TV guide: 18 of the best shows to watch this week
Ireland’s Fittest Family, Operation Transformation, Marian Finucane documentary and Elle Fanning in The Great
Elle Fanning in The Great. Photograph: Ollie Upton/Hulu
Ireland’s Fittest Family
Sunday, RTÉ One, 6.30pm
You just know Christmas is well and truly over when all the fitness programmes bound onto the schedules, guilting you into getting off the sofa and getting back in shape for the new year. And just to make us all feel like useless couch potatoes, a new series of Ireland’s Fittest Family gets off the starting block, when 16 superfit families gather at Hell & Back in Kilruddery, Co Wicklow to begin a gruelling test of endurance that will push viewers to the edge of their seats.
The torture begins in The Forest, where the 16 will be whittled down to eight over the course of a few weeks. Among the new challenges are a Sole Survivor test involving balancing on a beam high in the treetops, and Back Against the Wall, which basically entails sitting down – without a chair.
A Perfect Planet
Sunday, BBC One, 8pm
David Attenborough is a natural wonder of the world: 94 years old and still passionate about our planet and its diverse species and habitats. His latest series focuses on the massive forces that make life on Earth possible, including the sun, the oceans and the weather. Episode one looks at how volcanoes were crucial to life beginning on earth, as they created our atmosphere, fertilised the land, and cooked up just the right ingredients for life to flourish. They also provide a habitat for some interesting species, including Galapagos land iguanas who lay their eggs in volcanic craters, and the islands’ scarily named vampire finches.
Sunday, Channel 4, 9pm
Can you tell the story of Catherine the Great through the medium of satirical comedy drama? Well, it’s easier than doing it through absurdist improv kabuki. Elle Fanning stars as the titular Russian queen, in this new series that sounds like it will be more Carry on Catherine than War and Peace. Studiously social distancing from historical fact, the series follows the fortunes of young ingenue Catherine, who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult). But, appalled by the depravity of 18th-century Russia, she resolves to kill her husband and take over as ruler.
Max Richter’s Sleep
Sunday, BBC Four 10pm
Feeling on edge after a particularly stressful year? Time you got some sleep – Max Richter’s Sleep, to be precise. This is the first TV broadcast of the film by Emmy-nominated director Natalie Johns, which featured at Sundance 2020, and stars musician and composer Max Richter and an audience of people in pyjamas and sleeping bags. Richter’s Sleep is an eight and a half hour musical meditation that is staged overnight, with the audience provided with camp beds and invited to either sleep through or just lie awake and listen (hmm, if I paid for a ticket, I’m definitely not sleeping). The film follows Richter and his creative partner Yulia Mair as they prepare for a big gig in Los Angeles where crowd-surfing will be replaced by fluffy cloud floating.
Monday, BBC One, 9pm
Crime writer Val McDermid has come up with the idea at the core of this six-part suspense thriller, set in the world of forensic science. Emma Hedges is starting a job as a lab technician in the Scottish Institute of Forensic Science, when she is spotted by top forensic scientists Sarah Gordon and Kathy Torrence and encouraged to take an online course on how to solve tough cases with technical know-how. But while doing the course, Emma is confronted with a case close to home: her own mother’s unsolved murder. When she starts digging deeper, though, she learns more than she bargained for about her own family history. Can Sarah and Kathy help get to the bottom of this very personal mystery?
Monday, RTÉ One, 9.35pm
It’s a year since the death of broadcaster Marian Finucane, and this special programme celebrates her life and career, in the company of her devoted husband, John Clarke. At her funeral Clarke described himself and Marian as “two 15-year-old adolescents who were addicted to each other and forgot to grow up,” and this film tracks the youthful enthusiasm which helped Finucane carve out a glittering career as a journalist and broadcaster with RTÉ. Clarke recalls the highs and lows of their 40-year relationship, and takes us behind the public persona to deliver an intimate portrait of their life together.
Monday-Friday, Virgin Two, 9pm
This brand new series sees a cast of brave singletons checking out of modern day dating and checking in to three stunning remote log cabins. Tonight the first matched pairs immediately move into their cabins, but every 24 hours they’ll have to decide whether to extend their stay another day or call it quits and leave. If they’re still hunkered down when check out comes there’s one big decision left to make – head home separately or depart as an exclusive Cabins couple.
Monday, BBC One, 9.45pm
We often wondered how luvvies would cope during the pandemic, deprived of their daily fix of a devoted audience hanging onto their every Shakepearean soliloquy. Staged answered the question in short, 15-minute episodes, as Michael Sheen and David Tennant played hyperreal versions of themselves, acting up and melting down in the face of lockdowns, cancelled engagements and Zoom rehearsals. The series was made via videoconferencing technology, and now the pandemically challenged pair are back with a second series, in which they attempt to rewrite the script and work their way around the new reality and hold onto their increasingly fragile egos. Expect lots of toys to be thrown out of the virtual cot, and expect some unexpected cameos from big-name stars.
