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 gripping documentaries, a new hilarious comedy on BBC Two and the return of Michael Gambon to our tellies, which should always be celebrated whatever the context.
Sex, Fame and Murder
Friday 26th February at 10pm on CSI (CH 104)
Sick, twisted, bizarre. The three key words that spell true crime viewing at its most compelling, and this documentary about Luke Magnotta certainly ticks all those boxes.
With his chiselled magazine features and track record for being a reality TV wannabe, Luke Magnotta is an unlikely monster. He should be annoying as hell, someone to roll your eyes at when you read about his latest attention-grabbing exploits in the sidebar of shame. But warped and freakish and obscene? Nobody could have seen that coming. But in a way, as this documentary confirms, Magnotta actually IS a product of this exact culture, of reality shows and tabloids. He’s what happens when the lust for fame transcends mere ambition, into madness.
A preening pretty boy with inflated ideas of his own star potential, Magnotta graduated from porn films and stripper jobs to being the star of his own real-life slasher film. His male victim was tied to a bed and stabbed, the whole ordeal filmed and uploaded to the Internet under the title “1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick”. To top that off, parts of the body were then posted to government offices and schools. It was like a macabre parody of viral Internet memes, and – as if to emphasise Magnotta’s twisted self-obsession – he was arrested while looking himself up online.
What's the verdict?
Social commentators had a field day with Luke Magnotta – not so much because of his crime, grisly as it was, but as a cultural phenomenon, a monster-spawn of a celebrity-soaked universe. Or something. It is beyond disturbing, anyway.
Comedy Playhouse: Hospital People
Friday 26th February at 10.35pm on BBC One (CH 101)
An experimental one-off comedy, on BBC One? Indeed. And after far too many safe, dreary sitcoms on the channel, this hospital-based chortle-fest may be just what the doctor ordered.
There’s a season on the BBC. You probably haven’t heard of it because there’s been a mysterious lack of hype about it, but it’s called the BBC Comedy Playhouse – a direct descendant of the celebrated strand from the 60s and 70s which spawned immortal comedies like Steptoe & Son and Last of the Summer Wine. Well, here it is again, rebooted for 2016 with a new run of one-offs. And it begins with Hospital People.
It's a mockumentary. Which, let’s face it, is kind of a tired genre all these years after The Office. Never mind, though, because it still sounds like a good ‘un, following the various colourful inhabitants of the fictitious Brimlington Hospital – from the hospital radio DJs to the chaplains to the managers to the porters. In other words, the non-medical staff. And here’s the clever bit: they’re all played by the same man. Could be genius, could be naff. And will it inspire a full series like the Comedy Playhouse shorts of old? Only one way to find out…
What’s the verdict?
It’s difficult to present a prognosis based on what we know about Hospital People so far. But at the very least it’ll be an interesting watch.
Saturday 27th February at 9pm on BBC Two (CH 102)
Reece Shearsmith, Tim Key and a gaggle of others are plunged into all kinds of massive macabre mayhem in this new three-part series, which will make you think of stag nights very, very differently.
Think “stag do” and what comes to mind? Men in ridiculous costumes guzzling beer on trains? Or perhaps a few intrepid blokes staggering around Prague, completely failing to pause and take stock of the grandeur of the gothic architecture? Well, this darkly comic drama takes a very different approach to things. It follows a mild-mannered teacher, Ian, as he makes the fateful decision to go on his brother-in-law’s stag do, which involves a trip to the Scottish Highlands with a group of incredibly annoying lads.
Once there, things take a turn for the worse very rapidly, with secrets spilling out, friendships turning into rivalries, and the dawning realisation that they, the ostensible hunters, have actually become the hunted. The trailers have made this look suitably surreal and twisted and funny, and with the likes of Shearsmith and Key involved it will be required viewing for fans of warped black comedy. And anyone who’s ever gone on a bad stag will only empathise with this motley lot.
What’s the verdict?
Seeming a bit like a bonkers cross of Mad Dogs and The League of Gentlemen, this may well be deliciously dark confection. Perhaps they’ll do a hen night spin-off next…
China’s Ghost Army
Saturday 27th February at 10pm on National Geographic (CH 266)
How do you go about creating an army of 8,000 make-believe soldiers? Glad you asked, because this fascinatingly detailed programme probes every aspect of one of the world’s most iconic archaeological finds.
It was in the 1970s that some farmers digging a well near the ancient Chinese city of Xi’an discovered something odd underground. More checks were done, and pretty soon the full grandeur of the Terracotta Army was revealed to startled explorers. Over 8,000 life-sized warrior statues, depicting everything from archers to cavalry riders, fashioned in honour of the iconic first emperor who unified seven warring kingdoms to create China as we know it.
Making a country is a doddle, of course. What about making this huge army of superbly detailed sculptures? Much tougher, we’re sure you’ll agree. Using all kinds of computer trickery (think 3D lattice diagrams and CSI-like gee-whizzery) this programme examines every aspect of the Terracotta Army, revealing that almost 90 teams of experienced workers were needed to craft them. In parts this is essentially the coolest programme about pottery ever made (apart from maybe the recent Throw Down), with lots of facts you never knew you needed to know about clay. Superb.
What's the verdict?
For the dedicated staff of a powerful dynasty, it was kiln or be kilned, and their work now stands as a monument to a vanished culture. Utterly awesome in every way.
Sunday 28th February at 8pm on ITV (CH 103)
He shouldn’t really resemble him at all, but Michael Gambon looks like he’ll make a surprisingly convincing Churchill in this feature-length drama about an event which has been largely covered up by history.
Oh dear, do we really need ANOTHER programme about Winston Churchill, our most routinely mythologised leader? Well yes, because this one takes a refreshing approach, focusing on the elderly post-war Churchill rather the defiant, speechifying 1940s version. It’s also about a fascinating chapter in political history, triggered by Churchill’s stroke during his second term as prime minister.
The story is told from the point of view of a nurse played by the brilliant Romola Garai. She’s whisked to a secret location to treat the PM, and it’s all very hush-hush because the stroke is kept a secret to maintain the stability of the government. She soon becomes witness to a power struggle around the ailing wartime hero, with Winston’s political allies and rivals circling around him, and the media barons forced to cover up the biggest story of the day. Set against the ominous, worrying backdrop of the early Cold War, this is a story that will mingle the personal and the political in a beguiling way.
What’s the verdict?
With stars like Gambon and Garai on board, this is clearly going to be a cut above the usual period drama. Especially as it tackles a moment of British history unknown to almost all of us. We might never think of Churchill the same way again.
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