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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye’ On Acorn TV, A Holiday Special Staring Britain’s Most Fashionable Sleuth

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye’ On Acorn TV, A Holiday Special Staring Britain’s Most Fashionable Sleuth

The holiday special is a British TV tradition, and it’s a pretty good one, if you ask us. Instead of forcing a hit show into a semi-yearly Christmas episode, they all get together and do a feature-length special that has that warm holiday feeling but also a real story — or at least one that’s not a treacly mess. The latest hit series from the UK to get a holiday special is Agatha Raisin, the fashionable publicist-turned-sleuth played by Ashley Jensen.

The Gist: It’s Christmastime in Carsley, and Agatha Raisin (Ashley Jensen) is hoping for once to have a holiday that isn’t a disaster. Her buddy Roy Silver (Matthew Horne) complains so much about Agatha’s holiday disasters, she tells him to plan the whole thing this year.

Joining Agatha and Roy are Sarah Bloxby (Lucy Liemann), who just became the town’s vicar, replacing her ex-husband Jez; Sir Charles Fraith (Jason Merrells), who’s there to be his usual charming and flirtatious self; Agatha’s assistant detective Toni Gilmour (Jodie Tyack) and her boyfriend, local police detective Bill Wong (Matt McCooey).

Agatha insists that she won’t take any cases during the holiday, but a letter by Phyllis Tamworthy (Maggie McCarthy) intrigues her; Agatha and Roy go to her massive estate and find a bunch of Satan worshipers at a local pub, and then see that Phyllis is a Christmas fanatic.

The crusty old lady has decided to make things right with the man upstairs by willing the estate to charity, starting a school in her name. The problem is, her adult kids Jeffrey (Kevin Bishop) and his wife Alison (Emerald O’Hanrahan), Sadie (Zoe Telford) and Fran (Emma Cunniffe), are expecting to inherit it and splitting the proceeds of a sale. Phyllis definitely thinks her kids will kill her over it and want Agatha to come to her “holiday surprise” announcement as protection.

Of course, the kids are angry at the news, but nothing seemingly happens to Phyllis. But when Agatha and Roy scale a ledge from their room to Phyllis’, they find the old lady’s body in her bed, holding a sprig of what turns out to be hemlock.

Agatha puts Christmas on hold out of duty to her client, to investigate who killed her; Allison comes by Agatha’s house to tell her that the kids want her to figure it out so that the estate can be bequeathed to them without any impedances. As Toni learns to drive, she also dresses up as a Satan worshiper to infiltrate the coven that has had a land beef with Phyllis for years, and Agatha tries to figure out whether the kids, the cook or the gardener, all of whom pretty much hated Phyllis, did the deed. Hemlock keeps popping up, found in various places, but it definitely becomes a focus when more people end up dead.

Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye
Photo: Mark Bourdillon/AcornTV

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Agatha Raisin has always felt like a spiritual descendant of MurderShe Wrote, albeit with a (slightly) younger and (much) more fashionable sleuth at its center.

Performance Worth Watching: Matthew Horne has a lot of good lines as Roy in this special, many of which are dirty when you think about them but are said in such a clean way that everyone from a preteen to your grandparents might not even notice. Like when he talked about getting food poisoning from eggnog the previous Christmas, he says, “I couldn’t sit down for a week, and not in a good way.”

Memorable Dialogue: See above about Roy. Another good line: “If we leave now, I can start marinating my ham, pardon the expression.”

Sex and Skin: If there’s any of it, it’s very much implied, except when the daft Mrs. Boggle (Marcia Warren) gives a testicle keychain as a secret Santa gift — she thought it was chestnuts.

Our Take: Holiday specials for British shows aren’t necessarily designed to tell amazing stories; they generally are there to bring familiar characters together for the holidays and give the audience the warm feeling of being with these characters again. That’s more or less what we get with Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye. 

The enjoyment from this special doesn’t come from the mystery of who killed Phyllis. That mystery plods along, and is obtuse enough that it doesn’t encourage the audience to try to solve things along with Agatha. Also, finding out who actually did the deed doesn’t have the payoff it usually does because it doesn’t come out of left field or is all that ingenious a plot.

No, what we enjoyed about the special was seeing the gang back together again (though not everyone, DC Wong is in charge of the investigation because DCI Wilkes is off “finding himself, for example), and we’re seeing where they are in their lives. Roy putting together a perfect Christmas, Charles being Charles, Toni’s wacky driving, Bill’s family’s formal Christmas dinner… All of it was what brings fans of Agatha Raisin to the table. Well, that and the amazing outfits that Jensen wears throughout the special.

The cast has that family chemistry, and it’s apparent here. When that chemistry is so winning, the mystery that Agatha is trying to solve is beyond the point.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye is a funny and warm addition to Acorn’s winning Agatha Raisin series, with standout performances from Ashley Jensen and Matthew Horne.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.

Stream Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye On Acorn TV

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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