Redbrick’s writers and editors discuss their favourite festive episodes of TV
Roman Holiday – Gossip Girl (Culture Editor Halima Ahad)
In the first season of Gossip Girl, the Christmas episode ‘Roman Holiday’ brings all the cheer and joy of the season together in one episode whilst also appealing to its young adult audience. In the episode, Blair’s father (John Shea) comes home for the holidays but with an unexpected guest. This is sure to rock the boat during the festive season and bring plenty of drama to the table. Whilst this occurs, there is a romance on the line as Dan (Penn Badgley) and Serena (Blake Lively) plan their favourite Christmas gifts for each other. Serena’s friends, Jenny (Taylor Momsen) and Vanessa (Jessica Szhor), help her plan the best Christmas surprise for boyfriend Dan.
The acting performances of everyone in this season was amazing, and the perfect way to hit the midpoint was the Christmas episode. It gives the audience a chance to digest what they have seen so far of the Waldorfs, van der Woodsens and Humphreys as well as their friends. The pacing of the episode was effective, with the cliffhanger at the end of each episode of Gossip Girl, especially the Christmas episode, proving efficient and leading the audience on to watch the next episode. If you’re stuck on what to watch this Christmas, why not binge the first season of Gossip Girl and get in the Christmas mood with the ‘Roman Holiday’ episode.
Twice Upon A Time – Doctor Who (Gaming Editor Louis Wright)
‘Twice Upon A Time’ as an episode is an excellent conclusion to the character of the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and the themes of his final few episodes. This episode’s central conflict is not about the alien of the week or an overarching narrative, it is a question of whether it is better to die as oneself or to live as someone different. This theme is perfectly explored within Doctor Who through the concept of regeneration, linking to not only the character of the 12th Doctor, who is refusing an impending regeneration, but also the 1st Doctor (David Bradley).
Having both Doctors refuse their regeneration but for different reasons – the 12th Doctor out of despair and the 1st Doctor out of fear – provides a dynamic perspective on this question that allows both characters to come to their own resolutions through seeing their own reactions. The 12th Doctor realises who he once was and how far he has come in his journey, reminding himself of the fact that he is indeed a good man. The 1st Doctor sees who he will become and is reassured that despite the fact he may change in certain ways through regeneration, at his core he is still The Doctor all the same.
Ultimately, the episode comes to the conclusion that there is always hope in living on, and that there will always be something more to live for. This episode is a perfect encapsulation of a quote from the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) prior to his own regeneration: “We all change, when you think about it, we’re all different people; all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”
Christmas Special 2008 – Gavin & Stacey (Gaming Editor Ben Oakden)
My family and I have watched this episode pretty much every year since it came out, becoming as much of a tradition as eating mince pies and putting up the tree. The reason it’s so rewatchable is how it captures every emotion involved in a British family Christmas. There’s the childish excitement in Mick’s preparation of the turkey and Gavin and Smithy’s sing-along over the phone. There’s the tension and inevitable argument that ensues from Gavin and Stacey’s big announcement, no doubt fueled by a little too much mint Bailey’s. There’s sadness in Smithy’s realisation that his young son is growing up separate from him and with a different father figure.
There are even moments that comment on the inequality of Christmas, with Nessa, donned in a Father Christmas outfit, telling a child that his mother won’t be able to afford to buy him a new games console. All of this makes for a masterful special, which takes massive steps to advance the series’ plot and develop its characters, while also being able to stand on its own as a warm and funny depiction of Christmas. From a hilarious cameo and one-liner from Doris to the revelation that Pam had been faking her vegetarianism, there are countless laughs leading up to the ending, in which a family sing-along papers over an emotional moment between Nessa and Smithy. This varied and realistic look at the holiday makes it one of the best depictions of Christmas in any medium.
White Christmas – Black Mirror (Film Editor Jess Parker)
Black Mirror’s ‘White Christmas’ comes as the fourth and final episode of the popular anthology series’ second season. The episode covers three individual yet intertwined stories that consider different relationships between technology and the festive season. The episode is told through the framing of two men (Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall) in a remote cabin, telling their tales to one another.
The two men exchange stories of the terrible events that led to their living in the remote outpost. They involve an illegal technology called the “Z-Eye”, an advanced neural implant that allows users to link up with what each other can see and hear, visually and audibly block other users, and also acts as an internal social media platform. The Z-Eye, similar to the Grain that features in series one’s ‘The Entire History of You’, exhibits clear benefits and flaws for its users, complexifying what classes as appropriate and fair when concerning enhanced humans; this is certainly evident in the two men’s stories.
One of the most evident themes in ‘White Christmas’ is how emotionally targeted each story is. The episode is not interested in flashy festivities, but in forcing its viewers into the kind of internal questioning that Black Mirror often encourages, even at Christmas time. Nothing about ‘White Christmas’ feels gratuitously joyful to match the time of the year, allowing for this Christmas episode to slot into the Black Mirror canon seamlessly.
Christmas Special 2019 – Gavin & Stacey (Social Secretary Kylie Clarke)
It is well known that the Brits love some cringe Christmas TV. It is also well known that Brits love the show which made James Corden famous, before he became Americanised and disturbed everyone by his performance in Cats. I am talking about Gavin & Stacey, more specifically the 2019 Christmas special, which stirred great excitement in fans when it was announced almost a decade after the show ended. With great excitement, however, comes great risk of disappointment. Viewers, myself included, were worried that the decade long interval, as well as the aforementioned Americanisation of James Corden, would make the special a flop and besmirch the legacy of the heartwarming comedy. I for one was relieved when my worries turned out to be baseless, as the Christmas special reminded us of what made the original show so loved in the first place.
In the 2019 Christmas special, we were reintroduced to the iconic quirky characters who captured our hearts in the original show, and the actors managed to step back into their roles with the same level of wit and charm that made us invested in quotable characters such as Nessa, Pam and Uncle Bryn. While the storyline was simple, with the subplots of Bryn’s Christmas dinner stress and Pam’s fuss over bath towels being personal favourites, this is in line with the tone of the original show, which creates its appeal by finding humour in the relatability of ordinary British life.
Reassuring as it was to see that the titular characters, Gavin and Stacey, remain happily married, the romance which has always truly captivated audiences is between writers Ruth Jones and James Corden’s characters Nessa and Smithy. For this season, the final scene in which Nessa proposes to Smithy was the highlight of the show, leaving fans begging for another special or even another series. The only downside to this Christmas special was that it left us with this cliffhanger; 3 years on, I remain hopeful that the writers will make another comeback and finally resolve the Nessa and Smithy ‘will they won’t they’.
The One with the Routine – Friends (TV Editor Erin Perry)
Arguably the greatest of Friends’ Christmas offerings, ‘The One with the Routine’ earns this high praise almost solely thanks to the absurd Ross and Monica Geller demonstrating their middle school dance routine on national television. Any true Friends buff will know as soon as Ross and Monica flapping their arms like chickens appears on the TV, Christmas is just around the corner.
Aside from Ross and Monica willingly humiliating themselves, another episode highlight concerns Chandler, Rachel and Phoebe as the latter pair enlist Chandler in the search for Monica’s Christmas presents. Anyone who knows someone who is ridiculously hard to buy for will relate to the struggle the trio go through as they realise Monica will always outsmart them in gift giving. Well, she will outsmart them in hiding presents for a short amount of time until the trio find them, realise they are disappointing and wish for new presents. It is a Friends Christmas special after all and Chandler’s dismay that Monica has thoughtfully purchased him a water purifier for Christmas brilliantly highlights why this show is so loved.
The weakest element of the episode is Joey’s attempts to kiss Janine, as it fails to have the same Christmas laughter and fun that the other two storylines manage to produce. However, Joey believing he has to count down to midnight every time he wishes to kiss Janine will always be sweet.
‘The One with the Routine’ will definitely get you in the Christmas spirit quickly this year, but most importantly, it will get those dance moves going at the first hint of 5,6,7,8…
Want to read more from TV? Check out these: