What's on TV this Christmas and New Year's

by The Listener / 22 December, 2017
By Fiona Rae and Ryan Holder.
Rick Stein’s Long Weekends.

Rick Stein’s Long Weekends.

TV Shows 

Saturday December 23

Cricket (Sky Sport 1, Sky 051, 10.30am). Does it seem that there’s more cricket than usual? The Black Caps and the West Indies meet at Hagley Oval for their second one-day international today, then after Christmas, there’s the customary blob-out-on-the-couch Boxing Day one-dayer at the same ground (Sky Sport 1, 10.30am). The ODIs are followed by three T20 games, on December 29, New Year’s Day and January 3.

Christmas Eve

Rick Stein’s Long Weekends (Prime, 6.00pm). The chef from Cornwall seems to have taken a leaf out of Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man book with his latest set of foodie forays, in which he makes quick jumps over to the Continent to sample the gastronomic delights of lovely European cities. Surely this was the future the EU promised the English middle classes and another reason Brexit should be immediately abandoned. He begins in Bordeaux, where he attends a wine contest and hires a Citroën 2CV for an excursion to the coast. Stein is slightly curmudgeonly company; one British reviewer rather savagely suggested that he had “gone full Alan Partridge” and the Copenhagen episode in which he referred to actor Sofie Gråbøl’s character in The Killing as “Sally Lund” was “the funniest hour of television broadcast in 2016”. In the next episode on New Year’s Eve, he’s in Reykjavik searching for the perfect piece of cod.

Christmas Day

Edinburgh Military Tattoo (Prime, 6.50pm). A sight to stir the soul, although we bet those pipers and drummers were sweltering in their kilts and bonnets, as this is the tattoo that took place at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium in February. Includes a full-size replica of the Edinburgh Castle facade, including drawbridge. Wey-hey!

Jono & Ben’s Christmas Special (Three, 7.20pm). A best-of-the-year show, with added festive content. Call that a Christmas special? It’s like they’re not even trying.

The Graham Norton Show (Three, 8.15pm). Graham’s Christmas episode is hot off the press and guests are Will Smith, who is in a new movie called Bright; Jamie Oliver, whose latest recipes use only five ingredients; and, in a handy bit of promotion for TVNZ 1’s Victoria Christmas Special, Jenna Coleman. Music is supplied by Tom Chaplin. But wait: there’s more! Norton will also welcome in 2018 with a New Year’s Special on New Year’s Day (Three, 8.30pm). Guests are Hugh Jackman, Gary Oldman, Zac Efron, Suranne Jones, actress and singer Zendaya and Leading Ladies, who are three leading women from the West End stage who have formed a supergroup.

The Brokenwood Mysteries (Prime, 8.35pm). Now that’s a proper Christmas episode of a local show. A repeat of Brokenwood’s festive episode, which, if we recall correctly, involves Breen in a pair of elf tights and the death of Santa, although it’s difficult to say which is the greater crime.

Mrs Brown’s Boys: Mammy’s Widow’s Memories.

Mrs Brown’s Boys: Mammy’s Widow’s Memories.

Boxing Day

Quizmas NZ 2017 (TVNZ Duke, 8.30pm). The welcome return to television of Jeremy Wells, who hasn’t been seen since he impugned the good name of the NZSO. Hey, if the Brits can make The Big Fat Quiz of the Year, then we can damn well make a cheap version. Wells is the quizmaster, and panellists Madeleine Sami, Melanie Bracewell, Leigh Hart, Jason Hoyte, Matt Heath and Daniel Faitaua must find entertainment in the events of the past year. Good luck with that.

