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Image: Getty Images/Archi Banal
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Pop CultureDecember 23, 2021

The best shows to watch on free-to-air TV these holidays

Image: Getty Images/Archi Banal
Image: Getty Images/Archi Banal

Tara Ward shares some of the best televisual treats to help you get through the festive season.

We can all agree that 2021 was a bit shit, but good news, friends: we end the year with some half-decent stuff to watch on the telly. In festive seasons of yore, free-to-air TV mostly gave us dodgy repeats of Police Academy movies and more regrets than a jumbo box of Roses chocolates, but not this year. The year 2021 is a new dawn, and there are plenty of TV treats hiding under the free-to-air Christmas tree.

Whether you’re relaxing on the couch or stuck somewhere without reliable internet, we’ve scoured the schedules and selected a few terrestrial TV treasures to help you through the festive season. There are old favourites and new gems, and like every good Christmas, plenty of hornbag farmers looking for love. Consider this your TV equivalent of a box of discounted Favourites, with the obligatory Cherry Ripe of a show chucked in for good measure. Happy watching, and Meri Kirihimete.

Christmas Eve

All New The Chase Celebrity Special (TVNZ 1, 5pm)

We wish you a Merry Chasemas (Photo: TVNZ)

It’s not Christmas without an extra special episode of The Chase, and seeing The Chase brain boxes dress up in festive costumes is the gift that keeps on giving. Also, because we can never have enough of The Chase, there’s a second celebrity special on the 29th (TVNZ 1, 7pm).

Lego Masters Australia Brickmas Special (Three, 7pm)

Australian celebrities including Scotty Cam (The Block Australia) and Sophie Monk (Love Island Australia) team up with past Lego Masters contestants to compete for the legendary Brickmas trophy. A gem for all the family, with a second episode on Christmas night.

Christmas Day

Go South (Prime, 5.30am) 

Go South this Christmas (Photo: Prime)

It’s a repeat, but in a year where many of us didn’t go anywhere, this 12 hour slow TV journey from Auckland to Milford Sound by rail, sea and road could be just the ticket to a peaceful and relaxing Christmas.

HM The Queen’s Christmas Message (TVNZ 1, 6.50pm)

This is appointment viewing every Christmas, and fingers crossed Betty drops a few teasers about what to expect in season five of The Crown.

The Repair Shop Christmas Special (TVNZ 1, 7pm)

The Repair Shop (Photo: TVNZ)

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The Repair Shop is the nicest show on television. Old stuff gets fixed, people cry happy tears. A true balm for our weary souls.

Boxing Day

Yesterday (TVNZ 1, 7.30pm)

It’s slim pickings on the telly on Boxing Day, but this 2019 Richard Curtis rom-com is one of the better options. Himesh Patel (The Luminaries, Station Eleven) stars as a struggling musician who wakes up in an alternate reality where The Beatles don’t exist, and gets his big break by pretending their songs are his own. Imagine.

December 27–30 

Celebrity Masterchef Australia (TVNZ 2, December 27, 7pm)

New Zealand actor Rebecca Gibney stars in Celebrity Masterchef Australia

Get ready for a summer of Australian reality TV, with Celebrity Masterchef Australia kicking off its four-nights-a-week run tonight, as celebs like Rebecca Gibney and Ian Thorpe compete to win raise money for charity. Followed by a new season of Australian Survivor: Brains v Brawn.

Te Ao with Moana: Summer Series (Māori TV, December 27, 8pm) 

Moana Maniopoto’s excellent interview series continues in its summer time slot, with tonight’s special guest Jemaine Clement.

Close to Me (TVNZ 1, December 27, 9pm)

Christopher Eccleston stars in Close to Me (Photo: TVNZ)

Christopher Eccleston stars in this British thriller about a woman whose seemingly perfect life is turned upside down when she loses her memory. As she experiences flashbacks and begins to put her life back together, she realises things weren’t so idyllic after all.

Farmer Wants a Wife (TVNZ 2, December 30, 8pm)

A new season of the Australian reality series that takes five sweaty men of the land who are looking for love, and matches them with a bevy of metropolitan beauties. It’s man meeting woman, city meeting country, combine harvester meeting the path to true love, and it’s absolutely bonkers.

New Year’s Eve

Cats (TVNZ 1, 10.05pm)

Because there’s no better way to say goodbye to 2021 than watching some CGI enhanced cats with boobs singing Andrew Lloyd Webber songs.

Taskmaster New Year’s Treat (TVNZ 2, 10.50pm)

See in the New Year with Taskmaster (Photo: TVNZ)

A Taskmaster UK special with a panel of celebs including John Hannah and Nicola Coughlan (Derry Girls) who try to impress the Taskmaster in a series of delightfully pointless challenges.

New Year’s Day

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts (TVNZ 2, 7pm)

Hold on to your sorting hats, because this Harry Potter reunion special is all your wizardry dreams come true. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson reunite with director Chris Columbus and other cast members as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of the franchise’s first film.

Call the Midwife Christmas Special (TVNZ 1, 8.05pm)

Babies! They never stop being born, even when it’s Christmas 1966.

January 2

Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks (TVNZ 2, 5.30pm)

Aisling Bea pops up in this Doctor Who special that sees the Doctor (Jodi Whittaker) take on the Daleks, again.

The Royal Variety Performance 2021 (TVNZ 1, 7pm)

Alan Carr hosts a long list of famous men performing for the Royal Family, including Ed Sheeran, James Blunt, Elvis Costello, Sir Rod Stewart and Bill Bailey. There’ll be singing and dancing, and your Nana will bloody love it.

Keep going!