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.
Barging Round Britain With John Sergeant
Friday 22nd April at 8pm on ITV (CH 245)
That nice John Sergeant goes along Britain’s nice waterways in this thoroughly nice show. It’s just a pity it isn’t on on a Sunday.
Let’s just face facts here: watching a programme about a roly-poly ex-newsreader drifting along canals and making wry observations about random stuff is just about the least cool way to spend a Friday night. Even the name, Barging Round Britain, has the whiff of dad joke about it. This is clearly Sunday teatime viewing that’s been weirdly plonked at the start of the weekend rather than the end of it.
But who are we to complain when it’s just this darn pleasant? John Sergeant makes an engaging host – if host is the right word for his role here, which basically involves him cruising along canals and doing unlikely things like sparring with boxer Ricky Hatton. We also get to see him react to the Marple Aqueduct in the exact same way that Professor Brian Cox reacts to, like, constellations and quasars and stuff. We’re talking wide-eyed wonder. But the best bit? Getting to poke around the Swizzels sweet factory, which is surely as close to a tour of Wonka’s as we can get.
What's the verdict?
Meeting great athletes, junior archaeologists and sweet makers alike, John Sergeant is having quite the watery odyssey in this show. Just don’t admit to anyone how much you enjoy it. At least, not until Sunday afternoon.
Rick Stein’s Long Weekend
Friday 22nd at 9pm on BBC Two (CH 102)
Fresh from his travels in Eastern Europe, Rick Stein is back – this time paying homage to more familiar destinations, beginning with the foodie paradise that is Bordeaux.
That Rick Stein, eh? He’s one jammy so-and-so. Not only does he have an empire of restaurants and massive critical acclaim as a chef, but he also enjoys an unstoppably globe-trotting career as probably everyone’s favourite TV foodie. A lot of that’s down to the approachable simplicity of his recipes, but equally it’s his persona that wins us over. He comes across as an affable but awkward uncle, given to wistful anecdotes, nostalgic digressions, and nervous chuckles when he gets things wrong. It’s great.
This new show follows him to some of his all-time favourite places where he basically acts as the best tour guide ever. He’ll take us to iconic landmarks and great restaurants, waxes lyrical about the local culture (Rick Stein loves waxing lyrical almost as much as he loves langoustines), and then cooking up some of the traditional dishes of the region. First up, Bordeaux, where we have a feeling there might just be some wine involved. Call it a hunch.
What’s the verdict?
Rick Stein is always watchable, and his shows are frankly the next best thing to going to the location yourself. So sit back, pour yourself a glass of plonk (French, obviously) and watch the master at work.
Arnie Schwarzenegger’s 50 Greatest Ever Stunts
Saturday 23rd April at 8pm on Channel 4 (CH 104)
We take slight issue with the title of this show, for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment, but other than that we’re totally, massively excited – as in early 90s, Terminator 2 levels of excitement – about this show.
The name of this show is wrong. Nobody in the history of the world has ever referred to the popular action movie star of films like The Terminator, Predator and, er, Jingle All the Way as “Arnie Schwarzenegger”. We either call him “Arnie” – one word, Arnie – or “Arnold Schwarzenegger”. But never have the words “Arnie Schwarzenegger” ever been said together. It just looks and sounds odd, like two worlds colliding.
Admittedly we may be overthinking this just a tad, but hey – this is a momentous occasion. Because Arnie is on Channel 4, presenting a TV show like it’s the most natural thing in the world. A bona fide legend, the man who changed the lives of every teenage boy in Britain during the 80s and 90s, a man who became Governor of California no less, is presenting a clips show on a British TV channel. Awesome. And even more awesome are some of the stunts he’ll be showing, including Jean Claude Van Damme’s eye-watering splits on two moving lorries, and that bloke who did that free fall from the Earth’s stratosphere.
What’s the verdict?
He said he’d be back, and now he is – in the unlikeliest setting imaginable. Welcome to British TV, Arnie/Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s nice having you here.
Aired Saturday 23rd April at 9pm on BBC Four (CH 107
We’ve had Nordic Noir and Tartan Noir. Now, thanks to Hinterland, we’re embroiled in the mysteries of Welsh Noir. Which may not have quite the same ring to it, but boy is it engrossing.
Hinterland is a curious show. It started as a drama for the Welsh channel S4C. The fact that it was a major undertaking, with a large budget, cinematic sweep and obvious similarities with acclaimed shows like The Killing, made it quite a milestone in Welsh language shows. Then there was a BBC version in English, which was shown in Wales first before rolling out to new found fans across the nation. And now we’re into series two, which – on the strength of this episode – has cemented its place as a great addition to the crime canon.
This is partly thanks to Richard Harrington’s winning turn as our hero cop Mathias, but ultimately – as with the best examples of Nordic Noir – it’s the atmosphere that really makes this what it is. Never has the Welsh landscape looked more ominous, and the story – involving a terrible arson attack – plunges us into a community of secrets and hidden agendas. The exact sort of setting we expect from this new breed of crime show, where it’s as much about characters and moral quandaries as it is about the nuts and bolts of detective work.
What's the verdict?
Whatever the Welsh is for “stonking good show”, this is that. It seems that our fair nation can now officially compete with Europe when it comes to dark tales of crime and punishment in isolated places. Feel bad dramas never felt so good.
Louis Theroux – Drinking to Oblivion
Sunday 24th April at 9pm on BBC Two (CH 102)
Louis Theroux directs his patented blend of awkward charm and piercing curiousity at a range of new targets, beginning with the people rescuing stray dogs in the City of Angels.
There's something irresistible about Louis Theroux's demeanour. Whether he's hanging out with vicious racists, gangsters, imprisoned sex criminals or high-powered ego-maniacs, Louis always comes across like a painfully polite teenager on his best behaviour at a wedding. And it sort of deactivates any potential fury or distrust among those he meets. It's like magic, even if it is a wee bit disingenuous because we’re pretty sure that behind that bashful smile a keen and calculating mind is at work.
In this programme he’s going to be in full-on sympathy mode, though, as he’ll be visiting the liver centre at King’s College Hospital. It’s a desperate port of call for people who have seriously damaged themselves through drink. He’ll be meeting the patients, getting an insight into how they’ve wound up being so dependent on booze, and discovering just why it’s so excruciatingly difficult to stop reaching for the cans or bottles. If anyone can get to the heart of the matter without slapping his own skewed journalistic narrative over it, it’s Louis.
What’s the verdict?
Theroux documentaries – even the ostensibly comedic ones – are rarely comfortable viewing, and this one looks like it’ll be one of his most serious and poignant yet. Essential viewing for shedding light on a problem that’s plagued humanity for so long.
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