Saturday 15 July 2023


This article was originally published in The Courier on 15th July 2023.


Rosie Jones: Am I a R*tard? – Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm

This vital documentary has attracted some controversy due to its blunt title, but as comedian Rosie Jones articulates at the start, “I understand that it will be upsetting to many, but I believe that we need to confront this word and other ableist terms head-on for people to realise how damaging it is.” 

Jones, who has cerebral palsy, hopes that her commendably frank and angry essay will make utter scumbags think twice about ever using ableist language again. 

Like so many people with disabilities, she’s targeted with horrific online abuse on a daily basis. Human beings can be so unfathomably cruel.

Jones exposes how useless Twitter is when it comes to dealing with violations of their supposed rules of conduct, while attempting to understand the damaged psychology of internet trolls.

Extraordinary Portraits – Monday, BBC One, 8:30pm

To mark the 75th anniversary of our beloved NHS, art-lover Bill Bailey hosts this series in which NHS workers are paired with some of the UK’s most celebrated portrait artists. 

As Bailey explains in his introduction, it’s a project designed to “represent the best of modern Britain.” And God only knows, we could do with a good faith depiction of that right now. It encourages creativity and decency, the absolute antithesis of the dismal daily reports we receive about the worst of humanity. 

Anyway. In episode one, sculptor Nick Elphick meets trauma surgeon Martin. An inspirational person, Martin’s many selfless achievements can’t easily be encapsulated in a single work of art. Elphick, however, possesses the talent to do just that.

Earth – Monday, BBC Two, 9pm

Behold the unassuming might of Chris Packham, who orchestrates this ambitious new series about the four and half billion year story of Earth. You will be awed. 

It begins with Packham exploring the evolutionary rise of the dinosaurs, which gradually occurred in the wake of one of our planet’s most utterly devastating mass extinctions. 

Life finds a way? Well yes, broadly speaking it does, but Packham’s essay is a cautionary tale about how rapid climate change can cause entire ecosystems to collapse. Nothing lasts forever. 

It’s an absolutely fascinating series, a hugely impressive achievement. I find it difficult to defend the BBC at times, a maddening corporation that’s its own worst enemy, but you really will miss it when it’s gone.

Is Cricket Racist? – Tuesday, Channel 4, 11:05pm

Three years ago, the Asian-British cricketer Azeem Rafiq went public about the racism he was subjected to while playing for Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Broadcaster Adil Ray has been following the scandal since it broke. 

In this programme, he meets with players such as former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan, who expounds upon the racism he experienced while playing in England. 

Ray also interviews current England player Moeen Ali, who received a tweet from Ashes-winning captain Michael Vaughan suggesting that Ali should hunt down terrorists. Yes, really. Ali has a message for Vaughan. 

Preview copies weren’t available, but this sounds like an utterly damning report about elitism, bullying and flat-out racist abuse.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Thursday, BBC One, 9pm

Our latest gene hunter is the comedian Chris Ramsey, who begins the episode by digging into the history of his great grandfather. 

Dryden Gordon Young fought in WWI. He served on the frontline at Gallipoli, and was later captured as a prisoner of war. Despite these harrowing travails, Dryden survived and continued the family line. 

Ramsey goes on to discover that his family tree is full of brave and determined people who struggled with adversity. 

I will never not be staggered by the hitherto incurious nature of celebs who sign up for this show. You haven’t asked mum what grandad was like? His experiences during the war? People are strange, the only sensible thing Jim Morrison ever said.

The Supervet – Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm

The latest series of Professor Noel Fitzpatrick’s uplifting pet-fest opens with a Very Special Episode devoted to puppies. 

As you’re presumably aware, Fitzpatrick runs a veterinary surgery in rural Surrey. He has the reassuring bedside manner of James Herriot and Hawkeye from M*A*S*H. Their paws are safe in the expert hands of pioneering Professor F. 

Yes, fans of the show will be familiar with some of the cases revisited here, as it’s basically a compilation of highlights from previous episodes, but resistance is futile. 

Our adorable patients include a Collie with complex genetic bone issues, and a Weimaraner who’s been hit by a van. Don’t worry, the Supervet ensures that everything turns out happily in the end. 

Our Lives – Friday, BBC One, 7:30pm

Mei’s life hasn’t been easy. She’s 20. Most of her teenage years were spent in care. She’s struggled with anxiety, an eating disorder and self-harm. 

In this typically sensitive and uplifting Our Lives documentary, we follow Mei as she befriends an assistance dog in training by the name of Koda. Before meeting this gorgeous golden retriever, Mei was too scared to leave her home. Now they’re venturing outside. A mutually supportive life together. 

Mei is a lovely person. Dog pal Koda is a splendid girl. You will, I’m sure, be just as moved as I was by this touching meditation on the incalculably therapeutic value of spending time with a pet you love, and who loves you in return.


Sitting on a Fortune – Sunday 9th July, STV

All people of sound mind have a soft spot for Gary Lineker. A great footballer, an affable safe-pair-of-hands broadcaster, and a thoroughly decent person. But even saints have feet of clay. 

Lineker hosts this quiz show with his usual professional ease, but it’s just a generic shiny-floored general knowledge quiz which – like most modern TV quizzes – is padded out to fill a 60-minute timeslot. 

The honourable exception of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? aside, no quiz can sustain tension and entertainment value over the space of an hour. 

Brucie knew the score: quick bit of banter with the contestants then get on with the game – all in the space of a tight half hour.

A Year on Planet Earth – Sunday 9th July, STV

National Treasure ™ Stephen Fry hosts this panoramic exploration of how seasonal change impacts all life on Earth. Naturally it began in winter. 

Fry travelled to the Arctic Circle to observe, from a very safe distance, a polar bear and her cub dealing with incredibly harsh conditions. Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, a vast raft of King Penguins basked in the sun. 

It was, as you’d expect, beautifully shot and occasionally quite arresting: a benignly ersatz version of Attenborough and his natural successor, the aforementioned Chris Packham. 

And that, folks, after ten years in the saddle, is my final word on TV for this particular publication. I hope you enjoyed the show, and remember - please don’t have nightmares.

Saturday 17 June 2023


This article was originally published in The Courier on 17th June 2023.


Litvinenko – Monday, STV, 9pm

In 2006, former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko was fatally poisoned while living in British exile. He’d spent the last few years of his life trying to expose links between Putin’s government and the Russian mafia. 

This four-part drama starring David Tennant is a riveting evocation of the whole murky, tragic affair. 

We follow two British police officers as they spend time with Litvinenko during his final days in hospital. His truth is revealed. 

Tennant is such a great actor, he never draws attention to himself with tics or affectations. You always believe fully in whatever role he’s playing. 

A follow-up ITVX documentary, Litvinenko: The Mayfair Poisonings ‘drops’ on Thursday. 

The Wonders of the World I Can’t See – Monday, Channel 4, 10pm

The comedian Chris McCausland is blind. In this novel new travelogue, he visits some of the world’s most notable historic landmarks. 

An affable dry-witted gent, he’s joined each week by a celebrity travelling companion. They’re tasked with bringing these various places to life descriptively, while doing what they can to convince McCausland that it was worth him bothering to go there in the first place. 

The series begins with a trip to Athens in the company of Harry Hill. Our guides enjoy some sea fishing, pottery making, olive oil tasting, Greek drama lessons and even a few Olympic sports, before arriving at their ultimate destination: the Acropolis. 

Will McCausland enjoy the experience as much as Hill hopes? 

Dr Death – Tuesday, Channel 4, 10pm

Christopher Duntsch is a former American neurosurgeon who killed two of his patients and maimed over 30 others. In 2017 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. 

This solemn eight-part drama boasts a suitably unsettling performance from Joshua Jackson as Duntsch. 

In the opening episode, two concerned doctors (Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater, no less) start to investigate a series of severely botched operations carried out by Duntsch. 

Make no mistake, this case is utterly horrific, but Dr Death dramatizes it with due respect for Duntsch’s many victims. It’s the story of how a deeply disturbed narcissist wilfully destroyed lives, and how he was eventually brought to justice.

There She Goes – Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm

Jessica Hynes and the hardest working man in show business David Tennant star in this standalone addendum to a poignant series based on the personal experiences of writers Shaun Pyle and Sarah Crawford. 

Their daughter was born with an extremely rare chromosomal disorder. Rosie is now 13. Her already difficult and challenging mood swings are becoming more acute.

As you would expect, There She Goes is an authentic day-to-day depiction of living with a beloved family member who has a severe learning disability. It’s touching, but never sentimental. 

It’s sometimes quite funny too. Humour can arise from unlikely situations, that’s one of the ways we all muddle through life. You carry on.

The Change – Wednesday, Channel 4, 10pm

Comedian Bridget Christie writes and stars in this striking new comedy-drama about Linda, a 50-year-old woman who is going through the menopause. 

