Netflix special Jack Whitehall: Christmas with my Father takes the young whippersnapper/old coot dynamic of Whitehall’s Travels with my Father series and plops it on a theater stage for a holiday variety show. Whitehall, as you may know, is a popular British comedian who’s slowly getting bigger outside his home country; his father is a retired talent agent with a deadpan sense of humor. Their schtick works while on the road in far-flung locales, but is it as functional in a wholly different context?
JACK WHITEHALL: CHRISTMAS WITH MY FATHER: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Christmas with my Father opens with pre-filmed segment teasing upcoming bits featuring the hosts of Netflix’s Queer Eye series. In London, Jack takes the stage for a quick stand-up set, notable for introducing a soon-to-be-running gag about how he, as a child, played an emu in a school nativity production. Yes, an emu. Crazy!
Michael soon joins him onstage: The crowd’s cheering “seems actually slightly louder than when you came on,” he tells his son. They exchange banter about their past family Christmases; Jack calls out Michael for his “dad jokes,” which are actually dirty little double-entendres that make him out to be quite the dirty old man beneath his prim, proper veneer, represented by his omnipresent knitted ties and crisp suits. (Jack, by comparison, always looks a bit rumpled.) They watch old home movies and share family photos, all slightly embarrassing but mostly relatable for anyone whose father gave them wine for Christmas when they were two years old.
One bit has Jack teaching his old man how to be more “woke” for 2019; cue the first of two pre-recorded Queer Eye segments, which feature cooking and fashion lessons for the Whitehall guys. The rest is a hodgepodge of bits: Michael’s very un-P.C. version of the queen’s annual Christmas address, a guest visit by actor Hugh Bonneville, a Grinch parody and an elaborate musical sequence.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Singing and dancing, cutaway bits featuring recognizable stars, a touch of animation — this thing is a couple of grunting Wookiees (and another hour’s worth of awful material) away from being the Star Wars Holiday Special!
Performance Worth Watching: Hugh Bonneville’s reading of The Grouch, a children’s book Jack wrote at the expense of his father’s character, may be the special’s funniest segment.
Memorable Dialogue: Michael, in home-video footage: “Does Mommy require stuffing?” he says, spooning up dinner like a randy ol’ coot.
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: As is the nature of its collection-of-bits structure, Christmas with my Father is hit-and-miss. And it misses more than it hits, leaning heavily on some tired generational comedy and the uninspired Queer Eye segments, which, due to a lack of any real chemistry among the participants, are better in concept than execution. Inconsistency is the special’s bugaboo. It has no real flow, and is loosely drawn together by a series of thin I-dressed-as-an-emu-for-the-nativity jokes.
The vintage footage and photos are cute, but have an exclusive, you-had-to-be-there quality to them — although the amusingly inappropriate things Michael said and did around his children points toward a personality with more color and verve than his buttoned-up exterior would suggest. Maybe that’s the joke, and yes, Michael is funny, as funny as his comedian son, one might argue. But some of their shtick seems stretched to fit the bit, or not exploited to its full comedic capabilities. Christma with my Father is mildly amusing, but big laughs are rare.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Newcomers to Jack Whitehall and/or his relationship with his father will find this special a lousy introduction to their gimmick. Viewers intimately familiar with Travels with my Father will likely accept it despite its ramshackle structure, and appreciate a few funny glimpses into their home and family life.
— Decider (@decider) December 13, 2019