TV Weekby Fiona Rae
SATURDAY DECEMBER 29
Brainiac: Science Abuse (TV2, 10.00am). "The experiments are of dubious scientific value," thundered Wikipedia about this pseudo-science show that seems to be an excuse for Richard Hammond and co-host Jon Tickle, a physics graduate who was once on the UK Big Brother, to blow stuff up. Tickle is the science-y one and comes up with a lot of the ideas, like a time-delay toaster and, famously, an experiment in which he walked across a swimming pool full of custard powder, but questions have been raised about the veracity of the experiments: badscience.net especially has been on the case. It's meant to be fun, and it's probably the only place (apart from Top Gear) where you can see a caravan blown to smithereens at the end of every episode.
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List (Vibe, 6.30pm). Reality TV has been training its prying eyes on any celebrity it can get for a while now; think The Osbournes, The Anna Nicole Show and Dancing with the Stars. But comedienne Kathy Griffin's series would have to be the sharpest comment on celebrity and also the most successful, having won an Emmy this year for Outstanding Reality Program. Cameras follow her as she hustles for anything she can get and that is why the New York Times thought the show was perfectly timed to coincide with the "boundless national curiosity about celebrities in general and overmedicated, overindulged ones in particular". It describes Griffin as a "lone, hilarious truthteller" who finds a way in almost every episode to "say something original about the gilded culture expensively guarded by publicists". Either that, or just another desperate celebrity with her own show.
SUNDAY DECEMBER 30
Sunday Theatre: The Man Who Lost His Head (TV1, 8.30pm). "Doc Martin remade on the other side of the world," grumped Guardian TV reviewer Sam Wollaston about this one-off drama that, as we know, stars Martin Clunes as a British museum curator tasked with fobbing off a tribe of Maori who want their carved head back, thanks. It was popular in the UK (nearly five million viewers) and here, nyah nyah Mr Wollaston, and is back for another go-around.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
Rebel Music, the Bob Marley Story (Documentary, 4.00pm). It's all music, music, music on the Doco channel to see in the New Year, starting with this portrait of the patron saint of New Zealand barbecue reggae. Forget about Pete Burns Unspun at 6.00pm, it's just too weird; skip straight to Janis Joplin: Southern Discomfort at 7.00pm and To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J J Cale at 8.00pm. The documentary about Anika Moa's big break in the US, 3 Chords and the Truth, follows at 10.00pm and then at 11.00pm, 2008 is welcomed with - what else? - Jimi Hendrix: the Man They Made God.
New Year's Eve Top Gear Marathon (Prime, 7.00pm). Prime is having a far more blokey New Year's compared with all that wussy music elsewhere: a whole evening of brum-brums with Jeremy, Richard and James, including the Winter Olympics special and testing vans as roadies for the Who. The motoring theme is (sort-of) carried on at 10.05pm with Bon Jovi: Lost Highway (okay, that's stretching it), a concert recorded in Chicago and featuring tracks from the album, some greatest hits and interviews.
ABBA's All-time Greatest Hits (TV1, 7.30pm). TV1 also has a musical New Year's planned, something old, something new, something ... wait, that's weddings. Anyway, kicking off an evening of thrilling light entertainment is a repeat of an ABBA special that applies a computer programme called Hit Song Science to classic songs such as "Waterloo", "Mamma Mia" and "The Winner Takes It All" to find out what made them so chart-bustingly poptastic. The technology works by analysing patterns in melody, harmony, beat, tempo and pitch, and by comparing them with a database of 3.5 million songs from the past 30 years it can, in theory, predict if a song is going to be a hit. Controversial? Well, if you didn't know they've been manufacturing pop songs for years, you don't know your Supremes from your Spice Girls. The 79th Royal Variety Performance follows at 9.00pm, recorded at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool and featuring a cast of thousands, including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Bon Jovi, James Blunt, Enrique Iglesias and the English National Ballet. It's presented by former New Zealand children's TV host Phillip Schofield and someone called Kate Thornton. A celebration of Elton John's birthday called, er, Happy Birthday Elton! will see in the New Year from 11.35pm, in which 60-year-old Elton gathers a few thousand of his closest friends, including Ozzy Osbourne, Michael Stipe, Rod Stewart, Yoko Ono, Kylie Minogue and Billy Joel, at Madison Square Garden for some intimate performances. If you're still awake at 1.35am, there's the Concert for Diana .
Keith Barry - Extraordinary (TV3, 7.30pm). Illusionist Keith Barry performs a series of cunning stunts, including driving while blindfolded, gambling $1 million on a card trick and hypnotising Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Simpson. Sounds like just another night out in Rotovegas to us.
THURSDAY JANUARY 3
Heavy: The Story of Heavy Metal (C4, 8.30pm). Awesome! Throw up the goats for a four-part history of the Dark Lord's music, starting with metal's roots in the desolate Birmingham of the 1960s, in particular Black Sabbath, and on to the glam-metal 70s with the likes of Kiss.
FRIDAY JANUARY 4
Cricket (Sky Sport 1, 10.30am). What a perfectly jolly day, or five, out: if you're in Dunedin, mosey down to the University Oval, the venue for the first test between the Black Caps and Bangladesh.
Cast lists are available online at www.listener.co.nz
Despite an apparent backlash against bread – against carbohydrates and gluten – the sandwich endures.Read more
The author of worldwide bestsellers Sapiens and Homo Deus says our free will is at stake. We talk to Yuval Noah Harari about his new book.Read more
There is just one civilisation in the world, writes Yuval Noah Harari, and the West and Islam are joint participants in it.Read more
A new TV version of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 19th-century satirical novel taps into today's celebrity-Instagram culture.Read more
Serena Williams’ US Open outburst was unbecoming but the umpire made a mess of his response.Read more
The suffrage celebrations get a soundtrack from all-male ensemble NZTrio.Read more
The public will have to wait to see a report into an assault claim against MP Meka Whaitiri, who was yesterday stripped of her ministerial portfolios.Read more