TV guide: 10 of the best shows to watch this week, starting tonight

Comedian Ardal O’Hanlon tries to find out how Irish people got their potty mouths

Holy F***
Sunday, RTÉ One, 9.30pm
Why the f*** do we swear? It's a question we don't dwell on very often – curse words just seem to just trip off our tongues, and we hardly give a second thought as to why we do it. But comedian and actor Ardal O'Hanlon is keen to find out how Irish people got their potty mouths – do we have it worse than other countries, or is bad language a universal affliction? Is effing and blinding a sign of intelligence or an indicator of idiocy? The most pertinent question, though, is why the f*** no one has thought of doing a programme like this before? O'Hanlon meets fellow comedy actor Tommy Tiernan to chat about the proper usage of swear words in comedy, and author Lisa McInerney discusses how writers pepper their prose with epithets. And the famously sweary Bob Geldof recalls that moment he dropped the f-bomb on global TV during Live Aid in 1985 – prompting viewers to get up off their arses and pledge money. Other expletive experts will be on hand to talk about the evolution of swear words, swearing as gaeilge, the origins of minced oaths such as "feck" and "jeepers", how The Irish Times handles swear words, and why swearing may be actually good for your health. WTF?!

The Pursuit of Love
Sunday, BBC One, 9pm
Ooh-er, missus, the Beeb have commissioned yet another sexy romp set in bygone days – send the kids outside to play hopscotch and settle down uncomfortably for this tale of two best friends, Fanny Logan and Linda Radlett, in the time between the two World Wars. Both women are on the hunt for the perfect husband, but while Fanny is happy to play it safe and go for the boring but reliable type, Linda's sexually adventurous spirit brings her to places no proper lady should venture. It all plays out to a backdrop of huge social and political upheaval in Europe, as both women find their values and life choices challenged in a changing world. This three-part comedy-drama is based on the book by Nancy Mitford and features an all-star cast including Lily James, Emily Beecham, Dominic West, Dolly Wells, Andrew Scott, Emily Mortimer, Shazad Latif and Freddie Fox.

Three Families
Monday, BBC One, 9pm
It's been described in some quarters as the BBC's next "must-see" TV show, and it's easy to see why – not only does it feature an amazing cast, it's based on several compelling and moving true stories. The UK made abortions legal in 1967 – except in Northern Ireland; it wasn't until 2019 that they were permitted. Writer Gwyneth Hughes has set her story in the six-year run-up to that event while revealing how three women and their families dealt with a very particular set of difficult circumstances; their real identities and certain details have been changed to protect their anonymity. Sinead Keenan, Lola Petticrew, Amy James-Kelly and Genevieve O'Reilly head the cast, with fine support from Colin Morgan and Owen McDonnell.

The Brit Awards 2021
Tuesday, ITV, 8pm
This year's Brit Awards comes with an incredible announcement: there will be an actual audience present in London's O2 Arena for the annual UK music industry bash. As part of a special British government pilot scheme, 2,500 tickets have been given to key workers who have selflessly served their communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Jack Whitehall will present this year's awards, and he'll be no doubt delighted to be performing in front of real people again, as will special guest Dua Lipa, who is up for a Best Female Artist gong and a Best Album gong for the fabulous Future Nostalgia. "This has been a long, tough year for everyone and I'm delighted the night will honour the key worker heroes who have cared for us so well during that time and continue to do so. They are quite simply an inspiration," says the singer. Also lined up on the night are Olivia Rodrigo, whose song Driver's Licence hit the number 1 slot in 25 countries, and Rag'n'Bone Man and P!nk, who will be dueting their new tune, Anywhere Away from Here, with the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust Choir.

