Stuck for what to watch on the box this weekend? Here’s a handy guide to the best of the unmissable TV coming up, including the new thriller from comic-book mastermind Stan Lee, a harrowing Holocaust documentary and some highbrow science with Professor Brian Cox.
Stan Lee’s Lucky Man
Friday 22nd January at 9pm on Sky1 (CH 110)
James Nesbitt is a superhero! Just with no cape and no zany chest-logo, and a lot more gambling and middle-aged angst. Definitely makes a change from Arrow and The Flash, then…
Who’d have thought Stan Lee, the god-like guru of the Marvel universe responsible for some of the most colourful and iconic superhero characters of all time, would ever come up with a gritty British crime drama starring James Nesbitt? Why, it’s like worlds colliding. And at first, Stan Lee fans WILL be slightly baffled, as we follow a London copper who’s struggling with gambling debts and a rubbish marriage and personal angst. You know, like every other cop on telly.
But then things will go all freaky and Stan Lee-ish, when our man stumbles across a quirky looking bracelet which confers immense good luck upon him. Immediately things start looking up, and then things start looking exceedingly pear-shaped, as he finds himself immersed in a new crime wave and the bracelet looks like it might bring as much bad luck as good. Well, that’s what you get for rocking the tribal/surfer accessory look.
What’s the verdict?
It’s safe to say that this quirky genre hybrid is unlike pretty much any other show on telly. And with the reassuring presence of Stan Lee presiding over things, as well as the effortlessly likeable Nesbitt in the lead, it looks set to be a very fair cop, guv.
Britain’s Trillion Pound Paradise
Friday 22nd January at 9pm on BBC Two (CH 102)
The genial Jacques Peretti jetted off to a “secret bit of Britain” last night, to discover what life is really like in the infamous tax haven of the Cayman Islands. Answer: pretty darn good, thank you very much.
Wry, charming and not afraid to look a little ridiculous (last night he was talking about global financial etiquette while attached to a parachute), Jacques Peretti was the ideal frontman for this documentary about the sun-dappled, cash-drenched paradise of the Cayman Islands. Channelling equal parts Robert Peston and Louis Theroux, he talked us through the various legal loopholes that make Cayman so attractive to the super-rich, in between hanging out with cocky millionaires and grinning incredulously at sports cars.
The facts were pretty startling, though. Who knew that pretty much every major household name company has a base on Cayman, and reaps ridiculously vast tax rewards? Some locals were amusingly plain-spoken about the point of the islands (“Cayman is a tax haven. Yes it is.”) while others were amusingly insincere or plain delusional (“Cayman is not a tax haven. At all.”). Rather refreshingly, Peretti also made time to hang out with “ordinary” Brits who’ve made it their home, and still serve big greasy fry-ups in the sweltering weather. Yum.
What's the verdict?
While this was a fairly breezy, cheerful documentary, it was still a rather withering indictment of our current global economy, and the way in which the free market is entirely based on off-shore accounting and tax havens . While we debate the pros and cons, the super-rich will be basking on the moneyed beaches of Cayman.
The Girl Who Forgave The Nazis
Saturday 23rd January at 8pm on Channel 4 (CH 104)
Can acts of vicious cruelty ever be redeemed, or absolved? That’s the troubling question at the heart of this documentary, which tells the story of a woman who has been applauded and attacked in equal measure.
If any subject can be considered in black and white, binary terms, it’s the Holocaust. It was evil. That’s it. Unlike almost every historical event of similar magnitude, there are no mitigating circumstances, no political nuances, no arguments and counter-arguments that carry any weight. It was an act of massive, homicidal wickedness, and that’s all there is to it. This is why documentaries about the event don’t tend to call upon much brainwork from viewers. We just watch, ingesting information with our jaws open in horror.
But this programme is different. This is a programme about the Holocaust which will make many people feel queasy, undecided, at odds with themselves. That’s because its central figure, Eva Kor, is an elderly Auschwitz survivor who has actively forgiven the Nazis for their crimes, and even actually embraced one of the camp clerks who was complicit in the deaths of her own family members. Some have praised her for this superhuman level of empathy on her part, but others have declared her a traitor and betrayer of the memory of the dead. This is her story, and you may well find yourself utterly conflicted by the time it ends.
What’s the verdict?
Survivors of the death camps have a kind of saintly status in the eyes of the world, so to criticise the actions of Eva Kor seems somehow like heresy… especially because it would be about criticising an act of kindness. Watch and decide for yourself.
Elizabeth I: The Secret Life
Saturday 23rd January at 9pm on Nat Geo (CH 266)
Was Queen Elizabeth I really a man? Yes, we’re really asking that ridiculous question, because this documentary actively made us think about it. Thanks a lot, documentary.
Documentaries on iconic historical figures come in two main flavours. There are the big prestige productions featuring big name historians (the Starkeys, the Schamas), grand sweeps through stately homes, and exhaustive amounts of pure, shimmering knowledge for us to gorge on. And then there are documentaries like this, which spurt out sensational theories, wacky what-ifs, and make you question your entire sense of reality before landing you back to Earth with a bump. Altogether silly, but rather entertaining nonetheless.
It did its level best to interrogate the story of Queen Elizabeth I, but the questions were often rather peculiar. For example: could Elizabeth have been a man in disguise? Thus we got the legend of the “Bisley Boy”, which suggests that the real Elizabeth died as an infant, leading terrified courtiers to Henry VIII secretly replaced her with a ginger-haired boy who occupied the role for the rest of his life. As if that wasn’t enough, the programme also presented another theory, that Elizabeth suffered from “testicular feminization syndrome”, which means she exhibited female sexual characteristics while also having internal testes. Could these be why she didn’t have kids? Erm. If you say so.
What's the verdict?
We’d hate to imagine what some historians would have made of much of this, but – whisper it – this was an enjoyably gossipy and salacious look at one of our most revered figures. Even if it had as much bearing on reality as Miranda Richardson’s turn in Blackadder II…
Sunday 24th January at 8pm on National Geographic (CH 266)
American superstar scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson meets his opposite number from Blighty, Professor Brian Cox, in what may well be the coolest, most highbrow talk show ever. Parky was never like this.
StarTalk is kind of a terrible title, in a really brilliant way. Perhaps it’s meant as a sort of deliberate homage/parody of the world of celebrity gossip. After all, this IS a talk show, but it’s about literal stars rather than the overpaid human ones who parade their pouts on Instagram. That said, StarTalk has boasted a fair few well-known figures – including Star Trek’s original Sulu, George Takei, singer David Byrne, comedy titan Seth MacFarlane, and TWO different presidents of the United States.
They’re Clinton and Carter in case you’re wondering. But never mind them, because we’re far more excited about tonight’s guest: Professor Brian Cox. Frankly, everyone’s inner nerd will be clapping hands happily when Brian meets his US equivalent, Neil deGrasse Tyson, to chit-chat about all the best stuff in the universe (literally). As if that wasn’t enough, we’ll also get a primer on the physics of wormholes. Yep: Brian Cox and wormholes. Just watch it already.
What’s the verdict?
Finally, a talk show for people who don’t particularly want to see Hollywood celebs plugging their latest family comedies to Graham Norton. Sit back and prepare to be enlightened in the most entertaining way possible.
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