The best TV coming in 2014

MOVING TO TV: Halle Berry, with husband Olivier Martinez.
MOVING TO TV: Halle Berry, with husband Olivier Martinez.

If we can buy Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock as an astronaut, then we can surely buy Oscar-winner Halle Berry as an astronaut.

But Bullock did her space walk with the dignity of cinema. Berry makes her first serious commitment to sci-fi on television - which snobs might see as slumming, especially when they learn Berry's astronaut has an alien in her belly.

Berry does not agree she is taking a step down by signing on for the series.

BACK ON SMALL SCREEN: Sam Neill will appear in Old School
BACK ON SMALL SCREEN: Sam Neill will appear in Old School

''I'm always on the lookout for amasing roles, and when you see material that contains this strong [combination] of auspices, nuance and complexity, it compels me to run toward it, no matter the medium,'' she said.

''For five months a year, I'll get to live with and play this incredibly intelligent and vulnerable woman. And for the remainder of the year, I'll continue to look for other roles that move me as deeply as this one.''

One reason she switched platforms was the involvement of Steven Spielberg as producer, who told her she would play a character ''whose experiences lead to events that ultimately change the course of human history''.

Spielberg told the media: ''There's only one Halle Berry and we are incredibly honoured that she has chosen Extant to expand her illustrious career. As she does with everything she touches, she will bring a deep authenticity to her role and I very much look forward to working with her.''

Australia's Channel Ten's decision to program Extant in the second half of 2014 seems logical. But, then again, there's the problem of Australia and New Zealand's historical reluctance to commit to fantasy on television. We have a habit of watching the first two episodes of any sci-fi series and then wandering away to other entertainments.

Two trueish-to-life blockbusters are coming to Australia screens, and perhaps New Zealand's, next year.

Fat Tony & Co should have contained the word ''Underbelly'' in its title, but Nine deleted it after the failure of this year's Underbelly: Squizzy. Vince Colosimo and Robert Mammone replay their characters from the first (and best) Underbelly in 2008: Melbourne drug dealers Alphonse Gangitano and Tony Mokbel. There will be blood, and Nine hopes returning to modern times will save the franchise.

Schapelle has had a troubled birth, with friends of the Corby family angrily attempting to block what they imagined would be a script critical of the beloved martyr. Abbie Cornish dropped out, so now we'll have the opportunity to see if Krew Boylan can match the eyes, the hair and the madness. We're promised new details on whether the ''beauty student'' was guilty, and who else was involved.

Never Tear Us Apart: The Untold Story of INXS will let us compare the hair and posture of Luke Arnold with those selling points of the sainted Michael. We're expecting an insight into what happened in room 524 of the Double Bay Ritz Carlton on November 21, 1997.

Another programme scheduled to show in 2014 is Carlotta, in which a girl (Jessica Marias) plays a boy named Richard who became a girl named Carol and triumphed as a performer at Les Girls in Kings Cross. It's a tough call deciding who is more beautiful - Jessica or Carlotta.

New Zealander Sam Neill (as a former cop) and Bryan Brown (as a former crim) compete and co-operate in an eight-episode caper called Old School, in the spirit of New Tricks, which was the ABC's highest rating drama of 2013. One of Brown's best roles was as a gang boss in the 1999 comedy Two Hands and its writer-director, Gregor Jordan is the director of Old School.

These seem to me to be the pick of the pack, but here are a few more newcomers to watch for:

Crisis is a battle of the cheekbones between Australia's Rachael Taylor and the United States' Gillian Anderson. It's about a bus full of very important children (including the president's son), which is hijacked in Washington.

Rectify stars Australia's Aden Young as a man released from death row who faces fearful townsfolk in Georgia, US.

Mom is a sitcom starring Anna Faris (famed for terrible movies) and Allison Janney (famed as the press secretary in The West Wing). Janney's charisma (and previous good taste in scripts) make it worth a look.

Jonah first said ''Puck you, miss'' in Summer Heights High four years ago. Now Chris Lilley brings Jonah back, hoping he reaches a wider audience than the teen girls who loved Ja'mie.

The Killing Field features Rebecca Gibney (barely released from Packed to the Rafters) as a cop investigating a shocking crime in a small town. And, Spies of Warsaw stars David Tennant as a diplomat trying to prevent war in the salons and brasseries of Paris in 1938.

Sydney Morning Herald