Last Night's TV: Am I bovvered? Yes - and bored as well

The Catherine Tate Christmas Show, BBC1; The Hidden Story of Jesus, Channel 4

Sometimes comedy needs to be predictable to work at all. As the camera closed in on the gravestone of Lauren Cooper, the brat's brat and the victim of a kayaking accident, you knew it would carry more than the stark details of name and dates that you initially saw. Indeed, any viewer who is not educationally subnormal should have been able to guess at the wording that was revealed as the camera panned down to take in the epitaph. Even so, it was quite funny when you saw it: "I still ain't bovvered." That's part of the point of catchphrase comedy, after all. You know precisely where you're going, it's how you're going to get there that is novel. But such predictability can be dangerous territory, because the border between the deliciously familiar and the tediously repetitious isn't marked clearly. One moment the audience are hugging themselves at their knowledge of a comic character, the next they're griping that they've seen it all before. Sadly, The Catherine Tate Christmas Show spent far too much time on the wrong side of the frontier.

One explanation of what had gone wrong arrived with the final credits. Just three writers got a namecheck, which by my reckoning is too low by a factor of around 10. Because while yuletide specials are made in pretty much the same way as a normal episode - with added decorations and some celebrity guest-stars - they're not watched in the same way. We expect them to bulge with treats and novelty, to indulge us as excessively as everything else has on Christmas Day. And if they actually seem to stretch the usual material a little thin, the audience may well get restive and tetchy. You started by smiling at Tate's Nan, cackling like a malfunctioning Gatling gun, but found that smile congealing as it became clear that the schtick was exactly the same as always: chortling sweetness to people's faces and a torrentof foul-mouthed abuse behind their backs. Even the appearance of Kathy Burke as her daughter, showing exactly the same lethal two-facedness, didn't really refresh the sketch, since it hung around for at least 30 seconds after you'd surfeited on its gamey flavour. Other attempts to add something new to old favourites were even more counter-productive. In a sketch featuring the couple who can barely talk because they find each other so hilarious, three of the woman's girlfriends turned up, all displaying the same gleeful incredulity at the most banal events. It was as though Tate had determined to prove to us that she wasn't unique, and pretty much any jobbing actress could do as well.

I found myself unwillingly channelling Mary Whitehouse while I watched the programme, as sketch after sketch resolved itself with a curiously violent obscenity. It isn't that I have anything against obscenity per se - in fact, I rather missed Peter Capaldi this year, blistering the paintwork as Malcolm Tucker. It was just that there was something joyless and desperate about these punchlines that actually seemed to want to punch someone. Anyway, the revenant spirit of Mary was a little confused that this entertainment, scatological and foul-mouthed, should be going out on BBC 1 while Channel 4, spiritual home of the scabrous affront to middle England, had given more than two hours of its schedule for a long documentary about the life and teachings of Jesus.

Not that Mrs Whitehouse would have approved entirely of Robert Beckford's The Hidden Story of Jesus, which concluded with its presenter announcing that "it doesn't matter whether you believe in the Virgin birth, the Resurrection or even the Nativity". Instead of doctrinal dogma, Beckford was hoping to offer us a kind of syncretist religion, happy to blur the distinctions between the world's great faiths and concentrate hard on their shared values.

In pursuit of this, he travelled the world to look for similarities between theChristian narrative and other scriptural traditions - something that isn't particularly hard to do. In Vrindaban in India, centre of devotion to the Lord Krishna, he watched Hindu nativity plays, complete with a Herod-like king and a guiding star. Further north, he talked to Buddhist monks about Guatama Buddha's miracles of walking on the water and feeding of a multitude. He also explored the belief that Jesus had survived the Crucifixion and gone off to live in India, though he never clearly said whether he actually believed this himself, or just found it a useful way to enlarge Christ's potential market penetration. His film interestingly blended an argument for the surrendering of sectarian division with continued evidence that religion sanctions precisely such hatreds in the minds of many believers.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor