Top five TV picks of the week: American in the house

Check out five shows that will keep couch potatoes glued to their seats, including the return of Downton Abbey.

Screen legend Shirley MacLaine, centre, joins Downton Abbey as Lady Cora's mother. Photo / Supplied
Screen legend Shirley MacLaine, centre, joins Downton Abbey as Lady Cora's mother. Photo / Supplied

Pick of the Week: Downton Abbey

What is it with Downton Abbey and great upheavals brought on by public transport? Series one started out with the place losing its heir apparent on the Titanic.

Series three starts off with the news that Lord Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, has lost a bundle - the fortune he got via marrying his heiress American wife Lady Cora - from bad investments in Canadian railways.

It almost makes you wonder if in some far-off future series, one of the Crawley family will exclaim: "German airship to America? Why not?"

There's something large and flaming swooping down upon tonight's first episode - Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson, Lady Cora's mother who arrives, ostensibly for the long-awaited nuptials for Lady Mary and her distant cousin Matthew.

She's really there, though, and to give Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess something new to disdain as Martha frequently sighs about England being stuck in the past - this series set in the first two years of the 1920s being about Downton adapting to the future, even if there's not money left to run it.

The much-anticipated wedding, though, is the focus of the first show, the mother and father of the bride figuring that if it's to be their last extravagant bash, they might as well make a good job of it.

But there are some inevitable snags on the way to the altar, including the arrival of a pregnant Lady Sybil and Irish hubby Tom, the former chauffeur with whom she eloped. In the newly independent Ireland, he's now a journalist and therefore doesn't own a decent suit to wear to dinner.

The former servant's elevation to Grantham family member causes consternation among the staff downstairs. Though some have got bigger worries - Anna hasn't lost hope that her Mr Bates, the former valet locked up for the murder of his ex-wife, will some day be proven innocent. Although by the look of Bates, he seems resigned to be inside for some time yet.

The eight episodes of season three cover just an 18-month period, so things may not move at the pace they did in season two, set during the war years. As Hugh Bonneville, who plays Lord Grantham, told TimeOut on his recent promotional visit to Auckland: "I personally feel that series three is the best that we have done and the emotional journey that we are about to take the audience on is huge and it's an awful lot of laughs and a lot of the opposite as well.

"The third series really becomes about the house trying to regroup, with the house as the central character trying to re-establish itself after the wounds of war. And so the pace slows down and it's much more about the family and the staff, as we saw in series one, without the impact of the outside world."

When: 8.30pm, Thursday
Where: Prime
What: The third season

DIY pick: The Block Australia

If you thought The Block NZ was a long, drawn-out home improvement race then the Australian version is more like an endurance marathon. This is on three nights a week, Monday to Wednesday, until February 1, which is a whole lot of DIY action.

One of the main differences between the Kiwi and Aussie shows is that in Australia the competition begins with eight couples. They compete in a 24-hour elimination challenge to see which four couples will compete to do up the three-storey Melbourne terrace houses.

The show is hosted by Australian TV staple Scott Cam and sidekick Shelley Craft. This year sees the first mother-and-son team competing, and the first father-and-daughter team.

When: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, 7.30pm
Where: TV3
What: Oz home improvement style

Reality pick: The Amazing Race (Aus)

In the second season of the Downunder version of The Amazing Race, presented by Kiwi actor Grant Bowler, the teams visit 17 cities in nine different countries. The first leg takes them from Australia to the Philippines, where the detour sees the teams choosing between dancing a traditional "jig" and trying their best to catch an oily pig. They then travel to countries that include India, Turkey, Cuba and Canada.

The 11 teams competing for the $250,000 prize include identical twins and cheerleaders Michelle and Jo, hairdressers Sue and Teresa, cops Shane and Andrew and the father-and-daughter team of former Aussie Rules player Ross Thornton and Tarryn.

The first leg kicks off in Sydney.

When: Monday, 7.30pm
Where: TV2
What: Aussies race around the world

Awards pick: Fair Go ad Awards

Your votes are in for the best and worst ads of the year, and while there is always some crossover between the categories, this year two ads made both categories. Mastercard's Check In, the one where poor Richie McCaw gets a hug from an annoying All Blacks' supporter, and State Insurance's Break My Stride ad are up for best and worst gongs.

Also in line for best ad are DB Export Dry's The Wine is Over and Instant Kiwi's Alibi. In the worst ad category are cringe-inducing commercials from Cigna (Funeral Plan) and Lumino the Dentists' Love Your Smile.

Also during the live show Fair Go goes behind-the-scenes of one of the most memorable ads of the year.

When: Wednesday, 7.30pm
Where: TV One
What: The best (and worst) ads

Drama pick: Boardwalk Empire

In the manner of Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire goes into its early 1920s third season with its resident boss man facing some financial problems.

Not only is Nucky Thompson trying to find a way of getting back the land his wife Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) had donated to the church, he is facing fresh competition in his bootlegging business from Gyp Rosetti (newcomer Bobby Cannavale) as the liquor stockpiles start to dwindle.

Meanwhile, that Al Capone guy is staking his claim to Chicago and Nucky, with his marriage in tatters, finds comfort in his new mistress, young Broadway chorus girl Billie Kent (Meg Chambers Steedle).

When: Mondays, 8.30pm
Where: SoHo
What: Season three


- NZ Herald

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