Thursday December 28

Mrs Brown’s Boys: Mammy’s Widow’s Memories (TVNZ 1, 8.50pm). Brendan O’Carroll has all but retired Mrs Brown’s Boys, except for annual special episodes. In this one, from New Year’s Day 2016, Mammy is marking the 25th anniversary of the passing of hubby Redser when she finds herself with a suitor. It does mean that Mammy gets to wear a rather fetching sparkly evening gown. Imagine. Mrs Brown is followed by a Christmas episode of Walliams & Friend, the rather old-fashioned sketch show in which David Walliams is joined by a different actor or comedian each week. Downton’s Hugh Bonneville is the guest, although even his considerable charm couldn’t save the series, which was cancelled after this episode.

New Year's Eve

NYE Fireworks Live 2018 (TVNZ 1, 2 and Duke, 11.55pm). Our state broadcaster usually ignores the new year completely, perhaps on the reasonable assumption that most people have either bah-humbugged it to bed or are out partying like it’s, well, New Year’s Eve. So colour us surprised that it’s deigned to throw together a few messages from the talent pool and will then broadcast the annual fireworks show from the Sky Tower. Rest of the country, try not to envy us.

The Royal Variety Performance 2017.

The Royal Variety Performance 2017.

New Year's Day

Tennis (Sky Sport 4, Sky 054, noon). The ASB Classic begins, although you may be fighting the cricket fan in the house for the remote. The women’s tournament has secured world No 3 Caroline Wozniacki, double Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka and world No 14 Julia Goerges. The night session begins at 7.00pm, and there’s more coverage on Sky Sport Pop-up 1. The men’s tournament, which begins on January 8, has secured an impressive roster of players, including John Isner, Juan Martín del Potro, the veteran David Ferrer and last year’s winner, Jack Sock.

The Royal Variety Performance 2017 (TVNZ 1, 7.00pm). It’s taken only 106 years for a woman to be chosen to host the Royal Variety Performance, so feminists can stop protesting now. Miranda Hart introduces a line-up that includes West End musicals 42nd Street and Annie, Cirque du Soleil and Circus Abyssinia, American rock band the Killers, comedians Tom Allen and Jason Manford, and the Leading Ladies, who appear on The Graham Norton Show on Christmas Day. Kate and Wills are the royals in attendance, although they arrived an hour late, after armed officers were called to Oxford Circus in what turned out to be a false alarm.

Dawn French: 30 Million Minutes (Vibe, Sky 006, 9.20pm). “The next 120 minutes represents the sliver of time between the madness of my menopause and the impending madness of my dementia,” says French in a recording of the hugely successful show that made it all the way here. It’s personal, sometimes angry, funny and insightful. Excellent New Year’s Day chilling-out material.

Tuesday January 2

The Great Australian Bake Off (Prime, 7.30pm). Can Claire Hooper and Mel Buttle replicate the terrible punning and cheerful camaraderie of their British counterparts? The two comedians on season two of the Aussie version of Bake Off, were joined by judges Maggie Beer and Matt Moran. Happily, as the show is forced to follow the British template, it doesn’t indulge in all that manufactured tension that makes MasterChef so excruciating. One change is the marquee, which has a shearing-shed aesthetic. Seems right. In the first episode, Maggie’s challenge is a Constitution cake, whatever that is.

Blue Murder: Killer Cop (TVNZ 1, 8.30pm). Crime and police corruption have been good for the Australian TV industry: just think of all those Underbellys. But long before they were a twinkle in a TV producer’s eye, the 1995 mini-series Blue Murder dramatised the doings of NSW Police detective Roger Rogerson, who became known, not surprisingly, as “Roger the Dodger”. It was widely considered to be one of Richard Roxburgh’s greatest performances, and he and director Michael Jenkins go back to the well for the follow-up, possibly because Rogerson was recently jailed for murder, the last in a long line of convictions going back to 1990. The mini-series begins with the older Rogerson in jail (Roxburgh is almost unrecognisable) and backtracks to his life after he was chucked out of the force. Roxburgh is again brilliant, and happily, he has the equally amazing Toni Collette, as wife Anne, for an acting partner.

