Christmas TV guide 2020: the festive shows you can’t miss

Upstart Crow: Lockdown Christmas 1603
The plague proves a handily timely plot device for Ben Elton’s Shakespearean comedy. David Mitchell’s Will sees quarantine as a chance to write the perfect play to present to the king. But with only Kate (Gemma Whelan) for company, can he find inspiration? PH
Monday 21 December, 9pm, BBC Two

Moonbase 8
“That’s why I love you guys. We’re dedicated to a mission beyond our ability.” US solemnity about space exploration is punctured in this new comedy about three would-be astronauts, stuck in the desert working towards a probably doomed lunar launch. John C Reilly, Fred Armisen and Tim Heidecker star. PH
Monday 21 to Wednesday 23 December, 9pm, Sky Atlantic

London Hughes: To Catch a D*ck
It’s not for the faint-hearted but Hughes’s 2019 standup show is a frenetic blast of filthy fun. From grading penises to recalling her time as a BabeStation host, she is gloriously frank about her escapades – and as a couple of press-ganged participants will testify, she expects similar commitment from her audience. PH
Tuesday 22 December, Netflix

The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity
The Cornley Dramatic Society’s reliance on a new sponsor is a fresh source of unrest as its production is dogged by dodgy stage mechanics and an argument inside a donkey. As one of the few shows multiple generations can enjoy together, this is gold, frankincense and myrrh dust. JS
Tuesday 22 December, 7pm, BBC One

Ghosts Christmas Special
It’s time to return to crumbling country pile Button House and its supernatural inhabitants for this festive special of the charming sitcom. There’s a flashback to the champagne-swigging adulterous life of Julian Fawcett MP (Simon Farnaby), while Mike and Alison try to stoke up some Christmas cheer with their visiting in-laws. AK
Wednesday 23 December, 8.30pm, BBC One

Motherland Christmas Special
The worryingly accurate sitcom about middle-class parenting tackles the unique horror of a mum-filled festive party. Lucy Punch’s awful queen bee Amanda is the host, with her guests variously ignoring Christmas, embracing it too tightly or, in the case of Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin), willing to attend absolutely any event where her in-laws are absent. JS
Wednesday 23 December, 9pm, BBC Two

King Gary Christmas Special
Tom Davis’s boisterous comedy returns. And as usual, Gary’s good intentions look set to backfire. After a tough year, the prospect of the Butterchurn Crescent Christmas display is keeping everyone’s spirits up. But the electricity bill is too steep for some. Enter Gary with a madcap scheme … PH
Wednesday 23 December, 10pm, BBC One

Victoria Wood: The Secret List
A clip show with authenticity, based as it is on a rundown of Wood’s favourite sketches found among her effects. Footage from the comic genius’s own archive is a further gloss on what would be an irresistible format anyway, as comedians comment approvingly on repeats of classic skits. JS
Christmas Day, 9.10pm, BBC Two

Pandemonium
Tom Basden’s half-hour effort is pure lockdown comedy: Katherine Parkinson, Jim Howick and Alison Steadman are members of the Jessop clan, who head to Margate in December as consolation for a cancelled summer holiday. The risky conceit is that the action’s been filmed by the family’s youngest son. JS
Wednesday 30 December, 9.45pm, BBC One

Taskmaster New Year’s Treat
Successfully installed this year in the big league that is Channel 4, the cult celebrity gameshow broadens its appeal further by inviting non-comics to have a go in a special one-off. Actor John Hannah, journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, presenter Rylan Clark-Neal, Strictly’s Shirley Ballas and Derry Girls’ Nicola Coughlan compete. JS
New Year’s Day, 9pm, Channel 4

Frankie Boyle’s 2020 New World Order
With a pandemic, a preposterous US presidential election and high levels of political incompetence everywhere, 2020 seems tailor-made for a black-sky thinker like Boyle. Will he surprise us and try to see the lighter side of the last 12 months? Almost certainly not. PH
New Year’s Day, 10pm, BBC Two

Death to 2020
Mystery surrounds this new project exec-produced by Charlie Brooker and his Black Mirror co-showrunner Annabel Jones, but it sounds likely to be a suitably satirical bookend to a crazy year. Hugh Grant, Samuel L Jackson and Lisa Kudrow are among a plethora of big-name figures starring in a spoof documentary, which will combine archive, talking heads and comedy to draw a line under the surreal nightmare of 2020. PH
TBC, Netflix

His Dark Materials
All roads lead to the parallel universe of Cittàgazze in this season two finale. Gaining access to this existential crossroads might prove tricky, so the need to find Will’s father becomes ever more pressing. A beautifully realised mix of supernatural scares and universal morality lessons. PH
Sunday 20 December, 7.10pm, BBC One

All Creatures Great and Small
Boasting human virtues, cute animals and stunning Yorkshire scenery, this reboot of the James Herriot classic struck a chord when it launched in autumn. So a Christmas ep was a no-brainer. Expect bucketloads of snow, romance and Fair Isle jumpers. PH
Tuesday 22 December, 9pm, Channel 5

Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse
A charming story in which a boy embarks upon a journey to meet his favourite author, Beatrix Potter. Sharp-eyed observers might have guessed that the boy was Roald Dahl. Dawn French, Alison Steadman and Strictly dark horse Bill Bailey feature. PH
Christmas Eve, 8.15pm, Sky One

Bridgerton
The first offering from super-producer Shonda Rhimes’s nine-figure deal with Netflix, Bridgerton is a diversely cast, lust-fuelled adaptation of Julia Quinn’s romance novels detailing the amorous pursuits of young aristocrat Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and the rakish Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page). The engagement season is upon London, but who will take the hand of the Queen’s favourite, Daphne? AK
Christmas Day, Netflix

Call the Midwife
Nonnatus House is now in 1965, but it’s set for a Christmas with more grief than groove. Interrupting the feast are a surprise reunion, the hospitalisation of at least one character and the arrival of a circus. Gird yourself for a depiction of public healthcare that’s even more poignant than usual. JS
Christmas Day, 7.40pm, BBC One

Black Narcissus
A three-part retread of the classic 1947 Powell & Pressburger film. Gemma Arterton heads up the nuns losing the run of themselves in the Himalayas, with Aisling Franciosi (Lyanna Stark from Game of Thrones) as the dangerously envious Sister Ruth and Alessandro Nivola as the hunk who makes the chaste women wobble. Expect an intoxicatingly heady atmosphere. JS
Sunday 27 to Tuesday 29 December, 9pm, BBC One

Uncle Vanya
Theatre has been left to wither during the pandemic, but it defiantly reasserts itself with a film of a production that got five-star reviews before it was stopped mid-run in March. Conor McPherson’s agile update of the Anton Chekhov play casts Toby Jones as the knackered, disappointed, highly relatable Vanya, capturing a very Covid-y strand of intelligent ennui. JS
Wednesday 30 December, 10pm, BBC Four

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
“Part” four – this is a show that eschews lame tropes like “seasons” – of the revamped teen witch saga is set to be the last, but it’s making the most of a powerhouse lead performance from Kiernan Shipka by continuing to feature two Sabrinas: one in hell, one on Earth. Story complexity and sheer campness are both likely to be turned up to 13 as Chilling plots a fiery exit. JS
New Year’s Eve, Netflix

Doctor Who
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is facing an enforced lockdown of her own – in an alien prison – as this year’s special begins. Poor timing, because this leaves her three companions facing her most relentless adversaries without her help. As if 2020 needed any extra stress, the Daleks are back. PH
New Year’s Day, 6.45pm, BBC One

The Serpent
Tahar Rahim, star of French prison drama A Prophet, here plays notorious global conman and serial murderer Charles Sobhraj, with Jenna Coleman as his accomplice, Marie-Andrée Leclerc. It’s a truth-based drama that gives Sobhraj’s exploits – stealing from and killing hippies on the tourist trail in Asia in the late 1970s – an epic, eight-part treatment, scripted by Ripper Street creator Richard Warlow. JS
New Year’s Day, 9pm, BBC One

Christmas quizzes
Many will regard 2020 as a year best forgotten. But before we scrub it from our memory banks, Jimmy Carr’s Big Fat Quiz of the Year (Boxing Day, 9.05pm, Channel 4) will be encouraging panellists to recall the main events. Elsewhere, famous graduates tackle University Challenge (from Monday 21 December, 8pm, BBC Two), The Chase (Christmas Day, 5pm, ITV) welcomes celebs and Only Connect (from Tuesday 29 December, 8pm, BBC Two) hosts old friends. PH

Mary Berry Saves Christmas
It might be that a few of us will be preparing Christmas dinners for the first time this year. A daunting task, but Mary Berry has your back. She is joined by culinary bumblers including The Repair Shop’s Jay Blades and presenter Angela Scanlon; can she whip them into shape? PH
Wednesday 23 December, 6.30pm, BBC One

The Great Christmas Bake Off
The GBBO team, bolstered by Bake Off: the Professionals host Tom Allen, offer up a classically festive combo: baked goods, and Alexandra Burke singing Silent Night. The cakes are made by ex-contestants who have bravely retied their aprons, with Jamie and Rosie from 2019, Ruby from 2018 and James from 2017 all back in the tent. JS
Christmas Eve, 7.40pm, Channel 4

Miranda’s Games With Showbiz Names
The days of Lockdown One and failed attempts at Zoom charades are revisited in this virtual games night. Jermaine Jenas, Shirley Ballas and Robbie Williams, along with a partner/friend, dial in from home as Miranda Hart umpires uproariously. JS
Christmas Eve, 9.45pm, BBC One

Gogglebox 2020
Roundup of the year’s pithiest putdowns from the telly addicts, who continue to be among the nation’s best TV critics and comedians. There is also a celeb version (Fri, 9pm), with Denise van Outen, Mo Gilligan and the challenging cultural symposium that is Shaun Ryder and Bez. JS
Christmas Day, 9.10pm, Channel 4

The Repair Shop at Christmas
The Repair Shop always has the de-stressing warmth of a weighted blanket, but this festive edition ramps up the cheer further. Items ready to spark nostalgic catharsis, as soon as the team fix them, include a stereogram and – in a tale freighted with sadness – a rocking horse. JS
Boxing Day, 6.45pm, BBC One

