Genuinely good Christmas TV: What to watch, from A Very British Scandal to Ghosts

No matter what happens this Christmas, we know we can count on there being lots of TV, writes Ellie Harrison. Here are the best dramas, comedies and reunion specials to look out for this year

<p>Pick your favourites from our selection of the best on the box </p>

Pick your favourites from our selection of the best on the box

Christmas is, once again, feeling a little peculiar this year. Festive work parties are kaput (except, perhaps, at one Westminster address) and there are longer queues for booster jabs at health centres than there are for turkeys at the butcher’s – but there is one thing we know we can count on to be a constant. No matter what happens, we’ve always got Christmas TV.

There are, as every year, a lot of repeats and questionable commissions. Yes, a certain Irish mammy is back. But there are also dozens of dramas, comedies and reunion specials that are genuinely well worth tuning in to over the festive break.

Here is our pick of the content that won’t make you want to drown yourself in sherry.

Sunday 19 December

The Girl Before, BBC One, 9pm

In many families, Christmas itself is a bit like a psychological thriller: it’s full of confused people drifting in and out of disturbed sleep at unusual hours of the day, mounting household tensions, and strangers shimmying down chimneys. So what better way to celebrate the start of the holiday than with The Girl Before, the BBC’s new drama starring Black Mirror’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Selma’s David Oyelowo?

It’s an adaptation of JP Delaney’s bestselling novel of the same name, which tells the story of Jane (Mbatha-Raw), a woman who gets the chance to move into a gorgeous, ultra-minimalist house designed by a mysterious architect (Oyelowo). There’s just one catch: she must abide by his list of exacting rules.

Monday 20 December

We Wish You a Mandy Christmas, BBC Two, 10pm

Diane Morgan and her wonderfully expressive face are back for a festive special of Mandy. In this half-hour programme, her tottering, amoral, hapless, jobless comedy character is contemplating the true meaning of Christmas. It’s based on A Christmas Carol and also stars Johnny Vegas, Pearce Quigley, John Cooper Clarke, Jo Hartley and Michael Spicer.

Wednesday 22 December

Emily in Paris season two, Netflix

OK. Maybe I lied about the sherry. Emily in Paris, against all odds, was recommissioned for a second series and is going to be on the actual television very soon. The first season – starring Lily Collins as an ambitious twentysomething from Chicago who goes to Paris to work in a marketing agency – was unanimously panned by critics and basically anyone who had ever been to France or eaten a croissant. But lots of people – 58 million households, apparently – secretly loved it. Here’s hoping the new series will be just as gloriously tone-deaf and chaotic as the last.

Thursday 23 December

Ghosts, BBC One, 8.30pm

Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Charlotte Ritchie – brilliant in Stath Lets Flats and Feel Good, respectively – are here with a Christmas special of their spooky comedy Ghosts. As in the series, they play a young couple, Mike and Alison, who have unexpectedly inherited a decaying stately home, Button Hall, only to discover it’s packed with ghosts. Jennifer Saunders guest-stars in the special episode, which follows the preparations for Christmas at the house.

Friday 24 December

The Mezzotint, BBC Two, 10.30pm

Rory Kinnear stars in ‘The Mezzotint’

Sherlock writer Mark Gatiss’s new one-off drama is yet another phantom-filled story. Set in 1922, the MR James adaptation is about an unusual artwork that may have taken on a form of supernatural life. It stars Years and Years actor Rory Kinnear, Cold Feet’s Robert Bathurst and Doctor Who’s Frances Barber.

Saturday 25 December

The Great Christmas Bake Off, Channel 4, 8pm

Last Christmas, the Derry Girls took over GBBO. This time, it’s the cast of the Aids drama It’s a Sin who will be swapping the Pink Palace for the tent and attempting to impress Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander, Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis and Shaun Dooley will all be vying for the Star Baker apron. If their chemistry in the kitchen is as zingy as it is in Russell T Davies’s drama, viewers will be in for flamboyance and fun.

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Superworm, BBC One, 2.30pm

The starriest cast of any offering this Christmas is that of the animated children’s adventure Superworm. Olivia Colman, Matt Smith and Rob Brydon all voice characters in this tale about an extremely strong worm who keeps saving the day, based on the book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

Sunday 26 December

Around the World in 80 Days, BBC One, 5.50pm

Another adored British star, David Tennant, stars in this epic Jules Verne adaptation as the intrepid explorer Phileas Fogg. Following an outrageous bet, Fogg and his valet, Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma), take on the mission of circumnavigating the globe in just 80 days. They are joined by aspiring journalist Abigail Fix (Leonie Benesch), who leaps at the chance to report on their story.

A Very British Scandal, BBC One, 9pm

The same team that made the astonishing Hugh Grant-starrer A Very English Scandal, about the disgraced politician Jeremy Thorpe, are back with another prestige historical drama. This time, they’re focusing on the story of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, whose notorious 1963 divorce captured national attention. Claire Foy, who plays the duchess, and Paul Bettany, who portrays the duke, are mesmerising even in the taut, charged trailer.

Billy Connolly: My Absolute Pleasure, ITV, 9.30pm

Billy Connolly in ‘My Absolute Pleasure’

The comedian’s follow-up to It’s Been a Pleasure, which marked his decision to step back from stand-up, arrives one year on. In it, Connolly invites viewers to spend time with him in his newly adopted home of the Florida Keys. The comic, who retired from live comedy after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, shares a personal selection of his most loved stand-up routines from over the years.

Monday 27 December

Death to 2021, Netflix

Oops. Might be time to get that sherry out again. Charlie Brooker’s last festive Netflix mockumentary was a bit of a mess – so either this one will be too, or he will have learned from his mistakes. Expect a starry line-up and roasting of the past year, from subjects such as lockdown and furlough to online dating. The cast includes Diane Morgan, Alistair Green, Lucy Liu, Stockard Channing, Nick Mohammed and William Jackson Harper.

Saturday 1 January

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts, Sky Showcase, 8pm

Chris Columbus directs Daniel Radcliffe and Maggie Smith in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’

The cast of Harry Potter are reuniting for a TV special to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint will all be reminiscing on the good old days with director Chris Columbus – JK Rowling is notably absent from the billing. Like most celebrity reunions, it will surely offer up plenty of trivia and opportunities for analysis of how different everyone looks now. It turns out Neville Longbottom is an absolute hunk – who could have guessed?

The Tourist, BBC One, 9pm

In the trailer for this new thriller, Jamie Dornan is gritting his teeth and driving a car very fast and looking very sweaty and stressed indeed. These are classic components for a Very Popular Drama, so buckle up for this one starting on New Year’s Day. It follows Dornan as a British man who finds himself in the Australian outback, being pursued by a vast truck trying to drive him off the road. Well now, that’s not very Christmassy, is it?

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