If you take the Christmas break as a kind of turbo-charged Weekend- of-Weekends then it stands to reason it should be preceded by Friday night programmes, even if they have to be broadcast on Monday. So, yesterday evening, we were offered two end-of-the-week stalwarts, Shooting Stars and The Fast Show, to begin the unwinding process (Channel Four appears to have bowed to the same logic and will put out a double edition of Friends on Tuesday night) . The Fast Show came without tinsel of any kind but Shooting Stars was notionally a Christmas special. I take it this referred to the brief and tortured version of "Mistletoe and Wine" performed by Vic and Bob, both wearing what looked like a Santa Thermal Underwear Set. But what followed was entirely conventional - not a dab of artificial snow or holly to be seen. It dawns on me as I write that this indifference was probably a joke in itself (Vic and Bob always induce this feeling of late arrival in me - I find Ulrika's regular looks of bafflement a curiously sympathetic element of the show), but if it was, then it was surely undermined by the two Santas.
It would be preposterous to complain of Shooting Stars that it was self- indulgent, since self-indulgence is the very ground of its being. But there are were a couple of moments last night when the audience at home may have felt like underprivileged interlopers - particularly when Vic and Bob corpsed during a standard bit of continuity. The edits suddenly became clumsy and uneven, as if a long stretch of unbroadcastable hilarity had been concertina-ed into a secret smirk. There were some funny gags too, naturally, the best of them being the moment when Vic bent beneath the desk, in mid- link. "What're you doing?" asked Bob. "I'm just getting this stone out of me shoe", said Vic, upending his Chelsea boot to expel a rock the size of an Eccles cake. Well, perhaps you had to be there.
That you don't have to be there is one of the pleasures of TV Dinners, in which Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall gatecrashes the kitchens of various hosts. Although the parties he films are generally lavish, they are often pretty gamey in a social sense. This was certainly the case with the first meal covered in Christmas TV Dinners, a twelve course Polish celebration put together by three old friends - who began operations by running naked into the North Sea (in December) and maintained that level of faintly exhausting joviality throughout. One of the group had masterminded the menu, which began with fried cockles, passed through soup, herring, seafood mousse, roast carp, langoustines, lemon and vodka sorbet, salmon fillets, chicken liver terrine and then passed out with cheese (that doesn't add up to 12 I know, but they only had fifteen minutes). The resulting party was a model of generous, familial warmth but for some reason I felt relieved that I only had to attend the virtual version.
The programme confirmed its ability to build a balanced meal with its second course - a kind of office party for the nomadic workers in a Christmas tree depot, cooked by an intriguing traveller/surfer who had picked up his recipes on the hoof. He appeared to have conjured a feast for around fifty or sixty people out of a tiny caravan kitchen, but his admirable inventiveness when it came to cooking utensils took a fall when he attempted to make a croquembouche, the towering French confection of profiteroles and caramel. The spectacular collapse which followed suggested that a disused traffic cone may not be the ideal mould for this architecturally challenging dessert.