Damien Love gives his verdict on TV Sunday, August 3, to Saturday, August 9
Sunday, August 3
The Thirteenth Tale
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9pm, BBC Two
As the closing ceremony unveils its surprises over on BBC One from 9pm, the last of the Commonwealth Games repeats is another chance to see this spare, slow chiller, originally broadcast at Christmas. Adapted from Diane Setterfield's bestselling novel by Christopher Hampton, the writer behind Dangerous Liaisons, it's a tale aiming for the gothic mood of a Jane Eyre or Rebecca, with Olivia Colman as a struggling writer, summoned to the grand, isolated home of a celebrated but notoriously aloof author, Vida Winter (Vanessa Redgrave). Winter wants to hire her to ghostwrite her autobiography - but there are ghosts and then there are ghosts… It's filmed with a handsomely bleak, sombre palette, and even if the steaming dollops of fruity cliché Hampton adds to the mix seemed slightly easier to swallow along with the mulled wine back at Christmastime, the head-to-head between Colman and the magnificent Redgrave pulls you in.
Monday, August 4
9pm, Sky Atlantic
It was BBC Four that - by rebelling against the prevailing TV wisdom that meant we hadn't seen subtitles in prime-time since the late 1980s - created a new phenomenon out of foreign-language dramas. But rivals have been increasingly muscling in on the patch. First Channel 4 carved off a culty section of the Europhile audience with The Returned. Now Sky Atlantic is going nuclear by unleashing Gomorrah: a crime saga Sky co-produced for Italian television, which, if it lives up to the fantastic opening episodes, looks like being one of the TV events of the year.
Grim, bruising and tremendously gripping, but making space for moments of pause and dumb, stumblebum humour, Gomorrah follows the feuds that develop between squabbling factions of the Camorra, the Naples region's infamous, clannish counterpart to the Mafia.
If the title rings a bell beyond the Biblical pun, it's because the 12-part series is based on journalist Robert Saviano's crusading non-fiction book, a delirious, controversial study of organised crime in present-day Italy that detailed how the Camorra has in its tentacles the drug trade, the fashion industry, garbage removal, construction and banking, among other endeavours. In 2008, Saviano's book served as source material for director Matteo Garrone's award-winning, depressingly brilliant movie of the same name, which applied a scattering, near-documentary approach to the material, watching how young boys get sucked into the life, while older heads are desperate to get out.
The series takes off from the film, and shares some aspects - notably, recurring shots of characters trapped in the high, decaying, 1960s apartment blocks of their grim suburb: crumbling towers that hulk like grubby castles against the ancient Neapolitan landscape.
But the TV show, created by Stefano Sollima, is somewhat different in tone. It's not quite as hellishly harsh as the movie - although it is very bloody - and it is more straight ahead. Where Garrone flicked restlessly, but coolly, around between a handful of ragged narrative strands and grim, half-caught lives, Sollima gives us a central figure to latch on to: Ciro (Marco D'Amore), nicknamed The Immortal, a footsoldier of increasingly unsettling local boss Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino).
We first encounter Ciro with his shaggy, father-figure friend, Attilio (Antonio Milo), as they run an errand for Don Pietro: driving across town at nightfall, to set fire to the home of a rival. Loyal but wary, Ciro is beginning to question the decisions of his boss - "he's grown old" - and the opening episode, which also introduces the Don's psychotically arrogant weakling son, Genny (Salvatore Esposito), draws lines for the conflict to come.
Sleek yet gritty, and filmed with a dark, immaculate visual sensibility, in many respects Gomorrah is a highly sophisticated piece of big-ticket 21st-century TV. In others, it's just nicely old-fashioned. It doesn't have the unexpected, exploding, millennial narrative ambitions of The Sopranos, nor, for all its grim authenticity, the social drive of The Wire. Instead, it offers a confident, savage, sometimes breathtaking take on the classical gangster movie model that has held audiences captive since the Scarface of the 1930s.
