Fosse/Verdon – 9pm, BBC Two

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing – 8pm, BBC Two

Although the two are ultimately rather different affairs, it’s difficult to imagine that Fosse/Verdon – an eight-part drama about the choreographer and director Bob Fosse and his wife, the dancer and actor Gwen Verdon – would have existed had it not been for the success of Feud, the excellent 2017 series about the rivalry between Bette Davis And Joan Crawford.

Both shows focus on an intense showbiz relationship and attempt to peer beneath the gloss and the best-known “facts” to offer more nuanced character studies. And both use the characters revealed as prisms through which to view the industry and the wider society around them, and particularly the sexism of both.

Fosse/Verdon, though, is a harder sell. Bob Fosse, the obsessive force behind the movie Cabaret and the enduring Chicago stage production, is a cult to a section of dance and movie fans, but by no means an icon of the magnitude of Bette and Joan, whose legendary cat fight gave Feud its snap, crackle and pop. Similarly, Gwen Verdon, while reckoned by some the greatest dancer Broadway has ever known, is by now a name few this side of the Atlantic recall at all. Although to a degree, this – the way Verdon’s name came to be eclipsed by Fosse’s, even as she helped build his career in a near symbiotic collaboration – is the drama’s theme.

Still, it’s difficult to know quite who this series is aimed at. Even though it boasts two superb performances in Sam Rockwell’s Fosse and, particularly, Michelle Williams’s Verdon, the casual viewer might be left baffled over who these theatre people are, or why anyone should care, despite a few sometimes clumsy moments of exposition.

Fans of Fosse, though, will be mostly entranced, both by the biography and, especially, sequences that see him – with Verdon’s help – crafting famous routines, like the blasting “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity, or Cabaret’s clattering “Mein Herr.”

Laying out their tumultuous relationship from their first meeting, while Fosse was choreographing Verdon in the stage hit Damn Yankees in 1955, to his death in 1987, the theme of Verdon gradually losing her career to his is established early. She was originally the star of this relationship, but, even though she was a phenomenon in Fosse’s 1966 stage production of Sweet Charity, Verdon was replaced in his subsequent movie adaptation by Shirley MacLaine, yet worked on the film behind the scenes, as she would again on the Oscar-winning Cabaret.

Told in a jumbled, fragmented chronology, the series flashes backwards and forwards to show the two assuming familiar roles. With his insecurities, addictions and eternal womanising, Fosse is the clichéd “troubled genius,” while Verdon gradually becomes that cursed thing, his “muse.” Simultaneously, however, the drama also helps re-establish Verdon as being possessed of an equal genius, even if she didn’t make quite such a song-and-dance about it.

Rockwell is excellent as a self-absorbed, somewhat unreadable Fosse. Really, though, the show belongs to Michelle Williams, and through her magnificent performance, to Gwen Verdon. You might not know her name going in to this series, but, if you stick with it, you’ll want to learn more about her afterwards.

In the future, will there be a glossy Hollywood series made about the relationship between Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse? Only time will tell. But for now, thankfully, we have the real thing, as the blessed Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing returns. This second series is just like the first, one of the sweetest gems of recent TV. As they amble around some ridiculously beautiful parts of the UK on a gentle catch-and-release fishing tour, it is simultaneously relaxing, stupid, hilarious, and unaccountably moving. Long may they wade.



Arena: Cindy Sherman #untitled

9.05pm, BBC Four

For over four decades, the inimitable, much imitated American artist Cindy Sherman has, as one contributor puts it, “done something weird: dresses up in costume and make-up, then photographs herself.” Creating portraits of people who don’t exist, Sherman’s charged images are like single-moment movies, and as the culture has changed, her hilarious, unsettling, sad, grotesque and tender work has been read as everything from a comment on the stereotypical roles women are forced to play, to an astonishing prophecy of our fractured, selfie-obsessed age. Then again, as she says herself here: “Maybe it’s all bullshit.” Built around a new audio interview with Sherman (who hasn’t talked on camera in 10 years) and a wealth of archive, this sharp, playful profile by director Clare Beavan is one of this week’s true treasures. Great soundtrack, too.


