Plunkett on TV: 21 shows to watch out for on commercial TV in 2019

Plunkett on TV: 22 shows to watch out for on commercial TV in 2019

The new year brings different things to different people. A gym membership, for instance, that you will cancel at the earliest opportunity, or the sort of early morning headaches that only come when the body is suddenly deprived of alcohol.

The more welcome news is that it also gives us the perfect excuse to look ahead at the extraordinary range and quality of shows coming up on commercial TV in 2019.

These 22 shows are only a glimpse of what you can expect, including brand new dramas starring Helen Mirren, Martin Freeman, George Clooney and Anna Paquin, and new comedies with Matt Berry, Rufus Jones and Samson Kayo.

Then there’s Stacey Dooley sleeping over, Martin Clunes island hopping, and new takes on some lost episodes of Dad’s Army. And we haven’t even got to the return of Shipwrecked, Love Island, Great British Bake Off, and the final series of Game of Thrones.

What better excuse to skip the gym or crack open a bottle on the sofa? Exactly.

1. A Confession - ITV

Martin Freeman and Imelda Staunton star in this new six-part drama based on a true crime story.

Written by Jeff Pope (Cilla, Philomena, Mrs Biggs), Freeman stars as Det Supt Steve Fulcher who deliberately breaches police procedure and protocol to catch a killer after a 22-year-old girl disappeared in Swindon in 2011. It is a decision that ultimately costs him his career and reputation.

Filmed in Wiltshire and the Home Counties, Pope said A Confession is a fascinating story [that] brings into question how we want our police to behave when someone goes missing'.

2. Catherine the Great - Sky Atlantic/Now TV

Helen Mirren takes the lead role in Catherine the Great, telling the story of the politically tumultuous and sexually charged court of the most powerful female monarch in history.

The four-part drama follows Catherine, who ruled Russia for nearly half of the 18th century, towards the end of her reign and her passionate affair with Russian general, Grigory Potemkin played by Jason Clarke.

The idea for the project came from Mirren herself, who has always wanted to play the role of one of the most powerful and extraordinary women in history. It is written by Nigel Williams (Elizabeth I) and directed by Philip Martin (Prime Suspect, The Crown).

Catherine the Great on Sky Atlantic
Catherine the Great on Sky Atlantic

3. Year of the Rabbit - Channel 4

Toast of London's Matt Berry will return to Channel 4 in a spoof cop show set in Victorian London, Year of the Rabbit.

Berry is 'hardened booze hound' Det Insp Rabbit and Freddie Fox is his hapless, by the books partner. They are joined by the country's first female officer, the chief of police's lewd but insightful adopted daughter, played by Susan Wokoma.

Described as 'irreverently and profanely inspired by the unhinged chaos of Victorian-era London', the six-part series will see the trio fight crime and rub shoulders with 'street gangs, crooked politicians, Bulgarian princes, spiritualists, music hall stars and the Elephant Man'.

4. Dad's Army - Gold

Gold will recreate three 'lost episodes' of Dad's Army that haven't been seen on TV since they were first broadcast in 1969.

With an all-new cast sticking faithfully to the original scripts, the three episodes - The Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker, A Stripe for Frazer and Under Fire - will air on Gold half a century after their first (and only) broadcast.

The channel is working closely with the estates of the original writers, Jimmy Perry and David Croft, to recreate the three lost shows, a casualty of the old BBC policy of routinely wiping and reusing tapes.

5. Martin Clunes: Islands of America - ITV

He's explored the islands of Britain and the islands of Australia, now Martin Clunes is off on a new voyage of discovery with ITV's Martin Clunes: Islands of America.

The Doc Martin star's 10,000 mile journey will take him from west to east, from Hawaii and Alaska to the playgrounds of presidents on the country's eastern seaboard.

Clunes promised to 'look beyond corporate America and discover the other United States, out past the mainland margins and what life is like on these unique and diverse islands'.

The four-part series is expected to air on ITV in the spring.

6. Shipwrecked - E4

The original island reality show, Shipwrecked returns eight years after it last aired on E4.

A bunch of adventurous young castaways will compete in the ultimate popularity contest on two uninhabited - except by them - islands in the South Pacific.

The two tribes - Sharks and Tigers - battle it out to win new arrivals to their respective islands with a £50,000 prize for the largest tribe at the end of the series.


7. Temple - Sky Atlantic/Now TV

This darkly humorous thriller stars Mark Strong as a doctor driven by personal tragedy who treats paying punters in an illegal clinic hidden beneath Temple tube station in London.

A high concept drama based on hit Norwegian series Valkyrien, Temple co-stars Daniel Mays (Line of Duty) and Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones) and asks how far you would go to save the person you love.

Strong said playwright Mark O'Rowe's eight-part adaptation was a 'gripping and humane morality tale for our time'.

8. Wild Bill - ITV

Rob Lowe stars in and executive produces this fish out of water drama about a high flying US cop who shakes up the east Lincolnshire police force.

The former West Wing star plays Bill Hixon who is appointed chief constable of the east of England force, fleeing a troubled past and arriving in this country with his 14-year-old daughter Kelsey.

Showrunners Jim Keeble and Dudi Appleton said the six-part crime drama looks at 'modern Britain and modern crime through unique eyes. Displacing Rob in Brexit Britain ... allows us to tell stories that are leftfield and unexpected'.

9. Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over - W

In Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over the journalist and documentary maker does just that - spending 72 hours in the company of extraordinary characters and families the length and breadth of Britain.

The six-part series will present a snapshot of what life is like in Britain today and promises to show viewers 'the kinds of relationships we've never seen up close before'.

Award-winning Dooley, freshly-crowned winner of Strictly Come Dancing, first burst onto our screens a decade ago with Blood, Sweat and T-shirts.

10. 15 Days – Channel 5

15 Days turns the traditional narrative of a crime drama on its head by beginning with a brutal murder and then rewinding 15 days to discover whodunnit - and why.

The four-part series shot in Wales is based on the original Welsh-language production 35 Diwrnod (35 Days).

It is part of C5 owner Viacom's first big investment in scripted content, of which we can expect to see plenty more in the years ahead.

The Widow on ITV
The Widow on ITV

11. The Widow - ITV

Kate Beckinsale takes the leading role in ITV's The Widow, written by Harry and Jack Williams (Liar, The Missing).

Beckinsale plays Georgia Wells whose world is turned upside down when it is reported her husband Will has been killed in a plane crash in the Congolese jungle.

Three years later, just as Georgia has made a new life for herself, she learns something shocking about what happened and travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo to learn the truth about his disappearance.

ITV's head of drama Polly Hill said Beckinsale was 'perfect for the role of Georgia in what is, as always, brilliant, compelling and surprising storytelling from Harry and Jack Williams'.

12. Home - Channel 4

A comedy about a Syrian refugee who ends up living with a family in suburbia, Home started life as one of Channel 4's Comedy Blaps strand of pilots in 2017.

Now it will return as a six-part series, written by and starring Rufus Jones (W1A, Camping, Hunderby).

Jones stars alongside Rebekah Staton as a couple who return home from a family holiday in France to find a Syrian refugee in their car boot.

C4's head of comedy Fiona McDermott said Home 'tells an important story about family, strangers, identity and the fragile ties that both bind us and pull us apart'.


13. Intelligence - Sky One

David Schwimmer stars in this workplace sitcom about the UK's government communications headquarters, a 'weedier, geekier, more bureaucratic version of MI5 and MI6'.

The Friends alumnus is a 'power hungry NSA agent' combating cyber crime alongside an inept and tactless computer analyst played by Nick Mohammed, who also wrote the series (and executive produces with Schwimmer).

Even thought the stakes are incredibly high, it turns out the communications HQ is no different from any other office environment, from broken photocopiers to rows over meeting rooms which are double booked.

14. Love Island - ITV2

When Love Island returned to ITV2 last year it had more than 4 million viewers, more than double the previous year's audience, and had an average share of nearly half its target audience of 16 to 34-year-olds.

Won by Dani Dyer and Jack Fincham, it was one of the most talked about TV shows of the year and nothing short of a social media phenomenon.

Few shows have reinvented themselves as well as Love Island and this year's series is likely to be its most anticipated yet.

15. Sliced - Dave

Sliced is the passion project of Bafta-nominated Samson Kayo, who co-wrote and stars in the sitcom as one of two pizza delivery drivers in south London (along with Theo Barklem-Biggs).

All they want to do is make some money, move out of their family homes and meet some women. Only problem is that ridiculous things keep happening to them, with real life making an irritating habit of getting in the way.

Co-written with PhoneShop's Phil Bowker, Phil Daniels co-stars in the first of its three episode run.

16. Britain's Got Talent - ITV

Simon Cowell's talent show returns for a 13th series this year alongside his fellow judges, David Williams, Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon.

Expected to return in April or May, live auditions for the show were due to begin in January as the hunt starts for the next winner of the show that introduced acts Susan Boyle, Paul Potts and Diversity to the nation.

Last year's final was won by Lost Voice Guy - the first comedian to take the BGT crown - and peaked with 11 million viewers.

17. Game of Thrones - Sky Atlantic/Now TV

They've been saying winter is coming for a while now and finally it is here, with the eighth and final series of the fantasy epic.

It's the face-off fans have long been waiting for - Jon Snow vs the Night King - and it promises to be nothing short of spectacular, with each of the six final episodes described as a 'movie' by HBO boss Richard Plepler.

Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, said: 'Everyone was broken at the end. I don’t know if we were crying because we were sad it was ending or if we were crying because it was so tiring.'

It's sure to be the most talked about finale of the year.


18. Great British Bake Off - Channel 4

It's only two years since The Great British Bake Off debuted on Channel 4 but such has been the success of the show's transition that it already feels part of the fabric of the channel.

More than 7 million viewers watched Rahul crowed the winner of 2018's final.

Judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith return to the tent, alongside presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding and his brilliant shirts.

19. Flack - W

Anna Paquin stars in Flack set in the high stakes world of celebrity public relations.

True Blood star Paquin plays PR Robyn who is brilliant at her job but less adept when it comes to her complicated private life.

With a heavy dose of comedy to go along with the drama, the six-part series is the UKTV's first original scripted drama for W.


20. The Great Garden Challenge – Channel 5

Eight teams battle it out for the title of Great Garden Challenge Champion in this new challenge format.

Diarmuid Gavin, Nicki Chapman, Carol Klein and landscaper/designer Mark Gregory will decide who wins the opportunity to exhibit at the prestigious RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey.

In a unique element of the show, which will air in the summer, all of the garden spaces used in the competition challenges are for deserving causes. 

21. Urban Myths - Sky Arts

The wildly inventive series of one-offs returns to Sky Arts with a new series starring Stephen Mangan as Charles Dickens and and an exploration of the 30-year friendship between Princess Margaret and Mick Jagger.

The series, which began two years ago, puts a comedic spin on a whole host of scandalous, surprising and surreal urban myths which - by definition - may or may not be true.

It has attracted a host of big name talent both on and off screen, including Jack Whitehall as Marc Bolan, Gemma Arterton as Marilyn Monroe, and Noel Fielding as Alice Cooper.

22. Catch-22 - Channel 4

George Clooney directs and stars in a new six-part series based on Joseph Heller’s World War II satire, one of the most influential novels of the 20th century.

Hugh Laurie also stars, alongside Christopher Abbott and Kyle Chandler in the series set to air on Channel 4 in the spring/summer.

C4's director of programmes Ian Katz said: 'It’s hard to imagine a work that speaks more directly to the frequently absurd times we live in, and to the growing sense of individual distrust of institutions, than Catch-22.'

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Dame Helen Mirren stars as Catherine the Great while teen Michelle Carter's actions shock a nation in I Love You, Now Die. See a wave of creativity at the 70th Cheltenham Literature Festival. Alan Carr returns to talk film in There’s Something About Movies and watch all the action in the European 2020 Qualifiers.

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The final episode of Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over, Titanic: Stories from the Deep, Comedians Giving Lectures and My Life is Murder – not to be missed this fortnight on UKTV.

Highlights from ITV

Don’t miss the action from England’s latest Euro 2020 qualifier. Revel in ITV’s epic culmination of 13 years of Britain’s Got Talent contestants. See the Zombie apocalypse take on the Midlands over on ITV2. Have an Absolutely Ascot Sunday.