Small-Screen Jabber 28 July – 3 August


age before beauty bbc1

Dysfunctional families are the lifeblood of TV drama, and on paper two dysfunctional families and a beauty salon doesn’t sound enticing. Then again Age Before Beauty (Tues, BBC1, 9pm) is written by Debbie Horsfield, whose credits include Making Out, Cutting It and the current iteration of Poldark, and she brings her wit and ear for great dialogue to the Manchester-set six-parter. Bel and Wesley find their marriage is shaky now their children have all left home, so her best friend Teddy asks her to help save his family business – said flatlining beauty salon. To complicate things, Teddy is not only married to Bel’s sister Leanne, he’s secretly in love with Bel. You can see where this is going… Age Before Beauty has all the rest of Horsfield’s trademarks too – tough but vulnerable northern women, an ensemble cast that includes Robson Green, Polly Walker and Sue Johnston, and a darkness that belies the surface cheer and bravado of the characters.


Boxer Freddie Mills was found shot dead in the back of his car in 1956 and his killer was never brought to justice. Murder in Soho: Who Killed Freddie Mills? (Wed, BBC4, 9pm) attempts to answer the question. The coroner declared Mills’ death a suicide but his family are still trying to overturn that verdict – this film uncovers some disturbing links to organised crime, the Krays and a string of brutal unsolved murders that were not dissimilar to Mills’ death. The documentary draws on a wealth of private home movies of Mills, who was described as Britain's first sporting celebrity, a man who had risen from humble beginnings, then someone comes forward to claim he was involved in Mills’ death. Could this be the evidence Mills’ family but have been hunting for all these years.  

meet the drug lords

Former special forces soldier Jason “Foxy” Fox hangs out with the kind of lowlifes he used to hunt down for a living, in Meet the Drug Lords: Inside the Real Narcos (Thurs, C4, 9pm), working his way through South America – unarmed – to film this extraordinary series. Fox’s aim is to show how the billion-dollar cartels operate and continue to evade the law, meeting all the perpetrators, from the bosses to the traffickers, via the narcotics growers and the cartel foot soldiers. The series opens in Mexico, one of the world’s worst countries for drugs and its related violence and misery – Fox films the Sinaloa Cartel’s opium fields and the “armies” who control the Golden Triangle, before landing in Acapulco, where a turf war is underway and he witnesses the aftermath of a brutal murder, the victim’s dismembered corpse displayed for all to see as a warning.


reginald d hunter songs of border2

In Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the Border (Sat, BBC2, 9pm) the standup takes a trip along the length of the US-Mexico border to explore the shared culture of Mexicans and Texans that is underpinned by music. It’s a poignant journey along the so-called “iron curtain” – the 2,000-mile border already has a 650-mile chain link fence, with no-go zones either side, delineating how the separation of music, and food and shared identity, across the divide hurts both Americans and Mexicans. Mexican styles of music such as cumbio and conjunto pop up in the quintessential Tex-Mex sound. Hunter – engaging and engaged – looks at how the region is depicted as both dangerous and a romantic place of escape through the sounds of Ry Cooder and the Drifters. In reality, Tex-Mex is often topical – immigration and drug smuggling, unsurprisingly. Musical contributions come from Lyle Lovett, Los Tucanes de TijuanaCalexico, Carrie Rodriguez, Asleep at the Wheel, Los Texmaniacs, Eva Ybarra and even Mexican rapper Cecy B. (Held over from two weeks ago because of Wimbledon.)

Two Proms on Friday to catch. First, Prom 27: Folk Music from Britain and Ireland (Fri, BBC4, 8pm) features the BBC concert orchestra live from the Royal Albert Hall and celebrates the cream of folk, with performances by The Unthanks, Alaw, Julie Fowlis, Jariath Henderson and Sam Lee. Later, Prom 23: Havana Meets Kingston (Fri, BBC4, 11pm) was filmed at the Albert Hall in July and celebrates some explosive collaborations between Jamaica and Cuba’s current musical stars, curated by Australian dancehall producer Mista Savona. The genres of roots reggae and dub mix effortlessly with salsa and rumba rhythms in a truly engaging performance.


whoever heard of Black Artist

One day, artists will just be called artists, and not defined by their skin colour, but until that day Whoever Heard of a Black Artist: Britain’s Hidden Art History (Mon, BBC4, 9pm) explores why so few BAME creatives are in the public eye. Presenter Brenda Emmanaus meets Sonia Boyce as she curates an exhibition of black artistic works at Manchester Art Gallery. Together they explore how black and Asian asrtists helped shaped British art, from artists from the Windrush generation via the 1960s black counterculture to the present day, and interview prominent black artists who are exhibiting.


dads army

Get stuck into a nostalgia fest on Dad’s Army Night (Sat, BBC2, from 4.35pm). Dad’s Army is now 50 years old. Some classic episodes are scattered among some regular programming, but watch out for Don’t Panic! The Dad’s Army Story (4.35pm), a lovely tribute show fronted by the late Victoria Wood, and We’re Doomed: the Dad’s Army Story (7.30pm), a dramatisation of writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s struggle to convince the BBC to commission their idea. Paul Ritter and Richard Dormer star as Perry and Croft, among a cast littered with top names.


Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown

The late chef, writer and presenter Anthony Bourdain made 11 Emmy-winning foodie travelogue series for CNN after hanging up his kitchen whites. The first eight seasons of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (available now on Netflix) have been rereleased on Netflix. Bourdain is witty, insightful and deeply respectful, with a healthy dose of his own cockiness, as he explores many countries that would be inaccessible at this level without CNN behind him. With the quality off these shows, Bourdain knocks spots off virtually all other travelogue presenters – what a terrible loss his death is.

Too light-hearted to be classed as current affairs, nonetheless Travels in Trumpland with Ed Balls (Sun, BBC2, 9pm) makes some serious points as former Labour minister Ed Balls works his across the USA meeting Trump’s electorate in an attempt to portray why they voted for him. Balls naturally brings his own political insights to the fore but he given he danced “Gangnam Style” on Strictly Come Dancing two years ago and is seen here in a lycra leotard (my eyes!) as he hangs out with a bunch of wrestlers in the Deep South, it’s hard to take this three-parter too seriously.


Day one of Test Cricket (Wed, Sky Cricket, 10am) comes from Edgbaston this week, with England v India in a five match series. India are currently the top test team in the world, and England are up against it, having lost eight of their nine previous matches.

The multi-event European Championships (from Fri, BBC1/2, from 9am) features athletics, cycling, gymnastics, swimming and more over the next 11 days, with some 4,500 athletes competing in Berlin (track and field) and Glasgow (everything else). This inaugural contest features many household names and if successful could become an annual event.

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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