Small-Screen Jabber 6-12 January

Drama

hard sun embed

What do you get when you cross a couple of mismatched detectives with apocalyptic doom? Hard Sun (Sat, BBC1, 9.35pm), that’s what. DI Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) is reluctantly partnered with DI Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn) and they accidentally stumble upon a government conspiracy to cover up the fact that the Earth is going to be destroyed within five years. The David Bowie track Five Years pops up in the soundtrack – no surprise, given it inspired Luther creator Neil Cross to write this six-part series. It’s a heck of a premise on which to build a credible story, but the first episode stands up well after its grisly opening scene and Deyn’s acting chops have improved vastly since she shot her last film in 2015. One to give a go.

Illness prevented me from reviewing McMafia (Sun, BBC1, 9pm) last week, but if you haven’t caught the first two episodes yet you are missing out. This punchy thriller explores global corruption through the activities of Russian oligarchs and is already earmarked for my TV top 10 for this year. James Norton stars as Alex Godman, British-raised son of exiled Russian mafioso Dmitri, and finds he can’t escape his family background after his uncle is brutally murdered.

next of kin

Six-part thriller Next of Kin (Mon, ITV, 9pm) examines divided family loyalties in multicultural Britain. As London succumbs to another terrorist attack, GP Mona Harcourt (Archie Panjabi) learns her brother Kareem has been kidnapped and murdered while working for a medical charity in Lahore. And Kareem’s son has disappeared from college, bringing the anti-terrorist squad to Mona’s doorstep. Mona and lobbyist husband Guy (Jack Davenport) struggle to protect their lives and careers, while being drawn into betrayals and conspiracy. Next of Kin is a highly relevant tale of how a comfortable family life can be upended in a moment and how far you might go to protect your loved ones.

kiri itv

Sarah Lancashire stars as social worker Miriam Grayson, who is great at her job but doesn’t always go by the book, in Kiri (Wed, C4, 9pm). A white foster family is planning to adopt young black girl Kiri, but the child disappears after Miriam arranges an unsupervised visit to her biological grandparents. She is soon at the centre of the police investigation and media publicity that follow. Also under pressure are Kiri’s granddad Tobi, birth father Nate and foster mum Alice’s family as a trail of lies, blame, guilt and notoriety unfolds. Written by Jack Thorne, who created 2016’s ambiguous and nuanced National Treasure, Kiri explores tough questions around interracial adoption and problems with the UK’s social care system.

Retro boxset binge: The Onedin Line (Sat, Drama, from 1pm). The classic 1970s drama is set in Victorian times and starred Peter Gilmore as Liverpudlian shipping magnate James Onedin. As his company grows, Onedin deals with family rivalries, the effects of the slave trade and politicking.

Factual

working class white men

Rapper Professor Green has carved out an excellent second career making thoughtful documentaries and has excelled with Working Class White Men (Tues, C4, 10pm), which examines their political and economic marginalisation. This is the demographic most ignored by the political parties, and most likely to be unemployed, under-educated and suicidal, which is having repercussions in the wider society. So how do white working class men find their place in the world when the odds are set against them? Green focuses on three young men in part one – one is disillusioned enough to start dabbling in extreme right groups, one has low expectations and worries he'll be seen as a chav at university, while the third is trying to set up his own business, Del Boy style. Green is white working class too, and portrays his success as the exception to what he sees as a social crisis.

The rulers of Saudi Arabia are put under the microscope in House of Saud: a Family art War (Tues, BBC2, 9pm). Saudi’s royal family is vast and immensely wealthy, with absolute power running their country and seemingly untouchable abroad. This three-part series uses the Middle East crisis as a starting point to look at how Saudi’s position in the region is changing, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promising major reforms and a push to moderate Islam. He is at odds with family members who want to retain the ultra-conservative Wahhabist branch of the faith. The series also examines how Saudi wealth flows around the west and elsewhere, trying to trace whether it funds jihad.  

Music

hansa studio by the wall

Numerous musicians have decamped to Berlin to record there – the roster includes David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Eno and Nick Cave. Hansa Studios: by the Wall 1976-1990 (Wed, Sky Arts, 9pm) were the German equivalent of Abbey Road and overlooked the notorious Berlin Wall. This fascinating piece of musical and social history explores the building itself – an elegant former guildhall at odds with the concrete slabs outside it – the musicians who passed through its doors to record some of the most iconic albums ever and the divided city that informed the culture. Filmmaker Mike Christie was obsessed with Hansa and his meticulous documentary delivers an impressive array of musicians, engineers and producers who discuss the “Hansa sound” and the magic of working there.

And then, appropriately, it’s David Bowie Night (Fri, BBC4, from 9pm). Both the following are repeats but fans won’t mind and if you’ve not seen either of these they are well worth catching. David Bowie: Five Years in the Making of an Icon looks at five pivotal stages in Bowie’s career, from his alien Ziggy Stardust via his Young Americans soulboy to commercial success in the 80s. And it covers the Hansa period above, when he recorded Low, Heroes and Lodger. Jarvis Cocker narrates the upbeat David Bowie and the Story of Ziggy Stardust, which looks at how Bowie fused art, fashion, hair, makeup and performance techniques to create his famed alter ego. Marc Almond, Peter Hook, Holly Johnson and music journalist Jon Savage share their insights.

Culture

michael palin life on screen

Star of Monty Python, acclaimed actor, popular travelogue presenter – Michael Palin is a national treasure. And he gets a well-deserved career review in Michael Palin: a Life on Screen (Sun, BBC2, 9pm). The clips cover his extensive output on big and small screen, there’s an in-depth interview with Palin and contributions from colleagues such as John Cleese, Armando Iannucci and David Jason.

Little explanation needed for the highly watchable My Astonishing Self: Gabriel Byrne on George Bernard Shaw (Mon, BBC4, 9pm). The renowned actor delves into the life and works of the acclaimed playwright. Both Irish, Byrne explores the radical politics that informed Shaw’s most biting satires, which were vehicles through which to prod the establishment and examine class and gender. With Shaw’s plays back in fashion and returning to the West End, this is both timely and informative.  

Louise Bolotin is Screenjabber’s TV critic. She has a penchant for quality drama and quirky documentaries, slums it with EastEnders and pities people who watch reality TV, which might be why she never writes about The X Factor.

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