Thursday

Top Of The Lake: China Girl

9pm, BBC Two

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Never mind how much the BBC pays its top talent and Chris Evans, there’s a far more pressing concern for viewers, an increasingly urgent issue over which the world’s broadcasters seem joined in a conspiracy of silence. Namely: the shameful practice of sticking on different dramas featuring the same actors at the same time.

Things are confusing enough these days without BBC Two choosing to air the second series of Jane Campion’s Top Of The Lake, starring Elisabeth Moss, while Channel 4 is still running The Handmaid’s Tale, starring Elisabeth Moss. Intellectually, I know it’s all made up and Moss is just pretending to be dystopian concubine Offred in one and fractious Australian Detective Robin Griffin in the other. But that didn’t stop part of my brain muttering “Eh? What? Has she escaped now? Is it another flashback?” for a good 20 minutes as Top Of The Lake’s first episode came wafting out. Add that her co-star is Gwendoline Christie, who has simultaneously just started her latest shift in Game Of Thrones on Sky Atlantic, and it’s enough to make you give up suspending disbelief all together.

The situation is compounded by a recent problem I’ve developed when watching Moss in anything. Ever since Mad Men, I’ve reckoned her a fine actor. But in scenes where she has to communicate to the audience that her character is thinking, she has an unfortunate tendency toward pantomime, a weakness brought into sharp focus by The Handmaid’s Tale, in which Offred is usually thinking one thing, while acting the opposite. In such moments, Moss does this thing of rolling her eyes one way, while sending her jaw and shoulders sliding off on a secret mission in the opposite direction. After a while, I realised it reminded me of something, but couldn’t remember what. Then I remembered: Mrs Doyle, from Father Ted. Once that’s in your head, it is very hard to get rid of.

These are some of the difficulties stacked against the second series of Campion’s sort-of crime mystery thing. The biggest, though, is Top Of The Lake’s first series, which many figured was excruciatingly pretentious on top, and plain daft underneath. As series two begins, it’s much the same. Four years after her trials in New Zealand (it helps to have seen the first series, but not essential, as they helpfully discuss the main points), Robin is back in Sydney, where, while trying to locate the daughter she gave up for adoption at birth, she investigates murder: a woman washed up on Bondi Beach, crammed in a suitcase.

The first episode has that lush Campion photography that fails to disguise there isn’t much happening. The main theme – men are mostly crap – seems fair enough, but gets honked to the point it resembles a weird parody of feminist drama, a sense bolstered by the decision to give co-star Nicole Kidman hypnotic false teeth that steal every scene she’s in. Early dialogue is stilted, and the plot runs on the worst creaking crime show coincidences: when Robin tracks down the child she hasn’t seen in 17 years, turns out she has a direct connection to the murder.

And yet, somehow, in episode two, things begin to loosen and click, especially when Robin and her troubled daughter Mary (Alice Englert) finally meet. This scene, the way the generic mystery starts sinking hooks in, and lovely touches by Christie, as the goony uniformed partner Robin is reluctantly saddled with, justify sticking around. But if anyone offers anyone a cup of tea, I’m out.

Sunday 23

Storyville: Accidental Anarchist

9.50pm, BBC Four

Carne Ross isn’t everyone’s idea of an anarchist. A career diplomat and Foreign Office veteran, he operated in the heart of government. But working inside the system, he also began to see its flaws in close-up. The Iraq war was the final straw – sent to visit the British embassy in Kabul in 2002, what he found left him utterly disillusioned with Western democracy in general: “I felt that the system I’d battled for and believed in wasn’t working – capitalism, democracy, the western model, whatever you called it.” Quitting his job, Ross started looking for other answers, and an alternative way of living. This film follows him on his travels across the world, embracing anarchist ideas as he speaks with members of a farming collective, the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and anarchy’s grand thinker, Noam Chomsky. Finally, he visits Syria and the Kurdish-controlled zone of Rojava, close to the front line with Isis, where he discovers what he believes could be a fledgling anarchist state, being built among the ruins.

