Small-Screen Jabber 2-8 July

Note: Schedules continue to be heavily disrupted this week on BBC1 and ITV depending on which Euro 2016 matches get shown. Likewise, Wimbledon is likely to push some BBC programmes off the slate if important matches run late.


You know something’s got a nudge-nudge Carry On flavour when the title is the punning Brief Encounters (Mon, ITV, 9pm), a six-part comedy drama about women selling saucy knickers and sex toys. Cleaner Steph’s husband is made redundant and to pay the bills she decides to be a sales rep for Ann Summers, running lingerie parties – Avon style – in women’s homes, to her husband’s fury. Set in Sheffield in the 1980s, when Ann Summers was still seen as under the counter rather than the mainstream high street brand it is today, it is – despite being laden with lumbering jokes about marital aids – a rather touching tale of female friendship and overcoming adversity. Sophie Rundell plays Steph, Penelope Wilton co-stars as her boss at the cleaning company and there’s a cracking 80s soundtrack.


small screen jabber 2 july serena williams embedTennis superstar Serena Williams is profiled in Serena (Sun, BBC2, 10.30pm) as she seeks her seventh Wimbledon title, a feat that would put her on an equal footing with Steffi Graf, at 22 slam titles each. As the world’s biggest female athlete she continues to break records, as well as being a role model for women and black people, a fashion icon and designer, and a talented businesswoman. This documentary follows her 2015-16 tour schedule and she talks frankly about the pressures of being at the pinnacle of her sport as well the other sides to her life. Wu Zetian is China’s Forgotten Emperor (Sun, C4, 8pm), and no wonder – she was the country’s only female head of state, who rose to power from being a teenage concubine. She ruled in the 7th century and has generally been depicted as tyrannical and cold-blooded. However, this documentary aims to set the record straight as new facts about Wu’s reign emerge, suggesting she was in fact shrewd and skilled at expanding China’s dominance.

Professor Brian Cox’s latest science series is Forces of Nature (Mon, BBC1, 9pm), a four-part wide-ranging exploration of why things on Earth are as they are, thanks to its underlying laws of shapes and gravity. He looks at why planets are spherical, how the Earth’s landscapes were created by forces such volcanoes and ice, and how the humble bee is the source of a mathematical rule. Cox is a master at making complex subjects accessible to ordinary people and he’s entertaining in the process.


“Imagine no possessions” sang John Lennon. And there’s the premise of Life Stripped Bare (Tues, C4, 9pm). A bunch of people volunteer to give up all their stuff for three weeks and this is what happens. We humans are very good at acquiring things and filling our homes with clutter, but while this show is being described as an experiment and they (and we) will doubtless learn some truths about divesting ourselves from the material, in typical Channel 4 style they have to give up clothes too and can only reclaim one item a day. So at a stroke there’s the cue for nudity – lots of it, which is why I’m classing it as entertainment – it smacks of a gimmick overall.


small screen jabber 2 july dionne warwick embedThe Stone Roses, hot on the heels of their sellout tour, are headlining the first night of T in the Park (Fri, BBC4, 10.35pm), but rights issues mean the BBC won’t be showing their set. The rest of the main stage’s bill at Scotland’s biggest music festival includes Disclosure, the Courteeners, James Morrison and Fun Lovin’ Criminals and there will be highlights from each of their performances. Edith Bowman introduces the evening. Earlier in the evening a raft of stars line up to deliver their cover versions in ...Sings Stevie Wonder (Fri, BBC4, 9pm). Although it’s a new show, it’s actually a compilation of BBC clips featuring the likes of Ed Sheeran, Cilla Black, Dionne Warwick, the Osmonds and Art Garfunkel among others. Wonder’s songs are so musically complex that many artists have failed to do them justice. Sheeran’s version of Master Blaster (Jammin’), which pays tribute to the late Bob Marley, in a hookup with Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra is a revelation and worth tuning in for that alone.


Euro 2016 (Sat onwards, BBC1/ITV, times vary) moves into the last stages, with the quarter and semi finals this week. With England out, it’s down to Wales to uphold national honour. Confirmed matches so far are Germany v Italy QF (Sat, BBC1, 7.30pm), France v Iceland QF (Sun, ITV, 7.15pm) and Portugal v Wales SF (Thurs, channel TBC, 7.30pm). The semi-finals are on Wednesday and Thursday, channels to be confirmed. The Tour de France (Sat, ITV4, 11am, then daily from 1pm) launches this weekend, with the Grand Départ in Normandy, and 188km run from Mont Saint Michel to Utah Beach, scene of the historic D-Day landings. The teams will enjoy this relatively flat section as most of the rest of this year’s route is hilly and will favour climbers. Britain’s Chris Froome is a hot favourite to win the maillot jaune this year. It’s also Week 2 of Wimbledon (Sat, BBC1/2, from 11am, then daily from 11.30am). Andy Murray has had a good start, but Britain’s no. 1 Jo Konta crashed out in the second round. Rain has hampered the schedule all week – watch out for an announcement of only the fourth ever People’s Sunday. If that happens, Sunday’s BBC programmes will also be cleared to make way for tennis.

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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