Small-Screen Jabber 14-20 April


salamander blood diamonds

Cast your mind back to 2013 as you may have watched Belgian cop thriller Salamander (Sat, BBC4, 9pm), in which Chief Inspector Paul Gerardi was investigating high-level corruption. Gerardi (Filip Peeters) is back in a new 12-episode adventure dubbed Blood Diamonds. African refugee Léon Tchité, who had fought political corruption in his homeland, has been found murdered in Brussels. The suspect, Bernard Mercier, is a white man who was seriously injured in a police car chase and is also a member of the Salamander cabal from series one. But then Mercier himself is murdered in his hospital bed by someone impersonating a nurse and Gerardi finds himself again on a quest to break up Salamander and clear Belgium of political corruption.

the alienist netflix

Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist (from Friday, Netflix), set in 1986 New York, the so-called Gilded Age, has been adapted for TV. Dr Laszlo Kreisler (Daniel Brühl) plays a psychologist who works with convicted criminals in the mental institutions. Police Commissioner Teddy Rooseveldt (Brian Geraghty) is investigating the hideous murder of a 13-year-old boy, who has been disembowelled and sexually mutilated. He brings Kreisler on board in what is an early attempt at forensic psychology and the pair soon suspect they are dealing with a serial killer who is murdering boy sex workers. They also have to contend with the city authorities trying to hush up the gruesome killings. This period drama has not only a top-notch cast and a high budget, but is also in the style of Netflix’s Mindhunter documentaries.

True Horror

The stark Brecon Beacons in south Wales have often been used for filming dramas, or setting a story there and True Horror (Thurs, C4, 10pm) is a new occasional series of drama-docs that Channel 4 will be screening over the year. Hellfire is the first, starring Amy Morgan and Adam Leese as a couple and their kids move into a seemingly idyllic farmhouse there. Soon things start to unravel – their electricity bill rockets, animals die, things move around the house, artist dad Bill finds his paintings no longer sell and wife Liz is forced to call on the local vicar for help. There is a good mix of dramatised scenes of the chilling events among the testimony to camera – the tension ratchets up nicely as the creepiness increases, and you’ll probably end up watching it through your fingers.


As her reign is surely drawing to a close, our monarch embarks on her legacy project of creating a national park in each of the 53 Commonwealth countries she heads, the so-called Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. The cameras, accompanied by veteran naturalist David Attenborough, shadow the queen in The Queen’s Green Planet (Mon, ITV, 9pm) as her project slowly comes to life. The two nonagenarians talk frankly while they stroll around the back garden at Buckingham palace, in perhaps her most revealing stint yet in front of the cameras. There are cameos from Harry (not with Meghan), William and Angelina Jolie.

Stephen murder changed nation2

Twenty-five years ago, 18-year-old student Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death at a bus stop in an unprovoked attack by a gang of racist youths. It was a murder that shocked the nation, not least for the incompetent police investigation that was tainted by the Met’s own institutional racism, including their failure to arrest suspects whose names were being freely touted in public. Stephen: The Murder That Changed a Nation (Tues-Thurs, BBC1, 9pm) examines the failings of the police, which led to a government review of police practices and the justice system. Asif Kapadia, who made the films Amy and Senna, also profiles the gentle, talented teenager who dreamed of being an architect.

Current affairs

real winnie mandela2

First aired in 2010, The Real Winnie Mandela (Wed, BBC4, 9pm) is being shown again to mark the recent death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. She was both “mother of the nation” during the struggle against apartheid and while husband Nelson was president afterwards, and a controversial, even divisive figure connected to township murders and crime during Nelson’s long incarceration. This is a thoughtful profile – compiled from decades of BBC archive interviews and footage, interviews with leading British and South African journalists – that explores the struggle to bring genuine democracy to South Africa, Winnie’s role in it and the sacrifices she made, and her relationship with Nelson (and subsequent divorce).


buena vista social club

BBC4 is having a Latin night on Friday, with a screening of acclaimed documentary Buena Vista Social Club (9pm), about Ry Cooder and his work with Cuban jazz musicians. It’s followed by Latin Music USA (10.40pm) – a four-part documentary on the influence of Latin music on American culture, kicking off with a look at the breakthrough into the mainstream of Carlos Santana at the Woodstock festival in 1969. Lastly, the Arena film My Name is Celia Cruz (11.40pm) profiles the Cuban salsa queen. All repeats and all very worthwhile.


A tiny handful of ultra-wealthy philanthropist families are also serious collectors of art. Gettys: the World’s Richest Art Collectors (Sat, BBC2, 9pm) takes a look at how they have spent their billions accumulating art and helping others. What makes this interesting is that it’s not a press cuttings job, but an in-depth documentary in which members of the Getty dynasty speak frankly about their art collecting and philanthropy, while also touching on some of the tragedies they have had to contend with (John  Paul Getty III was kidnapped in 1973 aged 16 and had his ear cut off by his captors).

Tate Britains Great Art Walks

Billy Connolly explores the works of artist Stanley Spencer, accompanied by art historian Gus Casely-Hayford, in Tate Britain’s Great Art Walks (Tues, Sky Arts, 9pm). The pair meander through and around Cookham in Berkshire, where Spencer lived and painted the life of the village. These rural works – often depicting his family and lovers – are charmingly accessible, but he’s also acclaimed for his series of paintings of the shipbuilders on Glasgow’s Clydeside. Connolly is drawn to these because of his own early start as a welder there, and his comments on the profundity of life and death resonate well in this context.


Home From Home

Johnny Vegas made a pilot of Home from Home (Fri, BBC1, 9.30pm) back in 2016, and now he’s been given a six-episode series of this fish-out-of-water sitcom. Vegas stars as dad Neil, a motorway services newsagent who has moved his family into a lodge in the Lake View park in the Lake District in a bid for a better life. But they reckoned without their snobbish neighbours, the Dillons – stylish, moneyed, successful and sophisticated. This is a gentle, observational comedy rather than the 10 crude gags a minute Vegas often opts for – lots of polite digs at class conflict. Emilia Fox is a fabulous foil for grafter Neil as the snooty Penny.


It’s the final day of the annual National Hunt meeting at Aintree, culminating in the Grand National (Sat, ITV, from 2pm) – the most famous steeplechase in the world. The big race starts at 5.15, so you’ve plenty of time to lay bets – Total Recall is beuing tipped to win by the racing pundits, but the bookies’ joint favourites as I write this are Anibale and Blaklion.

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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