New Year is a time for reflection on the past and resolution for the future, an opportunity to consider what you’ve achieved and what you’re yet to work on. It’s also a time to stay up well past midnight, partying the night away with friends and family, potentially embarrassing yourself in the process. That dichotomy ensures that the New Year is fertile ground for television, and the finest comedies and dramatic series use the moment to allow for contemplation amidst the alcoholic excesses. Here are twenty New Year episodes that offer an entertaining take on the aeons-old celebration – from emotional character pieces to geeky genre takes and old-fashioned barrages of seasonal comedy.
20. 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN – Happy New Dick
Aired on NBC
Earthly traditions were a common source of fun for the aliens on 3rd Rock From the Sun, and the New Year is no exception. John Lithgow’s Dick at first finds it difficult to understand the significance of a New Year, before coming to the realisation that he’s whiled away the preceding twelve months without accomplishing anything notable. Harry and Tommy, meanwhile, arrange a huge celebratory party, but face trouble with their lazy assistants; and Sally persuades boyfriend Don to acquire tickets to the exclusive Starlight Room, but immediately decides that scalping his hard-earned find would be the better option. 3rd Rock’s character comedy is on as fine a form as ever here, and a third-act comedy of errors involving a confetti canon and a mis-timed “Auld Lang Syne” give way to a touching finale in which Dick resolves to take a more optimistic view of his life in the year ahead.
19. ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS – Happy New Year
Aired on BBC
Simultaneously a loving ode to, and sharp takedown of, the world of fashion and PR, Ab Fab is one of Britain’s best-loved ‘90s relics. This classic edition from the third series goes down exactly as you might expect: while Saffy‘s New Year’s Eve plans are quiet and homely, Patsy and Eddy are searching for more of a seasonal thrill; they decide to attend a car-park rave. Alas, their plans are scuppered when Patsy’s remarkably unpleasant sister Jackie shows up uninvited. Once a party animal, Jackie is now 72, and wants nothing more than to spend the night at Eddy’s – well, perhaps more than a night, actually; she’s homeless and has nowhere else to go… A raid of Eddy’s bedroom in a bid to fund Jackie’s dream of owning an animal shelter proves fruitful, but the New Year’s plans are ruined. A quiet family celebration it is, then… The gang are completely and utterly screwed out of the indulgence and excess they so desperately crave, and it makes for hilarious New Year viewing.
18. KING OF THE HILL – Hillennium
Aired on FOX
The new millennium wrought many an uncharacteristically wary New Year episode from the minds of TV bods worldwide. Y2K was the order of the day, and the fear of the unknown allowed us to view our favourite characters through an exaggerated, fearful prism. So it is over at King of the Hill, where ever-paranoid skeptic Dale’s suspicions are through the roof, Peggy is desperately printing out an entire computer’s worth of mediocre observational comedy, and the entire town is buying up bulk toilet roll and bottled water. Even level-headed Hank’s hackles are raised when boss Strickland ignores the “Gasser’s Creed”, abandoning town as word of a propane shortage reaches Arlen. It all reaches fever pitch in a varnish-induced hallucination. Mass hysteria always makes for fine comedy, and “Hillennium” is a defining example.
17. THE OFFICE (US) – Ultimatum
Aired on NBC
Ensemble comedy is where the U.S. Office shines, and this seasonal edition allows each and every one of the sprawling cast a memorable moment or two. Pam has set up a New Year’s Resolution board (“the glitter is blinding!”) and the gang work to help each other achieve them. Dwight seeks to “meet loose women”, so Darryl and Andy accompany him at a bookstore and a roller rink. Ryan resolves to “live life like it’s an art project”. Erin’s learning a new word every day – “it’s going immensely”. Kevin’s looking to eat more vegetables; it’s not going well so far, but he’s still got time, as “last year, [he] ate none”. And Creed wants nothing more than to do a cartwheel. Meanwhile, Michael Scott’s waiting for news from his on again-off again beau Holly – the titular ultimatum is her insistence that boyfriend AJ propose to her by year’s end. Unfortunately for Michael, while she returns sans engagement ring, she’s walked back her promise and is still dating AJ.. he later resolves never to make her cry, “unless it’s from laughing too hard.. or making love too beautifully”.
