Christmas TV guide: 45 of the best shows to watch these holidays
The best of RTÉ and BBC, streaming choices and a yuletide movie guide
Alexander Demetriou and Maura Higgins during the Dancing on Ice 2019 photocall at ITV Studios on December 9th. Photograph: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
Dancing on Ice at Christmas
Sunday, UTV, 7pm
No sooner has Strictly Come Dancing ended than another celeb dance show comes along to take its place. Well, sort of. The new series of Dancing on Ice won’t start in earnest until the new year, but it’s taking another leaf out of Strictly’s book with a launch show to whet our appetites for the competition to come. The line-up has already been announced, with Love Island’s Maura Higgins and comedian Michael Barrymore joined at the rink by former footballer Kevin Kilbane, newsreader Lucrezia Millarini, Ian “H from Steps” Watkins, Coronation Street’s Lisa George, Paralympic sprinter Libby Clegg, Diversity’s Perri Kielyactor Joe Swash, magician Ben Hanlin, broadcaster Trisha Goddard, and model and businesswoman Caprice. Perri would seem like the one to beat, but could this launch show reveal a dark horse?
A Christmas Carol
Sunday/Monday/Tuesday, BBC1, 9pm
Charles Dickens’s famous festive tale has been filmed many, many times (everyone from Alastair Sim to the Muppets have taken a bash at it) so how can the BBC’s new three-part version put a new spin on such a familiar story? Well, the fact that it comes from Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight suggests we’re in for a slightly darker version than usual. Guy Pearce takes the lead role as Ebenezer Scrooge, the cold-hearted miser who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. They force him to reflect on his penny-pinching ways – and show him what the future will look like if he doesn’t change his ways. The supporting cast includes Andy Serkis as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Stephen Graham as Jacob Marley and Joe Alwyn of The Favourite as Bob Cratchit.
Once Upon a Time at Christmas
Sunday, RTÉ One, 6.30pm
This is RTEjr’s hilarious new panto for Christmas 2019. Join the Big Bad Wolf as he tries to show the world that he has changed his ways for good and is now the Big Good Wolf. He knows he can be good and he wants to prove it! Goldilocks has a different idea and throws the whole of Fairytale Land into chaos. A host of familiar RTEjr personalities sing and dance their way to a happy ever after!
The Christmas Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan
Sunday, BBC2, 10.30pm
A year ago the funnyman visited the Arctic to film a Christmas episode of The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan. It was -40 and he had to camp in a tent on a frozen ocean. Naturally Romesh wanted to go somewhere warmer for 2019’s offering, so he is travelling to the Sahara, where cameras follow his journey from Marrakesh in Morocco all the way to the ocean. Along the way he will take in hot air balloon rides, obscure villages and learn how to treat your arm if you get bitten by a snake.
Escape to the Chateau at Christmas
Sunday, Channel 4, 9pm
Owning a French pile is a dream for Brits who’ve spent years enjoying Gallic holidays. Little wonder the adventures of Dick Strawbridge and Angel Adoree have caught the imaginations of many who followed their rollercoaster journey at Chateau de la Motte-Husson. Now, after another busy year, Dick and Angel prepare for the festive season. There’s an exquisite menu, complete with homemade treats, while Adoree creates beautiful crafts as the family host a traditional French Christmas for friends and family – and some special guests.
Donal’s Superfood in Minutes Christmas Special
Monday, RTÉ One, 8.30pm
Donal Skehan brings his tips and tricks to the holiday season. Each recipe is designed with this busy and precious time in mind, perfect for those in-between Christmas and New Year’s days with all of the flavour and none of the fuss! Recipes range from spiced duck with figs to ruby-spiced rice and glossy soy turkey meatballs, and the festive five-minute challenge shakes up the traditional side dish with super sesame Brussel sprouts. In addition, Skehan’s winter-warming chilli, coconut sweet potato & red lentil soup is a must-try. And, as it’s Christmas, Donal’s got a showstopping winter citrus polenta cake with pomegranate & rose mascarpone clouds that is, well, sure to impress.
The Christmas Letter
Monday, RTÉ One, 6.30pm
This heart-warming animated Irish tale tells how eight-year-old Henry’s efforts to spread Christmas cheer bring much-needed joy into the life of a lonely old lady. Henry loves everything about Christmas and travels around his neighbourhood putting up decorations. But when he comes to Miss Broom’s house, she shoos him away. Undeterred, Henry sets out to discover why she has turned her back on the festivities. The voice cast includes Fiona Shaw, Caitriona Balfe and James Quinn Marke, plus narration by Kate Winslet.
