TV guide: 42 of the best shows to watch this new year’s week
Doctor Who and Dracula, Mrs Brown and Dame Edna, Mary Berry judging and reminiscing, Bake Off with the Derry Girls, plus Shane Lowry, Niall Tóibín, Mary Kennedy, Richard Harris and Lenny Henry profiled
The stars of Derry Girls join the team for The Great Festive Bake Off, New Year's Day on Channel 4
Westlife: The Twenty Tour – Live from Croke Park
Sunday, RTÉ One, 6.30pm
Filmed at their homecoming gig in summer 2019, this spectacular show features Shane, Nicky, Mark and Kian performing their hits in a celebration of one of pop’s most sensational comebacks. Includes performances of all their hit singles, including Uptown Girl, You Raise Me Up, Flying Without Wings and World of Our Own, along with new tracks Hello My Love, Better Man and Dynamite to a sell-out crowd with spectacular staging, lights and effects.
The Trial of Christine Keeler
Sunday, BBC1, 9pm
A cabal of powerful men collude in the exploitation of young women: sounds like recent newspaper headlines in a nutshell. But the so-called Profumo affair happened nearly 60 years ago. Now one of the most notorious sex scandals of 1960s Britain gets another airing in this six-part drama, which promises to delve into the personal and political web of lies and deceit that destroyed lives and brought down a government. Sophie Cookson plays 19-year-old model Christine Keeler, whose dalliance with war minister John Profumo shook Westminster to its foundations. Can she top Joanne Whalley-Kilmer’s performance in the 1989 film Scandal? We’ll see.
Top Gear Nepal Special
Sunday, BBC2, 9pm
The team sets off on a high-altitude trek from Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, to the Forbidden City of Lo Manthang, a secretive kingdom perched high on the Tibetan plateau, on the far side of the Himalayas. On a five-day expedition through the highest mountains, deepest gorges and harshest terrain on the planet, Paddy McGuinness, Freddie Flintoff and Chris Harris battle huge river crossings, vast mudslides and dizzying mountain passes on a trip that would test even the hardiest new 4x4s to the limit. But they aren’t crossing the Himalayas in new 4x4s but a small old Peugeot, a compact old Renault, and Nepal’s first (and only) home-built car.
Niall Tóibín – Everyman
Sunday, RTÉ One, 9.30pm
Niall Tóibín passed away on November 13th, eight days shy of his 90th birthday. Everyman celebrates his long life and career, which spanned seven decades. In this intimate and often hilarious documentary, Niall’s daughters begin the task of documenting and archiving the huge collection of movie and theatrical memorabilia which their father had collected over his long career. With contributions from fans and colleagues and a huge amount of archive footage, what emerges is a poignant and funny story of a man who has managed to excel in every field of Irish entertainment – uniquely successful on radio, stage, TV, film and stand up comedy. Interviewees include Pierce Brosnan (who made his telly debut alongside Tóibín in Murphy’s Stroke), Gabriel Byrne (who started off in Bracken with Niall), Stephen Rea, Holt McCallany, Jim Sheridan, Fionnula Flanagan, Mary McEvoy, Des Keogh, Eamon Morrissey, Victoria Smurfitt, Don Wycherley, Deirdre O’Kane and Jon Kenny.
Life and Soul
Sunday, RTÉ One, 11am
Hotelier Francis Brennan, boxing icon Katie Taylor and Ireland hockey star Elena Tice are among Áine O Neill and Colm Flynn’s guests for this seasonal episode that celebrates Christianity as a living and lived faith. Flynn also looks at the legacy of the late Jean Vanier of L’Arche Community in Cork. Brennan describes his belief in God and how his faith kept things in perspective when he once lost more than €10 million. From her gym in Bray, Taylor talks about her formative years, her highs and lows, and and the reasons why she holds on to her faith so firmly.