As she explains to her GP, she’s worried about having “early onset dementia, osteoporosis, ringing in my ears when I’m stressed, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease and a strange mental disorder involving loss of nouns.” 

Hoping to rediscover the person she used to be, Linda leaves her utterly foolish husband (Omid Djalili) behind and embarks upon a soul-searching motorcycle odyssey. 

The Change is funny, frank and distinctive, it lingers. Christie and Djalili, both great, are supported by an exceptional cast including Monica Dolan, Susan Lynch, Liza Tarbuck and Paul Whitehouse.

Ruby Speaking – Thursday, ITVX

Set in a busy Bristol call centre, this fairly amusing sitcom stars co-creator Jayde Adams as a jaded factotum. 

Ruby is teetering on the brink of being sacked, she’s not bringing in the numbers. Anyone who’s ever worked in a call centre (I have) will empathise with her plight. 

Ruby quite likes some of her colleagues, but she’s just so bored with her strictly prepared workaday script. What’s the point? A metaphor for life, if you will. 

Former Coronation Street star Katherine Kelly steals the show as a thoroughly awful ‘inspirational’ boss who clearly couldn’t care less about her staff. Ruby Speaking is quite a sharp little character study. Hilarious? No. But its heart is in the right place. 

Icons of Football – Friday, BBC Scotland, 10:30pm

Former Dundee United striker and football manager Paul ‘Luggy’ Sturrock relates his estimable story in the latest episode of this series about Scottish football legends.

Sturrock, who has Parkinson’s disease, spent his entire career at Dundee United under the tutelage of his much-loved mentor Jim McLean. In the words of sports reporter Hazel Irvine, who contributes to the programme alongside fellow famous fans such as Lorraine Kelly, Sturrock was: “In my memory, one of the most joyous footballers I’ve ever watched.” 

I know nothing about football, it’s just not on my radar, but this KT Tunstall-narrated profile lifted my spirits. Sturrock is quite clearly an exceptional athlete and a thoroughly decent man.

Saturday 10 June 2023


This article was originally published in The Courier on 10th June 2023. 


Best Interests – Monday and Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm

This gut-punching four-part drama stars Sharon Horgan and Michael Sheen as a happily married couple with two daughters, one of whom has a life-threatening illness. 

Writer Jack Thorne has form for handling difficult material with the utmost care. His estimable credits include the 2021 COVID drama Help and Shane Meadows’ semi-autobiographical The Virtues

If you’re familiar with his work, then you won’t be surprised to hear that Best Interests is incredibly moving but never mawkish. It’s honest and authentic, a sensitive meditation on the complex moral quandary surrounding terminally ill patients and their quality of life. 

Thorne sympathises with every single one of his characters. You will too. There are no easy answers.

Sarah Beeny Vs Cancer – Monday, Channel 4, 9pm

Last year, the television personality and property developer Sarah Beeny was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother died of the same disease when Beeny was just 10-years-old. 

In this poignant standalone documentary, our host investigates the past, present and hopeful future of breast cancer treatment in the UK. 

While recording an intimate video diary, Beeny – who has four children - reflects upon everything her mother went through in the 1980s. It’s a frank, tender and relatable essay. We’ve all lost loved ones to cancer. 

Beeny meets with various medical experts who provide some insight into how care for cancer patients has changed and improved over the last 40 years.

Africa Rising with Afua Hirsch – Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm

Journalist and broadcaster Afua Hirsch hosts this fascinating exploration of Africa, a continent which is home to the world’s most culturally diverse population. 

Her eventful journey begins in Morocco, Africa’s leading tourist destination. She meets several young creative people, one of whom is a world-renowned photographer: the Andy Warhol of Africa. His playful post-modern work subverts lazy cultural stereotypes. 

Hirsch also encounters a rapper influenced by traditional Moroccan music, an innovative rug-stitching entrepreneur, and some artists whose work challenges outdated assumptions about sex and gender. 

Hats off to Hirsch and everyone involved with this upbeat and progressive series, it restores a bit of faith in human nature.

Staged – Wednesday, BBC One, 10:40pm

Originally devised during lockdown, Staged is a comedy starring Michael Sheen (that man again) and David Tennant as mildly bickering versions of themselves conversing via Zoom. 

It’s inherently self-indulgent and potentially infuriating, but it more or less works because Sheen and Tennant are likeable and self-aware. Their semi-improvised conversations mock the petty insecurities of successful actors who have nothing much to worry about in the grand scheme of things. 

The latest series begins with a bored Tennant contacting Sheen from a Tokyo airport. 

Hilarity never ensues in Staged, it just ambles along, but spending downtime with Sheen and Tennant is always fairly pleasant. A ringing endorsement, I know.

Count Abdulla – Thursday, ITVX

This likeable new sitcom revolves around an unlikely group of British Muslim vampires. 

Our sweet-natured protagonist is Abdulla (Arian Nik), a nerdy junior doctor and classic horror film fan. He’s not particularly religious, but pays respectful lip service to appease his devout and loving mother (Nina Wadia). 

And then one Halloween party night, while immaculately attired as Christopher Lee’s iteration of Dracula, Abdulla is bitten by an outrageously camp vampire played by Jaime Winstone – imagine, if you will, Fenella Fielding in an even more deranged version of Carry On Screaming!

It’s all rather intriguing; a sharp comedy-horror underpinned with a wry message about the subtle nuances of racial identity and faith.

Queen of Oz – Friday, BBC One, 9:30pm

Catherine Tate is a self-evidently talented and versatile actor who’s wallowed in lacklustre material for most of her comedy career. This tiresome sitcom is no exception. 

She plays a disgraced member of the Royal Family who is exiled to Australia. There’s plenty of scope here for some biting satirical commentary on the dysfunction inherent within our monarchy, but Queen of Oz squanders that in favour of Tate playing yet another thoroughly obnoxious person. 

There’s obviously nothing wrong with that in theory, British comedy is festooned with beloved anti-heroes, but Tate’s self-generated characters are actively annoying. 

Oh well, she’ll be back on TV later this year as Donna Noble, one of the greatest ever Doctor Who companions.

They All Came Out to Montreux – Friday, BBC Four, 10:15pm

This absolutely wonderful documentary recounts the rather touching and inspiring story of Claude Nobs, a charismatic music enthusiast who launched the world-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival. 

Nobs had no real knowledge of the music industry back in 1967, he just wanted to invite some of his favourite artists to perform on the banks of Lake Geneva. His maverick pipe dream is currently celebrating its 56th anniversary. 

Spread over three parts, all of which are shown tonight, the film traces the evolution of a jazz festival which gradually encompassed some astonishing performances from major rock, soul and blues artists. 

God bless Friday music nights on BBC Four, long may they groove into infinity.


Spy in the Ocean – Sunday 4th June, BBC One

Narrated by David Tennant (that man again; there’s a theme developing here), the BBC’s latest oceanic deep-dive introduced us to various creatures gently affixed with non-invasive cameras. Some sperm whales and coconut octopi were the stars of this particular episode.

Whenever one delves into the depths of the ocean, the results are always rather surreal and sweetly comical. Psychedelic whimsy writ large. 

While coasting above the waves, we also met some shore-based monkeys – a great bunch of lads – who’ve worked out how to feast upon oysters. Spy in the Ocean is the very definition of exotic Sunday night comfort viewing.

Gods of Tennis – Sunday 4th June, BBC Two

A companion piece to Gods of Snooker, which was also executively produced by Louis Theroux, this assiduously researched volley of social history focuses on 1970s and early 1980s tennis titans. It’s utterly riveting. 

Television was responsible for creating tennis’ mass appeal. That daily Wimbledon coverage coincided with the emergence of charismatic players such as Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King, who took centre stage in the opening episode. 

Ashe, who passed away in 1993, was African-American. King, whose fresh contributions to the programme provided a vital through-line, is gay. Their stories are thematically entwined. 

Ashe and King, while not always in agreement, both fought for equality.

Saturday 3 June 2023


This article was originally published in The Courier on 3rd June 2023.


Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig – Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm

The latest series of Toksvig’s staycation travelogue, in which she enjoys tranquil rural breaks with various comedy chums, kicks off (gently) with the brilliant Suzy Eddie Izzard. 

Their getaway destination is the Republic of Ireland - Counties Clare, Kerry and Cork to be exact. 

Toksvig tries to encourage Izzard, a famously driven person, to relax via apple crumbles, fried eggs, healing herbs, a treehouse and fly fishing. 

Izzard talks movingly about losing her mother at an early age, as well as her recent decision to come out as trans. “I don’t mind [being called] Eddie Izzard, I don’t mind he, him, she, her. I’m keeping it very loose, baby, so that the entire world can just have a warm bath.”

Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland – Monday, BBC Two, 9pm

In episode three of this exceptional five-part oral history of The Troubles, we enter the horrifyingly bleak era of dirty protests and fatal hunger strikes. 

A key contributor is the wife of a former IRA member, a man you’ll be familiar with from the first two episodes. 

She talks openly about how difficult it was being married to someone who, despite promising to leave the IRA behind, spent time in prison due to his staunch beliefs. While clearly not used to expressing outward displays of emotion, his regret is palpable. 

We also meet the widow of a rural Northern Ireland policeman. 

I can’t recommend this series enough (hence why I keep recommending it). It’s terribly sad, powerful and revealing.

Vicky McClure: My Grandad’s War – Monday, STV, 9pm

97-year-old Ralph McClure, a working-class man from Nottingham, played a significant role on D-Day. In this poignant programme, Ralph and his adoring granddaughter, Vicky McClure, return to the beaches of Normandy. 

Ralph was eighteen when he joined the Royal Navy. His powers of recall are undimmed by age. A delightful man, he provides a fascinating eyewitness account of an absolutely pivotal moment in 20th century history. 

Celebrity-fronted docs are often rather superficial affairs, but this is nothing of the sort. Ralph and Vicky are united in their mission to pay heartfelt tribute to every brave soul who fought, and who continue to fight, against fascism.

Britain’s Forgotten Pensioners: Dispatches – Wednesday, Channel 4, 10pm

I urge you to watch this devastating documentary about older British people desperately struggling to make ends meet during the current cost of living crisis. As the old saying goes, if you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention. 

They can barely afford to eat. They’re literally sitting in darkness. These pensioners have worked hard all their lives, and for what? This is how the government and energy companies repay them. 13 years of enforced austerity and mounting bills. 

“I’m sad all the time,” says John, who’s completely on his own. “I’m just here, and that’s it. Existing.” 

No one should have to live like this. No one’s mental health should be impaired by the constantly overwhelming pressure to just survive.

Significant Other – Thursday, ITVX

This black comedy-drama stars Katherine Parkinson and Youssef Kerkour as lonely neighbours, Anna and Sam. 

It begins with Anna knocking on Sam’s door after she’s suffered a heart attack. Sam has just attempted to take his own life. When the medics arrive, they’re both rushed to hospital. A bond gradually forms. 

Significant Other doesn’t, of course, make light of loneliness and depression. Any subject, no matter how dark, can be mined for humour, just as long as it’s coming from a good, honest, intelligent place. 

If episode one is anything to go by, that’s what’s happening here. It appears to be a humane and oddly life-affirming exploration of terrain that so many of us struggle to traverse.

Five Star Kitchen: Britain’s Next Great Chef – Thursday, Channel 4, 8pm

Another week, another ho-hum culinary competition. Your all-powerful overlord on this occasion is five-star hotel chef Michel Roux Jr. 

“There is so much on the line here for me, my reputation as a chef,” he declares. Mate, unless this show is somehow hijacked by actual ghosts and aliens, no one will ever remember it. Your career will continue to thrive. 

Anyway. The series follows 13 budding chefs as they compete for a potentially life-changing grand prize – running the Palm Court restaurant in London’s exclusive Langham hotel. 

As you would expect, the contestants are faced with a series of challenges to prove they have what it takes to succeed in this high-pressure world.

Davina McCall’s Pill Revolution – Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm

Now here’s a genuinely responsible and informative piece of public service broadcasting. 

A recent Channel 4 survey asked over 4,000 women and people assigned female at birth about their experiences with contraception. 77 % of them experienced debilitating side effects. 33 % stopped using contraception because of those side effects. 

Following on from her excellent documentary about the menopause, Davina McCall challenges some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding contraception. 

She’s shocked to discover that so many women just aren’t being made aware of the range of contraception treatments available to them. 

This programme, which covers a myriad of solutions for anyone who’s struggling, will hopefully make a difference. Television really can be a force for good sometimes.


Close to Vermeer – Tuesday 30th May, BBC Four

Johannes Vermeer is one of art’s great enigmas. His small body of work includes classic paintings such as The Milkmaid and The Girl with the Pearl Earring. They’re familiar to millions, but little is known about the man himself. 

In this elegant documentary/mystery yarn, renowned art expert Gregor J.M. Weber followed his dream of curating the largest Vermeer exhibition the world has ever seen. 

While on the verge of retirement, Weber – a quietly engaging guide – was determined to refute controversial claims that one of Vermeer’s masterworks, Girl with a Flute, wasn’t actually painted by him at all. 

I won’t spoil the ending in case you haven’t seen it, but no wonder Weber was moved to tears.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Thursday 1st June, BBC One

Series nineteen of this unstoppable genealogical warhorse began with Andrew Lloyd Webber discovering that his four times great uncle Peregrine fought at the battle of Waterloo, and that a sixteenth century ancestor, Katherine Duchess of Suffolk, married a 49-year-old man when she was only 14. 

Never has the euphemistic phrase “different times” been more shockingly apt, so much so that the programme swiftly glossed over this uncomfortable finding. 

Lloyd Webber’s ancestors weren’t all frightfully posh. His paternal great, great grandfather was a compassionate working-class missionary. And he did, of course, discover that musicianship runs in the family. 

I’m no fan of Lloyd Webber’s work or politics, but he came across throughout as a genial old satchel.


Saturday 27 May 2023


This article was originally published in The Courier on 27th May 2023.


The Gallows Pole – Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm

The great Shane Meadows usually directs social realist dramas set in the present day or fairly recent past. The Gallows Pole marks his first foray into pre-20th century history. 

A fictionalised account of a true story, it follows 18th century working-class Yorkshireman David (Michael Socha) as he ignites a revolution. 

As you can imagine, this is not a typical period drama. Etched in shades of folk horror, it’s populated by characters who convince as actual human beings, they’re not carefully curated museum pieces. 

It bears all the usual hallmarks of Meadows’ work: naturalistic performances and semi-improvised dialogue combined with themes of social injustice, fraternal bonds, redemption, revenge and some understated comedy. 

It’s also a perfect showcase for Socha’s gruff, sad-eyed charisma.

Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland – Monday, BBC Two, 9pm

Episode two of this engrossing Troubles documentary unfolds in early 1970s Belfast. It begins with Bloody Friday, an IRA attack during which nine people were killed. That tragedy drew support for the nascent Ulster Defence Association, a loyalist paramilitary group. 

Interviewees include former IRA and UDA members, who candidly reflect upon their younger selves and everything they once stood for. 

“I was in charge of guns when I was seventeen,” says one older man who came of age in a society divided by sectarian hatred and violence. “I have a granddaughter of seventeen, and I could not imagine handing her a gun. I could not imagine handing her anything other than a strawberry f***ing milkshake, to be honest. But anyway…”

A Paedophile in My Family: Surviving Dad – Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm

Emily was sexually abused by her father for the first eighteen years of her life. In this intimate, powerful and deeply moving documentary, she tries to understand why her abuse remained unnoticed for so long. 

Emily wants to help other survivors. Her incredibly brave yet painful journey involves encounters with a clinical psychologist, the sympathetic police officers who investigated her case, and a restorative justice officer. Emily’s abusive father has recently been released from prison. There’s a part of her that wants to confront him. 

The programme culminates with a difficult, heart-breaking conversation between Emily and her loving mother. It’s marked by guilt, shame, anger and confusion. An important piece of television.

Changing Ends – Thursday, ITVX

There comes a time in every comedian’s life when they must devise a sweet-natured television series about their childhood. Now it’s Alan Carr’s turn. 

His dad was the manager of a fourth division Northampton football team, a vocation entirely at odds with little Alan’s gay and geeky world. He wasn’t ‘normal’ according to the homophobes who impinged upon his otherwise happy life, so he attempted to fit in by faking an interest in so-called manly pursuits. 

Changing Ends is charming. It’s a coming-of-age story set in less inclusive times, but the underlying message is positive. Carr, who occasionally appears as an in-vision narrator, has co-written it with love for his kind and supportive family.

Taskmaster – Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm

This column is a resolutely spoiler-free zone, so I obviously can’t go into any great detail about the latest thrilling Taskmaster grand finale. 

All I’m prepared to say is this: while dressed in the studio like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the five competitors – Frankie Boyle, Jenny Éclair, Ivo Graham, Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Mae Martin – unveil some bespoke Greg Davies merchandise while wrestling in the Taskmaster field with pint glasses, buckets, hoses, balloons, rubber bands and ice. 

Psychedelic feathered hats off to the deserved winner. But who will that be? I am, as you’ve presumably gathered, trying to create some suspense here. Taskmaster is a delightful distraction, it aims only to please.

