Best on TV

SATURDAY

Luck

Sky Atlantic, 9pm

This major new drama from the HBO camp combines an off-screen dream team with an equally impressive list of stars in a series set around a horse-racing track in New York. Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral) and Deadwood’s David Milch are the creative forces behind it all, while the cast list includes Dustin Hoffman, right, Nick Nolte and Michael Gambon. Thurles actress Kerry Condon, above, also puts in a decent performance as an enthusiastic young Irish jockey. It even ticks the cool music box with Massive Attack providing the theme tune, and the recently deceased Gil Scott-Heron and Etta James can also be heard on the soundtrack. So that’s the hype — but does it live up to its potential? After seeing two preview episodes, I’m still not sure.

The show is definitely a slow burner and in true HBO style doesn’t pander to the mass market. But then, the same could be said of early episodes of The Wire. And just like its HBO-stablemate, this series does take some work on behalf of the viewer. A number of inter-related plots take a while to reveal themselves and even then you may be hamstrung by a lack of knowledge on how the betting and horse-owning systems in the US differ from their Irish counterparts. If you are a fan of horse-racing and/or less obvious American drama, definitely add it to your schedule. Everybody else is welcome to take their chances.

Alan Hughes’ Celebrity Family Fortunes

TV3, 9pm

The long-running British game show gets an Irish version and in this opener, the clerical singing group the Priests face off against Amanda Brunker and her family.

SUNDAY

Barbara Thompson: Playing Against Time

BBC Four, 9pm

There’s a feast of jazz on BBC Four this weekend, and this moving documentary takes a different angle than the usual films on the subject by looking at saxophonist/composer Barbara Thompson’s battle with Parkinson’s disease, with the support of her husband, jazz-rock drummer Jon Hiseman.

Knuckle

RTÉ One, 9.30pm

With programmes on big wedding dresses and bare-knuckle boxing, all the Traveller stereotypes are being rolled out this week. This highly-rated documentary was filmed over 12 years and follows James Quinn McDonagh and his younger brother Michael through a series of fights with other Travellers, most notably ‘Big’ Paul Joyce of a rival family.

Homeland

Channel 4, 9.30pm

If you feel like you’ve been missing out on those water cooler conversations about a show that began a few weeks ago on RTÉ, here’s your chance to catch up. Claire Danes is the bipolar CIA agent who has major suspicions about a US Marine who has been rescued after eight years of captivity in Iraq. Is he involved in a plot to attack America?

MONDAY

Aerfort

RTÉ One, 7.30pm

Last week’s opener on Cork Airport wasn’t a bad effort and this week the documentary series turns to Shannon. The Clare airport’s location on the edge of Europe ensured that it was a major stop-off on the American route, and hosted visits by everyone from Marilyn Monroe and JFK to Che Guevara. Shannon also has a significant place in global economic history by being the home of the first duty-free shop in the world, and also the first ever tax-free industrial zone.

My Social Network Stalker

Channel 4, 10pm

This documentary in the True Stories strand tells the tale of Ruth Jeffery who was subjected to emotional and mental abuse at the hands of a stalker for three and a half years. Threatening messages and the appearance of naked images of her on the internet put a great strain on her mental health, but it was the support of her family and her long-term boyfriend Shane Webber that just about kept her on track. As she explains here, however, when the stalker’s identity was finally revealed it brought the awfulness of the situation to a whole new level.

The Republic Of Telly

RTÉ Two, 10.20pm

Dermot Whelan and Jennifer Maguire returns for a new series of their lighthearted take on Irish TV culture.

TUESDAY

Ear To The Ground

RTÉ One, 8.30pm

Irish boars won’t get away with much if this new pork traceability project is successful. Ella McSweeney reports on plans to have the DNA profile of every male pig in Ireland added to a database in order to improve traceability and protect the Irish pig meat industry. William Bunbury is also on talking about his handy business producing chopping boards from wood on his Carlow estate, and there’s also a look at the co-op of farmers and local businesses set up to save the local mart in Sixmilebridge, Co Clare.

Death Unexplained

BBC One, 11.35pm

The final episode of the documentary series from a behind-the-scenes look at the work of a coroner’s office in London who has the case of a plasterer whose contact with asbestos through the years may have contributed to his death. They also get ready to deal with any British victims of an earthquake in New Zealand.

WEDNESDAY

Winterwatch

BBC Two, 9pm

Chris Packham and Kate Humble are back keeping tabs on Mother Nature as her wintry embrace has been a bit more forgiving this year. While Ireland largely escaped the cold snap, in Britain it caused big problems for some animals. A surprising influx of owls from Europe is investigated and Michaela Strachan reports from a swallow roost in South Africa where millions of birds have journeyed to escape the winter in Britain and Ireland.

Jackass Number Two

E4, 10.10pm

Juvenile, gross, tasteless — and absolutely hilarious. If you can stomach the antics of Johnny Knoxville as they put leeches on their eyeballs, shoot each other out of rockets and slug a certain product extracted from a horse, then you’ll be rewarded with numerous lough-out-loud moments.

THURSDAY

A Little Bit TV

RTÉ One, 7pm

Sean Duignan was a prominent news and current affairs reporter/presenter over several decades and also had a spell as gamekeeper/press secretary to a Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition before returning to the warm embrace of RTÉ. In this show he looks back on a career in Irish television that stretched back to the 1960s and a stint fronting a pop céilí show.

House

Sky 1, 10pm

The eighth and final series resumes after its mid-season hiatus and, while fans will tell you the early shows were way better, Hugh Laurie and his cohorts still provide some entertaining moments.

FRIDAY

The Graham Norton Show

BBC One, 10.35pm

The west Cork man is now the proud owner of a BAFTA award that he deservedly won last week for best entertainment performance. On tonight’s show he has Mark Wahlberg talking about his new film Contraband, as well as actress Minnie Driver and comedienne Jo Brand.

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