The Secret World of Toys at Christmas
Monday, Channel 4, 7pm
A look at toymakers around the world. Cameras visit the colourful creations of Crayola in Pennsylvania, the charming home of Steiff teddy bears in Germany and the fun-filled world of Top Trumps in the UK. Plus, there’s a tour of FAO Schwarz, New York’s biggest and most famous toy store, which is behind a proud new addition to Selfridges in London’s Oxford Street, its first UK outlet.
Hugh Grant: A Life on Screen
Monday, BBC2, 9pm
After a few years of looking like he might become trapped in the rom-com doldrums, Hugh Grant has been on hot-streak, thanks to his terrific turns in Florence Foster Jenkins, Paddington 2 and the acclaimed BBC drama A Very English Scandal. So get ready for some great anecdotes and a lot of self-deprecation in this documentary as Grant tells the story behind his success, from his early days in the comedy troupe The Jockeys of Norfolk to his breakout role in Four Weddings and a Funeral and his current critical acclaim. Friends and colleagues including Andie MacDowell, Richard Curtis, Sandra Bullock, Colin Firth and Nicholas Hoult will also be weighing in.
Gordon, Gino and Fred Christmas Road Trip: Three Unwise Men
Monday, UTV, 9pm
Gordon Ramsay, Gino D’Acampo and Fred Sirieix reconvene after their European travels to rediscover the spirit of Christmas, heading to the unlikely festive destination of Morocco to see what the north African country has to offer in the way of culture, cuisine and adventure. The trio journey through the Agafay desert by camel, on through the mountains and end up deep in Marrakesh’s marketplace and souks, with their trip culminating in a festive feast inspired by their travels, the people they have met and the experiences they have had.
The Goes Wrong Show: The Spirit of Christmas
Monday, BBC1, 7.30pm
The Olivier Award-winning The Play That Goes Wrong has been running in the West End since 2014 and played to an audience of some two million. Not bad for a comedy that began life at a tiny London fringe theatre. This Christmas special sees the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society undertake another ambitious endeavour, presenting the story of Santa and his elves who are trying to bring festive happiness to a sad little girl and her constantly fighting parents. Can the magical toy machine restore her Christmas cheer? Or perhaps Mr Snowman and his enchanting dance will raise her spirits? We’ll probably never know, as an already surly Santa indulges in too much Christmas sherry, crackers explode, an elf is trapped in a confined space, and the toy machine attempts to eat the snowman alive.
What We Were Watching: Christmas 1979
Monday, BBC4, 8pm
How different it all was 40 years ago. Only a few TV channels, no satellite telly, DVDs or blu-rays, and recording shows was still still a marvel. Little wonder Christmas shows in 1979 had such a magnetic appeal. Here acid-tongued critic Grace Dent reflects on the sights, sounds and schedules of TV from that era. Aside from exploring whatBritons enjoyed watching on the box, Dent sees if she can beat that year’s Mastermind grand finalist. The Generation Game’s famous conveyor belt is also dusted down, but will she be able to recall more than just a cuddly toy?
The Big Christmas Rewind
Christmas Eve, RTÉ One, 6.20pm (repeated Thurs, 11.40pm)
Here’s a festive nostalgia fest in which celebrities gather round the telly and watch selections from the Christmas TV archives. Sounds a bit Goggleboxy, you might think, but the twist is that many of the celebs are joined by their fictional families – so you have cast members from The Young Offenders on one couch, characters from Derry Girls on another, and stars from Mrs Brown’s Boys on a third. Other couches feature the real-life families of Vogue Williams, Pat Shortt and Christy Dignam, while Doireann Garrihy and Francis Brennan – who as far as I know are not related – have a couch all to themselves. Expect some cheesy blasts from Christmas past.
