Stuck for what to watch on the box this Easter weekend? Here’s a handy guide to the best of the unmissable TV coming up.
Forged in Fire
Friday 24th March at 10pm on History (CH 270)
You know cooking competitions on TV? Imagine one of those, only instead of flour and icing and chocolate sprinkles, we’ve got big giant swords and flying bullets and columns of flames. You can see why we like it.
This is what we learn from watching the first episode of this new show: bladesmiths are a thing. Not just in, like ancient nooks of Japan where wise old gurus fashion opulent swords. We mean in contemporary Brooklyn. Amid artisan microbrews, there are artisan knives and swords being made. And this show pits today’s baddest bladesmiths against each other, in the manner of a cook off, only with more risk of limbs being accidentally hacked off.
Basically they embark on various rounds, Bake Off style, to show off their metalworking and design skills. The first episode is about samurai swords, and it is awesome. Not just because it’s always strangely therapeutic to watch craftsmen at work, but because – in one scene to test the swords – they fix the blades in position and literally fire BULLETS at them to see if the bullets break the blades or split in half, mid-air. It is majestic. It was beautiful. It makes us want to jack in our jobs and become bladesmiths. But we won’t do that. We’ll just watch this show instead.
What's the verdict?
Absurdly macho and sweaty this may be, but it’s the TV equivalent of a massive steak dinner in an industrial-looking restaurant. Utterly unnecessary but really very satisfying indeed.
Friday 25th March at 9pm on BBC One (CH 101)
Boasting a cast of golden oldies – including Russ Abbot, Alison Steadman and Stephanie Beacham – this sitcom should bring a smile to even younger viewers' faces. That’s if you can tear your eyes away from your phones and tablets, you multi-screening young upstarts.
A comedy about grumpy old geezers and their long-suffering wives, Boomers really shouldn't be very good at all. When the first series hit our screens, it became clear that the wry social observations are largely sub-Meldrew, only without any of Victor's proper misanthropy, and there are the predictable jibes at "modern Britain" – with example targets being recycling bins ("Does this count as plastic or cardboard?"), the NHS and dodgy Skype connections.
It should have been too obvious to work. But what saved the show was its cheerful cheekiness. This opening episode was set at a funeral, but was delightfully carefree about the whole death and aging thing. And the cast are an absolute joy to behold – Alison Steadman is always amazing, of course, but here’s a show that also reminds us why Russ Abbot used to be such a big name. The new run begins tonight with the gang heading to a campsite, which – as far as British comedy territory gets – is as classic as it comes. Expect leaky tents, clumsy bike rides, and the presence of a hunky young lad with an eye for older ladies. Oo er.
What’s the verdict?
It may be about a bunch of curmudgeons, but Boomers is as twinkly-eyed as your favourite granddad, and deserves your sofa-based attention. It's a lot better than Last of the Summer Wine, at any rate…
Britain’s Whales and Sharks
Saturday 25th March at 8pm on ITV (CH 103)
Ben Fogle and Ellie Harrison, the king and queen of outdoorsy TV, go very outdoorsy indeed in this programme, which sees them in search of the sea’s most remarkable beasts.
So it turns out that there are whales and sharks off the coast of Wales. Who knew? Well, Ben Fogle and Ellie Harrison knew, which is why they go out there to take a dip in the Celtic Deep. The warm waters of this part of the ocean attract some rather remarkable wildlife, including the majestic humpback whales. Don’t they look amazing? This programme reminds us of their craggy grandeur – they’re like vast geological formatons come to life. No wonder our hosts are so thrilled.
In fact, they may be a bit TOO thrilled. The programme is a tad heavy handed with the whole “wonders of nature” thing. The soundtrack is so full on, it would make Michael Bay blush, while Fogle and Harrison occasionally veer from being merely excited to near-crazed in a slightly distracting way. But then again, they ARE gazing at blue sharks which had come to feast on a whale carcass, so perhaps we can forgive their enthusiasm. It is an awesome sight by any measure.
What's the verdict?
This is a celebration not just of sealife in general, but sealife around our islands – we know this because they keep reminding us every few seconds. Ah well, it is touching how child-like they become in the presence of nature, and those blue sharks are crazy critters indeed.
Being the Brontes
Saturday 26th March at 9pm on BBC Two (CH 102)
Author Helen Oyeyemi and journalist Lucy Mangan are among the literary types delving into the dramatic, turbulent lives of the legendary writers who gave us some of our most iconic novels.
It’s 200 years since Charlotte Bronte’s birth, and our obsession with this unlikely clan of writers shows no signs of fading away. And why should it? They give us an impossibly romantic mix of personal trauma and creative genius, all set amid the wild sprawling panorama of Yorkshire. Their books, like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, offer a maelstrom of raw emotions, brooding tempestuous men, and doomed love affairs, but where did the Bronte sisters get their inspiration? Weren’t they just sheltered fantasists?
Not a bit of it, according to this fascinating new film, which takes us to the locations the sisters knew intimately, and throws us into their satisfyingly messy lives. We’ll learn how Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, was actually in love with a married man, much like her famous protagonist. We’ll also discover details about the lesser known members of the family, such as their clergyman father who went blind, and – most poignantly – the brother Branwell, said to be a genius in his own right, who was ravaged and ruined by alcoholism.
What’s the verdict?
It’s strange and surprising to realise the lives of the Brontes were as interesting as their fiction, and bookfiends will relish this chance to travel through time and get to know this famous family as real people rather than dusty icons of literature.
Saturday 26th March at 8pm on Channel 4 (CH 104)
It may be called Shakespeare’s Tomb, but this documentary could easily be called The Bard’s Head (if that wouldn’t have made it sound so much like a pub).
What happened to Shakespeare’s skull? That is the central enigma of this fascinating film, which delves more deeply into the fate of England’s national poet and playwright than any other programme we can remember. Well, they have science on their side for one thing. Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford-Upon-Avon has always been off-limits to curious archaeologists and tomb raiders, but thanks to cutting edge scanning technology a team is able to investigate this sacred piece of earth without causing any damage.
And what they discover is a “disturbance at the head end” implying that the skull is gone. Indeed, stories going back to the 19th Century claim that the skull was taken by trophy hunters a century before that. In this show, we probe all the various legends – including one about the skull being sealed in a crypt just outside Stratford. All in all, quite the feast for fans of the Bard, even if discovering the whereabouts of the head is not to be. (See what we did there?)
What's the verdict?
A curious and beguiling mix of modern tech, science talk and literary endeavour, Shakespeare’s Tomb asks as many questions as it answers. And that’s only to be expected in any programme about a writer whose complexity still eludes us today.
Natural Born Winners
Sunday 27th March at 8pm on BBC Two (CH 102)
Natural Born Winners? Sounds like a TV show conceived by a loudmouthed braggart. In fact, it’s a kind of alternative sporting endeavour throwing famous athletes into a variety of very odd events…
This is the year of the Olympics, which means that pretty soon we’ll all find ourselves getting unfeasibly interested in obscure boating events and “dressage”. And here’s something to warm us up: a new TV series which sees the likes of 100 metre champion Donovan Bailey, top sprinter Iwan Thomas, and Wales rugby legend Gareth Thomas getting sent on “epic challenges” around the world. And by “epic” they generally mean “bonkers”, but these guys are professionally competitive and will go all out, no matter how utterly strange the events are.
First up, we’re in… Wales. Which doesn’t sound like it should present any exotic problems, but it does. Oh, it does. They will be competing in Man Versus Horse, which isn’t a reality show. Rather, it’s an endurance running event where humans on two legs have to compete with humans on horses. Makes absolutely no sense, but the athletes are ready to get stuck in and cross through forests and freezing rivers and windy landscapes. Watch and gawp.
What’s the verdict?
Natural born winners or natural born lunatics, these guys deserve credit for being absolutely up for anything. And we have the funny feeling we’ll find ourselves cheering from the sidelines too. Well, better them than us, eh?
Man-Eating Zombie Cats
Sunday 27th March at 10pm on Animal Planet (CH 256)
Apparent experts try to terrify us into thinking a pandemic of maddened cats is on the brink of wiping us out. We’d almost be frightened if it wasn’t so silly.
Something odd has been happening to the documentary channels in recent years. We’ve had Man-Eating Super Wolves and Man Eating Super Snakes, not to mention a couple of programmes that tried their very best to convince us that mermaids actually exist. They succeeded, as far as many viewers in the States were concerned. Scientists may have tutted and despaired, but the fact is these silly mock-docs do make for mighty entertaining watching.
Now, despite its B-movie title, Man-Eating Zombie Cats isn’t quite as absurd as the whole mermaids thing. It actually has a scattering of real science amid the sensationalist horror film sequences. The focus is on the canine distemper virus, which really has spread to big cats and decreased their fear of humans, causing tigers to wander into populated areas and cause widespread fear and havoc. But do they really qualify as “zombie cats”? Well, only if they’re written that way, and this documentary does its very best to turn the acorns of science into vast hulking oaks of odious terror. In a fun way.
What's the verdict?
While it’s likely that Sir David Attenborough would facepalm himself to death if he happens to catch more than a few seconds of this, Man-Eating Zombie Cats is every bit as trashily watchable as a show called Man-Eating Zombie Cats should be. Miaow.
Eddie Izzard: Marathon Man for Sport Relief
Monday 28th March at 9.40pm on BBC Two (CH 102)
It's a safe bet that Eddie Izzard won't be packing any red lippy or killer heels for this arduous undertaking, which sees him running across the treacherous terrain of South Africa.
If you're an ordinary person, running just one marathon would be reason enough to pat yourself on the back, make yourself comfy on the sofa with a crate of cakes and never get up ever again, safe in the knowledge that you've been quite energetic enough for one lifetime. But Eddie Izzard is not ordinary, and not just because he's a lesbian trapped in an occasional transvestite's body.
No, Eddie's also a maniac marathon runner, and in this programme he's out to prove just how run-crazy he is with 27 marathons in 27 days. Don't just read on like that's nothing. Go back and look at it again. That is a LOT of marathons. In fact, it's one per each year Nelson Mandela was locked away. Unfortunately for Eddie, the region also has some seriously rocky terrain, which could put an end to the epic run before it's even begun, but after an abortive attempt to do the same thing a few years ago, the comedian is more determined than ever to succeed…
What’s the verdict?
Picturesque landscapes, rueful tongue-in-cheek narration from Mr Izzard, and extreme punishment in the name of charity: this documentary's the complete package, even if it will make you feel unbelievably unfit while you're watching. Unless you're Mo Farrah. Which on balance, you're probably not.
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