Level 5 lockdown TV: From The Crown to Dead Still, the ultimate guide to what to watch

Lockdown TV guide: old favourites and some sparkling new shows
Try a new show such as The Undoing or go for classics Friends and Dawson’s Creek

The penny has finally dropped. On Thursday morning we woke up, groggy and bleary-eyed, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, to the realisation that we were back where we started, and we were just going to have to go through the whole rigmarole all over again. And once we’ve done the repeat lockdown, there’s no guarantee that, come December 1st, when lockdown is due to be lifted, we won’t find ourselves back at square one. Right now, it feels like we’re trapped inside a twisted video game, where we have to dodge every other human being on the planet to avoid getting zapped. We’ve skipped past Level 4 and gone straight to Level 5, but if we play it right, and are good, obedient little boys and girls, we might be let go back down to Level 3.

As we begin to process the full implications of Lockdown MkII, one question will pop up above all the others: What the hell are we going to do to pass the time over the long six weeks ahead? This is the time of year when we’re usually heading off to see gigs at the Olympia, Vicar St or 3Arena, or heading to countless product launches, premieres and envelope-openings, or finding nice, cosy pubs and restaurants to hang out for the evening with our friends, having scintillating conversations and top-class bants.

Instead, we’re going to have to stay at home and amuse ourselves, but though we might think we’re the most interesting person in the world, chances are we’ll have tired of our own company by Sunday.

What we need is some way to put down the time over the next six weeks and get through this with our sanity intact. But don’t reach for the bottle just yet. Reach for the remote control instead, and check out the smorgasbord of superb programmes you can watch over the next six weeks. Watch an entire season of The Crown on Netflix – that’ll put down a day. Or why not binge out (again) on a classic boxset like Love/Hate. With all five seasons showing on the RTÉ Player, that’s an entire weekend sorted.

Before you know it, the lockdown will be over, and we’ll emerge square-eyed but sated into a bright new December dawn. Just in time to start watching Christmas TV.

Upcoming series

The Alienist returns to Netflix. Photograph: Netflix
The Alienist returns to Netflix. Photograph: Netflix

The Alienist: Angel of Darkness
Friday, October 23rd, Netflix
Daniel Bruhl returns as criminal psychologist Dr Laszlo Kreizler in the second season of the crime drama set in New York at the close of the 19th century. The first series saw Laszlo recruited by police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt to solve the a spate of gruesome murders of rent boys in the city, with help from Roosevelt’s secretary Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) and newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans). In season two, Sara has fulfilled her ambition to set up her own detective agency, and John is now a reporter for the New York Times. All three are reunited when a new case comes up: the Spanish consul’s daughter has been kidnapped. Our own Stuart Carolan, writer of Love/Hate, is the showrunner on this one, and he brings his usual intensity to the series.

Friday, October 23rd. Netflix
When the Romans invaded Germany back in the year AD 9, they were facing a fragmented land whose tribes were at constant war with each other. With three legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus, and the world’s most advanced military tactics, the Romans were confident they could quickly bring Germania to heel and under the emperor’s rule. Germanic chieftain Araminius knows the only way to drive the Romans back is to unite the tribes – a big ask, almost as hard as getting a Republican to vote Democrat. This historical series focuses on the seminal battle of the Teutoborg Forest, which saw the barbarian hordes stage an audacious ambush on the Roman army. Expect all the usual ingredients for a mighty historical battle re-enactment.

The Queen’s Gambit follows a young woman who discovers a talent for chess. Photograph: Phil Bray/Netflix
The Queen’s Gambit follows a young woman who discovers a talent for chess. Photograph: Phil Bray/Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit
Friday, October 23rd, Netflix
Chess grandmasters (and Wikipedia wizards) will know that the title of this new series refers to an opening move in chess. The series, based on the novel by Walter Tevis, tells the story of a troubled young girl growing up in an orphanage in Kentucky who discovers she has a prodigious talent for playing chess. Soon she is competing in the US Open championship, pitting her wits against some of the greatest chess brains, but her personal demons are always looking over her shoulder.

The Undoing
Monday October 26th, Sky Atlantic & Now TV
With Big Little Lies, Nicole Kidman has proven she has the TV chops to create watchable telly drama, and this new series sees her team up with the always-entertaining Hugh Grant for a psychological drama about a woman who seems to have it all, but who is suddenly in danger of losing it all. Okay, the plot – based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz – doesn’t exactly sound original, but Kidman is sure to bring some edginess to her role as high Grace Fraser, whose life comes crashing to earth after her husband, Jonathan (Hugh Grant) disappears, leaving a string of very public disasters in his wake. Grace must marshal all her wits to survive in this hostile new reality, and get to the truth about what’s really going on. (It’s a conspiracy, I tell ya.)

The team on Home Rescue transform spaces in need of attention. Photograph: Barry McCall/RTÉ
The team on Home Rescue transform spaces in need of attention. Photograph: Barry McCall/RTÉ

Home Rescue
Thursday, October 29th, RTÉ One
We’ve spent so much time at home during the pandemic, we haven’t noticed that the place has got a little cluttered. In fact, it’s got very cluttered (well, I suppose we did go a bit mad on the online shopping). Now, with more restrictions looming, the realisation has dawned on us that there’s actually no room for us in our own house, thanks to all the accumulated stuff piled up (curse you, Jeff Bezos!). Time to call in architect and decluttering guru Roisin Murphy and super-builder Peter Finn to literally give us a dig-out. In this new season, Roisin and Peter are helping families reorganise their homes for the new normal, in which everyone is working from home, space is at a premium, and it’s time to let go of that bench press from Argos that nobody’s used since April. First up for the home makeover are hairdresser Sinead and her 11-year-old daughter Jodi from Swords, Co Dublin, who need help with a conservatory that’s become a floor-to-ceiling clutter magnet.

Thursday, Oct 29th, Channel 4
British actor, writer and director O-T Fagbenle plays the titular Maxx in this new comedy series, about a washed-up former boyband star desperately trying to revive his career and rekindle romance with his ex- girlfriend, who is currently flying high in the pop stratosphere. Max may be in the proverbial gutter, having gone through his drug hell and tabloid shame, but now he’s determined to take back his pop crown and prove he’s no loser. But the comeback trail is fraught with perils and pitfalls.

The Mandalorian
Friday, October 30th, Disney +
The first series of the Mandalorian swooped in just as lockdown began, giving grateful parents something to keep their kids occupied while they went on a Zoom meeting. The first live-action series based on Star Wars is, at its heart, an old-fashioned western about a be-helmeted gunslinger trying to bring Baby Yoda to safety in a lawless galaxy. Even the fab theme music evoked the spirit of spaghetti westerns. Kids – and grown-ups – will be eagerly awaiting the second series, which promises even more exciting action sequences, more Easter eggs, and more familiar characters from the Star Wars universe, including Boba Fett and Ahsoka Tano. Get those Zoom meetings scheduled now, mum and dad.

Michael Smiley as Brock Blennerhasset in Dead Still. Photograph: RTÉ
Michael Smiley as Brock Blennerhasset in Dead Still. Photograph: RTÉ

Dead Still
Sunday, November 1st, RTÉ One
The world of Victorian Dublin is brought to life in this period drama doubling up as a macabre murder mystery. Michael Smiley plays photographer Brock Blennerhasset, whose speciality is memorial photography, ie, taking staged portraits of dead people. The bizarre fad for postmortem portraits was an actual thing in Ireland in the 1880s – people queued up to have their deceased loved ones dolled up and propped up in a chair to have their picture taken before making their final journey. Demand for Blennerhasset’s services go through the roof, but he’s got a rival – except that this person is actually killing people before taking their picture. Written by John Morton and Imogen Murphy, and co-starring Norma Sheahan, Eileen O’Higgins and Aidan O’Hare co-star, this six-parter has the bones of a morbidly funny series.

My Uni Life
Friday, November 6th, RTÉ One
You might be blasé about going to college but, as this programme shows, it’s a privilege that should not be taken for granted. This new series follows seven students who have overcome some serious challenges, from disability to disadvantage, and defied the odds to get to third level. Their journey through uni is helped by the Access and Disability programmes run by the country’s main universities. After watching this inspiring series, you won’t be so convinced the students are revolting.

Deirdre O’Kane is starting her own chat show on RTÉ
Deirdre O’Kane is starting her own chat show on RTÉ

Deirdre O’Kane Talks Funny
Saturday, November 7th, RTÉ One
Actor and comedian Deirdre O’Kane gets her own Saturday night chat show, and the only question is, why did it take so long for RTÉ to give this supremely talented woman the run of Montrose to do as she likes? O’Kane will be meeting up with some well-known faces and interviewing them in-depth about their lives and careers. The six-part series is nicely timed for lockdown, and promises to keep us entertained through those long Saturday nights when we’re going through Coppers-withdrawal symptoms.

Ray Darcy returns with Dustin, and Zig and Zag for The Den. Photograph: RTE
Ray D’Arcy returns with Dustin, and Zig and Zag for The Den. Photograph: RTE

The Den
Sunday, November 8th, RTÉ One
No, it’s not a hoax or a rumour planted by Dustin the Turkey – the Den really is returning to our screens, and reuniting the old gang - Zig and Zag, Socky, Dustin and Ray D’Arcy. The show was a staple of kids’ TV from 1986 right through to 2005, and it was also popular with students, who would gather round the beer bong and enjoy the madcap antics on the show. Ray, of course, hasn’t aged a day since he first presented the show 30 years ago, but we fear the turkey and the brothers from planet Zog might be a little musty-looking from being left in a box in the RTÉ attic. Never mind, a quick squirt of Febreze, and these little puppety rascals will be as good as new and making with the topical jokes to beat the band.

Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Friday, November 13th, Disney +
The Mandalorian is the flagship series on Disney+, but there’ll be plenty of time to also catch the seventh and final season of this action series all about the goings-on in the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistic Divisions (SHIELD). Season seven sees the team thrust back into New York City in 1931, where they’ll have to fix all sorts of rifts in time before the world as we know it comes to an end. All in a day’s work.

Olivia Coleman in the Crown
Olivia Coleman in the Crown

The Crown
Sunday, November 15th, Netflix
You probably know all there is to know about the British royal family, but don’t let that stop you catching up on all four series of this fab if very familiar saga. For this fourth series, Gillian Anderson takes the role of prime minister Margaret Thatcher (now, that’s an unusual casting to put in the X-Files) but who will be playing Lady Diana Spencer? Relative newcomer Emma Corrin plays Prince Charles’s bride to be, and this role is sure to make her a big star. This chapter covers the early 1980s, when the queen (Olivia Colman) is looking to give the British people bread and circuses with a royal wedding, just as new PM Maggie is putting the jackboot into the unions, and taking Britain to war with the “Argies” over the Falkland Islands.

Small Axe
Sunday, November 15th, BBC One
Steve McQueen is the director behind this anthology series of five TV movies, set within the West Indian community in Britain, and directly addressing the institutionalised discrimination and abuse that dogged the Windrush generation. The title comes from the Jamaican proverb “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe”. John Boyega from Star Wars is among the cast, and the first two films in the series, Mangrove and Lovers Rock, are already Cannes selections.

Social Distance
November 15th, Netflix
It was inevitable that TV scriptwriters would tackle the dramatic possibilities thrown up by the pandemic, and this eight-part anthology series tells stories of people dealing with separation from loved ones, and other human issues that have emerged as we are forced to live with coronavirus. Each episode was made keeping to strict Covid-19 guidelines, and is sure to feature lots of Zoom meetings between characters, and lots of heartrendingly emotional scenes. But are we ready to be in lockdown watching dramas about lockdown? Could be cathartic.

We Are the Champions
November 17th, Netflix
Looking for some ideas for games to pass the time with the family during lockdown? How about a cheese-rolling contest, or a chili-eating contest, a little fantasy hairstyling, or maybe some dog-dancing and frog-jumping challenges. Just make sure you don’t end up in A&E. This new series looks at some of the world’s qurikies competitions, and the people who participate in them with a passion worthy of the Olympics. You need nerves of steel, a body of iron and a stomach of titanium to make it through some of these challenges, so maybe just watching other people endure the pain is the wisest choice for now.

