Our favourite Cockney miscreants engage in a Christmas tradition: trying to pull girls in the local nightclub. But also burning dinner and watching the Sound of Music.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Only Fools and Horses was my first pick for a Christmas TV special because of how many Christmas specials they did. Between 1991 and 2003, the show put out nothing but Christmas specials. "Christmas Crackers" was their first, and the most Christmassy special I could find.
"Christmas Crackers" is a bit of a weird episode of television. The first half of it follows Del Boy and Rodney's Christmas dinner, thanklessly prepared by Grandad. After that (expectedly) goes rather badly, and Grandad decides to head off to the Old Folk's Christmas Party, the brothers decide to head out themselves.
The first half is full of class Christmassy tropes. They have a big Christmas spread with all the trimmings (though not all in the right place). The flat is decorated with tree and tinsel. Everyone's wearing those paper crowns. They even catch The Sound of Music on the television.
Del Boy also makes a really nice speech about how important it is to spend Christmas with their Grandad, because a lot of people aren't as lucky to have family around. It's feels sweet and honest: a true testament to the shared joy so many have at this time of the year.
The speech would be a good ending to the episode, but it actually introduces the turn: Grandad doesn't want their company and goes out himself, so the brothers figure they should head to the club too. After that point, you'd be forgiven for not knowing what time of the year it's set at.
Ho-ho-who's in it?
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
David Jason is wonderful, a regular national treasure. Even Del Boy at this point feels like a real person, and it brought a little joy to my heart to be reminded of his wonderful, positive enthusiasm and ambition.
But I added this category to celebrate productions taking that extra effort to break from the norm and bring some exciting cameos for your Christmas episode, which Only Fools and Horses sadly didn't do.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I loved Only Fools and Horses as a kid, and watching it again now is a real pleasure. It's a funny and clever show that mixes witty dialogue and physical comedy, whilst still feeling quite real. I'd say it's great for all ages.
However, I think there's a real nostalgia influence here. There are lots of references to things of the era, and reminders of Christmas dinners very much of the 80s and 90s: not least a still fresh wave of excitement around festive television. I don't know how well that would play with viewers born after, say, 1998. Since that includes all children, I think a few "family fun" points have to be docked.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
There is not a single Christmas song, but it does have some great 80s music.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Let's be honest, "Christmas Crackers" is definitely not the best Only Fools and Horses episode. It's probably not even the best Christmas special (looking at you, Hereos and Villains). But it's entertaining, pleasant, and really captures the vibe of Christmas in Britain before the turn of the millenium.
I think this is a solid start to my Christmas TV specials this year. It brings a bit of festive mirth, some deep-set nostalgia and a couple of reminders of what makes this time of year so important to people around the world. I expect much more of that on all fronts in the coming weeks.