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TV: Damien Love reveals the best of this week's TV

Damien Love gives his verdict on TV Sunday May 25 - Saturday May 31

Sunday, May 25

Quirke

9pm, BBC Two

On paper, Quirke seems to have everything going for it. It's a crime drama that's also a period drama, thereby satisfying the top two criteria on the checklist headed "Things We Like Watching On A Sunday Night". It's based on a series of books by Benjamin Black, who, when you peel back the pen name, is really Booker-winning author John Banville. It comes adapted by Andrew Davies, the most dependable and incisive literary adapter of the past couple of decades. And - the capper - it stars the magnificent Gabriel Byrne, who would be interesting to watch just going down the street to buy himself a mango, here playing a brooding, slightly depressed, terminally unimpressed Irish loner who drinks too much.

So what's gone wrong? Why, instead of oozing dark class, does it deflate then just lie there flat, airless and faintly embarrassing?

Well, it's not Byrne's fault. He's good to go, and glides through, slightly itchy, even as the programme collapses under the weight of the gibberish relationships, stilted dialogue, claustrophobically unconvincing dress-up-box period reconstruction, sledgehammer music and sheer bad acting that surrounds him. He's Quirke, a surly pathologist in the sooty, screwed-up Dublin of the 1950s, with a spectacularly tangled family background: an orphan, he was adopted by a wealthy judge (Michael Gambon), whose other son hates him, partly because his wife loves him, even though he married her sister. Who died. And that's not the half of it.

In tonight's episode, the first of three, he grows suspicious when he discovers his resentful brother, Mal, a fellow doctor, nosing around his office at the hospital after hours one night. It becomes clear Mal has altered a young woman's death certificate; investigating, Quirke discovers a secret pregnancy that leads through layers of class, bigotry, repression and religion to a dubious backstreet mission, and from there over the ocean to Boston.

There's a potentially great, dense stew of pulp and history here, and really Quirke should play like a lush, shivering mix of Chinatown and The Magdalene Sisters. Instead, it sludges about like Call The Midwife playing Cluedo. The series might have breathed more had Davies adapted one novel across three hours, rather than a book-per-episode. As it is, the plot is condensed in manner that feels rushed yet padded. Tonight's shock villain is easily identified early, simply by employing the old 1970s American detective show technique: spot the star with the biggest name, given the least to do.

With that, and one other screamingly obvious twist out of the way, all there is to focus on is how clunky the drama is. Quirke doesn't have a first name, a literary conceit that can look foolish on screen: it simply begins to sound as though Davies has a bet on about how many times he can make someone say "Quirke".

More damaging is the fudgy matter of what age he's supposed to be. Women, from teenagers up, find Quirke generally irresistible, which is fair enough; an unscientific survey tells me that, at 64, Byrne still ticks that box for much of the female audience. But it's hard to avoid the suspicion that the character was conceived as closer to his early forties; hardest of all in a ludicrous late scene when Gambon (only nine years older than Byrne) shouts at his adopted son, "You're still a young man!"

If you like crime-busting pathologists without a first name, whose surname begins Q-U-I… stick with Quincy. Better theme tune, too.

Monday, May 26

Timeshift: Mods, Rockers And Bank Holiday Mayhem

9pm, BBC Four

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the spate of Mods versus Rockers confrontations that scandalised Britain (or, at least, British newspapers) in 1964: that string of rolling battles on the beaches, piers and promenades of the nation's seaside towns, most notoriously Brighton, as immortalised in The Who's Quadrophenia. With a fistful of great archive fleshed out by the memories, wardrobes and photo albums of aging rebels from both sides of the great mocker divide, this excellent little film explores how and why tensions between teddy boys in their twenties and teenage soul fans erupted so spectacularly, and what the police and local authorities did or didn't do to inflame things. But it also explores how the two sides had more in common than they knew. With conscription having ended in 1960, and the optimism captured by Harold Wilson's "White Heat of Technology" speech beginning to rise, they represented the first generation to reach their teenage years when peace, prosperity and wider freedoms were transforming what it meant to be young: the country's first true explosion of youth culture.

