Sunday 15 December 2019

What to watch: the best on the box if you're sitting in

Jonah From Tonga is a spoof documentary series following the exploits of rebellious Sydney teenager Jonah Takalua, played by immensely talented writer and star Chris Lilley
Jonah From Tonga is a spoof documentary series following the exploits of rebellious Sydney teenager Jonah Takalua, played by immensely talented writer and star Chris Lilley

Doug Whelan

Jonah From Tonga, Tonight, 10pm, BBC Three

Other than Home & Away and Neighbours, Australian TV generally doesn’t make a splash over here. So when something does manage to travel halfway around the world to find us, it’s probably worth sitting up (well, down) and taking note. Jonah From Tonga is a spoof documentary series following the exploits of rebellious Sydney teenager Jonah Takalua, played by immensely talented writer and star Chris Lilley.

This will be familiar ground for some fans: Jonah was previously seen in 2007’s Summer Heights High, and it’s 2014 reboot Ja’mie: Public Schoolgirl - if you haven’t seen the former, get your hands on it. This time round Jonah is the sole star of the show. In the context of the documentary, since we last saw him he was expelled from Summer Heights High and sent to the remote Pacific islands of Tonga to live with his aunt and uncle. Now he is back in Sydney in a new school. Full of boundless energy, Jonah is a basically a little smartarse and as the cameras follow him around his new school he sets about becoming top dog in the schoolyard, doing away with his nemesis and terrorising the teachers.

That’s the basic premise, and we’ve got high hopes for this given the brilliance of Summer Heights High and some of Lilley’s other stuff. Private School Girl, another SHH spin-off which followed teen queen Ja’mie (also played by Lilley) was something of a disappointment but we’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here.

Lilley seems to have learned a lesson there; Private School Girl was essentially him showboating in the role of the teenage girl, there seems to be more of a focus on the plot this time around. Jonah is tempted into a life of crime while his teachers, tormented as they are, see real promise in his limitless energy and try their hardest to get him to focus on something, anything.

Lilley’s startlingly good, chameleonic performance as a 14-year-old boy is certainly a good jumping off point for newcomers to his work; provided he knows when to reign it in a bit and actually say something, this could be the follow up we hoped Private School Girl would be.

Watch it: Eurovision Song Contest
Tonight, 8pm, RTE Two and Saturday, 8pm, RTE One

Slag it all you want, you know you’re going to watch it either with your eye or your Twitter feed, so just give in to the gamminess of it all and get involved. This year’s event comes from Copenhagen, Denmark and the first leg on Thursday is where Ireland’s entry Can-Linn will compete alongside the other also-rans for a place in the final on Saturday. What can be said about the Eurovision that has not been said before? It might be called a Song contest but the real fun in watching the Eurovision is keeping an eye out for the more bizarre and strange acts that we’re sure to see on the night. There’s the bearded lady representing Austria for one, some terrifying Shining-esque twins who will be representing Russia.

Besides, just like in the football we’re all still guilty of reliving the glory years of the 90s every now and again. Maybe tonight will be the night?

Record it: The Americans
Tuesday, 10.45pm, RTE Two

We must admit, when The Americans first came along last year we scoffed a bit. In the 1980s, a seemingly all-American couple are in fact Soviet sleeper agents fighting the Cold War from behind enemy lines. It wasn’t the

premise as such, it was the shameless melding of already popular formats: take the period gloss that made Mad Men so popular, mix it up with the high-tension double dealings of Homeland and there’s your high concept drama. But The Americans turned out to be highly absorbing, and is one of those shows that straddles a couple of different genres to great effect: at points it’s a ticking time bomb of a show, with high stakes and chases and heart-stopping tension, but at other times it’s a simple drama about a marriage and all the ordinary problems that come with it. Season two kicks off on RTÉ Two this week.

Stream it: Battlestar Galactica
All four seasons available to stream on

Wait, come back! Okay, sci-fi isn’t for everyone (especially on TV) but Battlestar Galactica deserves mention in these pages because, simply put, it’s easily one of the most underrated TV series of the past ten years. In the distant future (or is it the distant past?), following an apocalyptic conflict, the last remnants of humanity travel through the stars in a large fleet in search of a new home, all while embroiled in a devastating war with a cybernetic race of their own creation. The beauty of Battlestar is that while it’s set in space, and everybody lives on spaceships, they tend not to really talk about space. We’re way beyond Star Trek here; techno talk is kept to a minimum. Instead the series-spanning plotlines explore themes of politics, religion, family, society, sanity, philosophy and more.

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday’s Irish Independent

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