With full lockdowns under way across the UK once again, it’s time to spend (even more) time in front of our TVs.
Here is our guide to the shows coming up that will hopefully make life more bearable while the strict COVID-19 restrictions are in place over the next few weeks and months.
The Serpent – BBC iPlayer, out now
Inspired by real-life events, The Serpent tells the story of how conman and killer Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim; The Eagle) posed as a gem dealer and, with his girlfriend Marie-Andree Leclerc (Jenna Coleman; Victoria, Doctor Who), carried out a string of crimes across Thailand, Nepal and India in 1975 and 1976. They also became the chief suspects in a series of murders of young Western travellers.
The look and feel of the time is vividly recreated and the story well told. On the downside, there’s a lot of time-hopping, which can get a bit confusing, but it’s a slick drama that’s well worth your concentration.
A Discovery of Witches – Sky One and NOW TV, from 8 January
Adapted from Deborah Harkness’ best-selling trilogy of novels, this is a romantic thriller about a secret underworld of vampires, witches and demons, hiding in plain sight for fear of persecution by humans.
This is the second season, and this time round Matthew (Matthew Goode, Downton Abbey) and Diana (Teresa Palmer, Hacksaw Ridge) are hiding in the treacherous world of Elizabethan London – where they must find a powerful witch teacher to help Diana control her magic and search for the elusive Book of Life.
New cast members include Steven Cree (Outlander) as Gallowglass De Clermont, a vampire and soldier of fortune who is particularly fond of his uncle, Matthew. Sheila Hancock appears as elder witch Goody Alsop, while James Purefoy stars as Philippe De Clermont – founder of the Congregation, commander of the Knights of Lazarus, mate of Ysabeau, and stepfather to Matthew. (Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi… etc eat your heart out).
American Gods – Amazon Prime Video, from 11 January
This is the third series of the drama based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, about a war being waged between the old gods and the new.
After a few shocks at the end of series two, this one starts with the main character, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) in hiding and trying to start a new life in a small town.
While the first series was well received, the second didn’t do so well – however star Whittle (of Hollyoaks fame) has said this is a “massive return to form”. Ian McShane (of ’80s Lovejoy fame) also stars and Marilyn Manson has joined the cast for this season, too, playing the role of Johan Wengren, who is, rather aptly, the frontman of a Viking death metal band called Blood Death.
The Stand – Starzplay, out now
This spookily timely series about a pandemic is adapted from a Stephen King book.
Not a million miles from the news footage we’ve seen in the last year, the first episode can be hard to watch, although the (very gross) flu in this series wipes out 99% of the population – and those left have strange dreams involving a mysterious old lady (played by Whoopi Goldberg).
Alexander Skarsgard, James Marsden and Amber Heard – who gave an exclusive UK interview about the show to Sky News in 2020 – also star.
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK – BBC iPlayer, from 14 January
It’s back! Twelve new competing queens – Tayce, Lawrence Chaney, Cherry Valentine, Tia Kofi, Bimini Bon Boulash, Ginny Lemon, Veronica Green, Sister Sister, Joe Black, Ellie Diamond, Asttina Mandella and A’Whora – are at your service, here to show us the very best of what the UK drag scene has to offer.
Weekly challenges test their make-up skills, fashion sense, sewing abilities, comedy, singing, acting, dancing and lip-syncing. With judges Michelle Visage, Graham Norton and Alan Carr – as well as RuPaul herself, of course – plus guests Elizabeth Hurley, Sheridan Smith, Lorraine Kelly, MNEK and Jourdan Dunne, this is the perfect way to cure the January (plus lockdown) blues.
Servant – Apple TV +, from 15 January 15
Executive produced by the Oscar-nominated director M Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Glass, Split), this chilling psychological horror series was one of the first shows debuted when Apple TV + launched in November 2019. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?
The cast includes Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), Toby Kebbell (Kong: Skull Island, Fantastic Four, Black Mirror), Nell Tiger Free (Game of Thrones) and Rupert Grint (Harry Potter), and series two, which will see each of the 10 episodes dropped weekly, takes a supernatural turn. Prepare for chills.
WandaVision – Disney +, from 15 January
This one is a strange blend of classic television and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) – two super-powered beings living idealised suburban lives – “begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems”.
Head writer Jac Schaeffer has described the series as “a love letter to the golden age of television”, but clearly with an unusual twist. Expect the unexpected…
It’s A Sin – Channel 4/ All 4, from 22 January
This is a new five-part drama from the multi-BAFTA-winning writer Russell T Davies’ (Queer As Folk, A Very English Scandal, Years and Years, Doctor Who), which follows the story of the 1980s, the story of AIDS, and charts the joy and heartbreak of a group of friends across a decade in which everything changed.
Musician and actor Olly Alexander (Years And Years, the band) leads the starry cast, which also features Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry, Neil Patrick Harris, Tracy Ann Oberman, Shaun Dooley and Omari Douglas.
The Masked Singer – ITV, out now
What launched as what-the-hell-am-I-watching TV in February 2020 has now returned as a, dare we say it, must-see Saturday night fixture. Yes, it’s very weird and silly, but it’s perfect for families and an hour or so of pure escapism, which is what the world needs right now.
In case you haven’t been following, here’s the premise: a load of celebrities, disguised in some seriously good fancy dress, sing for a panel of judges – Davina McCall, Rita Ora, Jonathan Ross and newcomer Mo Gilligan – who make wild guesses as to who’s behind the mask. Audience members vote, chant “take it off” rather manically at the end, and the panel has the final say on who goes from the lowest scorers each week.
We say the guesses are wild because, well, it’s probably unlikely that Madonna or Meghan Markle have signed up to appear on prime-time TV disguised as an alien, but you never know. So far this year, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Spice Girl Mel B have already been unmasked, but don’t worry – Badger, Grandfather Clock, Sausage and the like are so far still singing for your pleasure.
Cobra Kai – Netflix, from 8 January
Taking place 30 years after the events of the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament, this long-time-coming sequel spin-off to The Karate Kid – with original stars! – has unsurprisingly become a big hit
The series starts with the successful Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) struggling to maintain balance in his life without the guidance of Mr Miyagi – and facing once again his previous adversary, down-and-out Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who seeks redemption by reopening the Cobra Kai karate dojo.
Now in season three, it’s easy viewing, and you can of course still binge on the first two to get up to speed.
The Pembrokeshire Murders – ITV, from 11 January
Luke Evans (Beauty And The Beast, Dracula Untold) stars in this latest true-crime drama, a three-part mini-series depicting the cold-case investigation into a serial killer. Adapted from the true crime book The Pembrokeshire Murders, written by Senior Investigating Officer Steve Wilkins and ITV news journalist Jonathan Hill, it’s from the makers of Line Of Duty and Bodyguard, which instantly makes it a must-watch.
Wilkins reopened the case of two unsolved murders from the 1980s in 2006, and using forensic methods that were pioneering at the time, he and his team found microscopic DNA and fibres that potentially linked the killings to a string of burglaries – for which the culprit was already in jail.
Bulletproof: South Africa – Sky One, from 20 January
Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters are reprising their roles as best pals and partners Pike and Bishop for the third installment of this action-packed buddy cop series. This time, though, they’ve left the mean streets of London for the far sunnier Cape Town, in South Africa – and for a holiday, no less (it’s all right for some, eh?).
After years of finding themselves in some seriously dangerous situations with hardened criminals, the pair just want a bit of rest and relaxation – but obviously, things don’t quite go to plan.
If you want more, you can always check out Sky News’ Backstage podcast team’s pick of the best shows and films of 2020.