Small-Screen Jabber 15 – 21 December

Show of the week

springsteen broadway with poster

After a sellout two-month stint on Broadway, extended to a sellout year, for those who couldn’t get there or couldn’t afford it, someone had the wit to film Springsteen on Broadway (from Sat, Netflix) and thank goodness. Springsteen is renowned for playing gigs up to four hours long, so it’s no surprise this film clocks in at 2hrs 40mins. Recorded over two nights last July, it’s just the Boss on his own, in the most intimate setting of the smallish 975-seat Walter Kerr theatre just off Broadway. In among the songs, Springsteen reminisces about his life and career, and is joined on a couple of numbers by Patti Scialfa, E Street Band member and Bruce’s wife. Warm, witty and honest, this is the Boss like you’ve never seen him on stage before. Totally unmissable.

Drama

death on the tyne

Johnny Vegas and Sian Gibson reprise their roles as tour operators Terry and Gemma from Murder on the Blackpool Express. In Death on the Tyne (Sat, Gold, 9pm) the pair are running a cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam for a group of friends from a care home. The passengers keep dropping like flies and not from on-board food poisoning – Terry reckons they’re dealing with another serial killer. It’s no Agatha Christie (you’ll have to wait until Boxing Day for that), but it’s a jolly romp with plenty of warmth and cheesy gags. Co-stars include Sue Johnston as a sharp-tongued passenger, James Fleet as the ship’s captain and Doon MacKichan as the onboard entertainment. Real-life cruise singer Jane McDonald pops in for a cameo too.

the long song

Andrea Levy’s award-winning novel about slavery in 19th century Jamaica comes to life in The Long Song (Tues-Thurs, BBC1, 9pm). Slave Kitty works in the fields of the Amity sugar plantation, which is owned by John Howarth and his monstrous sister Caroline (Hayley Atwell), and brutality is rife. Kitty gives birth to a daughter, July (Tamara Lawrence). A few years later, Caroline takes July for herself to train as her personal maid in their mansion. In her teens, the spirited July scores a few minor rebellious wins over her mistress, but when slavery is abolished her world is turned upside down. With uprisings across Jamaica, July wonders what her future will hold. The cast, which includes Lenny Henry as fellow slave Godfrey, are terrific, and the script doesn’t shy away from depicting the cruelty of slavery (see also the brilliant remake of Roots, which is currently a boxset on iPlayer).

Factual

Mark Kermodes Christmas Cinema Secrets

If you enjoyed Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema earlier this year, which entertainingly and intelligently unpicked five different film genres (and is back on iPlayer as a boxset), then tune in for Mark Kermode’s Christmas Cinema Secrets (Thurs, BBC4, 9pm). This is as accessible as the acclaimed first series and Kermode reveals the filming techniques and storytelling secrets of what makes a great Christmas movie, whether it’s a horror, a farce, all-action or feelgood. Illustrating his points with plenty of clips – from Hollywood blockbusters to indie gems and classics – Kermode shows how the most successful ones not only tap into the Christmas spirit but also offer something transcending. Naturally, he looks at It’s A Wonderful Life, and he also argues why Die Hard is a Christmas film. It is. It really is.

Music

fleetwood mac musical history

Fleetwood Mac are one of the great survivor bands of rock music. Now more than 50 years old, the members have lasted through bust-ups, breakups, divorces, reinventions, drugs and global stardom. Radio presenter and fan Edith Bowman narrates Fleetwood Mac: a Musical History (Fri, BBC4, 8pm), looking at the defining elements of their career – 100m records sold, of which around half were of their chart-busting 1977 album Rumours, the extraordinary songwriting talent and ability to move with the times. She’s joined by more famous fans – KT Tunstall, Fran Healy of Travis, Toyah Willcox, music writer Sian Pattenden and academic Emma Dabiri – who celebrate why they love the band and play some of their finest tracks. No band members, alas, but some great archive clips.

So many great stars lost this year, probably the most since 2016 - a year bookended by the deaths of David Bowie and George Michael, in between we mourned Prince, Leonard Cohen and Greg Lake. This year's roll call includes the astoundingly talented Aretha Franklin, The Fall's legendary curmudgeon and frontman Mark E Smith, Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries and Chas Hodges of Chas and Dave fame. They are all celebrated in Music Legends We Lost in 2018 (Fri, Sky Arts, 9pm). Also featured are African star Hugh Masekela and Swedish DJ Avicii.

Culture

Novelist Andrea Levy, famed for Small Island and author of The Long Song, which is dramatised this week (see above) gets the Imagine… (Wed, BBC1, 10.45pm) treatment this week. She talks to Alan Yentob about growing up as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants in north London and how questions of identity and family history have inspired her novels, many of which are semi-biographical. From a council flat to creative writing classes that uncovered her talent, she reflects also on the transformative power of literature.

Comedy

ellen degeneres relatable

Sitcom star Ellen DeGeneres makes her return to standup in a special show called Relatable (from Tues, Netflix). She’s on sparkling good form too – wisecracking about her coming out, loss of her sitcom Ellen and studio bosses telling her there’s no room for lesbians on daytime TV. She also has a hefty pop at Americans who insist on flying with “emotional support animals” and talks about the downsides of being kind. Filmed in Seattle, she is spiky and warm, and in a confessional mood. Welcome back!

Christmas food

If you’re in need of inspiration or cooking tips for the Christmas holiday, Mary Berry’s Christmas Party (Mon, BBC1, 8.30pm) should see you right. She’s got good advice on the perfect roasties, some vegetarian ideas for the big day’s main course and a couple of puddings of the sort you want to plunge your face into. Her guests include newscaster Huw Edwards and Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson.

Jamies quick and easy Christmas

Or you could turn to the cheeky chappie of cheffery for Jamie’s Quick and Easy Christmas (Wed, C4, 8pm). Oliver’s tips for a decent gravy include adding a lot of port. A lot. He’s also on a “just five ingredients” roll right now, so as well as instructions for a perfect turkey he’s got lots of tricks for jazzing up side dishes and what looks like a seriously tasty way to do stuffing.

Sport

This year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year (Sun, BBC1, 7pm) is likely to feature our world cup squad big time after the terrific showing they put on in Russia in the summer. Don’t be surprised if Harry Kane lifts that trophy. The other contenders include… who knows? For the first time the BBC will only reveal who they are on the night. So there might not be Harry Kane. Except there probably will be. Clare Balding, Gabby Logan and Gary Lineker host live from the Birmingham Arena.

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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