This article was originally published in The Courier on 8th May 2021.
NEXT WEEK’S TV
Three Families – Monday and Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm
The Abortion Act 1967 made abortion legal in the UK, but that legislation didn’t extend to Northern Ireland. This vital drama is based upon the true stories of some of the people involved in a campaign to reverse injustice and change society.
It begins in 2013. Theresa (Sinead Keenan) believes that abortion is a mortal sin, but then her teenage daughter becomes pregnant. She makes a decision, borne of a mother’s love, that could see her facing a prison sentence for breaking an archaic law. Meanwhile, a young couple are told that their baby is expected to be stillborn. They’re given no other option.
Sensitive and angering, Three Families is wreathed in authenticity. It hits hard. It lingers.
Unbeatable – Monday to Friday, BBC One, 2:15pm
This generic daytime quiz show is almost fascinatingly undercooked and lacking in atmosphere. Your host is Jason Manford, who goes through the motions with the genial confidence of a man who knows he’s landed a sweet and easy gig.
The rules don’t matter, it’s just a procession of general knowledge questions. The weird production details are of far more interest. Unbeatable is haunted by listless canned applause that sounds like it’s been beamed in from a crypt full of Ray Harryhausen skeletons.
I’m all for social distancing, but Manford is so far away from the contestants they may as well have stuffed him in a capsule orbiting the moon. But, you know, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.
Between the Covers – Monday, BBC Two, 7:30pm
A cosy little show, Between the Covers is a televised book club in which Sara Cox and some celebs review the latest big releases while talking about their own personal favourites. The guests this week are Mel Giedroyc, Griff Rhys Jones, TV presenter Rick Edwards and Oti Mabuse from Strictly Come Dancing.
The tomes under review are The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and The Fine Art of Invisible Detection by Robert Goddard. Meanwhile, Giedroyc heartily recommends all 900 pages of Les Miserables.
This is nothing more than an unpretentious piece of schedule filler, but sometimes that’s all you need. Also, it reminds me that Cox is an excellent broadcaster. She’s charming, funny and natural, a likeable presence.
Inside No. 9 – Monday, BBC Two, 9:30pm
I’m a big fan of Inside No. 9, but the latest series begins with an absolute misfire.
A parody of overly-stylised British heist thrillers combined with commedia dell’arte, it’s meta-textual to a fault. The fourth wall is constantly broken. “It’s series six,” smirks our nominal narrator, “you’ve got to allow for a certain artistic exhaustion.” Which would be funny if the episode as a whole wasn’t so terribly laboured and pleased with itself.
It exists purely to comment upon the expectations that Pemberton and Shearsmith have built up over the years. I get what they’re trying to do – it’s wilfully aggravating, which is an attitude I can get behind in theory – but as a post-modern experiment it goes too far in the wrong direction.
Oh well. Better luck next time, lads!
Hospital – Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm
The latest series of this superior medical report was filmed in the Coventry hospital that delivered the world’s first Covid vaccine outside of a trial.
Nearly five million people in England are waiting to start treatment, forcing doctors into the difficult position of having to decide who should be treated first. It’s not a decision they take lightly. Patients who can’t afford to go private are stuck on a vast waiting list. NHS staff can only apologise – there’s nothing they can do.
This typically humane episode captures the intense frustrations of an NHS coping with the huge challenge of recovering itself one year into the pandemic. “It doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere near back to normal,” sighs one consultant.
Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause – Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm
In this commendable programme, McCall highlights the failings of menopause care and finds out what can be done to improve the lives of menopausal women.
The main problem is a lack of proper information and a continuing distrust of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), a stigma largely based on a misleading yet widely publicised report from 20 years ago. McCall meets experts who want to put those fears to rest. They also stress that anti-depressants are no substitute for the benefits of HRT. The key message is this: we must continue to talk, listen and learn.
“You don’t have to be menopausal,” says McCall. “You don’t have to be a woman. This is something everybody needs to know.”
Saved By a Stranger – Thursday, BBC Two, 9pm
As this compassionate series continues, we meet two more ordinary people who survived traumatic events thanks to the life-changing help of others.
David, a veteran of the Falklands conflict, was aboard the SS Atlantic Conveyer when it was set ablaze and sunk by an Exocet missile attack. Twelve men lost their lives. David now wants to reunite with some his fellow crewmembers as a way of stressing how important it is to talk when you struggle with PTSD.
We also meet Darryl, who was four when his family fled Kenya for a new life in Britain. They discovered a country mired in vicious racism, but Darryl’s primary school teachers gave him the confidence to succeed in a hostile society.
LAST WEEK’S TV
Line of Duty – Sunday 2nd May, BBC One
So that’s that then. The revelation that “bumbling fool” Buckells was The Fourth Man should’ve worked as an angry comment on how corrupt chancers always rise to the top, but the whole thing was executed in such a flat and clunky way. A bore.
I’ve always enjoyed LoD for what it is – superior hokum with something to say about systemic corruption – but series six, despite occasional highlights, was hard work. Jed Mercurio’s laborious efforts to tie every last detail together sucked all the fun out of it.
I admire his wayward ambition and subversive intent: draw viewers into a populist show then hit them with a pessimistic political message. I just wish he’d managed to do that in a dramatically satisfying way.
Ian Wright: Home Truths – Thursday 6th May, BBC One
Ian Wright’s step-dad was a psychologically and physically abusive man. The family lived in constant fear of him. He’s never fully dealt with what he went through as a child, hence this frank and tender programme in which he examined the long-term effects of domestic abuse.
In the last year, 1.6 million women in the UK experienced domestic abuse. In 90% of such cases, a child is always present. Wright confronted some upsetting memories while talking to a psychiatrist and other people from similar backgrounds. He also met school pastoral carers and social workers who have been trained to spot signs that a child is struggling.
Hats off to Wright for making such an important piece of television.