Sunday, UTV, 6pm
Jeremy Vine pits 15 high-profile contestants on major TV quiz shows against each other to find out who is king or queen of TV game shows. The familiar faces competing include actor Shaun Williamson, who won Celebrity Mastermind; Isabelle Heward, who won Mastermind in 2017; Egghead Pat Gibson, who won £1 million on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?; his Eggheads team-mate Kevin Ashman, a former Mastermind champ who holds the record for the highest score ever; Ailsa Watson, a Fifteen-to-One grand final winner in 2015; and Eric Monkman and Bobby Seagull, who achieved fame on University Challenge.
The Repair Shop at Christmas
Sunday, BBC1, 7pm
In an age of cynicism and backbiting, The Repair Shop is a genuinely heartwarming gift, in which experts in their field breathe new life into damaged or broken items that have sentimental value to their owners. In this festive edition, foreman Jay Blades organises renovations of a Chopper bicycle, a threadbare teddy bear who is much need of a few key stitches, a clockwork train set that hasn’t moved in years, and a harmonium that requires help to get it tuneful again.
Snow Cats and Me
Sunday, BBC2, 8pm (repeated Fri, 7pm)
The first of two programmes in which wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan documents returning lynx liberated from the fur trade to the wilds of Russia’s Ural mountains. The documentary follows two lynx who have spent years living in steel cages and being bred for their kittens’ fur. They regain the strength to survive, and even have their first kittens born in the wild – but may have lost the skills needed to raise them. They are joined by two more lynx kept as pets that have never been outside.
Great Irish Interiors
Monday, RTÉ One, 8.30pm
New three-part series follows the fascinating work of historical interior experts on multimillion-euro restoration projects transforming Doneraile Court in Co Cork, Emo Court in Co Laois, and Kylemore Abbey in Co Galway. The show reveals fascinating and previously unseen work done by the experts as they source, beg, borrow and steal furniture, artwork and precious artefacts for their sites, often just working from archives and little photographic evidence, they have to be creative, but accurate.
Shane Lowry – Open
Monday, RTÉ One, 9.30pm
The remarkable tale behind the Offaly man’s British Open win this summer is framed by the two Open championships in 2018 and 2019, one a disaster and the other a triumph. The documentary dips into the key moments of Shane Lowry’s life to create a portrait that captures his warmth and humour and delves deeply into his family history. Interviews include Lowry, his family, friends, fellow golfers (Harrington, McGinley, McDowell, Clarke, McIlroy and Open rival Fleetwood), and his close-knit team. It will take us to Offaly and his family life, portraying the relationships he has with his parents, his wife and the very special bond he has with his granny, who herself has become a bit of a celebrity since Lowry’s Open win. She looked after Shane as a boy, and he was sure to give her a cut of his first earnings on tour. Lowry even missed Rory McIlroy’s wedding to attend his granny’s 80th birthday party.
Back from the Brink
Monday, RTÉ One, 6.30pm
The hard work and dedication of conservationists striving to save endangered European species from extinction is celebrated in this documentary presented by Derek Mooney. Produced in collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union and building on the success of last year’s Nature Live broadcast, Back from the Brink features uplifting and inspirational conservation stories spanning the breadth of the continent. It will be broadcast in six countries and translated into local languages. Given the dramatic changes that are happening in our natural world due to climate change and the impact of humans, Back from the Brink demonstrates that with determination and passion we can start to turn things around and rebuild our fragile environment.
Monday, BBC1, 7pm
In this spectacular season, much of the world is transformed into a wonderland of sparkling frost, snow and ice. But for animals, this is the toughest time of year, and as Liz Bonnin shows, preparations start early. In autumn, Siberian chipmunks collect food in their cheek pouches to stockpile in their burrows, while caribou make an epic journey to new feeding areas. With the arrival of winter, the American bobcat must find its prey beneath deep snow, while an Arctic fox relies on its wits to find a meal in human settlements. A sea otter keeps her cub warm by blowing air into its coat, while some animals turn white to blend in with the snow around them. As winter begins to loosen its grip, an Arctic ground squirrel stirs from an eight-month hibernation and has just 12 hours to find and woo a mate.