Tuesday, May 27

Welcome To Rio

9pm, BBC Four

Showing as part of the run up to the World Cup, there's a slightly bizarre, wrong-footing tone to this three-part documentary on Rio's favelas. Purring along on a slyly knowing narration, it's part cheery tourist brochure, part war zone slum documentary - and wholly fascinating. The teeming hillside shantytowns have long been synonymous with drug gangs, violence and poverty and treated as no-go zones by the police. But the people who live there have also come to value some aspects of the life that the favelas' "lawless" status have brought. With the "eyes of the world" turning toward Rio next month, however, the authorities commenced a programme of "pacification", sending forces in to root out gangs and tear down homes. Boasting some extraordinary footage, tonight's episode hears from residents of one of the first favelas to be "pacified", including Rocky, a deliveryman who spends his days carrying fridges, ovens and televisions through the maze of cramped, secret staircases. He's also got to handle his son Felipe, who's caught up in the battle between police and drug traffickers for control of the hill.

Wednesday, May 28

Mad Men

10pm, Sky Atlantic

It's been slow, mesmerising, magnificent - it's been Mad Men. Tonight, it gets maddening.

Not the programme itself, but the way they're making us watch it.

We've reached the final episode of the first half of the 'final series' meaning we now have to wait a whole year to watch the remaining seven final-final episodes.

To be honest, I'd rather have just waited until 2015 and been allowed to sink into the whole thing in one glorious chunk.

So where are we? So far, as well as charting Don Draper's inevitable, divisive return to his old agency, this series has been about families and ideas of family and how they crumble and survive; about creepy computers; about times changing; about sex and nothing and everything.

After weeks of watching the unfolding relationship between Don and Peggy grow strained like never before, it also, last week, delivered a lovely sequence that could have served as a closing scene for the entire Mad Men adventure, when the pair danced in the office to Frank Sinatra. But there's more.

Tonight: Don is troubled by a letter, Peggy considers a risky venture; and Roger receives a phone call.

Thursday, May 29

Meet The Police Commissioner

9pm, Channel 4

Tonight on Channel 4, it's toss up between this not-profile of Kent's mildly controversial Police And Crime Commissioner, Ann Barnes, or the beautifully titled, undoubtedly illuminating, empowering and heart-warming documentary that follows: My Granny The Escort (10pm). Although that one is clashing with The Man Who Ate Himself To Death over on Five at the same time. However, let's stick with Ann Barnes. She is neither a mature sex worker, and nor has she eaten herself to death, at least not yet, but she was voted in to work as the busybodying do-gooder liaison between the Kent force and the public in 2012. Since then, she's had a tempestuous time, most famously when her newly-appointed, 17-year-old Youth Crime Commissioner was forced to step down, after having behaved like a 17-year-old on Twitter. The film cocks a snoot at Barnes's style and her job, which is a bit like being an officious human dartboard. In her favour, though, she has never once been responsible for commissioning a TV programme called My Granny The Escort.

Friday, May 30

Storyville: Searching For Sugar Man

9pm, BBC Four

This music documentary, which became something of a phenomenon when it was released in 2012, makes its terrestrial TV premier at a sadly timely moment: its young Swedish director, Malik Bendjelloul, died earlier this month. It's the curious story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit-based singer-songwriter in the post-Dylan vein, who cut two albums of lightly psychedelic folk in the early-1970s, then, when no-one bought them, dropped off the radar, disappearing. Meanwhile, however, unbeknownst to him, something strange happened: in South Africa, people did start buying his records, by the hundreds of thousands, and he became a cult artist among the anti-apartheid movement. Constructed like a mystery, building to the big reveal, Bendjelloul's film explores the impact the oblivious Rodriguez had on lives a world away, and follows attempts by South African fans to sort fact from fiction, and track the elusive singer down again in the late 1990s - at which point an even more fascinating story emerges, about life and how it can drift. Shot on a shoestring, but layered and inventive, it's a poignant testament to Bendjelloul, who won an Oscar for it, his only film.

Saturday, May 31

The Americans

10.20pm, STV

Over the past three months, the second series of The Americans, sizzling with tension, ideas and chemistry, unfolding like a strange collaboration between Spielberg and Le Carré, has by some distance been the best thing on TV you don't have to pay for. And when you factor in the subscription channels, only Mad Men and True Detective really rate alongside it. At the same time, ITV has been almost squeamish about having an American hit, burying it away in the shadows the wrong side of prime-time on Saturdays, to the extent many people don't even know what it is. The treatment gets schizophrenic tonight, as the series draws to a close: on the one hand, they're giving it a splash, going out with a (fantastic) double-bill; on the other, it's a double-bill that ends after midnight. Anyway, it's great, tense, cat-and-mouse, bluff-and-double bluff stuff, as FBI man Stan stumbles deeper into KGB snares, while our Soviet heroes, Philip and Elizabeth, rush to try and save the teenage son of their fallen comrades from the killer who is steadily wiping out their network. True fans will adore one particular exchange between Martha and Clark: "How long have you known?" Season three is coming.

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