TV guide: 12 of the best new shows to watch, beginning tonight

From a celebration of O’Connell Street on Nationwide to new dramas starring Robert Downey jnr, Elisabeth Moss and Benedict Cumberbatch, here is a guide to what’s worth watching on TV


Sunday, RTÉ One, 6.30pm

Prick up your ears and get ready for a listening experience like no other. This documentary follows 25-year-old ornithologist extraordinaire Seán Ronayne, who is on a unique mission to record the song of every bird species in Ireland. That’s nearly 200 species, each with its own distinctive sound. Ronayne, who has been diagnosed with autism, has a sharp ear for sound, and here he takes us on an amazing outdoor trip soundtracked by the songs of a seabird colony on Skellig Michael, a murmuration of 100,000 starlings in the midlands, and the forlorn cry of a species on the brink of extinction. In his work as a twitcher, Ronayne has noticed that the birdsong is becoming quieter with every year, as the damage done to Ireland’s habitats and biodiversity takes its toll on bird populations, and this documentary serves as an alarm call as well as a symphony of beautiful sounds.

Rob and Rylan’s Grand Tour

Sunday, BBC Two, 9pm

In the 18th century, young English aristos would embark on a Grand Tour, a Byronesque whirl around the continent, before eventually coming home to marry Lady Flappington-Smythe’s daughter or join Father’s tea-and-opium importing business. Rob Rinder and Rylan Clark are ending their own Grand Tour in style, arriving in Rome in an authentic horse-drawn carriage. Only one problem: Rylan is allergic to horses. They fare better when they go to see a painting by Rob’s beloved Caravaggio, and Rylan is impressed by the artist’s signature chiaroscuro technique. The young fops of the 18th century would arrive home decked out in the latest flamboyant Italian fashions – earning the nickname “macaronis” – and it would be rude of Rob and Rylan not to follow suit.

Nationwide Celebrates 100 Years of O’Connell Street

Monday, RTÉ One, 7pm. Also Wednesday and Friday.

Dublin’s O’Connell Street gets a bad rap these days, but this special run of Nationwide programmes sets out to explore the history and the social changes seen on the street over the past century. Anne Cassin presents the first programme, setting out to learn how the former Sackville Street was renamed O’Connell Street in 1924, and she takes a tour of the street’s many statues and monuments, including statues of Parnell, Daniel O’Connell and Sir John Gray, and the Spire, on the site formerly occupied by Nelson’s Pillar. Cassin also visits the legendary Happy Ring House aka McDowell’s Jewellers, whose owner Jack McDowell and a porter stayed in the shop during the 1916 Rising to prevent it from being looted.

On Wednesday, Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh takes a tour of the GPO, which was at the centre of the 1916 Rising, and has also been a focal point of protests and demonstrations over the past 100 years. She talks to broadcaster and archivist Catriona Crowe about the changing nature of protest on the street over the past 100 years.


In Friday’s third and final part of Nationwide’s celebration of Dublin’s main thoroughfare, Cassin looks at the history of hospitality and entertainment on the street over the years. God be with the days when you’d meet your beau or belle under Clery’s clock, go for afternoon tea to the Gresham and then to the Metropole to watch Gone with the Wind.

The Sympathizer

Monday, Sky Atlantic & Now, 9pm

Robert Downey jnr co-stars in this espionage thriller that doubles as post-Vietnam war political and cultural satire. But where is he? Downey dons serious prosthetic disguise in this series to play four different characters – a CIA agent, a professor, a congressman and a “visionary” film-maker – in this twisty-and-turny story based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Hoa Xuande plays the Captain, a police chief in Saigon who is also a communist spy, who flees to Los Angeles at the end of the Vietnam war, but still finds himself either unable or unwilling to quit the spying game.

Cheap Flights: What They Really Mean for You

Tuesday, BBC One, 8pm

Let’s not fool ourselves. We’re all gung-ho for reducing emissions – until it’s time to book our holidays, and then we’re clicking on the cheapest flights available, with nary a thought given to the huge cost to the environment of these budget jaunts. In this documentary, the BBC’s climate editor, Justin Rowlatt, looks at plans by the British government and the aviation industry to make air travel more sustainable, and how such changes would affect the holiday plans of millions of people every year. Will folk be willing to shell out more for flights if it means saving the environment, and will staycations take off again? And is there any hope of the UK reaching its “jet zero” targets for 2025?