The Last Woman on Earth With Sara Pascoe
Pascoe’s status as a top-tier TV personality is confirmed with a travelogue summoning the wit and curiosity of Palin and Lumley. The hook is that she meets people doing soon-to-be defunct jobs, collecting a portfolio of skills that are about to be lost. That should mean thoughtful historical and political discussion, as well as scenery and laughs. JS
Sunday 27 December, 9pm, BBC Two

Celebrity: A 21st Century Story
The notion of celebrity has acquired a very different meaning since the turn of the century: this four-part series explores the modern phenomenon as filtered through reality TV, social media and populist politics. What does the world of celebrity look like from the inside? And what are the costs of playing the fame game? PH
Tuesday 29 December to New Year’s Day, 9pm, BBC Two

Stephen Fry’s 21st Century Firsts
Tech enthusiast Fry offers a hymn of praise to modernity in this doc exploring innovations that we now take for granted. The likes of Tinder and Airbnb are ideas that seem obvious once someone else has had them but how did they get off the ground? Fry delves into the backstories. PH
Wednesday 30 December, 8.30pm, ITV

The Nine Lives of Ozzy Osbourne
The Black Sabbath frontman turned 70 in 2018. Which, in itself, represented a triumph of sorts. But it’s been a long road to his rock’n’roll grandad/national treasure status. In this film he looks back on his hell-raising journey; Rick Rubin, Ice-T and Post Malone have their say. PH
Wednesday 30 December, 10pm, BBC Two

Jack & the Beanstalk: After Ever After
David Walliams is a festive fixture on Sky these days. He returns with another post-happily ever after story, this time imagining Jack’s life after felling the beanstalk. Sheridan Smith and Blake Harrison star, but look out for a cameo from Walliams himself. PH
Wednesday 23 December, 8pm, Sky One

Worzel Gummidge: Saucy Nancy
Mackenzie Crook’s reimagining of the kids’ TV staple was a festive hit in 2019. And the scarecrow is back with another pleasingly slow-moving quest, as he, Susan and John visit a scrapyard where they find a bad-tempered old friend. PH
Christmas Eve, 5.55pm, BBC One

Zog and the Flying Doctors
This Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler adaptation sees young dragon Zog (voiced by Hugh Skinner) join an airborne medical service alongside Pearl (Patsy Ferran) and Gadabout (Daniel Ings). Rob Brydon is the King, and Lenny Henry narrates the cartoon loveliness. JS
Christmas Day, 2.35pm, BBC One

Quentin Blake’s Clown
Blake’s kids’ book, about a toy clown trying to find a home for himself and other discarded toys, was illustrations-only in its printed form, so expect highly visual storytelling à la The Snowman here as hand-drawn animation closely mimics its style. There is narration from Helena Bonham Carter to tie the action-packed odyssey together. JS
Christmas Day, 7.40pm, Channel 4

The end of a dire 2020 is worth celebrating, and although our New Year’s Eve celebrations will likely be confined to our households, the TV schedulers have pulled out all the stops to keep the celebratory spirit going from the living room.

BBC One will be showing The Big New Year’s In at 9pm, where host Paddy McGuinness oversees celebrity games in an effort to distract from the cancelled London fireworks. It’s followed by a special Graham Norton Show featuring the likes of Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan and Tom Hanks chatting on his sofa. On Channel 4, The Last Leg team will be helming a two-hour special from 9pm to round up the chaos of 2020 with Lorraine Kelly and Tom Allen.

Over on BBC Two, Jools Holland hosts his Annual Hootenanny from 11.15pm, with performances from Tom Jones, Mercury winner Michael Kiwanuka and Celeste. And as the countdown approaches, Alicia Keys Rocks Big Ben Live from 11.30pm over on BBC One, with a cutaway at midnight to ring in 2021. AK

Christmas isn’t just a time for tense family gatherings and overeating. It is also peak soap season: the culmination of a year of simmering storylines, ready to explode and end the year on a series of confounding cliffhangers.

Despite Covid restrictions disrupting filming schedules, 2020’s Christmas soap offerings are as effervescent as ever. Perennial BBC favourite EastEnders has a whopping five storylines heading to dramatic conclusions over the festive season. The main focus will be on figuring out who left poor Ian Beale for dead in a brutal attack, while Mick Carter’s revelations about his childhood abuse leads wife Linda to stray, and Denise Fox’s first Christmas with her new baby is upended when a haunting figure from her past reappears.

Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Coronation Street has a bumper crop of festive heartbreak to dole out: Leanne Battersby struggles to cope with the death of her son Oliver; the love triangle between Todd, Billy and Paul gets messy; while David and Shona Platt try to get their marriage back on track.

In Emmerdale, meanwhile, things take a slightly lighter turn with Paddy Kirk and Chas Dingle looking set to tie the knot and Meena trying to win over her sister Manpreet after their feud. And in Cheshire, Hollyoaks finally gives us the answer to last year’s flash-forward – namely, who is in that body bag – while the county lines storyline draws to a close, with Victor ramping up his threats. AK