Horror Anthologies You May Have Missed

Greetings, Glancers! Here in The Spac Hole, a place of ambiguous terror and self-disgust, Halloween is our favourite time of the year. What could be better than lighting fireworks inside your neighbour’s house, waiting for them to run outside, and launching a live Alligator at them? It’s all in the festive spirit I’m sure you’ll agree. I admit it’s getting tiresome trying to think of interesting things to post about at this time of the year, beyond the usual lists I’ve already published and more and more horror movie reviews. I was listening to an old episode of the Shock Waves Podcast recently (it’s a podcast by four mega horror fans within the movie industry and features regular special guests) in which they discussed building the perfect horror anthology from existing movies. Each presenter picked five segments and a wraparound, and hijinks were had. At the end of the episode, they talked about possibly doing the same, but with Horror TV instead of movies.

That got me thinking about may of the shows I used to watch and continue to watch. The anthology series, even ones concerning scares, have been around since the 1950s and continue to this day. We all have our favourites, and there are many obvious ones – The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Masters Of Horror, Are You Afraid Of The Dark, Goosebumps etc. Many of these are excellent introductions to the wider genre for kids or newbs, while others are surely catered towards the hardcore fan. Today, we have the likes of The TerrorBlack Mirror, Channel Zero, and (if you’re stretching the terminology) American Horror Story, but what about the shows which may have escaped your clutches? Us horror fans are always looking for the next thrill, the next scare, and it shouldn’t matter if this involves looking across the oceans, or back in time.

As a non-American, I have been exposed to some shows which many of my readers may not be aware of, but all that is about to change. Check out the list below, or even better, find and watch the shows. Then tell your friends. Spread the disease. There’s something here for everyone – for kids and newbs, for hardcore fans, for those who love the supernatural, those who prefer their horror with a touch of realism, and those looking for something more… out there. Give them a shot.

Out There (2001-2002)

See what I did there? Almost certainly no-one outside of Britain will be aware of this, and almost certainly only about twelve people watched it – myself included (religiously). I’m cheating considerably with this entry, but it’s nevertheless a show I’d love more people to see. It is essentially a 30 minute clip show, showcasing snippets of gore, sex, and weirdness from movies and TV shows from around the world, all hosted in a non-narrative by the gorgeous animal lover Anneka Svenska and later, all round horror bad-ass Emily Booth. It was a British Elvira, but much much weirder. It was one of those shows that had me grabbing the pen and paper, taking notes of all the weird shit I had seen, then trying to hunt done the source material online the next day. There’s sadly very little of the show to be found online now, but those of us who saw it can consider ourselves both very very lucky, and quite badly scarred.

Beyond The Walls (2015)

Over to France now, for a nifty little show I believe you can catch now on Shudder. I’m being loose with the definition of Anthology again, but there you have it. It’s really a Haunted House mini-series – three episodes, meaning you can get through the whole thing in no time. And it would be a good use of your time, because aside from the interesting story (which follows Lisa – a lonely woman who inherits a house from a man who she has never met, and who has been dead for thirty years), it looks stunning and packs in a lot of ideas in its short running time.

Chiller (1995)

One of the first British anthology shows I remember watching, Chiller ran for a single series and featured a mere five episodes. Luckily, each of them is strong and feature the likes of ghost babies, curses, not so imaginary friends, and serial killers. My memories of the first two episodes – Prophecy and Toby are the strongest – not bad for shows I haven’t seen in over twenty years. In Prophecy, a group of friends perform a seance and each receive a prophecy, which then start coming true in deadly fashion, while in Toby a woman loses her unborn son in a car accident but continues to display signs of a phantom pregnancy, all the way up to birth. The show features British stalwarts like Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly), Nigel Havers (Chariots Of Fire), Sophie Ward (Return To Oz), John Simm (Life On Mars), and Peter Egan (Downton Abbey). You can buy the series on DVD and catch some of them on Youtube. Incidentally, the BBC had a similar show around the same time called Ghosts, but I don’t recall it and will have to track it down.

Dr Terrible’s House Of Horrible (2001)

Once you get past the horrible, terrible name, this is a decent show. Obviously, the name is a spoof and once you realise that this is a Steve Coogan vehicle, you’ll understand we’re firmly in the comedy realm. It’s another show which only ran for one series, starring Steve Coogan as Dr Terrible (and others) who presents each tale in the vein of the Cryptkeeper. Each episode is a loving, spoofing riff on British anthology classics from the likes of Hammer and Amicus and each features actors from those classic productions, as well as modern fans like Mark Gatiss and Simon Pegg. It’s a who’s who of the last 100 years of British Cult Cinema. While it rarely gets scary or disturbing, it’s a must for horror fans – especially of those films being spoofed – the love is authentic, and the laughs are hearty.

Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992)

So, I’m guessing most of you know this. It’s ostensibly a show for kids – I watched it upon release and have loved it ever since – but there are enough knowing nods to classics for adults and experienced horror fans to enjoy. For my money, it was one of the first kids shows to also appeal to adults. Look at Cinema and TV now – almost everything is catered to such a wide audience. It’s a shame the original series didn’t run for more series – you know the writers were setting things up for future shows – recurring guest stars, expanding mythology, but sadly it was all abandoned for an ill-advised follow up series a few years later. Joe Dante’s creative touch is all over it, there are a myriad of in-jokes and guest stars you’ll recognise, but most importantly – the stories are unique, varied, entertaining, and spooky enough for kids without treating kids like idiots. We have kids being sucked into TVs, dogs trying to take over the world, sentient cash machines, other dimensions, commercialist zombies, tornado chasers, lonely artistic kids, and ghost organ transplants. Great performances all around too – a rarity for a show like this.

Fear Itself (2008)

Masters Of Horror is one of the modern titans of the Anthology with a terrific idea – take some of the world’s most renowned directors within the genre and give them free reign to create their own mini-movie. It lasted for two seasons and the DVD boxsets are some of the finest examples of the craft. It was unfortunate when the show ended (it’s surely time for a revamp now that horror on TV is more prevalent and we have a new crop of young Masters to get involved), but series creator and horror icon Mick Garris wasn’t ready to let it die yet. Fear Itself is basically the third Season of Masters Of Horror, with returning and new masters contributing again. While the quality isn’t as strong, it’s still a damn good show, pushing the envelope with what can be done with the medium and showcasing a tonne of gore and scares. For whatever reason, it wasn’t as successful as its older brother and only lasted for thirteen episodes – five of which ended up not being shown in the US. Luckily you can buy the boxset on DVD and dive back in. It’s a lot of fun, some episodes are more comedy based, some are psychological, while others go right for the jugular.

Hammer House Of Horror (1980)

Hammer is one of the most renowned producers of Horror in film history and at the end of the peak of their powers they branched into Television. It’s another show which only lasted 1 Season – thirteen episodes (what is it about that number?) – but those episodes are exactly what you would expect from the Company – sex and violence and creepy old mansions. A lot of British stars of the time show up in stories concerning time-travelling witches, Nazi experiments, upper class cannibals, human sacrifice, Pierce Brosnan, and of course, staples (Satan – one for older readers, that wee joke). There have been various DVD and Blu Ray releases, the Horror Channel in the UK shows them every so often, and a few episodes can be found lurking on Youtube, so there’s no excuse not to indulge in some classic creaky horror.

Inside No. 9 (2014 -)

I’ve spoken about this one before (in this best Christmas episodes post) but it’s a show that is still not widely seen. It’s always something which has irked me when inferior British shows get widespread publicity across the seas and stuff like this is overlooked. It’s a thirty minute anthology show – different stories each episode but with some overlapping cast members, with a focus on intelligent writing, horror, humour, and an interesting setting. The set up is that each story should be set in or based around the Number 9 – as in House #9, or train carriage #9 etc. So far there have been four seasons, and there is an upcoming Halloween Special this year – given the writers’ and performers’ love of horror and skill within the genre, it’s one to look forward to. Guest stars include – Gemma Arterton, Sheridan Smith, Jack Whitehall, Tamsin Greig, David Warner, Rory Kinnear, Kevin Eldon, Jane Horrocks, Danny Baker, Peter Kay, and many many more. While most of the stories are heavily influenced by the macabre – a dying child’s last wish, a silent episode featuring bungling burglars and murder, child abuse exposed during a game of sardines, crumbling relationships – it’s the overt horror stories which horror fans will be most interested. Here you will find stories based around snuff movies, witch trials, devil worship, suicide support lines, seance, torture rooms, and Final Destination esque games of fate. If you like your humour dark and your horror original, then you have no excuse to not watch these now.

Mr Biffo’s Found Footage (2017)

You may not be prepared for this. In fact, I know for a fact that you are not. I’m going to give a link to the first one – they’re all on YouTube – and you can decide for yourself if it’s for you. It’s definitely for me, but unfortunately that means only about twelve other people will find it ‘suitable’. No spoilers – just watch.

Night Gallery (1969 – 1973)

I’ll again assume that most people reading this actually know this one, but it’s still not as well or widely known as The Twilight Zone, even though it’s essentially a sequel to that grandest of shows. While it wasn’t as successful or as culturally significant, it still lasted for three seasons and featured Rod Serling presenting more stories to keep you awake at night. While still morality and twist based, Night Gallery tended towards a horror slant while The Twilight Zone’s scary episodes were sporadic. As you would expect, the prolific Serling wrote many of the stories but it also featured adaptations of Lovecraft, Bloch, and Matheson. There’s a great selection of tales here, expertly acted out by many familiar faces like Edward G Robinson, Carl Reiner, John Carradine, Leslie Nielsen, David McCallum, Adam West, and other big names of the time. While time has proven that the stories may not be as immediately terrifying as they once were, they’re perfect for cuddling up on the sofa for family viewing to introduce a younger audience to the genre’s classics.

Shockers (1999-2000)

Full disclosure – this entry is the main reason for writing this post. As I was listening to the Shock Waves podcast earlier (along with others, and blogs, and discussions) I remembered this show – and one episode in particular. I think when it comes to anthologies, we all have that one entry which sucks us in and makes us lifelong fans of the format, whether that be Burgess Meredith breaking his glasses in The Twilight Zone, Karen Black being terrorized by a dummy in Trilogy Of Terror, or even the monkey’s paw from The Simpsons. I was a fan of the format long before I saw Shockers, but it was the episode named Parent’s Night which has stayed with me perhaps more than any other segment I’ve ever seen. If there’s any purpose to this post, it’s a hope that someone will go online and watch this episode – consider it my seal of approval, but also beware that it may fuck you up.

Shockers is a show you never hear of or read about in any anthology discussions. While none of the episodes are on par with Parent’s Night, a few of them are very good and all are watchable. There isn’t any linking or central theme or premise behind the stories, aside from them all being set in a modern, realistic Britain and them being presented as written by future stars. As for the cast – you’ll recognise a few of them – Daniel Craig, Lennie James, Kerry Fox, Ashley Walters, and a host of other British familar faces. As far as I can tell, there were only six episodes – if you live in the UK you can catch them all on Demand 4, if you’re outside of the UK some of them are on YouTube, including (most importantly) Parent’s Night. As there’s only six, I can give a a rundown of each:

In Cyclops, a prisoner has a camera implanted in his eye upon release to watch his every move. In The Visitor, a charismatic stranger turns up at the house of a couple and their friend, while in The Dance a widower falls for a younger woman at a dance class who may not be what she seems. Deja Vu is about a husband and wife who lost their son in a car crash, but then another car crash changes things, while Ibiza sees a typical lads holiday to the island turn to a deadly game of mystery and murder. Yet it is Parent’s Night that I want everyone who reads this to watch. It’s…. I don’t want to give too much away, but it was released when I was still in school and when certain recent school shootings were still in the public eye. It’s a vital piece of art which is sadly all the more powerful now, especially in the US. Although the climates and cultures of our two nations are very different, bullying and anger are universal. In my country, we have several groups who have no issue, at least historically, in blowing each other to hell yet thankfully guns in schools are not really a problem. We may live in a warzone, but at least we don’t go that far. Still, when I watched Parent’s Night, I was blown away and it remains the only time I’ve ever stood up and applauded something I’ve seen on TV. I hadn’t seen it in 17 or 18 years – since it was released, but in preparation for this post I watched it again, and it is still as haunting, stomach-churning, horrible, and sadly realistic as ever. It’s a near perfect view of what School could sometimes be like. I should stop prattling on about it – if you’ve ever valued my opinion on TV or Movies, then when I say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen, you should know to check it out. Click right here to watch on YouTube.

The Nightmare Room/The Haunting Hour (2001 – 2014)

We need something to calm us down after that. When I was a kid in the 90s we had Goosebumps and Are You Afraid Of The Dark? It turns out R.L Stine kept ’em coming, and in The Nightmare Room he made a follow-up series. It only lasted one season, but its thirteen (of course) episodes feature many a big name – Shia Labeouf, Frankie Muniz, Robert Englund, Angus Scrimm, Ken Foree, Josh Zuckerman, Amanda Bynes, and um… Allison Mack. Not content, Stine returned with The Haunting Hour which was more successful and ran for four seasons. The cool thing about The Haunting Hour is that it is much darker and graphic than the other two – it’s still for kids, older kids, but it definitely has an edge. Once again, a bunch of pretty teens who have gone on, or are currently on the hunt for greater fame, make an appearance, but I’m not as au fais with this bunch.

Thriller (US and UK 1960s and 1970s)

Two unrelated shows here, and neither have anything to do with Michael Jackson prancing his way up into yo’ bidness. The US show was a response to The Twilight Zone and saw Boris Karloff in the Serling role. While it’s not as strong as TTZ, it thankfully does feature stories written on directed by Ida Lupino, Robert Bloch, Arthur Hiller, Richard Matheson, and has many of the biggest stars of the time and the future (past) such as Shatner and other TTZ stalwarts. The British show came around a decade later and ran for six seasons. As with almost all these shows, it has a semi-iconic intro theme and title sequence. This show focused less on the supernatural and more on murder and mystery with people such as Robert Powell, Dennis Waterman, Helen Mirren, Haley Mills, Jenny Agutter, Francesca Annis, Stephen Rea, Denholm Elliot, Bob Hoskins, and many many others popping up.

Urban Gothic (2000)

My final choice popped up around the same time as Shockers – this being Channel 5’s attempt at late night anthology horror. The problem with the show was always that the running time didn’t allow the ideas to be fully fleshed – some ideas seemed ripe for either better writing or a 60 minute show instead of the 30 given. The cool thing about some of the stories though was that they had sequels or featured overlapping characters – it would have been nice to see this expanded beyond the two seasons which we ended up with. Once again you can catch these on DVD or some on YouTube to find out for yourself. Some highlights include Ingrid Pitt playing herself, Dirty Den essentially playing himself, necromancy, vampires, gangsters, zombies, serial killers in reality shows, all set in a by and large realistic view of British City life. My person favourite was always Be Movie, in which a group of school kids in detention find themselves stalked by a killer, yet if they try to leave the school… their heads explode. Just like my school then.

Which of these are you going to check out? Are there any forgotten anthology shows you want to raise awareness on? Which shows and episodes are your favourites? Let us know in the comments!

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TTT – Top Twenty Five Christmas Specials/TV Episodes

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Greetings, Glancers! I’m back again to lovingly twist tinsel around your throats and tug until your baubles burst – in other words – to make you read these words about Christmas. If you liked my Christmas songs post, you should seek counsel with your local priest or GP promptly, but while you wait, why not make things considerably worse for yourself by browsing this post too? What’s the worst that could happen?

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Ah.. yes…

In case you didn’t know by now- I love Christmas. I love the TV, I love the atmosphere, I love the presents. I may be in my thirties, but some childhood traditions never go away – I still get the Christmas TV times and highlight all the TV shows and movies I want to watch or record. One of the things I loved most when younger was getting off school in the run up to the big day, and planning out my day of watching – waking up to catch a few 7.00 am cartoons, then seeing which movie I could watch in bed before breakfast. Even on Christmas Day, I would switch on the TV in my room while going through my stocking – Channel 4 always had the best stuff.

As much as the internet is populated with all the classic American TV specials – The Grinch, Charlie Brown etc – those never entered my Northern Ireland childhood in any real sense. I saw them, but they seemed too cutesy or foreign and as such were not deemed required annual viewing. Much of my list consists of shows which were force fed by my family or which I found myself returning to each year by myself once I gained such critical faculties. Don’t worry US readers – there’s a lot more American content here than there was in my TTT Christmas songs list.

I was too young for a lot of the more traditional British Christmas specials – Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies etc, and I won’t be including any soaps, even if Eastenders and Coronation Street have both had their fair share of memorable one-offs. Remember that time when Bradley fell off the roof, or when Archie was done in by Queen Victoria? No, neither do I. No, old soap episodes aren’t the sort of thing you watch each year as they are ever replaced by new episodes, the Langoliers munching up all that has come before. No game shows or compilation clips shows either, both stalwarts of December viewing – sorry QI and It’ll Be Alright On The Night. Also, The Office will not appear in any guise. Because Ricky Gervais is a dick. Finally (finally!) there’s no ranking because I can’t be arsed.

Alan Partridge – Knowing Me, Knowing Yule

For whatever reason, I never saw much, or any of Alan Partridge in my formative years. It was around the age of 18 that I started watching the odd episode here and there before blasting through it all a few years later. In this episode, Alan is hosting his very own special festive edition of his show and invites guests including a devout Christian lady, a Carry On style innuendo spouter, and the disappointed and increasingly angry Chief Commissioner of the BBC, setting up nicely for the following Partridge series. The format is essentially the same as the others – Alan awkwardly interviewing increasingly ridiculous guests and trading insults, but with a nice Christmas backdrop and theme, and a slightly longer running time.

Beavis And Butt-head

Beavis And Butt-head had the occasional special episode during their run, and while many of the entries on my list are satires on British culture, this one is of course US aimed. That’s not to say it isn’t universal, or at least understandable in Western White culture. There’s A Very Special Christmas With Beavis And Butt-head – the name itself a send up, which sees the useless pair watch a bunch of Christmas songs on TV. It isn’t that exciting an episode, but as always their reactions are amusing and they do get to sing along near the end. Due to those pesky copyright laws, this one is very difficult to find in its original form.

The second episode(s) is Beavis And Butt-head Do Christmas. It’s split into the usual two separate episodes, this time linked with a festive theme. Huh Huh Humbug is another version of A Christmas Carol – but don’t worry, there is absolutely no moral here. Beavis falls asleep while his boss lectures him, and dreams that he is in fact the boss. While trying to watch Porn, he is visited by Ghost Butt-head and a bunch of other familiar faces who show him his past, present, and future – the past being particularly funny. The plot doesn’t go anywhere, but they never do. The second one is It’s A Miserable Life and it has a little more story, with Butt-head being visited by his guardian angel who shows him how wonderful life in town would be without Butt-head messing it up. Again it’s funny seeing the little twists within the world – Stuart and Beavis are now best friends and it seems like Beavis has sunk to Stuart’s level by wearing a Winger shirt – the horror. These ones always take me back to my pre-teen and early teen years and still get a chuckle.

Bottom – Holy

Bottom is one of my favourite sitcoms of all time, with two performers and writers at the top of their game, bringing the unfocused anarchy of their 80s work into the self-referential 90s. Aside from being about getting drunk, ‘doing it’, and slapstick ultra violence, the show has always skewered everything from British traditions to the sitcom format itself.

While Bottom also features a fantastic Halloween themed episode, it’s Holy which really gets the juices going, literally at times. Richie and Eddie, the Hammersmith Hardmen, are trying to celebrate Christmas with Richie in usual jubilant, devoutly English form and Eddie simply wanting to get pissed and watch Goldfinger. We have the unwrapping and sharing of presents, hope and disappointment in unequal measure, charades, Christmas Dinner mishaps (including the hilarious loss of a finger and even more hilarious fixing of said finger),  and even a Christmas miracle. It’s one of the finest British comedy episodes of all time and it’s the one which is most quoted by me in the run up to, and on the big day itself. Has heeeee been?

Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Amends

I talked about this episode in my Season Three Buffy Review so I won’t go into details here other than to say that this isn’t your traditional, drop in and watch, episode. There’s a lot of back story going on, as well as plenty of foreshadowing, but if you’ve seen the whole show a few times then you’ll be fine. The story follows Angel still trying to readjust to life on Earth once more, while being tormented by visions of The First Evil, showing his past brutality and encouraging him to kill himself, or kill Buffy. Buffy, meanwhile is trying to host a normal, family Christmas dinner and invites Faith along. If you’re not a Buffy fan it won’t mean a lot to you, but it’s a nice change of pace from the centrally comic or horror themed episodes.

Friends

Being (one of) the biggest show(s) of the decade, Friends was obliged to have a variety of Holiday Specials – Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years, Christmas are all covered. There are a few Christmas episodes, as well as other which were filmed around that time of the year and feature New York in all its snowy glory, so you have a few to choose from. In The One With Phoebe’s Dad, the gang are off doing different Christmasy things – Joey and Chandler leave their shopping too late, Monica is on selfish baking mode, Ross and Rachel fight while the heating is off, and Phoebe drives to meet her father. In The One Where Rachel Quits, Rachel quits, Joey gets a job selling Christmas trees, Phoebe witnesses a tree massacre, and Ross helps a scout after breaking her leg. In The One With The Girl From Poughkeepsie Ross is dating two women at the same time and ends up falling asleep on the train and going to Canada, Phoebe is writing a Christmas song, and Monika a Joey scheme to earn respect and money. The one With The Rockin’ New Year’s Eve features some Christmas fun while The Holiday Armadillo is the most famous Christmas episode and features Ross trying to teach his son about Jewish traditions as well as Christmas. Finally, we have The One With The Creepy Holiday Card which sees Ross and Mona’s relationship at breaking point, and The One With Christmas In Tulsa where Chandler is forced to work on Christmas Eve. Watched together, the amount of laughs, nostalgia, and Christmas tone will definitely get you in a festive mood.

Harry Enfield

I could be wrong on this, but I think there were two Christmas episodes in the 90s for Harry Enfield And Chums – it’s difficult given the show hasn’t been released on DVD and it changed its name at least once. These are quite difficult to track down, though you can find it them on Youtube. The shows were sketch based, featuring a wide array of classic characters in various scrapes. The Christmas episodes were extensions of these, with most of the sketches featuring a (mostly very sleight) festive slant both simple characters and those with some sort of progression. Along with this, there was usually a sing-song or longer section such as the characters singing ‘Perfect Day’ or parodying Titanic. There’s were repeated every so often on BBC and now on UK Gold, so catch them to remember a simpler time and some of the based character catchphrases ever.

Inside Number 9

Inside Number 9 is undoubtedly one of the finest TV shows of recent years – an ode to film-making, a love-letter to the creative craft. I know quite a few glancers of this blog are massive movie and TV fans, but may not be as exposed to British Television as those over here. I implore you all to watch this show – if you love horror, comedy, film in general, then this will be a new favourite for you, with the show ranging from gut-wrenching emotional episodes, to horror homages, all down with the typical sadistic wit, love of language, and sinister twists that you would expect from Reece Sheersmith and Steve Pemberton.

For those who don’t know, Inside Number 9 is an anthology programme – each episode featuring a new cast of characters and a new self-contained story, generally set in a single room or location. While the absolutely wonderful The 12 Days Of Christine features Christmas in some key scenes and is referenced in its name, it’s the Series 3 premier The Devil Of Christmas which should be a future viewing tradition. It’s a retro piece, set in the late 70s, and follows a family on a Christmas holiday where one of the locals explains the legend of Krampus. The episode, aside from being a faithful attempt at recalling 70s anthology horror and TV, is very funny, and very dark, and should not be missed. Black Mirror made it big – this should be just as big.

Lost – The Constant

Lost, you say? Lost never had a Christmas episode! Well, you’re wrong, and not only are you wrong but you’ve forgotten the single greatest episode of the series. Not only that, but you’ve forgotten one of the best episodes of any TV show, ever. The Constant culminated in the resolution of many crossover-plots and saw, finally, the happiness of my favourite character on the show. There aren’t enough words I can give to praise this episode – the acting, the writing, the way it all comes together – this is how the series as whole should have ended in terms of quality and tone. While I still enjoyed the last episode, The Constant is the pinnacle of the show. My love for it can be stemmed all the way back to all of those 70s, 80s, 90s cartoons and shows I watched and loved, featuring a person or people trying to find their way home – think Dungeons & Dragons or Quantum Leap or Sliders or Battlestar Galactica. Taken further, it all goes back to my love of The Odyssey – a tale I have been obsessed with my entire life. Hell, lets take it further still and say it’s related to those times I got ‘lost’ as a child and didn’t know how to get home or find my parents. Lost brought this idea into the new millennium, in a time when the world became smaller and there were no more undiscovered lands to explore – The Constant wringing out emotion, drama, adventure, tension, romance, time-travel, parallel balls, and all the rest of it into a single satisfying whole.

