Two shows started last week in my absence. First, The Split (Tues, BBC1, 9pm) – Nicola Walker stars as divorce lawyer Hannah, who has quit the family firm – headed by mum Ruth and with sisters Nina and Rose – to work for a rival. Written by Abi Morgan (The Hour), who explores the family and professional tensions through Hannah’s eyes to near perfection. Aside from the expected client-poaching, Hannah’s dad turns up after walking out 30 years earlier to buy a paper and never return, and she’s engaging in some illicit flirtation with her long-time ex and colleague Christie, behind her husband’s back. With relationships at the core, Morgan has plenty of material to work with and her ear for natural and credible adult dialogue is reason alone to keep watching. Walker’s co-stars include Deborah Findlay, Anthony Head, Meera Syal, Stephen Mangan and Barry Atsma.
Also worth a look is Flight HS13 (Tues, C4, 11.05pm), a Dutch 10-part thriller that is also available as a box set on All4 right now. Liv and Simon are seemingly happily married, but Liv’s world disintegrates when surgeon Simon heads to Barcelona on a business trip. Flight HS13 crashes, killing everyone on board and Liv believes she is widowed. But then the passenger manifest is made public and it turns out Simon never boarded the plane – he left the airport with another woman. So where is he and why disappear? Liv, driven by suspicion and rage, sets on a global hunt to track him down and find out the truth behind his betrayal.
It seems a lot of us like a snort, according to Britain’s Cocaine Epidemic (Mon, Channel 5, 10pm). It’s a largely hidden issue as the drug is still associated with the wealthy and isn’t considered grubby enough, unlike heroin, to merit attention by the authorities. This three-part series dips into the lives of the ordinary people who take coke in the privacy of their home and those who make a living out of dealing it. Meet the people who get their gram delivered by the postie and the family who turn 9 kilos of the drug into 22 kilos by cutting it with glucose powder in their home before selling it on.
Disco was radical – a dance style that embraced kitsch and gay people and people of colour in its clubs, and was also a hotbed of activism alongside the hedonism. Some of that history is recounted in Jewel’s Catch One (from Tues, Netflix), Jewel Thais-Williams’ Californian nightclub that was once compared to New York’s legendary Studio 54. But where the latter was known chiefly for its celebrity customers and excesses, Catch One – a club for black lesbians – had a community that stood up against racism, sexism and homophobia. Netflix has a good line in topical documentaries and this doesn't disappoint - a salient slice of often-hidden gay social history.
There’s a lot of royal puff on the telly at the moment, in the runup to *that* wedding. Much of it is an awful hagiography that trawls archive footage and pulls in a few “royal experts” for less than insightful commentary. However, Prince Harry’s Story: Four Royal Weddings (Thurs, ITV, 9pm) is worth a look for its slightly different take. It charts his life from birth and a childhood cut short by the death of his mother, through his army career and charity work, up to his romance with Meghan Markle. And it’s all examined through the four weddings of the title: It will look at the weddings of Charles and Diana, Charles and Camilla, William and Kate and Harry’s own, plus Diana’s funeral.
Who’d have guessed Dizzy Gillespie had been a key player in US propaganda during the Cold War? All is revealed in The Jazz Ambassadors (Fri, BBC4, 9pm), for in 1955 African-American congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr asked Gillespie to join him in a mission to take American jazz to the communists to counteract the Soviet Union’s own propaganda – that America was racist. And so Gillespie organised a world tour, starting in Russia, of the US’s finest, racially diverse jazz outfits, with a revolving door of top players such as Dave Brubeck, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. They toured for a decade but back home the civil rights movement was growing and the musicians were under pressure to ally themselves with the protests. And this put paid to the US lie to the Soviets that there was no racial conflict in America. No previews were available of this PBS film, but it looks to be a cracking piece of social history.
If you were watching the excellent Civilisations series, which explored the history of art around the world, here’s a companion piece or two. Civilisations on Your Doorstep (Sat, BBC2, 9pm) sees Mary Beard in search of global treasures that can be viewed in the UK. It’s a wide-ranging selection of artworks, taking in statuary to furniture, and Beard looks at the controversial topic of empire plundering and whether works should be returned to their native countries. Civilisations Stories (Mon, BBC1, 7pm) explore the impact of the Romans, how shipping inspired artists and (again) empire acquisitions, among other things (content varies depends on your region).
The latest offering in the occasional Performance Live strand, features hip-hop artist, writer and activist Akala in Akala Presents the Ruins of Empire (Sat, BBC2, 10pm). He uses his assorted talents to deliver an epic poem that explores the rise and fall of empires, with a crew of actors and a score by musicians Mala and Paul Gladstone-Reid. Check out the animation sequence using Akala’s graphic novel-type drawings.
Art historian Janina Ramirez, who was in the just finished Art Lovers’ Guide series, pops up again in The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci (Wed, BBC4, 9pm), part of the BBC’s Art on the BBC strand which delves into the broadcaster’s archives to re-examine an artist. Ramirez uncovers six decades worth of archive programming and discovers not only a rare version of The Last Supper but also confers with other specialists such Andrew Graham-Dixon and Kenneth Clarke to reappraise da Vinci’s output and look at how much of it was brought to life on the TV.
Channel doubles up its sitcom offering on Fridays. First up is a welcome return of Friday Night Dinner (Fri, C4, 10pm), the gentle yet occasionally barbed, fly on the wall look at the Jewish Goodman family and their coming together around the Shabbat dinner table. In the first of six new episodes, Adamn and Jonny are horrified to find their parents have installed a hot tub in the back garden. It’s followed by High and Dry (Fri, C4, 10.30pm), written by and starring Marc Wootton as Brett, one of the most annoying people you could ever meet – a full-blown PITA and not the sort of person you want near you on a plane, especially when they are cabin crew. Unfortunately for the passengers, that plane crashes onto a desert island and Brett saves some of them. So now they are stuck with him. The opener is a little patchy but the premise is good, with its nod to Lord of the Flies.