Ailse & Ise
Wednesday, TG4, 9.30pm
Imagine being diagnosed with breast cancer just as you become pregnant with your second child. That was the situation journalist Evelyn O'Rourke found herself in 10 years ago, and in this feature-length documentary she juxtaposes her own experience with that of many women today. How has cancer treatment come on over the past 10 years, and are women being treated with more compassion and care by medical professionals? She meets women who have been diagnosed with cancer and learns about their experience, and speaks to families, doctors, researchers and activists – including Stephen Teap, whose wife, Irene, died of cervical cancer, and to Lynsey Bennett, who earlier this year settled her High Court case against the HSE over her missed cancer diagnosis.

Danny Boy
Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm
Anthony Boyle and Toby Jones star in a hard-hitting feature-length drama based on a true story. It focuses on the events surrounding the Al-Sweady inquiry, one of the biggest ever public inquiries to take place in Britain. Boyle plays Brian Wood, a decorated soldier declared a hero on his return from Iraq before being accused of war crimes by human rights lawyer Phil Shiner (Jones). We'll witness Wood's battlefield exploits, including the event that led to him receiving the Military Cross, before heading to the courtroom for the biggest fight of his life – to clear his name. Alex Ferns, Pauline Turner and Leah McNamara also appear as Wood's parents and wife; Bafta-winning writer Robert Jones penned the script.

Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause
Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm
For many women, entering the menopause is something they don't want to talk about. In fact, as McCall reveals here, she was advised, when hers began at the age of 44, not to discuss it publicly because it could ruin her image. Nine years on, she's determined that others shouldn't go through such a situation and hopes that by opening up about her own symptoms – which included hot flushes, depression, mental fog and confusion, all of which she tried to hide – women everywhere will be encouraged to chat about their own experiences. McCall is also keen to bust myths and tackle taboos surrounding the transition while examining the science and fear around hormone replacement therapy and the lack of specialist education available to GPs.

From Friday, Netflix
The mononymous Halston was one of America's most famous fashion designers, transforming the fashion landscape of the US during the 1970s and 1970s, and creating a new style of urban chic that screamed luxury, celebrity and sex appeal. He hung out at Studio 54 with his best mates Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol, and had a long on-off affair with the artist Victor Hugo. Who can portray this colourful character who died from Aids-related illness in 1988? Ewan McGregor is stepping into the suede suit in this limited series, which also stars Krysta Rodriguez, Gian Franco Rodriguez, Bill Pullman, Rory Culkin and Vera Farmiga.

The Underground Railroad
From Friday, Amazon Prime Video
This new drama series is set in the American deep south in antebellum times, where railroads were firmly at ground level. But there actually was an underground railroad - a secret route used by African-American slaves to escape the plantations and find a new life in more enlightened parts of the US. When Cora Randall (Thuso Mbedu) learns of the existence of this railroad, she naturally thinks it's a metaphor, but when she flees the Georgia plantation where she is enslaved to embark on the rumoured route to freedom, she is astonished to find that it is an actual railroad, with a concealed network of tracks and tunnels running deep beneath the soil, and with its own engineers and conductors. But bounty hunter Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton) is in hot pursuit of Cora, and recapturing her has become a personal obsession for him, since the only escapee to have ever eluded him was Cora's mother, Mabel.

Friday, Sky Atlantic and Now TV, 9pm
From the people who brought you Fortitude, here's an epic tale of a powerful but fatally dysfunctional family: the Caesars. It's a saga of betrayals, back-stabbing and power-grabs, but the emperors, senators and soldiers play second fiddle to the female central character of Livia Drusilla, wife of Augustus, father of Tiberius and grandmother of Claudius, who rose to become the most powerful woman in Rome, controlling the empire's political landscape through a blend of guile and ruthlessness. She was memorably portrayed by Sian Phillips in the 1970s TV series I, Claudius, and here she's played by Kasia Smutniak, who will no doubt make the character her own as she takes centre-stage. The series follows her as she starts off a naive young girl, but who soon learns, in the wake of Julius Caesar's assassination, that she must develop some street-smarts if she is to live past the next Ides of March.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist