Small-Screen Jabber 8 – 14 December

Drama

love alexander zeldin

There’s a return to the Performance Live format the BBC has experimented with over the past couple of years with Love (Sat, BBC2, 10pm). It’s highly topical work from Alexander Zeldin, who’s currently on a stint as artist-in-residence at the National Theatre, as he tackles the emotive subject of hidden homelessness at Christmas. Elderly Barbara and her middle-aged son Colin have been in temporary accommodation for a year, sharing cramped living space and feeling the strain. Then Dean and pregnant Emma arrive, their baby due any day now. Zeldin’s play focuses sharply on the frustrations everyone feels at having to make do when all they want is a proper home, and how the slightest thing can stoke tensions and trigger furious rows among the residents. The central performers are excellent in this indictment of an ever-leakier welfare net.

care sheridan smith alison steadman

And so to the second polemical play of the week. Writer Jimmy McGovern specialises in delivering knockout punches to the burning injustices in our society and never more so when sticking it to the authorities. So when he takes on the big issue of our times – social care – best get ready with a box of Kleenex and a readiness to kick your council’s arse. Sheridan Smith plays single parent Jenny in Care (Sun, BBC1, 9pm). She works, thanks to her mum Mary (Alison Steadman, in a masterclass performance) looking after her two kids. But Mary collapses with a stroke that leaves her in a wheelchair, unable to manage for herself, barely able to speak and with the onset of dementia. Jenny’s life is turned upside down as she’s forced to leave her job to care for Mary and they spiral downwards into poverty and the gaps in social care. It’s angry and passionate, a searing indictment of austerity and how it destroys families.

a very english scandal2

If you missed A Very English Scandal (Mon/Tues, BBC4, 10pm) first time round last May, shame on you. But Hugh Grant’s foray into TV for the first time in two decades and in a proper meaty role is getting a welcome early rerun. Grant plays Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe, party leader, closeted gay and soon to go on trial for conspiracy to murder his former lover Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw). After a messy break-up, he tries to keep Scott a secret to protect his career but his lover threatens to go public. Then Scott’s dog is shot dead in what appears to be a botched attempt to assassinate him. Having finally ditched a career built on charming but flimsy rom-coms, Grant doesn’t disappoint in what may be a career-defining role – he turns in a perfectly tuned performance as the charming, powerful and increasingly desperate politician. He has great chemistry with Whishaw, who is equally delightful as the troubled lover who refuses to be shut up and go away. This is an all-star production – written by Russell T Davies and directed by Stephen Frears, the cast includes Monica Dolan, Jason Watkins, Eve Myles, Alex Jennings and David Bamber.

Factual

the clinton affair

Bill Clinton’s eight years as US president were beset with scandals, the most notorious being his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which threatened to unravel his political career and led to an impeachment hearing. The Clinton Affair (Sat, History, 9pm) examines the domino chain of events over six meticulously detailed episodes starting with the suicide of White House Counsel Vince Foster and a claim of sexual harassment by Paula Jones, a state employee in Arkansas. Lewinsky herself, who retreated from public view after she was forced to testify before a grand jury, appears here to provide her own frank account of events, tinged with some hindsight. Renowned documentary maker Alex Gibney is executive producer.

netflix the innocent man2

Legal thriller writer John Grisham stars in The Innocent Man (from Fri, Netflix), a documentary based on his only non-fiction book of the same title that investigates two notorious murders in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma in the 1980s, a place that turns out to be loaded with secrets and lies. The man in the title was a minor league baseball player who was convicted of raping and murdering a woman in 1988, but later turned out to have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. This Making a Murderer-style film re-examines all the evidence and looks at shocking new evidence that questions whether the right men were charged, or if the killer is still at large.

Music

fairytale of new york2

A festive repeat from 2007, The Story of Fairytale of New York (Fri, BBC4, 11.30pm) is a documentary about the making of what for many people is the definitive Christmas song. Tune in to discover how the Pogues teamed up with Kirsty McColl to create this 30-year-old classic. Eleven years ago, all eight members of The Pogues returned to the studio where they recorded it with Steve Lillywhite, who was McColl’s husband, to discuss how they made it. Also revealed is the background to the video, which nearly saw the band arrested until cameo star Matt Dillon stepped in. Nick Cave and Jools Holland contribute, while Richard E. Grant narrates.

Comedy

billy connolly ultimate world tour

The Big Yin announced his retirement from live performance a few days ago, but here’s a treat – the one-off special Billy Connolly’s Ultimate World Tour (Thurs, ITV, 9pm). The legendary standup, now 76 and living with Parkinson’s, takes a trip round Florida, where he’s lived for the last 25 years. It’s an entertaining ride around the state – Billy in his classic red convertible, reminiscing about his travels and some of the gigs he did on his global tours. Here he goes fishing on salt flats, tries food in the local bars and restaurants, meets a crocodile wrangler, sails on the Everglades and samples Miami’s unique culture. He also looks back on his early life as a welder in Glasgow, where it all began.

Entertainment

Greg Davies hosts this year’s Royal Variety Performance (Tues, ITV, 7.30pm) and he’s compering a strong lineup of entertainers at the London Palladium. Highlights include Take That, Rick Astley, George Ezra, and Andrea Bocelli and his son Matteo; performances from West End musicals, Hamilton and Tina – The Tina Turner Musical; Rhod Gilbert, Rose Matafeo and Rory Bremner; Circque du Soleil and Circus 1903. Harry and Meghan represent The Firm.

 

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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