Baghdad Central

10pm, Channel 4

Inside No. 9

10pm, BBC Two

Baghdad Central is hardly the first drama to take the 2003 invasion of Iraq as backdrop. But sixteen years since the missiles started falling along the Tigris, it still stands out as one of only few to attempt to present the conflict and its ongoing consequences from the perspective of ordinary Iraqis caught in the middle.

In particular, the series foregrounds the experience of a loving father, Muhsin al-Khafaji (Waleed Zuaiter), and his grown daughters, the headstrong Sawsan (Leem Lubany) and Mrouj (July Namir), left fragile by kidney disease. We first meet them in a brief prologue in spring 2003, a small family held together by bonds of happiness and sorrow. There is no mother, for reasons we learn later, and Muhsin, an inspector with the Iraqi police, watches his girls with a mix of fondness and anxiety, proud to hear them speaking their minds, but fearful they don’t speak too loud, wary of who might be listening.

Rumours of the inevitable war are at their peak, and the city is in a strange lull, waiting for the violence to begin. For Sawsan, it can’t come soon enough. A student, she looks forward to the bombs falling the way young women in other cities might anticipate a long-planned holiday. She’s already dreaming of a better, bigger future after Saddam, life in a truly democratic, secular society.

When it comes, the short war itself is barely glimpsed, merely a cameo: Muhsin hears the first explosions outside their little flat, and goes to his balcony to see that the horizon is on fire, and the future has arrived. The scene then jumps to October 2003, when the hard reality of life post-invasion has set in, when everything is broken and in a mess, and when our real story begins. Muhsin, no longer a policeman, discovers Sawsan has gone missing, and heads out into the rising chaos to try and find her, following a trail that leads toward the new regime set up by the Americans beyond the barricades of the Green Zone.

Based on the novel by Elliott Colla, an expert in Middle Eastern affairs and scholar of Arabic literature, and brought to the screen by Stephen Butchard, who previously wrote House Of Saddam, there are many themes at play: the disaster wrought on Iraqi society by the dismantling of the country’s police and army; the way radical forces filled the vacuum; the resentment between the occupying forces and the “liberated” people; the strained relationship between US and UK allies; the mercenary role of private security operations; the place of women in Iraq.

But the six-part series cannily wraps all this in the most familiar format possible, coming on as a traditional, noir-tinged thriller, about a lonely detective hunting for a lost woman through a dangerous underworld filled with strange, suspicious characters. There’s a delicious performance from Bertie Carvel, as a bitter, slippery and sly little ex-cop Brit, tasked with rebuilding the Iraqi police. But the stand out is Waleed Zuaiter who brings Muhsin to life with compelling shades of strength and gentleness. It’s an engrossing story, with unique atmosphere.

Talking of unique, look out tonight for the return of the peerless Inside No. 9. Is this the best TV programme currently being made in the UK? Certainly, few others consistently do so much with so little as writer-stars Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, and I’d rank at least four of the individual 9s among the most inventive and surprising British TV dramas of the past five years. This new series begins in fine style. It’s the day of the big game between Rovers and United, and in a shabby dressing room, the match officials gather ahead of kick-off. Really excellent stuff, with a terrific performance from David Morrissey as the referee in charge.



Art On The BBC

9pm, BBC Four

The first of four archive programmes getting naked tonight, as art historian Kate Bryan looks back through the BBC vaults to chart how various arts shows have dealt with the nude . There are terrific clips, including Kenneth Clark snootily approving of Michelangelo, and Sister Wendy tipping her wimple in the direction of Adam. It’s followed by Horizon: What’s Wrong With Nudity (10pm); Fig Leaf: The Biggest Cover Up In History (11pm), charting the use of the sensitively positioned camouflage; and No Body’s Perfect With Rankin and Alison Lapper, with the photographer and disabled artist examining contemporary attitudes to beauty. There’s more flesh tomorrow in The Shock Of The Nude With Mary Beard (Monday, 9pm, BBC Two), in which the historian considers the naked body in art across the centuries, and asks whether it was always really just acceptable soft-porn for the elites.


