TV guide: 18 of the best shows to watch this week
Up close with Ireland's street artists, plus playing with Gadafy, Trump’s mum, the Irish Rich List, and the uplifting life of an Irish undertaker
Blindboy and Luke Kelly by Subset, part of Wonder Walls: The Story of Irish Street Art, Monday on RTÉ2
A Waterford street artist from Animalitoland in Wonder Walls
Trumpstreet art by Subset, shown in Wonder Walls
In League With Gaddafi
Monday, RTÉ One, 9.35pm
Irish soccer has seen its share of bizarre friendlies, but the strangest one of all must have been when a combined League of Ireland side, featuring players from St Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians, flew to Tripoli in 1989 to play a friendly against Libya’s top club Al Ahli. This was at the height of tensions in the region, when Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gadafy was public enemy No 1, and American and Libyan fighter planes were regularly engaging in air combat. But while the US had a beef with Cadafy, Ireland and Libya bonded over beef. This documentary looks at how Ireland’s meet barons were getting rich from exports to Libya while the Provisional IRA was receiving Libyan weapons courtesy of the colonel.
Wonder Walls: The Story of Irish Street Art
Monday, RTÉ2, 10.10pm
In recent years Ireland has seen an explosion in street art along with enormous social change. Wonder Walls explores the street art scene, from humble beginnings projecting political murals on Belfast’s walls to today’s superstar artists and their influence over modern Ireland. The island, of course, has seen enormous social change in recent years: Ireland was the first country to democratically endorse same-sex marriage and recently overthrew, by referendum, the ban on abortion which was as old as the State itself. Here we meet some of the street artists who have been at the heart of these battles – and, it is claimed, have even influenced this change. The film includes the subversive art collective Subset, which in recent years have redecorated vast tracts of Dublin, as well as artist James Earley, who painted Blooms Hotel in Temple Bar. In Waterford we are introduced to some of the world’s most high-profile artists, including The Monkey Bird Crew and Animalito, as they interact with the locals and transform the city.
The X Factor: The Band
Monday/Wednesday/Friday, Virgin One, 8.30pm
You assumed Simon Cowell’s grip on the TV schedules had finished a little early this year, following his Britain’s Got Talent spin-off and celebrity version of The X Factor. Wrong!. The latest offering from the pop Svengali is yet another talent search, and this time he’s on the hunt for a group worthy of following in the footsteps of previous TXF veterans One Direction, Fifth Harmony and Little Mix – as well as generate pots of cash for Team Cowell.
The Case of Sally Challen
Monday, BBC2, 9pm
In 2010, Surrey mother-of-two Sally Challen bludgeoned her husband Richard to death as he sat eating lunch at the kitchen table, and was found guilty of murder at her trial in 2011. This documentary follows her appeal against the conviction, with her new defence lawyers arguing that she was the victim of Richard’s coercive control, a newly understood type of psychological abuse, and that she should be in prison for manslaughter, not murder. It is the first time that coercive control has been presented to the courts as a partial defence to murder.
The Royal Variety Performance 2019
Tuesday, Virgin One, 7.30pm
Comedians Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan host their debut Royal Variety Performance in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from the London Palladium. Tonight’s star-studded extravaganza includes performances from Robbie Williams, Jamie Cullum, Emeli Sandé, Lewis Capaldi, Mabel and Harry Connick Jr, as well as this year’s Britain’s Got Talent winner, Chelsea pensioner Colin Thackery. Topping off an evening are the cast of the West End comedy Groan Ups and the daring Austrian acrobatic dance troupe Zurcaroh.
Amazing Spaces: Northern Lights Adventure
Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm
Finland has some fantastic hidden architectural gems, as George Clarke and master craftsman Will Hardie reveal in this snowy edition of the strand. Beginning in the heart of the country, they explore an iconic Finnish lodge on the edge of a frozen lake. And there’s no shortage of those: the area has 187,000. They cross the country and head into the Arctic circle in pursuit of the iconic northern lights. Along the way, we witness a collection of 60 treehouses, a mini city of igloos, and a cabin built in two weeks. Plus, Clarke takes a husky ride to the most northern stop, at Lake Inari, where he visits a caravan on skis, and Hardiesees the city built underneath Helsinki.