Opry le Daniel
Christmas Eve, TG4, 9.30pm
Daniel O’Donnell returns to the Millennium Forum in Derry for this nostalgic look back on his sister Margo’s 55 years in country music. Her career started began she was 14 and joined a band called The Keynotes, who went on to make a name for themselves in Ireland and Scotland. She recorded her first single in 1968, Bonny Irish Boy/Dear God, which was a success as was her second single, If I Could See the World Through the Eyes of a Child/Road By the River (1969). Margo O’Donnell has reportedly sold more than one million records to date and performed with Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. She presented numerous TV shows for RTÉ in the 1970s and has collected many awards during her career.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Christmas Eve, Channel 4, 7.30pm
Sophie and her mummy are about to sit down to tea when the doorbell rings. Who could it be? The last person they expect to see is a big, toothy, hungry tiger. The tiger asks if can join them for tea, but ends up eating nearly everything in the house. This classic tale by the late Judith Kerr, who died in May aged 95, has been analysed to within an inch of its life, with people wondering if the tiger represents Nazis (Kerr’s family fled Germany before the war). Her response? The tiger is just that: a tiger. The book was published and 1968 and has charmed generations of young readers, and this half-hour adaptation pulls out all the stops, with David Walliams narrating and Benedict Cumberbatch, Tamsin Grieg and David Oyelowo among the voice cast. Robbie Williams has written a song specially for it.
Carols from Kilkenny Castle
Christmas Eve, RTÉ One, 9.20pm
It’s the same every year: you promise yourself you’ll catch a carol service over Christmas but suddenly it’s 5pm on Christmas Eve, and you’ve a mountain of last-minute shopping to get through, and you’ll just have to forego the hymns to find a present for him or herself. Never mind – just get on home, light the fire and enjoy the annual carol service live from the beautiful surrounds of Kilkenny Castle. Mary Kennedy is your affable host, with star turns from Colm Wilkinson, Claudia Boyle, Jack L, Róisín O, Hudson Taylor and Kilkenny native Ronan Tynan.
Christmas Eve, BBC4, 10pm
Nothing like a good ghost story for Christmas, and this chilling half-hour tale stars former Doctor Who Peter Capaldi as a 17th-century barrister out to convict a man of murder. In the dock is George Martin, who is being tried for the murder of an innocent young woman. Presiding over the case is feared “hanging judge” George Jeffreys. But this is no open-and-shut case: it seems that the ghost of the young woman has visited the accused. The spooker is based on a short story by MR James, and is adapted by Mark Gatiss.
Take Off with Bradley and Holly
Christmas Eve, BBC1, 8pm
Get your passports ready – Bradley Walsh and Holly Willoughby are spreading the Christmas cheer in this entertainment extravaganza, which takes inspiration from the old Cilla Black’sseries Surprise Surprise. Take Off sees the duo giving lucky studio audience members the chance to win a trip to Santa’s workshop itself in Lapland. And the rest of the programme is jam-packed with a gaggle of games, celebrity guests and other surprises, leading up to a spectacular end-of-show finale. “Holly and I are going to help people have a wonderful Christmas this year,” promises Walsh, “and we’re going to have a right laugh while we do it!”
Gareth Malone’s Christmas Concert
Christmas Eve, BBC2, 9pm
The choirmaster puts on a show for the hard-pressed staff at Watford General Hospital, who are among the 400,000 NHS employees spending Christmas Day this year to care for patients. Responding to a message from the chief executive of the community hospital who wants to give her workers a much-needed festive boost, Malone sets to work enlisting the help of staff, patients and family members to produce a spectacular concert.
The Jonathan Ross Christmas Show
Christmas Eve, UTV, 9pm
The host welcomes another batch of celebrity guests to his famous green room for a special yuletide edition of the talk show. He is joined by David Tennant, whose demonic role in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens will be coming to BBC in the new year, as well as singers Rita Ora and Jamie Cullum, former X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne, Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two presenter Rylan Clark-Neal, award-winning actor David Oyelowo, and comedian Bec Hill.
Not Going Out: Driving Home for Christmas
Christmas Eve, BBC1, 10pm
Lee Mack is back for another festive episode of his award-winning comedy series, about a hapless couple trying to bring up their kids while avoiding mishaps, misunderstandings and all of the other staples of TV comedy. In this latest Christmas special, Lee and Lucy, contrary to the show’s title, have to go out on Christmas Eve on a special mission for the kids. It’ll be a quick trip, and Lucy’s mum Wendy will mind the kids, so what could possibly go wrong? We’re promised a Christmas list of disasters involving a giant inflatable Santa, an angry bull and a terrifying truck driver.
