SATURDAY JANUARY 19
The Sitting (Heartland, Sky 017, 10.00pm). Chatting and painting, painting and chatting … artist Stephen Martyn Welch is back with his brushes and a unique ability to get his subjects to spill and keep still at the same time. In season two, Welch’s sitters – at Auckland’s Pah Homestead, home of the Wallace Arts Trust – will include Richard O’Brien, Mark Sainsbury, Siobhan Marshall, Sir Peter Leitch, Nikki Kaye, Jacinda Ardern, Sir Michael Hill, Greg Johnson, Jo Seagar and Dick Frizzell.
SUNDAY JANUARY 20
Pretty Little Liars (TV2, 5.30pm). If you’re wondering why your teen is developing such a ’tude and acting like her life is one great mystery, it’s possible that’s she hooked in on this American lipstick-and-legs thriller aimed at the young ones, which is back with season three. It’s five months since Aria, Spencer, Emily and Hanna found out that Mona was the dreadful “A”. Well, really. She had a bad girl’s name, so shouldn’t it have been obvious?
The world is divided into two sorts of people: those who are sick to the back teeth of Downton Abbey – with its comfortable yet complaining toffs and bowey-scrapey servants – and those who can never feed their addiction fast enough. Given that there are plenty of the second lot and this was inevitable, we bring news of the Downton Abbey Christmas Special (Prime, Sunday, 8.35pm). You’ll remember that last Christmas, Matthew and Mary finally threw caution aside and gave into their bad selves as the snow fell charmingly on them.
This week’s bumper episode was not conceived as a Christmas special: it is the first programme of series four, and not at all Christmassy. It’s September 1921, and the family are off to the Scottish Highlands for their summer hols, to stay with Lord Grantham’s relation “Shrimpie”, the Marquess of Flintshire (Peter Egan). Lady Edith’s married editor “friend” Michael Gregson pops up on a suspiciously serendipitous fishing and sketching trip and Lady Mary can’t resist pointing out that his arrival with his “rods and pencils” is a bit of a coincidence. Steady on, madam.
Back at Downton, there’s more than a hint of jazz-age randiness in the air. With the cats away, the mice are playing their whiskers off: downstairs, Edna the maid and Mrs Patmore are both setting their caps at startled targets, and in the village, Mrs Crawley is getting rather fond of a certain medical man. Then the gang set off to the local fair and revel in the pleasures of strong Yorkshire ale … But it’s not all fun and games. One serious storyline stands out from all the others and we’re not about to spoil it, except to say that it concerns Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens).
Stevens, who looks a bit Hugh Grant-y when he’s not in period garb, has become a superstar since the drama began screening in 2010. He’s so popular he can tweet “Hound’s bum abbey time” as each episode starts (referring to Labrador Isis’s stately rear, which opens the credits) and get away with it. His faith wavered a little in series two, when he had to convince viewers that it was possible to get over paralysis just by seeing your fi ancée trip over, but it’s been spiffi ngly good fun overall. “You think you are trotting along with a nice Sunday night drama and something happens. It wouldn’t be Downton if it wasn’t for all the big twists and shocks.”
MONDAY JANUARY 21
Breakfast (TV1, 6.00am). Yawn. Is that the time? Petra Bagust finally realised how unnatural it is to get up at 4.00am unless you are an Auckland commuter. This year, sports reporter and presenter Toni Street takes her place on the comfy seat next to Rawdon Christie, fully alert and ready to roll. Having had her first baby in October, she’ll know all about mad times to be out of the scratcher.
Campbell Live (TV3, 7.00pm). John, if you’re reading this, we’re not going to say “Campbell Live is back. Maaaaaarvellous.” He is, though. Back, we mean.
Criminal Minds (TV1, 8.30pm). The brilliant Mandy Patinkin revealed that he left this FBI procedural early in season three because “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality.” Anyway, Paget Brewster left the show at the end of the last series, saying she “just didn’t appreciate it any more”, and now Jeanne Tripplehorn (Big Love) is stepping up to the plate. Good luck, Jeanne.
Never Mind the Buzzcocks (Prime, 8.30pm). The legendary British pop music gameshow comes to Prime, and although it’s as Pommy as jellied eels, Kiwi audiences should still ’ave a laugh. Contestants have been roundly insulting their fellow comedians and musicians since 1996 and team captain Phill Jupitus – the chubby one – has been there since the getgo. Mark Ronson tries to keep the whole thing under control and Noel Fielding – the glam-rocky-looking one – heads the other team. Tonight’s guests are Mollie King (the Saturdays), Alesha Dixon (formerly of Mis-teeq), rapper Tinie Tempah and comedian Paul Foot. If the show’s title needs explaining (it’s a combo of the Sex Pistols’ album Never Mind the Bollocks … and punk band Buzzcocks), there’s a chance you won’t enjoy this. For the rest of you, the walk-outs, hissy fi ts and no-shows alone will provide plenty of entertainment.
QI (Prime, 9.05pm). The gameshow with the smartest host ever (yes, Dr The Rt Hon Lockwood Smith, even smarter than you) is back for a new series. Stephen Fry, you clever so-and-so, we salute you.
My Cat from Hell (Animal Planet, Sky 075, 9.30pm). Season two of this American show that is more about “musician by night, cat behaviourist by day” Jackson Galaxy (real name Demetreos Galankas) than it is about bad kitties. He’s got the red ’64 Chevy Nova convertible, the tatts, shaved head, piercings and facial hair and a guitar case full of cat toys, and he’s there to help out “when cat guardians have reached their emotional limit”. Oh, and there are cats in it, too. All very fabulous, unlike the delightfully dishevelled and super-brainy Mary Beard (see below), who was branded “too ugly for TV” by self-proclaimed “beautiful journalist” Samantha Brick (“10 out of 10 men fancy me!”) and told she “really should be kept away from the cameras altogether” by bitchy Times writer AA Gill. They so deserve to have nasty cats in their lives.
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 23
Winners and Losers (TV1, 8.30pm). The Aussie chicks are back and winning the lottery now seems like a distant dream – and a useful plot point to hang a drama series on. However, having won all those millions, Jenny is now in financial strife. What? Oh, my heart bleeds. Meanwhile, Frances is searching her soul, Bec is married and pregnant, but not to Matt, and Sophie starts to worry because nothing is going wrong. White women’s woes. Said it before.
Te Kauta (Maori, 10.30pm). This “risqué chat show” promises to feature “guests who reminisce about their younger days and some of their most naughty secrets never told or seen on television before”. Given that tonight’s guest is Tame Iti, it could be interesting.
THURSDAY JANUARY 24
Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC Knowledge, Sky 074, 7.30pm). Tonight, William Roache, he of Coronation Street infamy. This is a good question. After 52 years playing Ken Barlow, the poor chap probably has no idea who he is. To put this right, he starts by researching his granny, who ran a cafe at Alton Towers, the theme park by official appointment to Diana, Princess of Wales.
The Cleveland Show (Four, 8.30pm). Apparently, there’s a secret society controlling pop culture, and it’s blown wide open in tonight’s episode, featuring way-cool musos Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, will.i.am and Bruno Mars. The hiphop Illuminati grow tired of West’s egotistical ways and enlist Cleveland’s help to end his career, using Cleveland jnr and his polka band. Yeah, that oughta do it.
Here’s yet another top-class animal doco series from 86-year-old David Attenborough, and this time it looks as if he’s brought along his wife. Oh no, wait! That’s a male gelada baboon. Thought it was an older lady with tragic highlights and a cardy. Unfortunately, Mrs A died in 1997, but you can see where we were going with this. Africa (TV1, Tuesday, 8.30pm) is as new as that continent is old: it screened in the UK on January 2, and in episode one, you’ll see male giraffes engaging in a macho head-butting competition, crickets pilfering baby birds, blind catfish hunting for food in the world’s largest underground lake and a nervous rhino on a night-time tryst with the object of his affections. Like young men everywhere, he crumples under the weight of his performance anxiety. Her reaction? Nothin’ but a heartache.
Nature might be red in tooth and claw but humans can be pretty hard on each other, too, and none more than the subjects of the new three-part historical series Meet the Romans with Mary Beard (Choice, Monday, 7.30pm). But Beard, a Cambridge classics professor, was keen to stay away from the celebrated – and frequently bloodthirsty – Romans, “the toffs and emperors and generals” who were throwing gladiators to the lions when they weren’t assassinating their next of kin. Here, she concentrates on “ordinary Roman characters: school kids and hairdressers and butchers”. Episode one takes us to cosmopolitan Rome where Beard introduces us to Eurysaces, a baker who built his tomb in the shape of a giant bread oven, Pupius Amicus, who made purple dye out of shellfish, and Baricha, Zabda and Achiba, three prisoners of war who became Roman citizens.
Those Romans pop up again in Pub Dig (Prime, Wednesday, 8.30pm), a new series in which Rory McGrath joins archaeologist Paul Blinkhorn to rootle around under some of Britain’s greatest boozers. They start with the 16th-century Six Bells in St Albans, Hertfordshire, which lies within the walls of the Roman town, Verulamium.