The Funeral Director
Wednesday, RTÉ One, 9.35pm
Just what we need coming up to Christmas: a reminder of our own mortality, and that some day most of us will have a funeral director helping us along on our final journey. This documentary goes behind the scenes at the Sligo funeral parlour of David McGowan, but rather than being morbid or queasy, we are assured that the programme is respectful, thoughtful and, in the end, life-affirming. McGowan inherited the family business after his father bought a pub that just happened to have an undertaker’s attached – a one-stop wake and funeral shop, if you like. McGowan decided to do the death business properly, so he went to Chicago and worked for the Cook County Coroner’s Office, where murder and overdose victims were practically on a conveyor belt. He then returned to Sligo and set up his funeral home, working to the highest standards to give clients’ family members a proper decent send-off. McGowan is also well-known for running his own “glamping” park, which offers refurbished old vehicles (including a disused 767 airplane) as quirky holiday accommodations.
Wednesday, TG4, 9.30pm (repeated Fri, 11.10pm)
We all know about Donald Trump and his father Fred’s background. But little is known about his late mother Mary Macleod, who was raised in the remote Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides and was one of thousands of immigrants who left for America in search of a better life. Síle Nic Chonaonaigh goes on a journey and explores the story behind Mary MacLeod. Running like a thread through the documentary is the story of a very special friendship, between Mary Anne MacLeod and Agnes Stiven, her teenage pen pal, from the east coast city of Dundee, who in later life wrote a memoir of their relationship. Through pictures and letters, we follow the blossoming friendship between the two young Scots and recount their meetings as they each prepared to travel abroad and marry: Mary to America and Agnes to pre-war 1930s Germany.
The Secret Life of the Zoo at Christmas
Wednesday, Channel 4, 8pm
As the festive season approaches at Chester Zoo, Bactrian camels Becky and Mei-Li are about to be given a seasonal surprise in the shape of Sparky, a young addition to the herd. In the zoo’s aquarium, Clerk and Doris, long-term mascara barb fish partners seem to have lost their spark; will the arrival of three new females in their tank perk them up a bit? Meanwhile, red pandas Nima and Koda are also going through a difficult time in their relationship, but the keepers are still hopeful there will be a new arrival at Christmas.
My Grandparents’ War: Kristin Scott Thomas
Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm
Kristin Scott Thomas recently played Clementine Churchill opposite Gary Oldman’s Winston in Darkest Hour. Here she turns the spotlight on her grandfather William. He served as a commanding officer in the Royal Navy throughout the second World War and survived some of its most devastating battles, from Dunkirk to D-Day, but never spoke about his experiences. For the first time, Scott Thomas discovers how he saved thousands at Dunkirk and endured the horrors of the Russian Arctic convoys. She also meets descendents of people her grandfather saved as well as veterans who served alongside him.
Ireland’s Rich List: 21st Century Hotshots
Thursday, RTÉ2, 9.30pm
Just what we need coming up to Christmas, as we’re hunched over the books wondering how we’re going to pay for the season: both a reminder of our own impecunity and a tantalising glimpse into the lives of Ireland’s super-rich, whose only worry this Christmas is which shade of blue to choose for the wife’s new Porsche. Richard Curran presents this two-part series, which focuses on the 50 top self-made millionaires to emerge in the new millennium. But this won’t be a simple exercise in economic envy; Curran will interview a few of them to find out how they made their fortunes, and examine future trends to see which sectors are potentially the most lucrative – and which are most likely to bottom out. Hopefully, we might pick up some tips in time to get on next year’s Rich List.