Thursday January 4

Billy Connolly and Me (TVNZ 1, 8.40pm). A clip show with added tribute videos that slightly confused British audiences with its elegiac nature. The Scottish comedian has spoken openly about his struggles with cancer and Parkinson’s, but fear not, the show is really celebrating his 50-year comedy career and as well as a new interview with the man, there are appearances from David Tennant, Sir Elton John, Sir Andy Murray and Armando Iannucci.

All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride.

All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride.


If cannabis was, you know, legal, we might suggest All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride (BBC Knowledge, Sky 074, 7.00pm) is the perfect stoner Christmas Eve. Obviously, we’d never do that. Welcome to slow TV, a Norwegian invention that began in 2009 with a seven-hour train journey between Bergen and Oslo. It was made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bergen Line and it was estimated that 20% of the Norwegian population watched the show at least once during the broadcast.

BBC Four has since produced six slow programmes that have no narration or score, including a three-hour tour of London’s National Gallery, a trip along the Kennet and Avon Canal, and a two-hour bus ride along the Swaledale Valley in North Yorkshire. BBC Four Channel Editor Cassian Harrison describes them as “an antidote to the conventional grammar of television in which everything gets faster and faster”.

Perhaps in a nod to slow TV’s Norwegian origins, The Sleigh Ride is two hours of a real-time reindeer sleigh ride with the Sami people filmed in Karasjok, 320km north of the Arctic Circle. All you’ll see are undulating snowy hills, birch forests and traditional Sami settlements accompanied by the sound of snow crunching and reindeer bells tinkling. It could be the most boring thing ever or the most absorbing. It’s hard to tell through the fug.

Films on TV

Saturday December 23

Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Three, 7.00pm). In this modern remake of the silly season’s favourite morality tale, we’re asked: what is the true meaning of Christmas? So, we follow the lonely Grinch, who scorns Christmas and plans to sabotage celebrations in merry Whoville by stealing the residents’ presents – if it weren’t for that darn good-hearted Cindy Lou. The Grinch comes to realise Christmas is not just about indulgence and presents, but spending time with loved ones. In the end, all the gifts are returned in time for Christmas – talk about having it both ways. (2000)

The Pursuit of Happyness (TVNZ 2, 8.50pm). On the wall outside the daycare centre where salesman Chris Gardner (Will Smith) drops off his son (Jaden Smith), there is a misspelt line from the American Declaration of Independence, “the pursuit of happyness”. The line troubles Gardner, and not just because of the spelling. How did Thomas Jefferson know it would be a pursuit? In this biographical drama, Gardner is born to a broken family and has more of a chase on his hands than most. While selling the last of his ill-bought bone-density scanners and studying to gain an unpaid internship, Gardner survives a year of homelessness with his boy, sleeping in train stations and flophouses. His wife (Thandie Newton) has already left him. It’s the night before Christmas Eve, so expect a happy ending. (2006)

The Polar Express.

The Polar Express.

Christmas Eve

The Polar Express (TVNZ 2, 5.10pm). This is one for Santa disbelievers. It’s the night before Christmas and Hero Boy (motion-captured by Tom Hanks and voiced by Daryl Sabara) is beginning to doubt his existence. Suddenly, a train arrives outside his bedroom window. It’s the Polar Express and it’s headed for the North Pole. Could seeing be believing? The conductor advises the boy to get on. What follows is an enchanting and timeless story (told in quasi-animation and using performance-capture before it was cool) that is heart-warming without being overindulgent. (2004)

Die Hard (Three, 8.30pm). This is the Best Christmas Movie of All Time, as decided by a vote involving me and Listener entertainment editor Fiona Rae. For other enthusiasts, catch the not-so-good sequel at 8.30pm, Sunday, December 31, on Three. (1988)

The Notebook (TVNZ 1, 8.35pm). Continuing the list of usual Christmas suspects, this emotional tale of a young couple who fall madly in love in spite of everything against them must be an all-time romantic favourite. Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) and Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) won the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss and the Teen Choice Award for Movie Chemistry. For those sitting through this for the nth time, there is no consolation. (2004)