Iomramh an Chamino/The Camino Voyage
Christmas Day, TG4, 3.10pm
In a welcome repeat of this popular documentary, a crew embarks on an inspiring and dangerous 2,500km modern-day Celtic odyssey. Reviewing in The Irish Times, critic Donald Clarke wrote: “It takes some class of determination to row all the way from Ireland to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. It takes more to do so in a traditional naomhóg. Yet four brave men – late poet Danny Sheehy, artist Liam Holden, musician Brendan Begley and stonemason Brendan Moriarty – set out to do just that in three gruelling yearly stages, beginning in 2014. Musician Glen Hansard joined them later. Ó Céilleachair’s film records the journey with care and grace. You’ll feel uplifted and a little exhausted by the close.”
Phil Coulter: Mo Shaol
Christmas Day, TG4, 9.30pm
In this new documentary, rarely seen archive material helps chart the life and career of one of Ireland’s most prolific songwriters/producers/performers. Internationally, Derry’s Phil Coulter has written songs for Elvis Presley (My Boy), Cilla Black (Surround Yourself with Sorrow) and Bay City Rollers (Shang-a-Lang) and has enjoyed major Eurovision successes (writing Puppet on a String for Sandie Shaw and Congratulations for Cliff Richard, and producing All Kinds Of Everything for Dana). Yet he is probably best remembered for his collaborations with Luke Kelly (Scorn Not His Simplicity and The Town I Loved So Well’. A major player in the music scene for more than five decades, this is his story, in his words.
Mrs Brown’s Boys – It’s a Wonderful Mammy
Christmas Day, RTÉ1, 10pm/BBC1, 10.30pm
What would the world be like if you’d never been born? In my case, it would obviously be a poorer place: people wandering around aimlessly not knowing what to watch on the telly over the next week. When Agnes Brown is shown what the world would be like without her, she gets a lot less than she bargained for. In the first of two Christmas specials, Brendan O’Carroll steps back into the pinny and slippers to play the foul-mouthed mammy. It’s getting near Christmas, and Agnes is feeling unloved. Sure it might be better if I was never born at all, grumbles Agnes. Suddenly a supposed Angel name Clyde appears and offers to show her an alternative, Mammy-less world. To Agnes’s horror, everyone’s having a wonderful life without her. That won’t do at all time to get back to the real world and make everyone’s life miserable again. This spoof of It’s a Wonderful Life features former Corrie star Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) as Clyde.
The Snail and the Whale
Christmas Day, BBC One, 2.30pm
It’s hard to pick a favourite from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s classic children’s stories, but The Snail and the Whale is among their most evocative, a mini-epic about a tiny snail who dreams of seeing the world, and hitches a ride on the tail of a humpback whale. This animated version features Sally Hawkins as the voice of the snail and Rob Brydon voicing the whale as they embark on a magical journey around the world, and begin a friendship that proves to be a real life-saver.
Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
Christmas Day, BBC1, 4.40pm
Get on your dancing Christmas stockings – the Beeb is holding a special edition of Strictly, just to give you your yuletide fix of rhumbas, tangos and freestyle jazz hip-hop flamenco. Of course, they’re pulling out the stops for this seasonal shindig, bringing back six of its biggest stars for another twirl on the tinsel-covered dancefloor. Who are these household names? Well, the three women are Debbie McGee, widow of the millionaire Paul Daniels; Holby City actor Chizzy Akudolu; and Hollyoaks actor Gemma Atkinson. Red carpet stuff, you’ll agree. The three male dancers might be even more famous: YouTuber Joe Sugg, “television personality” Mark Wright, and TV presenter Richard Arnold. Don’t stand too close – you might be burnt to a crisp by all that star power.
Call the Midwife Christmas Special
Christmas Day, BBC1, 7pm
The ever-popular series is back for yet another holiday one-off. This time the midwives of Nonnatus House are getting a change of scenery by decamping to the Outer Hebrides for a distinctly Caledonian-flavoured episode. The nuns will be celebrating Hogmanay on the remote Scottish islands, far from the comforts of their London base, and ministering to the locals, who are not used to the new-fangled ways of early 1960s London.
Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special
Christmas Day, BBC1, 8.30pm
What’s occurring? I’ll tell you what’s occurring: Gavin and Stacey are back for a Christmas special, and fans are so excited, they’ve forgotten what they even asked Santa for in the first place. It’s been 10 years since the popular comedy went off the air, and though the cast members are a decade older, they’re no less excited about this unlikely reunion. Show writers James Corden and Ruth Jones – Smithy and Nessa on the show – have moved the story forward. Gavin (Matthew Horne) and Stacey (Joanna Page) now have two kids, and the family are decamping from Billericay to Wales to have Christmas dinner with Stacey’s parents (Melanie Walters and Rob Brydon). Smithy, Nessa and Neil the Baby (who is now 11) will be among the familiar faces joining them for a Christmas “cwtch” (hug). Will the house be big enough to contain all the madness and mayhem that will surely ensue?
