Sunday May 27

A Very English Scandal

9pm, BBC One

Watching Ben Whishaw’s crafty performance as the hapless, helpless, National Insurance card-less Norman Scott in Russell T Davies’s brilliant dramatisation of the Jeremy Thorpe affair, I kept having the nagging feeling he was reminding me of someone, but couldn’t think who. Tonight, though, they helpfully/ slyly underline it, by putting him alongside the wonderful Michele Dortrice: of course – he’s a swinging Frank Spencer. The second episode of this black farce is wonderful from start to finish, as Thorpe (Hugh Grant on a career high) continues to obsess on the idea of killing his troublesome ex-lover, while his closest colleagues begin to worry that he’s actually serious about it. Among many brilliant moments, the highlight might be when Thorpe and Norman unexpectedly run into each other on a quiet Devon street. Wheels are set in motion, and then start running off the rails, as a potential assassin is recruited. It’s like a real life Fargo, with a particularly, peculiarly British flavour.

Tuesday 29


9pm, BBC Four

A repeat for this stunning natural history series presented by David Attenborough, originally show in 2013. TV wildlife crews have explored Africa many times over the years, of course, but somehow this project, which was four years in the making, shed light on some previously unknown creatures and unvisited places, and it comes littered with countless breathtaking sequences. The journey begins, however, in the southwest, in the deserts of the Kalahari, meaning our familiar old pals the meerkats, as well as some fighting giraffes, a bit of rhino business, horrendous giant insects – and, in a hitherto unexplored cave, the rarest fish in the world. It’s accompanied by a new six-part documentary series, Africa’s Great Civilisations (10pm), in which the literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr presents an in-depth new history of the continent and its many cultures, from the dawn of humankind to the 20th century. He starts tonight in Ethiopia, where it all began.

Wednesday 30

Big Sky, Big Dreams, Big Art: Made In The USA 9pm, BBC Four For this whirlwind tour through “the golden age of American art,” Waldemar Januszczak has split the United States into three crucial territories, whose landscapes and atmospheres helped shape work that couldn’t quite have happened anywhere else. Last week, he began his roadtrip out in the wide open spaces of the wild west. Tonight, he moves into the roaring and lonely canyons of the city – the east coast American metropolis as defined by New York’s soaring skyscrapers. But instead of looking up, Januszczak explores what went on down in the streets and alleyways in the shadows of those towers: the kind of desperate life George Bellows captured in his vividly squalid and fleshy paintings of boxing rings; or the massed bodies crammed together to make the most of time off in Reginald Marsh’s depictions of the thronging Coney Island beach. Januszczak also considers the influence on art of the harsh experiences of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, and the impact that rootlessness had on the abstract work of Mark Rothko.

Thursday 31


10pm, BBC Four

This French series, about rum doings, rivalries, destinies and alien encounters on a perilous mission to Mars, is blatant about copping themes and even scenes from a hundred sci-fi classics gone by (not to mention a synthtastic score by Étienne Forget that sounds like it’s spent a night on the tiles with the Blade Runner soundtrack), but it bolts it all together neatly, and it just gets on about it in a manner that is refreshing. The pocket-sized episodes help – some only run 18 minutes, yet manage to cram in more action and development than many dramas manage in an hour. As we return, ship psychologist Jeanne (Hélène Viviès) is left trying to process – and, indeed, remember – what she learned during her mysterious mind-meld with the entity presenting itself as the dead cosmonaut Komarov. Meanwhile, their stranded ship is visited by Gemma, leader of the rival mission, who helps make sense of some discoveries, and also reveals that William, the billionaire behind their project, hasn’t quite told them everything he knows.

Friday June 1

The Bridge

9pm, BBC Two

For longstanding habitués of BBC Four’s Saturday Night Subtitles Double Bill Zone, the decision to shift The Bridge to a single episode on a Friday on BBC Two is still taking some getting used to. But is that the only reason this final series often feels such a hard slog? After being pummelled into sleep by last week’s instalment, the idea of actually having to sit through two episodes back to back has lost much of its appeal. We’re at the midpoint of the eight-part series tonight, and, as the case slides in and out of focus and another murder is committed, Saga spots what looks like a connection linking all the crimes – and, if so, points toward more killings still to come. Meanwhile, as her visits to therapy continue, she has the new problem of her pregnancy to consider, and begins to wonder about the kind of relationship she really wants to have with Henrik, who’s still processing the news of a baby. Plus: clowns.