16. DILBERT – Y2K
Aired on UPN
A sharply-observed and painfully accurate insight into office cubicle culture, Dilbert remains one of the best-loved and best-known comic strips on the planet – a reputation not even Scott Adams’ adoration of Donald Trump can completely tarnish. The TV show adaptation – spun off in the late ‘90s, when the immense popularity of The Simpsons and South Park had convinced every network going that adult animation was the way forward – was short-lived, but remarkably entertaining, and new year entry “Y2K” (oddly, broadcast in May) is a fine example. Dilbert’s not in the celebratory mood (“we arbitrarily use the base-10 system and there’s a round number coming up.. if I’m going to have fun, there has to be a good reason”), and thanks to old-fashioned business inertia, old mainframe Black Betty isn’t Y2K-compliant. A pointed satire of turn-of-the-century offices as the dot-com boom beckons.
15. BABYLON 5 – Chrysalis
Aired on PTEN
Babylon 5 rates among television’s least-accessible sci-fi: jump in at the deep end, and you’ll be thrown into a complex, confusing world of Psi Corps and Earth Alliances, a nigh-on impenetrable fantasy universe. Watch from the beginning, though, and much a lengthy and involving novel, pieces fall into place, and you’re whisked away into one of television’s most absorbing series. That’s to say that watching this season 1 finale of Babylon 5 out of order probably won’t put you in much of a seasonal mood – but in the context of the show’s run, it’s a thoroughly thrilling, satisfying conclusion to the show’s first chapter, with an appropriate air of finality. Taking place as the year 2258 comes to a close, it sees Earthforce One – a spacecraft used to transport Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago – targeted, Delenn preparing to enter the chrysalis device (a DNA splicer), the Centauri and Narns lock horns over an outpost, and a countdown to a new year aboard Babylon 5.
14. FAMILY GUY – Da Boom
Aired on FOX
The years haven’t been particularly kind to Family Guy; nearly eighteen years after its premiere, its defining brand of abrasive cutaway jokes has grown somewhat tiresome. But back in the glory days – the first fifty episodes, pre-“cancellation” – the show genuinely threatened to take up the Simpsons’ mantle in the animated family sitcom stakes, with genuinely brave and funny material. “Da Boom” is an exemplary edition of the show firing on all cylinders. Peter is informed by a man in a chicken suit that Y2K will cause the world to end, so the head of the Griffin clan insists that the family take refuge in the basement wearing hazmat suits on New Year’s Eve. They emerge to find a nuclear holocaust has taken place, and unfortunate fates have befallen family friends. Believing that Twinkie cake bars are the only food able to survive such a fate, they set off on a mission to the factory. Packed with memorable gags – including the first ‘chicken fight’, and a hilarious live-action Dallas riff – it’s a fine reminder of the show’s strongest material.
13. MONARCH OF THE GLEN – Hogmanay Special
Aired on BBC
A low-key highlight of Sunday night television for seven series, Monarch of the Glen is the kind of cosy, warm television it’s all too easy to overlook in the age of Peak TV. It’s very much worth a revisit, though, as the able cast, finely-drawn characters and beautiful setting – the Scottish Highlands – make for wonderful television. The Hogmanay special finds Archie considering giving up his Lairdship of Glenbogle (indeed, it would prove the protagonist’s final regular appearance); Lexie hiring a ghost hunter in a bid to drum up attention – and business – for the estate; and, in a parallel plot line, Paul dreaming about the MacDonald family’s 19th Century ancestors, allowing a number of cast members to opportunity to play dual roles. It’s an uncharacteristically spooky episode of the show, but that’s no detriment: it merely enhances the ‘event’ feel of the series’ only special.
12. MY SO-CALLED LIFE – Resolutions
Aired on ABC
My So-Called Life is one of the finest TV shows of the 1990s, a tender and thoughtful portrait of teenage life. Cited as an influence by the teams behind shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Freaks and Geeks, its emotional realism garnered it multitudes of accolades and cult acclaim. New Year episode “Resolutions” is a contemplative forty-five minutes, like most My So-Called Life instalments, as Claire Danes’ brilliant series narrator and protagonist Angela Chase begins the episode by pondering whether she’s too introspective. (That’s a hefty amount of irony for one episode to bear.) We learn of the New Year’s resolutions of all the main characters – from Danielle’s hilarious commitment to badger her mother into allowing her to wear makeup, to Rayanne’s pledge to stop drinking. And then there’s Rickie’s desire to find a place in which he really belongs; his emotional and physical homelessness, having been kicked out of his uncle’s house, is the driving theme and beating heart of this episode.
11. DOCTOR WHO – The Movie
Aired on BBC
Considering the timey-wimey themes of the series, it’s surprising that Doctor Who hasn’t visited the thematic well of the New Year more often. Never mind: this TV movie, from 1996, deals with the subject nicely. The Doctor is charged with transporting the remains of the Master back to their home planet. Alas, a time-machine malfunction in the TARDIS leaves the Master on the loose and the Doctor stranded in Chinatown, San Francisco on December 30, 1999. Caught up in gunfire, attempted heart surgery results in a regeneration… The Doctor is played here primarily by Paul McGann; it’s his only formal outing in the role, but he does a fine job with the hour or so he gets to demonstrate his talents. The movie’s best strength, though, is its flashy style and thrilling, time-sensitive story, a rough draft of what the show would become in the Russell T. Davies year: the Doctor must remember his purpose and defeat the master by midnight on December 31st, and even with a helpful cardiac surgeon in tow, it’s a real nail-biter.
10. FEAR ITSELF – New Year’s Day
Aired on NBC
The genre anthology series has seen something of a revival in recent years, thanks to the likes of American Horror Story and Black Mirror. One-season wonder Fear Itself beat both to the punch: a spiritual successor to Masters of Horror, each of its 13 episodes is a self-contained horror story, typically directed and written by genre luminaries. “New Year’s Day” sees regular Saw franchise director Darren Lynn Bousman teamed with Paul Kane’s short story “The Dead Time”. Twentysomething Helen awakens on New Year’s Day to the news that a catastrophe at a chemical plant has turned much of the population into zombies. As she wanders through her desolate town, she attempts to piece together her drunken memories of the previous night. A minor genre gem, it’s a seasonal must for horror fans, with an excellent resolution at episode’s end.
9. FUTURAMA – Space Pilot 3000
Aired on FOX
It’s December 31st, 1999, and unfulfilled pizza delivery boy Philip J. Fry has fallen victim to yet another prank call. (“Delivery for.. ‘I. C. Weiner’? Aw, crud.”) While sitting back to enjoy the pizza, Fry falls into a cryogenic tube, in which he remains frozen for 1,000 years, awakening on December 31, 2999. Thus begins Futurama, Matt Groening’s brilliantly nerdy sitcom-sci-fi melange set in a New New York populated by robots and humans alike. This pilot episode sets the stage perfectly, as we’re introduced, one-by-one, to the rag-tag bunch of misfits Fry will spend his new life with: cyclops career-chip installer Leela, suicidal alcoholic robot Bender, and only living relative, Professor Hubert Farnsworth. It’s a perfect introductory episode, with a sturdy plot that lays groundwork for material years down the line while never compromising on humour, vision or originality. At episode’s end, Fry learns his new role will be that of a delivery boy, at which he cheers with delight; turns out the passage of time doesn’t change everything.