Tuesday, August 5
In The Club
9pm, BBC One
The latest strangely addictive "You Know… For Women!" drama from Kay Mellor, who, as the diabolical mastermind behind the warm, two-hanky likes of Fat Friends, Playing The Field and A Passionate Woman, has set herself up as one of the most pitiless godmothers of the territory. In the way that Fat Friends cast a pool of well-known faces as a group of women with various personal problems from varying backgrounds who come together as members of a slimming club, this one casts a pool of well-known faces as a group of pregnant women with various personal problems from varying backgrounds who come together as members of a prenatal parenting class. The fine pregnant ensemble includes Katherine Parkinson (recently also pregnant in The Honourable Woman), Hermione Norris (struggling to stay off the wine while pregnant), Christine Bottomley (of the much lamented Early Doors, here pregnant), a pregnant Jill Halfpenny, and, as the pregnant schoolgirl of the bunch, Hannah Midgely. Each and every one of them is totally pregnant. It gets emotional. With Will Mellor, and some really sad piano music.
Wednesday, August 6
The Great British Bake Off
8pm, BBC One
There's a programme on later tonight featuring Clare Balding being earnest while cuddling baby pandas (Operation Wild, 9pm, BBC One), which is clearly unmissable. But the main event is without doubt the return of what has now been verified, at least by the BBC publicity machine, as the greatest television programme of any description that has ever been made by anyone anywhere in the world, ever. Officially marking its long-held status as a full-fledged British obsession, the programme makes the leap from humble BBC Two over to the BBC One mothership with this series, but nothing else has changed: the tents still flutter on a summer lawn so bright and dreamlike you half expect Teletubbies to appear; Mel and Sue are still nosing around between the crumbs as the Dipsy & Laa-Laa presenters; and BerryWood remains in place as the icy judging machine as the 12 quivering hopefuls take to their stations and get their hands sticky. It was all about the young hipsters last year, but keep an eye on the older crew this time: mark my words, Nancy's Jaffa Cakes are not to be trifled with. "Perfect nuts," says Mary Berry, and only a fool would argue.
Thursday, August 7
The Honourable Woman
9pm, BBC Two
We've already glimpsed the damage that the much- abused and betrayed Nessa Stein (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, pictured) puts herself through seeking oblivion, in previous glimpses of her alcohol-fuelled one-night-stands. But the damage gets worse in the stark opening scenes of this week's episode, when, in the midst of a particularly desperate blackout, she begins talking to the wrong guy at the bar. The more the story unfolds, the more you worry that it cannot end well for her. Elsewhere, out in the suburbs, the troubled killer from her past hides out in a house on an anonymous street, where, thinking of his own lost children, he strikes up a precarious friendship with the young son of his reluctant host. Meanwhile, slowly untangling the wicked web spun from fibre-optic cables, Hugh Hayden-Hoyle continues to float through all the disappointment, deceit and death like the last reasonable man left alive. "I want to help," he tells Nessa, but, even if that's true, what can he do?
Friday, August 8
9pm, BBC One
This comedy drama is, slightly optimistically, being billed as a pilot episode, but there's not too much going on here to leave you breathless for a full series to arrive. That said, it's good to see Adrian Dunbar being given a lead, making for one half of a pretty charming double-act with the ever-dependable Alexandra Roach (Utopia). Dunbar is the Walter of the title, a decent, harried police detective of the grumpy old school, who has just been saddled with a young new boss who is on the fast track to the top, without much in the way of experience. Meanwhile, at home, Walter struggles with being single father to his (horrendous) teenage daughter. Roach is his smart-but-hapless sidekick as they look into the death of a fellow cop. Not quite a spoof, nowhere near a crime drama, the show is reaching for a tone somewhere between New Tricks a nd Rev, but it runs out of steam before getting there.
Saturday, August 9
6.30pm, BBC One
Cashing in on that Commonwealth glow, here, hot on the verruca-scarred heels of Splash!, is your latest friendly celebrities-perform-a-sport-you-might-have-been-watching-professional-athletes-doing-last-week show. Where do they get their ideas? And why no exclamation mark? Gymnast Louis Smith, who came out of retirement to perform at the games merely as a trailer for this series, joins defecting bendy legend Nadia Comaneci to judge a bunch of famous faces as, essentially, they try and do gymnastics. The celebs include Peter Duncan (above) from Blue Peter's dangerous days; someone who was in EastEnders, apparently; Emma Samms from Dynasty… and others! More fun than you could shake Leni Riefenstahl at. But, honestly, when-oh-when will someone in TV realise that what we really want to watch Saturday teatime is celebrity weight lifting? "143 kilos on the bar, and stepping up now is Su Pollard.''