The Great Christmas Bake Off
Christmas Day, Channel 4, 7.10pm
Christmas. A time of scoffing as much food as possible until you’re full to bursting point. And yes, we know you’re supposed to chow down on turkey and all the trimming, or a savoury vegetarian equivalent, but loosening your belt and indulging in some sugar-filled treat or other is really rather delightful too. Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig have invited some familiar faces from past series back to the tent: Tom and Yan from 2017 and Briony and Terry from last year. Which will win the coveted title of Christmas Star Baker? Also joining in the fun are Status Quo, who round off the show with their smash hit Rockin’ All Over the World. What that’s got to do with Christmas is anybody’s guess, but it should be fun regardless.
Dolly Parton – Here I Am
Christmas Day, BBC2, 8.30pm
An intimate portrait of the acclaimed singer, songwriter and actor. The feature-length documentary takes the audience on a musical journey through some of Parton’s greatest songs, including The Bridge, I Will Always Love You, and 9 to 5. Cameras also capture Dolly celebrating the 50th anniversary of her very first performance at the Grand Ole Opry, and features unprecedented access to the singer herself, as well as collaborators from throughout her career.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Celebrity Special
Christmas Day, UTV, 9pm
Question: What connects sports presenter Clare Balding, actor Stephen Mangan and former Coronation Street star Catherine Tyldesley? Chances are you won’t have to go 50:50 because if you guessed that they’re all taking part in a special festive edition of the quiz, you’d be right. All three will be hoping to win £1 million for their chosen charities, and as usual they will have four lifelines to help them along the way, including Phone a Friend, Ask the Audience, and Ask the Host. Whether Jeremy Clarkson will be of any use remains to be seen.
Pat Shortt’s Music from d’Telly Christmas Special
St Stephen’s Day, RTÉ One, 6.25pm
Worzel Gummidge – The Scarecrow of Scatterbrook
St Stephen’s Day, BBC1, 6.20pm
Mackenzie Crook, star of The Office, Detectorists and Pirates of the Caribbean, writes and stars in this update of the classic children’s TV series from the late 1970s. In the first of two hour-long episodes, we’re introduced to the turnip-headed tit-terrifier who mysteriously comes to life and befriends two youngsters. The second episode, The Green Man, also featuring Michael Palin and Zoe Wanamaker, will air on Friday at 7pm.
Mimi and the Mountain Dragon
St Stephen’s Day, BBC1, 3.20pm
A tiny village is terrorised by a terrible dragon. But one little girl, Mimi, dares to enter the dragon’s lair. Why? Because she’s found a little baby dragon in the woodshed, pining for its mummy. Though the rest of the village cowers in fear from the dreadful dragon, Mimi knows she must bring the baby dragon back to its mummy, even if it means she might get singed, so she begins the perilous journey through the blizzard to reunite the two. This classic story by Michael Morpurgo features an introduction by the author himself, with a score by Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman performed by the BBC Philharmonic.
Susan Hill’s Ghost Story
St Stephen’s Day, Channel 5, 9pm
Why is Christmas such a great time for spooky tales? Susan Hill’s novel The Small Hand forms the basis for this feature-length chiller. Douglas Henshall heads the cast as Adam Snow, an antique bookseller who, after an encounter with the ghost of a boy, investigates what may have happened to the youngster and uncovers links to his own childhood. Neve McIntosh, Louise Lombard and Paul Barber co-star.
Paddington: The Man Behind the Bear
St Stephen’s Day, BBC2, 9pm
The Paddington movies have brought the lovable, unfailingly polite little bear from Peru to a whole new audience, but this documentary learns more about the man who created him, author Michael Bond. It looks at how Paddington, who made his debut in 1958, was very much a product of the postwar world. The author drew on his own memories of child evacuees to create his hero, while Paddington’s friend Mr Gruber was based on Bond’s literary agent, whose Jewish family had fled the Nazis. Bond’s belief in decency and tolerance has continued to strike a chord with generations of readers. The film also looks at some of his other classic characters, including The Herbs, Olga da Polga and Monsieur Pamplemousse, and hears from his family, friends and celebrity fans.
Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2019
St Stephen’s Day, Channel 4, 9pm
This has become something of a tradition during the 2010s, or whatever the collective term is for the past decade. One thing we are certain of is that Jimmy Carr will host the latest one as usual. He welcomes Dara O Briain, Maya Jama, Asim Chaudhry, Roisin Conaty, Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding to the end-of-year celebrity panel game, putting their knowledge of the past 12 months to the test. On hand to help are Jon Snow, Mitchell Brook Primary School and a host of celebrity question-setters.
Would I Lie to You? at Christmas
St Stephen’s Day, BBC1, 9.30pm
Whether you’ve had the best Chrtismas ever or just need cheering up after the anticlimax of the big day, Rob Brydon hosts a festive edition of the comedy panel game in which the participants aim to hoodwink their opponents with absurd facts and plausible lies about themselves. Joining team captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack for the fun are Liz Bonnin, Stephen Merchant, Sharon Osbourne and Ranj Singh. But which of them is telling fibs and who is telling the truth?
Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs Christmas Special
St Stephen’s Day, Virgin One/UTV, 6pm
Paul O’Grady returns once again to Battersea Dogs and Home, this year enlisted to help dogs with behavioural problems. There’s a reclusive mongrel called Misty who refuses to leave her kennel, a grumpy Yorkshire terrier called Teddy who refuses to walk, and an American bulldog who’s lost her mojo after years enjoying pub life. O’Grady also helps an over-protective Staffie mum who finds it hard to say goodbye to her pups and an Akita called Berry who refuses to believe her owners have left her. And then there one-year-old stray calledSprout, the happiest little dog at Battersea, who’s so excitable he can’t help having accidents.
Brendan Grace: Thanks for the Memories
Friday, RTÉ One, 9.30pm
Friends and family gather on stage to pay tribute to the late Brendan Grace, who died in July. Before his death, Grace had been working hard to stage a variety show at the Olympia, and his showbiz mates (among them Dickie Rock, Red Hurley, Paddy Cole, Twink, Sharon Shannon, Donal Lunny and Sandy Kelly) have decided that the show must go on. Also appearing are Lisa Lambe, the Forget-Me-Nots choir and Mario Rosenstock, along with Grace’s son Bradley and his grandsons Patrick and James. It’s followed at 10.30pm by Brendan Grace – A Late Late Tribute, which gathers some of his more memorable guest appeances on the show down the ages.
Ball & Boe: A Very Merry Christmas
Friday, Virgin One, 9pm
After the success of their previous albums and sold-out tours, the unstoppable force that is Michael Ball and Alfie Boe reunite for a festive night of music. Showcasing both their unique blend of talent and infectious humour, the iconic duo will perform new material alongside some Christmas favourites, as well as singing with special guests Dame Shirley Bassey, Luke Evans and Gregory Porter.
The Big Bang’s Biggest Bangs
Friday, E4, 6pm
For years it was one of the world’s funniest sitcoms, a love letter to geeks with some of the sharpest scripts in Hollywood. It helped make stars of Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco, and its success also attracted some of the most beloved names in showbusiness, from Leonard Nimoy to Stan Lee. In this new offering, fans of the show discuss some of the biggest, funniest and nerdiest moments from the show, as well as their own favourite clips. Sofie Hagen, Joe Swash and Jamie Laing will be adding their thoughts on the rib-tickling saga.
The World’s Most Expensive Christmas Cruise Ship
Friday, Channel 5, 8pm
Yuletide life on the world’s most expensive cruise ship, the Seven Seas Explorer. It might be 30 degrees as the ship basks in the sunshine of Miami, the Cayman Islands and Mexico, but that doesn’t prevent cruise director John from donning his Santa suit and warming up the vocals for his special Christmas show. In the four galleys, the vessel’s 88 cooks prepare the most luxurious food at sea, as the guests enjoy excursions to meet Stingrays in the Caribbean and explore the jungles of Mexico on quad bikes. Staff, meanwhile, prepare the Explorer’s refurbished, opulent spa for its big launch.
