The ten best TV shows of the week

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What to watch over the next seven days

Time Out's critics steer you through the TV listings guide with reviews of the best shows over the next seven days, from big dramas and reality shows to cult comedies and documentaries. National talking point or hidden gem – we've got it covered. For full listings and five daily picks, cycle through the days by using the tabs on the grid at www.timeout.com/tv.

  • Bad Santas

    Rating: 3/5
    Mon Dec 17, 9-10pm, C4

    Could Santa Claus be a former armed robber? A squatter? A boozer? A brawler? This bewildering two-parter poses all of these questions via the trajectory of the reality documentary. Self-proclaimed ‘Britain’s Top Santa Agency’ Ministry of Fun is taking a punt on a few rough diamonds; they’d have us believe that being a department store Santa is surprisingly demanding (and lucrative) work. Indeed, this opening part is often so hilariously po-faced that it feels a little like a spoof – who knew that a rehearsal could be self-importantly dubbed a ‘Grotto Simulation Exercise’? There’s also the hint of an agenda just below the surface: in the intro, we’re told, somewhat knowingly, that putative Santa Steve has spent years ‘on the sick.’ But guess what? Steve has angina, arthritis and epilepsy. Not so much Bad Santa as Unlucky Santa, perhaps? Still, just about odd enough to merit a watch. Phil Harrison

  • imagine... A Beauty Is Born: Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

    Rating: 4/5
    Tue Dec 18, 10.35-11.35pm, BBC1

    The ballet season is well and truly upon us, and this lively ‘Imagine’ documentary charting the career of choreographer Matthew Bourne is a well-timed treat. There’s a backstage look at the current production of Sleeping Beauty – the imaginative process fascinating to see, puppetry and all – and for the fans there’s a good look at Bourne’s back catalogue, including ‘Spitfire’, ‘Edward Scissorhands’, and of course ‘Swan Lake’. Bourne himself is likeable and humble, talking openly about his influences and background and banishing any myths of snootiness. With so much humour and energy, and so little pretentiousness, this is a real joy. If you missed out on tickets this year, this might just ease your woes slightly. Claire Winter

  • The Christmas No 1 Story

    Rating: 3/5
    Wed Dec 19 9-10pm, BBC2

    It’s somehow very British to celebrate a phenomenon that has served up so much wretched old tripe over the years. But as the charts hit 60, so too does the top spot at Christmas. Roy Wood, Midge Ure and Johnny Mathis must be hovering by their phones at this time of year anyway, and indeed here they are (along with Noddy Holder, Shakey et al) to reel out the anecdotes for another festive paycheck. Although in fact, having run the gauntlet of novelty songs, chart-friendly evangelism and the occasional credible classic, the battle for the number one has now reached an intriguing stand-off between Simon Cowell and those who would thwart him… It’s lazy TV, but at this time of year, with the long lazy nights in, entirely fit for purpose and good fun for those in an indulgent mood. And, if you really can’t get enough, ITV will be doing something very similar with a lot of the same people at 6.30pm on Saturday December 22. Gabriel Tate

  • The Office: An American Workplace

    Rating: 4/5
    Wed Dec 19, 10-11pm, Comedy Central

    He took a little longer than David Brent, but after seven series Michael Scott finally says goodbye to colleagues and viewers tonight. And he may just prove irreplacable. The show will go on without him, but Will Ferrell’s feeble performances as Michael’s potential replacement have demonstrated what a tough act Steve Carell will be to follow. His departure is nicely underplayed throughout, even if it takes a while to really get going. The first half of this double-bill is spent with Michael lurching from gaffe to blunder as he distributes his farewell gifts to colleagues. But when Michael struggles to keep a lid on his emotions as his real intentions – to sneak off quietly – become clear, poignancy overrides pratfall and you may find yourself with something in your eye. Not quite up there with the Wernham Hogg Christmas special, but a very decent effort and by no means as mawkish as it could have been. Gabriel Tate

  • Adam Hills Stand Up Live

    Thu Dec 20, 10-11.40pm, C4

    Six months ago, few in the UK had heard of Adam Hills. Probably about the same number of people as were familiar with David Weir and Sarah Storey, in fact. But just as the Paralympics made stars of many British athletes, so it elevated one Australian comedian into the limelight where, following a bidding war from which C4 emerged victorious (he’s even delivering the channel’s Alternative Christmas Message at 4.20pm on Christmas Day), he looks likely to thrive. After ‘The Last Leg’, his acclaimed series during the Paralympics that revived the dread concept of a ‘sideways look’ at current events (and has one last hurrah at 11.05pm on December 30), Hills recorded this one-off gig at the Lyric in Hammersmith. An established star in his homeland, and not as prone to mine his disability for laughs as you might fear (Hills only has one leg), he’s an accomplished comic whose laid-back style disguises a barbed, subversive wit. This should be a treat. Gabriel Tate

