Saturday, 7 March 2020

MIRIAM'S BIG FAT ADVENTURE + FIVE GUYS A WEEK + DOCTOR WHO


A version of this article was originally published in The Courier on 7th March 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

MIRIAM’S BIG FAT ADVENTURE
Monday and Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm


The redoubtable Miriam Margolyes is, by her own admission, morbidly obese. She’s four foot eleven and weighs just over fourteen stone. In this frank report she attempts to come to terms with her weight while confronting the UK’s obesity problem. “I’m disgusted by my body,” she declares, “I loathe it.” Her first stop is a strict military-inspired health farm, where she meets people who’ve succeeded in changing their unhealthy lifestyles. But it’s not been easy for them. She also chats to a plus-size body confidence activist and a behavioural psychologist in charge of research into how being overweight can affect a person’s mental health. It’s a non-judgemental, ruminative essay delivered in Margolyes’ characteristically twinkly and erudite style.

JOANNA LUMLEY’S HIDDEN CARIBBEAN: HAVANA TO HAITI
Tuesday, STV, 9pm


La Lumley’s travelogues are usually a cut above most Famous Person Takes a Subsidised Holiday confections, and this series is no exception. Lumley is impeccably charming, genuinely inquisitive and entirely comfortable around people she’s only just met, hence why she’s a natural fit for this overpopulated subgenre. Her 15,000 mile Caribbean adventure begins, as per the title, in the Cuban capital of Havana. While admiring the architecture and vintage automobiles, she checks in with a traditional rhumba group, a tobacco farmer, a luxury hotel magnate, and an old lady who lives in a beautifully faded house frozen in time. It’s a picturesque programme driven by Lumley’s fundamentally sincere interest in finding out about the troubling complexities underpinning a society that's lived through six decades of Communist rule. Granted, it could hardly be mistaken for a probing political tract, but at least it actually bothers to engage with the issue.

FIVE GUYS A WEEK
Tuesday, Channel 4, 9:15pm


It’s a dating show, folks, but with a difference! Here’s the concept: a single woman invites five competing men into her home. Every day, one of them is asked to leave and never darken her towels again. In the end – voila – a couple finds everlasting happiness. Yes, it’s just another piece of voyeuristic Channel 4 nonsense, something to occupy your time while staring into the abyss: Big Brother meets First Dates. A bunch of men moving into a single woman’s house sounds dodgy in theory, but the results are harmless. It’s a fairly entertaining 'social experiment', vaguely embarrassing and sporadically funny. Channel 4 have got a minor cult hit on their hands here, i.e. it will trend on Twitter for an hour every week. Lightweight job done.

CHILD OF OUR TIME: TURNING 20
Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm


In 1999 the BBC’s Horizon strand began an ambitious project: filming 25 children from birth to adulthood. The chosen ones came from all walks of life, the idea being to chart how their upbringings and social environments shaped them. Now young adults, they’ve invited the Child of Our Time team back into their lives to reveal what it’s like to be part of Britain’s first generation of the 21st Century. They also reflect on the project itself while discussing the challenges they’ve faced throughout their lives so far. It is, in effect, a variation on Michael Apted’s seminal 7 Up endeavour, but undeniably interesting in its own right. A candid group of guinea pigs, they provide some valuable insight.

LAST WEEK’S TV

DOCTOR WHO
Sunday 1st March, BBC One


As expected, Chris Chibnall failed to adequately resolve his Timeless Child arc in this mechanically eventful finale, which was basically a 70-minute info dump. It contained some nice, nutty ideas – the Master creating a breed of Time Lord/Cybermen hybrids; the Doctor being revealed as the original Time Lord with an entire hidden lifecycle before the one she’s aware of – but it never scaled the dramatic heights you’d expect from such a continuity-warping episode.

However, it was superficially entertaining in the way that most wham-bam Chibnall episodes are, and I’ve come to terms with what this era of my favourite programme is: a deeply flawed, two-dimensional sideshow. Sigh.

