Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special review: a new low – even Brendan O’Carroll doesn’t seem to give a feck anymore

It’s as if the show’s creator just fed some old scripts and storylines into an AI script generator, and sent the product off to the BBC without bothering to read it

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 26 December 2023 17:58 GMT
Mrs Brown's Boys series 4 trailer

I wouldn’t want to sound all conspiratorial, like Nadine Dorries or something, but I have a theory that somewhere deep inside the British Broadcasting Corporation is a powerful and deeply evil Dr No figure, planted there by shadowy forces. His or her mission? To destroy the BBC from within by way of manipulation, making programmes of such appalling worthlessness that the public eventually lose patience and rise up. What’s more, like all the best villains, they work in plain sight. I refer, of course, to whoever is behind the annual agony that is the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special – broadcast on the holiest day of the television year. Where once the Christmas Day schedules were sanctified by The Morecambe and Wise Show and Mike Yarwood, well, now we have this lazy excuse for entertainment.

I hesitate to cast my mind back to the many (too many) of these specials I’ve reviewed over the years, but I think the 2023 edition is among the worst. It is as if Brendan O’Carroll, the creator of this monstrous “mammy”, was so complacent he couldn’t even be bothered to phone it in this time, and just fed some old scripts and half-arsed storylines into an AI script generator, and sent the product off to our Dr No at the BBC without bothering to read it. As Mrs Brown herself might put it, it would seem that he “doesn’t give a feck” anymore, if he ever did.

The thing about ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ isn’t just that it’s infuriatingly unfunny, but that it’s also infuriatingly incomprehensible

As ever, not much actually happens in any claustrophobic episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys and the 2023 spesh is an exceptionally inert concoction. The required quantum of sickly sentimentality is provided by a lost homemade Christmas declaration made by Mammy’s dad in the bad old days when Ireland was poor; and the local priest’s mum, who looks terribly forlorn, suffering from Alzheimer’s. All too predictably, by the end of the show the present had been restored by one of Mammy’s idiotic but sweet sons, and the old dear with memory loss is knocking out a word-perfect excellent rendition of that most mushy of carols, “Away in a Manger”.

Also, like at least one other edition in recent years, Mammy’s Christmas tree collapses, having been hanging upside down from the ceiling, The narrative arc there is that it was mistakenly purchased online as an “Australian Christmas tree” rather than an “Austrian” tree, thanks to spellcheck, though of course Christmas trees don’t come from Austria anyway, and even if they came from Australia that doesn’t mean you have to nail it to the roof. But that is what happens when your comedy is so formulaic that it can be reproduced virtually by algorithms.

The thing about Mrs Brown’s Boys isn’t just that it’s infuriatingly unfunny, but that it’s also infuriatingly incomprehensible. In fairness, I ought to mention one identifiable joke that came close to cracking a smile on your reviewer’s wizened features. There’s a line about how Joseph and Mary should have known that the hotels get fully booked at this time of year; a trope that Peter Kay once did far better by extending the notion to the couple being offered a “full English and en-suite”. That’s about the best of it.

Usually, the familiar mix is leavened by O’Carroll breaking the fourth wall and making free comedic use of fluffed lines, chucking in the odd ad-lib. These used to work relatively well (I’m being generous), for example in the innuendo-laden banter between Mammy and her mate Winnie (Eilish O’Carroll, real-life sister to Brendan), but Winnie barely gets a line these days, so even that mildly innovative tradition has been dispensed with, as has the most extreme of the physical vulgarity.

I have a memory, for example, of Mammy ramming her face into father-in-law/grandad’s (Dermot O’Neill) bare backside last year, which at least sent the captive studio audience into paroxysms. Nothing so anatomically perverse as this elderly sphincter was on show this year, however, which, believe it or not, is a loss.

Like the trains, the NHS, consumer helplines, and virtually everything else these days, even Mrs Brown’s Boys doesn’t seem to work anymore. That really is a low point, especially for the BBC. Dr No will be pleased.

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