Once upon a Christmas, not so very long ago, you could rely upon loads of your favourite television shows having festive specials, providing a bit of escapist entertainment while you ate, drank and made merry. 2020, however, sadly had other ideas, meaning that this year has seen a rather changed telly landscape compared to usual.
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No big budget jaunts made over to hot foreign climes as per the standard sitcom cliche, and lots of things being made in a socially distanced fashion (like Call The Midwife), giving them a very different look; in the case of Birds Of A Feather, they even made the ongoing pandemic part of the storyline. Little respite to be found here from the travails and woes of the last 12 months amongst the shows which were actually able to be made at all.
In fact, TV as a whole has looked and felt very different as a result, from virtual audiences on big entertainment shows, to devising lockdown-centric programming, like Staged (a second series of which starts in January). It really has been a massive challenge for industry creatives to find new ways of making and delivering content while faced with continuous restrictions and the ever-present threat of total shutdowns. At times, it feels like a minor miracle that anything at all has been able to make its way to our screens.
We should therefore be truly thankful one of the year’s real entertainment highlights – NEBULA-75 – came to pass out of such terrible circumstances, as it was only created due to the need of the show’s locked-down creators to keep busy and challenge themselves. What should have been a one-off short using whatever puppets and props happened to be to hand has taken on a life of its own, and deservedly garnered a cult following, worthy of the Supermarionation TV shows of yore that it aims to emulate.
The Century 21 Films team even went as far as gifting us all a Halloween episode, and now a Christmas special, with all of the standard festive trimmings thrown in. ‘The Grift Of The Magi’ (a title shared with an episode of The Simpsons) sees the crew preparing to mark their first Christmas away from home, having been stranded millions of miles from Earth in the series opener. En route to a snow planet for a little bit of seasonal cheer, they happen across a dastardly scheme that has some very familiar hallmarks…
For an end-of-year spectacular, the Century 21 Films team have really gone all-out here, as well as giving themselves a wholly well-earned valedictory lap of honour, bringing back some familiar faces. In the very best tradition of Christmas extravaganzas, there is even a special guest star, in the form of TV presenter Juliette Destiny, played by the journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed, with the puppet sculpted to look like her. Having a celebrity marionette goes way back to Cliff Richard and the Shadows appearing in 1966’s Thunderbirds Are Go, so she is certainly in good company.
There are so many nice little touches, with fans of TV history undoubtedly getting a little buzz from the notion that ATV, the former ITV franchise which was home to many of Gerry Anderson’s shows, would survive in this 1960s retro-styled vision of the future a century from now. It just goes to show all the careful thought and attention, as well as passion and love, which has gone into putting NEBULA-75 together from the very start. Even the extras – from fake cereal ads, to the tongue-in-cheek ‘making of’, and a spoof chat show hosted by the ship’s robot, Circuit – show a real dedication.
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If you have yet to find 2020’s Christmas spirit, then the best thing that you can do is pour yourself a heaped bowl of Solar Smacks, and sit yourself comfortably in front of ‘The Grift Of The Magi’ – the warm, seasonal hug that we all deserve right now, and the best possible gift we could get.