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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Victoria Wood's first Christmas special in nine years and her long-
awaited return to sketch-based TV comedy sadly turns out to be a
disappointment for all but the maverick musician-comedienne's most
indulgent fans. It's heavily hampered by an overblown pastiche of
British costume dramas which drags on for segment after segment,
relying far too heavily on silly anachronisms rather than character --
teenagers texting using needlepoint samplers, a 'whitening' booth
rather than a tanning booth. I doubt Wood likes costume dramas very
much, unlike Julia Davies whose ostensibly similar Hunderby (2012)
shows it helps actually to have a grasp of the genre you're sending up.
Even less inspired is a series of reports from the Middle-Aged
Olympics, which invites unfavourable comparisons with Monty Python's
skits on sports coverage from many decades before.
With the exception of a dance routine on the set of The Apprentice, which is funny both because it's so incongruous and so well mounted, the more successful sections retread old ground. There's a mockumentary on the life of Bo Beaumont, the mediocre but blissfully self-deluded actor who portrayed Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques, a fictitious soap that featured in Wood's 1980s BBC work and later became a musical. She's brought to life as ever by the great Julie Walters, the only significant member of Wood's old gang to pop up in this piece. And for a grand finale, our host dusts off her most famous comic song, The Ballad of Barry and Freda (aka Let's Do It), with a few new lyrics, a fabulous big band arrangement and an elaborate Busby Berkeley-style dance routine with a host of CGI- enhanced Barrys and Fredas complete with baggy Y-fronts and loose elastic. This sequence is a joy, but the song has been around since the 1980s.
Wood was successful as a dramatist before she broke through with sketch shows and stand-up. She's moved more and more in the direction of longer forms like sitcoms and 'serious' drama in recent decades, and very successfully. Perhaps her heart isn't in sketches any more. The Making Of, where Wood talks as herself direct to camera, at points reminiscing on her own odd childhood Christmases, is more engaging than the show itself, which certainly doesn't do justice to such a unique talent.
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