Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag – filthy, frank, fearless, funny and fabulous – was the surprise breakout hit sitcom of 2016. Now she’s adapted Luke Jennings’ Villanelle series of novels into edgy thriller Killing Eve (Sat, BBC1, 9.15pm). Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is a psychopathic contract killer who engages in a high stakes game of cat and mouse with MI5 operative Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh). Polastri is protecting the sole witness to the assassination of a Russian politician in Vienna and is on the hunt for Villanelle, who in turn is on the hunt for the witness, who was the victim’s girlfriend. The two women become increasingly obsessed with each other, in what is a witty and subversive upending of the Bond-style spy genre. The supporting cast includes The Bridge’s Kim Bodnia as Villanelle’s handler, who sends her assignments by coded postcard, and Fiona Shaw as a high-ranking M16 officer. It’s already been nominated for an Emmy after first airing on BBC America and after this opening episode, all eight episodes will be available on iPlayer as well as continuing on Saturdays.
Mental health and how to fix it with a pill is the premise behind Maniac (from Fri, Netflix), which stars Hollywood royalty Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as two strangers who join a pharmaceutical trial that promises to mend broken minds. Annie’s (Stone) dysfunctional family relationships affect how she engages with others, while Owen (Hill) has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Bio-chemist Dr James Mantleray (Justin Theroux) claims the three-day trial can solve their problems permanently, with no side-effects. A black comedy drama, it’s trippy – episodes feature interesting, ahem, set pieces with hallucinations, parodies of popular films and even puppets (similar to the more out there sections of 1980s sitcom The Young Ones). Adapted from a Norwegian show, also called Maniac and broadcast in 2014, the supporting cast includes Sally Field and Gabriel Byrne.
Channel 5 isn’t really where you might expect one of the BBC’s top travelogue stars to pop up, but here we have Michael Palin in North Korea (Thurs, Channel 5, 9pm), and he clearly manages to do far more than his opening comment about hoping to just observe. The “hermit nation”, a deeply secretive dictatorship, has surprisingly given Palin and crew more access than you’d expect. And, unsurprisingly, it’s nothing like the west – there are no cars on the roads, no TV, no billboards, few mobile phones or access to the internet. The two-parter sees Palin reveal what daily life is like for ordinary North Koreans as he traverses 1,300 miles, plus there are astonishing buildings to gape at, breathtaking landscapes and a sense that the country is on the cusp of change.
Among the nominees for the Mercury Prize Live: Album of the Year (Thurs, BBC4, 9pm) are Noel Gallagher, Lily Allen, Arctic Monkeys, Jorja Smith and Wolf Alice, Sons of Kemet, Nadine Shah, Everything Everything, King Krule and Florence Welch. The prestigious prize is never without some controversy attached to it, usually to do with surprise nominations and grumbles about who was left off the shortlist. This year’s ceremony comes live from the Hammersmith Apollo and Annie Mac is MC.
House, rave, techno… dance is the most popular pop music on earth and Can You Feel It: How Dance Music Conquered the World (Fri, BBC4, 10pm) examines its trajectory over the next three weeks. DJs are now superstars and clubbing exists the world over, as everyone wants to get their groove on, and dance music fills the charts and invades TV programmes. Episode one looks at how the 4/4 beat emerged from 70s disco and then evolved through remix culture, house, techno, acid house and now EDM. Top DJs Pete Tong and David Guetta contribute, alongside disco legends Nicky Siano and Tom Moulton, house pioneers Marshall Jefferson, Farley 'Jackmaster' Funk and Steve 'Silk' Hurley, and techno inventors Juan Atkins, Kevin Sanderson and Derrick May.
The origins of Tate Liverpool were not just about sending some art from the national collection into the provinces, there were sound political reasons too. Tate Liverpool at 30 (Sun, BBC4, 8.30pm) examines how the political unrest of the 80s – riots and strikes and Thatcher trying to abandon Liverpool to its own fate – led to the decision to open the Tate outpost in 1988. Michael Heseltine opposed Thatcher’s stance and determined to solve the city’s problems – part of thart response was the gallery. Liverpudlian comedian Alexei Sayle meets Heseltine to assess the impact on the city of the gallery’s opening.
The top American TV shows of the past year will be recognised in the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards (Tues, Sky 1, 10pm). Netflix has picked up a staggering 112 nominations, outdoing HBO, which has dominated for the last 17 years and still picked up a healthy 108 nominations. Nominees for the Outstanding Drama gong include The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown and Game of Thrones. Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Matthew Rhys (The Americans) are both tipped to win Outstanding Lead Actor (female/male).
Sitcom pilot Defending the Guilty (Wed, BBC2, 10pm) sits firmly in the observational genre – the humour of gentle recognition, a la Rev, rather than belly-clutching guffaws. Will Sharpe stars as trainee barrister Will Packham, a starry-eyed idealist who wants to put the world to rights and gets frustrated when his clients are all found guilty. His boss at the chambers, Caroline (Katherine Parkinson), is an infantilised child-woman who calls herself Mummy and has little respect for her pupil. It’s a slow burner, but as a full series is already in the works give it a go and wait for that, when it should hopefully be a little meatier.