Diane Morgan goes full Scrooge in the Mandy Christmas special – review

Diane Morgan goes full Scrooge in the Mandy Christmas special - review
Festive special offers a new take on ‘A Christmas Carol’ and makes a solid curtain-raiser for the series to come

The eponymous heroine of Diane Morgan’s sitcom, the workshy, hapless but lovable Mandy, is not usually given to prolonged introspection. She lurches from mishap to mishap, skilfully avoiding gainful employment and getting herself into unexpectedly tricky situations. For We Wish You A Mandy Christmas, however, she takes up the Scrooge role for a one-off festive episode ahead of the new series, which begins in January.

Mandy, wearing a furry blue jumper and with her trademark mop of blonde hair piled up on top of her head, is not a big fan of the festive season. “It’s Christmas as usual for me. I’ll just watch Die Hard and get arseholed on Tia Maria,” she tells her beautician friend Lola (Michelle Greenidge).

Lola, a keen Christmas fan, is not having that. (Her dog takes up the Tiny Tim gig.) She gives Mandy a high-tech doorbell as a gift, which ends up summoning the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to show Mandy the error of her humbug ways.

Christmas Past is a translucent Johnny Vegas, who takes Mandy back to her childhood. She sees her childhood self being given a mug full of mints. Christmas Present (Pearce Quigley) is able to walk through doors but rings the bell anyway, for good manners, before taking Mandy flying through the air.

But the most entertaining phantom is the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. “You look just like John Cooper Clarke,” Mandy says. “I get that a lot,” the ghost replies, as he is played by the poet John Cooper Clarke. His wiry charisma livens up the final act, as he and Mandy sit together in church and watch her poorly attended funeral. Her future self has died in a steamroller accident, which makes for a good visual gag about the coffin. As Mandy and Lola dance around Lola’s house drinking Kylie Minogue’s rosé, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well.

Morgan is excellent, as usual. She has become one of the most consistent comic actors on TV, her presence is always a sign that humour will be incoming. She’s a master of the blank look askance, and she knows just how to deploy those unmistakable rounded Bolton vowels to maximum effect. Not just in this, but also as Philomena Cunk and the plain-talking Liz in Motherland. Mandy is pitched somewhere between those two characters, with a little of Cunk’s endless misunderstanding but some of Liz’s no-nonsense approach to life.

The series is an underrated gem, charming and funny in 15-minute chunks, with a high density of gags and a strong supporting cast. The Christmas special, despite being a whopping three minutes longer than a typical episode, is not the best place to start, but it is a solid curtain raiser for the series to come, where the writing will be less limited by the strict structure of A Christmas Carol.

Given the paucity of the schedules this year, we ought to be grateful for snippets of originality where we can find them. And hope, too, that there is plenty of future Mandy still to come.