TV guide: 24 of the best shows to watch this week

Shorts Yule Love, Samhlú, Dementia Choir at Christmas, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Shorts Yule Love: The Big Christmas Song, Monday to Friday mornings on RTE2

Shorts Yule Love: The Big Christmas Song, Monday to Friday mornings on RTE2


Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Christmas Fishing
Sunday BBC2, 8.10pm
It’s gentle, often a bit silly, a whole lot of fun – and even those who have never picked up a fishing rod in their lives adore this programme. The best buddies have a festive treat for viewers, and it’s also rather special for Bob Mortimer because it takes him back to his roots in Middlesbrough. He and Paul Whitehouse spend time angling on the river Esk and Tees in the hope of catching an elusive glorious grayling. Bob also tries to prove to Paul that the spirit of Christmas really does still exist, which could prove trickier than landing any fish.

Small Axe: Education
Sunday, BBC1, 9pm

Kenyah Sandy (left) in Bad Axe: Education
Kenyah Sandy (left) in Bad Axe: Education

The final drama in film-maker Steve McQueen’s series features an extraordinary central performance from screen newcomer Kenyah Sandy. Kingsley (12) is fascinated by astronauts and rockets, but he is also about to be accused of being disruptive in class, causing him to be sent to a school for those with “special needs”. His parents, distracted by working two jobs, are unaware their son has become caught up in an unofficial segregation policy – until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands.

Shorts Yule Love
Monday-Friday, RTÉ2, 6.40am/11.20am
Shorts Yule Love is a series of 10 Christmas films from Irish animators, commissioned especially for RTÉjr. From heartwarming stories about the spirit of Christmas to Christmas capers to rap songs, the festive season is wrapped up. Two episodes will be shown every morning this week, one at 6.40am and one at 11.20am. The animations are: Bear with Me by Studio Meala; Da Humbug by Flickerpix; Little from Alt Animation; The Wee Littles: Christmas Eve Eve by Magpie 6; Critters TV: Tiny’s Santa List by Turnip & Duck; Mistletoe & Stubbs by JAM Media; Urban Tails: The Big Christmas Song by Pink Kong; An Oíche is Speisialta by Studio 9; Naughty vs Nice by Treehouse Republic; and Gunter Falls in Love by Cardell.

John Gilligan: The End of the Line
Monday, Virgin One, 9pm
Virgin Media News, in conjunction with the Sunday World, delve into the history of John Gilligan’s life of crime, his 25-year battle with the Criminal Assets Bureau, and his futile attempt to re-establish himself as a player in the international drug trade. With Spanish and Irish authorities closing in on Gilligan, is this finally the end of the line for one of Ireland’s most notorious criminals?

Chef vs Corner Shop
Monday, Channel 4, 5.30pm
Celebrity cooks would no doubt beg to differ, but some viewers may think it’s fairly easy to create a spectacular dish when you have access to a range of exotic and expensive ingredients. But this new series presented by Chizzy Akudolu sees a resident chef take on a different challenger each day to find out who can rustle up the best two-course menu with a budget of £10, using ingredients sourced from a corner shop. It begins in Somerset, where Dean Edwards is out to prove he can take on famous chefs and locals alike.

The Real Full Monty: On Ice
Monday/Tuesday, ITV, 9pm
When it comes to spotting coronavirus symptoms, many of us have spent the past year being hypervigilant. But it’s still important that we check our bodies for cancer – which is why a host of celebrities are braving the cold and performing a strip routine the ice. The ladies are represented by Woman’s Hour legend Dame Jenni Murray, actress Linda Lusardi and Hayley Tamaddon, Love Island’s Shaunghna Phillips, and This Morning’s Dr Zoe. Baring all for the boys will be rugby star Gareth Thomas, actor Jamie Lomas, singer Jake Quickenden, jockey Bob Champion, Diversity’s Perri Kiehly, and Love Island’s Chris Hughes. All of them have been touched by cancer, but only half of them have skated before, so Ashley Banjo and Coleen Nolan really have their work cut out in this two-part special.

Food Unwrapped’s Festive Feast
Monday, Channel 4, 8pm
After the year we’ve just had, we all deserve a chance to eat, drink and be at least a little merry this Christmas. But how much do we know about the food gracing our yuletide tables? Well, we’ll know a lot more after this episode, which sees Jimmy Doherty hosting a party at his farm. The guests will be bringing the gift of knowledge, as Amanda Byram exposes the surprising truth about turkey crowns, Kate Quilton uncovers the art of making the perfect Christmas cake, and Briony Williams investigates the classic starter, prawn cocktail.

