Witnesses: A Frozen Death

9pm, BBC Four

Damn you, BBC Four. These are real people’s emotions you’re playing with.

I speak on behalf of the countless lost souls – don’t try telling me it’s only me – who have spent month after month scouring the internet in increasing desperation for any news of the return to our screens of Spiral, the French crime serial that is the mother of all the channel’s Saturday night subtitle cults. The latest, sixth, series recently finished airing in France, so it surely can’t be long until we see Caroline Proust frowning in a leather jacket again as captain-my-captain Laure Berthaud…Except, I’ve been thinking it surely can’t be long now for a year already.

Earlier this month, a tremor went shivering through the hearts of the Spiral faithful when, without warning, BBC Four ran a trailer featuring the show’s other queen: the magnificent Audrey Fleurot, whose, twisting, flame-haired journey to the dark side and back as tortured/torturing lawyer Joséphine Karlsson has been one of Spiral’s most captivating strands. Just as I was punching the air screaming “Ouuiiiiiii!”, however, came the sucker punch. Yes, it’s Audrey Fleurot. But, no, it’s still not the new Spiral. It’s some other thing called Witnesses: A Frozen Death. Putain de merde!

Let me be very clear. I’m entirely in favour of more Fleurot on TV. But don’t make me watch her in a different programme when I know you’ve got 12 new episodes of her being Joséphine sitting on a shelf somewhere. That’s just cruel.

Once you get over this disappointment, seasoned Eurocrime addicts might experience a twinge of recognition as A Frozen Death begins. Although the BBC is being mighty coy about it, this eight-part thriller is actually Witnesses’ second series – the first went out over on Channel 4 back in 2015, although it’s worth saying that you really don’t need to have seen it to watch this new story.

When it appeared, Witnesses was the first French policier to really bear the heavy influence of the Nordic noir phenomenon. The atmosphere of its Normandy coast setting would be familiar to Wallander – all downbeat protagonists in damp, out-of-the-way locations huddled under heavy skies. Meanwhile its lead detective, Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier), is a collage of Scandi heroines from The Killing’s Sarah Lund (messed up private life) to The Bridge’s Saga Noren (mustard-coloured character car, albeit more beat up.) This is no bad thing.

Witnesses’s first series paired her with an older colleague, but this time Sandra’s on her own. Once again, the case begins with the discovery of several murdered bodies posed in a showy manner – this time, the frozen corpses of fifteen men, dressed like they’re going to a wedding, discovered on an abandoned bus.

Essentially, with its mystery psychokiller going to elaborate lengths to provide cryptic clues, it’s a bit daft. Sandra’s chief deductive superpower seems to be her ability to find things other cops have missed, especially if they’re under something. In the first episode alone, she finds things under things three times: under a desk: under a sink: and, excitingly, under another bus.

But, while not top echelon, it’s hooky and easy to settle into as a regular double-bill date through to Christmas. The plot hustles along full of incident and twists. Dompnier is terrifically watchable, and particularly great in scenes with Sandra’s two young daughters. And Fleurot, playing a traumatised, amnesiac woman who might hold the key to the killings, is magnificent again. I still wish they’d waited until after Spiral to put it on. But it’ll pass the time until Spiral comes back. Any. Day. Now.


Blue Planet II

8pm, BBC One

Tonight, TV throws up a contrast stark enough to be taken as a challenge. On one depressing hand, the latest herd of I’m A Celebrities come blundering into their carefully ruined section of Australian jungle (STV, 9pm), and we can choose to stare numbly as they chow down on all the anonymous bugs unfortunate enough to have been rounded up to be abused for their pantomime. On the other hand, there’s this: David Attenborough, presenting the world and all its creatures, even us, as worthy of wonder. Tonight, the cameras are far from land, out in open ocean where, with little to eat and nowhere to hide, some of the planet’s largest and most spectacular creatures manage to survive against extraordinary odds. Among the spectacles on display, sperm whales hunt squid a kilometre beneath the waves; Portuguese man-of-war trawl for fish; thousands of dolphins herd vast shoals of Lanternfish in a boiling sea; and a pair of ageing albatrosses give everything to raise their last chick.


Armchair Detectives

2.15pm, BBC One

As the Strictly faithful know, Susan Calman won’t back down in the face of a challenge. However, those flashing feet have some big shoes to fill here because – although no-one wants to admit it, for fear of being sued – her new daily game show is, essentially, a slightly disguised, pared-down (and cheaper) resurrection of Whodunnit, the good-cheese 1970s ITV classic once presented by TV Gods Jon Pertwee and Edward Woodward. Contestants compete to solve a murder mystery, using the clues and red herrings dropped in a series of dramatised sequences enacted by regular detectives DI Knight and DC Slater as they investigate the crime in their fictional hamlet, Mortcliff, a genteel seaside town, with a kill-crazy population. Today, a local artist turns up dead in fishing nets. Back when Dr Who and Callan presented it, they had teams of celebrity sleuths, but this time it’s members of the public. However, Calman compensates by getting very, very excited after every new clue is revealed: “…WELL!” A tea and biscuits afternoon cult in the making.


Mister Avila

11.05pm, Channel 4

It’s a good week for subtitles fans, with not only a new French mystery starting Saturday, but also the arrival of this dark new 13-part thriller from Mexico. Produced by HBO’s Latin American wing, the setting is fresh, even if, plotwise, it's another visit to the increasingly well-trodden territory of an apparently upstanding citizen leading a shady and increasingly dangerous double life. Most of his neighbours know Roberto Avila (Tony Dalton) as a hardworking husband and father, earning his crust as a life insurance salesman. In fact, he has another job: professional hitman for hire, working with a well-oiled criminal mob. In the opening episode, we find him troubled by bad dreams while trying to plan a surprise birthday party for his wife. But soon the pressures of his secret job come calling … As per the usual slightly annoying Walter Presents drill, only this first episode will be shown on proper Channel 4. To see the rest, you need to head to the All 4 catch-up service, where the full series will be waiting after this goes out tonight.




Ever since Deadwood broke the mould, there hasn’t been a TV western half as exciting, but this excellent series just might have the right stuff. Written and directed by Scott Frank (with Steven Soderbergh producing) one of Godless’s most satisfying aspects is that it doesn’t simply seek to ape Deadwood. There’s some of that grit and spit, but Frank goes after a more traditional, classic feel, albeit with kinks. The action centres on the remote town of La Belle, a mining outpost inhabited almost exclusively by women – a pit disaster killed most of their menfolk. On the edge of town lives Alice Fletcher (Downton’s Michelle Dockery), an outcast reviled by her neighbours, who takes in mysterious stranger Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell). A bad idea: Roy is being hunted by the marauding gang led by monstrous outlaw Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels). There’s much to chew on, but the most arresting thing about the opening episodes is the ominous sense of trouble brewing. Daniels is cast much against type – his Griffin has the hellish hint of a Cormac McCarthy villain.


She’s Gotta Have It


For this 10-part series, Spike Lee returns to his breakthrough 1986 movie, rebooting the story of Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise), a young black artist in contemporary Brooklyn, who can’t understand why anyone should have a problem with her seeing (at least) three guys at the same time. Introducing herself as “sex positive, polyamorous, pansexual,” Nola’s contrasting, competing suitors are similarly updated versions of the original characters: Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent) a businessman who espouses old-school attitudes to relationships; Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), a toe-curlingly vain photographer; and Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos) a motor-mouthed cycle courier and self-declared freak. Going back to his youth has had a rejuvenating effect on Lee. Visually the series is fresh, fast and playful, with characters speaking straight to camera, and inserts of album covers highlighting selections on the soundtrack. In substance, though, it can feel sketchy – some characters are practically cartoonish. But it’s always interesting, and more relevant than ever. Certainly, the scenes bookending the opening episode, depicting the harassment Nola faces daily, could have been written last week.


Gregory Porter’s Popular Voices: Crooners

10pm, BBC Four

There’s a great Iggy Pop bootleg from around 1979, in which he manfully struggles to perform a slinky version of Sinatra standby “One For My Baby” for a noisy and uninterested Detroit punk audience: “Gawddamit if you’d just shut up and LISTEN, you might even LIKE it!” I mention this by way of illustrating that Iggy has always been a crooner at heart, and so hats off to Gregory Porter for including him among the contributors in the second part of his series on popular singing. Porter is concentrating on the croon this week, which means plenty of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole – debatably the big three when it comes to the singers who first learned how to fully exploit the possibilities of the microphone for intimacy. But the film also traces how the croon’s influence extended into other areas, from Elvis to Curtis Mayfield to the likes of Iggy and his old colleague David Bowie. Mary “daughter of Bing” Crosby, Josh Homme, George Benson, Tony Visconti and Lenny Kaye are among the other interviewees.


I think I just peed myself.”

Not my words, but the words of Kevin The Carrot, of whom more in a moment. First, I should say I feel unable to comment on one of the TV events of the week – the debut of Alex Salmond’s Russia Today talkshow – because I turned it off in protest upon realising the rumours were true. At the last minute, he’d been forced to scrap the much-whispered-about, extravagantly-choreographed dance routine originally planned to open things: a top hat and tails number featuring the former First Minister tap dancing through “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” (“I say tom-AY-to, and you say tom-AH-to, I say pot-AY-to, and you say weaponised propaganda arm of a regime out to spread disinformation and sew instability, tom-AY-to, tom-AH-to…”)

There are, however, more pressing matters, namely, the seasonal arrival of the Christmas TV adverts, which have now developed into full on blizzard. The law states we’re supposed to get particularly agitated about the John Lewis ad, but, aside from saying it’s quite nice, it’s hard to get worked up over. I mean: wee kid jumping around, big fuzzy monster, Diana Rigg’s son-in-law singing a Beatles tune – what is there to get upset about?

More unsettling is the Sainsbury’s advert, that Goggleboxy singalong which hopefully cost far more to make than it looks like, featuring “real people,” edited together performing a horrendous song. The first 160 times I saw it, I was actually convinced it was a Farmfoods ad, because former Farmfoods face Ricky Tomlinson turns up in the middle. When I finally noticed the Sainbury’s logo, it was like waking from The Matrix – the veil was ripped away, and my whole perception of reality shifted, but too late to save my freezer, which was already fatally stuffed with reasonably priced offers on frozen mashed potato.

Nothing, though, has been so disturbing as Debenhams’ big production, the contemporary Cinderella story featuring a charmer who keeps an unknown woman’s silver slipper with him at all times. Unfortunately, my first exposure to this heart-warming fairytale romance came just after I’d caught up with the shoe fetishist episode of Netflix’s serial-killer saga Mindhunter, which put an entirely unfortunate spin on the whole affair.

And so to Kevin, returning to shill for Aldi for the second Christmas running. Leaving aside whether a year-old carrot is really the best advert for a grocery, Kevin’s new commercial crosses the Rubicon at several points. Not only is it the first festive fun family ad to feature the phrase “I think I’ve just peed myself,” it’s also the first to revolve around the sex lives of root vegetables. What’s most upsetting, though, is the erotic novel Kevin’s carroty paramour, Katie, is glimpsed reading: “Nine And A Half Leeks” – a pun that begs the question of what the hell year Aldi thinks it is. 1986? It obviously should have been “50 Shades Of Orange.” I mean, Jesus, make an effort. Bah.