Christmas though? Yes, because Desmond has to make the call to Penny on Christmas Eve to let her know… well, I don’t want to get into the plot. This is frankly impossible to watch unless you’ve followed the show from episode 1, closely. Even watching as a standalone when you’ve seen the series before is difficult because you’ll miss most of the intricacies and details and will likely forget many of the more minor characters and references. However, if you’re a superfan, then this makes for excellent Christmas viewing and will warm your heart and make you believe in miracles.

Merry Christmas, Mr Bean

Out of all the shows on my list, Mr Bean is the one my kids have watched most regularly at the time of writing. I try to get them to watch this around Christmas each year, but they prefer the one where ‘Mr Bean shows his bum to all the little kids’. Their words, not mine. Merry Christmas, Mr Bean has a load of iconic and hilarious moments – the most famous of which is of course that Turkey on the head scene. The episode follows Mr. Bean preparing for the big day by doing a spot of shopping. His girlfriend drops hints that she wants a ring, a proposal, leading to much hilarity later on, while Bean messes around with a Nativity scene, leads a Brass Band, raises money for charity, and steals a tree. In the second half he decorates his house, posts a card to himself (which always makes my eldest laugh), makes a hash of Christmas dinner, and designs his own cracker. Mr. Bean is one of my oldest and most most favourite series and another which never fails to warm my soul.

Only Fools And Horses

I’m not even going to bother listing the various Christmas themed episodes for Only Fools And Horses…. incidentally, for any of my US glancers – are you even aware of half these shows? What British shows did you get (before the days of downloading and streaming and Kodi etc) on your shores years ago? A lot of these probably don’t translate well, but if Monty Python gets an audience worldwide then I don’t see why others can’t. Out of all the shows on my list, this is likely the biggest British institution. There have been a whopping sixteen Christmas episodes, starting in 1981, and ending in 2003. The ones I am most familiar with are the ones in the 90s, coincidentally around the time I started watching the show, having previously dismissed it as grimy and depressing. Namely, the 1996 Christmas Trilogy which sees Del Boy and Rodney dressing up as Batman and Robin and then, finally, becoming millionaires. It’s classic British humour, but it helps to have a history with the characters before indulging.

Peppa Pig

Peppa and pals have been around for years now, and with each new generation parents get roped in to watching and end up realising that it’s actually really good. I mean, it doesn’t have the same invention as Ben And Holly but it’s more of a family show. There are now a whole host of holiday themed or one-off Peppa episodes, but the Christmas ones were among the first. Peppa’s Christmas was the first episode to run longer than five minutes, and sees Peppa having to remember what all of her friends want from Santa – then he pops in to say hello. Later on the show started doing multi-episodes where the story followed on from the previous episode – we have one where the family visits a Santa’s grotto followed by an episode where they wake up on Christmas day to see what presents they have, and later still there’s an episode where they see Mr Potato in panto. Due to the short running time you can blast through these quickly, but it’s good to supplement them with some of the snow-themed episodes, like when the family build a snowman, go to a snowy beach, and go skiing. These are great for younger kids and cuddling up to watch and get into the Christmas spirit. At time of writing there is a new Christmas episode coming – by the time I post it should have been shown in the UK.

The Simpsons

What quickly became the Daddy of the festive episode, thanks to the yearly Treehouse Of Horror episodes, and later more regular Christmas episodes. Even though the show is largely unwatchable now, you can still revisit those classics, including the very first episode – Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire. It looks terrible now, but it still sucks you in and avoids a lot of the terrible, flat humour of Season 1 by piling on the charm. I’ll move next onto the least best episode of the classic era of the show – Gift Of The Magi. By this point in the series the scale was tipping over to having more misses than hits, this one following an evil toy company trying to unleash a new must have on citizens. It’s an okay episode, but not one I’d recommend watching every year. I’d say the same about Skinner’s Sense Of Snow except I remember less about it aside from people being trapped in school. There’s also one about Lisa becoming a Buddhist. No, stick with the good ones; Miracle On Evergreen Terrace sees Bart accidentally burning the presents and lying to the town and features the immortal ‘where is Christmas’ line, and the best of the lot, by a huge margin – Marge Be Not Proud. This one nails what it’s like being a boy at Christmas, from putting up with the lovingly bought, but terrible videogames or knock off action figures (I am Carvallo), to jealousy, to wanting to be loved, and all that other junk. This is the one to watch every year. Recent years have seen almost annual Christmas episodes, but I haven’t seen any of those that I’m aware of – I’ll get round to them eventually, but watching the show now is at once a chore, depressing, sad, and infuriating.

The Snowman

What is there to say about this – you have to watch it. Is this a thing in the USA, or anywhere else? Let me know. Like Mr Bean, it’s universal because it’s mostly silent, even though it’s inherently British. Follow it up with Father Christmas and The Snowman And The Snowdog for added points.

