With its multi-car pile-up, experimental Ashley-centric episode and many award wins, Emmerdale has felt like a show on top form in 2016. So it was a bit of a surprise to see the Christmas Day episode turning out to be a muted, soap-by-numbers affair.
Not much actually happened, but when it did, there was a slight feeling of déjà vu. Take Zak’s feelings for Lisa played out to the assembled Dingle clan on an incriminatory recording. All very Max and Stacey on EastEnders. Similarly, Zak ending it with Joanie in the hope of getting back with Lisa, only to be left ostracised and alone. All very Max and Tanya on EastEnders.
In fact, could it be – as unlikely as it sounds – that Zak is actually turning into Max on EastEnders? The family man undone by his lust and no longer able to take the moral high ground…
Then there was the sad/happy counterpoint so beloved of all our soaps. The mournful pan around the houses (Moira lost in grief, little Elliot missing his mum), followed by the comedy spectacle of Charity cooking a stolen peacock rather than a turkey (surely a contender for Most Absurd Festive Storyline).
And, of course, there was the hoary old standby of the gift mix-up: Pearl’s missing necklace ending up around Nicola’s throat and Jimmy oblivious as to how it came to be wrapped under the tree in the first place.
The more successful moments came when the script referenced the year’s high points. Emma getting twitchy about the absence of James around the meal table conjured up mental flashbacks of him being pushed off the road bridge back in October.
And Ashley’s sudden exclamation of “Merry Christmas, everyone” served as a reminder of just how brilliant and nuanced actor John Middleton has been throughout this dementia storyline.
Onto the small details, then. Aaron and Robert’s Christmas jumpers? A definite high point. Belle’s hair done up like Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back? An excellent style choice. Pete saying that he could instantly recognise his mum’s mince pies? Doubtful, seeing as mother and son had been estranged for 22 years.
And as for Joanie relinquishing her claim on Zak? Surely, this is just a very convenient way of getting Denise Black back on Coronation Street. And also – was I the only one expecting an 11th hour comeback for Kelly Windsor?
But at least there was snow. Proper snow too, thanks to an early spell of cold weather back in November at the time of filming. None of that fake stuff they had in that abysmal schmaltz-fest on Corrie last year.
And I have to say that as Zak trudged off through the flurry, Joanie’s words about him being a “scruffy, clapped out old man” no doubt ringing in his ears, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy. Despite my internal soap plotline predictor guessing at a reconciliation with Lisa by the time the snow melts.
You can watch a 60-second rundown of New Year on Emmerdale below.
And visit our dedicated Emmerdale page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers.