Small-Screen Jabber 12-18 May


patrick melrose benedict cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch has cornered himself a niche market playing upper-cut drug addicts (hello, Sherlock!) and here he is again, the eponymous anti-hero Patrick Melrose (Sun, Sky Atlantic, 9pm). Melrose is the lead character in five of Edward St Aubyn’s novels, and the five episodes of this series each tackle one book. Melrose is apparently based on St Aubyn’s own dysfunctional life and Cumberbatch plays the role effortlessly as the louche English aristocrat despatched to New York to bring home the remains of his recently deceased father. The temptations of smack in the Big Apple lure him into the depths of addiction, piling on the misery in what was already an unhappy life, and triggering an existential crisis. It’s not all gloom – Cumberbatch has a script to play with that is full of wit and entertaining gaffes to lighten the serious core.


David Collins (Lee Ingleby, with a nifty goatee) has served seven years in jail for murdering his wife Tara, before winning an appeal on a forensics technicality, and he is determined to prove he is Innocent (Mon-Thurs, ITV, 9pm). His sister-in-law Alice (Hermione Norris) hates him and took on parenting David’s children – she and her husband Rob also got David’s estate so enjoy a nice lifestyle. Now he has to find the real killer and also get custody of the kids, and of course Alice isn’t happy. Ingleby is always watchable and turns in a performance of huge subtlety in this taut and highly compelling thriller written by Chris Lang (Unforgotten) and Matt Arlidge (Mistresses), who crank up the tension beautifully as inconsistencies in the evidence against David emerge.


Two of the UK’s finest black actors double up as cool, street-smart police buddies in Bulletproof (Tues, Sky One, 9pm) – Ashley Walters as ambitious family man Pike, whose father was a decorated officer, and Noel Clarke as the volatile Bishop, who grew up in care. They are best mates, despite their different backgrounds, and share a moral code. The pair’s patch is the East End of London, where they hunt for hardened criminals on the mean streets in a six-part series that is action-packed, witty, full of emotional truths and great acting. Clarke and Walters have terrific chemistry on screen and this very British take on US cop shows is highly entertaining.


A quick nod to both Elon Musk and Blake’s 7 for Missions (Thurs, BBC4, 9pm), a French space-race series in which two rival crews of astronauts, each funded by an eccentric billionaire, race to be the first to land on Mars. It’s low rent, and shows – don’t expect the high budget production values of the Star Trek franchise. That said, it’s quite entertaining if you like your sci-fi to have a space mission attached. In French and Russian, subtitled.

Current affairs

myanmar killing fields

Two almost back-to-back documentaries on the genocide of the Rohingya people. First, Burma with Simon Reeve (Sun, BBC2, 9pm) is a two-parter in which the travel journalist returns to the country to examine the aftermath. He meets some of the displaced victims who escaped being killed, and some of the nationalist Buddhist monks who were involved in triggering this humanitarian crisis. Myanmar’s Killing Fields (Mon, C4, 10.20pm) is even harder hitting. Filmed over five years by the Rohingya themselves, the mobile footage reveals in hideous detail the barbarity meted out to Myanmar’s Muslim population, from repression to mass killings. This Dispatches documentary also examines why leader Aung San Suu Kyi has turned a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing.


There’s a distinctly Welsh flavour to this week’s Later Live… with Jools Holland (Tues, BBC2, 10pm). Cardiff is represented by singer-songwriter Gwenno and indie rockers Boy Azooga, while the boys from Blackwood, the Manic Street Preachers headline and showcase tracks from their new album. Watch out for Devon’s Ben Howard and Canadian chanteuse Melissa Laveaux.


As the five-year renovation is well underway, cameras have been allowed in to examine The Secret Life of the Royal Academy (Sat, BBC2, 9pm). The Academy has never been short of controversy, but there’s no doubt it plays a huge role in promoting art to ordinary people and encouraging young artists. The building work, like the RA, has proved controversial, as the film shows. We also get to eavesdrop on a sumptuous banquet for the academicians, peek at the basement location of the post-grad school and see the preparations for the annual summer exhibition, as the RA attempts to balance tradition with the need to remain contemporary as it reaches its 250th birthday.

Looking at the lists of nominees for this year’s British Academy Television Awards (Sun, BBC1, 8pm) is a reminder of the ever-rising quality of TV as a medium. The top nomination for drama is The Crown, but it faces stiff competition from Line of Duty and Peaky Blinders, which both surpassed previous series, and The End of the F**king World. Sean Bean’s damaged priest in Broken surely deserves the best male actor gong, while I suspect Claire Foy and Thandie Newton will be the two front runners for best female. TV commentator John Motson gets this year’s special award for services to sports broadcasting. Sue Perkins hosts the show from the Royal Albert Hall.


eurovision 2018 SuRie performs Storm

It’s camp, it’s cheesy, it’s the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final (Sat, BBC1, 8pm). Live from Lisbon, the UK will be singing 9th, of 26 entries. Our entrant SuRie has a decent chance of scoring points with her song Storm – an EDM stonker, with thudding Eurobeats and the sort of anthemic lyrics that go down a, er, storm at Eurovision. Mind you, it’s probably too hopeful for a win – our last trophy was in 1997 (Katrina and the Waves' Love Shine a Light, since you’re asking). Tune in for the kitsch costumes and Graham Norton’s deliciously bitchy commentary, and don't forget to drink! every time someone says douze points..

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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