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

by The Listener / 21 December, 2018
The Royal Variety Performance, Christmas Eve.

The Royal Variety Performance, Christmas Eve.

TV Shows

Sunday December 23

Big Pacific: Behind the Scenes (Prime, 7.30pm). No nature documentary worth its salt is complete without a behind-the-scenes special, and Big Pacific comes to an end with a look at how they did it. Filming on Snake Island in China’s Bohai Sea certainly presented challenges, as did losing a drone in the ruins of ancient Micronesian city Nan Madol.

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas (Prime, 7.30pm). Once, the likes of post-punk rockers Holly Johnson and Marc Almond wouldn’t have been allowed into the foyer of the Royal Albert Hall. Now, they’re belting out seasonal classics alongside Mel C, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Chrissie Hynde, Shakin’ Stevens and the Vamps. Comedian and actor Jason Manford hosts. Of a similar bent is the Royal Variety Performance 2018 (TVNZ 1, Wednesday January 2, 7.00pm), which this year is hosted by Greg Davies. Acts include the winner of Britain’s Got Talent; Take That; Rick Astley; the casts of Hamilton and Tina: The Musical; Andrea Bocelli and his son Matteo; circus acts Cirque du Soleil and Circus 1903; and stand-up comedians Rhod Gilbert, Gad Elmaleh and Rod Woodward. If your taste sways Caledonian, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2018 screens on UKTV on New Year’s Eve (8.35pm).

The Graham Norton Show: Christmas Special (Three, 9.05pm). It’s a Graham Norton sort of day: last year’s Christmas special, featuring Will Smith, Jenna Coleman, Jamie Oliver and Tom Chaplin, screens at 3.00pm. This year, it’s all about the new movie Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt. On the couch are Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer (who play Michael and Jane Banks). Boy George and Culture Club, who have a new record out, provide the music. But wait, there’s more: The Graham Norton New Year’s Special screens on New Year’s Day at 8.40pm.

Call the Midwife Christmas Special, Friday.

Call the Midwife Christmas Special, Friday.

Christmas Day

Her Majesty The Queen’s Christmas Message (TVNZ 1, 6.50pm). Be upstanding for Elizabeth II’s 66th Christmas message and the 61st to be televised. She spoke of home last year, but with the British government in uproar over Brexit, perhaps this year the theme will be unity.

The Simpsons (TVNZ Duke, 7.50pm). TVNZ Duke is something of an exception, today, in that it isn’t screening wall-to-wall movies. Instead, there’s a series of Christmas episodes of animated favourites The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad and Futurama. In this 2013 episode, White Christmas Blues, there is nowhere in America with snow thanks to global warming – except Springfield, of course, where radioactive steam from the power plant combines with particulates from the city’s tyre fire to form, as Professor Frink explains, “a microclimate aberration”. If the real beautiful natural world is your thing, Prime is having a Planet Earth marathon today from 9.15am; BBC Earth (Sky 074) is screening all of Wild New Zealand from 10.05am and all of David Attenborough: 60 Years in the Wild from 8.30pm.

Friday December 28

Call the Midwife Christmas Special 2018 (TVNZ 1, 8.30pm). Christmas in Poplar 1963 will be considerably enhanced by guest star Miriam Margolyes, who plays the “forthright and indefatigable” Sister Mildred. Of course she does. Her arrival at Nonnatus House is unexpected, and she is accompanied by four Chinese orphans who were found abandoned in Hong Kong. While Margolyes isn’t staying long in Poplar (what a shame), there are new cast members Fenella Woolgar and Ella Bruccoleri as Sister Hilda and postulant Sister Frances and Georgie Glen as the new surgery receptionist. In the UK, the Christmas special precedes season eight of the wildly popular show, which will arrive here early next year. “People often ask me how we can keep coming back year after year,” says creator Heidi Thomas, “but the answer is simple – we never run out of stories and we never run out of love”. Aw.

Alan Davies: Little Victories (UKTV, Sky 007, 8.30pm). We may know him from QI and Jonathan Creek, but “stand-up is very much my thing”, says Davies. Talking about his family is also very much his thing and in this special, filmed in the Opera House in Wellington, he’s very frank about parenthood, his father’s Alzheimer’s and his childhood. “It’s all quite based on life. I think my material has always been really close to home and personal,” he told the Listener. “‘Steal from life’ has always been my writing motto.”

Alan Davies: Little Victories, Friday.

Alan Davies: Little Victories, Friday.

New Year's Eve

Review of the Year (TVNZ 1, 7.00pm). A look-back on 2018: what a novel idea. Hilary Barry and Jeremy Wells are recapping the year in current affairs and entertainment and although it couldn’t ever reach the dizzy heights of Paul Holmes’ live broadcasts from the TVNZ roof garden, we’re sure they’ll do a creditable job. At midnight, the event that has become something akin to our version of the Times Square ball drop will be broadcast: the Sky Tower fireworks, which will screen on all TVNZ’s channels and online on 1 News Now and 1 News’ Facebook page.

Lucy Worsley’s Fireworks Fit for a Tudor Queen (History, Sky 073, 7.30pm). Historian Lucy Worsley never misses a chance to play dress-up and in this dazzling – and slightly dangerous – recreation of Britain’s earliest fireworks display, she is, of course, the Virgin Queen. Artist and materials scientist Zoe Laughlin joins Worsley to decipher instruction manuals and eyewitness accounts in order to replicate the fireworks spectacular laid on by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in a final attempt to win Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. It takes place in Kenilworth Castle, the site of the original event in 1575, and is accompanied by feasting and dancing. Poor Dudley; a three-week extravaganza and she still said no.

Lucy Worsley’s Fireworks Fit for a Tudor Queen, New Year’s Eve.

Lucy Worsley’s Fireworks Fit for a Tudor Queen, New Year’s Eve.

New Year's Day

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire UK (TVNZ 1, 7.00pm). Jeremy Clarkson may have made a plonker of himself when he hosted a series of episodes celebrating Millionaire’s 20th anniversary, but that hasn’t put ITV off ordering more. In these episodes that screened in the UK in May, Clarkson told one contestant he’d won £32,000 when he’d actually lost £15,000. In addition, during a new feature of the show, the Ask the Host lifeline, he admitted he didn’t know the shape of a stop sign, quipping that “stopping is for other people”. Ah well, it’s all in good fun, reviews were generally positive and Clarkson enjoyed himself, saying, “I absolutely loved hosting the anniversary shows and cannot wait to spend a few precious hours away from James May and Richard Hammond making the new ones.”

Wednesday January 2

Doctor Who New Year’s Special (TVNZ OnDemand). In another break with tradition, Doctor Who is having a New Year’s rather than a Christmas special this year, and the title is, appropriately, Resolution. There are few details, of course, except that the Doctor, Graham, Ryan and Yasmin come across “the DNA of the most dangerous creature in the universe”. What do we think – Daleks, Cybermen or something else entirely?

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, Netflix.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, Netflix.

TV treats for the kids

Not everything rots their brains.

So many movies, but at least there’s time. The best pre-Christmas movie of all time is Tim Burton’s stop-motion masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas, which screens, appropriately, on Christmas Eve (TVNZ 2, 3.45pm). Director Henry Selick would go on to helm James and the Giant Peach and Coraline.

Blockbuster of the season is, of course, Moana (TVNZ 2, Sunday December 23, 7.00pm), a hero’s journey in a Disneyfied Pacific, starring New Zealanders Temuera Morrison, Rachel House and Jemaine Clement.

On Christmas Day, you can’t go past Paddington (Prime, 7.40pm), which is so delightfully English it hurts.

The ultimate babysitters are the online streaming services (we won’t judge) and, incredible as it sounds, Kurt Russell, Snake Plissken himself, is playing Santa Claus in Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles. For the kid who prefers the dark side, there are now two seasons of the excellent adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. We have also recently discovered three seasons of The Adventures of Tintin.

Our own Rose McIver has embraced the silliness of A Christmas Prince on Netflix and its just-released sequel A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding.

Lightbox is especially good for the little ones, with plenty of Sesame Street and Wiggles fare. Our favourite, Adventure Time, is there, and four seasons of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Don’t forget local site heihei.nz, which includes content especially for Kiwi kids, including Nanogirl & the Imaginauts, Kai Five and Siouxsie and Eve Investigate.

Amazon Prime Video original The Snowy Day is a lovely adaptation of the 1962 children’s book by Ezra Jack Keats.

If they’re up really early on Christmas Day, there’s nothing wrong with Christmas Storytime on RNZ National (6.08am).

TV Films

Saturday December 22

The Trial (Movies Vintage, Sky 035, 8.30pm). Based on Franz Kafka’s classic novel, The Trial tells the travails of Josef K (Anthony Perkins), a man arrested by unidentified agents and charged with an unidentified crime. His case goes to a court whose rules are … you get the point. Director Orson Welles called it “the best movie I have ever made” – though some critics disagreed. He does, however, capture the disorientating bureaucracy with cinematographical skill and inventiveness. (1962)

Sunday December 23

Moana (TVNZ 2, 7.00pm). Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement voices a giant, singing, dancing crab in this animation about Princess Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho), who searches for demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) so that she can bring life back to the dying oceans around her home island, Motunui. A dozen or so Pacific cultures are rolled into one Disneyfied version that kids will love. (2016)

Sully, December 23.

Sully, December 23.

Sully (TVNZ 1, 8.15pm). A weighty drama that cuts between the emergency-landing of a US Airways flight on the Hudson River and the subsequent formal investigation into the pilots’ actions. The pilots (Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart) are easy heroes, while the men and women of the National Transportation Safety Board are nothing but nosey nitpickers. It’s another classic Clint Eastwood middle-finger to the man – what else? (2016)

A Quiet Place (Movies Premiere, Sky 030, 8.30pm). A horror movie made more terrifying by the near silence maintained throughout as a young family tries to hide in the wilderness from mysterious creatures that hunt by sound. (2017)

Christmas Eve

Frozen (TVNZ 2, 7.00am). The Disney animated kids’ film that launched the name of heroine Elsa into the 100 most-used baby names in 2014. As children started learning all the catchy songs by heart, to sing on any and all occasions, parents began to complain of what Time columnist Joel Stein called “cultural assault”. Forget the rabble-rousers, the film is just good, clean fun. On Christmas Eve, it could even provide you with a well-timed escape from your kids. (2013)

The Polar Express (TVNZ 2, 5.10pm). One for Santa agnostics. On the night before Christmas, Hero Boy (a motion-captured Tom Hanks, voiced by Daryl Sabara) is beginning to doubt the big man’s existence until a train suddenly arrives outside his bedroom window. It’s the Polar Express and it’s heading for the North Pole. What follows is an enchanting and timeless story told in quasi-animation and performance-capture before it was cool. (2004)

Home Alone (Three, 7.00pm). Just as you dust off the box of decorations from the cupboard under the stairs, TV programmers around the country do the same with Christmas classics such as this one from John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and Chris Columbus (Mrs Doubtfire). Home Alone 2: Lost in New York plays on the same channel on Christmas Day at 7.00pm, but be warned, Donald Trump makes an appearance. (1990)

Boy, Boxing Day.

Boy, Boxing Day.

Christmas Day

You’ve Got Mail (TVNZ 1, 10.35am). As the internet gets older and crankier, You’ve Got Mail comes off worse and worse. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks play the owners of two bookstores – one family-owned, the other a megastore – who anonymously befriend each other on the web. When they decide to meet up, Hanks’ character discovers who it is he’s fallen in love with (he’s the corporate guy) so, out of fear, stands her up. Then he continues to message her … It’s really quite a charming story. Just don’t think about it too much. (1998)

Lion (TVNZ 1, 7.00pm). Decades after getting lost in India at a young age and adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), Saroo (Dev Patel) embarks on a long and personal journey to his hometown to reunite with his family. It’s a true story only slightly palled by emotional manipulation. (2016)

What We Do in the Shadows (Māori TV, 8.40pm). If Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s oddball comedy isn’t already a Kiwi Christmas tradition, then it should be. The mockumentary follows four vampires who live together in central Wellington as they navigate the minefield of flatting, partying and feeding on the blood of local nightclubbers. A TV spinoff by Waititi and Clement is coming to US channel FX in 2019. (2014)

Michael Jackson: This Is It (Prime, 9.25pm). See Michael Jackson strut his stuff in what proved to be his final performance. (2009)

Boxing Day

The Pursuit of Happyness (TVNZ 1, 7.00pm). In this biographical drama, salesman Chris Gardner (Will Smith) goes in search of the American dream – and has more of a chase on his hands than most. While selling the last of his ill-bought bone-density scanners and studying for an unpaid internship, Gardner survives a year of homelessness with his son (Jaden Smith), sleeping rough in dosshouses and train stations. His wife (Thandie Newton) has already left him. But it’s Boxing Day, so expect a happy ending. (2006)

Boy (Māori TV, 9.00pm). The movie that put Taika Waititi on the map. (He has since directed such behemoths as Thor: Ragnarok.) It’s a small-town New Zealand coming-of-age comedy about an 11-year-old boy (James Rolleston) who idolises Michael Jackson, and his absent father (Waititi). His dad is busy “doing some pretty important stuff”, aka a stint for robbery, and when he returns, isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. It’s a real charmer – and funny, too. (2010)

Life of Pi, December 29.

