TV guide: 29 of the best shows to watch this week
The Zoo, Top Gear, Me My Brother and Our Balls, Ar Lorg Annie, Fantasy Ireland
Hayley Squires in Adult Material, beginning Monday on Channel 4
Sunday, RTÉ One, 7.30pm
The popular series bringing us behind the scenes at Dublin Zoo returns with a whole new generation of residents to delight. They includeAsali the western lowland gorilla, who is now six months old and keeping the entire troop busy. Also arriving by stork to the zoo are two sea lion pups, a Rothschild’s giraffe calf, a southern rhinoceros calf, and a new calf for the okapi, an endangered central African species. Along with all the new youngsters to look after, staff at the zoo also have to work hard to maintain the wellbeing of the older animals, including Tashi the snow leopard, whose health is deteriorating rapidly, and Cahaya the siamang gibbon, who urgently needs a blood transfusion from her partner Luca to save her and her unborn infant.
Sunday, BBC1, 8pm
Had all been well with the world, we’d already have seen the latest series of the Beeb’s motoring juggernaut – its 29th, no less, and now on BBC1. Production ground to a halt during lockdown, but happily Chris Harris, Paddy McGuinness and Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff were able to return to filming to finish off the run. Those who enjoy their jaunts to foreign climes may, however, be disappointed — the trio had shot a few overseas escapades, but when Covid-19 forced them to stay in the UK, many planned stunts had to be rejigged. (The regular banter, news and all-round nonsense we’ve grown accustomed to is still in place.)
The Great Big Irish Thank You
Sunday, Virgin One, 10pm
The Great Big Irish Thank You, hosted by Muireann O’Connell, is a heart-warming, inspiring and topical TV event at this landmark time in Irish history. With music from The Coronas, celebrity chats and filming from around the country, the special’s aim is to both entertain and shine a light on those who we are all thankful for in these unprecedented times. It’s time to showcase how incredible the nation has been and continues to be during the Covid-19 crisis.
25 Siblings & Me
Sunday, BBC2, 9pm
Imagine waking up one day to discover you have 25 siblings on the other side of the world. That was the scenario faced by Oli (21), a Londoner with Asperger’s, who was conceived using an anonymous Californian sperm donor. After becoming intrigued by his genetic make-up, Oli registered with a website that helps children of sperm donors find each other, leading him to his half-brothers and sisters and their biological father, Daley. Oli’s condition makes it difficult for him to form relationships, but as this moving documentary reveals, he’s determined to get to know his new extended family.
Tipping Point: Lucky Stars
Sunday, ITV, 7pm
Ben Shephard hosts the quiz in which three celebrities take on a giant arcade-style machine in the hope of winning up to £20,000 for charity. This week media star Vogue Williams, MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace and South Shields comedian Chris Ramsey put their wits to the test to discover if any of them have what it takes to master the machine. But will they get just the right amount of riders, ambient drops, broad shoves and lateral movement to make plenty of counters fall down the chutes and into the cash pot?
Monday/Wednesday/Friday, RTÉ One, 7pm
The arts are in the spotlight as Ireland’s actors, comedians, musicians and other live performers face a winter of discontent from a pandemic that shows no signs of letting go its stranglehold on the country’s cultural life. Still, despite the forced cancellation of plays, gigs, exhibitions and festivals, some artists are cracking on and creating new works, refusing to let coronavirus stymie their creativity. Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh meets writers and performers to find out how they’re maintaining a healthy headspace in the midst of Covid madness. Among her guests across the week are Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl series; actor-singer Phelim Drew; comedian Sue Collins, formerly one-third of The Nualas and now one half of comedy act The Dirtbirds; actor Norma Sheahan, who stars in RTÉ’s upcoming drama series Dead Still; Altan singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh; and musician-producer Colm Mac Con Iomaire.
Big Week in September
Monday, RTÉ One, 9pm
During the long summer months of the pandemic, the nation focused on gettingthe kids back to school at the start of September. The last thing any of us wanted was to go through another few months of home schooling and parental hair-pulling. And so, trying our best to blank out the news of the alarming resurgence of Covid-19, we hurriedly dropped the kids to their classrooms, driving away very fast just in case the school changed its mind and asked us to take them back.
The makers of Big Week in September asked pupils, teachers and parents around the country to document this landmark first week back in school, as everyone adjusted to this new normal. The programme chronicles the challenges faced by teachers and staff in keeping a safe and healthy school environment and gives a unique insight into school life in the middle of a pandemic. Among the schools taking part are Abbey Community College in Boyle, Co Roscommon; St Dominic’s College in Ballyfermot; and Coláiste Éamann Rís in Cork city.
