While Americans don’t have the luxury of curling up with a hot cuppa tea post-Christmas Day feast to watch the Downton Abbey Christmas Special (since PBS doesn’t air the new season until January, we don’t get to see the Christmas Special till sometime in February), the folks over at PBS offered up a nice compromise for December 25: The Call the Midwife Christmas Special, which had a rare, first-run airing both in Britain and in the U.S. Fans of this “gritty, edgy” (seriously, if you haven’t checked out this hilarious parody video the cast did in 2013, stop everything and watch it now) BBC series got to briefly catch up with their favorite East End nuns and nurses, and, as a holiday treat, see “Voice of Mature Jenny” Vanessa Redgrave in the flesh for the first time in three seasons.
Although considered the season 3 finale, the CTM Christmas Special served in many ways as the start of a new direction for the critically acclaimed series. It is the first episode without Jessica Raine, who, up until the previous episode, portrayed protagonist Nurse Jenny Lee. Quickie cheat sheet: Call the Midwife is based on the memoirs of the same name by Jennifer Worth (a.k.a. Jenny Lee), and the end of season 3 saw Jenny, like her real-life counterpart, leave midwifery to pursue a career as a Marie Curie nurse.
The Jenny-less Christmas Special was just as entertaining as any episode with Raine, which should be chalked up to CTM‘s robust ensemble, but it’s hard to say at this point if the show is going to suffer in the long run without a leading role. My hope is they will take a page out of the Game of Thrones playbook and move supporting player Miranda Hart (who is CTM‘s version of Peter Dinklage) into the forefront.
We won’t know the answer to that until CTM‘s fourth season premieres on PBS in late March 2015, but Hart (who plays the aristocratic nurse-with-a-heart-of-gold Camilla “Chummy” Noakes) has been slowly working her way into American audiences’ hearts for some time now thanks to her brilliant comedic timing: Remember that popular viral video of Benedict Cumberbatch doing the Beyoncé walk from a couple of months ago? Take a gander at who taught him how to do it in the first place—yep, that’s Miranda Hart all right.
Another new direction CTM took in the Christmas Special came in the form of Nurse Cynthia Miller’s (Bryony Hannah) story line. In a reverse of the Sister Bernadette (now Shelagh Turner, played by Laura Main) subplot from season 2, in which the young Nonnatus House nun chose to leave the religious life in order to marry Dr. Patrick Turner, Cynthia makes the life-changing decision to join the order of St. Raymond Nonnatus. There’s a bit of contrived conflict where Cynthia’s fellow girlie-girl midwives Beatrix “Trixie” Franklin (Helen George) and Patience “Patsy” Mount (Emerald Fennell)—who always manage to look impeccably dressed, groomed, and coiffed, even after 12 hours of labor and delivery—question her decision, believing she’s throwing away the rest of her life.
NEXT: It’s a hard-knock life