’Tis the season and everyone’s getting in the holiday spirit, including Agatha Raisin, the delightful sleuth from the British Cotswolds, in an Acorn holiday movie special. BritBox imports a collection of spooky holiday ghost stories, based on the works of macabre master M.R. James. HBO goes backstage at the first “Shakespeare in the Park” production to play in New York City after the long pandemic shutdown.
Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye
Who doesn’t love a cozy mystery at Christmastime? Curl up with fledgling detective Agatha Raisin (the effervescent Ashley Jensen) in a holiday-movie special as she takes on the case of the Scrooge-like resident of Lower Tapor Manor, who says she needs protection from ghosts of Christmases past. It’s not a shock (at least not for Agatha fans) when the client turns up dead, but it’s surprising how many prime suspects there are in the village—including the victim’s own children.
Broadway is dealing with a new Covid crisis, with several shows missing performances, but at least the lights are mostly on after more than a year of pandemic-related closure. This documentary special takes us back to July, when most theaters were still dark, as the renowned Public Theater prepared its first open-air “Shakespeare in the Park” production at Central Park’s iconic Delacorte Theater, with playwright Jocelyn Bioh’s modern twist on The Merry Wives of Windsor featuring a South Harlem setting. Dealing with the challenges of the pandemic and the cultural fallout from the George Floyd murder and subsequent protests, the talented Public staff also had to contend with the variable that plagues every Park production: unstable weather.
A Ghost Story for Christmas
The romance of Olde England, telling tall tales by the fireplace on a dark and stormy night, includes a tradition of holiday ghost stories dating back even before Dickens immortalized the trend with A Christmas Carol. As a chilling holiday treat, BritBox imports a collection of specials from the BBC, adapting the haunting writings of M.R. James, that were popular in the 1970s and were more recently revived by Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), with stars including Emma Thompson (in The Blue Boy), Tom Ellis and Suranne Jones (in The Secret of Crickley Hall), Simon Callow (The Dead Room) and Peter Capaldi (Martin’s Close). A new episode, The Mezzotint, premieres Christmas Eve, starring Penny Dreadful’sRory Kinnear.
The Yule Spool: As we count down to the big day, Christmas movies and specials proliferate. A sampling:
- Candy Cane Candidate (8/7c, Lifetime): Licking her wounds after a failed bid for a city council seat, politically minded Julia (Jacky Lai) heads home to North Falls, where she ends up running for mayor against a high-school rival (Jake Epstein) who once beat her for class president. My vote’s on them getting together by the end.
- Miracles Across 125th Street (9/8c, VH1): Nick Cannon writes, directs, produces and stars in a movie about a Harlem rapper battling drug addiction who returns to his family’s church on Christmas Eve to face his past.
- Christmas at Belmont (9/8c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): O come all ye faithful—to a music showcase from Nashville’s Belmont University, as country-gospel alum Josh Turner headlines a program of holiday music with jazz, bluegrass and symphonic influences.
- The Secrets of Christmas: Revealed (8/7c, Fox): A tongue-in-cheek exposé delves into the top-secret inner workings at the North Pole following a data breach. What is Mrs. Claus really up to? How many files does Santa keep on you? What’s with those reindeer games? Inquiring minds want to know.
Inside Monday TV:
- Dynasty (8/7c, The CW): In back-to-back episodes leading into the soap melodrama’s fifth season in March, Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies) recovers—or does she?—after being gunned down by her evil assistant, Eva (Kara Royster), while not-always-doting daddy Blake (Grant Show) sits by her side in a vigil. The second hour is more seasonal, but still packs plenty of intrigue as Alexis (Elaine Hendrix) faces a holiday behind bars when she’s accused of pushing a blackmailing doctor to his death from her penthouse.
- Tough Love with Hilary Farr (9/8c, HGTV): The Love It or List It personality helps wishy-washy clients make solid design decisions in her firm but affectionate style.
- Landscapers (9/9c, HBO): As the police continue to poke holes in Susan’s (Olivia Colman) and Chris’ (David Thewlis) story about how her parents ended up being buried in their backyard, the series takes its boldest theatrical move yet to break the fourth wall, staging the murder scene as the participants watch. “That’s a bit much, don’t you think?” muses a lawyer. That’s the point.