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.
The People’s History Of Pop
Friday 15th April at 9pm on BBC Four (CH 107)
Twiggy – that still-smiling icon of the Swinging Sixties – takes us on a whistlestop tour of the early years of pop music in a programme that will have had you tapping your feet and feeling nostalgic for a time you might never have even known first-hand.
You may have seen music documentaries like this before. The formula is certainly anything but earth-shattering: fuzzy footage of bygone celebs, talking head interviews with wistful people who were there at the time, and a genial narrator summing the whole story up. But what sets this one apart is the sheer wealth of info it offers, and the amazing moments from pop history that are played out for our viewing – and hearing – pleasure. Like the tape-recording from the very day that John Lennon met Paul McCartney for the first time.
There are also heartwarming accounts of those crazy times by the fans who lived through it all – including the Lonnie Donegan fan who got to play a spontaneous skiffle jam with the singer, and the girl who got to meet the Beatles when the Fab Four turned up at the pub where her mother worked. Oh, and we also get to see some properly nostalgic footage from Ready Steady Go, the Top of the Pops of its day. Pop fans of a certain age may well shed a fond tear at this point.
What's the verdict?
This is a real gift to older folks and younger musos alike – a celebration of the era that saw Britain make the unlikely leap from a grey place of post-war woe to the brash trendsetter for the rest of the world. Poptastic stuff.
Friday 15th at 10pm on FOX (CH 157)
Hollywood heavyweight Guy Pearce returns to his Aussie telly roots! No, he's not back in Neighbours – he's actually playing a lawyer turned private eye in this hot new series.
Had your fill of Nordic noir? Well how about some Down Under detective drama, complete with the obligatory tough-but-emotionally-fragile hero. As well as being a sleuth, Jack also happens to be a keen carpenter, which is the kind of unlikely quirk we expect from our telly detectives nowadays. Sarah Lund had her jumpers, Sherlock hates humanity, that guy in Perception was schizophrenic, and Jack Irish can make a mean kitchen cabinet. Awesome.
He’s also fond of whisky and brooding in bars, as you would certainly expect from a down-at-heel hero with a dark past (his wife was murdered, naturally). Guy Pearce has played the part before a few times, but this is the first full series about the likeable and charismatic Jack Irish, and it begins with the detective being tasked with tracking down someone’s missing brother. Somehow we get the idea this will get much more complex and messy very very quickly.
What’s the verdict?
As anyone who's seen the great indie thriller Memento knows, Guy Pearce can do the whole wry-gritty-traumatised thing like noone else. And all the more so now that he’s older and more grizzled, with the kind of weather-beaten face that even Bogart would be proud of. Good to have you back, Jack Irish.
Sex[Ed]: The Movie
Saturday 16th April at 9pm on PBS America (CH 276)
Hilarious and revelatory in equal measure, this documentary plays at times like a satire on old-fashioned prudish attitudes to sex. But no, they really DID think like this…
Since modern times began (which for the sake of argument we’ll say was 1893), teachers have skirted the awkward issue of explaining the birds and bees to wide-eyed pupils by showing them a film instead. The very first one, as this brilliant documentary reveals, was shown in 1893 and called “Moral Education”. Which pretty much says it all about how society at the time regarded the beastly business of human sexual interaction. But that’s nothing.
Charting the bizarre evolution of “sex ed” films, the documentary takes us through some later classics of the genre, with increasingly outrageous and emotive names. They include “Abstinence: It’s the Right Choice” (that’s us told), “Condom Sense” and “Damaged Goods”. There is even a documentary warning World War Two soldiers about the dangers of picking up bugs from any women they happened to sleep with in battle-torn Europe. Some of the ideas here – demonising women as “fallen” and “disease-ridden”, warning about the “contagion” of homosexuality – would cause nuclear-strength outrage today, but at least we can now look back and laugh. Right?
What's the verdict?
A programme that will cause much spluttering and giggling across the nation, this is a reminder of just what the past looked like it when it came to sex, and just how far we’ve come.
Play To The Whistle
Saturday 16th at 9.20pm on ITV (CH 103)
Holly Willoughby is back on hosting duties for this knockabout sports/comedy panel show, featuring water-botherer Tom Daley and professional cynic Romesh Ranganathan.
The sports-centric panel show is a curious TV genre. Curious, because it has existed for decades, a proper part of the televisual landscape, without most of us ever pondering whether it actually deserves to exist or not. The answer, when you come to think about it, is absolutely not. Because they are terrible. Seriously. Think about it. Sports and comedy do not mix. If it’s mild comedy and dad jokes, then you end up with A Question of Sport, a show with the exact ambience of an awkward swingers party where everyone’s making light quips to cover up the fact they’re too shy to get their kit off.
And if the comedy is more raucous, you wind up with non-stop try-hard “banter” (They Think It’s All Over) or a Mad Max-like thunderdome of sadistic chaos (A League of Their Own) – both of which are only vaguely tolerable if you’re drunk. One of the problems is that sports stars are generally wildly uncharismatic and unfunny, while comedians are the opposite, and the resulting mix is just “urgh”. That’s the exact problem with Play to the Whistle. Frank Lampard and Romesh Ranganathan should never share the same universe, let alone the same studio. Like we say: urgh.
What’s the verdict?
Ignore everything above. We’re just being overly grouchy about a harmless and mildly distracting bit of telly fluff, and Tom Daley’s a nice lad so it’ll probably all be fine and funny really. It just shouldn’t exist, is all.
Sunday 17th at 10pm on ITVBe (CH 119)
The stars of this startling new reality show would eat the Essex guys and Chelsea girls for breakfast. Prepare to enter the blinged-up, slightly scary world of the Mob Wives.
Is it morally dubious to make a glitzy docusoap about real-life crime families? As if they're no different from the Kardashians, Amy Childs or the ditzy bimbos of The Hills? Maybe, but underneath all the furs, make-up and obviously set-up confrontations, Mob Wives doesn't lose sight of what it is: a saga about women whose lives are bound up in violence and the strict codes of the Mafia.
The women here are either married to, or the daughters of, Mob guys doing time for everything from drug running to conspiracy to commit murder. And they don't just bicker about the usual silly stuff: one woman has been completely kicked out of the group because her father ratted on his mobster pals – the ultimate no-no in crime circles. Now we’re into the fourth season and there’s new blood in the form of another mob wife who’s throwing a 20s-style fancy dress party. Are they about to go all Boardwalk Empire on us? One can only hope…
What’s the verdict?
It's not often you get a show that will appeal both to fans of TOWIE and The Sopranos. Question is, are we meant to root for the women or condemn their lifestyles? And will we soon see these gangsters' molls in the gossip mags? It'll be interesting to see how it all unfolds…
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