Sunday, March 16
Live From Space: Lap Of The Planet
7.30pm, Channel 4
Dermot O'Leary? Oh, really? I mean… Dermot O'Leary? Apart from all the endless despicable television, I don't have a thing against Dermot O'Leary. But I still find it slightly depressing he's the man Channel 4 feels is the best fit to sit alongside guests like Stephen Hawking and host the Earthbound end of tonight's landmark TV event, the centrepiece of their short space season, beaming live into your front room from the International Space Station.
The thinking is partly, I guess, that, thanks to Big Brother, The X Factor and those dicey stints on This Morning, O'Leary is considered a safe pair of hands for a mindboggling, gazillion-dollar, two-and-a-half-hour live technical marvelextra-terrestrial broadcast that has been 20 months in the planning. So, you know: should the International Space Station suddenly break down crying or start screaming at the judges, O'Leary has the chops to handle the situation, put an arm around its shoulders and move us all swiftly along.
Really, though, the O'Leary factor tells us more about Channel 4's personality crisis. Channel 4 News has a good science editor in Tom Clarke, but god forbid they should use him: viewers might get the idea this was somehow something to do with news or science. In the current Channel 4 worldview, the ideal programme about space would be one in which space got drunk in the street and wound up snogging a bouncer in a toilet, or went on camera to reveal it has warts on its scrotum that are actually bigger than its testicles.
Failing space doing any of this, Channel 4 is O'Learying things up to emphasise the touchy-feely-interacty-ness of this mind-bending live broadcast. The space race used to have the whole world looking up and holding its breath. Those monumental rocket ships lit by spotlights on their launch pads in the distant Florida night, those small tin cans shot into hostile black eternity, it all used to have an awesome, terrifying, unclassifiable hum of strangeness, danger and difference.
Now they're trying to make it a little more warm and fuzzy, playing down the idea that space is not your friend. It's possibly the fault of Chris Hadfield, the brilliant Canadian astronaut with the wee 'tache, whose rendition of Space Oddity, recorded on the ISS last year, single-handedly rekindled wide public interest in mankind's continuing attempts to go boldly out there after decades of sheer indifference, by getting some YouTube hits.
Hadfield worked wonders in making people care again for half a second. But it was telling that his rendition of Bowie's Kubrick-inspired song left out the bits about alienation, psychosis and - especially - things going wrong and just floating off into the infinite frozen void alone and mad forever. Which, given where he was while he recorded it, is perhaps understandable. Tempting fate, and all of that. What's planned for tonight's programme is stunning. We will be live with astronauts aboard the ISS - people in space, man! - as they make a lap of our huge, tiny planet at 17,500 miles-per-hour, sharing those HD views of the blue Earth that, while not as exciting as the effects in Gravity, are still pretty amazing. Gravitas has gone out of fashion, sure. But is Dermot O'Leary really the way we want to do this stuff now? Imagine: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind, and now back to Terry Wogan in the studio…" It just doesn't have the same cosmic ring.
Monday, March 17
Considering Inside No. 9 has only just finished, and given how it refreshed memories of his track record of playing odd and creepy suburban killer-types for black laughs with The League Of Gentlemen and Psychoville, is this really the right week for Reece Shearsmith to star in a serious-minded drama about a real-life British killer, as he does in this three-part series on the crimes of Malcolm Webster? Personally, I think they could have done with holding it back a month, to give us space to readjust. Nevertheless, Shearsmith is very effective in a restrained but detailed and unsettling performance as Webster. When his wife, Claire (played by Sheridan Smith), confronted him about his spiralling debts, he began to drug her to keep her quiet, and finally killed her, staging a car accident to hide the murder. Three years later, with a new wife, and financial pressures mounting once more, he began revisiting that old plan again. It's written by Jeff Pope, who has been behind several of ITV's best true-crime jobs, including the recent Lucan.
