Small-Screen Jabber 7-13 May


Ben Elton’s latest sitcom Upstart Crow (Mon, BBC2, 10pm) taps into the Shakespeare season, with David Mitchell playing the youthful Bard who is starting to gain recognition in London for his work while trying to look after his wife and children back in Stratford upon Avon. In six parts, the opening episode sees Shakespeare suffering from writer’s block while working on Romeo and Juliet. Good to see Elton back on form with some very sharp writing in typically Shakespearean style, with lots of punning running gags and clever wordplay, and a regular episode conclusion in which Will enjoys cosy marital chats with Anne Hathaway (Liza Tarbuck).


The BBC’s fabulous Shakespeare season continues to deliver some excellent shows and last month’s reruns of the Hollow Crown series were no exception. Now, this collection of one-off productions of the Bard’s history plays is getting a deserved second series of three plays, starting with The Hollow Crown: the Wars of the Roses – Henry VI Part 1 (Sat, BBC2, 9pm). Tom Sturridge plays the troubled king trying to maintain smooth relations with enemy France through his marriage to Margaret of Anjou (Sophie Okonedo) and quiet his warring nobles. Hugh Bonneville, Adrian Dunbar, Anton Lesser and Philip Glenister are just a few of the top-notch cast.

billions damian lewis small screen jabber 7 may 2016 embedDamian Lewis plays wealthy hedge-fund manager and 9/11 survivor Bobby Axelrod in Billions (Thurs, Sky Atlantic, 9pm). He likes to spread his largesse around in New York, his philanthropy bestowing him widespread popularity. But public attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) is determined to prove “The Axe” is really a financial criminal and take him down, with caution. This Wall Street drama turns on its smart axis of pitting the generous and charming Axelrod against the crusading Rhoades, an unstable man with secrets.


After April’s historic inquest verdicts, Hillsborough (Sun, BBC2, 9pm) is unquestionably the documentary of the week. Over two hours the true story of the UK’s worst sporting disaster, on 15 April 1989, unfolds to show how disastrous policing led to the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans and was followed by a cover-up of immense proportions that aimed to blame the victims. This film uses archive footage and interviews with those who were there, many of whom are telling their stories for the first time, to reveal what happened both on the fateful day and over the subsequent 27 years as the families fought for justice. Moving and unmissable. It would be remiss not to mention the array of David Attenborough shows old and new currently sprinkled over Auntie’s schedules in honour of his landmark birthday. Attenborough at 90 (Sun, BBC1, 7pm) pays tribute to this giant of broadcasting, in which he is interviewed by Kirsty Young, reflects on his extraordinary career and is joined by colleagues who share their anecdotes of working with him.

Last week saw a shameful government decision, now thankfully reversed, not to admit 3,000 Syrian orphaned refugees into the UK. Children on the Frontline: the Escape (Tues, C4, 10pm) traces a family of four siblings who fled Aleppo for the safety of Germany. Their father stayed behind to fight in the Free Syrian Army, but as the camera picks up the story he is captured by Isis. The quartet talk movingly about the traumas of war and displacement, and then an extraordinary event happens that will leave you gasping.


Veteran superstar Elton John takes top billing on this week’s Later Live...with Jools Holland (Tues, BBC2, 10pm), in which he’ll be showcasing a couple of tracks from his latest album. The fabulous singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae also does a turn and there are also tunes from Bloc Party and the Kronos Quartet.


If you’ve ever wondered What Do Artists Do All Day? (Sat, BBC4, 7pm), here’s a brief glimpse. The camera follows Scottish multimedia artist Katie Paterson, whose work focuses on nature and ecology, as she prepares an installation made of wood for the city of Bristol. We see her sourcing timber from 10,000 species around the globe for what turns out to be a dramatic structure of conceptual art. This is as good an insight into how artists work as any. This year’s British Academy Television Awards (Sun, BBC1, 8pm) reflect the golden age of TV we are currently enjoying – so many brilliant shows and stunning actors, great writing and brave choices. Programmes up for gongs include Wolf Hall, Doctor Foster, Poldark, Bake Off, Peter Kay’s Car Share, while Idris Elba, Sheridan Smith, Miranda Hart, Hugh Bonneville and Stepen Fry are among contenders for awards. Lenny Henry will receive the Alan Clarke Award and Graham Norton presents.

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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