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Mrs Brown's Boys could be the anchor we all need this Christmas

There's no harm in reaching for the nostalgic and sentimental for a bit of Christmas comfort

Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas Special

Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas Special will be showing on Christmas Day. It might be cheesy and predictable, but maybe that's OK. Image: BBC Studios / Elaine Livingston

I have a thing about Mrs Brown’s Boys. Stay with me. I know it’s not quite The Bear, but frankly, what is. Still, there is something about that show that hits the spot. 

Really, stay with me. 

It’s easy to knock Mrs Brown’s Boys. I’ve seen it happen. Imagine! When the Christmas TV schedule was announced this week, there was a national collective groan among many as Mrs Brown’s Boys made the list again. It’s indicative, for many, of all that is wrong with TV – hammy, obvious, repetitive. But I’d argue if that’s what you think, you’re coming at it wrong.  

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Of course it’s broad. And there have been some questionable plots in recent Christmas specials (I’ve seen them all). But there are several other key parts to it. One, it’s funny. A man dressed as a clichéd Irish mother, swearing more furiously than James Cleverly trying to hide his true feelings about the Rwanda deal, is funny.  

There is a great sense of timing in it all too. They’ve been doing it for about 100 years, so this you’d expect.  

There is a subtly transgressive approach to established society norms around faith, what makes up a family and sexuality. It goes much further in this than more respected shows.  

But the main thing is heart. Mrs Brown’s Boys is full of heart. At its core there is an uncomplicated desire to find the good and to amplify it. With swearing.  

This may be a touch sentimental and there is unquestionably a curious air of nostalgia the creators bring to it – the fact that it is a studio-based sitcom filmed in front of an audience is very retro in itself – but there is really nothing wrong with that. 

Every year, we run the Christmas Kids Cover Competition in Big Issue. We invite children under 13 to
create an image of Christmas they’d like to see on the magazine cover. This year, the theme was Welcome. We had single entries from children, masses from school classes, we had very moving entries from Ukrainian refugees for whom that Welcome theme particularly chimed, we had entries from nations abroad, including Iran. There is nothing wrong with feeling uplifted and sentimental about seeing all of these, thinking about all that focus and effort and joy.  

There is a general sense of things being untethered all around us. Domestically, every day, there is some other evidence of how so many people are suffering, whether it’s the damning Resolution Foundation’s report into how Britain, in most metrics, has fallen behind all similar nations over the last 15 years, to the Unicef report on increases in child poverty that finds the UK shamefully at the bottom. 

Internationally, there are horrors of war unfolding. 

At a time of listlessness and an unshakeable feeling that those governing are stuck or don’t care, we all reach for the comfortable and the sentimental. This Christmas it feels even more necessary, like gulps of fresh air after leaving a smoky room. 

We will all have a Mrs Brown’s Boys, or a Big Issue cover, or something that allows us, in a moment and maybe for a moment, to pause and be OK. 

Allow it in. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

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