really know or like as usual. But people like David Mitchell, Richard Ayoade, Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig and Baddiel & Skinner are always good value, so it was great to see them appearing.
Comedians & Entertainers
- John Bishop: Winging It & Jon Richardson: Old Man (DVD) – Every year I look out for live stand-up comedy shows on DVD, and these are the 2 that I’ve bought this year. And I’ve enjoyed watching both of them. Their routines are both based on the fact that they’re getting older now and have families, but their material is unique in each case. Jon Richardson was my favourite of the two, he made me laugh out loud the most, and I enjoyed the way he surprised one of the audience members. But both shows are good. The DVDs don’t have any extra features, and John Bishop’s DVD doesn’t even have any music on the menu. But each show is about an hour and a half, so you do get a lot to enjoy.
- Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show (BBC1) – I’ve been enjoying his Big Show on Saturday nights, and this Christmas special was good fun, with the usual mix of music, games and surprises. It was just like one of his regular shows with Christmas decorations, basically, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it was still good. But I also watched a repeat of his older Christmas Comedy Roadshow on Gold this year, and I think that was better, as it had a much bigger variety of guests, with Jack Dee, Rhod Gilbert, Rob Brydon, Sean Lock, Miranda Hart, James Corden, David Mitchell and Kylie Minogue. It just felt a lot more festive, as the material was a lot more Christmas focused.
- The Christmas Misadventures Of Romesh Ranganathan (BBC2) – I’ve never seen the other episodes of his Misadventures series, but I was in my Torquay hotel room looking for something to watch and decided to try this. And it was pretty good, with Romesh going on a holiday to explore the Arctic. He’s a good comedian, so his reactions to the conditions and the customs he encountered were often very amusing. But he also had moments of genuine wonder and thoughtful emotion too, it did give him pause for thought sometimes. So it was a nice hour of TV.
- The Kenny Everett Video Show (DVD) – I wasn’t even born when this was first broadcast in the late 70s and early 80s, but I have seen plenty of clips of Kenny Everett, and have had a best-of compilation on DVD which I love, But now Network Distributing, after years of hard work sorting out licensing rights and acquiring the footage, have released every episode on DVD, resulting in an almost complete collection of the series, which I’ve gladly bought. There are a handful of musical performances they’ve had to cut because they couldn’t get the necessary permissions, but the overwhelming majority of content is here. And there are lots of very famous names, as he was very well connected. So my mother and I have started to watch this, and it’s already hilarious even after just the first couple of episodes. It’s utterly nonsensical and bizarre, but a real delight because of it. Kenny Everett was a surreal genius, and to have his complete series is fantastic. So I’m really looking forward to watching all of the episodes over the coming weeks.
- The Secret Story Of The BBC Christmas Tapes (BBC4) – This was a brilliant look at some extremely rare clips from the BBC’s archives. The VT editing team at BBC Television Centre used to gather together outtakes and other unusual material from the BBC’s programmes and their stars, creating compilations that were only ever meant to be seen by staff at the BBC Christmas party. They were often far too rude and bizarre for the public to see. But the tapes were inevitably leaked, and these days you can see them on Youtube of course. But they’ve never been shown on TV. So to get highlights from those tapes in this documentary, featuring some of the corporation’s biggest shows and celebrities, was a real joy and very funny. And it’s thanks to those tapes that we then had blooper shows like Auntie’s Bloomers and It’ll Be Alright On The Night, so they’re an important piece of TV history.
- The Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge Uncut (Blu-ray) – I’ve got lots of live shows by this band in my collection, and it’s great to add this one, as they’re on fine form as usual. It’s an epic 2½ hours long, with a huge stage, a great setlist, and a few big guest stars including Bo Diddley and Sheryl Crow. And you get 25 minutes of bonus tracks as well. So that’s 3 hours of Rolling Stones goodness, which is wonderful.
- Madness – New Year’s Eve Concert & London Fireworks (BBC1) – The BBC have got into the tradition of having a famous band performing a concert at Central Hall in Westminster to bring in the New Year, pausing for Big Ben and the huge fireworks display of course. And as Madness are celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2019, they were chosen in this occasion. And they were great, they put on a very enjoyable concert with lots of their biggest hits, which everyone was singing along to. And, as always, London’s New Year fireworks were amazing. I’m always so proud of the incredible show the city puts on every year, as the fireworks are always beautifully choreographed to the upbeat and varied mix of music. It’s the perfect way to start the year.
- Junior Choice (BBC Radio 2) – It’s tradition that my mother and I listen to Junior Choice while we’re having our Christmas dinner. In fact, we spread it out over a few days, as it’s a 2 hour show, so we listen to part of it with our dinner each day. It’s basically a show where they play lots of classic music loved by children from across the decades, including old classics like Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West), Sparky’s Magic Piano, Nelly The Elephant, My Brother, and loads more, including some more modern tracks for today’s young generation. So there’s something for everyone here, and it’s just a nostalgic delight to listen to. It’s most well known and popular presenter was Ed Stewart, but since his death it’s been presented by Anneka Rice each Christmas, and she does a wonderful job with it.
And that’s it for this post. As you can see, I enjoyed quite a nice mixture of things. So I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it, and I hope you’ve all had a lovely relaxing Christmas too.