Tuesday, March 18
9pm, BBC One
The concluding instalment of this satisfying and atmospheric two-part mystery, loosely adapted from Ann Cleeves's book Raven Black, starring Douglas Henshall as island cop DI Jimmy Perez. Following the discovery of the body of seven-year-old Catriona Bruce, found buried in peat 19 years after she went missing, a witch-hunt atmosphere is brewing, with the anger focussing on the hermit Magnus (Brian Cox). Evidence at the scene seems to implicate him in the old crime, and Perez is obliged to take him in, but despite the growing pressure, he remains reluctant about naming Magnus as a suspect in the murder of teenager Catherine Ross, and continues to try and piece together her final hours. It's a nicely judged guest performance from Cox, who could have overpowered the programme, but this is Henshall's show. Jimmy Perez will return in a new case next week...
Wednesday, March 19
10pm, BBC Two
Hugh Bonneville is back as Ian Fletcher, the Olympics "Head Of Deliverance" first seen in the spoof documentary series Twenty Twelve. In this four-part sequel, we follow Fletcher and colleague Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) as they take on a challenge as part of the management team at the BBC, with Fletcher serving as the Corporation's new Head Of Values, this week trying to firefight raging accusations of "institutional anti-Cornish bias". Fans of Twenty Twelve will find a lot to love, but while the earlier series was good fun, it was always just slightly too chummy with the target it was supposedly poking fun at to fully succeed as satire, particularly in the raging wake of The Thick Of It. Now we get to watch various BBC bods lining up to prove what good sports they are by "laughing at themselves". Hmm.
Thursday, March 20
Turks & Caicos
9pm, BBC Two
Here's a philosophical question: would it be possible to make a drama that begins with Christopher Walken trying to chat up Winona Ryder wholly boring? I put it to you that the answer is no, not wholly. Partly because of the amount of exotic flakes and fruitloops bobbing around in the cast, David Hare's self-consciously "classy" sequel to his incredibly boring 2011 spy story Page 8 isn't quite as tortuously dull as that white elephant, but, man, it still just drags along in a prissy huff as Hare refrains from dirtying his fingers with anything as lowbrow as action or entertainment, or anything as highbrow as complexity or ideas. Finds time to quote poetry, though. To accentuate the positive, however: Bill Nighy is fairly immaculate reprising his lead role as flittery MI5 man Johnny Worricker, now hiding out in the Caribbean, where he encounters Walken's slightly sinister American "businessman". The cast also features Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and, returning from Page 8, Ewen Bremner. Hare has threatened this will be a trilogy.
Friday, March 21
Sports Relief 2014
7pm, BBC One
The BBC's first big charity juggernaut of the year, coming live (apart from all the pre-recorded bits) from the Olympic Park in London. Gary Linekar and Sports Relief legend David Walliams host the first leg, which features the kick-off of the "Clash Of The Titans" event that will run across the evening, as John Bishop and Sebastian Coe captain two celebrity teams through a series of sporting challenges. Elsewhere, highlights include Paralympians David Clarke, Hannah Cockroft, Nathan Stephens and Martine Wright taking to the floor for a Strictly Come Dancing special and, at some point after 8.30pm, the brief return of Only Fools And Horses, as David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst reunite as Del Boy and Rodney for the first time in over a decade, for a new sketch that sees Beckham in Peckham. Meanwhile, Kylie Minogue, Andy Murray, Ian Fletcher (aka Hugh Bonneville) and "football managers telling jokes" are among the others doing their bit for a good cause.
Saturday, March 22
Inspector De Luca
9pm, BBC Four
BBC Four's European campaign has inspired other channels to experiment with foreign-language dramas too, but it's also had another effect. Once, Beeb Four's subtitles haven was the only life on a Saturday night beyond talent shows, but thanks to its cult success, broadcasters have remembered there's an audience out here begging for something to actually watch. Thus, on Saturday, we now have the current best show on TV, True Detective (9pm, Sky Atlantic), and the return of the excellent Cold War spy-soap, The Americans (STV, 9.20pm). What hope, then, for this latest crime import, especially on the ridiculous heels of Salamander? An Italian job, it has a tantilising premise: its set in 1938, in Mussolini's fascist Italy, adding an extra dimension to our cop De Luca's determination to investigate crimes no one else wants investigated, such as tonight's killing of a prostitute. The execution, though, is pretty routine - it drags a little, and the sun is too bright.