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

Christmas Day

The Lego Movie (TVNZ 2, 5.25pm). Directed by the same crowd as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and animated to look like actual Lego in stop-motion, The Lego Movie is awesome. The plot involves a bumbling construction worker named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), who stumbles across a resistance movement fighting to thwart the plans of Lord Business (Will Ferrell). If they fail, the universe will be forever glued together in its ordered state. Emmet is told he is the prophesied “Special”. The only problem is that he’s evidently not. The catchy theme song, Everything Is Awesome, is wonderfully totalitarian and brings to mind most modern pop music. (2014)

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (TVNZ 1, 7.00pm). One day, a wealthy sheikh (Amr Waked) decides he wants to fish for salmon in Yemen. What’s next, sheep in the Saudi desert? In this fictional version of those familiar comedies, British fisheries expert Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) reluctantly takes on the salmon scheme at the request of the sheikh and his persuasive financial adviser Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt). A romance emerges. Political satire doesn’t. Comedy is marginal. It’s been called a “fantastic feel-good charmer”. It might just be the grinch in me, but a story about a salmon farm in the barren land of sheikhs and poverty had better have a satirical edge or at least a nod to politics. To ignore such things at this point in history for Yemen is to define triviality. (2011)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (TVNZ 2, 7.00pm). Taika Waititi is on a roll. He started with Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, then following the success of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he went all the way to Hollywood to direct this year’s blockbuster hit Thor: Ragnarok. The only speed bump on this journey was when he dared to criticise the state of New Zealand’s waterways – which is heresy to the defenders of our nation’s honour: breakfast TV show hosts. Wilderpeople, which stars Sam Neill, Julian Dennison and Waititi (in a strange funeral sermon), is the tale of a boy and his reluctant father figure who, through a series of Kiwi non sequiturs, end up going bush while on the run from the police. It’s charming, funny and utterly enjoyable. (2016)


Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

The Lady in the Van (TVNZ 1, 8.40pm). If British playwright and author Alan Bennett isn’t the most patient man in the world, then at least he’s supremely dedicated to his art. After befriending an eccentric vagrant, Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), he offers to let her temporarily park her van in his driveway. Fifteen years later, she remains immovable, emitting rudeness and pungency in equal measure. Actor Alex Jennings plays the mild-mannered Bennett. Well, actually, he plays two Bennetts: the writer and the man. Both constantly bicker over the length of Miss Shepherd’s stay. On the one hand, she’s unremittingly rude. On the other, she’s a wonderful source of creative writing. So, enjoy the fruits of Bennett’s 15-year labour. I think he came to think fondly of it. (2016)

J Edgar (TVNZ 1, 2.35am, Boxing Day). Infamous FBI founder and director J Edgar Hoover, played here by Leonardo DiCaprio, was a complicated historical figure. He was known to be cruel, petty and authoritarian; he was also intelligent, loving and sexually repressed, if we are to believe director Clint Eastwood and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. In his long public career, Hoover set up the FBI, broke up criminal gangs and introduced forensic science to the bureau. He also undermined civil rights organisations and sought to destroy Martin Luther King. In this murky biopic, Eastwood navigates hazardous waters, mentioning a few of Hoover’s misdemeanours but by no means all. (2011)

Boxing Day

Poi E (Maori TV, 7.30pm). There’s been a lot of furore about te reo on the wireless recently. Don Brash is sick of having his days interrupted by one of New Zealand’s official languages. There was a time before te reo’s omnipresence; before it was spoken for a couple of seconds each morning on Morning Report. Documentary Poi E speaks to that time and tells the story of how Dalvanius Prime, with a little help from his friends at the Patea Maori Club, created the cult classic and chart-topping song, taking te reo to the very heart of Brash’s heartland, Britain’s Top of the Pops. (2016)