The Pilgrimage of Gilbert & George

Tuesday, Sky Arts & Now, 9pm

Gilbert & George have been at the forefront of the British art world for more than 50 years, and this feature documentary brings us into the heart of their work, which has shocked, challenged and fascinated audiences over the years. The documentary brings us to their house and studio in London’s Brick Lane, and explores the journey that has brought them to the pinnacle of their genre, beginning with their entry into the public arena as “living sculptures”, and looking at how they turned their own lives into an ever-evolving work of art.

The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan

Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm

When you mention Uganda, most people would immediately think of notorious dictator Idi Amin, but there’s a lot more complexity to this landlocked African nation, as Romesh Ranganathan finds out in his latest excursion outside his comfort zone. In series four, Ranganathan sets out to learn more about Uganda’s people and culture, explores its stunning landscapes and looks into its turbulent history. His guide is an actual princess from the country’s Bantu kingdom of Buganda. But Romesh can’t avoid some uncomfortable truths about present-day Uganda, particularly its attitude to the LGBTI+ community as it has recently passed some of the world’s most draconian anti-gay laws.

The Veil, Disney+, from Wed

Fans of Killing Eve may well be tempted by this new international spy thriller series, a tense and twisty tale that explores the relationship between two women – one with a secret, and the other determined to reveal it – as they travel from Istanbul to Paris and London. The two leads, Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Yumna Marwan (Little Birds), are fantastic, displaying a real subtlety in the ways in which enemies come to understand and respect one another as well as fear them. There are potentially thousands of lives at risk, however, which makes this game of cat and mouse a high-stakes one indeed. Mission controllers from the CIA, MI6 and the French DGSE can only look on as it plays out before them.


Thursday, RTÉ One, 7pm

The world and his granny will be planting themselves in the Phoenix Park for this year’s Bloom festival, and if you haven’t bagged yourself a ticket, never fear: Áine Lawlor and Marty Morrissey are here to bring you all the action from Ireland’s biggest horticultural hooley, taking place over the bank holiday weekend. Áine will meet the gardeners and landscape architects behind this year’s visually stunning show gardens, who include the winner of the RTÉ series Super Garden. Meanwhile, Marty will be in the thick of it, mingling with the crowd, soaking up the verdant vibes and sampling some of the fine fare on offer in the food village.

We Are Lady Parts

Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm

Who are Lady Parts? As anyone who saw the first series of this musical comedy drama knows, they are a punk rock band with a difference, the difference being all the members are Muslim women. The series follows the four band members as they struggle to get recognition for their music, and deal with disapproval from within their own community and discrimination from outside. In a double-bill opening of series two, the girls have just returned from an invigorating summer tour, and are ready to record their debut album – but another band is out to steal their punk thunder. Things get worse when the band are left without a rehearsal space – time for an artistic rethink.

Eric, Netflix, from Thursday

Screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Split, River) and director Lucy Forbes (This Is Going to Hurt) make a show worth watching simply by being present on the credits; that’s before you even look at the cast list of this new psychological thriller series from Netflix. Benedict Cumberbatch takes centre stage as Vincent, a puppeteer in 1980s New York whose nine-year-old son, Edgar, has gone missing. The disappearance takes an understandable toll on Vincent, however his increasingly volatile behaviour begins to alienate him and, as he spirals into loneliness and substance abuse, he becomes convinced that, to bring Edgar home home, he must turn to his son’s drawings of a seven-foot monster named Eric into a TV show.

ITV Studio Sessions

Friday, UTV, 10.45pm

Clara Amfo presents this six-part series showcasing some of pop’s finest talents, and tonight it’s the turn of Brit star Becky Hill to take the stage at the Blueroom in London’s O2 venue. Hill’s rise to fame began with her appearance on the first series of The Voice UK back in 2012. Since then she’s racked up hits including My Heart Goes (La Di Da), Crazy What Love Can Do and Disconnect, built up an enviable CV of collaborations with the likes of David Guetta and Rudimental, and co-written tunes for a number of artists including Sigala and Jax Jones. Hill will also chat about her busy musical life and her guilty pleasures, and unveil some new songs, dust off one of her greatest hits and put her own personality on one of her favourite songs. – additional reporting PA

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist