tHere’s something so impressive about British television’s refusal to budge on its favorite Christmas TV schedules. On BBC One on December 25th, it will be Strictly, EastEnders, Mrs Brown’s Boys and Call the Midwife, and you get what you give, so shut up and be grateful. Just like every family’s rules for the correct time to open presents (in the morning, obviously, you afternoon monsters), there’s no room for compromise. You’ll dance, you’ll have a female impersonator, and you’ll likely have a TV opera wedding the day after your ill-advised Christmas party. And like it or not, you’re going to get some mildly painful childbirth inside a sneaky socialist message about the importance of welfare and well-run and well-funded public institutions.
There are far worse lore than Call the Midwife, which arrived in December 1967, and has just started to feel like it’s been on TV ever since. It hardly bothers trying to bring in more newcomers, assuming that if you’ve been watching, you’ll know exactly what Trixie has been doing in Portofino, and why it’s good to see Rhoda Mullucks and the Mullucks in Dr. Turner’s care. But even without prior knowledge of Poplar’s social scene, this is as beautiful and comforting as TV.
As always, it combines a few storylines of varying degrees of seriousness, focusing on the main pregnant woman, the B-side pregnant woman, what nuns do, what nuns do, what midwives do. Not the nuns are about to, and what Fred is going to do in the shop. Fred reviews the books and tries to figure out why there are so many Christmas savings plan defaulters, before realizing that some were caught up in the disastrous train crash that ended Season 11. Since then, things haven’t been right. The same. “It’s like…we’ve all lost a little heart, or who we are,” he says. But he has an idea to get everyone back together. Get ready to take part in Poplartunity Knocks, a local talent competition in which all of our favorite cast members show off their many hidden skills. Some are so hidden, in fact, that they are barely visible from the theater curtains at showtime.
Against the backdrop of Fred’s work running as Simon Cowell in the ’60s, desperately recruiting performers for his show, a more familiar act is midwifery and the care of women. A heavily pregnant woman named Cindy is released from Holloway Prison but discovers that her boyfriend has disappeared from their flat, with only a court summons left behind; The new occupant is less than eager to help her. She ends up in squalid, slum-like digs, only to be thrown out when the ruthless landlady realizes Cindy is further than she said she was. In the end, it is implied that she ends up in the care of Nonnatus House.
Much of Cindy’s story revolves around bureaucracy and paperwork, and what it’s like to prove you exist when you grow out of the system. If that doesn’t sound like high drama, this is where the cunning and experienced majesty of the series begins, as it’s exciting, affecting, and infuriating in equal measure. The same goes for Rhoda, who is now pregnant with her fourth child, after Suzanne’s third was born with limbs affected by thalidomide (we last met her in Season 6, when Suzanne was 18 months old). Not only are they debating what level of compensation to accept—the richer families want to hold out for more, while her father, Bernie, struggles with a lack of work on the docks, and wants whatever help they can get, and now—but Susan struggles at school, within an education system. He rejects her at every turn.
The tension within the Moloch household is palpable, and it takes their good doctor, who has known the family and its history for many years (imagine!), to determine what help is needed and when.
It all wraps itself up in a celebratory arc at the talent show, which is played for laughs, but also from the heart, and as always, the parting message is sweet, and it’s hard to begrudge her for that. Poplartunity Knocks opens the stage to everyone, and a scene with little snowmen is especially touching. It may not be a reinvention of the wheel, it may be something of a Christmas workhorse, but Call the Midwife is very strong at what she does. It’s Yorkshire pudding on a festive roast. You don’t exactly need it, but you’ll miss it if it’s not there.
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