On the plus side, at least Jodie Whittaker has been allowed to show off her acting chops this year – it’s as if Chibnall suddenly remembered that the Doctor is supposed to get angry sometimes - and Sacha Dhawan makes for an entertainingly berserk Master. It’s testament to his abilities that he managed to pull off the utterly thankless task of standing around and explaining the plot for half an episode.

McDONALD & DODDS
Sunday 1st March, STV
                                                                                                

Who devised this, Alan Partridge? An odd-couple detective drama starring Jason Watkins and Tala Gouveia – good actors both, they deserve better – McDonald & Dodds is an absurdly generic stockpile of nothing; Sunday night clue-sniffing futility incarnate. It’s whimsical, arch and soporific. TV Horlicks, the drug of a nation.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

THE TROUBLE WITH MAGGIE COLE + JIMMY McGOVERN'S MOVING ON


This article was originally published in The Courier on 29th February 2019.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

THE TROUBLE WITH MAGGIE COLE
Wednesday, STV, 9pm


Dawn French stars in this likeable comedy-drama set, like 98% of all ITV dramas ever, in a picturesque English coastal village. She plays a local historian and cheerful chatterbox who inadvertently harms her close-knit community during a tipsy interview with an unscrupulous regional radio journalist. Maggie isn’t a bad person, but her fondness for gossip proves disastrous. Appearing in bittersweet confections such as this appears to be the fate of every major ‘80s alternative comedian, but there are worse ways to spend the autumn of one’s career. The Trouble with Maggie Cole is a watchable piece of fluff buoyed by an engaging performance from French and a solid supporting cast including Mark Heap, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Vicki Pepperdine.

JIMMY McGOVERN’S MOVING ON
Monday to Friday, BBC One, 2:15pm


A series of standalone dramas curated by one of British television’s greatest dramatists, Moving On adds a sprinkling of grit to the lightweight daytime TV schedules. These disparate plays are united by the theme of characters at a turning point in their lives. This time around we meet a recently released ex-con struggling to adapt to life on the outside, a blind woman about to undergo surgery to restore her sight, a young mother dealing with bereavement, a middle-aged woman being threatened with redundancy, and a retired rugby hero who’s hidden his homosexuality from the public for decades (not all at the same time, of course). A valuable breeding ground for emerging writers, Moving On reflects the compassion and humanity that define their mentor’s work.

AGE OF THE IMAGE
Monday, BBC Four, 9pm


This expansive essay from art historian James Fox begins with the dispiriting spectacle of Louvre visitors taking selfies in front of the Mona Lisa. “Why do we feel compelled to do this?” Fox asks. “The answer, I think, lies in a revolution in visual culture that has turned us into a population of image addicts.” This obsession began over one hundred years ago. Fox, in his slightly sinister yet oddly captivating way, examines the history of visual language throughout the ages. He begins with the early 20th century pioneers who captured and manipulated the space-time continuum. The starry cast includes Edison, Dali and Buster Keaton, but Fox also pays enthusiastic tribute to some unsung geniuses. This is what BBC Four is for.

TIGERS: HUNTING THE TRAFFICKERS
Wednesday, BBC Two, 9pm


Tigers are on the verge of extinction. “They’re being hunted because people in China and Vietnam want to consume them,” explains former Royal Marines commando Aldo Kane, who presents this grim frontline/undercover report. Kane trains anti-poaching units in South East Asia, where wine made from tiger bones is a popular libation. It’s a growth industry with dwindling resources, but certain governments, zoos and farms in that part of the world provide support. I’m always wary of righteous westerners barging into foreign cultures and wagging their fingers, but that, thankfully, isn’t what happens here. Kane draws attention to a dedicated South East Asian movement set up in opposition to an appalling animal rights atrocity.

LAST WEEK’S TV

DOCTOR WHO
Sunday 23rd February, BBC One


This year’s two-part finale got off to a decent, if unevenly paced, start with an apocalyptic Cyberman epic. Chibnall’s clunky ‘say what you see’ dialogue is something we just have to begrudgingly accept, but he does know how to throw a superficially entertaining, action-packed yarn together. There’s an awful lot to wrap up in episode 10, though. If he pulls it off, I’ll be flabbergasted.

FLESH AND BLOOD
Monday 24th February to Thursday 27th, STV


This generically titled drama turned out to be a serviceable potboiler about an extended middle-class family dealing with the standard everyday miasma of secrets, lies and murder. Imelda Staunton and Stephen Rea added more class than it deserved.

THE WINDSORS
Tuesday 25th February, Channel 4


The latest series of this agreeably disrespectful sitcom/soap pastiche about the Royal Family has more to deal with than usual. Harry and Meghan’s abdication is a mere amuse bouche compared to the sordid details of Andrew’s private life. Apart from a brief mention of Epstein – presumably a last-minute addition – episode one side-lined the sweat-challenged monarch. The Windsors always tries to remain topical, and they’ve promised to tackle him in future episodes, but God only knows how they’ll handle it. The severity of that scandal won’t mix comfortably with the cartoony, knockabout tone of the show.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

INSIDE NO. 9 + ERIC BURDON: ROCK 'N' ROLL ANIMAL


This article was originally published in The Courier on 22nd February 2019.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

INSIDE NO. 9
Monday, BBC Two, 10pm


Reece Shearsmith indulges his passion for magic in this enjoyable episode about an arrogant and highly secretive illusionist whose murky past comes back to haunt him. Every instalment of Inside No. 9 involves a certain amount of ingenious sleight-of-hand – the episode title is Misdirection - so no wonder this milieu provides them with ample opportunity to wrong-foot the audience. Going into any more detail would, of course, spoil the macabre fun, but Misdirection is Shearsmith and Pemberton (who plays an older magician with a mind-melting trick up his sleeve) at their most Tales of the Unexpected-like. It’s a claustrophobic journey into the Magic Circle of Hell.

BACK IN TIME FOR THE CORNER SHOP
Tuesday, BBC Two, 8pm


A breezy piece of social history wedded to a simple, sure-fire formula, Back In Time… will doubtless still be running long after we’ve all become history ourselves. The latest series tasks a British family with running a traditional corner shop over several replicated decades (mother Jo’s great-grandparents ran one for real). It begins in the Victorian era, when this pillar of the community was born. Sara Cox and social historian Polly Russell guide the family through their never-ending daily chores; life for a Victorian shopkeeper involved churning butter, picking strawberries, slaving in the kitchen, making deliveries via horse and cart, and risking a hernia by carrying enormous bollards of cheese. As always, it’s a likeable, mildly diverting lesson.

HOSPITAL
Thursday, BBC Two, 9pm


With the NHS under increasing threat, this candid observational documentary carries a severely urgent weight. It was filmed a few months ago in seven Liverpool hospitals, where staff and patients struggle to cope within an overworked and cash-strapped system. Episode three unfolds in a unit devoted to cardiac disease. The waiting list presents an ethical and logistical nightmare; operations for patients at high risk are being constantly delayed. Everyone has to cope as best they can. There are, thank God, moments of hope amidst the overarching gloom, as we witness dedicated doctors, surgeons and nurses literally saving lives, but it’s hard to banish the dire feeling that Hospital is a document of a vital institution in terminal decline.

ERIC BURDON: ROCK ‘N’ ROLL ANIMAL
Friday, BBC Four, 9:30pm


He was the electrifying, lupine-lunged leader of The Animals, who fought hard and heavy during the British Invasion. He became a leading – if somewhat foolish – light in the flower power movement and scored hits with the multiracial funk band War. And yet Eric Burdon remains somewhat overlooked. This profile gives him his due. An engaging raconteur, Burdon rakes over his eventful life with support from admirers such as Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith and Sting. It’s the story of how a working-class Newcastle kid with a deep love of black American music made it, just about, in a poisonous industry. Burdon doesn’t hold back on his justifiable bitterness, and his once great voice is shot, but he’s no casualty. He survived.

LAST WEEK’S TV

DOCTOR WHO
Sunday 16th February, BBC One

This was, by some considerable margin, the best episode of Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who to date (he didn’t write it). A witty and atmospheric Gothic horror yarn in which the Doctor and co visited Mary Shelley on the dark and stormy night of her fateful Frankenstein nightmare, it encompassed an authentically disturbing half-formed Cyberman, plus hints towards whatever Chibnall has in store for the season finale. It was trad, dad, and all the better for it.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

CONFRONTING HOLOCAUST DENIAL WITH DAVID BADDIEL + INSIDE NO. 9


This article was originally published in The Courier on 15th February 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV


CONFRONTING HOLOCAUST DENIAL WITH DAVID BADDIEL
Monday, BBC Two, 9pm


Baddiel begins this documentary with a great old joke, a joke that could only offend one despicable subsection of society: Holocaust deniers. The Holocaust is a highly-documented matter of fact, and yet one in six people around the world believe it’s either been exaggerated or didn’t happen at all. These virulent anti-Semites feed off decades of deep-rooted lies. Their hateful voices refuse to be silenced by overwhelming volumes of contrary evidence. Denied of a mainstream platform, they broadcast their bigotry – insidiously and overtly - via social media and underground networks. Baddiel, whose ancestors were among the six million Jews murdered during World War Two, confronts this dense web of false history with acute self-awareness and soul-searching anger.

INSIDE NO. 9
Monday, BBC Two, 10pm


Mike Leigh has always been a major influence on Pemberton and Shearsmith, but never more explicitly than in this quietly devastating episode. It takes its cues, not from the bleakly comic Leigh of Abigail’s Party or Nuts in May, but from the likes of Secrets and Lies; a sad, intimate domestic drama with an aching human heart. The naturalistic performances and social-realist milieu also owe a strong debt to Ken Loach and Shane Meadows. It takes place over the Christmas period in a working-class family kitchen, their story gradually revealed in non-linear form. Don’t expect many laughs; this is the endlessly flexible Inside No. 9 in serious mode, but it never feels like a self-conscious experiment. It’s genuine, compassionate, one of their best.

PRISON
Monday, Channel 4, 9pm


This observational documentary series unfolds in a progressive British prison where over 300 women are incarcerated. It begins with new inmates arriving at the facility, many of them unused to serving time. They’re greeted by old hands offering friendly advice on how to survive a hectic environment. But Porridge it ain’t. We also meet sanguine prison officers who open up about their responsibilities: “You can be everything from an auntie, a social worker, probation worker to an officer in here. Everything at once.” Prison is sad yet sometimes funny, but it doesn’t tut, sneer, simplify or sentimentalise; it seeks to understand what life is actually like for vulnerable people who find themselves in a claustrophobic situation fraught with daily complications.

CILLA: THE LOST TAPES
Wednesday, STV, 9pm


When ‘Our Cilla’ passed away in 2015, Britain mourned the loss of someone who’d been part of our lives for decades. Two years later, her family unearthed a wealth of home movie footage. This programme dusts it down for public consumption in the company of celebrity chums such as Cliff Richard and Paul O’Grady. Assisted by audio recordings of a reflective Cilla in conversation with her ghost writer, narrator Sheridan Smith (star of ITV’s excellent Cilla) respectfully delves into the life and career of a sometimes difficult yet charismatic entertainer. Highlights include Cilla skiing with George Martin, Cilla hanging out with Ringo (who once proposed to her) and Basil Brush (who didn’t), and Cilla giving a Black Power salute (?!).

LAST WEEK’S TV


DOCTOR WHO
Sunday 9th February, BBC One


Another well-intentioned message – you don’t have to shoulder your depression, anxiety and grief alone – was undermined by some awkward execution in this frustrating episode. It contained some good ideas and a rare opportunity for Yaz to actually do something, but the constituent parts never quite clicked into a satisfying whole. When we eventually look back upon the Chibnall era, the charitable consensus will be this: an occasionally competent hack who meant well. Truly a golden age.

THE PALE HORSE
Sunday 9th February, BBC One

Agatha Christie’s work will inspire adaptations until humanity gasps its last, but Sarah Phelps deserves special mention as one of the Dame’s finest interpreters. This two-part drama is, according to Phelps, the last time she’ll dip her quill into the canon (at least for a while). The Pale Horse is typical in that it's faithful to the source material while adding notes of perceptive social commentary which never feel out of place. Phelps has always managed to preserve the seediness, queasiness and horror at the heart of Christie's best work; she never once succumbed to drawing room cosiness. Christie would’ve surely approved.

FRANKIE BOYLE’S TOUR OF SCOTLAND
Friday 14th February, BBC Two

Boyle is living proof that artists can evolve and mature without becoming boring. I never had any time for his early incarnation as a smugly sneering shock comic, but the real Boyle – an intelligent, politicised, softly-spoken, funny man – is well-served by TV vehicles such as this, in which he satirises the clich├ęs of comedy travelogues while imbuing them with some class-conscious depth. Last week’s leg examined the profound significance of Scottish comedy, literature and colloquial language.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

MARY BEARD'S SHOCK OF THE NUDE + INSIDE NO. 9 + DOCTOR WHO


This article was originally published in The Courier on 1st February 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

MARY BEARD’S SHOCK OF THE NUDE
Monday, BBC Two, 9pm


The history of Western art is crammed with naked bodies. Mary Beard casts her shrewd expert eye over this orgiastic obsession in a probing, irreverent and informative two-part series, wherein she grapples with “the problems, the anxieties and the scandals surrounding the image of the naked body ever since the Ancient Greeks.” The art establishment has always tried to defend itself from accusations of objectifying women, but Beard sees right through such mendacity, hypocrisy and gross oversimplification. She analyses problematic expressions of the erotic male gaze – many of them considered masterpieces – and looks at how female artists have responded to this fig-leafed tradition. She also traces the unusual history of idealised naked men in art.

INSIDE NO. 9
Monday, BBC Two, 10pm


All good people agree that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s darkly comic anthology series is one of the best and most consistently inventive television shows of recent years. Series 5 kicks off in a football referee’s changing room before, during and after a fraught match. David Morrissey plays a consummately professional ref on the verge of retirement, with Pemberton, Shearsmith and Ralf Little as his temperamentally mismatched linesmen. Although it’s not one of the strongest episodes – it feels quite slight by Pemberton and Shearsmith’s usual standards – it still displays their impressive ability to weave comedy, drama and rounded characters into a single 30 minute narrative. They’re masters of the form, Rod Serling by way of Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT: INSIDE THE WELFARE STATE
Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm


Universal Credit is the biggest and most controversial (i.e. catastrophic) overhaul of the welfare state in a generation. The government insists that it was supposed to simplify the benefits system and encourage the unemployed back into work, but instead it has caused chaos and suffering for the millions of people who rely on it to survive. It has driven claimants further into poverty. People are dying as a result. This sobering series gains access to the much-maligned Department of Work and Pensions. We also meet sympathetic jobcentre employees and claimants, including a desperate middle-aged man who’s recently been made homeless, and a single mother of two who struggles with depression and anxiety caused by her dire situation.

BARRYMORE: THE BODY IN THE POOL
Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm


In March 2001, Stuart Lubbock died at a drug-fuelled party held at Michael Barrymore’s home. To this day the case remains unsolved. This research-heavy, 90-minute documentary attempts to examine the full, murky story. Preview copies weren’t available at the time of writing – possibly for sensitive legal reasons – but it sounds potentially fascinating. The Lubbock case is rife with unanswered questions, as no one has ever spoken openly about what happened that night. We do know that Barrymore denies any involvement and that his once successful career has, for obvious reasons, never recovered. The film features contributions from members of the Lubbock family, as well as eyewitnesses, detectives and forensic pathologists. Barrymore himself appears only in archive footage.

LAST WEEK’S TV

DOCTOR WHO
Sunday 26th January, BBC One


Fair play to Chris Chibnall, he managed to keep the grin-inducing return of good old Captain Jack (the effervescent John Barrowman, having a ball as usual) under wraps; a welcome rarity in this spoilerific age. Also, in another fine twist, this enjoyably berserk episode introduced the first person of colour (Jo Martin, pictured) to play the Doctor. Or did it? I don’t trust Chibnall to satisfactorily conclude his intriguing story arc, but I’ll gladly eat humble P if I'm wrong.
 

Saturday, 25 January 2020

THE WINDERMERE CHILDREN + FARAGE: THE MAN WHO MADE BREXIT


This article was originally published in The Courier on 25th January 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

THE WINDERMERE CHILDREN
Monday, BBC Two, 9pm


A series of programmes commemorating 75 years since the end of the Holocaust begins with this haunting factual drama. When peace was declared in 1945, the British government agreed to give refuge to 1000 child survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. 300 of them were brought to a wartime housing estate near Lake Windermere. Utterly traumatised, they struggled to acclimatise to the very ideas of liberty and kindness. The counsellors responsible for rehabilitating them soon became aware of how incredibly difficult that task would be. You can never fully recover from such a harrowing ordeal, but hopefully you can live again. A powerful piece, The Windermere Children features a cast of fine young actors plus seasoned pros such as Romola Garai and Iain Glen.

BELSEN: OUR STORY
Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm


British citizens who survived Belsen return to the site in this starkly descriptive documentary. Although Belsen wasn’t equipped with gas chambers, it was Hell on Earth. Inmates fending for their lives were surrounded by rotting corpses. The stench of sickness and death was everywhere. It’s also a horrifying symbol of how The Final Solution unravelled towards the end of the war. A landmark report by journalist Richard Dimbleby, who was there when the British army liberated Belsen, informed the world at large about the full extent of Nazi atrocities. The army were so horrified by what they found, they burned the camp to the ground. Documents such as this ensure that it will always exist. It will never – must never – be forgotten.

AUSCHWITZ UNTOLD: IN COLOUR
Wednesday, Channel 4, 10:30pm


Against a backdrop of subtly colourised archive footage, this immersive film focuses on some of the last remaining Auschwitz survivors. The colourisation aspect isn’t a cheap gimmick. It is, like Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, a sensitive and effective way of bringing ghosts back to life. The survivors provide devastating accounts of life in the Nazi’s most notorious extermination camp; It was a nightmare reality, a perpetual onslaught of fear and degradation. One woman sums up the appalling uncertainty they endured when she recalls being led to their weekly shower: they never knew if cold water or gas was going to emerge from the showerheads. If it was water, they knew they’d live for at least another week.

FARAGE: THE MAN WHO MADE BREXIT
Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm


When Nigel Farage agreed to let documentary filmmaker Christian Trumble follow him throughout last year’s disastrous Brexit Party campaign, he presumably considered it a canny PR move. Instead he comes across as a sad, thin-skinned, petulant, gravy-stained opportunist. It’s hilarious, a staggering own goal. Trumble confirms that this amphibious bigot is a career politician who claims he’s anything but; a self-proclaimed man of the people who has repeatedly failed to be elected by them; a privileged member of the elite who presents himself as anti-establishment (the film’s central theme is his desperate need to be accepted by Johnson’s government). Farage has served his ruinous purpose, now he’s surplus to requirements. America, you can have him.

LAST WEEK’S TV

DOCTOR WHO
Sunday 19th January, BBC One


This episode was always going to be an improvement on the howling debacle that preceded it. It couldn’t possibly be any worse. Even so, the Doctor’s encounter with pioneering yet somewhat unsung electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla was a solid episode in its own right. A pleasingly straightforward pseudo historical, it was informative, educational and entertaining. Yes, even that raddled old fascist Lord Reith would’ve grudgingly approved.


TRAVELS IN EUROLAND WITH ED BALLS
Thursday 23rd January, BBC Two

How did this happen? Ed Balls, a risible politician who no one liked, is now an affable media personality. The Portillo Effect. These careerists never truly fail or disappear, they just adapt and reinvent themselves. This series does at least attempt to address the scarifying rise of populist far-right parties in Europe, but it’s really just a jolly travelogue with ideas above its station.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

TV Column: LOSING IT: OUR MENTAL HEALTH EMERGENCY + DOCTOR WHO


This article was originally published in The Courier on 18th January 2020.

NEXT WEEK’S TV

DIAMOND DEALERS AND COCKNEY GEEZERS
Monday, Channel 4, 10pm


This knockabout documentary follows three East End likely lads who run an independent jewellers called – I kid you not – Trotters. Judd, Alex and Kallum, who’ve been best friends since school, sell top flight bling to a bustling parade of mostly working-class customers, and can proudly boast of having more Instagram followers than any other UK jeweller. But that’s not enough: they’re off to NYC to procure items that will truly put them on the map. The banterrific lads are quite likeable – yes, even the one who looks like Jim Davidson - and the programme doesn’t peer down its nose at them or their clientele. Nice. Although billed as a one-off, it feels like a pilot for a series.

CRAZY DELICIOUS
Tuesday, Channel 4, 8pm


When is a televised culinary contest not a televised culinary contest? Never, they’re basically all the same. This new one has a bash at being a bit different by basing itself in a studio-based grotto – a whimsical Garden of Eden – packed with foraged food and drink (e.g. a tree that dispenses prosecco). But apart from that, it’s a generic confection in which three skilled amateur cooks must impress an expert panel of ‘Gods’ – Heston Blumenthal among them. This week they’re tasked with creating an inventive strawberry-based dish and a game-changing take on the hot dog. If you enjoy watching people cook, bake, whisk and knead, then this entirely inoffensive show will doubtless provide a modicum of nourishment. 

LOSING IT: OUR MENTAL HEALTH EMERGENCY
Tuesday, Channel 4, 10pm


Powerful and timely, this programme visits the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to examine Britain’s growing need to care for people struggling with severe clinical depression and anxiety. We meet an eleven-year-old girl with suicidal ideation and a mentally ill woman who recently attempted to kill herself and her family. Meanwhile, exhausted loved ones and concerned staff open up about the complexities of looking after patients who wish to take their own lives. It’s heart-breaking, but it needs to be in order to highlight the absolutely vital importance of knowing that you’re not alone, of knowing that you can talk about your feelings without fear of judgement. Trained professionals are permanently on hand to help.

INSIDE THE CROWN: SECRETS OF THE ROYALS
Thursday, STV, 9pm

Not all their secrets, surely? An expose on that scale would bring the monarchy to its knees. Instead, this new series – which arrives with impeccable timing – assembles a gang of expertly toadying lickspittles to rake over the officially acceptable dramas behind the merry house of Windsor. It begins with a sweeping essay on the history of 20th century Royals who struggled to balance their sovereign duties with matters of the heart. The familiar sagas of Liz and Phil, and Diana Queen of Hearts, duly ensue. Gossipy Royal history is colourful and interesting, of course it is, but we’ve heard it all before. Future generations will look back upon this epoch and wonder what the hell was wrong with us all.

LAST WEEK’S TV

DOCTOR WHO
Sunday 12th January, BBC One


The terminally bland Chris Chibnall’s second series as showrunner began quite well with his Spyfall romp, but episode three – written by Ed Hime - was an embarrassing mess. It wasted Laura Fraser in a thankless supporting role, the actors playing the elderly couple were appalling (“Mah Benni!” has haunted my brain ever since), the alien wigs and humanoid cat make-up looked weirdly cheap, the direction was substandard, the overstuffed script was incompetent. There was no tension, no momentum, no one or nothing to care about. Stuff happened, then it ended. The clumsily tacked-on environmental message – while entirely sound in and of itself – came across as a laughable attempt to add weight to the preceding 48 minutes of utterly incoherent storytelling. As usual, Jodie Whittaker did her best under the circumstances. I love Doctor Who, we’re joined at the hip, but this was a nadir.

LOUIS THEROUX: SELLING SEX
Sunday 12th January, BBC Two

Theroux’s morally conflicted face went into mild overdrive during this report on British women who legally sell sex for a living. He juggled nuggets of inadvertent self-parody – “With a moment to myself, I reflected on the strangeness of what was taking place” – with his usual eloquent compassion. The admirably candid participants were vulnerable victims of abuse who’d chosen this path for reasons far beyond financial pragmatism. Theroux didn’t judge or crassly psychoanalyse them, that’s not his style. Instead he presented yet another sensitive, stigma-challenging character study.