Christmas TV preview


A critic's yuletide preview: "Eat, drink and be merry, and enjoy your Christmas telly" by HILARY FANNIN

APART FROM the movies that most of us traditionally catch up on during the long yuletide sprawl in front of the box, there are also – tucked into this year’s festive schedules like hopeful cocktail sausages peeping out from under the diminishing turkey – plenty of interesting and watchable bites to keep the TV juices flowing.

RTÉ is, rather optimistically, gifting its viewers a comedy selection box for Christmas, though whether we gasp with delight at its contents or chuck it onto the blaze remains to be seen. As with chirpy seasonal jumpers, comedy can be a hit-or-miss affair.

Worth a look, however, is Pat Shortt’s Mattie, the pilot for a new comedy detective series, which airs on Christmas Day and sees the reliable entertainer playing a country detective who comes up to the city for a spot of urban sleuthing. The industrious Shortt also presents a mockumentary about a hapless radio presenter, Pat Shortt: Inside the Crystal Ball(Sunday). Also pulling the comedy cracker are PJ Gallagher, Podge and Rodge (in their grim Stickit Inn), and the likeable if vaguely kooky Maeve Higgins, who, between them, mop up most of St Stephen’s night on RTÉ2.

Comedian Neil Delamare’s sharp and amusing Republic of Tellyis now well-established, and continues on Wednesday, as does Arthur Mathews’s Val Falvey TD, with Ardal O’Hanlon and Owen Roe, which limped out of the starter’s gate but is now beginning to hit its stride. The controversial and often bracingly funny Tommy Tiernan hijacks an hour of New Year’s Day television with Tommy and Hector’s Craic House, a madcap comedy chat-show which he co-presents with his friend Hector Ó hEochagáin, and which could prove a stimulating, possibly contentious, start to 2010.

Beyond the tentative reach of those comic fingers, some other offerings from the national broadcaster also beckon. John Huston: An American in Galway(RTÉ1, Christmas Day) and Stephen Gately: A Picture of You(RTÉ1, Sunday) look to be two documentaries worth attention. Kicking up the baubles in the entertainment department, Ryan Tubridy rounds off a successful year on The Late Late Showwith a guestlist which includes the President, Mary McAleese (RTÉ1, Monday). Will Leahy presents The Great Noughties Quiz(RTÉ1, Tuesday), while on the following evening that warm and skilful old trouper, Marty Whelan, looks at businesses that have bucked the trend in Things That Went Boom in the Bust.

New Year’s Eve and the national broadcaster have never been easy bedfellows and now, as one decade yawns into the next, The All-Ireland Talent Showhas the dubious honour of ringing in the new – a strange, somewhat parochial decision that doesn’t make my bell peal.

TG4 has a couple of interesting documentaries under her gúna, including The Kennedy Brothers(Christmas Eve), a deconstruction of the myth behind those glamorous, ill-fated lads, and, on Christmas Day, the spooky offering, Diabhal ag an Damhsa, a beguiling-looking piece about the night the devil was said to have turned up in a Co Mayo dancehall (those lassies must have been sitting on their fellas’knees without a telephone directory under their skinny posteriors).

St Stephen’s Day sees TV3 up to its warbling tonsils in X Factor: The Winner’s Storyand Ant and Dec’s Christmas Show, both soporifically watchable, while on Tuesday, the station broadcasts Having A Laugh! Great Irish Comedy TV Moments(though I’ve a funny feeling I might have something on that evening).

BBC has a platter of jolly nuggets on offer, among them Clive Anderson’s The Funny Side of Christmas(BBC2, Christmas Eve) and Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special(BBC1, Christmas Day). And for pure nostalgia and great, great comedy, The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show: 1973(BBC2, St Stephen’s Day) should be on all our Christmas lists. Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw(BBC1, Wednesday) looks entirely palatable, but it seems comedy will dominate over at Auntie’s place this season too. Steve Coogan: The Inside Story(Sunday) and Dara O Briain Live at the Theatre Royal(Monday) should amuse, while a highlight of the week is O Briain’s Three Men Go to Ireland(BBC2, Wednesday), in which he, Griff Rhys Jones and Rory McGrath go to the dogs. Meanwhile, Jools’s Annual Hootenanny, in its usual slot on New Year’s Eve on BBC2, is always a reliable backdrop to the popping of the corks.

UTV and Channel 4, like lonely fir trees in a blizzard, appear from the listings to be creaking under the weight of Best Of . . . shows, with endless out-takes and what-happened-next takes featuring the various spider-eaters and warbling wannabes that have littered this television year. There are, however, occasional blasts of a different reality: Tsunami – Where Was God?(Channel 4, Sunday) looks thought-provoking, while The South Bank Show: The Royal Shakespeare Company(UTV, Monday) sees Melvyn Bragg go behind the scenes at one of the world’s most prestigious theatre companies.

As the Bard is bound to have said somewhere in his great canon: eat, drink and be merry, and enjoy your Christmas telly. Season’s greetings.

TaggartChristmas Eve, UTV, 9pm
The police drama set on Glasgow’s mean streets reaches its landmark 100th episode tonight.