A Question of Sport at 50
Friday, BBC1, 8.30pm
The first-ever episode of A Question of Sport aired nationally in Britain on January 5th, 1970. Hosted by David Vine, the team captains were boxer Henry Cooper and Wales rugby union star Cliff Morgan, joined by George Best, Ray Illingworth, Lillian Board and Tom Finney. Fifty years and more than 12,000 episodes later, and the world’s longest running TV sports quiz is still going strong. As Sue Barker & co prepare to celebrate its golden anniversary with a live tour next year, this programme remembers some of QoS’ best bits down the years. There is archive footage of the show watched by 19 million people as the Princess Royal lined up alongside Emlyn Hughes. Plus, Sebastian Coe, Jessica Ennis-Hilll, Ally McCoist, Tim Henman, Colin Jackson and many more join Barker, Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell to share their memories.
Most Shocking Celebrity Moments Ever!
Friday, Channel 5, 9.30pm
A countdown of the 40 naughtiest, sauciest stories of the year, featuring archive and interviews with the key participants and celebrity fans. There is little doubt it has been a busy few months, from Megan and Harry’s turbulent year with the media to the break-up of Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, with Coleen Rooney’s online Wagatha Christie sleuthing actions providing amusement to some. Featuring contributions by James Argent, Wes Nelson, Amy Hart, Vanessa Feltz, Bobby Norris and Nicola McLean.
A lone showrunner embarks on a perilous quest to find a new fantasy series that will top Game of Thrones. The Witcher is based on the novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, and stars ex-Man of Steel Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, a lone monster hunter in a land called The Continent. As he begins to wonder if his fellow humans are even worse than the beasts he stalks, Geralt hooks up with a sorceress and a princess, and they set off on a quest to find whatever it is people look for on quests.
Some may wonder how this convoluted sci-fi epic set 200 years in the future made it to a fourth series without going up its own black hole. The tangled plot involving political rivalries between Earth, Mars and The Belt makes The Phantom Menace’s galactic tax system seem like basic arithmetic.But for those who have followed this ever-expandingspace saga from the start, series four will offer more conflicts for the crew to deal with, as Earthlings, Martians and Belters battle for new territory beyond the Ring Gate, and the threat from the protomolecule grows ever greater.
The Grand Tour presents: Seamen
Putting the word “seamen” into the title might set a few puerile petrolheads snickering, but this latest episode of The Grand Tour actually takes place on water rather than tarmac. Still, we can expect plenty of double-entendres from former Top Gear trio Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond as they embark on another turbo-charged epic adventure and get paid silly money to drive around like lunatics through the world’s most exotic places. This time they’ve parked the cars and are taking to the waterways, racing by boat up the Mekong Delta and through Vietnam and Cambodia.
Lost in Space
Netflix, from Christmas Day
The reboot of the campy 1960s sci-fi series has made a few changes from the original. The robot is actually scary and not just a jukebox on wheels. And Dr Smith is a woman (played by Parker Posey), though no less sly and self-serving. But the biggest change is that Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker) and not her husband John (Toby Stephens) is the central hero of the show. The robot does still say “Danger, Will Robinson”, but just in a deeper, more sinister “I’m going to rip your head off” type of voice.Series one ended with the Jupiter 2 swept off course again just as the Robinsons were about to safely rejoin the rest of the colonists. What’s going to happen in season 2? More danger, Will Robinson!
Netflix, from St Stephen’s Day
You might want to change your passwords, check your security cameras and review the privacy settings on your social media. Penn Badgley returns as Joe, a seemingly affable bookseller who turns out to be a vicious, psychotic stalker. We’ve watched in horror as he stalked Beck (Elizabeth Lail) for the entire first series, insinuating himself into her life and eliminating anything and anyone who stood between him and his prey. Things get even worse in series two, with a whole new cast blissfully ignorant of Joe’s true nature - that is, until things start getting seriously creepy.
ALTERNATIVE MOVIE GUIDE
The Way We Were (1973)
Sunday, TG4, 12.20pm
The star power of Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in their ’70s prime is only one of the pleasures in Sydney Pollack’s decades-spanning epic romance between a patrician novelist (him) and a left-wing labour activist (her). Even those who have forgotten the film will remember the Oscar-winning title song, sung by Streisand of course, an MOR radio staple for nearly 50 years now.
The Borrowers (1997)
Sunday, Channel 4, 3.25pm
Mary Norton’s very English children’s novels, about a family of little people who live secretly in the walls and floors of an country house and “borrow” from the big people in order to survive, gets a revved up redo in this live-action British fantasy. Jim Broadbent is the tiny patriarch who joins with the humans to save their house from an oafish American speculator (John Goodman).