I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! Coming Out
Thursday, Virgin One, 9pm
That’s almost it for another year. The famous faces have survived their time in the jungle, and by now we know the winner. Before calling it a day, however, there’s this obligatory episode which sees the assorted survivors arriving back at a swanky hotel, jumping on beds (who can blame them?), reflecting on their time in camp, and gauging the reaction of the press and public in Blighty. After-show parties can be a little awkward, especially if some celebs wound others up, so it’s anyone’s guess how this year’s edition goes. But, there’s a good bet we’ll see plenty of clips of the biggest star in this series, Caitlyn Jenner, who managed to be one of its most engaging stars.
Christmas at Chatsworth House
Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm
This show goes behind the scenes of the eponymous 500-year-old pile, one of England’s most impressive stately homes. This festive season will see 800 staff brace themselves for an influx of 200,000 visitors. Little wonder Christmas is Chatsworth’s most important event of the year. Known to film fans as the backdrop to Pride & Prejudice, Barry Lyndon and The Duchess, Chatsworth House has now been transformed with more than 30 Christmas trees, 60,000 baubles, and a million fairy lights. However, as Derbyshire has been crippled by unprecedented flooding this year, family and staff have to work extra hard to make this a season to be remembered.
Hector USA – Ó Chósta go Cósta
Thursday, TG4, 9.30pm
It’s RV time for Hector Ó hEochagáin as he heads for the Grand Canyon, to be astonished by the size and the beauty of this wonder of the world. Between meeting an Indian chief, campfires and sunsets, it’s time to hit the road south once again. He checks out a pawn shop in Phoenix, plays some Top Golf and does some dairy farming. Then it’s more journeying to check out Biosphere 2, chase some rattlesnakes and check out the Drug Mule tracks on the Mexican border with Tim Foley and Arizona Border Recon.
C4 Alternative Election Night
Thursday, Channel 4, 9.55pm
If you prefer election coverage to be less serious than the usual number-crunching, this is the show for you. Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Katherine Ryan and Rylan Clark-Neal will provide the lowdown on the British elections as they unfold, with help from Clare Balding delivering results as they happen; Matt Forde on the “Alternative News Desk”; and Rob Rinder assessing the mood on the ground. There are also contributions from former home secretary Amber Rudd, ex-Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, and comedians including Tez Ilyas and Sophie (The Circle) Willan.
Inside the Christmas Factory
Thursday, BBC2, 9pm
Gregg Wallace and Cherry Healey find out how favourite festive party foods are made. Wallace visits an enormous factory in Nottingham where 200,000 canapes are produced every 24 hours. Healey discovers fail-safe scientific methods for cooking the perfect Christmas roast, turning her oven into a turkey sauna by popping ice cubes into a baking tray. Historian Ruth Goodman looks into the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe and also investigates how the period of advent, traditionally associated with fasting, came to be connected with chocolate-packed calendars.
The Graham Norton Show
Friday, BBC1, 10.35pm
A film version of Cats has been in the pipeline for decades, so when it was announced that Les Misérables/His Dark Materials helmer Tom Hooper was directing, many fans were excited. But when the trailer dropped, the response was rather curious; one broadsheet columnist called it the “most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen”. So will it live long in the Memory (geddit?) or bring home a Golden Raspeberry Award? That remains to be seen, but expect plenty of praise from two of its stars, Judi Dench and Jennifer Hudson. Plus: Hugh Grant and Matthew McConaughey will be promoting their action thriller The Gentleman; Michael Bublé, fresh from completing his UK tour, will also be chatting; and Coldplay provide the music.
Adam Hills: Take His Legs
Friday, Channel 4, 11.30pm
There’s a lot more to Adam Hills than just being a stand-up, hosting The Last Leg and having one of the most bizarre beards of the year. He’s also a rugby league fan and the driving force behind establishing the first Physical Disability Rugby League team, the Warrington Wolves. In this documentary, Hills attempts to live out his boyhood dream of playing competitive rugby league. Cameras follow him and his team-mates to the other side of the world, where they play against the South Sydney Rabbitohs at the ANZ Stadium in Australia for the first International Club Challenge. The squad hopes to prove themselves the best in the world, as well as mee the Rabbitohs’ owner: movie star Russell Crowe.