Well, thank God that’s over. Christmas telly is a glorious indulgence, but a diet of familiar faces getting slightly festive can start to grate after a while.
The good news is that January is the month when the decorations come down, the wafer-thin mints are banished, and the broadcasters set out their stalls for the following year. And no wonder.
When it’s cold and dark outside, the TV resumes its traditional role as a hearth at the centre of the room, an ideal companion for a month or two of enforced hibernation. There are a number of promising shows coming up, from returning series such as Gillian Anderson’s therapeutic Sex Education, The New Pope (now with added John Malkovich) and the return to British TV of Trainspotting’s Begbie, Robert Carlyle, demonstrating (in Cobra) that playing a psychopath is no barrier to achieving high political office.
Plus, the return of Armando Iannucci, whose sense of humour is now applied to outer space, with Hugh Laurie on board in Avenue 5. Take your pick, bring the duvet into the living room… and relax.
Channel 4, January 6, 11.35pm
Series one of this Dutch psychological thriller was the most popular show on the streaming platform Walter Presents last year. It stars Sylvia Hoeks (who starred in Blade Runner 2049) as Iris, a photographer who gets caught in a web of visceral jealousy, lust and criminal intent when she has an affair with a lawyer.
In season two, the affair with Willem (Fedja van Huêt) is now a happy relationship, but the consequences of their actions are still causing problems. There are custody problems, legal secrecy and ominous pressure over a forthcoming court case. When Willem disappears to “think things over” it looks very suspicious. The full series is available on Walter Presents via All4.
White House Farm
ITV, January 8, 9pm
This six-part factual drama re-examines the horrific night in August 1985 when five members of the same family were murdered at a farmhouse in Essex. Parents Nevill and June Bamber, Sheila Caffell and her twins Daniel and Nicholas were shot, and police initially suspected Sheila, who had suffered from schizophrenia, before widening their inquiry.
The drama is based on Carol Ann Lee’s book about the murder, with additional material from Sheila’s husband, Colin Caffell. Freddy Fox plays Jeremy Bamber, who was tried for the crime, Mark Addy is DS Stan Jones, who questioned the murder-suicide theory, and Stephen Graham is DCI “Taff” Jones, who initially believed Bamber’s cover story. Writer Kris Mrksa says he is aiming to capture the emotional truth of the event.
Channel 4, January 10, 9pm
This four-parter written by Grantchester showrunner Daisy Coulam follows the story of two families in the aftermath of a terrible crime. There are shades of Broadchurch, as it examines how evil can be found in a tight-knit Scottish community. David Tennant stars as Tom, a well-liked GP who finds himself suspected of murdering his wife Kate (Anna Madeley) and their three children, sending ripples of mistrust through the community.
What seemed at first like a house fire was actually something darker. Kate’s best friend Jess (Cush Jumbo) re-examines their friendship looking for clues, putting strain on her own marriage to local policeman Steve (Matthew McNulty). Coulam says the drama is an attempt to understand the notion of evil, as if terrible acts are beyond human understanding.
The New Pope
Sky Atlantic/Now TV, January 12, 10pm
Not to be confused with the Netflix film The Two Popes, this second series of Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino’s playful look at the modern papacy begins with Pius XIII (Jude Law) in a coma and the search for a new pope underway. The most likely candidate is Sir John Braddox (John Malkovich), an English aristocrat whose credentials rest on his youthful text, The Middle Way.
Viewers who enjoyed Law’s playful presence in the first series need not despair. He haunts the series. But Malkovich, a mature ham whose great skill is his ability to overdo it while looking understated, has great fun as the velveteen smoothie with his eyes on the prize. He becomes Pope John Paul III, and then his weaknesses start to appear. The cast also includes Sharon Stone and Marilyn Manson.
Sky Atlantic, January 13, 9pm
Based on the Stephen King bestseller from 2018, this story follows an apparently routine inquiry into the brutal small town murder of a young boy which turns spooky. Suspicions rest on the popular high school teacher and little league coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) whose fingerprints are all over the crime scene.
Seasoned detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) starts to have some doubts and is joined by unconventional private detective Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) as inconsistencies start to emerge. Who, or what, was responsible for this heinous act? The always-great Paddy Considine is in the cast, and writers Richard Price and Dennis Lehane are on board, so it should be hard-boiled.
Sky One, January 17, 9pm (all episodes on demand/Now TV)
Created by Ben Richards (a writer for Spooks and The Tunnel) this political drama is a welcome return to British television for Robert Carlyle. The Trainspotting star plays British prime minister Robert Sutherland, whose government is plunged into a national emergency.
With his chief of staff Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton) they have to convene a team of experts, senior politicians and crisis contingency planners to try and bring Britain back from the brink. Among them are Fraser Walker (Richard Dormer) who knows his way round a crisis, and the ambitious Home Secretary Archie Glover-Morgan (David Haig), who is looking to feather his own nest.
Netflix, January 17
The first series of Laurie Nunn’s frisky British comedy was a big hit, as it followed the fortunes of teenage virgin Otis (Asa Butterfield) as he tried to escape from the shadow of his sex therapist mother (Gillian Anderson). In series two, Otis is still struggling to master his urges, as he aims to go further with his girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison), and cope with his relationship with Maeve (Emma Mackey), which has progressed to the awkward stage.
Will Maeve intervene to step things up? There’s a chlamydia outbreak at Moordale Secondary, and all the characters are in various stages of lusty flux.
Sky One/Now TV, January 22, 10pm
Set your phasers to fun, Thick of It mastermind Armando Iannucci is back with this space tourism comedy set 40 years in the future.
Hugh Laurie plays Ryan Clark, the bearded captain of a luxury space cruise liner on a journey around Saturn. Happily, things don’t go to plan, and the captain and his crew are forced to try to keep the passengers calm while they work out what to do.
Iannucci is joined by his regular writers Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche, and says the show isn’t about space as much as what happens when a lot of people in a confined environment have to get on with each other. Josh Gad plays Herman Judd, the billionaire who bankrolled the space cruise despite his lack of understanding of science. Rebecca Front, Zach Woods, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and Lenora Crichlow also star.
Star Trek: Picard
Amazon Prime, January 23
Anticipation is at fever pitch for this revival of the Star Trek franchise, with Sir Patrick Stewart returning to the bridge as Jean-Luc Picard (and earning a second series even before the first one has been broadcast). This series has been overseen by Michael Chabon, who is now working on an adaptation of his Pulitzer-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier.
This edition of the space opera catches up with Admiral Picard 20 years after the events shown in Star Trek: Nemesis, and shows him trying to deal with the destruction of the Romulan empire. As well as a pet dog for Picard, the cast includes Santiago Cabrera, Michelle Hurd, Alison Pill and Harry Treadaway. Isa Briones from Hamilton is also on board.