Damien Love gives his verdict on TV Sunday, July 27, - Saturday, August 2.
Sunday, July 27
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The Commonwealth Games continue to lay waste to the schedules but, as ITV waves the white flag of repeats, it's good news tonight if you're a fan of Michael Kitchen's straight-talking sleuth, with one of those long, feature-length episodes of quiet, decent, dogged detection to sink into. Originally shown last year, this is from the series that finds Foyle in his greyer, chillier post-war years, moved from Hastings to London, where, as antagonism toward the USSR grows, he's been recruited as a spook by MI5: Foyle's Cold War, essentially. When a bod from the Foreign Office goes missing, the disappearance seems suspiciously connected to the deaths of a number of Russian agents working for British Intelligence. But when Foyle's investigation leads to a mysterious military facility that no-one wants to talk about, his suspicions begin to grow.
Monday, July 28
Scotland's Art Revolution: The Maverick Generation
9pm, BBC Two
Across 2014, a huge series of art exhibitions and other events is rolling out across Scotland under the banner Generation, designed to celebrate and explore the development of contemporary art in the country over the past 25 years - a field that, as one look at the Turner nomination lists will confirm, has proven one of our most thriving and successful exports. While the festival continues around Scotland until November, the majority of the exhibitions are being held over the summer as part of the Cultural Programme running alongside Glasgow's Commonwealth Games. To complement the season, Kirsty Wark presents this documentary exploring how generations of artists and curators have, since the 1980s, helped transform Scotland from a declining industrial centre into a global base for contemporary art. She interviews some of the most significant artists to be featured in Generation, including Douglas Gordon, Rachel Maclean, Ross Sinclair and Alison Watt.
Tuesday, July 29
10pm, Channel 4
Jessica Hyde is hiding out in nervy Michael Dugdale's house, the gang are still on the run … and I'm still not convinced that Utopia shouldn't have been neatly wrapped up simply by adding an extra episode onto the end of the first series. Aside from the excellent 1970s prequel that kicked it off, there's been little about this second go round that has screamed out that it really had to be made, and there's been a lot of simply replaying the formula as a way of padding, if not dragging the narrative out, spiked up with a few moments of water-cooler violence. That said, there are still reasons for watching, notably Neil Maskell's excellent, deceptively blank, carefully layered performance as the numb killer Arby, tonight hoping to make a deal with his old killer partner. Watching Maskell's unsettling work here, it's hard to remember he's the same man that plays the plain, lairy pal in Channel 4's warm-hearted sitcom The Mimic (Wednesday, 10pm).
Wednesday, July 30
Art Of China
9pm, BBC Four
As World Of Sport continues to dominate TV, it's pretty much either people wearing shorts, people explaining what people wearing shorts are doing, or repeats. But wait! Who is this fashionably rumpled figure riding over the horizon with an actual new programme?
It's Andrew Graham-Dixon, who, despite the name, is still only one person, continuing his on-going mission to explore the world's art history for the BBC and boldly build himself a juicy big box set in the process. Following his excellent overviews Art Of Germany, Art Of Russia, Art Of Spain, Art Of The Low Countries and Art Of Somewhere Else I've Probably Forgotten, But You Can Bet It Was Good, Graham-Dixon is heading east, to the land of jade, Terracotta Warriors and Oracle Bones, to dazzle us while being dazzled.
Graham-Dixon's art documentaries are tremendous value, for two reasons. The first is the mix of knowledge, enthusiasm and passion he consistently brings to bear and seeks to share. He is a presenter in the old-school mode, in that he pulls off the tricky tightrope trick of never making his programmes about himself, while, of course, making them entirely about him.
There's a good example in the first episode, when he briefly visits the far-flung stretches of the Silk Road, the old desert trade path that led from the wildernesses of northwest China through desolation toward Afghanistan. Most new-breed TV presenters would spend half an hour explaining how they got there and what a terribly arduous journey it was. Graham-Dixon, though, just suddenly pops up in the sand, still heroically wearing his utterly ill-suited suit, and keeps talking art, a lonely, incongruous figure stumbling around the dunes as if enacting a curious homage to the opening of The Man Who Fell To Earth.