Life of Pi, December 29.

Saturday December 29

Life of Pi (Three, 7.00pm). Here’s a lesson in how to film the unfilmable. Based on Yann Martel’s 2001 fantasy-adventure novel, director Ang Lee creates a world of his own in telling the story of Pi Patel, who survives 227 days on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger as his only companion. Life of Pi is a moving experience, especially for the more spiritual among us. (2012)

Valkyrie (Three, 9.30pm). A fictionalised account of the the July 20, 1944 attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler and trigger the takeover of the German state by the Reserve Army. Tom Cruise plays Claus von Stauffenberg, a Wermacht colonel who personally carried the bomb that narrowly missed its target. Production of the film was almost scuttled due to controversy over Cruise’s Scientology beliefs. (2008)

Sunday December 30

The King’s Speech (Choice, 8.30pm). Public speaking is bad enough at the best of times. If you’re heir to the British throne and you’ve got a speech impediment, it must be hell. Such was the lot of Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth), who, after his older brother abdicated, became King George VI. The movie focuses on his mission to overcome his stammer with the help of an eccentric Australian vocal therapist (Geoffrey Rush) – an unlikely friendship blossoms between them – and the King’s preparation for his momentous speech on the outbreak of World War II. (2010)

One Thousand Ropes (Māori TV, 8.30pm). Following on from his well-received O Le Tulafale (The Orator), the first Samoan-language feature film written and directed by a Samoan, director Tusi Tamasese delivers again, this time with the story of a father (Uelese Petaia) trying to reconnect with his daughter (Frankie Adams) while struggling with demons in his past. (2016)

Anchorman, New Year’s Day.

Anchorman, New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Eve

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Prime, 7.30pm). If you’re looking for somewhere to park your youngsters in the countdown to the New Year, in front of animated science-fiction comedy Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs might just be the spot. Aspiring inventor Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) finally solves the problem of the town’s food shortage with his Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator – though he somewhat overcooks it. (2009)

Cast Away (Three, 8.35pm). In Forrest Gump, director Robert Zemeckis had Tom Hanks near-single-handedly entertain an audience for over two hours. So why not put him on an island alone (well, except for Wilson) and see what he can do? (2000)

In the Fade (Rialto, Sky 039, 8.30pm). A German-language film (Aus dem Nichts), which won the 2018 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, centres on a theme that is sadly more relevant by the day. Diane Kruger plays Katja, a German native, who, after dropping her Turkish immigrant husband (Numan Acar) and son (Rafael Santana) at work, returns to a crime scene ripped by a nail bomb. The terrorists are neo-Nazis and justice doesn’t come easily. (2017)

New Year’s Day

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Bravo, 8.30pm). With almost-surprising skill, Will Ferrell holds together this bizarre comedy about a lead anchor and his news team of misfits (Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner) as they deal with the spectre of the first-ever female news anchor (Christina Applegate). The sequel was a bit of a flop, but a Ron Burgundy podcast is coming in 2019. (2004)

Collateral (Movies Greats, Sky 033, 8.30pm). A taut thriller in which Los Angelese cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) is forced to drive hitman Vincent (Tom Cruise) from job to job. Michael Mann (Heat, Public Enemies) is no fool. He makes the characters and their conversations as interesting as the murders and chase scenes. When the murders start to take on a pattern, Max realises who’s next. (2004)

Man on Wire (TVNZ Duke, 10.55pm). Even before the twin towers 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 in 1974. He walked and waltzed across the wire, suspended 411m above ground, with cheering and disbelieving crowds below. The authorities were not amused. Marsh deals with the tension of the build-up deftly, lending the feel of a heist film to the performance. (2008)

The Truman Show, January 3.

The Truman Show, January 3.

Thursday January 3

Casino Royale (Three, 7.00pm). Come for Daniel Craig’s first Bond outing, stay for Mads Mikkelson’s evil genius. (2006)

The Truman Show (Movies Classics, Sky 034, 8.30pm). With a reality TV star in the White House, chances that we’re living in The Truman Show are on the up. The premise, if you somehow missed it, is that Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives a completely scripted life, only he doesn’t know it. Everyone he’s ever met is an actor: his neighbours, co-workers, best friend (Noah Emmerich) and wife (Laura Linney). His life is one of the most popular shows on the box. And it’s all controlled by the devilishly ingenious show producer Christof (Ed Harris), until a series of mishaps threaten to tear a hole in Truman’s world. (1998)

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