Small-Screen Jabber 28 October – 3 November

Drama

inspector george gently

George Gently’s investigation into a cold case about a murdered secretary amid the whiff of political corruption, the last ever in the intelligent period crime drama, was pulled last May as its broadcast date was deemed too close to the snap general election. Happily, the final case for Inspector George Gently (Mon, BBC1, 8.30pm) is at last being aired. It’s 1974 and Gently (Martin Shaw) is on the trail of a handsome, charismatic Labour MP who is angling for a cabinet job but whose womanising puts him in the frame for murder. DS Bacchus is also investigating a killing – of a man caught up in a violent brawl on a picket line. Could the two cases be linked? Dark forces are certainly involved and it’s touch and go if Gently (Martin Shaw) will make it into retirement.

end of fucking world

Somehow, The End of the F***ing World (All4 boxset, now) slipped past my radar last week when the first episode aired on Channel 4. This dark, violent and comic road trip tale is based on Charles Forsman’s acclaimed comic books and stars Alex Lawther as James and Jessica Barden as Alyssa, two teenage outcasts who set out in a stolen car to find Alyssa’s estranged dad after connecting at school. James has psychopathic traits and wants to kill bigger things than small pets. Alyssa suffers from existential angst, and pent-up anger. Their trip is as much about self-discovery, but they soon get embroiled in murder and two police officers are despatched to track them down. Behind the nihilistic violence is a tale of two damaged and vulnerable kids clinging to each other’s wreckage. Tender, touching and challenging.

alias grace

Novelist Margaret Atwood is hot property for TV adaptations right now. We’ve only just finished reeling from the dystopian horrors of The Handmaid’s Tale and here comes Alias Grace (Netflix, from Fri), based on true events in 19th century Canada. Sarah Gadon stars as domestic servant Grace Marks, convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper, and sentenced to life imprisonment. A Dr Simon Jordan is researching criminal behaviour and believes Grace was suffering from hysteria, as she claims to have no recollection of the killings. Jordan (Edward Holcroft) attempts to determine if she is a genuine amnesiac or if she is indeed a cold-hearted killer. It’s dark, gothic, violent and very watchable.

Factual

blue planet 2 david attenborough

David Attenborough’s new series, Blue Planet II (Sun, BBC1, 8pm), hit the headlines earlier this week when it was revealed that some scenes had been shot in a studio rather than the wild (because some things can only be filmed safely under controlled conditions, such as the extraordinary footage of bleached coral, which had to be filmed with special lighting). The unveiling of our ocean life over seven episodes includes some spectacular stuff – grouper fish that use sign language to communicate, cuttlefish hypnotising their prey – but also the heart-breaking pollution of the seas through our overuse of plastic and the damage it wreaks on wildlife. Hard to believe it’s already 16 years since the first series was shown. This one is just as thrilling.

Mental ill-health is soaring in the UK, as a glance at the media almost weekly reveals new statistics and the latest issues. With gonzo doctor Michael Mosley fronting the team, this week’s Trust Me, I’m a Doctor: Mental Health Special (Wed, BBC2, 9pm) can’t do masses in just an hour but it covers an awful lot of territory, from exercising to beat stress and depression, the importance of laughter, to improving your sleep and diet. They also look at how social media damages self-esteem and why switching off Instagram and Facebook is healthy.

Music

After a brief cinema release last year to mark the 40th anniversary of punk, Phil Strongman’s Anarchy: the McLaren-Westwood Gang (Sat, Sky Arts, 9pm) has made it to the small screen. The focus is on Malcolm McLaren – erstwhile manager of the Sex Pistols, troublemaker, boutique owner and Situationist – and annoyingly not much at all on his then-sidekick, the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, who was as much engaged in the invention of punk as he. The result is bitty and there’s too much archive footage versus contemporary filming, but nonetheless it’s an interesting delve into mid-70s Britain and the grey, drab frustrations that led to an explosion of energetic artistry and music, with a side order of anarchist theory. With contributions from the Clash, Bow Wow Wow, Adam Ant, Boy George, Don Letts and Tony Wilson.

harry styles at bbc

Robbie Williams proved you can survive being in a boy band and become a respected solo artist. Harry Styles at the BBC (Thurs, BBC1, 8pm) looks at how the One Direction heart throb and fashion icon is making his own transition to credible solo singer and actor (his debut was in Dunkirk earlier this year). Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw interviews him and Styles plays some of his actually rather good tracks from his new ambitious rock album in front of a studio audience.

Culture

spielberg sky atlantic hbo

Susan Lacy’s film Spielberg (Sun, Sky Atlantic, 9pm) lifts the lid on one of the most acclaimed film directors ever, tracing his career from his suburban childhood and early love of the movies, learning to make his own films in his teens to his first features in the 70s to global stardom with his first big hit, Jaws, and a zillion Oscars. It’s lengthy, at 150 minutes, but packs plenty in. Not only does Spielberg open up, but there are interviews with his family and many actors who have worked with him. Lacy looks at how building his DreamWorks company enabled him to conquer TV and also produce films for other directors. Among contemporaries appearing are Francis Coppola, Brian de Palma, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett.

Entertainment

harry potter

With a Potter exhibition opening at the British Library, Harry Potter: a History of Magic (Sat, BBC2, 9pm) opens up the world of Hogwarts and beyond to viewers. Writer JK Rowling fronts this entertaining whizz through centuries of actual magic and sorcery, looking at ancient Chinese spells, Elizabethan plants used to make people invisible (!) and alchemy. As she explains, it was such things that inspired her to create the universe inhabited by Harry Potter, his friends and Lord Voldemort. and Potter actors such as Warwick Davis and Miriam Margolyes read from the books, to add some spooky atmosphere.

I do like cooks who take a well-aimed pop at the clean eating brigade, because all the other food simply isn’t dirty, it’s just food. Nigella Lawson’s new six-part series, Nigella: At My Table (Mon, BBC2, 8.30pm) shows her using a spiralizer not to make the ghastly courgetti but – shoestring fries! She had me at that even before the Turkish eggs and long-forgotten desserts that deserve a dusting off. The recipes are good, actually – they look easy (and are) and are the sort of thing you’d dish up for friends or family. The famous innuendo is still there. More of an irritation is her Martha Stewart style fussiness with tea lights and twee decorations. If you can look past that, the food is inspiring.

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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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