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Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

Chris Philpott: What to watch when TV is bad

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When TV is bad, what do you watch? Blogger Chris Philpott has a few suggestions.
Tatiana Maslany in a scene from Orphan Black, which finishes its excellent season one run on Soho this week.
Tatiana Maslany in a scene from Orphan Black, which finishes its excellent season one run on Soho this week.

Let's be honest: for a couple of weeks around Christmas and New Years, television sucks.

With the exception of the Doctor Who Christmas Special, which Prime TV thankfully procured and broadcast around 12 hours behind the UK, this holiday season was a wasteland of stand-up comedy specials and family movies that forced me to dig into my box set of Black Books.

Thankfully, some great television is returning over the next fortnight. Here are a few delights for your DVR:

TUESDAY, JANUARY 7:

Orphan Black (SoHo, 8.30pm), season finale
Southland (One, 10.50pm)

One of last year's best new shows finishes its run: Orphan Black is a true original, delving into subject matter and scenarios that provide a fresh vibe, and lead Tatiana Maslany has been a revelation playing several key roles simultaneously, often opposite herself.

Later, stylish cop drama Southland returns at the start of its fourth season, with Cooper returning from back surgery and paired up with a new partner, played by Lucy Liu.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 8:

Masters Of Sex (SoHo, 8.30pm), season finale
Happy Endings, Anger Management (TV2, from 10.40pm)

Another of last year's best new shows comes to an end, with Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) presenting his findings to an excited crowd, despite his ongoing dispute with Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan). If you're a night owl, tune in for the return of Happy Endings - the under-rated comedy series is heading toward the end of its third and final season on TV2, and is followed by Charlie Sheen's Anger Management ... which is essentially just a cruder, more unwatchable version of Two And A Half Men.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 9:

Californication (Four, 9.30pm)
Bad Education (UKTV, 9.30pm)

The incorrigible Hank Moody returns for new episodes. Well, I mean, they're old episodes - airing in the USA around a year ago - but they're new to us. And if you're tired of the show, there is one good reason to tune in: musical comedian Tim Minchin stars as Atticus Finch, a rock star interested in writing a show based on one of Hank's books, in a season-long story arc. Meanwhile, UKTV brings us the second season of Bad Education, a charming little comedy series about a young high school teacher struggling to fit in at his school. The first season was a hoot, bolstered by a funny lead performance from baby-faced comedian Jack Whitehall, and I'm hoping for more of the same.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 12:

Stella (UKTV, 8.30pm)
Another year-old show finally makes it down our way for a second season: Ruth Jones - who viewers will know as Nessa on Gavin & Stacey - stars as Stella, a single mum in South Wales, and leads a cast of miscreants in this often emotive comedy-drama.

MONDAY, JANUARY 13:

Shortland Street, Super Fun Night, Trophy Wife, Scandal (TV2, from 7pm)
The Goldbergs (Four, 8pm)
Banshee (SoHo, 8.30pm)
Ripper Street (UKTV, 8.30pm)

TV2 completely reconfigure their Monday night schedule, starting with Shortland Street; the hit drama returns for the year with an hour-long debut that should quell any concerns about who died in that explosive finale. Next, two brand new comedies: Super Fun Night is riotously funny at times, though a little too reliant on star Rebel Wilson, while Trophy Wife is a very funny ensemble comedy that evokes early Modern Family but without the polish. Last, Scandal makes a shift over from TV One and picks up in the middle of season two, in the wake of revelations that Fitz's victory was rigged. Over on Four, new comedy The Goldbergs - from the creator of Raising Hope - makes its debut.

But, wait, there's more! The second season of Banshee starts up on SoHo; I really enjoyed this cartoony, pulpy action thriller - starring our own Antony Starr as a conman trying to make good in small town Pennsylvania - and will be watching excitedly. UKTV finally brings us Ripper Street, an acclaimed British period drama set in London in the wake of the Jack The Ripper killings, that was recently named by UK telly fans as the best show of 2013.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14:

The Bachelor Australia (TV2, 7.30pm)
NCIS, NCIS: LA (TV3, from 8.30pm)
True Detective, Justified (SoHo, from 8.30pm)

The less said about The Bachelor: Australia, the better ... though it's going to be hard to avoid, being that it airs three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday). And NCIS and NCIS:LA are known quantities at this point so fans - I'm not one - should be excited to have them back.
I'm more excited for the offerings on SoHo: True Detective is a brand new anthology series from HBO, written by novelist Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga, which stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as detectives in pursuit of a serial killer. The idea is that, if the show is a hit, it'll return next year with an entirely new story and new cast, though still written by Pizzolatto. After True Detective, we can finally enjoy the third season of Justified, which has never aired in New Zealand before. All hail Raylan Givens' Stetson hat!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 16:

American Idol (Prime, 7.30pm)
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (TV3, 8.30pm)
Girls (SoHo, 8.30pm)

Idol is back for two nights a week, airing Thursdays and Fridays on Prime, with new judges Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr and oh my gosh, I'm getting bored describing this show, let alone watching it. The addition of Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue rejuvenated CSI - and I hear this season has a redesigned title sequence! Lastly, Lena Dunham leads the cast of Girls, which is back for a third season which is no doubt packed with many more awkward social faux pas. I love it.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 17:

Come Dine With Me (One, 9.30pm)
C'mon, who doesn't love this British reality cooking show? I watch it for the voiceovers from Dave Lamb. I'd like Dave Lamb to narrate my life, if he could. Please.

Also returning before the end of January:

Top Boy (SoHo, January 19), Looking (SoHo, January 23), Treme (SoHo, January 31).

* What new shows are you looking forward to? Anything on this list catch your eye?

Chris Philpott

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

In a strange way, Chris Philpott has grown up with television: his first big addiction was The X Files, which he watched as a teenager, enthralled by what was possible with the form. Chris’ love of TV grew over the years, parallel to the popularity and quality of serial dramas like The Sopranos, Lost, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. He began writing about TV professionally in 2010, before joining the NZ Herald in late 2013, and considers writing about TV more than a passing interest or hobby: he genuinely loves sharing new series and discussing the big shows with readers. Chris is based in Whangarei, and lives with his wife and daughter. When he isn’t watching television … just kidding, he’s always watching television.

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