Wallace And Gromit

Although none of them are honestly Christmasy, the fact that they were released and are always shown at Christmas means they have become part and parcel of the whole package. You can take your pick of any of them, but you’re best watching them all over a few days – A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, A Matter Of Loaf And Death – and while you’re at it, watch a few Timmy Time and Shaun The Sheeps too.

The Vicar Of Dibley

I say this is just as much of a British institution as Only Fools And Horses and any other sitcom which has lasted more than a few years. It is harmless, family oriented humour which anyone can ‘get’ which makes it great for watching with older kids. I hope my kids end up with a similar sense of humour to me, tending towards the zany side, playing with conventions, playing with language, more on the bizarre, non-sequitur side of the scale. The Vicar Of Dibley has just enough of this, mixed with traditional laughs to make it cross borders, and its Christmas episodes work well enough as standalones, though you’re better with a grounding in the characters. There are a few Christmas episodes, the one where Geraldine has to go to all the different meals on the same day, the one where Alice has her baby, the sort of double episode where it’s Geraldine’s 10th year in Dibley and the anniversary of Live Aid.

The League Of Gentlemen – Yule Never Leave

As mentioned above, my sense of humour was waiting for this show to come along. I already loved Bottom and everything Vic & Bob did, and this came along to merge both styles as well as my love of horror. The League Of Gentlemen instantly became my favourite show after its premier, but this Christmas Special is one to whip out and return to thanks to its anthology nature. Sure it means more if you know about the characters, but it’s a better choice to watch on the spur of the moment than any other episode as the series was fairly plot heavy.

I love anthology series and movies, and in this special episode, the Vicar is trying to have a bit of peace at Christmas but is disturbed by three visitors, each with their own macabre tale – the highlight of which is the Herr Lipp story. If you want to laugh your balls off this Christmas, this is the one to watch – I highly recommend you watch the series from beginning as it’s an all time great. Even better is that we’re getting new episodes this year as part of the 20th anniversary!

The Royle Family

This was grabbing all the headlines around the time The League Of Gentlemen first came out, and as such it was like Oasis Verses Blur all over again. I didn’t watch the show for quite some time, and the pieces I saw of it, all the slow panning cameras of people sitting, eating, yawning, scratching themselves, pissed me off. When I finally did watch, I began to appreciate it. I mean, I still hate all that slow panning stuff and the repetition, but I love the characters and the dialogue. The series last for three seasons, and had two Christmas episodes, but since the original run it has been brought back a number of times for specific new Christmas episodes. Again, it’s perfect for family viewing, but better suited to having teens in the house as the kids won’t understand any of it. I’m not sure I’ve even watched any of the other later Christmas episodes, but I must do that this year as we won’t be getting any more after the tragic passing of Caroline Ahern.

The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air

The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air remains, well, fresh. It’s still LOL funny today, has more one-liners, yo momma, and fat jokes than anything else, and is still a better written sitcom with more fully formed characters than most around today. It’s one of those shows which influenced me to the point that I can’t answer a simple question without including some sort of joke or sarcasm. I used to tune in to every new episode on BBC 2 and laugh my ass off, and the show still gets regular viewing by me today. The show had a bunch of Christmas episodes – all are worth revisiting in December, from Will decorating the house, to the one where they are robbed, and the one with Boys II Men, or the one where Hilary decides she wants a baby…. or does she?

The Fast Show

The Fast Show was the master of one-liner, catchphrase character based, surreal skits and sketches. It feels weird now looking back at a show which was often based around building up to a certain character saying their unique catchphrase, but the show was so much more than that, creating a world of interesting and weird characters with a wealth of humour and drama. As the name suggests, the show was quick moving, with sketches rarely lasting over a couple of minutes. Everyone had their favourites – while most loved the likes of Ted and Ralph, it was always the weirder side of the scale that I enjoyed – Johnny Nice Painter and the ‘what if you feel down a hole’ guy. Johnny Depp made an appearance, many of the characters featured in spin-offs, other shows, or ended up having their own dedicated series, and it has been brought back for various new series or specials over the years. The Christmas Episode as exactly as you’d expect it – more sketches with the usual suspects, though with a Christmas twist or backdrop. It will either be entirely bewildering to any newcomers watching now, or you’ll be sucked in and left gasping for more – for regular viewers it’s another great one to watch at Christmas for a quick collection of laughs with old favourites. SLAP. IT. IN.

The X Files

Like Lost, you may think it’s a bit strange that a show such as The X Files would contain a Christmas episode. Why not, though? WHY NOT? There are two episodes which overtly features Christmas – in Christmas Carol, the ongoing saga of what happened to Mulder’s sister is avoided and instead we look at Scully’s dead sister Melissa. Melissa had been killed off in an earlier episode, but here, during a Christmas trip with the rest of her family, Scully begins receiving phone calls from a young girl who sounds just like her sister – investigations and twists ensure. It’s not the most festive episode, and you’d need to be a longstanding fan to follow everything, but it’s still good. On the other hand, How The Ghosts Stole Christmas is a monster-of-the-week festive experiment. By this point in the series, the writers were creating more outlandish and unique episodes outside of the main arcs, and this was one of the most popular – I can remember watching this in bed in its original BBC run and chatting about it in school the next day. It’s Christmas Eve again and Mulder ropes Scully into investigating a haunted house – ghostly hijinks ensue in what is simply a good fun romp – its standalone nature makes it a strong candidate for one-off viewing.