8. FRASIER – RDWRER
Aired on NBC
It’s the Millennium, and party venue Chez Henri is off the New Year menu after the owner burnt down the venue with his own caramelizing torch. Alternative arrangements are made for “Auld Lang Wine”, but there are no plane tickets to be had, so it’s Martin’s new Winnebago to the rescue. Generously dubbed “Road Warrior”, with custom plates RDWRER (Daphne takes a while to clock the meaning – “for a retired man with a cane and a Winnebago, I don’t know why my mind didn’t go right to it!”), Niles, Frasier and Martin settle into the vehicle for a New Year road trip. Naturally, as is standard for the Crane clan, things go farcially awry: after a stop off at roadside dinner Little Red Cabin, Niles gets back in the wrong Winnebago, and thinks he’s being kidnapped. There’s a royal battle through time zones to celebrate in time – and to top it all off, Martin can’t stop quoting Austin Powers movies..
7. MR. BEAN – Do It Yourself, Mr Bean
Aired on ITV
Mr. Bean is hosting a New Year’s Party, and it’s not going well. Down to his final Twiglet, he’s forced to improvise: garden twigs dunked in Marmite are the order of the day. He’s short on champagne too, so sugar-enhanced vinegar must suffice. It’s no wonder that his guests spin the clock forward ninety minutes – “doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself?”, Bean notes in a rare fully-formed sentence. The next morning, he’s off to take advantage of the January sales, having planted a dummy in a sleeping bag at the front of the queue; he then buys so much that he’s forced to operate his car from a chair strapped to its roof, and a lengthy broom. And upon returning home, he puts his new purchases to good use, redecorating his apartment in the Bean-iest manner possible. Mr. Bean is always a fine source of old-fashioned slapstick comedy, and “Do It Yourself” is one of the series’ most consistently funny episodes.
6. LOUIE – New Year’s Eve
Aired on FX
It’s a rough post-Chrimbo limbo in Louis C.K.’s seriocomic Louie. A prospective job as a late-night host has been lost, Louie’s kids are on vacation with mom and stepdad, and memories of gift wrapping and un-wrapping fade into the ether as he stumbles through a seasonal stupor. The show is at its enigmatic finest as we stagger through a surreal haze of loosely sequenced sketches. There are visions of his children’s futures – in which they fret over ol’ Dad’s loneliness. There’s an invite from his sister to join the family for New Year celebrations in Mexico, which he attempts to gracefully decline. And eventually, there’s a visit to China’s Yangtze River in a bid to recreate a children’s storybook and attain some kind of inner peace. It’s abstract, funny, sad, and unmistakeably Louie.
5. MUM – December UK/Series 1/2016
Aired on BBC
Mum was one of TV’s brightest lights in 2016, a wonderful, heartwarming comedy from the creator of Him & Her. We spend six episodes in the company of loving, warm-hearted Cathy (played by the superb Leslie Manville) through the first year following the January funeral of her husband. (Den of Geek’s Louisa Mellor waxed lyrical about the show’s many charms back in June, should you wish to learn more.) The final episode of the first run, which takes place on New Year’s Eve, sees Cathy hosting a New Year’s Eve party for her nearest and dearest. As ever, though, it’s not plain sailing for the softly-spoken and good-humoured woman: her mother-in-law is rambling on about her desire to “have sex with a black man and a Jew”; her son and girlfriend are locked in an ongoing battle over his desire to move to Australia; and the deliciously unpleasant Pauline, the aggressively avaricious and wincingly boastful partner of Cathy’s quiet brother, is putting quite the damper on the festive mood. There’s solace, though, in the warm friendship of neighbour Michael, a longtime friend who cares deeply and genuinely for Cathy, and the series ends on a touching midnight moment between the two.
