Small-Screen Jabber 10 – 16 November

Drama

Ballad of buster scruggs

Originally envisaged as a six-part TV series by writers and directors Ethan and Joel Coen, the western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (from Fri, Netflix) has been recut as a film. Released in a truly tiny number of arthouse cinemas this week, with the aim of picking up gongs in the film awards season, Scruggs is nonetheless a TV event. Those six episodes are now six blackly comic Tarantino-style vignettes of life on the wild frontier. Tim Blake Nelson stars as Scruggs, a roaming musician and sharp-shooter in the first mini-story. Co-stars in the other five tales include Liam Neeson as a travelling impresario, James Franco as a cowboy, Tom Waits as a gold prospector, Tyne Daly as a lady passing judgement on a group of strangers and Zoe Kazan as a woman on a wagon train who finds an unlikely suitor. A mixed bag of tales, surprisingly minus longtime Coen collaborator Frances McDormand, and an entertaining way to pass two and a half hours.

Factual

inside the foreign office bbc2

After the fiasco of Boris Johnson’s embarrassing stint as foreign secretary, a three-part series explores how the UK attempts to manage its foreign relationships in Inside the Foreign Office (Thurs, BBC2, 9pm). The focus is on the civil service, headed by Sir Simon Macdonald, the permanent secretary, and how our diplomats deal with challenges and crises. Johnson was still in his job during filming so we see him being briefed on talking to his Russian counterpart regarding the bombing in Syria. And our ambassador to UN has to deal with hosting the British contingent when they arrive for the UN’s General Assembly week, plus negotiating with Myanmar regarding the Rohingya atrocity and working with human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney on a resolution to enable Islamic State fighters to be prosecuted anywhere in the world.

Current affairs

Stacey Dooley young homeless

Investigative reporter Stacey Dooley, currently wowing the nation on Strictly, resumes her day job with Stacey Dooley: the Young and Homeless (Tues, BBC1, 10.45pm). Homelessness is a rising scourge – not to mention scandal – in our wealthy nation. Dooley follows four teenagers over nine months as they try to find a safe roof over their head. Three are women who’ve fallen through the net and must navigate sleeping rough, squatting, staying in a hostel or being “fostered”. Josh, the only man featured here, has a job, but is forced to sofa-surf and try to save enough cash for a deposit to rent a flat. The shocking thing is, none of their stories are unusual. And that’s immensely sad.

Immigration: Who Do We Let In? (Thurs, ITV, 8pm) explores the government’s proposals for post-Brexit entry to the UK. There’s already talk of giving EU nationals “settled status” once freedom of movement ends, plus the idea of prioritising the highly skilled, rather than low-waged, low-value workers who come from Eastern Europe to do the menial jobs. Richard Bacon explores how this might play out after we leave. Will Brits be willing to pick crops, for example? Is there likely to be a shortage of NHS staff? (No and yes are my guesses.)

Music

the damned dont you wish that we were dead

As rockumentaries go, there’s a genuine poignancy to The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead (Sat, Sky Arts, 9pm), now getting a TV airing three years on from its limited cinema release. It’s a pretty comprehensive account of how they formed, rose and fell, to rise again, but Rat Scabies’ obvious pain at being ousted from the band he started, after a bust-up over royalties, is heart-breaking. Watching this, you want to bang all their heads together and tell them to just shake hands on it. There’s plenty of humour too, some great archive footage and many of their classic songs.

A marathon night of music documentaries on BBC4, with Vocal Giants and Beyond: Beverley Knight and James Morrison (Fri, BBC4, 8pm) first out of the blocks. The duo select their favourite vocalists who have influenced and inspired them. Their chosen heroes include Tina Turner, Steven Tyler, Eva Cassidy, Big Mama Thornton, Tom Jones, Prince, George Michael and Whitney Houston.

primal scream lost memphis tapes

That’s followed by Primal Scream: the Lost Memphis Tapes (Fri, BBC4, 9pm), which explores the band’s dissatisfaction with the final mix of their 1994 album Give Out But Don't Give Up. Bobby Gillespie discusses how he felt he had failed the fans – and himself – and left him questioning his judgement for years. But then guitarist Andrew Innes rediscovered the original mixes of the sessions recorded in Memphis with the legendary record producer Tom Dowd, and the duo returned to Ardent Studio to meet with some of the musicians who played on the album and remaster the tapes to produce the album they’d originally envisaged. Complete with archive footage from those sessions and interviews of key personnel, this is a fascinating slice of contemporary music history.

reggae fever david rodigan

Lastly, Reggae Fever: David Rodigan (Fri, BBC4, 10pm) covers the unlikely tale of the white broadcaster and DJ whose passion for Jamaican music was sparked as a teenager in the 60s. His subsequent career as a champion of reggae ensured his status as a national treasure for generations of British Jamaicans and all lovers of reggae music (Bob Marley personally chose Rodigan's show to air the world exclusive of Could You Be Loved), but it’s also a story about social change in the UK – immigration, integration and music's role within it. A celebration of the evolving sound of reggae and its ability to draw new audiences, it’s also a testament to the most unlikely of reggae aficionados. And it has an ace soundtrack.

Entertainment

liam bakes

Although he didn’t win last year, Liam Charles was the break-out star and viewers’ favourite in the Great British Bake Off. So it’s no surprise he’s been given his own series. Liam Bakes (Mon, C4, 8pm) sees the cheeky chappie bring his own freestyle approach to baking, complete with some cracking music and a frantic pace reminiscent of early Jamie Oliver. In the first of five episodes, Liam tackles a chocolate cake, cola-flavoured eclairs, cupcakes and salmon patties.

Sport

The ATP Finals (from Sun, BBC4, 8pm – then daily, BBC2, 2pm) mark the end of the tennis year. Only the top eight men who are fit enough to play will compete and it’s a mixed bag with legends like Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray missing. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will be in action though.

Remembrance 1918-2018

world war one ceramic poppies

As we come to the end of the centennial commemorations of the First World War, here’s the roundup for viewers. Huw Edwards presents the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance (Sat, BBC1, 8.30pm) at the Royal Albert Hall. Alongside the two military bands – Central Band of the RAF and Band of HM Royal Marines – are performances by Bryn Terfel, Tom Jones, Sheridan Smith, Tom Fletcher and Danny Jones, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and the Kingdom Choir. David Dimbleby anchors the live coverage in Whitehall for World War One Remembered: the Cenotaph (Sun, BBC1, 10am) – the laying of the wreaths, military procession and, of course, two minutes silence at 11am.

The documentary They Shall Not Grow Old (Sun, BBC2, 9.30pm), directed by Peter Jackson, uses archive footage from the Imperial War Museum and the BBC to bring the conflict to life. And the iconic ceramic poppies, first installed at the Tower of London four years ago, are celebrated in Britain’s Poppies: the First World War Remembered (Sun, ITV, 9.30pm). Sean Bean narrates the story of how the poppies travelled around the UK for smaller exhibitions.

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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