Untold: The Secret World of Boy Racers – Thursday, Channel 4, 11:05pm

In this documentary, filmmaker Ben Zand embeds himself within the incredibly dangerous and irresponsible world of Britain’s underground car scene, a subculture in which young men race noisily souped-up cars along motorways in the dead of night. 

At the risk of sounding like Alan Partridge, they’re an absolute bunch of immature idiots with no thought for the consequences of their actions. All they care about is the fleeting futile thrill of it all. 

Zand meets someone who was left paralysed while traveling in a car with his adrenaline junkie driver. Two innocent bystanders died in that collision. “People” he laments, “don’t ever consider the severe impact of it going wrong until it’s too late.”

Our Lives: My Husband the MMA Fighter – Friday, BBC One, 7:30pm

Natalie is married to one of Scotland’s foremost cage fighters, Stevie ‘Braveheart’ Ray. 

This typically sensitive Our Lives documentary follows the Kirkcaldy-based couple and their four young children, one of whom is epileptic, as Stevie prepares for a potentially life-changing world title fight in New York. 

It’s been a tough year. As Natalie admits, she’s basically looked after the kids as a single parent while Stevie has been consumed by his training regime. 

Natalie and Stevie are nice, bright people. They reflect upon the necessary sacrifices they’ve made in the hope of Stevie setting the family up for life with a $1 million jackpot. A real-life Rocky love story, you’ll be rooting for ‘em throughout.


Reel Stories: Pet Shop Boys – Saturday 20th May, BBC Two

In the latest episode of this intermittent series, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe settled into some plush cinema seats while watching archive clips of themselves. 

The duo’s memories were jogged by an 1980s BBC Breakfast Time report on Smash Hits – “I haven’t seen this since when it was on!” exclaimed former Smash Hits editor Tennant, who sounds uncannily like Steve Pemberton at times – and their very first TV appearance together. The boys were reliably lovely and amusing. 

They wouldn’t thank me for the compliment, but PSB are bona fide national treasures. 

The programme also afforded our preternaturally affable host Dermot O’Leary an opportunity to utter the phrase “Larkian lyrics” for the first, and presumably last, time in his career.

Strike: Inside the Unions – Thursday 25th May, BBC Two

Our dire cost of living crisis has resulted in the biggest wave of strikes this country has witnessed in decades. 

A probing two-part documentary, Strike: Inside the Unions follows national hero Mick Lynch and other prominent trade unionists as they campaign on behalf of our underpaid frontline workers. 

Lynch is a subversive character. Witty, erudite and entirely committed to his cause, he runs rings around politicians and journalists with blunt statements of inarguable fact. And you’re not supposed to do that. 

Episode one began with this caption: “The Government departments and many of the companies featured in this series declined to take part.” Why, it’s almost as if they have something to hide. Up the workers.

Sunday 21 May 2023


This article was originally published in The Courier on 20th May 2023.


Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland – Monday, BBC Two, 9pm

In this outstanding series, the history of The Troubles is relayed via frank testimonies from Catholics and Protestants who were surrounded by violence on a daily basis for almost 30 years. 

It begins with some of the people who lived through those early days of turmoil in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

They include a man once known as “the best rioter in Derry”, a British soldier who was stationed in Derry, and a woman whose brother was shot and killed by the British Army on Bloody Sunday. These intimate interviews are accompanied by stark archive footage. 

Suffused with anger, grief and remorse, this is an incisive portrait of a political situation rife with painful complexities.

Scotland’s Home of the Year – Monday, BBC Scotland, 8:30pm

This week, genial judges Anna Campbell-Jones, Banjo Beale and Michael Angus visit a Victorian renovation in the village of Oldmeldrum, which is situated just a few miles outside of Aberdeen. They’re knocked out and sideways by this imaginatively stylised cottage. 

The praise continues at a chic modernist build in rural Aberdeenshire, which boasts a spacious yet welcoming interior plus some fabulous open views from its floor-to-ceiling windows, and a cosy self-built property in Orkney that takes full advantage of its stunning surroundings. 

If you follow this charming little show, then you’re aware that our experts are looking for homes packed with character and loving attention to detail. They’ve hit some kind of jackpot here.

Maryland – Monday to Wednesday, STV, 9pm

Suranne Jones and Eve Best star in this drama about estranged sisters struggling to solve the mystery of their late mother’s secret life. She was found dead at a beach on the Isle of Man, a place neither of her daughters have visited before. 

Becca (Jones) is warm and empathetic. Rosaline (Best) is a blunt pragmatist. Their awkward, mismatched yet essentially united dynamic is convincing. Families are complicated. And what does very special guest star Stockard Channing have to do with it all? 

Maryland, which was devised by Jones and writer Anne-Marie O’Connor, delivers several intriguing plot twists, but this is not your typical thriller-adjacent drama. It is, at heart, a ruminative character study. 

Grand Designs: The Streets – Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm

Graven Hill is the UK’s largest and boldest self-build site. Grand Designs nabob Kevin McCloud has been following its development for quite some time. 

His latest catch-up stars Tim, who is about to move from a small flat in Bicester to his very own HQ in Graven Hill. Tim’s plans involve the construction of a basement in which he can tinker with his beloved motorbike collection. 

It doesn’t run smoothly, of course, ambitious projects never do in Grand Designs land. For one thing, a five-tonne car-lift he’s ordered from China doesn’t fit into the basement’s specially prepared hole. 

McCloud oversees Tim’s ordeal with his usual combination of wry distance and curbed enthusiasm. 

Storyville: Inside Kabul – Tuesday, BBC Four, 10pm

Marwa and Raha are friends who grew up in Kabul after the Taliban were defeated 20 years ago. This haunting animated documentary is based on voice notes they exchanged in the weeks and months following the Taliban’s return to power in 2021. 

Difficult decisions needed to be made. In the end, Raha decided to stay with her family, while Marwa fled the country with her husband. She had to leave her beloved parents and siblings behind. “I wish one day we could meet again,” she sobs, “but I’m not sure.” 

Marwa and her husband are trapped in limbo while awaiting to hear about their refugee application. Back in Kabul, Raha highlights the brutal reality of living under an oppressive regime.

Inside No. 9 – Thursday, BBC Two, 10pm

The final episode of this penultimate series is a gut-puncher. 

Pemberton and Shearsmith play a gay couple celebrating their 9th anniversary in a tranquil Scottish holiday home. They’re happy, content, deeply in love, but gradually we're made aware of underlying complications. 

And that, as always, is all I can say with regards to the plot. Pemberton and Shearsmith are fully aware that we enjoy second-guessing them, that’s all part of the twisted Inside No. 9 fun, but they’re almost always several steps ahead of our expectations. 

Beautifully written, directed and performed, ‘The Last Weekend’ solidifies Inside No. 9’s rightful reputation as one of the best and most imaginative TV shows of the last ten years. 

Poker Face – Friday, Sky Showcase, 9pm

Created by Rian Johnson of Knives Out and Glass Onion renown, this witty murder mystery is openly indebted to the inverted ‘howcatchem’ Columbo format (it even copies the famous bold yellow title font). 

After witnessing a murder at the start of each episode, we follow a sleuthing protagonist as they join up all the dots. Our recurring hero in this case isn’t a detective, she’s Charlie, a wise, likeable, beer-supping cocktail waitress with a knack for sniffing out horse ordure. 

Charlie is played by the brilliant Natasha Lyonne from Orange is the New Black. Again, a la Columbo, the show boasts some big name guest stars. No sign of Shatner so far, but it’s only a matter of time. 


Ten Pound Poms – Sunday 14th May, BBC One

BBC One’s latest Sunday night period drama began with a PTSD-stricken soldier collapsing in a pool of booze and vomit. This, clearly, will not be a cosy nostalgic exercise. 

It follows said soldier and his family as they emigrate to Australia, a far-off land of unimaginable opportunity, an escape from the drudgery of post-war Britain. They wind up in what is effectively a shanty town. 

Ten Pound Poms isn’t just an interesting piece of social history, it highlights the eternally relevant plight of poor migrants trying to start new lives in nations riddled with overt and casual prejudice. 

Yes, that message is occasionally painted in rather broad strokes, but you can’t argue with its fundamental truth.

I Kissed a Boy – Sunday 14th May, BBC Three

In this upbeat dating show, ten young single gay men meet for the first time in a plush Italian villa. Those five potential couples have been matched up by the producers, who ask only one thing: they must kiss each other before indulging in any getting-to-know-you small talk. Will romance blossom from there? 

During the opening salvo we were introduced to Joseph from Nigeria, where homosexuality is illegal, and Mormon-raised Josh who’d never kissed a boy before. 

Programmes of this nature can often be cruel and exploitative, but I Kissed a Boy is an utterly benign endeavour. The lads are lovely and the overall message is empowering.