Tuesday, RTÉ 2, 9.30pm
Clearly created to capitalise on the success of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story, this anthology’s opening of its 10-part run offers a fictionalised account of Captain Franklin’s lost expedition to the Arctic during 1845 to 1848. Ciaran Hinds plays the doomed Franklin, with support provided by an impressive cast including Jared Harris, Ian Harte and Tobias Menzies. Part two screens directly afterwards, and a second series has already been commissioned.
Tuesday, TG4, 9.30pm
We’re back! A new crop of talented musicians will take to the stage for the first time in this the first programme of the new series of Glór Tíre 2021. Six new contestants join the competition to become the next country music star. The six will be mentored by some of the top names in Country music – Cliona Hagan, Mike Denver, Robert Mizzell, Michael English, Louise Morrissey, and The Sheerin Family.
The Junk Food Experiment
Tuesday, Virgin One, 10pm
In a groundbreaking experiment, Peter Andre, Shaun Wallace, Nadine Dorries, Hayley Tamaddon, Tessa Sanderson and Hugo Taylor take part in an extreme junk food eating regime. For 21 days, the participants will live on a diet made up of the UK’s top three favourite junk types – fried chicken, burgers and pizza. Throughout the experiment, they will be put through medical tests designed by experts to reveal exactly what is happening to their bodies.
Tuesday, TG4, 10.30pm
Series 4 premiere. Welcome to the Alternate Economy: In 1950 Jim Crow Missouri, an uneasy peace between two Kansas City crime syndicates is threatened by an untimely death. The irrepressible nurse, Oraetta Mayflower, attends to a dying patient. Loy Cannon trades safety for power. And the Smutny family’s financial woes force them into making a dangerous deal.
Wednesday, RTÉ One, 9.35pm
Last year, the makers of Operation Transformation were forced to rethink operations following the arrival of Covid-19 on our shores. First, they thought of renaming it Operation Covid Nation, then thought better of it, coming up with the more neutral if a bit boring title of Keeping Well Apart. This new series comes just as the country is facing fresh restrictions, so the programme will be observing all the protocols needed to keep participants healthy as they try to transform their lives by meeting a series of fitness and diet targets. This year’s series will showcase healthy recipes from chefs around the country who have had to close their doors due to coronavirus, and Dundalk will be the centre of operations, where the various leaders will gather at a safe distance and track their progress. Kathryn Thomas is the presenter again, encouraging the leaders to be the best they can be.
Wednesday, TG4, 9.30pm
I Fought, I made Peace, I made Politics: The film assesses the life and legacy of Martin McGuinness, a major historical figure in the relationship between Ireland and Britain and a global figure on the international landscape of conflict resolution as he journeyed from IRA man to Peacemaker.
Thursday, TG4, 8pm
Sports Clubs are the cornerstone of parishes all over Ireland fostering a sense of community and togetherness. In this new series we tell the stories of four very different sports clubs as they compete, battle for honours, and strive to survive the unpredictable 2020 season. The season kicks off for Conamara Boxing Club and the young stars of Chorca Dhuibhne Rugby Club as both clubs hope to build on the success’s of recent seasons. Gaoth Dobhair United soccer club have a home fixture with Whitestrand United and we take a trip down memory lane with Mícheál Breathnach handball club.
Thursday, RTÉ 2, 9.30pm
RTÉ atones for its decision to axe Republic of Telly by giving Kevin McGahern a new comedy panel show, in which guests are confronted with some embarrassing moments from their past, and team captains Joanne McNally and Colin Murphy highlight the cringiest events from the nation’s collective memory. Some things you can’t hit the “clear history” button on, and McGahern and co will be sure to dredge up every shameful thing from the dustbin of recent history. First up for the blush treatment are immunologist Luke O’Neill and radio presenter Laura O’Mahony.
Laochra Gael: Kevin Cassidy
Thursday, TG4, 9.30pm
Kevin Cassidy: The acclaimed Laochra Gael returns for an 19th series, with the story of Donegal footballer, Kevin Cassidy. Born in Glasgow, the family moved to his mother’s homeplace of Donegal in his youth. With a new language and sport to learn, Kevin embraced both eagerly. He was a star for Gaoth Dobhair and soon became a cornerstone of the county team. Under Jim McGuinness, they were on the brink of glory, with Cassidy at the heart. But he was suddenly dropped from the panel because of his contribution to a book, and when the Championship win came, Kevin Cassidy was no where to be seen.
A Discovery of Witches
Friday, Sky One, 9pm
Teresa Palmer’s reluctant witch and Matthew Goode’s hungry vampire join forces in the second series of this lavish fantasy drama. After the bloodthirsty finale to season one, the pair hide out in Elizabethan London and try to control Palmer’s powers. – Additional reporting: PA