Tuesday, TG4, 9.30pm

Tommy Tiernan in Samhlú
Tommy Tiernan in Samhlú

In a small village in the west, in a time of Covid, a new hero emerges, and his name is...Tommy Tiernan. Samhlú is an ambitious new arts project, a collaboration between TG4 and the Government’s Creative Ireland Programme, and a show of solidarity for the artists and performers who have struggled through this most philistine pandemic. Samhlú is a “call to reimagine our world”, says Minister for Culture, Arts and the Gaeltacht Catherine Martin. “In the depth of winter after a long, tough year, this magical programme will lighten our spirits.” Filmed in and around the scenic town of Roundstone, Co Galway, in the heart of Connemara, Samhlú stars Tiernan as The Wanderer, a wizardy mix of Gandalf and Fortycoats, who can wield the mysterious power of creativity to conjure up some music and dancing to drive away the demon virus. Or something like that.

With Tiernan as the magical MC, the scene is set for a showcase of some fine Irish talent, with performances from Shane Hennessey, Moxie, Slow Moving Clouds, Julie Feeney, Morgan Bullock, David Geaney, Rónán Ó Snodaigh and Vario. And just to really put the cap on it, Riverdance composer Bill Whelan, a resident of Roundstone, has specially composed a piece of music to premiere on the night. Could Samhlú grow legs and become another big Irish success story to follow Riverdance? You just have to use the power of imagination.

Tuesday, Sky Witness, 9pm

Hamza Haq in Transplant
Hamza Haq in Transplant

Here’s a Canadian medical drama with a very contemporary premise: Dr Bashir Hamed (Hamza Haq) is a charismatic medic who has fled his war-torn home of Syria with his sister Amira (Sirena Gulamgaus) to start a new life in Canada. Forget M*A*S*H – Dr Bash has honed his medical skills in the teeth of the Syrian war, saving lives while under constant fire. You’d think with his battle-hardened skills, he’d be in demand by Canadian hospitals, but he is now a refugee and must start again from scratch to claw his way back to the medical world. John Hannah costars.

The Year That Changed Love
Tuesday, Channel 4, 10pm
Covid has changed a lot of things, including many people’s love lives. It’s kept some couples apart, forced others a little too close together, and inspired many singletons to check out the world of socially distanced dating. This documentary follows different people who have managed to make the experience work for them, including divorcee Louise (50) from Salisbury, who started exploring dating sites with the help of an online love guru. In Llanelli, Ffion and Ben can’t see each other – and when they finally are united, they can’t touch. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, Claire gets over her commitment phobia by going into lockdown with Jade after just one date. And in Bradford, separated couple Dean and Emma rekindle their spark while in isolation.

Christmas at Hampton Court
Tuesday, Channel 5, 9pm
Chief curator Tracy Borman goes behind the scenes look at Surrey’s historic palace, exploring royal Christmas celebrations past and present. Some of Hampton Court’s traditions date back to the time of one of its most famous inhabitants, Henry VIII, including blessing the giant shire horses and bringing in the mistletoe from the Home Park. Other Tudor rituals that have endured include decking the halls in festive greenery, and there’s also an insight into the carol service in the Chapel Royal.

Réabhlóid GAA
Wednesday, TG4, 9.30pm
This new one-hour documentary that tells the story of how hurling redefined itself as a sport in the 1990s to truly become our national game. For more than a century the hurling spoils were shared among the traditional three superpowers of Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary. As the decade began there was no sign of the aristocracy being unseated. Then, in five minutes in 1994, the hurlers of Offaly sparked a revolution. A collection of upstarts destroyed the old order and go down in history as Ireland’s most charismatic, colourful and enduring personalities. Réabhlóid GAA digs deep into an extensive archive of classic GAA shows – Breaking Ball, Road to Croker, Committee Room, Championship Matters, Thank GAA It’s Friday – weaving together archive interviews with unforgettable action from some of the greatest games of all time. Featuring, among others, Davy Fitzgerald, Ger Loughnane, Brian Whelahan, Johnny Dooley, Johnny Pilkington, Liam Griffin, Martin Storey, all in their heyday, these are the winners writing the history as they lived it.

Vicky McClure’s Dementia Choir at Christmas
Wednesday, BBC1, 7.30pm
Last year, Line of Duty star Vicky McClure starred in a TV special in which she performed onstage with a choir of people who all had one thing in common: they were living with dementia. McClure was inspired to form the choir following the death of her grandmother Iris, who was diagnosed with dementia at age 75. Seeing the positive effect music had on her gran, McClure gathered a group of people from her home town of Nottingham, and the choir performed at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham in front of 2,000 people. Now, in this second special, McClure reconnects with the choir members in lockdown and helps one member, Mick, to fulfil his dream of singing on stage one last time. But a surprise is in store for Mick: his co-performers at the London Coliseum will be members of the English National Opera, and he will also be joined onstage by McClure’s Line of Duty co-star Adrian Dunbar. No heart will be left unwarmed.

