The best Christmas TV specials… ever!

Featuring festive classics from 'The Office', 'Father Ted' and, er, 'The Sopranos'

Watching television is an incredibly useful way of sharing the same physical space as a loved one while simultaneously ignoring them. The most important time of year for this is, of course, Christmas, which is why our favourite shows throw on some tinsel and treat us to a big fat chocolatey tin of what they do best.

But what are the ingredients of the ideal Christmas TV special? Goodwill to all men? Togetherness? The joining of hands and singing ‘Silent Night’? Not a bit of it. Here are our favourites.

8
Ted Lasso – ‘The Missing Christmas Mustache’ (2021)

Let’s move beyond the spelling of ‘moustache’, and instead focus on just how generous Ted Lasso has been with its festive gifts this year. First dropping a coolly-received Christmas episode in, er, August (‘Carol of the Bells’), we’ve now been treated to a Claymation short where Ted appears to have mislaid his MOUSTACHE. But is it time to reappraise the show’s original festive/summer special now that it’s the correct time of year? Yes, yes it is. The melancholy of the plot, mixed with a Richard Curtis-esque twist on ‘London’, make this a funny and heart-warming addition to the Christmas TV special stocking.

Christmas card quote:

Leslie Higgins: “So, Sam: back home, what does Christmas make you think of?”
Sam Obisanya: “Colonisation.”

7
Men Behaving Badly – ‘Jingle Balls’ (1997)

Some people would argue that, in general, this 90s TV hit has not aged well. It’s quite possible that these same people haven’t watched it since the 90s, however, as it remains a study into the idiocy of ladism where its main characters, Gary and Tony, usually end up looking like complete losers. Men Behaving Badly‘s one-off Christmas special juxtaposes the imaginary Christmas we all wished we had with the reality of grey weather and badly defrosted turkeys. There are few TV specials which encapsulate the truly underwhelming feeling of Christmas Day more than this.

Christmas card quote:

Tony [on the phone]: “We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas… Oh, that’s a wrong number.”

6
The Sopranos – ‘To Save Us All from Satan’s Power’ (2001)

If the thought of a family Christmas is filling you with dread, imagine having to spend it with the first family of the New Jersey Mafia. With its title taken from a verse of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, this episode features a Russian goon being thrown through a Christmas window display, Tony beating up his daughter’s boyfriend Jackie Jr. and then receiving a Big Mouth Billy Bass as a gift. Talking of dysfunctional families… what time is the Queen on?

Christmas card quote:

Paulie: “The boss of this family told you you’re going to be Santa Claus: you’re Santa Claus. So shut the fuck up about it.”

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5
Only Fools and Horses – ‘Time On Our Hands’ (1996)

What was supposed to be the last-ever episode of this institution of a British sitcom still holds the record for the largest UK audience for a comedy – almost 25 million viewers. A beautiful – if not particularly festive – ending for Del Boy, Rodney and Uncle Albert, this feature-length episode sees Trotters Independent Traders discover that they’ve been sitting on the fortune they’ve dreamt about all along. A wonderful, walking off into the sunset finale, and there were no more episodes afterwards… OK?!

Christmas card quote:

Rodney: “People become famous for a little while, then they disappear. Like Renée and Renato… Simon Dee…”
Trigger: “Or Gandhi.”
Rodney: “Yeah, yeah exactly. See, so maybe this time, it’s our… Gandhi?!”
Trigger: “Yeah. I mean, he made one great film and then you never saw him again.”

4
Mad Men – ‘Christmas Comes But Once A Year’ (2010)

mad men
Vincent Kartheiser and Alison Brie in ‘Christmas Comes But Once A Year’ (Picture: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo)

Even by the standards of Mad Men, the underlying tensions, passive-aggressive micro-gestures and consequence-filled Don Draper indiscretions come very close to a booze-fuelled boiling point here. All the drunken insecurity of the season is encapsulated in the most awkward office Christmas party ever, with Roger Sterling reduced to playing Santa for his biggest client and boxes of Lucky Strikes being handed out as Christmas gifts. O come, all ye fitful.

Christmas card quote:

Pete: “Who would wanna miss Christmas in New York?”
Trudy: “Chestnuts roasting on a greasy man’s open street cart? My goodness.”

3
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (1988)

How many times has this Dickens classic been parodied for the sake of some festive laughs? This, however, has to be the best, taking the classic morality tale instilled in the original and flipping it on its bony behind in a way that only Ben Elton and Richard Curtis can. Ebenezer Blackadder, pure of heart, is visited by a ghost on Christmas Eve and, through flashbacks of his various incarnations, learns how being a complete and utter bastard can be quite fun, actually.

Christmas card quote:

Ebenezer: [applauds slowly] “Utter crap.”
Beadle: “Thank you very much, sir.”
Orphan: “Do we get a Christmas treat now?”
Ebenezer: “Yes, indeed you do.”
Orphan: “What is it?”
Ebenezer: “It’s a door in the face. Here you are!” [slams the door]

2
The Office – Christmas Special (2003)

While the US iteration of this game-changing comedy put in some stupendous festive turns over the years, it is still the finale of the UK show which shines the brightest. All the threads are neatly and believably tied up, there are massive laughs and at least two air-punching moments as we build towards the festive season with the employees (and ex-employees) of Wernham Hogg. There’s Tim and Dawn, of course – but Brent getting to say “fuck off” to Finchy? God-tier stuff.

Christmas card quote:

Neil Godwim: “No dog with you today, David?”
Chris Finch: “Did you not see her? She just left!”
David Brent: “Chris… why don’t you fuck off!”

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1
Father Ted – ‘A Christmassy Ted’ (1996)

A dysfunctional family dynamic? Check? Scores being settled? Check. An unwanted present leading to festering resentment? Check. Old ‘friends’ turning up out of the blue? Check. Who better to spend Jesus’s birthday with than men of the cloth, as we follow Ted, Dougal, Jack and Mrs Doyle through Ireland’s biggest lingerie section (we understand) and at an award ceremony, before foiling a confidence trickster? All that, and we haven’t even mentioned Dougal’s continuing crisis of faith… and his matador outfit. A perfect Christmas special.

Christmas card quote:

Father Ted: “Dougal, fantastic news!”
Father Dougal: “You’re getting married?”
Father Ted: “No, I’m no… is that a joke?”
Father Dougal: “Er… yeah.”

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