Damien Love reveals the best of TV April 13 - April 19
Sunday, April 13
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The Crimson Field
9pm, BBC One
The First World War is still going on, damn the thing, the music is still raging and the sheer, bloody, overwhelming worthiness of it all just shows no sign of abating. Caught in the middle with only nice sunrises, pensive expressions, personal troubles and the beastly sexism of the menfolk for comfort, our noble nurses throw themselves into their work. As the hospital prepares for a new convoy of the wounded, Kitty Carealot (Oona Chaplin) finds two particularly interesting cases among the thousands of bandaged extras, both suffering from critical cases of Thought-Provoking Messages For All Of Us. Never forget: they fought and died that we might slump comatose in front of mediocre dramas such as this on a Sunday night.
Monday, April 14
Game Of Thrones
9pm, Sky Atlantic
The mere idea that devoted Thrones fans would ever miss a single episode of the series is, of course, preposterous. But all the same: some episodes are created more unmissable than others, and this, gentle traveller, is one of them. It begins in dim and gruesome fashion, as we catch up with what has become of Theon Greyjoy and his hideous torturer since last we saw them. But the real feast comes when the programme turns its attentions southward, to happy King's Landing and the long-awaited wedding of everyone's favourite weakling sadist pervert suckling insane boy king, joltin' Joffrey Eminem Baratheon. As the day unfolds, there's the sheer pleasure of getting to watch another scene of Diana Rigg and Charles Dance being sniffy with each other. And then the entertainments truly begin... A game changer.
Tuesday, April 15
Later… With Jools Holland
Tuesday, 10pm and Friday 11pm, BBC Two
Later only started in 1992, and yet has already been running for 44 years. Well, okay: 44 series, but you know what I mean. It can sometimes feel as if it's dragging on forever in its blurry Friday night groove of Dad's-had-a-bottle-too-many-friendly bands. All the same, for better and worse, it remains the best music programme we have. When it works, there's not another show of its type to touch it. In fact, there's not another show of its type.
I haven't seen the title sequence for this new series, but they ditched the long-running "Jools No Longer On The Tube" in-joke last year, when Later moved from the old BBC Television Centre into its new studio in Maidstone. It didn't make sense without the footage of the London Underground under the credits, I suppose. It was daft, vain, patently obsolete, but I still miss that little gag, and the tiny dayglo thread it carried through from the ramshackle days of Jools and Paula and 1987, which, Later excepted, was the year live music died on TV, with both The Tube and its sneering-muso big brother, Whistle Test, packing up shop.
Pop has atomised since, and the idea of a generation scrambling en masse to make sure they don't miss a music show is gone, unless you somehow count The X-Factor and The Voice. It's a reflection of the times that the few genuinely must-see/did-you-see recent pop shows - things like the Simon Amstell eras of Pop World and Buzzcocks - have not been about music at all, so much as seeing how musicians hold up when you take them down from the stage, which can be great fun, but can also be like seeing how butterflies hold up when you pick their wings off. There's none of that on Later, which comes always to praise, particularly in Jools's bafflingly awkward and pointless interviews. The reason Later remains a thing to cherish, though, is precisely because it is - still - a music show that is simply about music. Even if the set-up contains inherent dangers of back-slapping boogie woogie, there's something about just getting all these performers together, playing in front of each other, that can make it come alive in a unique way.
Later always carries at least the possibility of discovery, moments when you realise you are seeing a new band really arriving. When it really clicks, though, is when musicians' age-old impulses of camaraderie and competition flare, as older bands face the challenge of tyros across the studio floor, or vice-versa. When the mix gets really strange, you can see performers really digging each other, and rarer, but best of all, truly hating each other; my favourite ever few seconds came in 2005, as Robert Plant finished some happy-clapping, only to hand over to The Fall, who proceeded to pulverise the traces of him with hilarious disdain.
Everyone has their favourite Later memories: my own include Scott Walker pushing through stage fright in 1995, Teenage Fanclub's nervous smiles in 1993, Johnny Cash in his second-coming days, Nick Cave all the time... Actually, too many to count. So even though I'm not convinced this week's programme - Elbow, Eagulls, Engelbert Humperdinck, Agnes Obel - will add much, long may it run. If only because it is the only programme left to provide archive clips for all the future BBC Four Friday-night compilations that are going to keep us warm in our old age, rocking the care home.
Wednesday, April 16
10pm, Sky Atlantic
The beginning of the end begins. It's the final series of the deepest, weirdest, slow-jam inner-psyche US drama trip since The Sopranos but, with the UK broadcast following hot on the heels of the US transmission, not much in the way of preview material was available over here. (In keeping with a deeply annoying American TV trend, this "final series" is actually going to be two mini-series: we'll get seven episodes this time, with the final-final seven following in 2015.) What we do know about tonight's opener is that the calendar has hit January 1969, Nixon is moving into the White House, and male fashion is entering an ugly patch. Meanwhile, on the heels of the meltdown that saw him turfed out of the agency, Don Draper - in common with a few other regulars - is turning his eyes westward, heading out to California to reunite with Megan.
Thursday, April 17
9pm, Sky 1
In the midst of the relentless cultural-imperialist propaganda about the "new golden age of American television", it's nice to be reminded that the vast majority of the stuff they pump out over there is howling hokey nonsense that should never have been made. Welcome, then, Sky's newest US import, starring Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost, but without the hair), as Gabriel Vaughn, an undercover agent with a difference. Get this: he has a super-computer chip implanted in his brain, meaning he can access the internet, phones, satellites and stuff! Sadly, the people who thought this up didn't have a 10-year-old sitting among them to pause and ask: "What, has he lost his phone?" Because, although they dress it up with some fancy hacking, when you get right down to it, Gabriel's super power isn't really all that. It's like if The Six Million Dollar Man had an ear that doubled as a SodaStream. Nonetheless, Gabriel and the team of clichés he works with are out to use his amazing gifts for good in tonight's double bill, as the boffin behind the gizmo is kidnapped, and some bad terrorist types do some bombing. Holloway lends easy charm to the wooden surround, and it's dumb enough to watch in small doses.
Friday, April 18
The Trip To Italy
10pm, BBC Two
It's what everyone wants to know, so let's just get it out of the way right up front. Yes, you can relax, there are more Roger Moore impressions tonight. Meanwhile, there is also the small matter of the aftermath of the decision that Rob Brydon made last episode, as he watched the sunset with the woman from the yacht company. We join him next morning, in unusually subdued mood: "I don't want to talk about it. And that's not the cue for an Abba song." The downbeat tone lingers as our questing pair search for the footsteps of Byron and Shelley (standing on the beach musing on the painting depicting the funeral pyre of the latter kicks off an epic Brydon riff about Coogan's twilight years) while bickering, commiserating and feeling themselves getting older every second. Meanwhile, there's James Mason, Neil Kinnock and a mighty "A-ha". Bloody lovely.
Saturday, April 19
For the past two months, Saturday nights have been all about True Detective but, buried away in the weird time slot ITV gives it, this terrific soft-rock spy noir about a pair of KGB agents in deep cover in the US of the early 1980s has been going from strength to strength. The first series was a far more compelling enemy-within story than Homeland ever was, and it has easily trumped Damian Lewis's more hyped show by delivering a second series that actually gets better as it develops the strands. The Americans benefits from having the gadgets, tunes and textures of the era to play with (there's a bit about the death of John Belushi tonight) and delivers twisty plots and cliffhangers, but it's finally all about the characters and the actors who play them. Wigs on and off, Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys are simply great as our conflicted Communist antiheroes, and - as opposed to Homeland and 24 - their kids are largely believable and sympathetic. Tonight, Philip and Elizabeth are still on the trail of the killer who slaughtered their comrades; meanwhile, she seems to be developing a strange fascination with his bewigged alter-ego, Clark.