The 10 classic Christmas TV episodes you should see – but probably haven’t

From The Box of Delights to Sherlock Holmes by way of Moonlighting - it's the festive telly you need to discover

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Sick of seeing Del Boy become a millionaire? Tired of watching Margo’s food not being delivered? Fatigued by walking in the air with the Snowman. Well, let me come to your rescue with the antidote – it’s the best classic Christmas TV you’ve yet to watch. Well, OK, some of you may already be in on the festive secrets that I’ve listed below – but come on, spread the word. These are the shows you SHOULD be watching. So, in no particular order…

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1. Cagney and Lacey (I’ll Be Home for Christmas)

A criminal in a Santa suit? Check. A dodgy Noo Yawk hustler flogging Christmas trees? Check. Cagney being surprised by the love and affection shown by children? Double check! Basically, this festive visit to the 14th precinct offers everything you need in a Christmas police procedural. Plus you get a curveball in the form of Petrie’s pregnant wife facing complications in labour. And the whole thing is written by future crime-writing master Robert Crais.

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2. Moonlighting (Twas the Episode Before Christmas)

Sure, this seems at first like typical post-modern Moonlighting fare, what with David wondering whether this could very possibly be the Christmas episode after a mum in distress by the name of Mary leaves a baby on Miss Dipesto’s doorstep. But wait for it – because the pay-off is truly something else. Stars Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis were always fond of breaking the fourth wall but getting the whole crew to sing The First Noel as snow falls onto the studio floor makes for a moving TV moment that’s totally unique.

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3. Murder, She Wrote (A Christmas Secret)

It’s amazing to think that Murder, She Wrote ran for 12 seasons and yet it only ever did one Christmas episode. Surely, it should have been a yearly tradition? But at least this one is a winner, even if it only contains a wounding rather than an actual homicide. As is proper, it’s set in Cabot Cove, where Jessica is busy prepping for the big day, only for her plans to be marred by embezzling and gunfire. NB: pay special attention to the alternative lyrics for We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

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4. Cheers (Christmas Cheers)

A terrifically cynical 30 minutes at the Boston bar in which Rebecca makes everyone work on Christmas Eve, the regulars scorn It’s a Wonderful Life, Norm sweats buckets in a Santa suit and Carla loses it with a customer (“Happy New Year, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah – now get out!”). Then comes a reminder for a disillusioned Frasier that miracles can happen – even if they’re small and fleeting…

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5. A Charlie Brown Christmas

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It’s been a staple part of the US TV schedules ever since its debut in 1965, but the fact that this jazz-scored classic goes largely unshown in the UK is – to get all Charlie Brown about it – quite depressing. Touching on the over-commercialisation and secularism of Christmas, it manages to pack so much wisdom into its 25-minute running time. And it’s hard to think now that network bosses were fretting about including Linus’s Bible quotation in the original broadcast – it’s definitely one of the stand-out moments.

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