Small-Screen Jabber 18-24 February

Drama

SS GB 2017 bbc embedWhat if the Nazis had won the Battle of Britain? And what if they then invaded us and we were all under Hitler’s rule? That is the premise of SS-GB (Sun, BBC1, 9pm), a terrifically faithful adaptation of Len Deighton’s alt-history thriller with cinematic production values and a noirish script by James Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. So, it’s 1941 and Detective Douglas Archer (Sam Riley) of the Metropolitan police is investigating the murder of a black marketeer. When he learns that glamorous American journalist Barbara Barga (Kate Bosworth) was seen at the crime scene he realises that this is not a straightforward case at all. Archer, like all maverick cops, is morally compromised and soon becomes involved in both a deadly plot and a tug of war between the Resistance and the Gestapo, who both want him on their side. There is pace, shadow and light, and disturbingly spooky visuals, such as the Houses of Parliament draped in swastika banners, that serve to remind us that this could have been our destiny. My drama of the week.

Ten years ago, a real-life drug trial went catastrophically wrong when half a dozen fit and healthy young men voluntarily took a promising new leukaemia drug and reacted adversely within an hour. The story is played out in drama-doc The Drug Trial: Emergency at the Hospital (Tues, BBC2, 9pm) –the volunteers experienced soaring temperatures, vomiting, organ failure and severe bodily swelling, and doctors raced to save their lives. It’s a shocking tale that features candid personal testimony from doctors who had no knowledge of how things had gone so badly wrong and so struggled to bring the clinical catastrophe under control, plus a look at the aftermath. Prepare to be gripped in this thought-provoking dramatisation.

swinger embedThe complex world of open relationships is explored in intense Dutch drama The Swingers (Thurs, C4, 10pm), which is part of Channel 4’s Walter Presents foreign drama strand. Happily married couple Eva and Peter are expecting their first child and moving into a new home in a quiet Amsterdam suburb. Tragedy strikes when Eva gives birth prematurely and the baby dies. Their new neighbours, Rebecca and Steef, offer support and friendship as they grieve, but as their friendship deepens and they have a foursome, things take a dark turn – with jealousy, secrets aired and boundaries crossed, with fatal consequences. It’s not quite Fatal Attraction and you won’t see any steamy scenes until episode two, but it’s a passable thriller. All eight episodes air only All4 after the opener. In Dutch with English subtitles.

Factual

With dementia one of the biggest health issues for older people, David Baddiel’s timely and highly personal exploration of the condition, The Trouble with Dad (Mon, C4, 9pm) is both funny and heartbreaking. Dad is Colin Baddiel, 82 and struggling with Pick’s disease, a frontal lobe disorder rather different to Alzheimer’s. Pick’s is exaggerating his personality in inappropriate ways – always sweary, he’s now peppering every sentence with abusive expletives, and freely propositioning women for sex. David and brother Ivor talk frankly about the difficulties of caring for someone with dementia, but Colin is the star here because he lights up the screen – he’s disinhibited, lively and engaged even though he barely recognises his sons.

Current affairs

Broadcaster Trevor Philips steps into a highly controversial topic in Has Political Correctness Gone Mad? (Thurs, C4, 9pm) – minorities. Phillips starts from the premise that liberalism has gone too far when it comes to protecting them from being offended and no one gets off unscathed – feminists, trans activists, ethnic groups... His claim is that the benchmark for a healthy democracy is that it allows the airing of different opinions – a test that we seem in danger of failing when university students have “no platform” policies and “safe spaces”. This provocative film has a crappy title but some of what he has to say seems a no-brainer – that Farage and Trump found popularity because the liberal elite stopped listening to an electorate that is now angry and making itself heard. Phillips argues that no one has the right to be offended and we should start learning to live with offence if society is to progress.

Music

tom waits cracked jukebox embedOoh, here’s a treat – the rather reclusive (these days) and highly esteemed Tom Waits is getting a very long overdue profile in Tom Waits: Tales from a Cracked Jukebox (Sun, BBC4, 9pm). The pioneering singer-songwriter with the smoke-roughened, whisky-inflected voice has never hit the mainstream, but moved effortlessly from barfly romantic balladeer to junkyard jazzmeister while being covered by everyone. Absolutely everyone. This documentary draws richly upon rare archive footage and recordings, interviews, and contributions from Marianne Faithfull, Ute Lemper and Guy Garvey to paint a portrait of Waits and his alternative American songbook.

Some seriously big stars are nominated for gongs at this year’s Brit Awards (Wed, ITV, 7.30pm), which normally celebrates the predictable and (occasionally) dull. David Bowie has two posthumous nominations for British Male Solo Artist and Mastercard Album of the Year and Leonard Cohen gets his first nomination for International Male Solo Artist. Other artists hoping to collect trophies include Beyoncé and sister Solange Knowles, Skepta, Little Mix, Rihanna, Coldplay, Tinie Tempah and The 1975. Dermot O’Leary and Emma Willis are hosts, with live performances from Katy Perry, Robbie Williams, Emeli Sandé, Little Mix, Skepta, Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars. 

Culture

imagine saadawi bbc embedEgyptian novelist, activist and feminist Nawal El Saadawi is profiled in the first of a new series of Imagine... (Tues, BBC1, 10.45pm). Now 85, she takes presenter Alan Yentob back to her birthplace and talks about her life as an artist and agitator – she’s won many literary awards and been a tireless campaigner against female genital mutilation. In this frank interview, El Saadawi is as outspoken as ever, sparky and fearless as she reveals why she continues to fight for just causes.

Sport

Mo Farah will be leading the pack at the Athletics: Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix (Sat, BBC1, 1.15pm). It’s his second athletics appearance in the UK since he became Sir last month, as he’s now based in the US and the Trump travel ban may affect his future races. Also appearing are Laura Muir (who will attempt to break Kelly Holmes’ 1000m record), Dinah Asher-Smith (going head to head with Jamaican star Elaine Thompson) and Holly Bradshaw (facing down Katerina Stefanidi). The action is live from the Barclaycard Arena, with coverage anchored by Gabby Logan.

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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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