As of today, Northern Lights The Complete Collection is now out on DVD from Acorn Media. This set includes the original 90-minute Christmas special, Christmas Lights, the six-episode followup series, Northern Lights, a six-part sequel series called City Lights, and another Christmas special, Clash of the Santas. Though it may sound like four different shows, each features the same characters, and are all part of the (somewhat) same story. Don’t ask why the title for this collection is taken from just one of the four, because that isn’t clear.
It begins with Christmas Lights in 2004, the story of two best friends and rivals at Christmas. Colin (Robson Green, Wire in the Blood, Being Human) and Howie (Mark Benton, Scoop, Land Girls) care very much for each other, and couldn’t be closer pals. Their wives, Jackie (Nicola Stephenson, The Chase, Holby City) and Pauline (Maxine Peake, Little Dorrit, Shameless), are sisters. They are all neighbors. The guys even work for the same company. Which could be why they are driven to out do each other, whether it be in competition for a promotion, which Howie wins, or in decorating their homes for the holidays, which could be Colin’s attempt to even the score. Too bad they don’t notice that their single-minded focus on one-upmanship is hurting their lives, both personal and professional.
Northern Lights continues the story. Colin is fired from his job. Finding work as a taxi driver, he tries to replace Howie with a new co-worker, but just doesn’t find the same chemistry. Colin is offered his job back, but strives for more. Meanwhile, family drama is paramount, as kids begin dating, fathers die, affairs occur, and secrets come to light.
Unlike Christmas Lights, Northern Lights stops itself from making Howie and Colin’s relationship the focal point. This is probably a good thing, as what works for one special isn’t as easily drawn out over six episodes. The characters and their relationship are still central to the heart of the story, of course, but there’s more going on than that, too, which allows the series to be funnier and more sincere in portraying the lives involved. Well rounded plots lead to better character development.
City Lights goes in a different direction entirely. After witnessing a crime, Howie, Colin, and their families are put into Witness Protection, and move to London. They suddenly have to build new lives under new names, a task easier said than done. But Colin’s past comes out, and Howie’s marriage crumbles, leading to a pretty serious batch of episodes. In the end, they can’t hide forever, and the bad men catch up with them for a final showdown.
City Lights almost feels like another series. Sure, the characters are the same, but the situation is so different, that it bears only a casual resemblance to Northern Lights. There is a much darker feel. Some of the themes, such as infidelity, recur, and the tone doesn’t undergo a complete transformation, surprisingly. City Lights is definitely more Psych than Southland. However, much respect must be given to the writers for taking such a bold step for the second batch of episodes, which is likely why it carries a different title.
Finally, in 2008’s Clash of the Santas, things get even more surreal. Howie, who hates Christmas, is sent to represent the UK in a Santa convention in Lithuania. Colin, insanely jealous, tags along as Howie’s elf. But while there, the pair uncover a German terrorist cell who would like to stop the commercialism of Christmas by making a big statement in the form of death and destruction. With no other choice, Colin and Howie must put their differences aside and try to take down the evil Santa once and for all.
Clash of the Santas is the goofiest and most outrageous of the bunch. While these characters go toe to toe with criminals in City Lights, adding an international and holiday flair back into the mix really makes for a very funny special. Again, the overall tone is kept similar to previous incarnations, but the plot is different enough to really set this story apart.
In short, Northern Lights The Complete Collection brings together an inspired, humorous run from two actors who obviously really enjoy the characters that they play. They make a lot of unexpected choices, especially in the set ups, which keeps things interesting, and the flow is smooth. While not the best of British comedy, it’s originality should earn it a spot on any sitcom fan’s shelf.
There is only one special feature included. Entitled “Behind the Scenes of Northern Lights,” it goes, you guessed it, behind the camera as the show is filmed. It originally aired just before City Lights premiered, so it does not include a look at the entire set. Rather, it focuses on just Northern Lights. It’s a relatively standard featurette, with nothing particularly surprising or insightful. But it is interesting enough.
Other than the lack of extras, the biggest complaint about Northern Lights The Complete Collection will be about audio and visual quality. It clearly isn’t made with the highest resolution, and little effort appears to have been expended to correct that. As such, one gets what is likely the same stuff that aired, just transferred to another format. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, but with all the remastered and cleaned up shows being released, it’s a bit of a disappointment. It’s not horrible, but it’s nothing great, either.
Still, this DVD set is worth a look, and thankfully, it’s priced rather modestly. There is enough here to justify the purchase. Buy Northern Lights The Complete Collection, on sale today.