Sunday September 30

The Cry

9pm, BBC One

DS David “Calamity” Budd, the unlucky Frank Spencer of the bodyguard business, has packed up his bruises, bundled his bruised family into his wee car, and trundled them all off into the bruised sunset for the bruised time being. He may return, on rollerskates, hanging off the back of a bus, with a timebomb padlocked to his brain, and a budding romance with the entire Newsnight presenting team. But for now, how is the BBC to follow such a Sunday night sensation?

Adapted from Australian-born, Glasgow-based writer Helen Fitzgerald’s 2013 novel, The Cry doesn’t quite go for the traditional, gun-toting thriller moves and meathook cliffhangers Jed Mercurio’s serial traded in, and might not quite pick up the same kind of audience numbers. But this four-part drama is an intriguing, complex, increasingly gripping crime piece, and quietly deals in subject matters that, while not so screamingly headline worthy, are more controversial, and more intimately familiar to many.

Despite the domestic scale of the story, the series also pulls out a few moments that, in their own way, rival some of Bodyguard’s heartstopping set pieces for producing shrill, shredded-nerves tension. But where Bodyguard went in for suicide vests, The Cry, to begin with, simply goes for, well, a cry: the unending cry of a screaming newborn baby.

Such is the ceaseless, distressing, almost visceral soundtrack to a key scene in tonight’s opening episode, drawn out to just beyond the point you think you can’t stand it any more. It’s in this harrowed psychological place – floating out just beyond the edge of endurance – that we meet the protagonist, Joanna, played by Jenna Coleman in a carefully judged performance that feels simultaneously close and raw, and yet distant and glassily unreadable.

The situation, roughly, is this. Joanna, a young teacher, has recently had a child with her newish partner, Alastair, an Australian working in Scotland as an oilslick smooth government spin-doctor. (Playing the part, Ewen Leslie is poised to take over from Dr Foster’s Bertie Carvel as the most despised husband on TV.)

Their baby, Noah, is three-months old, and for Joanna those months have been a battered eternity. Staying at home while Alastair heads out to be important at his job, she battles daily, nightly exhaustion, uncertainty, loneliness, despair and guilt, unable to crack the magic secret of bonding with her baby, or solve the impossible puzzle of how to make his eternal, demanding, deafening, draining, unsatisfiable crying stop.

How – or if – she makes it stop becomes the mystery at the heart of the story. From the beginning we know something bad has happened, but not exactly what. Adapted for the screen by writer Jacqueline Perske, the series splinters constantly between different time frames, generating a heavily ominous atmosphere. There come fractured flashes back to the early stages of Joanna and Alastair’s relationship (first meeting, first dates, the first time she realised he was lying), and then forward, offering glimpses of a court case, Joanna on trial, a figure of public speculation and hate.

The main section, however, follows the couple on a trip to Australia. Alastair is headed down there to try and win custody of his teenage daughter from his ex-wife, Alexandra (Asher Keddie). This entails a flight from Glasgow to Melbourne that becomes a claustrophobic nightmare for Joanna as, while Alistair dozes blissfully, Noah incessantly screams his lungs out, and the rest of the sleepless passengers fix their resentment on her. It’s hugely uncomfortable watching. You’ll want to watch more.

Monday October 1

Drowning In Plastic

8.30pm, BBC One

We’re almost used to being overwhelmed by astonishing images when the BBC turns its cameras on the natural world. In this keynote film on the state of the planet, however, the feeling washing over you isn’t awe, wonder and delight, but an increasingly distressing sense of despair, anger and near-helplessness. Presenter Liz Bonin travels the globe to build a real-time picture of the size and costs of the unimaginable tide of plastic waste now smothering our oceans: from shearwater chicks off Australia, choking on endless bottle top; to whales bound in discarded fishing lines; to islands of solid plastic waste forming in Indonesia. She also highlights efforts being mounted to tackle the problem, from machines trying to gobble up rubbish from the sea, to new, alternative forms of packaging based on natural materials. But it’s a bleak picture.