Universal Credit: Inside The Welfare State 9pm, BBC Two This ambitious three-part series offers an in-depth picture of the Department For Work And Pensions as it implements its biggest and most controversial change in years: the introduction of Universal Credit. The series explores the system at every level, interviewing the civil servants and managers in charge, the frontline workers staffing Jobcentres around the country, and – often most revealingly – the claimants trying to live on the new benefit, or waiting for it to come through. The first episode visits Peckham Jobcentre, where we meet Rachel. After a 27-year career in the NHS, she left her job to care for her elderly parents. She’s been moved on to Universal Credit but is struggling to pay her rent and bills – partly due to paying back an advance she took out to bridge the gap while waiting for her first Universal Credit payment.


The Righteous Gemstones

9pm, Sky Comedy

Fans of Danny McBride’s previous sitcoms (Vice Principals and Eastbound & Down) will find much to love in his latest comedy about awful men. The Gemstones are a famous televangelist family founded by patriarch Eli (the magnificent John Goodman), who, with his late wife Aimee-Leigh (played in flashbacks by country singer Jennifer Nettles), made a fortune praising Jesus on TV and built an empire of megachurches. Now Eli’s three bickering adult children, Jesse (McBride), Kelvin (Adam Devine) and Judy (Edi Patterson), are jostling for position to inherit the kingdom – but all have their flaws and hypocrisies, particularly Jesse, whose secret appetites bring him to the attention of blackmailers. Smart and funny, it moves in unexpected directions as the series unfolds. In coming episodes the excellent cast is joined by the brilliant Walter Goggins as their shifty, failed country singer uncle, “Baby” Billy.


Barrymore: The Body In The Pool

9pm, Channel 4

That’s Michael Barrymore, and the subtitle refers to the death of Stuart Lubbock, who was found dead in the swimming pool at the entertainer’s home in Essex on the last day of March 2001. At the time, Barrymore was one of the UK’s most popular and highly-paid TV personalities, and beginning to branch out into acting with his Bob Martin series, but the case, particularly as it was played out in the tabloid press, practically destroyed his career. At the same time, Lubbock’s death remains officially unexplained, and shrouded in rumour – including suspicions concerning the actions of the police, with such a high-profile suspect and a scandal-hungry media. This feature-length documentary explores the events surrounding and following Lubbock’s death in detail, with contributions from eyewitnesses, detectives and pathologists, and members of Lubbock’s family still waiting for answers.


Frankie Boyle's Tour Of Scotland

10pm, BBC Two

Locke & Key


Frankie Boyle’s new show unavoidably stirs sense memories of Billy Connolly’s old TV tours– like his fellow Glasgwegian, Boyle travels around riffing on the history and present of the places he visits, seeks out interesting sights and interesting locals, and puts together new material he tests in stand up gigs along the way. The difference, of course, is he’s Frankie Boyle, and brings his own acid, black, and politically inflected viewpoint. In the first of four films, he journeys from Aberdeen to Oban, meets a hermit, and brings up Jimmy Savile. Elsewhere today, Netflix launches Locke & Key, a spooky thriller based on a comic book, in which, following their father’s murder, three young siblings move into the family’s sprawling ancestral haunted house, where a set of magical keys offers the chance to open doors that might be best kept closed.


The Sunset Ltd

9pm, Sky Atlantic

A chance to see this sometimes grim, often electrifying 2010 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s play, directed by Tommy Lee Jones and written for the screen by the author. Jones also co-stars as a nameless university professor (listed in the credits as “White”), just rescued from a suicide bid by ex-convict Samuel L Jackson (“Black”). The latter has just taken the professor back to his shabby apartment, where they begin to debate whether life is worth living, the scholar armed with cynicism and arguments of reason, his rescuer countering with faith and earthy cheer. Confined to the single location, the stage origins are clear, but that’s no bad thing. With both actors on top of their game, Jones uses the restrictions to stoke an intense atmosphere of big ideas and rich language.