Monday, Channel 4, 10pm
This hardcore drama set in the world of porn is sure to get tongues wagging on Twitter, with graphic sex scenes and uncomfortable portrayals of exploitation. The series stars Hayley Squires as British porn queen Jolene Dollar, who has reached the top of her profession while trying to maintain an ordinary life for her three children. But things are changing in the adult industry – people expect to get their kicks free on the web, and adult film-makers have to get their actors to perform more extreme acts to persuade punters to pay up. After an encounter with young starlet Amy on set, Jolene’s life and career begin to unravel. Rupert Everett co-stars as porn mogul Carroll Quinn.
Prince William: A Planet for Us All
Monday, ITV, 9pm
Britain’s Prince Charles has long been an advocate for environmental issues; he recently called for “swift and immediate action” and said that Covid-19 provided us with a “window of opportunity” to reset the economy for a “sustainable and inclusive future”. Clearly some of his thinking has rubbed off on his eldest son. The Duke of Cambridge will join a star-studded line-up giving a TED talk about climate change this month, and has spent the past two years making this eye-opening documentary. William says becoming a father changed his outlook on the world and has inspired him to get more involved in conservation. Among the highlights to look out for is William and Kate’s meeting with David Attenborough, during which it’s revealed that their kids are already big fans of the naturalist.
In the Face of Terror
Monday, BBC2, 9pm
Each episode of this new three-part series tells the story of the ordinary people searching for truth and justice following terrorist atrocities. The final programme will focus on the aftermath of the attack carried out on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last year, during which a white supremacist murdered more than 50 people. Before that, the families of British and American hostages held in Syria by a terror cell dubbed “the Beatles”, due to their UK origins, discuss what happened to their loved ones. They also reveal their tireless efforts to find their relatives during one of the most moving programmes of the year.
Me, My Brother and Our Balls
Monday, BBC1, 9pm
Love Island star Chris Hughes made a big impact when he appeared on live television to have a testicular examination. His aim was to raise awareness for testicular cancer and encourage men to check themselves. What he didn’t expect was the effect it would have closer to home: Hughes’ older brother Ben checked himself for the first time, found a lump and was diagnosed with cancer. Prior to an operation to have his testicle removed, Ben wanted to freeze his sperm but learned that his sample didn’t contain any. With both brothers now concerned about their fertility, they embark on a journey to find out what the future holds for them.
Boswell & Johnson’s Scottish Road Trip
Tuesday, Sky Arts, 9pm
This three-parter follows comedian Frank Skinner and best-selling crime writer Denise Mina as they try to recreate a 1773 trip to the Hebrides made by creator of the first great English dictionary, Samuel Johnson, and his young Scottish friend James Boswell. The modern twosome will tap into their longtime fascinations with the literary duo as they travel around the coast of Scotland via carriages, horses and boats. Skinner and Mina will visit extraordinary sites and enjoy the majestic beauty of the Lowlands, Highlands and islands, discovering what has changed, and what has remained the same since the great 18th-century journey.
Surgeons: At the Edge of Life
Tuesday, BBC2, 9pm
The eye-opening medical documentary returns for a new series that begins with a truly extraordinary procedure as David Jenkins, a world-leading surgeon at Royal Papworth, drains a patient’s body of blood to remove clots in her lungs. At Addenbrooke’s hospital, consultant orthopaedic surgeon Andrew Carrothers is also pushing at the boundaries of medical science with a complex operation intended to help patients whose pelvis and hip bones have been badly weakened by cancer to walk again.
Married at First Sight
Tuesday, Channel 4, 9.30pm
The series returns with a new set of experts, including American dating guru Paul C Brunson, known as the real-life Hitch, and Oprah’s “Love Doctor”, and leading UK matchmaker Gen Gresset. Together they are ready to find the perfect partners for four brave singles. The candidates were selected from some 7,000 applicants, and in the first episode, they get the news that they’ve been matched. However, teacher Michelle’s mother isn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of her daughter walking down the aisle with an IT sales manager she’s never met before.