The Great Gatsby (TVNZ 1, 9.00pm). Based on F Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, The Great Gatsby is a glitzy, soaring drama of Moulin Rouge proportions. It was made by the same director (Baz Luhrmann), so expect the same melange of sincerity and decadence. Period and pop music are pushed together, as in his Romeo + Juliet, lending a modern feel to early 20th-century New York. The eponymous Jay Gatsby is played with the grace we’ve come to expect from Leonardo DiCaprio – it’s also hard to find fault with Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway, Carey Mulligan’s Daisy Buchanan or Joel Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan. Maybe it’s all the glittering jewels and bright lights. (2013)

The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby.

Wednesday December 27

Step Brothers (TVNZ 2, 8.30pm). Since the world’s most consummate man-baby took his seat in the White House, movies like this have lost their appeal. They have the merit of not being real, which is a bonus. When the parents of Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C Reilly) fall in love and marry, the new stepbrothers are forced to live together. Writer and director Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights) makes the most of the chemistry between the two comic actors, culminating in crudely hilarious scenes involving bunk beds, drum kits and watching Cops. (2008)

Friday December 29

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Maori TV, 10.10pm). A legal-drama horror about the semi-successful eviction of a young woman’s demons – it depends how you define success. Watch out for the jump scares. (2005)

New Year's Eve

Man of Steel (TVNZ 2, 7.00pm). You can set your watch by Superman reboots (and, increasingly, Winston Churchill biopics). Man of Steel has a head start over its predecessors in the expertise of director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and producer Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight, Inception). It has another advantage: Warner Bros enlisted a Christian-based marketing firm to bring the faithful on the side of the superheroes. A Superman-centred sermon, titled Jesus: The Original Superhero, was even created for those hip pastors willing to get down with the kids. (2013)

New Year's Day

Love Actually (Movies Greats, Sky 033, 8.30pm). Are there no public holidays unsuitable for a Love Actually rerun? Programmers? (2003)

Heavenly Creatures (TVNZ 1, 10.20pm). Peter Jackson’s breakout movie Heavenly Creatures is as mysterious and creepy as it ever was. This is less likely the result of Jackson’s fantasy sequences and more to do with the fundamentally mysterious motive behind the murder of Honora Rieper (Sarah Peirse) by her teenage daughter Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) and her friend Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet). In 2012, Listener writer Diana Wichtel spoke to Hulme, now known as Anne Perry, a best-selling crime writer, and found her an enigma. “Yet Juliet Hulme keeps materialising … vanishing before you can get a fix on her. It does your head in. It’s hard to imagine what it does to hers,” Wichtel wrote. (1994)

Wednesday January 3

Saving Private Ryan (Three, 8.30pm). Private James Ryan is the last-surviving member of his family serving in World War II. His three brothers have been killed and the US’s command centre will not allow a mother on the home front to go without her fourth. In a story loosely based on a true account of the Niland brothers, director Steven Spielberg assembles a top cast to form a squad to rescue Ryan and bring him home. A semi-philosophical dilemma is built into the mission: how many men must die to save one? The epic landing scene on Omaha Beach makes the entire film worth watching. (1998)

Man on Wire (TVNZ Duke, 9.20pm). Even before the twin peaks of the World Trade Centre stood tall on the Manhattan skyline, Frenchman Philippe Petit decided that he would walk a tightrope between them. After years of planning, detailed meticulously in James Marsh’s documentary in real and re-enacted footage, Petit achieved his insane goal. He walked and waltzed across the wire, suspended 411m above ground, with cheering and disbelieving crowds below. The authorities were not amused. After all, it was a serious crime – and life-threatening, too. Marsh deals with the tension of the build-up deftly, lending the feel of a heist film to the performance. (2008)

Friday January 5

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (Maori TV, 8.30pm). An unapologetically crass old-school flick that is regularly voted among the funniest comedies of all time. (1988)

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