4. THE X-FILES – Millennium
Aired on FOX
The long-awaited conclusion to underrated spin-off Millennium, this episode is best remembered for its closing moments: as Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve plays on television, Mulder and Scully kiss for the first time. It’s one of television’s all-time great New Year moments – and a long-overdue bone thrown to ‘shippers worldwide – but this late December-set gem has much more to offer. An associate of the secret Millennium Group has resurrected the dead in a bid to help bring about the Apocalypse. Mulder and Scully draft in forensic profiler Frank Black, an estranged member of the Group, who left after discovering the dark, demonic underbelly of what was once a mere private investigation society. Biblical quotes and prophecy underpin the unnerving, otherworldly feel; like so many great X-Files episodes, a foreboding tone permeates the entire show. From necromancers to regular ol’ romancers, it’s a fine way to see in the new Millennium – and say goodbye to the old Millennium.
3. PEEP SHOW – New Year’s Eve
Aired on Channel 4
It may be the time for New Year revelry, but things are as dark and dire as ever for Mark Corrigan. Following a poorly-timed claim to having had his “dick in the Dob”, he’s in Dobbie’s bad books for the big night. (“I was only being horrible about you to ease things along!”, he notes. It achieves little.) It’s a cross-town battle to make up with her by midnight. Jeremy finds himself in a spot of trouble, too: after flirting with Super Hans’ girlfriend, he loses any hope of romance with Zahra, and finds himself homeless on the big night. A fine capper to one of Peep Show’s strongest runs (the preceding Christmas episode made our festive countdown last year), it’s a blackly comic comedy of misery, encapsulating everything we love about one of Channel 4’s all-time finest programmes.
2. STILL GAME – Hogmanay 2006, The Party
Aired on BBC
That old sitcom go-to, the “stuck in a lift” trope, proves fertile comedic ground for one of the new century’s most distinct and original sitcoms. Still Game, originally broadcast exclusively in Scotland but expanded to UK-wide distribution thanks to superb word-of-mouth and critical acclaim, turns in one of its strongest episodes with this Hogmanay edition. Jack, Victor, Winston and Isa get trapped in the Osprey Heights lift on New Year’s Eve, and there’s no engineer on call. Hilarious flashbacks to the last time the lift broke – Hogmanay, 1975 – ensue, as we witness a young Victor hosting a joint celebration of his new home and the New Year. Vic clashes with Jack over their identical clothing, young Winston has been thieving from The Clansman, and we meet a seductive young Isa. In the present day, the local youths stumble upon the broken lift and cadge £40 from the gang through a small gap in the doorway before leaving them trapped anyway. And Winston is “chokin’ for a Lillian Gish” and wants Isa to shoulder the blame..
1. FRIENDS – The One With the Routine
Aired on NBC
A best-of-both-worlds entry that features both Christmas and New Year prominently, this Friends episode is proof-positive that, at its peak, the megahit sitcom delivered sharp, funny episodes completely worthy of the hype. Joey’s roommate Janine has been invited to be a “party person” on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve (or Dickin’ Rockin’ Dicky Eve, as Janine misremembers it) and invites Joey, Monica and Ross along to the taping. (“Taping”? I hear you ask. Well, “the part with Dick Clark in Times Square is actually live, but they film a lot of the party stuff ahead of time… not a lot of people know that”, Ross remarks at his mansplainey best.) As Joey tries to discern, through the medium of dance, whether Janine has a romantic interest in him, Monica and Ross seek to gain the attention of the camera crew in a bid to get as much screen time as possible. Meanwhile, a funny, well-observed subplot involves Rachel, Phoebe and Chandler trying to discover Monica’s present stash. Still, there’s a reason the episode is called “The One With the Routine” – everyone remembers this episode for one of the greatest sequences in Friends history. A short – but indelibly memorable – scene sees Monica and Ross recreate a synchronised dance routine from their childhood to bouncy pop-dance tune “Trouble With Boys” by Loreta – assuring the film crew plenty of footage for their follow-up blooper show.