Paul’s picks for the week ahead include witch trials with the always engaging historian Lucy Worsley, a call for improved black history provision in UK schools from professional footballer Troy Deeney and some light relief with Bake Off: The Professionals and Grayson’s Art Club.
Lucy Worsley Investigates – Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm
Worsley’s latest series is a characteristically vivid and engaging history lesson in which she challenges the received wisdom surrounding “some of the most dramatic and brutal chapters in British history.” Episode one finds her poring over ancient accounts and recently unearthed clues about Britain’s 17th century witch hunts. It’s an awfully bleak yet fascinating subject. Worsley breathes life into women who were tragically persecuted during an epoch poisoned by violently deranged religious fervour. A horrific historical chapter. Worsley’s essays are sometimes tinged with whimsical humour, a little bit of light to offset the shade, but she’s on deadly serious form here. There is no room for levity. It’s a disturbing cold case investigated with commendable care and rigour.
Troy Deeney: Where’s My History? – Monday, Channel 4, 10pm
The professional footballer Troy Deeney continues his dedicated stand against structural racism in this informative documentary. Education is key, that’s Deeney’s driving point. A more expansive account of black history needs to be embedded within the UK’s school curriculum. British children have to learn about a whole range of ethnic minority role models. A few well-meaning lessons devoted to the likes of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks aren’t enough. That just won’t do. “Learning about the positive contributions black people have made to society will not only empower black pupils,” says Deeney, “but will help stamp out the vile racist abuse me, my family and people of colour as a whole are subjected to.”
Bake Off: The Professionals – Tuesday, Channel 4, 8pm
I don’t understand the appeal of these cake-based programmes, but to each their own. Enjoy what you like, just as long as no one gets hurt in the process. If this column has a message, it’s probably that. Anyway. You know the formulaic score: various patisserie artisans compete for Bake Off glory. In round one they have just three hours to create 36 strawberry frasiers. As soon as that challenge was announced I immediately envisioned several full-sized glazed effigies of the actor Kelsey Grammer. That’s because I’m inherently facile. The results don’t live up to my stupid imaginings. Life is a constant disappointment. Genuine plus point: the delightful Stacey Solomon is your new co-host.
State of the Union – Tuesday, BBC Two, 10pm
Series two of this anthology drama, which is written by Nick Hornby and directed by Stephen Frears, unfolds as before in snappy ten minute exchanges between a troubled married couple. Ellen (Patricia Clarkson) and Scott (Brendan Gleeson) meet in a hipster New York coffee shop. It’s a fraught encounter. Clarkson and Gleeson are both fine actors, but Hornby’s screenplay is terribly mannered. His writing draws attention to itself in a self-congratulatory way. It makes the dialogue of that insufferable blowhard Aaron Sorkin sound like Shane Meadows at his rawest. Ellen and Scott never come across as real people, they’re just mouthpieces for Hornby’s sub-screwball waffle. It’s a long ten minutes. Oh well. Other television programmes are available.
Inside No. 9 – Wednesday, BBC Two, 10pm
The best episode of this particular series thus far, ‘A Random Act of Kindness’ is a sad domestic drama that veers off in entirely unexpected directions. The excellent Jessica Hynes stars as Helen, a tired, lonely, middle-aged woman trapped in an unhappy relationship with her angry teenage son, Zach. One day, a small bird crashes into Zach’s bedroom window. The injured animal is rescued by Bob (Steve Pemberton), a kindly passing stranger with a peculiar linguistic quirk who gradually forms a friendship with Helen and Zach. Reece Shearsmith plays a significant supporting role, as do the laws of physics (that’ll make sense when you watch it). This is Inside No. 9 in primarily serious and poignant mode. It lingers.
Grayson’s Art Club: Queen’s Jubilee Special – Wednesday, Channel 4, 10pm
Now, you wouldn’t expect Grayson Perry to be much of a royalist. And you’d be right. But he’s fascinated by the monarchy and all the complex things it represents. The Queen in particular is an artist’s dream. Her image and the iconography that surrounds her can be used in all sorts of interesting ways. In this typically thoughtful edition of his Art Club, Perry and his wife Philippa invite talented amateur artists to create their own symbolic renderings of Her Majesty. “Whatever they might tell us about her,” says Perry, “might also tell us some revealing things about ourselves.” His celebrity guests are Harry Hill and Prue Leith, but as always the real stars are creative members of the public.
PRU – Thursday, BBC Three, 10pm
This new sitcom follows a bunch of teenagers as they attempt to navigate their way through everyday life at a Pupil Referral Unit, otherwise known as a school for excluded kids. Series creators Alex Tenenbaum, Nathaniel Stevens and Teddy Nygh have created something here that’s clearly borne of research and experience. It’s a sympathetic piece of social commentary, albeit one that doesn’t draw self-conscious attention to its fundamentally serious themes. The young multicultural cast are entirely convincing, and the writing is quite sharp at times. Will you bust a gut laughing? Probably not. But PRU is a likeable show populated by intriguing characters, and the premise alone makes it worthy of consideration. It has some potential.