This week, Paul recommends a hair-raising Storyville documentary about capitalist excess…
NEXT WEEK’S TV
Storyville: Red Penguins – Murder, Money and Ice Hockey – Monday, BBC Four, 10pm
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia struggled to deal with the reality of becoming a free market economy. A playful documentary with a sinister underbelly, Red Penguins presents the bizarre saga of a short-lived American investment in Russia’s national ice hockey team as a symbol of rampant capitalism at its ugliest and most chaotic. The star of the show is one Steven Warshaw, a charismatic oddball who was tasked with marketing the team to a brave new world. His ideas included hiring strippers as cheerleaders and enlisting actual bears to serve free beer to fans. And then Disney got involved. The Russian Mafia moved in. There were fights, death threats, bedlam all around.
The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown – Monday, BBC One, 8:50pm
I never had any time for The Vicar of Dibley. I’m all for Dawn French and I will, if pushed, defend some of Richard Curtis’ solo work, but Dibley was always white noise; the bland comedy equivalent of a Mail on Sunday advert for commemorative Diana tea towels. And now it’s back via three interminable ten-minute shorts in which Reverend Geraldine delivers awkward online sermons to the people of Dibley during the first national lockdown. In episode one she conducts a Zoom chat with some annoying children and entertains a pointless cameo from Hugo (James Fleet). None of the jokes land, it’s embarrassing, like a hastily cobbled-together DVD extra (remember them?) with ideas above its station.
Queens of the Street – Wednesday, STV, 9pm
The best characters in Coronation Street have always been women. This programme pays tribute to some of its most memorable working-class heroines. ITV have milked Corrie’s 60th anniversary more than they presumably intended to do at the start of this year, but their vast archive has proved useful in filling the scheduling gaps caused by Covid-19. While Queens of the Street regurgitates every point ever made in previous Corrie documentaries – I swear I’m more familiar with these clips than I am with my own neighbours – it’s a harmless burst of nostalgia. Contributors include Carla, Gail, Hayley and Liz (not their real names, I know), and it features plenty of classic Hilda Ogden and Elsie Tanner action.
Nadiya’s American Adventures – Thursday, BBC One, 8pm
Nadiya Hussein has always been fascinated by America, which is home to more immigrants than anywhere else on Earth. In episode one of this heartening culinary travelogue, she arrives in Louisiana to immerse herself in a banquet of sizzling soul food. A vibrant combination of African, Caribbean and European cuisine, soul food is a symbol of cultural identity and diversity. In New Orleans, Hussein – a charming, funny, empathetic guide – meets an optimistic Lower Ninth Ward grocery store owner who provides succour to his post-Katrina community, and a Mardi Gras bandleader devoted to helping local kids. She also dabbles in Cajun cooking. Hussein doesn’t ignore the hardship, the injustice, but this is ultimately a celebration of tradition and endurance.
Snackmasters – Thursday, Channel 4, 8pm
I’m ever so slightly fond of this knowingly trivial series in which Fred Sirieix presides over a bunch of Michelin-starred chefs tasked with cracking the sacred ingredient codes of cheap, popular everyday snacks. In this episode, they have to manufacture some Quavers: “the snack equivalent of Brigitte Bardot” according to Fred, who has presumably never munched upon a Quaver in his life. The central gag, obviously, is that classy French Fred looks down on our unhealthy British obsession with salty potato snacks, while the ludicrously competitive chefs are overqualified and out of their depth. But it never feels sneering, the whole thing is delivered with a cheery wink. It’s a deep-fried bucket of nothing, it means no harm.
New Elizabethans with Andrew Marr – Thursday, BBC Two, 9pm
Chapter two of Marr’s social history essay is slightly more coherent than his breathless opening salvo. He continues to highlight some of the notable public figures who have, for better or ill, helped to shape British society since the Queen ascended the throne in 1952. This week’s heroes and villains include David Attenborough, Tony Benn, Bob Geldof, Colin ‘Mad Mitch’ Mitchell, Louis Mountbatten and Eric Clapton’s idol Enoch Powell, but the most diverting segments are devoted to the lesser known likes of Mediterranean cuisine proselytizer Elizabeth David, the brave strike leader Jayaben Desai, and the heroically dedicated Greenham Common protestor Helen John. Power to (some of) the people. Marr, as always, presents with his usual mix of gravitas and impishness.
The Sound of TV with Neil Brand – Friday, BBC Four, 9pm
As this delightful series continues, Brand examines some of television’s most memorable jingles, idents, beds and stings. He meets Roger Greenaway, co-author of I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, that pseudo-hippie anthem designed to shift gallons of Coke (and which will now be forever associated with Mad Men). He also talks to Linda November, who has sang over 2,000 jingles during her highly successful backroom career. Brand’s overarching point is that this music, no matter how banal it may seem, isn’t just thrown together without any thought. Its deceptive simplicity is key to its psychological effect on viewers/consumers. That 1980s Shake n’ Vac ad may be rather daft, but you remember it don’t you?
FILM of THE WEEK
Legend – Tuesday, Film4, 11:25pm
This fairly entertaining yet fundamentally flawed factual drama about the Kray Twins is best enjoyed as a showcase for the eccentric talents of Tom Hardy. He’s in teeth-rattling stereo here, playing both Reggie and Ron via seamless screen trickery. Hardy’s embodiment of two distinct characters is an impressive feat, but he’s the whole show. Without his compelling dual presence, the film would be nothing more than a stylish yet bog-standard biopic about unsavoury people. It doesn’t celebrate these violent psychopaths, but nor does it grant any insight into what made them tick. Villains are fascinating to a certain extent. The problem with Legend is that it presumes their very existence alone is enough to sustain dramatic interest.
LAST WEEK’S TV
Michael McIntyre’s The Wheel – Saturday 28th November, BBC One
Are the BBC trying to start a Saturday night gameshow turf war? If so, I’m backing Danny Dyer’s weirdly mesmerising The Wall over this lacklustre confection. Dyer’s permanently hungover disinterest is far preferable to McIntyre’s hyperactive jollity. The premise: seven celebrities are seated on the outer rim of an oversized roulette wheel guaranteed to trigger motion sickness. They claim to be experts in a particular field, but the contestants seated in the centre of the wheel are at the mercy of its randomness. Joey Essex, for example, won’t be much help in answering a question about World War II. The best gameshows are often the simplest, but The Wheel is far too repetitive. Round and round it spins into oblivion.
Small Axe – Sunday 29th November, BBC One
Steve McQueen’s latest film told the true story of Leroy Logan (John Boyega), a young black man who joined the police in the 1980s, believing that he could challenge institutionally racist attitudes from within. Logan eventually became the first chair of the National Black Police Association, but McQueen focused on his horrific early days in the force. It highlighted how alone he felt. Logan endured racist abuse from white colleagues and suspicion from within his own community. Yet despite his anger and frustration, he never gave up hope. Buoyed by excellent performances from Boyega and Steve Touissant as Logan’s proud, conflicted father, this episode confirmed what I’ve said from the beginning: show Small Axe in schools, embed it within the curriculum.