3rd Rock From The Sun

I was a huge fan of this during its original British run, but it was one of those shows that no-one else seemed to watch. It was the right mixture of surreal and traditional, the performers were excellent, and the writing and jokes were always top notch. Jolly Old St Dick is probably the best festive episode, with Sally and Harry getting part-time Mall jobs at Christmas, leading to plenty of laughs, Dick being arrested, and Tommy again becoming frustrated with August. Happy New Dick almost qualifies but focuses more on New Year, while Gobble, Gobble, Dick, Dick is based on Thanksgiving.

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone must surely rank as one of the greatest, most rewatchable, and most influential series of all time, and even it was no stranger to the Christmas episode. The Night Of The Meek deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other Christmas Classics such as A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, being a hope-based story in the midst of troubling times. It centers on an alcoholic store Santa on Christmas Eve, a well-meaning character who wishes that just for one day all the beaten, downtrodden, and hopeless people he knows could be happy. This being The Twilight Zone, his wish comes true, and for a change there isn’t a stinging twist in the tale. Next up is The Changing Of The Guard in which Donald Pleasance learns on Christmas Eve that his job is going to be given to a younger man, so he contemplates suicide. Enter a guardian angel to show him that this would be a mistake. There are plenty of other episodes of the show which feature snow or moral quandaries suitable for watching at this time of the year, and as always if you’ve never seen the show, there’s no better time to start than today.

South Park

I’m not going to bother listing all the festive or Christmas related shows here – any or all of the Mr Hankey episodes will do nicely here, and most are delightful and hilarious send ups of various tropes and cultural norms.

Spittin’ Christmas

I freely admit that anyone not from Northern Ireland and of a certain age will have no idea what this is. It’s a bit of a cheat given that it’s not actually a TV show, but a comedy recording – I have it on cassette but you can find it on CD or online. What is it? It’s a comedy recording by one John McBlain – a wonderful impersonator from my country whose voices are second to none and whose comedy centers on British and Irish politicians. Even if you listen to it as a non NI person, you’re unlikely to understand the voices never mind the references or know who the various players are, but for me it’s a vital part of Christmas tradition. There are actually two versions of it (at least) – Christmas at Adams’ and Christmas at Paisley’s but they’re essentially the same.

For existing fans of McBlain’s Spittin series, this is a joy – you’l already be familiar with the characters (caricatures of their real life counterparts) – the ultra violent beast Ian Paisley, the cowardly pervert Gerry Fitt, the shit-stirring Adams, John Cole who tries to hold it all together, and many more – even Bill Clinton pops in. They are all getting together for Christmas dinner in one of the homes which Gerry A owns (or should I say frequents, for various reasons) and to have a bit of a chat and a party. Naturally all hell breaks loose, there’s piss in the soup, Robert craps himself, Fitt cuts down a tree and wrecks himself…. yeah, I’m laughing my head off typing this but you are likely losing the will to live. It’s packed with one-liners, hilarious gaffs, great moments, and it’s also fucking disgusting. Click the link above, but be warned, this is racist, sexist, makes jokes about the handicapped, pedophilia, and anything else you could possibly be offended by… but it’s all funs and games.

Warehouse 13

Warehouse 13 is such a wonderful show – it’s the geek show that not even geeks talk about. It’s a lighter take on something like The X Files with a great cast, interesting ideas, lots of sexy ladies and (sort of) lads, and it’s written by Jane Espenson – if you’re not sold, you’re not worth talking to. Basically, there’s a big warehouse in the middle of nowhere which houses mysterious, mystical, and powerful artifacts – items with the ability to stop time, to give super powers, to hurt people etc, and they are typically based on some historical moment or famous person. A group has been protecting these artifacts for hundreds of years, preventing them from doing harm or falling into the wrong hands. Each episode follows a different artifact, though there are larger arcs too. Oh yeah, loads of Buffy people and other famous guest stars pop up too.

Anyway, the show has a couple of Christmas episodes which are, again, best viewed if you’re already a fan but still are entertaining standalones for the uninitiated. Secret Santa sees Claudia trying to reunite Artie with his father, while Myka and Pete investigate a Christmas artifact which seems to be making Santa evil while The Greatest Gift is a little more trippy as Pete accidentally sends himself to a parallel universe where he doesn’t exist and has to convince his friends to save him and send him back. Both episodes are a lot of fun, have plenty of drama, laughs, and Christmas cheer, and are good as an early December entree.

I think that’s enough yapping for now. Even as long as this post was, I’m sure there’s a load of shows and episodes I’ve missed. Let us know in the comments what your favourites are, what your Christmas viewing routine is like, which shows you absolutely couldn’t miss when you were young, and if I don’t speak to you again before the big day – Merry Christmas!