Leaving aside the glory and strangeness of the artefacts he encounters and explains so well, the other reason Graham-Dixon's programmes are always worth catching is that, the older he gets, and the more excited he gets, the more he resembles Alan Partridge, especially in the filler shots, when he looks moodily off in musing, lips-pursed Byronic close-ups.
He gets excited often in this China series, and for good reason. Not once, but three times in the opening episode, he says, "I'm amazed they've let me in here..." and you share the disbelief, as the authorities have allowed him to get alarmingly up close and personal with their most precious objects: clambering inside museum cases in his socks; jumping recklessly about the ancient tomb of esteemed Shang Dynasty warrior Lady Fu Hao; and, remarkably, wandering among the fragile ranks of the Terracotta Army like a picture-bombing politician visiting a ceramics factory.
He begins on a high, going into eloquent raptures over the mysterious horde of objects from the lost city of Sanxingdui: weird, grotesquely beautiful, stubbornly enigmatic masks and sculptures dating back 3000 years, discovered only in 1986. He's at his most Partridgean later, however, when he visits "Mr Yang's Emporium Of The Dead", a humble work yard where Mr Yang makes custom-built objects of bamboo and joss paper, designed to be burned as offerings to the ancestors. Among the bright, unexpected tokens - a cartoony computer, giant mobile phones - Graham-Dixon suddenly spots a daft little papier-mâché car, provoking unbridled enthusiasm on his part, and this unexpected conversation:
"There's a car! There's a car. Mr Yang! It's a Mercedes. MER-SAY-DEES. Why isn't it a Chinese car?"
"Uh… People love Mercedes."
"People love Mercedes? What, even when they're dead?"
Thursday, July 30
The Honourable Woman
9pm, BBC Two
As episode five of Hugo Blick's tremendous thriller begins, we're still caught in that long, dense flashback to eight years ago, as Nessa Stein and Atika Halabi remain held captive in their room in Gaza, awaiting the arrival that will bond them for life. Meanwhile, Nessa's desperate brother, Ephra - the other player in their strange, tangled triangle - remains willing to do anything to get his sister out. When he gets the nod from the Israelis to go ahead with the Stein Foundation's plan to lay the cables for a communications network across the West Bank, he knows not to ask why they suddenly seem so keen to allow him to help Palestine. The answer becomes obvious when we flip back to the present day again, and a lecturer at a Stein-funded University in Tel Aviv begins nosing into what looks like corruption in the admissions process, but leads somewhere deeper and darker. For every question answered, two more spring up.
Friday, August 1
The Secret History Of Our Streets
9pm, BBC Two
Following last week's programme about Edinburgh's Moray Estate, the flawed but fascinating documentary show continues the Scottish tour of its second series with an episode devoted to Glasgow's Duke Street. At heart, The Secret History Of Our Streets explores the relationship between social history and urban planning: the way that real lives on the streets get caught up by the paper visions dreamed up by the people in the planning offices. At times, though, it can be a shade bit too simplistic in demonising the work of planners and architects who were struggling to battle the worst of slum living. It's a theme to the fore again tonight. The longest street in Britain, Duke Street runs from Glasgow's city centre to the heart of the East End, lined to the south by elegant Victorian tenements. 40 years ago, the buildings were under threat of demolition, and residents banded together to take on the city fathers and save their homes. Exploring their story sheds light on the Duke Street that used to be, the tenements that were pulled down, and the history of deprivation and disruption the area has endured - not to mention the community spirit it has produced.
Saturday, August 2
Melvyn Bragg's Radical Lives
9pm, BBC Two
The mighty Melv makes a welcome return to council telly with this two-part series, in which, with insight, erudition, craggy twinkles and a fine head of hair, he considers the lives and legacy of two men whose work and words not only impacted on their own times, but have resonated down the centuries to influence our thinking today. Next week, it's Thomas Paine, radical author of The Rights Of Man, but he begins with a consideration of the firebrand 14th-century preacher John Ball. And, you know, if you're not going to watch a documentary about a 14th-century preacher on a Saturday night, when are you? After years being persecuted by the church authorities he had come to despise, in 1381 Ball joined forces with poll tax rebel Wat Tyler to lead the uprising that came to be known as the Peasant's Revolt. Bragg relates how his words and beliefs created unprecedented revolutionary action and helped shape political thought for the next 700 years.