Gordon, Gino & Fred: Desperately Seeking Santa
Wednesday, ITV, 9pm

Gordon Ramsay, Gino D’Acampo and Fred Sirieix in Gordon, Gino & Fred: Desperately Seeking Santa
Gordon Ramsay, Gino D’Acampo and Fred Sirieix in Gordon, Gino & Fred: Desperately Seeking Santa

You may recall that Gino D’Acampo led his pals Gordon Ramsay and Fred Sirieix to the deserts of Morocco for their festive misadventure last year. This time the Scots su-perchef has arranged for them to take a trip in their trusty RV to the ultimate winder wonderland destination: Lapland. Gino has a letter from his daughter Mia that he needs to hand-deliver to Father Christmas. Fred, meanwhile, is eager to witness the Northern Lights, while Gordon wants the three of them to encounter one of Lapland’s top culinary delights – reindeer meat. They also get to experience a not-so-traditional Christmas feast with the indigenous Sami people, who have herded reindeer for centuries. And it wouldn’t be a Gordon, Gino & Fred Road Trip unless they got “snowballs deep” in everything Lapland has to offer, including ice swimming, saunas, snowmobiles and huskies.

Fanning at Whelans
Thursday, Virgin Media Two, 10pm

Andrea Corr and Domhnall Gleeson join Dave Fanning in Whelans

How many times this year have we wished we could just go down to Whelan’s, order a pint of Guinness, and catch an up-and-coming band in live action? Well, Dave Fanning has decided he’s going to wait no longer, and in this two-part entertainment series, he rocks up to the legendary venue to host special performances by rising and well-established acts including Soda Blonde, Sorcha Richardson, Isaac Butler, Mick Flannery, The Academic and Villagers, all of whom had their 2020 plans upended by Covid, but are still tuned up and ready to perform. But Fanning’s not just an audience of one here. Along the way he’ll meet up with such stars as Andrea Corr from The Corrs, and Domhnall Gleeson, one-time keyboard player with Soronprfbs, but more recently a key member of the First Order. And there’ll be some interesting sidebars featuring Phil Lynott, Shane MacGowan and U2. Part two will air on St Stephen’s Day at 11.05pm, with encore performances on Virgin Media One on Saturday 19th at 10.45pm and Sunday 27th at 11.35pm.

Christy Ring: Man and Ball
Thursday, RTÉ One, 10.15pm

Christy Ring. Photograph: The Irish Examiner. Colourisation: My Colorful Past
Christy Ring. Photograph: The Irish Examiner. Colourisation: My Colorful Past

When I were just a lad, we had our sports heroes who had become household names: Muhammad Ali. Jack Nicklaus. George Best. Jackie Stewart. Billie Jean King. But those names paled before the greatest sporting legend of them all – Christy Ring. In our minds, Ring was a mythical Irish hero in the vein of Cuchulainn or Finn Mac Cumhail, and this one-off documentary looks at the life, career and cultural impact of the Cork hurler, Ireland’s first sporting superstar, and reminds us that he was, in fact, a real person, living and walking among us.

With contributions from his family, including his son Christy Ring Jr, and archive footage dug out of attics around the country, this programme aims to build up a picture of the man who became synonymous with hurling greatness. And, just to bring his story into even more vivid life, Man and Ball commissioned Matt Loughrey to restore and colourise photos of Ring from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, and the Irish Film Archive has re-scanned Louis Marcus’s famous film on the star in 2K resolution. And, just to illustrate Ring’s legendary status, Marvel comic artist Will Sliney (also from Cork) has created a series of superhero images of Ring at key moments in his career. But this documentary doesn’t lose sight of the ordinary man behind the legend, who drove an oil truck for a living and went to Mass every day, but who chased the ball on the pitch with an almost religious fervour.

Queens of the Street
Thursday, Virgin One, 9pm
Sixty years of Coronation Street, the world’s longest-running soap, is marked with a celebration of the women who have ruled the roost in Weatherfield since the first episode in December 1960. With the help of some of the Street’s most famous female faces, past and present, including Julie Hesmondhalgh, Sally Lindsay, Helen Worth, Alison King, Sue Nicholls, Sally Dynevor, Kate Ford, Dolly-Rose Campbell and Patti Clare, Coronation Street’s longest-serving resident William Roache, writers, producers and celebrity fans including Sir Derek Jacobi and Lorraine Kelly, the First Ladies of Coronation Street from every decade are saluted.

Inside Lidl at Christmas
Thursday, Channel 5, 9pm
Does Lidl offer the cheapest turkey and trimmings? How does it compare on quality? And who will win in the annual Christmas pudding taste test? The show follows the Wynne family as they put the German discount retailer through its paces and discover if its random gifts are worth wrapping up. From serving up luxury foods to award-winning wines, this programme reveals just how Lidl prepares for the seasonal rush and how it keeps prices down, and asks if its festive advert is good enough to convince shoppers to step inside their stores.