HamletSt Stephen’s Day, BBC2, 5.05pm A filmed version of the acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the Bard’s great tragedy, starring David Tennant of Doctor Who fame.

The Day of the TriffidsMonday, BBC1, 9pm New two-part telling of the John Wyndham novel, starring Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave and Eddie Izzard. Concludes Tuesday

An Englishman in New YorkMonday, UTV, 9pm John Hurt reprises his role as writer, raconteur and gay icon Quentin Crisp, whom Hurt first portrayed in the 1975 adaptation of Crisp’s autobiography The Naked Civil Servant.

The Turn of the ScrewWednesday, BBC1, 9pm Michelle Dockery stars in Sandy Welch’s adaptation of Henry James’s chilling ghost story.

Sleep With MeNew Year’s Eve, UTV, 9pm A new adaptation of Joanna Briscoe’s sexually charged bestselling thriller starring Adrian Lester and Jodhi May.

Agatha Christie’s MarpleNew Year’s Day, UTV, 9pm Julia McKenzie returns to the role of the ageing sleuth Miss Marple for a new Agatha Christie mystery. Penelope Wilton, Brian Cox and Joan Collins co-star.


Victoria Wood’s Midlife ChristmasChristmas Eve, BBC1, 9pm Actress and comedian Victoria Wood is back with a one-off special along with long-time collaborator Julie Walters.

Pat Shortt’s MattieChristmas Day, RTÉ1, 9.05pm Following the success of Killinaskully, the ever-popular Pat Shortt returns in this pilot for a new comedy detective series.

Diabhal ag an DamhsaChristmas Day, TG4, 9.55pm Shot in docudrama style, this film investigates the fateful night of June 6th, 1958, when the Devil Incarnate may or may not have appeared at a rural dancehall in Tooreen, Co Mayo. 

Late Night Lock InnSt Stephen’s Day, RTÉ2, 11.10pm The redoubtable Podge and Rodge have decided to celebrate Christmas at their new haunt, the Stickit Inn.

Ant and Dec’s Christmas ShowSt Stephen’s Day, UTV, 7.30pm Cold turkey and ham sandwiches already made, it’s time to take your places on the couch as Ant and Dec prepare to open the doors to their celebrity Christmas bash.

Inside the Crystal BallSunday, RTÉ1, 8.30pm Pat Shortt, in his second outing over the festive season, stars in this comedy mockumentary about a community radio presenter.

The Big Fat Quiz of the YearNew Year’s Day, C4, 9.05pm, Jimmy Carr chairs as three celebrity teams – made up of Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell, Claudia Winkleman and Rob Brydon, and Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross – take an irreverent look back on the highs and lows of the past year.


X Factor: The Winner’s StorySt Stephen’s Day, TV3, 6.45pm The story of this year’s winner, Joe McElderry, featuring a look back at his journey from the auditions to the triumphant final.

The Great Noughties QuizTuesday, RTÉ1, 9.30pm Will Leahy has control of the questions, as captains Simon Delaney and Pat Spillane take control of the two teams made up of Lorraine Keane, Tom Dunne, Shane Byrne and Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin.


The Kennedy BrothersChristmas Eve, TG4, 10.30pm Catherine Ní Ghuairim, exposes the scandals, personal recklessness and dashed hopes of America’s Kennedy family.

An American in GalwayChristmas Day, RTÉ1, 7pm An affectionate portrait of John Huston, as remembered by the locals who crossed his path in Loughrea, Co Galway.

BallybrandoTuesday, RTÉ1, 10.35pm The story of the greatest movie that Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp never got to make, as remembered by locals in Ballycotton, Co Cork, and by the producer Barry Navidi.

Summer of 69
Monday, RTÉ1, 6.55pm Forty years ago, Jim Sugar, a photographer for the National Geographic came to Ireland on an assignment. He now returns to revisit his photographs and explore the changes that have occurred in the intervening decades.

Stephen Gately: A Picture of YouSunday, RTÉ1, 10.30pm Those who knew former Boyzone star Steven Gately best, talk openly about the loss of their friend.

Dan Brown’s Lost SymbolSt Stephen’s Day, Channel 4, 9pm Tony Robinson sets out to find the truth behind Brown’s claim that all the rituals, science, artwork and monuments in his latest blockbuster, The Lost Symbol, actually exist.

The Turin ShroudWednesday, Channel 4, 8pm New evidence is uncovered which may make scientists rethink the authenticity of the shroud, declared a 700-year-old hoax in 1988.


New Year Countdown TV
Various channels As usual, it’s a mixed bag of TV to help viewers usher in the New Year. RTÉ1 presents the results show following on from the live quarterfinal heat of The All-Ireland Talent Show.On TG4, Sharon Shannonand her Big Band ring in the new at the INEC in Killarney with guests Shane MacGowan, Imelda May and Mundy. On BBC1, Mylene Klassintroduces the London fireworks display, while on BBC2, Jools Holland has his Hootenanny on Two, with performances by Tom Jones, Boy George, Roger Daltrey, Kasabian, Lily Allen andmore. UTV closes its year-end news round-up of 2009 with a cut to London’s fireworks. Meanwhile, Channel 4 repeats Tuesday’s episode of Chatty Man, featuring Davina McCall, David Tennant and Catherine Tate.