Only Connect Travel Special
Monday, BBC2, 8pm
Victoria Coren Mitchell presents the latest special edition of the fiendishly difficult quiz show, in which contestants are challenged to make connections between things, which, at first glance, seem totally random. In a travel-themed edition, seasoned travellers Michael Reeve, Suda Perera and their captain Chris Clough, aka the Globetrotters, take on the Eurovisionaries, a trio of Eurovision Song Contest aficionados. As usual, patience and lateral thinking could be just as important as knowledge.
Christmas Sales: Supershoppers Special
Monday, Channel 4, 8pm
For many shoppers, festive sales are the most wonderful time of the year. However, with retailers desperate to get us splashing the cash, how can we tell if we are getting a bargain or being sold a turkey? In this edition, Sabrina Grant and Helen Skelton investigate the tricks that retailers use to get us to spend, and reveal the best sales tips, including how to read secret codes on price tags and how to tell when a sale is about to happen. They also reveal the alarming and unfair tactics used by some well-known retailers.
Alan Carr’s Celebrity Re-Play 2019
Monday, UTV, 9pm
The comedian and chat show host is joined by six celebrity guests for a special games night as they look back at some of the most memorable moments of the past 12 months, from Stormzy’s spectacular Glastonbury set to England almost winning the Rugby World Cup and Boris Johnson’s failed attempt to shut down parliament. Angellica Bell joins Carr to oversee proceedings, which features a mixture of comedy moments, surprise guests, and one famous couple having the chance to win £25,000 for charity.
Frankie Boyle’s 2019 New World Order
Monday, BBC2, 11pm
The acerbic comedian presents his end-of-year special, with guests Sara Pascoe and Miles Jupp helping him dissect the bewildering year that was 2019. The show features a mix of Boyle’s stand-up, reviews and discussion – all in an attempt to make sense of the last 12 months, which saw Boris Johnson succeed Theresa May as prime minister, the further delay of the UK’s exit from the EU, the announcement of a general election, and a vote for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The Best of 2010-2015 Wipe with Charlie Brooker
Monday, BBC2, 11.45pm
Charlie Brooker’s last annual round-ups was a few years ago, since he’s been busy with his acclaimed sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror. He’s also the brains behind Philomena Cunk, Diane Morgan’s delightfully deadpan, clueless presenter who first appeared on his shows and went on to land her own spin-offs. But the good news for anyone who has missed Brooker is that BBC2 is now treating us to some of the best bits from previous years. It’s also a chance for us to reflect on just how much has changed since 2015.
Mrs Brown’s Boys – Orange Is the New Mammy
New Year’s Eve, RTÉ One, 9.40pm; New Year’s Day, BBC One, 10.30pm
The second festive special from Brendan O’Carroll is called Orange Is the New Mammy, so we can see a jail theme emerging here. Peggy Piper the Pernod Poisoner has been let out of prison and is on her way back to Finglas, which has Winnie quaking in her slippers, as she was the one who witnessed Peggy poisoning her husband. But could Peggy actually be innocent? Agnes will have to get to the bottom of this mystery One thing is for sure: everyone will be passing on the Pernod.
The Graham Norton Show: New Year’s Eve Show
New Year’s Eve, BBC1, 10.20pm (repeated Wed, Virgin Two, 10pm)
Norton is joined by Tom Hanks, who discusses playing beloved American children’s TV presenter Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Other guests dropping by to help Graham ring in the new year include Strictly Come Dancing judge Motsi Mabuse and Line of Duty star Stephen Graham, while music is provided by Melanie C featuring Sink the Pink, performing new single High Heels.
Una Healy’s New Year’s Eve Party
New Year’s Eve, RTÉ One, 10.25pm
Party into the new year with Tipperary singer, songwriter, broadcaster and Saturdays star Una Healy and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra together with a star-studded cast, including The Waterboys, David Gray, Wallis Bird, Brian Kennedy and many more for what promises to be a truly magical night.
Jools’ Annual Hootenanny
New Year’s Eve, BBC2, 11.15pm
The piano-playing maestro presents his annual musical extravaganza, with an assortment of guests performing alongside his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. This year’s acts include Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, who provides a taste of her first solo album, and Stormzy, fresh from his triumphant performance at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Other acts on the bill include Stereophonics, Rick Astley, Tom Walker, YolanDa Brown, Melanie, La Roux, Eddi Reader, Pauline Black and Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson from ska band The Selecter, and, of course, Hootenanny mainstay Ruby Turner, as well as the customary midnight appearance by the Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards to ring in 2020.
New Year’s Eve, TG4, 11.20pm
Ring in the new year live from the biggest party in the west, hosted by Hector Ó hEochagáin and Eibhlín Ní Chonghaile from Tí Pheacocke in Conamara. Tunes, songs and madness are provided by Sharon Shannon and her band, Frankie Gavin, Steve Cooney, MCMuipéid, Johnny Óg Connolly, Nan Tom Teaimín and the best of sean-nós song and dance. Sure where else would you want to be?
Mary Kennedy: As Seen on TV
New Year’s Eve, RTÉ One, 8.40pm
From continuity announcer to newsreader, Eurovision host and beloved presenter of Nationwide, Mary Kennedy is regarded as one of the country’s most accomplished TV presenters. Spooling back through the archives, she selects some memorable moments from her 40-year television career.
New Year’s Eve, BBC One, 7pm
Host John Humphrys welcomes Derry Girls actor Dylan Llewellyn, Northern Irish broadcaster and journalist Claire McCollum, British-South African vlogger, actor and entrepreneur Caspar Lee, and Radio 1 DJ Rickie Haywood-Williams to take their place in the infamous black chair. Tonight’s specialist subjects are films directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1980s television shows, video-sharing platform YouTube, and fantasy literary and TV series Game of Thrones.
The Last Leg of the Year
New Year’s Eve, Channel 4, 9pm
Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker present a two-hour new year’s special that looks back at the highs and lows of 2019 in the company of a selection of celebrity guests, including Sue Perkins, Sara Pascoe, Tom Davis and Rosie Jones. Johnny Vegas is on hand to man the studio’s bar and keep the drinks flowing, while house band The Horne Section provide the music. Brooker takes on his most daring challenge to date when he trains to become a racing driver, aiming to become the first disabled person in history to complete a high-speed lap in a racing car at Donington Park.
Dame Edna Rules the Waves
New Year’s Eve, BBC1, 9.05pm
Following her emotional (supposed) farewell tour six years ago, showbiz legend Dame Edna (aka Barry Humphries) has been enjoying some luxury downtime on board her enormous yacht, sailing the seas without a care in the world. But she’s back on the BBC for one night only. Filmed in front of a audience, Dame Edna hosts a very exclusive evening with celebrity chat, music and of course a few surprises direct from her luxury yacht – which is staffed by some familiar faces. Guests on board include Sharon Osbourne, Robert Rinder, Emily Atack, Anita Rani, Joe Sugg and Rick Stein, while Niles Rodgers and Chic provide the Good Times in the form of some live music.
New Year’s Day, BBC1, 6.55pm
It’s the 12th season of the Timelord’s adventures (not counting the 20th-century incarnations of the good Doctor), and the second season with Jodie Whittaker as the time-traveller from the planet Gallifrey. By all accounts, Whittaker has taken up the Sonic Screwdriver and really run with it – and her return is highly anticipated by fans. There’s a nod to Bond in the title of the opening episode - Spyfall. Aliens are targeting intelligence agents, and MI6 can’t call 007, so they get in touch with the Doctor instead to uncover what’s going on. Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry make special appearances, and apparently the fearsome Judoon are set to make a return.
New Year’s Day/Thursday/Friday, BBC1, 9pm
The story of Dracula has been retold many times and in many forms, but it might just be worth letting in this new three-part adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel: it’s written by Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffatt, the dynamic duo behind Sherlock, Jekyll and numerous Doctor Who episodes, and stars Danish actor Claes Bang as the seductive count, bringing a well-rounded air of charm, refinement and cold menace to the role. It’s 1897, and English lawyer Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) is summoned to darkest Transylvania to meet a new client. But little does he know that he’s about to encounter the most iconic horror villain of all time.