The Graham Norton Show
Friday, BBC1, 10.45pm
The star guest tonight is George Clooney, who discusses his new post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie The Midnight Sky. Also joining Norton are Michael Sheen and David Tennant, the bickering locked-down actors who are appearing in the second series of Staged; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’s actress Viola Davis; and Vanessa Kirby, who stars in Pieces of a Woman. Finally, musical duo Michael Ball and Alfie Boe perform Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from their new album, Together at Christmas.

George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces: Winter World Tour
Friday, Channel 4, 8pm
Last year, for their Amazing Spaces Winter Wonderland special, architect George Clarke and master craftsman Will Hardie embarked on a road trip to explore the ingenious small-space wonders hidden away among the snowy peaks of the Swiss, French and Italian Alps. Now, in this special episode, George and Will travel to three more picturesque wintry destinations – Norway, Finland and Canada – to check out more amazing designs, from ice hotels to stunning modern homes. Along the way, they build an igloo, race toboggans, feed reindeer and dodge a bear.


Tiny Pretty Things
From Monday, Netflix

Kylie Jefferson in Tiny Pretty Things
Kylie Jefferson in Tiny Pretty Things

In 2015, authors Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton published Tiny Pretty Things, their collaborative novel about life at an elite ballet school. It was an instant success and has won numerous plaudits since. Now it’s been turned into a 10-part TV series. The story follows the fortunes of a group of hugely talented teenagers from a variety of backgrounds, both poor and privileged, who have left their homes and families behind to pursue their dreams of becoming professional dancers. They are enrolled at the Archer School of Ballet, which is aligned with the city’s renowned professional company, City Works Ballet. But it soon becomes clear that the institution is hiding a multitude of sins... Lauren Holly, Kylie Jefferson and Brennan Clost star.

The Expanse
From Wednesday, Amazon Prime
Hopefully this hit sci-fi series will continue for as long as James SA Corey keeps writing the books that inspire it. The ninth is due to be published next year, with a novella to follow. And then that, if what Corey claims is true, will be that. The TV show is slightly behind; here is the fifth season, which is set to contain 10 episodes, one of which will be directed by the show’s star, Thomas Jane. This time around, the story begins as thousands of humans leave the solar system, hoping to find new homes and their fortunes on planets beyond the alien Ring. Meanwhile, the crew of the Rocinante face numerous personal challenges that may impact on the wider community.

Reeling in the Fears
From Thursday, RTÉ Player

Doireann Garrihy, host of Reeling in the Fears
Doireann Garrihy, host of Reeling in the Fears

Wasn’t 2020 a mad year altogether? We had the US election machinations, more Brexit shenanigans, the Coalition craziness – and then there’s the small matter of Covid-19, the virus that threw the mother of all spanners into the works. It’s hard to find the funny side of 2020, but if anyone can do it, it’s Joanne McNally and Doireann Garrihy. McNally has written this satirical look-back at this strangest year ever, while Garrihy delivers the material in her usual madcap way, via weird vox-pops, quirky quizzes, zany Zoom interviews and frankly creepy TikTok videos. By the time you’ve finished laughing at this, you’ll be ready for anything 2021 can throw at you.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
From Friday, Netflix

Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Much has already been said about this eagerly awaited period drama, based on August Wilson’s acclaimed play, mostly because it features the final performance of the late Chadwick Boseman. He’s on top form here as ambitious trumpet player Levee, but it’s Viola Davis who takes centre stage as Ma Rainey, the blues legend who went on to inspire a whole generation of singers. The story focuses on a recording session in Chicago in 1927, during which Ma is locked into a battle of wits with her white manager and producer as she seeks control of her music. Levee, meanwhile, alleviates the boredom as he and his fellow musicians wait for the session to start by asking his colleagues about their experiences, which brings some shocking revelations to light.

The Grand Tour Presents: A Massive Hunt
From Friday, Amazon Prime

The Grand Tour Presents: A Massive Hunt
The Grand Tour Presents: A Massive Hunt

Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond reunite for another motoring extravaganza. This time they’re tooling around the islands of Reunion and Madagascar (expect to hear I Like to Move It somewhere along the way). In their last Amazon Prime special, the trio were thrown into the deep end, having to steer boats down the Mekong Delta, but for this episode, the’re back in their comfort zone: boy-racing in sports cars. But wait until you see the track: a head-spinning ring road that circumnavigates the island – but is actually built out on the sea. Clarkson, May and Hammond will need nerves of solid concrete to zip around this surreal stretch of highway. But that’s nothing to what’s in store for them when they arrive in Madagascar.

Contributing: PA

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