Monday 24

The Joy Of Stats

9pm, BBC Four

Only one in eight hundred people are likely to want to spend a Monday night watching a repeat of a seven-year-old programme on the world of statistics, but that’s okay. In this light-hearted but genuinely educational film from 2010, maverick Swedish stats expert Professor Hans Roslin enthusiastically explores the history of his subject, while rolling out a bunch of interesting numbers: you’re twice as likely to be involved in a car accident in Belgium than the UK; the average person spends 24 years of their life asleep. A working definition of the phrase “mad professor,” Roslin keeps it rolling along at a pleasantly barking bubble as he extols modern examples of the use of numerical data, including the San Francisco police department's street-by-street crime map, and Google Translate, a translation project that doesn’t require linguists. His particular interest is in infographics –“If the story of the numbers is told by a beautiful and clever image, then everyone understands” – and the illustrations illustrating how useful illustrations can be keeps it easy to watch.

Tuesday 25

Excluded At Seven

9pm, Channel 4

More children are being permanently excluded from primary schools in Britain today than ever before. But is this because children are now for some reason behaving worse than ever, or because our schools have grown more stretched, less tolerant, and keener to wash their hands and weed out troublemakers early? Filmed over two years, this Cutting Edge documentary follows the stories of six kids who, excluded from their original primary schools, have gone to join the youngest class at The Rosebery School in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, which provides short-term spaces for such children. The intimate filming gets down their eye-view, and during their time there, we see the sulks, rages, desk-punching, screaming and swearing that saw them expelled from their old schools – but also the joys, delights, fears as they try to get by and make new friends. Meanwhile, the hope is that, eventually, they will find another school willing to give them another chance. Although, as the Rosebery’s patient, but sorely tried teachers know, for some of them it will be a long road.

Wednesday 26

Against The Law

9pm, BBC Two

The unfailingly watchable Daniel Mays switches gears again for this careful, fact-based, heartfelt period drama, written by Brian Fillis and directed by Fergus O’Brien. The period in question is the early 1950s, when being homosexual was illegal in the UK (it would remain so until 1967), and gay men were persecuted with a fervour that matched the anti-communist witch-hunts across the ocean in the US. Fillis concentrates on the story of writer and journalist Peter Wildeblood (Mays), who in 1954 was arrested on “gross indecency” charges. During the subsequent trial, he became one of the first men in the UK to publicly declare himself gay, and, although he was sent to prison, the case that would become a landmark in the history of LGBT rights in Britain. There is, as ever, too much music crashing in, but Fillis and O’Brien make a wiser choice by framing the drama with documentary interviews with aging, real-life witnesses to the period – a tactic knowingly lifted from Reds, Warren Beatty’s magnificent film on the socialist movement in the USA, but movingly employed here.

Friday 28

BBC Proms 2017: Scott Walker Revisited

10pm, BBC Four

Tonight’s late-night Prom is subtitled “The Godlike Genius Of Scott Walker,” after the legendary 1981 compilation album put together by Julian Cope in celebration of his idol. Like Cope’s mixtape, tonight’s performance draws on the truly astonishing music Walker made on his four self-titled solo albums between 1967-69 – his heavenly baritone set within huge, lush, baroquely orchestrated pop landscapes, and his art-tinged, everyday-existentialist lyrical concerns venturing into strange places that saw him dubbed “Ingmar Sinatra.” I’m still hoping they might coax the man himself up on stage, but he hates performing, and, as his recent terrifying work attests, he’s not really one for looking backwards. But he has given the project his blessing, and in his place come vocalists Jarvis Cocker, Susanne Sundfør, John Grant and Richard Hawley, while conductor Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra build the musical fire escape in the sky. These songs have never been performed live in their original form, so it should be something special to hear the likes of It’s Raining Today and Copenhagen come rolling, shining out.