The Larkins is the sort of show that was made for very special holiday installments, with its focus on the all-important bonds of family, its vintage rustic feel, love of excessive food and drink, and old-fashioned charm. So it should likely come as a surprise to no one that "The Larkins at Christmas" is this show turned up to eleven, featuring everything from a neighborhood power outage to a thrown together community nativity-play-slash-panto in the family barn.
"The Larkins at Christmas" is also the series best outing to date, a teeming mass of festive spirit that's heavy on the charm and goodwill toward men from its opening scene and gives almost every major character a moment to shine. (And not for nothing: It's the strongest argument I've yet seen for a Season 2 of this show.)
The plot, such as it is, almost doesn't matter, but in a Larkin family Christmas miracle, Mariette and Charley return from France to surprise the family for the holidays and give the gift of the news we all knew was coming: The pair are officially returning to Littlechurch, having sampled the joys of life abroad and apparently determined that there is indeed no place like home. While I'm sad that Mariette's French adventure only lasted for roughly six months, the pair's return is handled as deftly and sweetly as possible given the circumstances. (And Mariette's colorful fashion sense has been cranked up to eleven as a result of her time in Pais, which is honestly a joy to watch.)
Furthermore, the official pairing off of Charley and Mariette has made the couple much more interesting to watch -- though some of us (a.k.a. me) may simply have to learn to accept the fact of their love as read, rather than pine for a story that showed the progress of their relationship. But, the fact of their togetherness, as well as the obviously very adult and free time they've had on the Continent together, actually goes a long way to making them feel like an endgame relationship.
Especially since now that he's got the girl, The Larkins has to finally focus on Charley as an individual, rather than simply a potential love match for Mariette. The arrival of his parents in Littlechurch is the best part of the episode, one part culture clash and another part age-old story about a child choosing a different kind of life than the one his parents had always envisioned for him. (And finally, there's something approximating fallout from Charley's decision to toss his career in accounting for...doing the sort of vague yet still apparently financially sustainable nothing that all the Larkins seem to engage in.)
The Charltons, religious immigrants from Nigeria who don't drink or gamble, are initially more than a bit taken aback by both Mariette and her boisterous weirdo family. Though one has to engage in some slight suspension of disbelief to get through their initial encounters (Mariette, surely, wouldn't wander around covered in mud and animal excrement on the morning her boyfriend's parents are meant to arrive for their first-ever meeting?), this sort of thing is The Larkins at its best, as the show acknowledges that while the family's strange ways are charmingly perfect for their brood, they're actually a fair bit removed from the way normal society behaves.
Too often, the show is so eager to lean into its particular brand of offbeat quirkiness that it never acknowledges how straight-up weird these people are on so many levels and that it's a miracle their schemes and scrapes don't blow up in their faces on the daily. Here, The Larkins earns its perfect moment of Christmas joy by reminding us how much absolutely none of this should work -- until it does.
The power goes out in the village, but of course, the Larkins are the only family with a generator. Their farm becomes the de facto Littlechurch hub of holiday cheer, hosting the annual nativity play (but this time done as part panto with Cinderella and a cross-dressing brigadier distributing candy). Ma makes even more food than normal. Pa solves the mystery of the strange robberies that take place at the houses whose lights have gone out and offers a desperate young boy a second chance rather than turn him in for theft. The Larkins embrace the poor and ostracized Nunn family and try to bring them back into the town's good graces. And, of course, they play willing host to everyone who hasn't got a warm place to stay for Christmas.
Even the Charltons are charmed by Ma and Pop, eventually. Though there at least the slow warming of the relationship between Mariette and Charley's parents feels genuine. Ma and Mrs. Charlton bond over their love of cooking and a shared belief in the power of food to bring people -- and families -- together. Ma even learns some new culinary tricks, thanks to the spices the Charltons tend to favor. And, perhaps most interestingly of all, we get to see Charley push back against the father whose disapproval has clearly frightened him for most of his life.
It's taken The Larkins a long time to do much with Charley. Beyond his feelings for Mariette and an unstated but generally assumed dissatisfaction with his career in finance, we don't actually know that much about him. He's a good person, clearly, but also largely a cipher, and up until the introduction of his parents, has barely mentioned how his race or heritage might have affected his life in 1960s England. (I mean, I get that this is clearly an idyllic representation of Kent, but there are few characters of color besides Charley in this world, and yet no one remarks upon his heritage?) At least now, it feels like that might change--at least somewhat. Plus, lovely to see Charley get the chance to become something like an actual character at last. He even has an argument with Mariette! (It's difficult to imagine the early Season 1 Charley even saying anything she might disagree with!)
The two end the special with plans to marry and both families joyfully anticipating their union. There's no word yet if The Larkins will return for a second season but even I have to admit the prospect of a Charley/Mariette wedding is pretty darn adorable, isn't it? We can only hope.