Ryan Tubridy has said the The Late Late Toy Show will go ahead this year
Ryan Tubridy has said the The Late Late Toy Show will go ahead this year

The Late Late Toy Show
November 27th, RTÉ One
Right about now, we need some sign that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that our ordeal will soon be over (for a while anyway). That sign is the Late Late Toy Show, which hits our screens on the last Friday of November, and for anyone worried about Covid putting the kibosh on the Toy Show, presenter Ryan Tubridy assures us it’s “100 per cent happening”. So relax – Christmas hasn’t been cancelled. The theme of this year’s Toy Show is shrouded in secrecy – could be anything from a Rocketman theme to a Zombie Apocalypse theme.

Also look out for...

The An Post Book Awards
There’s another thing you could be doing to pass the time during lockdown – reading books. You’ll know them – they’re about the size of an iPad, but usually a lot thicker, and made up of hundreds of small, ultra-thin screens (known as pages) layered closely on top of each other. You scroll by licking your thumb and flicking each page over (wash your hands first). The An Post Book Awards are a celebration of Irish writing, so expect to see some of our finest wordsmiths being rightly rewarded for their excellent literary efforts.

The Bloodied Field
To mark the centenary of Bloody Sunday, this documentary film revisits that dark day in Dublin in November 1920, when 16 British intelligence agents were assassinated by the IRA under Michael Collins, and RIC policemen opened fire on the crowd at a Dublin-Tipperary match in Croke Park, killing 14. It’s based on the book by Michael Foley, and is a reminder that, compared to events this time 100 years ago, lockdown is actually a bit of a doddle.

Tin Star
Sky Atlantic
Tim Roth returns as haunted cop Jack Worth for the third and final series of the cop thriller, but don’t be expecting a return to the wide-open spaces of the Canadian Rockies. Season three sees Jack and his family leaving Little Big Bear to return home to Liverpool. Why is he going back? To face the demons that drove him out of the place 20 years ago, and also perhaps to take down ruthless local criminal Michael Ryan, who has gained a stranglehold in the city while presenting himself as a legit businessman. Ian Hart plays Ryan, with Genevieve O’Reilly returning as Jack’s wife, Angela, and Abigail Lawrie as their daughter, Anna.

Watch right now

Victoria Pedretti and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth in The Haunting of Bly Manor . Photograph: Eike Schroter/Netflix
Victoria Pedretti and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth in The Haunting of Bly Manor . Photograph: Eike Schroter/Netflix

The Haunting of Bly Manor
Trapped inside a dark house by a scary, unseen force? The producers of this Gothic horror drama know exactly how you feel. This is a follow up series to The Haunting of Hill House, but with a whole new story to give you even more colliewobbles. A young nanny is hired to look after two children in the titular dwelling , but soon she starts seeing and hearing things that go bump in the night. Expect plenty of jump scares, but there’s a real fright in store when you realise that one of the grown-up characters is played by actual Henry Thomas from ET. And that little girl’s voice is oddly familiar… omigod, it’s the actor who voices Peppa Pig. Right, that’s it. I’m sleeping with the lights on.

Schitt’s Creek
The Government may be up the proverbial creek without a paddle, but here’s a chance to revisit the titular town in this acclaimed, Emmy-winning comedy drama. This one went under the radar for several series, but when it moved to Netflix, the word started to get out about this slow-burning gem, and eventually claimed its reward when its sixth and final series won a slew of telly awards this year. Meet the Rose family, formerly super-rich but now on their uppers after their business manager made off with all their money. Dad Johnny (Eugene Levy), mom Moria (Catherine O’Hara) and their two spoilt grown-up kids David (Dan Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy) are forced to move out of their mansion and stay in a run-down motel in the only property they have left in the world: the town of Schitt’s Creek.

Dream Home Makeover
Some clearly insane people actually see lockdown as an opportunity to do those home improvement projects they’ve been putting off, or a chance to clear out their household clutter. Absolute madness. For these oddballs, Netflix has a whole programme category to keep them entertained, and supply them with tips on doing up their gaff. The big, popular one right now is Dream Home Makeover, in which interior design couple Syd and Shea McGee show us how to turn our Covid quarantine zone into a fragrant dream home. With their crack team of designers, the McGees take on a range of home improvement projects and brings us into their own dream home, where they are raising their two daughters.

If that’s not enough home improvement for ya, Netflix are also showing Get Organized with the Home Edit, in which professional organisers Joanne and Clea help Hollywood celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon deal with their clutter. And, if you really want to spark some joy at home during lockdown, have a second visit with that titan of tidying-up, Marie Kondo. When lockdown ends, your home will be so pristine, people will be queuing up to visit.