Sorry, I Didn’t Know
Tuesday, ITV, 10.45pm
It’s black history month in Britian, which ITV is marking with a season of specially commissioned shows, including this four-part panel quiz. Jimmy Akingbola, who was recently seen in the ITV comedy Kate & Koji, is the question master, while the team captains are Chizzy Akudolu and Judi Love. They’ll each be joined by two guests in every episode to test their knowledge of untold stories and unsung heroes, and they’ll also share some interesting facts along the way. And as there are a lot of comedians in the line-up, we should also expect plenty of jokes. The first episode’s panellists are Tom Allen, Colin Salmon, Angie Le Mar and Paul Chowdhry.
The Twilight Zone
Tuesday, Sky One, 10pm
It’s the second series of the rebooted sci-fi anthology, but can it be any stranger than the real world we live in at the moment? Writer Jordan Peele will do his level best to bring us some more tales even more weird and disturbing than the ones in our newsfeed, beginning with this story of a lonely bachelor (Jimmi Simpson) who thinks he’s made a telepathic connection to a girl he meets. Doesn’t sound very far-fetched – we’ve all suffered that delusion at one time or another after a night at Coppers.
Ar Lorg Annie
Wednesday, TG4, 9.30pm
Driven by his curiosity about a reproduction picture hanging in a pub in Glencolmcille, Co Donegal, BBC investigative journalist Kevin Magee goes in search of the lost Irish paintings of controversial American artist Rockwell Kent (1882-1971). He uncovers a tale of romance and political intrigue, and reveals how these led to iconic Donegal images being scattered across the globe.
In 1926, Kent spent four months in the Donegal Gaeltacht, where he painted 36 canvases and made lifelong friends, including Annie McGinley (the subject of the pub picture), her family and their nearest neighbour, sheep farmer Dan Ward. In the 1950s, Kent wanted to return to Ireland, to buy 1000 acres of mountain land and work from there part of the year. But international politics, in particular the anti-communist campaign of US senator Joseph McCarthy (Kent voted socialist and was affiliated with causes espoused by communists), prevented him returning to Ireland for many years. By then it was too late.
Magee uncovered the whereabouts of the paintings and travelled to New York and St Petersburg to find the most famous works from Kent’s Irish collection, such as Annie McGinley and Dan Ward’s Stack.
Wednesday, Sky Arts, 10pm
League of Gentlemen star Steve Pemberton returns with a new batch of bizarre tales from the world of arts and entertainment, loosely based in fact but also playing fast and loose with the facts. Pemberton writes and stars in these strange stories, along with John Bradley and Mark Addy. and the first one concerns comedian Les Dawson, who was very popular on the telly when I were but a young lad with only four channels to choose from. Dawson was famous for his curmudgeonly delivery, rubber face and classic mother-in-law jokes; what we never realised, however, was that this working-class lad from Manchester had high artistic ambitions, and once travelled to Paris to make his name as a novelist, but instead ended up playing piano in a brothel. No, really.
Agatha and the Midnight Murders
Wednesday, Channel 5, 9pm
Another fictional chapter in the life of Agatha Christie. Helen Baxendale takes over from Ruth Bradley and Lyndsey Marshal to play Christie in a tale set during the Blitz Considering the success of her novels, Christie should be a rich woman; instead, she is struggling to make ends meet. So, after 12 Poirot novels in six years, she is selling the novel of the Belgian detective’s death to a private buyer. Agatha needs help to broker the deal, and enlists Travis Pickford (Blake Harrison), the charming grifter from the Truth of Murder, to arrange a late-night exchange at an infamous London hotel.
Thursday, BBC2, 9pm
This documentary series explores some of the most complex criminal investigations in Scotland. In January 2018, Paul Mathieson (37) was found fighting for his life on a street in Renfrew. The victim of a brutal assault, he succumbed to his horrific injuries and the skilled investigators of Police Scotland’s Major Investigations Team took up the case. After working tirelessly on the case for over five months, including enlisting the victim’s sister to help appeal for information, the detectives are left with no forensic evidence, and witnesses who are either vulnerable, unreliable, or both.
Hector Africa A go Z
Thursday, TG4, 9pm
Ireland’s most famous traveller, Hector Ó hEochagáin, head out for the first of three stops on an African road trip from Addis to Zimbabwe. From safaris to Olympic greats, from tribes to wildlife rangers, from rastas to khat farms, from slums to camel markets, Hector takes viewers on the most dangerous, most volatile journey of his life as he begins this road trip through the continent of Africa. He begins in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, zips through Sudan and drops you off in Nairobi, Kenya.