New Year’s Day, RTÉ One, 6.30pm
This beautifully shot observational documentary tells the inspiring story of teenage best friends and former asylum seekers. Natasha Maimba and Minahil Sarfraz met while growing up in direct provision, their childhoods spent in cramped caravans on the outskirts of Athlone. Both spent years in limbo, not knowing if they would be able to stay in the country they were making home. Their mothers were not allowed to work and were denied basic citizenship rights. Finally granted leave to remain, Leaving Limbo follows the journey of these articulate, intelligent and funny young women as they prepare to sit their Leaving Cert exams.
The Great Festive Bake Off
New Year’s Day, Channel 4, 7.40pm
There’s something slightly odd about seeing Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig, Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood in the famous tent at this time of year. After all, Bake Off is recorded in the summer, when the sun is shining and chocolate melts quicker than you can say soggy bottom. But here they are, and showing off their talents (or otherwise) are Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Nicola Coughlan, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Dylan Llewellyn and Siobhan McSweeney, aka Derry Girls’ Erin, Clare, Michelle, James and Sister Michael.
New Year’s Day/Thursday/Friday, Virgin One/UTV, 9pm
Sarah Parish is back as crime buster Elizabeth Bancroft in the first of a three-part thriller. Promoted to detective chief superintendent, Bancroft returns on a professional high. Alas, she’s now estranged from her son (Adam Long) and under pressure thanks to her lethal pact with crime boss Daanish Kamara (Ryan McKen). As a double murder brings a personal reunion, Bancroft’s loyalties are questioned.
Fear darb ainm Harris
New Year’s Day, TG4, 9.30pm
Limerick-born movie star Richard Harris (1930-2002) was celebrated as much for his colourful life off screen as for his many roles on screen. He was the last of the great hell-raisers; a dinosaur from an era when movie stars misbehaved and the public loved him for it. He wore his Irish heritage as a badge of pride and talked of Ireland and Limerick at every opportunity. Featuring exclusive interviews with Harris costars and directors, including Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), Daniel Radcliffe (the first two Harry Potter films), Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and Stephen Rea (Trojan Eddie), this documentary explores Harris’s fascinating life and career.
Joe Éinniú: Song of Granite
Thursday, TG4, 9.30pm
This is a lyrical and unconventional account of the life of the complex and enigmatic Joe Heaney (1919-1984), one of the greats of traditional sean-nós singing. Irish Times film critic Donald Clarke called it a “superb study . . . Weaving archival footage in with Richard Kendrick’s bewitching, clean monochrome photography, director Pat Collins blurs the lines between documentary, expressionist flourish and biographical drama. Some viewers may yearn for a touch more narrative drive. But nobody will emerge unmoved.”
Best Home Cook
Thursday, BBC1, 8pm
Glam Claudia Winkleman gets her hands dirty again, helping the amateur chefs as a new search begins for Britain’s best home cook. Mary Berry is also back as a judge, alongside Eat Well for Less? presenter Chris Bavin and Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett. The second series kicks-off tonight with more cooks showcasing recipes passed down through generations. Berry challenges the contestants to produce their ultimate Italian pasta dinner (including making the pasta from scratch), before Bavin tasks them with doing something special with a humble piece of fruit. After the budding chefs compete to create the best version of one of Hartnett’s recipes, the judges who will get the chop.
Imagine – Lenny Henry: Young, Gifted and Black
Thursday, BBC1, 11pm
Alan Yentob follows the comedian and actor as he publishes his autobiography. Henry meets up with his closest friends, family and colleagues to remember his sudden rise to fame at the age of 16 on TV talent show New Faces, which catapulted him from working-class West Midlands kid to one of Britain’s most celebrated black performers. Yentob explores his other TV roles on Tiswas and Three of a Kind, as well as his controversial time as the only black performer on The Black and White Minstrel Show. Henry also discusses his recent career reinvention as a serious actor and his work as a political activist campaigning for greater diversity in entertainment and broadcasting.
