Small-Screen Jabber 29 July – 4 August

Drama

man in orange shirt embedThe 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality is throwing up some splendid dramas (like last week’s Against the Law). Man in an Orange Shirt (Mon, BBC2, 9pm) is a two-parter that explores two very different, but linked, gay love stories, one set in the past and one modern. This week’s is set in the febrile closing months of World War Two, when demobbed soldier Michael meets war artist Thomas in 1944 and they begin a romance. The pair manage to snatch a secretive but happy break together in a country cottage. Michael, however, has a fiancée, Flora, waiting for him so his brief love affair must end in order for an unhappy marriage to begin. Thomas grieves for his lover and embarks on a series of dangerous public hook-ups to compensate. Oliver Jackson-Cohen and James McArdle play the star-crossed couple, while Joanna Vanderham and Vanessa Redgrave play the heartbroken Flora young and old.  

queers ben whishaw bbc4Mark Gatiss directs, and writes some of the episodes of, Queers (Mon-Thurs, BBC4, 10pm), a series of eight 20-minute monologues covering gay life down the decades. These mini dramas feature some top talent – Ben Whishaw, Russell Tovey, Rebecca Front and Alan Cumming, and the stories range from a 17-year-old lad arriving in London just as the age of consent is lowered, a 1950s housewife discussing her lavender marriage, a man remembering how he survived the Blitz in an unlikely refuge, a transgender man nursing a secret and a nervous groom preparing to marry his husband-to-be. The writing on these sketches is taut, with well-drawn characters, and a deftness of touch that sits well alongside the dry humour.

New online only: Kelsey Grammer heads the cast of The Last Tycoon (Amazon Prime) as a Hollywood studio mogul. It’s a golden era for Tinseltown, but also marked by darkness on the global stage – the Great Depression is damaging the American economy and in Europe the Nazis are on the rise. Glamour and grubbiness in one. The Norwegian Young and Promising (Walter Presents on All4) is about three young women from Oslo trying to make their dreams come true as they move into adulthood. As a comedy drama, it’s a Scandi version of Lena Dunham’s Girls.

Music

The rise of the world’s two biggest rap stars – Jay-Z and Kanye West – is explored in Public Enemies: Jay-Z v Kanye (Mon, C4, 10pm). They both have a compelling rags to riches story, told through exclusive interviews by those close to them and using previously unseen archive footage. The pair were friends before a massive bust-up that has seen them sniping at each other ever since. What marks this out as more than just a profile job is the eye it casts over issues such as celebrity, race and wealth and how these are changing the face of America today.

Culture

mapplethorpe look at picture embedBBC2 has a double bill on gay art as part of the BBC’s gay season marking the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Queer as Art (Sat, BBC2, 9pm) celebrates the massive contribution that the LBGTQ community has made to the arts in the UK over the last half-century. It’s an eclectic show that features Stephen Fry, Anthony Sher, David Hockney, Sandi Toksvig, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and many more, and while it’s light-hearted in tone it’s definitely not lightweight in content – pop culture and TV dominate this retrospective and it’s clear that we would be hugely diminished culturally without gay creativity. Imagine... Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (Sat, BBC2, 10.45pm) is a two-hour in-depth examination of the lifework of the controversial and groundbreaking American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey explore Mapplethorpe’s private life as he came out and began pushing boundaries with his camera, and why his photography is viewed as both high art and pornography.

Sport

Thousands of cyclists will be hitting the capital’s street for this year’s Cycling: RideLondon (Sun, BBC1, from 11am). The 100-mile route heads out into leafy Surrey and back. Now that the event has UCI World Tour status there will be a separate race for the pros in the afternoon, which will feature many world-class winners.

The capital hosts 10 days of track and field events when the World Athletic Championships (Fri, BBC1, 7pm) comes to the London Stadium, the biggest sporting event since the London 2012 Olympics. Usain Bolt, Mo Farah (who will shortly be retiring from athletics), Greg Rutherford and Laura Muir will all be launching their campaigns on this opening night. Gabby Logan anchors the coverage.

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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