Thursday, RTE2, 11.20pm
This new animated comedy series comes way after the watershed, so we can surmise this one’s not for the kids. Fantasy Ireland combines cruel satire with Irish mythology to take down some of Ireland’s sacred cows, including the church, politicians and even Aldi. In a world bereft of heroes (because they’ve all fecked off to Australia), Ireland needs someone special to lead the country back out of the darkness, and help defeat the evil Fr Murphy and his nasty sidekick, the Leprechaun Flatley. Who better than culchie Ciara, south Dublin snob Tony and west Dublin wideboy Jay (aka The Shamz) to restore the country to wealth? Well, anybody, actually. While we’re promised lots of monsters and madcap laughs, we’re not sure if we’re ready to make the switch from Rick & Morty.
Between the Covers
Friday, BBC2, 7.30pm
The BBC is launching its own TV book club, hosted by Sara Cox. In each episode she’ll be joined by four famous faces who bring in their favourite book of all time to discuss with their fellow guests, while one of the panellists will also talk about their own writing. Future episodes will feature celebs-turned-writers Richard Osman, Graham Norton and Will Young, but first up is comedian Sara Pascoe, who opens up about her tome Sex Power Money.
TOTP2: John Lennon Special
Friday, BBC4, 9pm
December will mark the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. But tonight, the BBC is marking another significant date: what would have been the Beatle’s 80th birthday. The evening begins with Lennon at 23, larking about in the classic Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night, before this Top of the Pops 2 special, which was originally shown in 2000 to mark his 60th birthday and features the tracks Imagine, Jealous Guy and Instant Karma, as well as an interview with Yoko Ono. Speaking of Yoko, she also features in Lennon: The New York Years, which follows the couple’s move to the city in 1971. There’s a look at the other city he’s most associated with in The Beatles: Made on Merseyside, and the night concludes with Sings the Beatles.
The Graham Norton Show
Friday, BBC1, 10.45pm
Friday nights just aren’t the same without Graham, so it’s good to have him back – especially as even in these uncertain times, he’s still doing an impressive job of getting the A-listers on to his show, whether they are in the studio or joining him remotely. This week, actor Ewan McGregor discusses being back on the road for his latest travelogue Long Way Up; dancer and presenter Ashley Banjo promotes the new Diversity tour Connected; and singer Miley Cyrus chats and performs her current single, Midnight Sky.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
From Sunday, Netflix
The vast majority of viewers probably can’t remember a time when they were unaware of David Attenborough. Now 94, he began his TV career in the 1950s with Animal Patterns before Zoo Quest made his name. Projects such as the epic Life series helped turn him into an icon; his work has also taken him to every continent on the globe, documenting the living world in all its glory. In this feature-length production, Attenborough takes a look back at the defining moments in his career as a naturalist. He also discusses the often devastating ecological changes he’s witnessed before offering a powerful message of hope for future generations.
From Wednesday, Netflix
Adam Sandler’s latest collaboration with the streaming giant is a comedy-horror in which he plays the title character. Hubei Dubois is obsessed with Halloween. Every year he spends the day in his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, trying to ensure that his friends and neighbours celebrate safely without breaking any rules. However, this time around Hubie is confronted by two new challenges – an escaped convict and a mysterious new neighbour. To make matters worse, Hubie becomes convinced that real-life monsters are behind a series of mysterious disappearances... Kevin James, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi and Maya Rudolph head the supporting cast.
The Right Stuff
From Friday, Disney+
In 1979, Tom Wolfe published The Right Stuff, his bestsellers about the early days of the US space program. It was turned into a film four years later, and now it’s back on the screen in the form of a new eight-part series. The story begins in 1959 at the height of the cold war, as the US decides to invest heavily in the space race in an effort to catch up with the USSR. Jake McDorman and Patrick J Adams play Alan Shepard and John Glenn, the most famous of the military test pilots plucked from obscurity to take part in the newly formed Nasa’s efforts to get a man into space – a mission that will either kill them or turn them into major celebrities.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
From Friday, Netflix
Two years ago Netflix launched The Haunting of Hill House, a supernatural drama series based very loosely on Shirley Jackson’s influential novel. Many members of the cast and creative team behind it have reunited to make this nine-part chiller, this time inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. The novella has been filmed several times before, most famously as The Innocents in 1961. This version takes place in 1980s England, where wealthy Henry Wingrave hires an American nanny (Victoria Pedretti) to look afterhis orphaned niece and nephew at the family mansion. It’s a lonely existence made all the more strange by the appearance of ghostly apparitions. .