Big Fat Quiz of the Decade
Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm
The second Big Fat Quiz in the space of a week as Jimmy Carr finds out how much Britain’s celebrities can remember about the past 10 years. Claudia Winkleman, Nish Kumar, Joe Lycett, Alan Carr, Stacey Solomon and Jonathan Ross try to recall why lasagne hit the headlines in 2013 and who squeezed through a hole in the wall back in 2015. Their knowledge of pop culture will also be put to the test as they try to name Pickachu friends and demonstrate whether or not they can Nae Nae. Meanwhile, Big Fat regulars Jon Snow and Charles Dance are also on hand to give Carr a break and deliver some of the posers.
Earth’s Tropical Islands
Thurday, BBC2, 9pm
Borneo in southeast Asia is the third largest island on Earth and home to possibly the greatest diversity of life of any island. Its huge variety of habitats, from bustling coral reefs and ancient jungles to towering mountains, have given rise to more than 60,000 species of plants and animals – many of which can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. The second part of this fascinating nature series covers Borneo’s rich abundance of wildlife, from frogs to orangutans.
More Big Fat Lies About Diet and Exercise
Thursday, Channel 5, 9pm
Updated version of the January 2019 documentary exploring the potential pitfalls of trying to lead a more healthy lifestyle, from the dangers of crash dieting to the unexpected side effects of doing too much exercise. The programme features contributions from nutritionists, dieticians, GPs, cardiologists, fitness trainers and psychologists, who explain the health benefits of fat and carbohydrates, the addictive quality of sugar, the hazards of diet pills, and what can happen to someone who eats too many bananas.
Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast
Friday, Channel 4, 8pm
Mary Berry joins Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty in their cafe on Southend Pier, where she enjoys a nostalgic seafood feast inspired by her happy family holidays in the West Country. The wander down memory lane features a stuffed whole trout, potted shrimp and a retro crab cocktail, plus bread from Berry’s favourite bakery. Doherty also rustles up a gorgeously gooey mozzarella and pesto bread. Out and about, the hosts find themselves on the front line of cooking, taking part in a training exercise with the No 3 Mobile Catering Squadron at RAF Wittering.
The Goes Wrong Show
Friday, BBC1, 8.30pm
Amateur dramatics group The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society stage a second World War drama, rarely performed because of its historical inaccuracy and poor research. Director Chris plays Rufus Heal, a dashing pilot reduced to a desk job cracking German codes in a top secret Allied facility after losing his leg. He is assisted by Sandra as uptight Englishwoman Valerie Sky and Vanessa as French codebreaker Camille, under the watchful eye of Annie as Wing Commander Wickham.
TOTP: Big Hits 1989
Friday, BBC4, 8.30pm
Margaret Thatcher’s last full year as British PM contrasted with global political change. In the music world, the end of Pete Waterman’s chart domination heralded the dawn of Madchester. Some female artists brought attitude to the year, while an unlikely duet between a ’60s legend and an ’80s icon was a charttopper. As far as Top of the Pops was concerned, Radio 1’s old guard was stood down as a team of fresh-faced recruits helmed the show. Jason Donovan, Lisa Stansfield, Shaun Ryder, Chris Rea, Marc Almond, Sharleen Spiteri, Jazzie B and Jenny Powell are among those reminiscing.
In Search of Dracula with Mark Gatiss
Friday, BBC2, 10.35pm
Mark Gatiss is crazy about horror movies. He grew up watching them and they’ve gone on to play a big part in his life, inspiring his work from The League of Gentlemen onwards. During the past decade he’s presented the three-part documentary A History of Horror and its follow-up, Horror Europa. This festive season, he’s behind Martin’s Close, a BBC4 MR James adaptation and has co-created a new take on Dracula. Now he’s fronting this programme in which he explores the character’s creation via author Bram Stoker’s original notes and research material.