If there’s one thing that you can rely on in even the most chaotic and unpredictable of years, it’s the hard-earned escapism that comes with festive telly. So whether it’s spectral shenanigans, galactic bounty hunters or a Dalek in a pear tree that you’re craving, here are some small screen holiday highlights – handpicked by the Pilot TV team – to see you through to 2022.
Wednesday 22 December
The Wonder Years – Disney+
Don Cheadle narrates this shake-up of the classic coming-of-age sitcom, which originally ran from the late 1980s. Set in Alabama during 1968, the show follows the highs and lows of 12-year-old Dean’s high school existence as part of a Black middle-class family (a white family starred in the original show). With everything from segregation to playground crushes on his mind, Dean’s experiences form the basis of this significant and sturdy revamp for modern America.
Thursday 23 December
Ghosts – BBC1, 8.30pm
The historical, loveable gang of misfit ghouls return for a new festive special ahead of Ghosts’ fourth series, including a Christmas cameo from Jennifer Saunders. This seasonal episode sees non-dead couple Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) and Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) discover a tent-dwelling man living on the grounds of Button House, and with the help of their spectral entourage, must work out the best course of action for dealing with him.
Friday 24 December
The Amazing Mr Blunden – Sky Max/NOW, 7pm
The first part of a Mark Gatiss double-bill on Christmas Eve sees the Sherlock and Dracula showrunner adapt, direct, and act in this modern reworking of the classic children’s ghost story. This feature-length family special follows city teens Jamie (Jason Rennie) and Lucy Allen (Tsion Habte) as they relocate to a spooky country house, only to discover that their mum’s new employer Mr Blunden (Simon Callow) isn’t all that he seems.
A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Mezzotint – BBC2, 10.30pm
The second entry in the Gatiss double-feature heads to an old English college in the early 20th Century. This adaptation of MR James’ tale is about museum curator Edward Williams (Rory Kinnear), who receives an engraving of an old country house in the post in which a seriously creepy figure seems to be moving all on their own. Shiver-inducing stuff.
Sunday 26 December
Around The World In 80 Days – BBC1, 7.50pm
David Tennant stars in this eight-part BBC adaptation of Jules Verne’s globe-trotting epic. As charismatic gentleman-turned-adventurer Phileas Fogg, the former Doctor embarks on an ambitious trip across the world, with valet Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma) and journalist Abigail (Leonie Benesch) at his side. With a second series already in the works, this cinematic escapade promises big screen ambition (not to mention a theme tune composed by Hans Zimmer) in serialised form.
A Very British Scandal – BBC1, 9pm
Dublin Murders’ screenwriter Sarah Phelps pens this emotionally fraught and powerfully performed two-hander between Claire Foy’s socialite Margaret Campbell and Paul Bettany’s Duke of Argyll, charting their tumultuous marriage. The steamy three-part drama, airing over three consecutive nights, follows the pair as they fall in and (very publicly) out of love, and the historic divorce that ensues.
Monday 27 December
Curb Your Enthusiasm – Sky Comedy/NOW, 9pm
Famed curmudgeon Larry David concludes the 11th season of a show as chaotic as it is oddly comforting, with a final episode curiously entitled ‘The Mormon Advantage’. Cathartic seasonal viewing for those who love a good moan doesn’t get much better than this.
Wednesday 29 December
The Book Of Boba Fett – Disney+
The second season of The Mandalorian tantalisingly set up the premise for Disney+’s latest Lucasfilm spin-off. Taking place on Tatooine – a planet that is as dusty as it is dastardly – the show gravitates to the palace once belonging to Star Wars villain Jabba the Hutt, where bounty hunter Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and assassin Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) must now face off against the remaining criminals of the planet’s underworld, of which there are many.
Friday 31 December
Stay Close – Netflix
Adapted by stalwart mystery author Harlan Coben from his 2012 novel, Stay Close sees Richard Armitage (who also starred in Coben’s excellent Netflix collab The Stranger) as a failing documentary photographer whose life is upended when a terrible past event comes back to haunt him. A stellar supporting cast includes Cush Jumbo as a working mum and James Nesbitt in detective mode.
Cobra Kai – Netflix
Netflix’s Karate Kid spin-off continues its uber-nostalgic winning streak with the arrival of its fourth season. The Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang dojos have finally joined forces to take down Cobra Kai at the All Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament, but will they prove a worthy match for revived villain Terry Silver and his iconic ponytail?
Saturday 1 January
The Tourist – BBC1, 9pm
Baptiste’s writing duo Harry and Jack Williams return for this Jamie Dornan-fronted thriller about a British man who finds himself hotly pursued by an ominous truck through the Australian Outback. Dornan earned some serious praise for his starring role in The Fall opposite Gillian Anderson, and this six-part series sees him return to tense mystery telly with twists and turns aplenty.
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return To Hogwarts – Sky Max/NOW, 8pm
It really has been 20 years since The Boy Who Lived made it to the big screen, kicking off one of the most monumental and beloved British film franchises in history. To celebrate, the films’ central trio – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson – come together with a few more famous guests for a one-off special sure to delight Potterheads the world over.
Doctor Who – BBC1, 7pm
The first in a three-part swan song for Jodie Whittaker’s thirteenth Doctor sees This Way Up comedian Aisling Bea join the crew as a storage facility owner who, along with Whittaker, Mandip Gill’s Yaz and John Bishop’s Dan, finds herself embroiled in another evil plan from the Daleks.