The Christmas special is a British television tradition, and it’s pretty good, if you ask us. Rather than forcing a hit show into a semi-annual Christmas episode, everyone gets together and does a full-length special that has that warm Christmas feel but also a true story, or at least one that isn’t a disaster. The latest UK hit series to get a holiday special is Agatha Raisin, the fashion publicist turned detective played by Ashley Jensen.
AGATHA RAISIN: CHRISTMAS KISSES: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The essence: It’s Christmas at Carsley, and Agatha Raisin (Ashley Jensen) hopes for once to have a vacation that isn’t a disaster. Her friend Roy Silver (Matthew Horne) complains so much about Agatha’s Christmas disasters that she tells him to plan this whole year.
Joining Agatha and Roy are Sarah Bloxby (Lucy Liemann), who has just become vicar of the city, replacing her ex-husband Jez; Sir Charles Fraith (Jason Merrells), who is there to be your charming, flirtatious self; Agatha’s assistant detective Toni Gilmour (Jodie Tyack) and her boyfriend, local police detective Bill Wong (Matt McCooey).
Agatha insists that she won’t take any cases during the holidays, but a letter from Phyllis Tamworthy (Maggie McCarthy) intrigues her; Agatha and Roy go to their huge property and find a group of Satan worshipers at a local pub, and then they see that Phyllis is a Christmas fanatic.
The curmudgeonly old lady has decided to make things up with the man upstairs by donating the estate to charity, starting a school in his name. The problem is that his grown children, Jeffrey (Kevin Bishop) and his wife Alison (Emerald O’Hanrahan), Sadie (Zoe Telford) and Fran (Emma Cunniffe), hope to inherit him and divide the proceeds of a sale. Phyllis definitely thinks her kids will kill her for it and they want Agatha to attend their “Christmas surprise” announcement for protection.
Of course, the kids are angry at the news, but apparently nothing is wrong with Phyllis. But when Agatha and Roy climb a ledge from their room to Phyllis’s, they find the old woman’s body on her bed, holding a twig of what turns out to be hemlock.
Agatha puts Christmas on hold out of obligation to her client, to investigate who killed her; Allison stops by Agatha’s house to tell her that the children want her to solve it so that they can bequeath the property without any impediment. As Toni learns to drive, she also disguises herself as a Satan worshiper to infiltrate the coven that has had trouble with Phyllis for years, and Agatha tries to find out if the kids, the cook, or the gardener, all of them practically hated Phyllis, did the feat. Hemlock keeps popping up, it is found in various places, but it definitely becomes a focus when more people end up dead.
Which movies will it remind you of ?: Agatha Raisin has always felt like a spiritual descendant of Murder, She wrote, albeit with a (slightly) younger and (much) more fashionable detective in the center.
Performance worth watching: Matthew Horne has a lot of good lines like Roy in this special, many of which are dirty when you think about them, but they are said so cleanly that everyone from a pre-teen to your grandparents doesn’t even realize it. Like when he talked about food poisoning from eggnog last Christmas, he says, “I couldn’t sit down for a week, and not in a good way.”
Diálogo memorable: See above about Roy. Another good phrase: “If we go now, I can start marinating my ham, forgive the expression.”
Sex and skin: If there’s any of that, it’s highly implied, except when silly Mrs. Boggle (Marcia Warren) gives her a testicle keychain as a secret gift from Santa, she thought they were chestnuts.
Our Take: Christmas specials for British shows are not necessarily designed to tell amazing stories; they are usually there to gather familiar characters over the holidays and give the audience the warm feeling of being with these characters again. That’s pretty much what we get with Agatha Raisin: Kiss Christmas with a kiss.
The enjoyment of this special does not come from the mystery of who killed Phyllis. That mystery lumbers in, and it’s obtuse enough that it doesn’t encourage the audience to try to figure things out together with Agatha. Also, finding out who actually did the writing doesn’t have the payoff it usually does because it doesn’t come out of left field or it’s such a clever plot.
No, what we enjoyed about the special was seeing the gang back together (not all of them though, DC Wong is in charge of the investigation because DCI Wilkes isn’t “finding himself, for example), and we’re seeing where they are. their lives. Roy putting together a perfect Christmas, Charles being Charles, Toni’s crazy driving, Bill’s family’s formal Christmas dinner… All of that was what attracted fans of Agatha Raisin to the table. Well that and the amazing outfits Jensen wears throughout the entire special.
The cast has that family chemistry, and it’s evident here. When that chemistry is so winning, the mystery Agatha is trying to solve is beyond point.
Our calling: STREAM IT. Agatha Raisin: Kiss Christmas with a kiss is a fun and warm addition to the Acorn winner Agatha Raisin series, with outstanding performances by Ashley Jensen and Matthew Horne.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting, and technology, but he’s not fooling himself: he’s a television junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and other places.