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 fascinating documentaries, heartwarming tales and gripping dramas.
Billy Connolly’s Tracks Across America
Friday 1st April at 9pm on ITV (CH 103)
We’re more than a wee bit excited, because the Big Yin (that’s Billy Connolly to you) is off on his travels again, taking in the vast expanse of the United States and deploying gag-bombs along the way.
Billy Connolly likes two things very much indeed: trains and banjos. And there’s plenty of both in this big new series, which follows the Scottish icon as he crosses the States on its epic railroads. Looking more and more like a bedraggled wizard these days, Billy is his usual charismatic self, partly deferential, partly cheeky beyond belief, and never afraid of making gags lesser comics would shy away from. Even his own medical condition isn’t off limits, as he merrily announced that “People with Parkinson’s shouldn’t try to take a shower on a moving train”.
Veteran scene stealer though he is, even Billy is overshadowed by some of the spectacular sights en route. How about the Miracle of Birth centre, where onlookers can literally watch animals being born? Sounds like something from Brave New World, but it’s actually at the Minnesota State Fair. We also get to hear the dulcet tones of a yodelling cowboy, and tuck into some deep-fried baklava. Well, WE don’t tuck into deep-fried baklava, but we really, really want to.
What's the verdict?
Lyrical, rude, awe-struck and irreverent: Billy Connolly is all of these things in this winning slice of Americana by way of a motormouthed Glaswegian. You can’t help but want to come along for the ride.
Two Doors Down
Friday 1st April at 10pm on BBC Two (CH 102)
After a one-off many moons again, the domestic comedy is back for a full series, beginning with escapades relating to a defrosting freezer and a whole Scottish salmon. We’ve all been there.
Cast your mind back a long, long way: 2013. Technically it’s a fair amount of time ago, yet scarily it feels like only yesterday doesn’t it? Anyway, we’re not here to ruminate about the relentless assault of days and years, but to remember the first time Two Doors Down hit our screens, in the form of a New Year’s Eve special about how rubbish New Year’s Eve parties can be. It was a gently funny, gently acerbic look at the random mundane absurdities of normal life.
Now it’s back, and we’ve got six episodes of domestic disputes and rolled eyes and playful putdowns. It all gets going when the door to the freezer is left accidentally open in the home of Eric and Beth, so they decide to throw a big dinner to consume all the soon-to-be ruined food. A bunch of friends come over, and awkward social interactions commence in a way that will probably feel a bit like Abigail’s Party set in the present day. Oh, and there’s a salmon involved and it plays a key role. Just to say.
What’s the verdict?
While this is unlikely to break any new ground, comedy wise, it’s the sort of show that will make you occasionally snort into your tea. And really, that’s a perfectly adequate ambition for a domestic sitcom like this.
Area 51: I Was There
Saturday 2nd April at 8pm on National Geographic (CH 266)
Area 51 is one of the most notorious and mythologised places on Earth, and this programme offers a unique insight into the facility thanks to expert testimonies and evidence of strange goings-on...
For decades now, Area 51 has tantalised and frightened sci-fans and UFO conspiracy theorists and armchair Mulders everywhere. It's become a by-word for sinister government activity, with many believing it's used to experiment on extraterrestrials and reverse-engineer alien technology. But does the Area 51 of film and telly fantasy have anything to do with the real-life Nevada stronghold?
Featuring juicy interviews with the scientists and army personnel who actually worked there, this special documentary looks back at the strange history of Area 51, which was established by the CIA in the paranoid years of the Cold War. Unfortunately – if you happen to be a true believer – rumours of little green men have been greatly exaggerated, but it will still be fascinating to learn about the top secret (and extremely hazardous) military missions that took place at the legendary compound.
What’s the verdict?
Anyone who knows Area 51 from shows like The X Files and movies like Independence Day will be both riveted and faintly disappointed by this programme. But don't worry – just because the staff claim it was all rocket scientists and military tech doesn't mean Area 51 won't continue to bewitch and titillate science-fiction writers for years to come. The truth is still out there...
Beatrix Potter With Patricia Routledge
Saturday 2nd April at 8pm on Channel 4 (CH 104)
Thoroughly banishing the Hyacinth persona, Patricia Routledge takes a fond look back at the life and work of one of the nation’s most beloved authors.
Here’s what we didn’t know: Patricia Routledge is the patron of the Beatrix Potter Society. So she isn’t just some conveniently cosy-seeming rent-a-host they brought in to present a documentary about the creator of Peter Rabbit. Routledge is potty about Potter, and even played her on stage a few decades ago. This helps make her an engaging and clearly knowledgeable guide to the world of Beatrix, as she looks at old letters and rare drawings, piecing together an image of her bygone world.
There are some truly marvellous moments here – like watching Patricia Routledge on a train with a basket containing a rabbit which nosily pokes its head out. There are so many scenes of idyllic, chocolate box-style rural homes that it at times feels like a soothing, literary version of Escape To The Country. And of course there are facts about Potter a-plenty, as Routledge waxes lyrical while sitting by a fireplace, or carefully goes through the Potter archives with the happy glint of an excited young girl in her eyes.
What's the verdict?
So watching the former star of Keeping Up Appearances rifling through black and white photos may not be everyone’s idea of snazzy Saturday night viewing. But if soothing, cuddly, utterly charming television is what you are after, this will leave you a very happy bunny indeed.
Sunday 3rd April at 9pm on BBC One (CH 101)
Oscar-nominated star Sophie Okonedo brings serious acting chops to this new legal thriller about a woman determined to make a difference in a corrupt and vicious world. Good luck on that one…
In a TV landscape of generic cop shows and generic legal shows and generic hospital shows, it can be tempting for a jaded viewer – battle-hardened by years of gazing at unfeasibly good looking people charging down corridors, battling criminals and staring moodily at things – to simply ignore any new ones. Oh not ANOTHER story about lawyers and courtrooms and feel-bad cases, you might think on being presented with Undercover. But wait. Don’t judge just yet.
For one thing, this has a heavyweight aspect to it. The story involves a British lawyer who’s been over in the US for two decades, fighting the corner of a convict on death row. Now she’s back in Blighty and taking on the mantle of director of Public Prosecutions, and her mission is to take down the killers of her friend, an anti-racism campaigner. Pretty serious stuff then, tapping into today’s cultural fears, and Sophie Okonedo is bound to bring suitable amounts of gravitas to the part. Add to that Adrian Lester as her husband who has secrets to hide, and this should be a must-watch Sunday sensation.
What’s the verdict?
If you think Sunday programming doesn’t necessarily have to be about comfy wildlife shows and people in bonnets fretting about love matches, then this hard-hitting legal saga is the show for you. All rise for it.
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