  • Michael Grade's History of the Pantomime Dame

    Rating: 3/5
    Thu Dec 20, 9-10pm, BBC4

    Panto, it has been rather unkindly said, is the only artform invented by the British. Well, Michael Grade gets so involved in this profile of a theatrical phenomenon that he looks like he’d be the first to shout ‘oh, no it isn’t!’. He looks tickled pink, in fact, to be rubbing shoulders with some of the great pantomime dames (Berwick Kahler has been filling stockings at York’s Theatre Royal for 30 years) while his investigations reclaim panto from the nitpickers and the knockers (oo-er) and reinstall it as an artform with a storied past. One thing is clear: pulling off the sort of concentrated chaos and misrule that sustains the best pantomimes has long been a feat of considerable technical innovation and creative artistry. Equally and perhaps unexpectedly, panto has sustained its relevance into the twenty-first century with a broadening cultural palette. The pantomime’s best days may not be,er, behind it… Gabriel Tate

  • Text Santa

    Fri Dec 21, 8-11pm, ITV1

    Even the title prompts a little shudder of nausea. Whatever happened to leaving him a glass of sherry on Christmas Eve? But even if that wasn’t enough, this telethon has plenty to get your bile ducts twitching. There’ll be a Christmas ‘Corrie’. The ladies from ‘Loose Women’ in an ‘X Factor’ audition. A duet between Gary Barlow and Dawn French. Phillip Schofield will be pressing his list on Santa, co-presenting alongside Ant and Dec, Holly Willoughby, Paddy McGuinness and Christine Bleakley. Normally, we’d suggest making a donation and then going down the pub. But this time, we’re not so sure. We’d recommend specifically picking out and contributing to a worthy festive charity that isn’t endorsed by ITV1’s ‘Text Santa’. Otherwise, you’ll only encourage them… Phil Harrison

  • Strictly Come Dancing

    Sat Dec 22, 6.30-7.55pm, BBC1

    History is made tonight in the ‘Strictly’ final: four couples, not three, will compete for the big prize. So you’ll be getting your money’s worth, especially considering this year’s standards have been particularly high – enough to trounce ‘The X Factor’ on a regular basis. At the time of writing, Dani, Denise, Louis, Kimberley and Lisa were all still in the race – which will be announced as the grand winner at 8.50pm? As usual it’s up to the voters to decide and there’s also a performance from ‘one of the biggest music acts on the planet’. If all this leaves you wanting more, there’s a one-off special on Christmas Day, in which Helen Skelton, Katy Brand and other newbies join old pros Rachel Stevens and Tom Chambers back on the ’floor. Anna Smith

  • Screen Goddesses: Arena

    Rating: 4/5
    Sat Dec 22, 9-10pm, BBC4

    It’s hard to imagine that ‘Arena’, should it still exist in 40 years time, would make a documentary about our contemporary sirens of the silver screen. As alluring and mysterious as Scarlett Johannsson or Angelina Jolie might seem to some, they’ve got nothing on a Garbo or a Dietrich. Framed by Elizabeth McGovern’s intelligent narration and using only archive interviews to add background, this is a love letter to a form of cinema that now seems impossibly glamorous and remote. From silent stars like Lilian Gish and Theda Bara to the last icons of the studio system, Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, it’s a feast for the eyes which mostly beguiles, but occasionally lacks context and suffers from an overworked ‘goddess’ motif. In the past, this would have kicked off a season of related films; this time, you might just have to write down the titles – this could be the beginning of a beautiful DVD library. Gabriel Tate

  • Loving Miss Hatto

    Rating: 4/5
    Sun Dec 23, 8.30-10pm, BBC1

    ‘You play. I’ll figure out the story.’ That was how William ‘Barry’ Barrington-Coupe imagined life with his beloved wife, pianist Joyce Hatto, would pan out. And so it did. Nothing quite worked out for Barry and Joyce. Joyce was talented but prone to stage fright and, later, stricken by cancer. Barry’s career as a musical impresario never quite took off. They weren’t able to have children. So, in their dotage, Barry launched one of the more remarkable frauds in musical history, managing to fabricate a successful late-blooming career for his wife by manipulating famous recordings and passing them off as Joyce’s work. Written by Victoria Wood, this version of the story is thoroughly sympathetic – Hatto and Barry didn’t have much luck and Barry’s late-life transgressions are shown more as acts of love than moneymaking scams. With a fine quartet of lead performances – Rory Kinnear and Alfred Molina animate the young and old Barry, Maimie McCoy and Francesca Annis portray Joyce – this is a sweetly melancholy pre-Christmas treat. Phil Harrison


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