SATURDAY DECEMBER 15
Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals (TV3, 7.00pm). Holy cow, a Guardian writer has already tried to make one of Jamie Oliver’s 30-minute meals in 30 minutes and concluded it wasn’t possible, so we’re finding it difficult to imagine 15-minute meals are anything but pie in the sky. Adding at least another 15 minutes for anyone who doesn’t have restaurant-level knife skills would be wise.
Rod Stewart – Merry Christmas, Baby (TV1, 10.30pm). First out of the blocks with a Christmas variety special is the model train enthusiast from Highgate – the rocker with a voice like a rasp on metal who nevertheless has sold more than 100 million records and had six consecutive No 1 albums in the UK. Shame he’s doing this saccharine seasonal stuff, then. There are carols, including a duet with Mary J Blige of We Three Kings, and another with Cee Lo Green, singing Merry Christmas, Baby, and there’s a chorus of bagpipes to accompany Auld Lang Syne. And, wouldn’t you know it – there’s an accompanying album.
SUNDAY DECEMBER 16
March of the Dinosaurs (TV1, Sunday, 4.55pm). Isn’t it wonderful the kids are going to be home from school for the next six weeks? Here are some of the things that they could do in the long summer days ahead: swimming in rivers, sunbathing, building tunnels in sand cliffs, poking wasp nests with sticks, parkour, science experiments, 24-hour online gaming. Or they could watch this lovely BBC two-part series that is not hazardous to anyone’s health. It comes from the same team that brought us Walking with Dinosaurs and the fun TV series Primeval, and it is narrated by Stephen Fry, who is only one of 12 people in the world who is able to correctly pronounce dinosaur names. In a complete trend-bucking, March of the Dinosaurs does not focus on carnivores such as tyrannosauruses or velociraptors; instead, the star of the show is Scar, a young (vegetarian) edmontosaurus. The story begins 70 million years ago in the Arctic, where the sun shines all day and the vegetation is supercharged. Scar and his herd are having a fine old time with other herbivores such as ankylosauruses – until winter begins to set in, that is. (“The dark times are coming for everyone,” intones Fry.) The plummeting temperatures and approaching darkness presage a 1600km migration to winter grazing in the southwest US. Carnivores do get a look-in, of course. The other star of the show is Patch the troodon (it’s a rare dinosaur CGI-fest that doesn’t anthropomorphise a little bit), a feathered fellow who feasts on young edmontosauruses like Scar. Also looking for yummy treats in the dark are gorgosauruses, 10m nocturnal killing machines that are “the T rex of the North Pole”. So off sets Scar and the herd, while Patch stays behind to forage in the dark. Both options are perilous: Scar faces blizzards, ice, a lahar and rivers, not to mention more predators. Patch faces predators and starvation. The CGI in March of the Dinosaurs is pretty darn good. The creatures have weight in their environment and there is cunning use of moving-camera perspective and “hand-held” effects to give the action sequences that all-important realism. Although there must be some guesswork in the sounds dinosaurs made, the range of growls, screeches, squawks and bellows is impressive, too. Here’s a new tidbit of information as well – one of Scar’s herd, an elderly chap, has a brain tumour. The holidays. So educational.
The Survivor’s Guide to the Mayan Apocalypse (National Geographic, Sky 072, Sunday, 7.30pm). We have survived the end of the world – twice – last year, so it’s a fair bet nothing out of the ordinary is going to happen on December 21 this year, the day supposedly predicted by the Mayan calendar as doomsday. Nevertheless, National Geographic is going big this week with a series called The Survivor’s Guide to the Mayan Apocalypse. First up is 10 Ways to End the World, a handy countdown of the 10 most likely ways the world will end. If that doesn’t make you anxious, how about the following night’s Omens of the Apocalypse at 7.30pm, which looks at “a wave of unsettling animal deaths sweeping the globe” that no one has been taking notice of, apparently, except National Geographic. Tuesday brings The Mayan Apocalypse (7.30pm), in which historian Paul Murton travels across the US and Central America. He talks to people who believe the end is coming – for some of us anyway – and investigates the ancient Mayan civilisation. On Wednesday, Maya Underworld: The Real Doomsday (7.30pm) features Diego Buñuel, grandson of film director Luis, venturing underwater to the graveyards of Maya human sacrifices. Finally, Evacuate Earth on Thursday (7.30pm) looks at the possible ways humans could leave this particular planet and start afresh elsewhere, although we’ve left it a bit late, really.
MONDAY DECEMBER 17
Homeland (TV3, 8.30pm). We knew there were certain things coming in season two, but it’s the pacing that has been so clever – probably the 24 DNA of showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa showing through. But what are they going to do for the season finale? Surely, as good as Damian Lewis is, Brody’s days are numbered – we already know that Quinn (Rupert Friend) was going to kill him, and if the CIA doesn’t get him, the terrorists will. And surely, after two seasons, Carrie (Claire Danes) will finally get Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), so that she and the other beating heart of the show, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), can set off on another adventure in season three.
Finding Mercy (TV1, 9.30pm). Filmmaker Robyn Paterson goes back to her homeland of Zimbabwe to search for her childhood friend, Mercy. Click here for our interview with Paterson.
Prime Rocks: The Go Go’s (Prime, 9.35pm). A look at the fizzy new wave group who made history when their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, went to No 1 in the US – the first all-girl group that both wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. Their rise and fall is a classic rock story, however: alcohol, drugs, infighting and money squabbles led to their break-up in 1985. There have been reunions and tours since then, however, and a new album. This Behind the Music profile features interviews with the band and the founder of IRS Records, Miles Copeland, as well as concert footage.
TUESDAY DECEMBER 18
Rick Stein’s Spanish Christmas (Prime, 8.30pm). There’s an abundance of Stein this week – a glut, you might say. On Prime he is preparing Spanish dishes for his friends in London (lamb stuffed with aubergines and Moorish spices, chicken with saffron and pine nuts, and orange caramel creams), and on Food Television (Sky 009) at the same time, he’s cooking up a Cornish Christmas (wassailing, goose, Cornish beers and ciders). He’s still in Cornwall in Rick Stein’s Food Heroes on Sunday (Prime, 7.00pm).
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 19
Unsung Heroes (TV1, 7.30pm). Acknowledgement for all those volunteers who make New Zealand a better place. Cameras follow St John’s paramedics, firefighters, SPCA workers and Maori wardens as they do their good deeds.
The Year That Was (TV2, 8.30pm). Not a look-back on 2012: in this four-part series, comedians review a year that was important to them. First up, Simon McKinney goes back to 2003. What is it they say? If you can remember the noughts you weren’t really there? Guess that’s what your timeline on Facebook is for.
Michael McIntyre’s Christmas Comedy Roadshow (TV2, 9.30pm). The most disliked comedian in the UK, by the critics anyway. Also the richest. McIntyre’s Christmas showcase, recorded at London’s Theatre Royal, includes Jack Dee, Miranda Hart, James Corden, Rob Brydon and David Mitchell.
FRIDAY DECEMBER 21
Campbell Live (TV3, 7.00pm). Having single-handedly cured child poverty, exposed the oppression of innocent internet millionaires and saved the teachers, John Campbell can relax for a time and go back to doing what he does best: rescuing kittens and curing cancer. Although, as this is the day of the apocalypse, perhaps not. See you next year, John. Maybe.
Billy (TVNZ Heartland, Sky 017, 7.30pm). Sky channel Heartland screens the NZ On Air-funded Billy T James drama. Such is life in the strictly commercial era. Nevertheless, this is a charming, if anodyne, biopic of the beloved entertainer and it’s nice to think his famous “Where did I get my bag? I pinched it!” skit was conceived in a stoned moment with Peter Rowley.
Three Men Go to Scotland (Prime, 7.30pm). Ireland is so last week. Rory McGrath, Dara Ó Briain and Griff Rhys Jones are in the Highlands to loosely recreate the expedition undertaken in 1773 by England’s man of letters Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell. The trio employ various methods of transport, including a seaplane and a steam boat, and they are racing to arrive at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle on the Isle of Harris in time for the last week of fly fishing.