It's Christmas Eve and the entire family is coming over to enjoy the imminent festivities. Everyone has the best of intentions, but stress levels are gradually rising and there's seemingly only a matter of time until an epic blowout. This relatable concept has been the basis of many a festive sitcom special with BBC One's Ghosts Christmas special being the latest. It's easy to see why this scenario is so often played out, as par for the course in any ordinary year. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has rendered Alison and Mike's ambitious multi-household celebration to be a work of pure fantasy, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
The likeable young couple, portrayed by Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe, are up against it more than most, with not only family to impress but also a horde of fussy spirits to keep appeased. Each of them has their own Christmas wish and they won't stop badgering Alison until they see it realised, but fortunately she's had some practice at meeting their demands. This is very much business as usual for fans of Ghosts too, not quite standing among the best of the show's farcical antics, but bursting with its usual light-heartedness and rapid joke rate.
While the full cast is present, there is a battle for screen time as writers Simon Farnaby and Ben Willbond are tasked with introducing Mike's family as well as crafting a backstory for trouser-less MP Julian Fawcett. As with the other origins we've seen so far, it successfully adds an empathetic dimension to the character as another playful tale tinged with sadness and regret. There's a suitably uplifting conclusion to be found and glimmers of genuine growth, but the living characters don't resonate as strongly by comparison.
We get a broad overview of the personalities in Mike's family from this special, but they don't evolve much further than basic archetypes. His parents interfere with carefully made plans in a well-meaning way, while the siblings are seemingly only there to serve as wind-up merchants. It's a familiar dynamic which effectively pushes the story towards its sentimental moral, but a longer runtime might have allowed for more depth to be established for these characters and their relationships.
As it stands, the Ghosts Christmas special is a lean 30 minutes (the same as any standard episode), but it would have benefitted from an expanded duration. As little as an extra 15 minutes would likely have been enough to iron out some of the kinks and allow the character moments a bit more breathing room. Instead, it does feel like there's quite a rush to wrap everything up in a neat little festive bow, which prevents the emotional moments from having a greater impact.
But though it might not be the best festive special to grace our screens this year, The Ghost of Christmas is certainly another comforting chapter for this charming sitcom. It packs in the usual blend of one-liners, physical humour and wacky scenarios, all while telling a warm story about appreciating the people in your life while you still can - a particularly poignant idea after such a difficult year.