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New Year's Eve-January 6: Including the ASB Classic and Zen


Top 100 of 2011 (MTV Hits, Sky 060, 7.00pm). Whereas most of the free-to-air channels are seeing in the New Year through the magic of movie repeats, Sky channel MTV Hits is counting ’em down with the year’s hottest songs. What that means we don’t know, but we’re prepared to be offended by the scantiness of the clothes and the banality of the lyrics.

Gordon's Great Escapes (TV1, 7.30pm). Gordon Ramsay goes where … every other cook has been before, including Rick Stein, whose series was on Prime recently, and Anthony Bourdain, who already ate the beating heart of a snake. Sooo early 2000s. For the first episode, Gordon is in what the British call “Southeast Asia”, Vietnam to us, where he meets the queen of beak-to-tail cooking, Mrs Duck, and takes over a traditional restaurant in an effort to impress the locals.


Zen (UKTV, Sky 006, 8.30pm). What’s in a detective’s name? Quite a lot if it’s a fictional one. Idris Elba played the severe John Luther; Kenneth Branagh was Wallander (and he was a bit of one); William Peterson was Grissom, apparently a mash-up of gruesome and gristle. And now here’s Rufus Sewell as the ridiculously named Aurelio Zen, a (yes) laid-back, sartorially impeccable detective whose beat is the beautiful city of Rome. As with Wallander, Zen employs the Babel fish conceit: the actors really are Italian, it’s just that we can understand them perfectly. In these international co-pro times, it hardly matters – after all, the three-episode series is based on the books by Irish author Michael Dibdin, who lived in Italy for a number of years. As befits the setting, the series is gorgeous; “everything and everyone looks exquisitely beautiful,” said the Observer. Plus, Sewell is in “a suit so watchable it deserves a separate acting credit”. However, Dibdin wrote about a Rome tourists don’t see, a corrupt Italy that in the recent days of Silvio Berlusconi is not hard to believe. Zen “operates in the realms of Italian law,” Sewell said in an interview with Andrew Marr, “which as far as the books are concerned, is shady”. So, although Zen has integrity, he is negotiating the general political intrigue and dodgy police behaviour. Zen is made by the same outfit as Wallander, but it is a much lighter proposition. Sewell didn’t want him to be one of “these corridor-striding cops”. Zen lives with his mum and his love life’s a mess, but his flaws are his “normal human rubbishness, as opposed to some deep, dark secret”. In addition, the production has a slightly 1970s feel to it, as Zen zips across Rome’s busy streets and quaffs short blacks in a fab cafe. Eccellente New Year’s Day entertainment.

The Ricky Gervais Show (TV3, 11.55pm). This is important: how high is your tolerance for Ricky Gervais’s high-pitched hyena laughter? It could be the dealbreaker when it comes to your enjoyment of this animated series based on Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s podcasts with their friend Karl Pilkington. If you saw An Idiot Abroad, you’ll know that Pilkington is the object of Gervais and Merchant’s fun, and it’s true he is very deadpan. Among the gems are his argument that the rocket carrying the first chimp into space must have had a banana dispenser, and that “waste not, want not”, the phrase coined by Benjamin Franklin, is not catchy enough. But it’s often difficult to tell if he’s an idiot or an idiot savant, and at times Gervais and Merchant seem cruel rather than funny.


Tennis (Sky Sport 3, Sky 032, 1.00pm). The ASB Classic goes from strength to strength, as they say, although the star attraction this year, former No 1 Venus Williams, won't now be appearing due to illness. There are four top-20 players however – China’s Peng Shuai, Germany’s Sabine Lisicki, Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova and Italian Flavia Pennetta. Defending champion Greta Arn, from Hungary, also returns. TV1 no longer broadcasts the event, unfortunately, so if you don’t have Sky, you’ll have to make do with the highlights on Prime.

Drug Bust (TV3, 7.30pm). TV3 has clearly decided not to waste any of its precious new season programming on the holiday month of January, and is repeating a bunch of shows, starting with this obs doc that follows local cops. After Drug Bust at 8.00pm is a replay of Kalgoorlie Cops, the show about the rough-as-guts West Australian town of Kalgoorlie. On Tuesday, Katie: My Beautiful Face (TV3, 9.30pm) is a repeat of the documentary about Briton Katie Piper, who suffered an acid attack to her face in 2008. This doco precedes a new series beginning next week that follows Katie as she sets up a foundation and meets others with disfigurements. Then on Friday, TV3 repeats Matt Lucas and David Walliams’s airport mockumentary Come Fly with Me (9.35pm), and Madeleine Sami’s series Super City (10.10pm), in which the actress plays five different characters.

The Supersizers Go … (Prime, 8.30pm). Giles Coren and Sue Perkins don Victorian garb (tight corset and outrageously large skirts for her; waxed moustache and top hat for him) for a week of … boozing, basically. They visit the Natural History Museum to try the food of Charles Darwin’s Glutton Club and have a traditional Victorian Christmas, but there’s quite a lot of knocking back alcohol, which will make it interesting when Sue visits the doctor at the end of the week.

The Corner (SoHo, Sky 010, 8.30pm). Most journalists might have been content to have written books like Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, or The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, but David Simon turned those already exceptional works into equally exceptional TV series The Corner and The Wire. The Corner, which Simon adapted for television with journalist and writer David Mills, is a fairly unrelenting look at drug addiction among people living around a crossroads in West Baltimore. Some of the actors, including Lance Reddick and Delaney Williams, went on to star in The Wire, and Khandi Alexander is now appearing in Simon’s most recent series, Treme.


Elsa: The Lioness that Changed the World (TV1, 8.30pm). A BBC Natural World programme about how the book and the film Born Free changed attitudes to the natural world 50 years ago. In 1956, Africa was considered a land of adventure, big-game shooting and plentiful acreage, and George and Joy Adamson were the wardens of a Kenyan park the size of Britain. In 1966, a movie was made about their experiences raising three lion cubs after George shot and killed their mother. Two of the cubs were shipped off to a zoo in Europe, but the weakest, Elsa, stayed with the Adamsons. The couple documented their lives in Kenya, and the documentary features footage shot by them, as well as passages from George's diary. The book (written by Joy) and the movie changed the way people saw wild animals – lions, especially, were considered pests, and Born Free raised the possibility for the first time that people could have a relationship with a wild creature. In addition, George began to see that individual animals had their own personalities (Elsa was quite a gentle soul) and he may have been the first white person to study and understand lion behaviour. The Adamsons also described their attempts to return Elsa to the wild, possibly the first time anyone had ever tried such a thing. The doco features contributions from Virginia McKenna, who played Joy in the movie, and Sir David Attenborough. Sadly, although Elsa and Born Free raised awareness and changed our attitudes, just 10% of the number of lions that existed in 1966 exist today.

In Search of Pippa Middleton (TV1, 9.35pm). A documentary that claims to provide an insight into the life and work of the Duchess of Cambridge's little sister (known as "P-Middy", apparently, surely another media invention), but really, a) how much more is there to know, and b) do we want to know it? Naturally, the Middleton sisters would not be interviewed for something so tatty, but "people who know Pippa" are willing to share, a sure sign they don't know anything about her.


Justified (TV1, 10.45pm). Season one of Justified was moved around so much by TV1 it’s a wonder anyone watched it at all, so let’s hope season two stays put so we can enjoy the slow, intense storytelling. Timothy Olyphant’s US Marshal Raylan Givens heads into the real backwoods of Kentucky, where the ’shine is still drunk, and where one mean mother, Mags Bennett, rules with … well, a gun or a hammer or poison, she doesn’t mind. It doesn’t help that there’s bad blood between the Bennetts and the Givens, and when Raylan gets involved with the clan’s various illegal dealings, you know it’s not going to end well. Margo Martindale, who plays Mags, won an Emmy in September for the role, and Olyphant, Walton Goggins (Boyd Crowder) and Jeremy Davies (Dickie Bennett) were all nominated.


Mistresses (TV1, 8.30pm). It seems Recession Britain was in the back of the producers’ minds, and the new series of Mistresses has come down on its expensively coutured derriere with a bump. It’s two years on, and Dr Katie (Sarah Parrish) is still in her rubbish job after being booted out of the GP club; Trudi (Sharon Small) is busy with her cake business, leaving partner Richard (Patrick Baladi) to be the domestic god at home; Jessica (Shelley Conn) is depressed; and Siobhan (Orla Brady) is a single mother. Plus, they’ve all fallen out. So, not as bonkers as before, which is kind of a shame, but the one bright spot is Joanna Lumley, guest-starring as Katie’s mum.