Belfast Telegraph

The top TV shows to watch this winter

Reset your box with true crime drama, dangerous liaisons and sci-fi comedy. From the next series of Sex Education to The New Pope, Alastair McKay picks out January's highlights

The New Pope
The New Pope
Showing promise: Deadwater Fell
Cobra
The Adulterer

By Alastair McKay

When it's cold and dark outside, the television resumes its traditional role as a hearth at the centre of the room, an ideal companion for a month or two of enforced hibernation.

When it's cold and dark outside, the television 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 Robert Carlyle, demonstrating (in Cobra) that being a psychopath is no barrier to achieving high political office.

There's also the return of Armando Iannucci, whose sense of humour is applied to outer space, with Hugh Laurie on board, in Avenue 5.

So, take your pick, bring the duvet into the living room and relax...

1. The Adulterer

Channel 4, full series available on All4

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The Adulterer

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 becomes caught in a web of jealousy, lust and criminal intent when she has an affair with a lawyer. In season two, the affair with Willem (Fedja van Huêt) is a happy relationship, but the consequences of their actions are still causing problems. There are custody problems, legal secrecy and pressure over a forthcoming court case. When Willem disappears to "think things over" it looks suspicious. The series is available via All4.

2. Deadwater Fell

Channel 4, tonight, 9pm

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Showing promise: Deadwater Fell

This four-parter penned by Grantchester writer 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 plays Tom, a well-liked GP who finds himself suspected of murdering his wife Kate (Anna Madeley) and their three children, sending ripples of mistrust throughout 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.

3. The New Pope

Sky Atlantic/Now TV, Sunday, 10pm

Not to be confused with the Netflix film The Two Popes, the 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 under way. 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.

4. The Outsider

Sky Atlantic, Monday, 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 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 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.

5. White House Farm

ITV, series continues on Wednesday

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. Police initially suspected Sheila, who 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. Catch up on the first episode on the ITV Hub.

6. Cobra

Sky One, next Friday, 9pm (all episodes on demand/Now TV)

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Cobra

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 prime minister Robert Sutherland, whose government is plunged into a national emergency. Along with his chief of staff Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton), he has to convene a team of experts, senior politicians and crisis contingency planners to try and bring Britain back from the brink.

Among the team 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.

7. Sex Education

Netflix, next Friday

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Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson in Sex Education (Netflix)

The first series of Laurie Nunn's British comedy was a big hit. 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. He aims to go further with his girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison) and handle with his relationship with Maeve (Emma Mackey), which is at an 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.

8. Avenue 5

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 and keep the passengers calm while they work out what to do. Iannucci is joined by regular writers Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche. He 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, a 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.

9. 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 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 of Star Trek: Nemesis and shows him trying to deal with the destruction of the Romulan empire. The cast includes Santiago Cabrera, Michelle Hurd, Alison Pill and Harry Treadaway. Isa Briones from Hamilton is also on board.

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