This week in Multi-Hyphenate-Hosted Old School Holiday Variety Show Theatre we have Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas (now streaming on Apple TV+), in which the Broadway and West End actress-singer (slash) Emmy-winning Ted Lasso star (slash) Eurovision host (slash) Very Mean Nun from Game of Thrones hosts a really big shoe, recorded (mostly) live at the London Coliseum. Par for the course for throwbacky TV specials, Waddingham sings and dances and delivers jokes and leans into diva schtick – and also trots out some of her showbiz friends, some of whom I won’t reveal for the sake of savoring the surprise. But it’s pretty safe to say that Ted Lasso fans are most likely to be tickled by this Xmas extravaganza.
HANNAH WADDINGHAM: HOME FOR CHRISTMAS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Waddingham sings “That’s What Christmas Means to Me” as she makes her way to the Coliseum stage, passing by her guest stars. She wears a gold sequined dress that looks like 2.75 million bucks; she’s joined on stage by the Burgundy Velveteen Dancers (my name, not theirs); she’s backed by a big band and a trio of singers supporting her multi-octave (four, one shy of Mariah Carey, but is anyone counting?) voice. And when the number ends, it’s weird that the show doesn’t cut to commercials for Kmart and Calgon, but maybe that’s just me showing my age.
Anyway, that’s the first of many traditional numbers Waddingham delivers with visual glitz and vocal gusto for 44 minutes. She delivers jokes and references the hit TV series that made her famous in between the likes of “O Holy Night” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” nothing too unfamiliar at all, apt for a hey-you-and-you-and-you-and-you-too hooray-for-everything-style variety show that hopefully excludes nobody (except maybe Ted Lasso agnostics). Sometimes, she steps away from the stage for a pre-recorded bit; sometimes, she sets up and returns to a running gag where her Lasso castmate Nick Mohammed dangles from the rafters. Will he ever come down? NO SPOILERS FOR XMAS, GRINCHY.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: HW:HfC (pronounced haw-heffic, if you please) is the part of a Venn diagram where The Muppet Show, A Very Murray Christmas and Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special overlap.
Performance Worth Watching: Waddingham and Leslie Odom Jr. give a pair of light, lovely and soulful performances during a duet of ‘Please Come Home for Christmas.’
Memorable Dialogue: Waddingham, to a surprise guest: “We’ve been giving such killer vocals all night, I’m worried that we’re gonna melt the audience’s faces off, and you know I’m scared of skulls!”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Waddingham’s persona here is best described as the Winking Diva, a comedic riff on mega-ego stars that mostly lurks in the subtext of her performances – and occasionally bubbles to the surface, especially during an early number where she stomps out any attempts to take center stage from her by pushing people out of the spotlight or stuffing fruit in their trumpets. Is that a nudge in the ribs of the Chers and Mariahs and other real-deal divas of the world? Yeah, maybe, and it makes HW:HfC a little more fun than just another overdressed glamathon run-through of slightly-too-familiar Christmas classics.
The stage numbers don’t deviate much from traditions dating back decades to Bob Hope. The backstage bits alter the pace and rhythm of the show, although they play pretty heavily to Ted Lasso aficionados and don’t quite land outside of that context. (You can’t blame Waddingham for targeting that rather large contingent of the population, can you?) She also plucks a Eurovision performer to join her, but never dons the habit of nasty Septa Unella, or saddles up a dragon for a showstopper, which feels like a lost opportunity. Maybe that’s disappointing and leaves some goals on the pitch, but hey, Waddingham delivers enough laughs (and borderline-shameless nods to the things that made her famous) in this fluffy, glamor-flecked endeavor to make her fans hope for another one. There’s always next Christmas, I guess.
Our Call: Waddingham knows what her fans – and Ted Lasso fans – want, and she delivers. STREAM IT.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.