Let’s face it, Christmas TV can be a little bit naff on occasion, but the festive season has also produced some of our favourite episodes of telly out there.
We’d be here all day if we listed every single offering that has stuck with us for all of the right reasons, so we’ve rounded up a handful of our favourites, which we’ve popped below.
If you’re struggling to find something to watch in the run-up to the big day, this lot will see you right.
The Vicar of Dibley
Come all ye faithful Dawn French fans, come one and all – because what better time of year than to indulge in a tipple of the spicy (yet comforting) glass of mulled wine that is a Vicar of Dibley Christmas special.
The sinfully funny vicar Geraldine Granger (she of the bob cut and knitted crucifix jumpers) featured in two festive episodes during the show’s initial run in the 1990s. The iconic one is from season one, when Geraldine attends multiple Christmas lunches to please her faithful (and unobservant) parishioners. However, our favourite is the season three episode Winter, which sees Geraldine participate in a Nativity play on a farm (dressed as the Angel Gabriel, obviously).
There’s also last year’s The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown, and the two Noughties episodes, set during December, when Geraldine first meets the dishy Harry (Richard Armitage), a “towny b*****d” – and the love of her life. And what makes it even better is that all these Christmas specials are available to watch right now. Verily, your prayers have been answered.
Stream The Vicar of Dibley now on Netflix UK and BritBox UK.
Black-ish – Black Santa/White Christmas (season 1, episode 10)
Let’s get real: if you’re white, you’ve never really considered that almost every mainstream depiction of Santa Claus is of an old white dude. Things come and go, seasons change but Santa’s race is categorically white, according to popular culture. US sitcom Black-ish, which charts the everyday goings on of the Johnson family, interrogates that in Black Santa/White Christmas, because there’s no reason why festive TV can’t address some long-standing wrongs.
The guy from accounts who traditionally dresses up as the big lad drops down dead at work one day, which leaves the door open for a new face to lace up those big, black boots, throw on a bushy white beard and ‘ho ho ho’ ‘til the reindeers come home – and Dre Johnson wants to be that guy, launching a campaign to ensure that he is chosen as Stevens & Lido’s new Santa. But things don’t exactly go to plan, with a couple of fairly seismic hurdles thrown his way.
Not only is it an original idea for a Christmas special (Lord knows we’ve seen the whole gamut), it’s also really funny, courtesy of some excellent writing and a sublime festive montage that will have you cackling into your Baileys.
Stream Black-ish now on Star on Disney Plus.
Friends – The One With the Girl From Poughkeepsie (season 4, episode 10)
Of the 10 festive episodes it produced during its decade on air, the standout from Friends – and, indeed, one of the show’s most underrated episodes – is season four’s The One With the Girl From Poughkeepsie.
What’s special about this one is that all four major plot strands, large and small, hit the mark: the two biggest story threads are both all-time-greats, as Chandler’s well-intentioned efforts to fix up Rachel with a work colleague (or several) quickly go off course thanks to Mr. Bing’s big mouth, while Joey (work nickname: “Dragon”) and his own attempts to save Monica from bullies at work also ends up more complicated than either expected.
But even the B-plots here are brilliantly funny, with Ross’ difficulty deciding between two women he’s dating – one who lives far away and one who lives much closer but might be “kind of a racist” – giving the episode its title and Phoebe’s struggle to write a Christmas song in tribute to her friends getting a wonderful pay-off at the episode’s conclusion (“And Rachel and Chandler… *mumbles*… handler!!”).
Stream Friends now on Netflix UK.
Father Ted – A Christmassy Ted
Though it ran for just three series, Father Ted unquestionably earned its place in the pantheon of classic sitcoms, delivering memorable characters, quotable lines and scenarios just on the right side of cartoonish without fail across 25 episodes, one of which is the superb A Christmassy Ted. A ratings smash for Channel 4 when it first aired on 24th December 1996, this hour-long special almost always gets an outing around Christmastime, with fans never tiring of Ted (Dermot Morgan) and Dougal’s (Ardal O’Hanlon) desperate odyssey through a department store’s lingerie section, the running gag involving Mrs Doyle (Pauline McLynn) struggling to hang up her decorations, and the aftermath of what happens when someone lets loveable clown Dougal do a funeral…
Stream Father Ted now on All4 and BritBox.
Ted Lasso – Carol of the Bells (season 2, episode 4)
Christmas comes this time each year, and in the world of Ted Lasso, that time is… inexplicably… the middle of August. At least, that’s what we’re led to believe by the fact that Ted Lasso season 2’s Carol of the Bells episode dropped on Apple TV Plus in the heart of that summer month.
However, strange scheduling choices aside, this festive instalment is just as joyous a gift as you’d expect from the heartwarming show. Ted and Rebecca give literal gifts to the community, a huge crowd of international players descends on the Higgins homestead for their Christmas lunch, and Roy drags Keeley around town in search of an emergency dentist appointment. And to top it all off, Hannah Waddingham unleashes her ridiculously powerful vocal cords for a yuletide singsong worthy of the North Pole itself. Pure festive bliss.
Stream Ted Lasso now on Apple TV+.
Community – Regional Holiday Music (season 3, episode 10)
Joel McHale’s cult favourite sitcom produced a few memorable festive episodes across its six-season run, but this one is the strongest in our book. Regional Holiday Music started out as a ruthless parody of grating high school drama Glee, but its strong character moments, original songs, and dark humour ensure the episode remains an offbeat delight years after the merciful decline of the inciting material.
