Small-Screen Jabber 1-7 September

Drama

William Thackeray’s classic novel Vanity Fair (Sun, ITV, 9pm), about the lives of two young women in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, has been adapted for its fifth TV outing. Gwyneth Hughes’ humorous and fresh screenplay features Michael Palin as Thackeray – whose character is the notoriously unreliable narrator. Olivia Cooke plays street-smart social climber Becky Sharpe (top), who is determined to marry well and secure her position in society. Claudia Jessie is Becky’s only friend, the sweet and naïve Emmy Sedley whose plainness makes it hard for her to find a husband. The supporting cast includes Suranne Jones, Martin Clunes, Frances de la Tour and Simon Russell Beale.

mothers day bbc

One-off true-life drama Mother’s Day (Mon, BBC2, 9pm) is about the aftermath of the 1993 Warrington bombings by the IRA, which killed two young boys and injured dozens more. Anna Maxwell Martin and Daniel Mays co-star as Wendy and Tim Parry, parents of 12-year-old Tim, who died in the attack, alongside Vicky McClure as Susan McHugh, a Dublin mum who organised one of the largest peace protests in Irish history after the bombings. A moving, powerful tale of grief and the determination to make good come out of atrocity.

wanderlust bbc toni collette steven mackintosh

What do you do when you’ve been married forever and the spark’s gone? Maybe try sleeping with other people? That’s what therapist Joy (Toni Collette) and Alan (Steven Mackintosh) try in Wanderlust (Tues, BBC1, 9pm). After Joy has a cycling accident, she realises she needs to grab at everything life offers and that includes exploring polyamorous relationships. Alan is reluctant at first, but decides to give non-monogamy a go, especially when he learns that many of their friends are also experimenting with their desires. Wanderlust tries to examine some important questions about modern relationships such as whether lifelong monogamy is possible and how we build honest and solid relationships with lovers. Collette, who starred in Muriel’s Wedding, is terrific in this co-production with Netflix, which is witty, sensitive and challenging (and has a fab soundtrack). Mackintosh turns in a good performance, but lacks chemistry with Collette – as he often does with on-screen partners. But don’t let that put you off – this six-parter deserves at least some of your attention.

press ben chaplin david suchet

Newspapers at the mercy of a 24-hour news cycle and news breaking on social media first, not to mention the shame of past hacking scandals and facing an uncertain future. All these issues and more are explored in Press (Thurs, BBC1, 9pm), written by Doctor Foster’s Mike Bartlett. David Suchet leads a large ensemble cast of top names as the malodorous CEO of a newspaper empire that includes respected lefty broadsheet The Herald and downmarket tabloid The Post, which share a building. The Herald’s deputy editor Holly Evans (Charlotte Riley) is chasing a story about a hit and run and must ask The Post’s editor Duncan Allen (Ben Chaplin) for help, but rivalries and past conflicts mean she’s out of luck. It’s not 100% accurate about what really goes on newsrooms (as me and my colleagues agree), but it’s a solidly cast and written slab of prime-time drama for all that. Chaplin excels and Press is worth watching for him alone.

Factual

we are british jews bbc

With the years-long row about anti-Semitism in the Labour party showing no sign of abating, let’s hear it for We Are British Jews (Tues/Wed, BBC2, 9pm) , which features eight British Jews from a range of backgrounds, and with differing views, politics, religious affiliation and practices, and more – in short a good cross-section of Britain’s very diverse Jewish community. Obviously, a big topic they are discussing is anti-Semitism – not just in the Labour party, but in the wider society, where assaults, graffiti and worse are daily hazards for many visibly Jewish people. The group, some Zionist, some anti-Zionist, travel to Israel and the occupied territories to explore what the Jewish nation state means or represents to them, experience the realities of life there and meet Palestinians. It’s well put together and challenges group members to set aside their differing preconceptions and open their minds to each other and the Palestinians. (And, yes, there are only seven in the promo pic...) 

Artificial intelligence gets its own night on BB4, kicking off with The Joy of AI (Tues, BBC4, 9pm), in which Prof. Jim Al-Khalili looks at the progress we’ve made in imbuing machines with human capabilities. There’s a lot of discussion about bots and spam filters and other kinds of automation – driverless car, anyone? Passing the Turing test is a way off, it seems. The Horizon Guide to AI (Tues, BBC4, 10pm) takes an equally measured look at how AI has evolved by mining its rich archives of the last 50 years, followed by a repeat at 11pm of its 2017 programme on driverless cars.

ross kemp and armed police itv

Ross Kemp fronts a new ITV season on crime and punishment, starting with Ross Kemp and the Armed Police (Thurs, ITV, 9pm) – highly topical given that gun crime is rising sharply again and the police are also dealing with more terrorism-related incidents. Kemp embeds with the West Midlands police’s tactical firearms teams to see how they tackle gun crime on the streets and how tactics have changed since the London and Manchester terrorist attacks last year. He also meets a gun smuggler, young gang members who talk of the pressure to be armed and a mother whose teenage son was shot dead on the street. It’s comprehensive, although you feel it’s barely scratching the surface – an hour is not enough to cover everything in depth.

Music

A Friday double bill of world music on the BBC Proms looks promising. Prom 70: Tango Prom (Fri, BBC4, 7.30pm) celebrates the intensely sexual and sensual tango, from its origins in the bars of 1880s Buenos Aires, its 1950s revival via Ástor Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango and its staple status in modern ballroom dancing, to the unlikely Finnish tango tradition of the early 20th century. Grammy Award-winning pianist Pablo Ziegler heads an international array of musicians and singers playing compositions from traditional Argentine tango music to the big-band orchestral forces of the Britten Sinfonia. Plus world champion Argentine tango dancers (and former Strictly stars) Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone provide the visual treats.

youssou ndour proms 2018 bbc

Later in the evening, Prom 65a: Youssou N’Dour and Le Super Étoile de Dakar (Fri, BBC4, 11pm) showcases a largely acoustic performance by the Senegalese cultural icon Youssou N’Dour in his Proms debut. Rita Ray, who recently fronted a superb BBC series on African music, presents N’Dour in context before he takes to the stage with his band Le Super Étoile de Dakar to play his distinctive Mbalax music – an eclectic mix of Cuban rumba, hip hop, jazz, soul and music of the West African griot tradition – that has brought him superstardom.

Sport

Stage one of the eight-stage cycling Tour of Britain (Sun then daily, ITV4, 10.45am) launches in Pembrey Country Park, with the teams tackling a distance of 174.8 km over some rugged and steep terrain before landing in Newport. Stage five on Thursday features a 14km uphill team time trial in Cumbria, from Cockermouth to Whinlatter Forest Park. Britain’s Team Sky includes Chris Froome and current tour de France champion Geraint Thomas, full line-up to be confirmed the day before the event starts.

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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