Tuesday 2

The Bank That Almost Broke Britain

9pm, BBC Two

A decade on from the global financial crash, this documentary tells the story of how a plucky Scottish bank grew to become the biggest in the world – before collapsing and triggering the largest bail-out in British history. The film focuses on a single day, October 7 2008, when the Royal Bank of Scotland collapsed and almost took the entire, already perilously shaky, UK banking system with it. Centre stage comes the figure of RBS CEO Fred “The Shred” Goodwin, whom colleagues and associates discuss from varying perspectives (“Morning meetings – he turned them into morning beatings.”) As the story of the rise and fall is recounted, key players offer other happy memories: “We’re haemorrhaging cash!” “The stuff of nightmares!” “Turn the lights off, get under the duvet, and buy a hot gun and some baked beans!”

Wednesday 3

The Apprentice

9pm, BBC One

When they finally decide to axe The Apprentice, I still insist they should do one last special series that features Alan Sugar giving away all his money for real and throwing himself barefoot and alone into the markets of East London with only £250 in his pocket, striving on a death-or-glory mission to rebuild his fortune, like an entrepreneurial version of The Wild Bunch. Meanwhile, here’s more of the usual rigmarole. The Apprentice long ago grew so self-aware, with everybody shouting lines from the same pantomime bastard script we’ve heard a million times, that there should be no point watching. Yet it retains that poisonous It’s A Knockout entertainment value. As we begin, the 16 bickering new hopefuls hoping to win an investment get a surprise, as the first task involves a trip to Malta to buy random tut.

Thursday 4

American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace 12.15am, BBC Two A repeat for one of 2018’s greatest series. In this stunning true crime drama, the fashion designer’s 1997 murder might get top billing, but Versace (a soulful Edgar Ramirez) is a secondary figure, as focus falls on the man who killed him, chameleon-like fantasist Andrew Cunanan (a remarkable performance by Darren Criss). Indeed, the title itself seems a pointed comment on fame: Versace makes the headline, but he was actually the last of five murders Cunanan committed, all of which are given equal weight. It’s based on journalist Maureen Orth’s book on Cunanan’s crimes, Vulgar Favours, but makes a decisive twist, electing to tell the entire story backwards, building into a foreboding, tawdry-tragic opera about celebrity, money, class, gender, homophobia and violence in America. Penelope Cruz co-stars as Versace’s sister, Donatella.

Friday 5

Rock’n’Roll America

9pm, BBC Four

Originally shown in 2015, this three-part history of Rock ’n’ Roll offers a coffee-table-style overview, boasting original interviews with veteran fireballs Jerry Lee Lewis, Wanda Jackson and Bobby Rush, alongside pioneering producers like Marshall Chess, and members of Billy Hayley’s Comets and Little Richard’s early bands – Richard himself is only present in archive, including a great 1970s BBC interview. Best of all is Allen Toussaint (who died shortly after the series first went out), touring the New Orleans laundromat that once housed the studio where, in 1949, Fats Domino cut “The Fat Man,” a contender for the first rock’n’roll single. (Although Ike Turner and Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” would have something to say about that.) Laying out the racial context, moral panic, and Elvis’s nuclear impact, the film also recounts the importance of teens-gone-wild movie, Blackboard Jungle.

Saturday 6

Saturday October 6

Troubles: The Life After

9.30pm, BBC Two

Co-directed by Brian Hill and Niamh Kennedy, this sad, poetic, defiant film considers Northern Ireland’s Troubles and their continuing echoes in a manner that sets it apart from most documentaries on the subject, and brings the impact on ordinary lives up close like few. The focus falls not on the politicians or terrorists on all sides, but on the people caught in the middle, particularly mothers, sisters, wives and daughters left to hold life together after loved ones were killed in the crossfire. The voices of several such women, newly interviewed, form the spine of the piece. Around them is woven a multi-layered tapestry formed from archive footage, and new poetry inspired by their stories, written by Nick Laird and delivered by the women themselves. Laird also wrote the narration spoken by Bronagh Gallagher.