The original cast is on top form here, with standout moments including the blistering rap delivered by Donald Glover (just prior to his Childish Gambino days) and Alison Brie’s hilarious send-up of a sexy Christmas serenade.
Stream Community now on Netflix UK.
Gavin & Stacey
If you’re going to watch a festive episode, why not watch the most successful Christmas special to ever grace our screens? Back in 2019, Gavin & Stacey creators James Corden and Ruth Jones brought back everyone’s favourite characters from Billericay and Barry for a catch-up – and it was perfect.
Set a whole 10 years after the final episode of season three, the Shipmans and the Wests met in Wales for Christmas – and there were a lot of new additions, including Gavin and Stacey’s three kids. With Smithy’s new girlfriend causing a bit of a stir, Dawn and Pete in trouble and the biggest cliff-hanger in the lifespan of the series, the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special in 2019 is one for the history books… literally. The episode quickly became the most-watched scripted TV programme of the 2010s with a total of 17.1 million viewing the special within a week of it airing.
While we wait for any tantalising teases of more episodes, why not check out arguably one of the greatest sitcom instalments of all time?
Stream Gavin & Stacey now on BBC iPlayer and BritBox UK.
Knowing Me, Knowing Yule… with Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan capped off his farcical chat show parody with an extended Christmas special titled Knowing Me, Knowing Yule, hosted by his iconic alter-ego Alan Partridge. The 40-minute episode is densely packed with rapid fire gags, including some of the most inappropriate comments to ever leave the mouth of Norwich’s pride and joy. Familiar faces from the main series return in new roles, including Rebecca Front as pious bellringer Mary and David Schneider as BBC Commissioning Editor Tony Hayers, both of whom quickly become bitter rivals of Partridge in his colosseum of conversation. A-ha!
Stream Knowing Me, Knowing You with… Alan Partridge on BritBox UK.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Deck the Halls (season 1, episode 15)
It’s Christmas in the Banks house (huzzah!), but you wouldn’t know (boo!). There’s a distinct lack of festive cheer, with Ashley, in particular, unable to embrace the season of goodwill. Fortunately, Will is on hand to drum up some enthusiasm for the holidays as he reminisces about how they do it back in his hometown of Philly, and he has an idea to get his little cousin in the mood. As you’d expect, Will’s grand plan initially goes down like a lead balloon, with an angry mob gathering in the Banks’ living room to voice their displeasure. But this is a Christmas special, which means that a happy ending was always on the cards.
The episode is very much in keeping with the rest of the series, which is why it’s so good. And there’s an unexpected guest star, which works exceedingly well and goes down a storm with the studio audience.
Stream The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on BBC iPlayer, Sky Comedy and NOW.
New Girl – LAXmas (season 4, episode 11)
The best Christmas episodes are often those which deliver warm fuzzy feelings – and New Girl’s LAXmas is prime sitcom warm fuzzies.
The gang head to the airport together to depart for various destinations for the holidays, but the upcoming festivities are jeopardised by a storm which threatens to leave them stranded rather than jetting off to see family, meet boyfriends’ parents (Jess) or, in Coach’s case, enjoy a solo holiday to Hawaii for some “me time” instead of spending time with loved ones – a choice he is most definitely not feeling guilty about.
While Jess frets that Ryan might be out of her league, the real heart of this episode lies with Cece and Schmidt. Everyone loves a bit of romance at Christmas, and watching Cece navigate and placate her future husband’s various neuroses and he, in turn, ultimately forego the chance to move one step closer to being “the kind of guy who takes one bite of lobster and then throws the rest of it in the trash” in order to shield her from just such a man’s advances is as heart-warming a festive treat as mulled wine.
Meanwhile, Jess decides not to fly to England after freaking out when Ryan sends a picture of his family’s English mansion. With everyone else having managed to board their respective flights, the festive spirit peaks when Nick discovers she’s backing out and, as is the great sitcom tradition, they get off the plane(s), refusing to catch their flights unless she gets hers and encouraging her all the way to the gate just in time.
Heartfelt and hurried hugs are exchanged, She & Him’s rendition of God Only Knows plays over the final montage, Coach goes home instead of Hawaii and, most importantly, Schmidt and Cece continue to build the foundations for their love story through good old-fashioned friendship.
Stream New Girl now on Netflix UK.
The Office (US) – Christmas Party (season 2, episode 10)
Over its eight-year run, The Office US gave us several festive episodes, but the best of the bunch has to be season two’s Christmas Party. The spin-off itself is just starting to take on its own identity after a critically divisive first season and in this Christmas episode, we see Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, the cringe king of Scranton’s Dunder Mifflin, at his pettiest.
The paper company employees have decided to do a Secret Santa this year and a lovelorn Jim (John Krasinski) is buzzing to give Pam (Jenna Fischer) a teapot filled with inside jokes, meaningful tokens and most crucially, a letter professing his true feelings for her. However, when Michael – who’s ignored the $20 limit to buy his man-crush Ryan (BJ Novak) a $400 video iPod – is visibly disappointed by his knitted oven mitt from Phyllis, he turns the game into a White Elephant gift exchange – and chaos ensues.
As the sitcom’s first go at a festive episode, Christmas Party ticks all the boxes for Office fans. From a classic Michael tantrum and typical Dwight (Rainn Wilson) eccentricity to some top Jim and Pam content and Meredith (Kate Flannery) drunkenly flashing her boss, ‘tis definitely the season to revisit this iconic Christmas cringe-fest.
Stream The Office (US) now on Netflix UK, Sky Comedy and NOW.
This year’s Radio Times Christmas double issue is on sale now, featuring two weeks of TV, film and radio listings, reviews, features and interviews with the stars.