How To Break Into The Elite

9pm, BBC Two

The story that the British class system “doesn’t matter anymore” has been getting pedalled since the mid-1940s, but how true is it today? In this documentary, the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan explores how much where you come from and who you know still matter when it comes to trying to get a job in certain professions. He follows several university graduates from different backgrounds as they begin the search for work, with some eye-opening results. Amaan, who comes from a working class family, struggles in his interview for a city job, while the privately-educated Ben sails through his work experience placement – so how much is confidence linked with class? Rajan also follows two Leeds graduates mystified over how to break into the media industry, and reflects on his own experience getting into journalism as the son of Indian immigrants.


I Am Kirsty

10pm, Channel 4

Following on from last week’s stand alone drama with Vicky McClure, director Dominic Savage continues his I Am… strand with this devastating, but utterly believable piece, made in collaboration with the peerless Samantha Morton. Once again the largely improvised story follows a woman facing a moment of crisis. Morton plays Kirsty, a single mother of two little girls, who is just about scraping by with her job as a maid in a hotel. But it only takes one unforeseen event to derail her life so that she’s left floundering as the crushing debts begin to build around her. As she grows more desperate, the turning point comes when a neighbour she meets at the school gates (Paul Kaye) offers her a way to make some money. Things grow dark very quickly, but Morton is magnetic – her face is the entire film.


Der Pass

9pm, Sky Atlantic

When a body is found staged grotesquely so it lies exactly on the snowy mountain border between Germany and Austria, two mismatched detectives from the neighbouring countries must work together to solve the crime. Yes, it’s yet another remake of the Swedish-Danish hit The Bridge, but after that familiar opening this eight-part thriller moves off in its own direction. The German cop, Ellie Stocker (Julia Jentsch) is a bright, friendly, positive soul, while her Austrian counterpart, Gedeon Winter (Nicholas Ofczarek), is a lumbering, brooding, solitary burnout, haunted by some dark secret in his past. While there are clichés in the air, the show uses its Alpine settings in a spooky, seductive manner: as they venture into the secret places of the dank, sinister, gloomy woods, Ellie, in her crimson cagoule, is framed like Little Red Riding Hood, with Winter as a wounded wolf.


Murdered By My Boyfriend

10.35pm, BBC One

Originally show in 2014, this tough, plain-speaking little drama, based on a real case, is still relevant – in the UK today, two women die each week as a result of domestic abuse. It’s the story of Ashley, only 17-years-old as we begin, who falls for an older guy, Reece. When they start going out, she begins to realise he’s very possessive and his jealousy flares up easily. At first, she thinks it’s a sign of how much he cares. When he starts hitting her, she sees how sorry he is afterward, and reckons it must be her fault. From here, it goes down and down across four years until the moment described in the title. Carefully written and performed, the film makes it easy to understand how someone can get trapped and isolated in this situation, while telling themselves it will get better.

Saturday August 3

Below The Surface

9pm, BBC Four

The thing I remember most about the first series of Below The Surface – the Danish series about a hijacked subway train beneath Copenhagen – was that it wasn’t as good as watching Walter Matthau deal with the hi-jacked subway in The Taking Of Pelham 123. But that hasn’t stopped them making a second series, arriving tonight with a double bill. Now on extended leave, the leader of the anti-terrorist taskforce who handled the original case, Philip Norgaard (Johannes Lassen), is asked for help by June (Yasmin Mahmoud), a Danish citizen facing prosecution for fighting against ISIS in Syria. She claims to have evidence of Danish involvement in that conflict. No one else seems interested, but when she disappears, he senses foul play, and follows her trail to the ferry between Denmark and Sweden.