A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong (2017)

I stumbled across this looking for adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and it sounded both interesting and significant (at least in England - I don't believe this has gotten any kind of release in the states). For reasons I'll get to in a moment, I'm glad I gave this a chance. First, I want to explain to the best of my ability what this is, which is a little difficult as the background on this BBC comedy Christmas special is substantial. I'm going to try and cover this quickly, with the caveat I haven't seen any of Mischief Theatre's other work.

A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong is the second BBC holiday special produced by Mischief Theatre. The first, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, is itself a sequel to The Play That Goes Wrong. All of these (along with several other plays and a later TV series) center on a fictitious acting troop called the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society who are supposedly performing the plays in question. The joke is that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is comically inept and utterly unprofessional, so - as the title implies - the shows go very, very wrong.

This special opens with the premise that the BBC is about to air a live performance of A Christmas Carol starring Derek Jacobi in the lead role. Just as it's about to begin, however, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, having been banned by the BBC after the previous year's fiasco, break in and seize control of the studio, kidnapping the cast and crew and taking their places.

The story of A Christmas Carol then begins playing out while simultaneously introducing plots built around the "cast" in parallel. The most significant of which is the actor set to play the Ghost of Christmas Future wants to be Scrooge instead and attempts to incapacitate the lead to take his place. Said lead, we later learn, is planning to abandon the troop at the end of the performance and move on to a better theater company. There's also a subplot involving another member learning his girlfriend, also in the cast, is tired of dating him and planning to tell him as much at the end of the performance.

On top of characters trying to injure each other mid-performance, the set is constantly falling apart, the BBC is trying to retake control of the studio, and Derek Jacobi is attempting to retake the lead. Also, Diana Rigg is narrating via phone call as she drives toward the studio.

Oh, yeah. One more thing: they're also still doing A Christmas Carol.

It's a lot for an hour-long special, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that things are rushed. That's not really an issue: they're not trying to sell the dramatic weight of either the source material or the cast's stories. The cast aren't really meant to be likable (though they do get a bit of Scrooge-style redemption by the end). We're mostly here to laugh at what happens, rather than sympathize with the actors. At the end of the day, this is basically a farce overlaid on top of a parody.

Needless to say, this cuts mercilessly from Dickens. What's left is really more a setting for jokes and the meta-plot, anyway. Even so, the core story is more or less intact - it kind of has to be in order for the lead actor to mirror his character's epiphany and learn the value of friendship and community.

Having not seen any of the previous installments, I can't say whether the character arcs in this are new or continuations. I'm guessing it's at least partly the latter - I feel like we're supposed to have some recognition of the couple who are supposedly breaking up, but I don't really think it matters. Again, this is mainly slapstick, rather than character-based humor. None of it's meant to be believable.

Because of that, this succeeds or fails on whether you find the chaos humorous. As for me, I laughed my ass off.

Granted, it probably doesn't hurt I've been watching one adaptation of this story after another: if anything primes you for parody, it's that. But even without that, I think this would be enjoyable for fans of British comedy. Not every joke lands, but even most of the ones that fall flat set up something funny later on. And there's a barrage of absurd humor throughout: this doesn't let up.

There are elements and moments I think could have been tightened, of course: the ending could have used some work, they broke the reality of the piece by choosing to focus the camera on jokes that should have stayed in the background too often, aspects were clearly rushed...

But those are nitpicks. I had a lot of fun with this one, and recommend tracking it down. Really enjoyable stuff.