Timeless treats

Dawson’s Creek
Netflix, November 1st
Nineties nostalgia is a big thing on streaming TV these days, and what could be more Nineties than Dawson’s Creek, the angsty teen comedy drama starring James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes (in all her pre-Tom Cruise innocence), Joshua Jackson and Michelle Williams, all navigating the usual obstacles of adolescence (but not having to worry about being ghosted on Facebook, trolled on Twitter or body-shamed on Instagram). If you still have any dormant teenage hormones hiding in there, this show is sure to reactivate them. But there’s bad news for nostalgists: The classic theme tune, I Don’t Want to Wait by Paula Cole, will not be opening the show.

The West Wing
If you can bear to watch, the US presidential election should provide some serious hide-behind-the-sofa moments, but just to whet your appetite for the cut and thrust of Washington politics, Channel 4 has just acquired all seven seasons of the classic drama series The West Wing for its streaming app, All4. Created by Aaron Sorkin and starring Martin Sheen as Potus, this series brings you right inside the workings of the White House, and features an all-star cast that includes Rob Lowe, Stockard Channing, Alison Janney, Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits.

“All eyes turn to The West Wing over the next few weeks and so there could not be a more fitting time to bring this giant of a show to All 4,” said Channel 4’s Head of Series Acquisitions Nick Lee

Kevin Spcecy and Robin Wright in House of Cards

House of Cards
While The West Wing harks back to a more noble vision of the White House, House of Cards is probably closer to what’s really going on on Capitol Hill these days. Kevin Spacey stars as corrupt congressman Frank Underwood, rewrites the entire dirty trick book to fulfil his lust for power. He’s helped by his ambitious wife Claire (Robin Wright) as he backstabs his way to the ultimate seat of power in the Oval office. Spacey was removed from the show following allegations of sexual misconduct, and the final series put Robin Wright at the centre of things, but the series is still worth watching just to see how low a prez can go.

Breaking Bad
Widely acknowledged as one of the best US drama series ever made, alongside The Wire and The Sopranos, this chemical-based crime drama had just the right formula to keep viewers coming back for more. The story of teacher-turned-drug dealer Walter White arrived at just the right time, when telly addicts were suffering serious withdrawal symptoms from the ending of The Sopranos the previous year. But it turned out to be more than just a quick fix, and Breaking Bad has gone into the annals of classic TV, and spawned a successful spin-off on Netflix, Better Call Saul.

They'll be there for you: Friends

You’ve been promising to revisit the gang in Central Perk cafe and reacquaint yourself with their incredibly varied and complex personalities (the ditsy one, the preppie one, the geeky one, etc), but you just haven’t had the time, what with all that social media to keep up with. But now here’s your golden opportunity to re-immerse yourself in the lives of Joey, Ross, Rachel, Monica, Phoebe and Chandler, as they wisecrack their way through 10 seasons of this gritty TV series about young privileged white people trying to make it in the badlands of Manhattan. Luckily, we won’t have to watch The One with the Pandemic.

And if that’s not enough…

Once you’ve had your fill of the above, don’t forget that there’s lots of sports coverage to keep you on the edge of your seat, with both the GAA inter-county championships starting on Sunday and the rugby autumn internationals going ahead, and the Women’s Six Nations also on the calendar. Check your local TV listings for dates and kick-off times.

Click into the RTÉ Player, the Virgin Media Player or the All4 player, all free, to catch up on more classic programmes and binge out on more box sets than can be squeezed into just one lockdown. As well as The West Wing (see above) the RTÉ Player has bingeable boxsets including The Fall starring Jamie Doran and Gillian Anderson, The Hour starring Dominic West, and One Tree Hill. Also check out Sinead Quinlan’s new comedy series Seriously, Sinead! The Virgin Media player gives you a chance to catch up on such dramas as Des starring David Tennant as notorious serial killer Denis Nilsen, Midsomer Murders, Harlots and Gogglebox Ireland – but hurry, they won’t be there forever. And if you need a sugar rush, catch up with The Great British Bake Off on All4 – the ultimate in comfort viewing.