The Vikings (1958)
Monday, RTÉ One, 7.25am
Swashbuckling Hollywood hokum at its best, a box-office smash in its day. Bronx-born Tony Curtis stars a most unlikely Northumbrian nobleman, Janet Leigh is a hubba-hubba Welsh Christian princess, and Kirk Douglas and Ernest Borgnine chew the scenery as they maraud their way across gorgeously photographed (by Jack Cardiff) locations in Norway, Brittany and Croatia.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Monday, BBC2, 12.25am
This, the granddaddy of all wacked-out paranoid cold-war thrillers, bizarre but not completely unbelievable, was reportedly a favourite film of President Kennedy. Frank Sinatra is a Korean War vet plagued by strange nightmares and Laurence Harvey the robotic fellow GI brainwashed by Chinese communists into an assassin. But Angela Lansbury steals it as Harvey's scheming, sinister mum!
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
Christmas Eve, TG4, 1.05pm
Maggie Smith won her first Oscar as an unconventional Scottish teacher at a girls school in 1930s Edinburgh. Miss Brodie takes a special interest in four of her pupils, and her unfortunate rhapsodising over fascists like Franco and Mussolini leads ultimately to tragedy. Based on Muriel Spark’s novel, which was turned into an acclaimed play in 1966 by Jay Presson Allen, who wrote the screenplay.
A Christmas Carol (1984)
Christmas Eve, Channel 4, 1.10pm (also Dec 29, Film4, 11am)
Okay, okay, if you’re going to watch one strictly Christmas tale, this beautifully produced Anglo-US telly adaptation is not be missed. George C Scott, more than a match for Alastair Sim in the famous 1951 version, offers an understated, even cerebral Scrooge. David Warner and Susannah York are touching as the Cratchits, and Edward Woodward is a commanding Ghost of Christmas Present.
Into the West (1992)
Christmas Day, TG4, 6.55pm
“Two boys living in a Dublin tower block leave their drab lives behind and embark on an epic journey with a magical horse.” Not the most promising premise, but this lovely magical realist drama, written by Jim Sheridan, is one of the key Irish films of the 1990s. The cast includes then Hollywood power couple Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin, plus David Kelly, Brendan Gleeson, Colm Meaney, Jim Norton and Anita Reeves.
Midnight Run (1988)
Christmas Day, Film4, 11.10pm
Heavy-duty actor’s actor Robert De Niro made an unexpected turn to comedy with this sleeper buddy-action-chase-thriller. He’s a bad-tempered LA bounty hunter sent east to bring in a “mob accountant” (Charles Grodin, brilliantly deadpan) to testify in a mafia trial. Their cross-country odyssey, dodging FBI agents and mob hitmen, is equal parts exciting, funny and surprisingly humanistic.
The Drummer and the Keeper (2017)
St Stephen’s Day, RTÉ One, 11.35pm
Nick Kelly’s film, wrote Irish Times critic Donald Clarke, “concerns the friendship between a bipolar rock musician and a teenager with Asperger syndrome. Kelly has not made an art film that talks us through the issues with a grim face. The picture is airy, funny and at home to optimism. But it also remains honest about its subjects . . . it has a good feel for the petty rivalries that characterise the music scene.”
Oklahoma!/Guys and Dolls (both 1955)
St Stephen’s Day, BBC2, 10.50am/1.05pm
This double feature from the heyday of Hollywood musicals is well worth four hours and 40 minutes in front of the telly. The first is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s boisterous tale of a farm girl (Shirley Jones) torn between charming cowboy Curly (Gordon MacRae) and the scarifying Jud (Rod Steiger). The second stars Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra in a vibrant toe-tapper about a couple of flashy gamblers and the Save-a-Soul missionary sister out to reform them.
The Man from UNCLE (2015)
Friday, Virgin Two, 9pm
Guy Ritchie’s ’60s comedy spy pastiche, loosely based on a popular, ancient TV show, won’t (and didn’t) win any awards for originality. But the good-humoured action hums along, and leads – Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Ilya Kuryakin – are ridiculously gorgeous eye candy (Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki and Hugh Grant fade into the woodwork in comparison).
Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Friday, Film4, 6.55pm
The orphaned Baudelaire children are delivered into the custody of their conniving cousin Count Olaf, who secretly plots to steal their late parents’ fortune. Brad Silberling’s imaginative dark fantasy has been overshadowed by the Netflix series. But a starry cast, lead by Jim Carrey as Olaf, Meryl Streep, Jude Law and Billy Connolly, make this a witty treat for both kids and adults.