Small-Screen Jabber 4-10 August


Taxi Tales

Middlesbrough is the setting for Taxi Tales (Fri, BBC2, 11.05pm), a series of short vignettes about three very different cabbies. One is a young British-Pakistani entrepreneur who epitomises the enterprising immigrant, one is a former builder and one has been in the job for years but now hates it. Their life stories reveal the underbelly of life in a post-industrial northern town and translate into a wider examination of the state of the nation. Part of the Performance Live strand, and first performed by Tamasha Theatre, it stars three local taxi drivers from Middlesbrough and has a supporting cast of Tees Valley locals, none of whom are actors.


saving poundstretcher

There’s a critical look at our declining high streets in Saving Poundstretcher (Mon, C4, 9pm), a three-part examination of how one of Britain’s oldest and biggest discount stores tries to stop going under. You know retailers are in trouble when even a chain of pound shops is struggling to survive. Aziz Tayub, Poundstretcher’s owner, calls in discounting expert Chris Edwards, who once owned rival Poundland, to try and turn things around. Edwards soon spots where the problems lie and forces Tayub and his sons to face reality. A compelling watch, although sadly Poundstretcher shut its doors a few weeks ago.

High-rise living has a bad name since Grenfell Tower burned down a year ago, but Tower Block Kids (Mon, Channel 5, 9pm) looks at the issues outside the risk of fire. This two-part documentary eavesdrops on three families living in high-rise flats and coping with cramped rooms, antisocial behaviour and crime on the estates and lack of choices when you have a low income, all seen through the eyes of the children. Not having access to green space is disappointing for animal-crazy brothers Drew and Blake, Jordan has to share a room with her sister and struggles to revise for her exams, and one young lad talks of his fears of living in another Grenfell.

jupiter revealed

Science series Horizon examines the largest planet in the solar system in Jupiter Revealed (Tues, BBC2, 9pm). Scott Bolton, head of the NASA mission Juno, explains why they sent the spacecraft there – to look beyond the planet’s cloudy atmosphere to examine its deepest secrets. It’s a planet of extremes – more than twice as heavy as all the other planets combined, lightning a thousand times more powerful than Earth’s and hurricanes that could swallow us whole. Juno, according to Bolton, is “an armoured tank” that uses gravity itself to map Jupiter and is probing for water, while astonishing experiments in the US indicate that Jupiter may contain liquid metallic hydrogen. Exciting stuff. Toby Jones narrates.


The BBC Prom to catch this week is Prom 35: New York: Sound of a City (Fri, BBC4, 11pm), which celebrates the music of a modern New York. Conductor Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra perform new compositions by some of the Big Apple’s rising stars – the set list covers everything from pagan-gospel and disco-punk to feminist rap and DIY indie. Also featured are some classic works by established acts that have changed the city’s soundscape. Performers include folkie rocker Sharon Van Etten, popster Serpentwithfeet and nu-dance act Hercules & Love Affair.


Sally Phillips narrates a bold, inspiring and insightful profile of the late feminist fantasy novelist Angela Carter – Angela Carter: of Wolves and Women (Sat, BBC2, 9pm). Carter’s stories reworked traditional fairy tales from a woman’s point of view, exploring dark themes of desire, defiance and gender fluidity in magical settings. Her sparkling, witty prose influenced many new writers. This film looks at Carter’s fabulously unconventional life – her love affairs, her politics, her refusal to kow-tow to the literary establishment – features Hattie Morahan as the young Angela reading extracts from unpublished letters and diaries, and is visually thrilling. Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson are among those talking about the importance of Carter’s work, while Maureen Lipman, Kelly MacDonald and Laura Fraser read selected passages from her novels.


hang ups

Stephen Mangan stars as therapist Richard Pitt in Hang Ups (Wed, C4, 10pm), a UK remake of Lisa Kudrow’s Emmy-nominated series Web Therapy. Pitt has had a chequered professional career, one that is now at risk of imploding – until he hits on offering online counselling to his patients through his webcam, instead of the traditional 50-minute face-to-face sessions therapists conduct. Not that it’s easy – his past keeps haunting him, his wife Karen (Katherine Parkinson) and kids keep interrupting his sessions, his dad (Charles Dance) never misses a chance to have a go at him and that’s before he’s helped his clients get to grips with their sometimes bizarre neuroses and issues. Part of its appeal is the A-list cameo appearances as Pitt’s patients – the cast includes Richard E. Grant, Jessica Hynes, David Tennant, Celia Imrie, Paul Ritter, Monica Dolan and David Bradley.


The multi-event European Championships continues for the next week (from Sat, BBC1/2, from 9am) features athletics, cycling, gymnastics, swimming and more. Around 4,500 athletes, many of whom are household names, are competing in Berlin (track and field) and Glasgow (everything else). Coverage of this inaugural competition is anchored by Hazel Irvine and you can find additional streams on the red button.

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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