This week, Courier TV critic Paul Whitelaw previews a sobering insight into the Caroline Flack story, hails the return of Taskmaster and looks at this year’s Comic Relief offerings.
Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death – Channel 4, Wednesday, 9pm
In December 2019, TV presenter Caroline Flack was arrested for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend. Two months later she took her own life. In this touching documentary, Flack’s tragic story is told by those who knew her best. Her family reveal that even as a child she was prone to mood swings. She found heartbreak impossible to deal with. She suffered breakdowns and self-harmed. Like so many people do, she hid her depression. This is all discussed in a gentle, loving way. It’s a sensitive eulogy to an emotionally fragile person and a damning indictment of our callous modern age. Flack was hounded by the press and abused on social media. I hope those ghouls are utterly ashamed of themselves.
DNA Family Secrets – BBC2, Tuesday, 9pm
The final episode of this poignant genealogy series follows Stacey Dooley as she assists more folk in search of ancestry answers. Mixed-race brothers Peter and David, who were adopted, want to find out more about their biological father. They have no idea where he was from or what ethnicity he was. Meanwhile, Manuela is desperate to know if her sight-impaired son carries a gene that causes blindness, and Tink hopes to find out whether she has sperm donor siblings. Dooley is a good choice of host, she’s likeable and empathetic, but the star of the show is Professor Turi King, who explains the science and gently guides the contributors through the entire process. She radiates kindness.
Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan – BBC Four, 10pm
This documentary is a thoroughly depressing portrait of a chronic alcoholic who was once a great talent. Director Julien Temple tries to inject his usual punk-mythological energy into proceedings, but at one point he obviously realised that there’s nothing funny or romantic about this saga: a recurring shot of MacGowan today, barely capable of lifting a glass of wine to his lips, punctuates the narrative. The man himself is essentially the narrator, his drowsy, booze-pickled slur and rattlesnake cackle a recurring motif. He struggles to articulate his thoughts. There are pointless cameos from Johnny Depp and Bobby Gillespie. You’ll probably feel sad, awkward and exhausted by the end.
Billy Monger’s Big Red Nose Day Challenge – BBC1, Thursday, 9pm
Four years ago, British racing driver Billy Monger was involved in a horrendous collision that resulted in the amputation of both his legs. Now, in aid of Comic Relief, he embarks upon a formidable mission: walk, kayak and cycle 140 miles across England. Preview copies weren’t available, but I feel compelled to flag this up as it sounds interesting. Monger is used to pushing himself to the outer limits of his endurance. Here he must learn to kayak, which is something he’s never done before, and get back on a bicycle saddle for the first time since his crash. Along the arduous way he receives advice and encouragement from celebrities such as Jose Mourinho and Zoe Ball.
Taskmaster – Channel 4, Thursday, 9pm
The latest series of this genial comedy gameshow kicks off with a typically silly question: What’s the most impressive thing you can do under a table with one hand while staring and waving at the camera? You know the drill by now. Host Greg Davies – a naturally funny man – asks celebrities to conquer some mildly physical tasks. This week’s contestants are Lee Mack, Jamali Madix, Sarah Kendall, Charlotte Ritchie and Mike Wozniak. Note to the producers: we know there’s no studio audience, you don’t have to dub on ghostly smatterings of laughter. It’s distracting and impossible to ignore once noticed. And yes, I would like you, dear reader, to notice it too, just so I don’t feel alone.
Rob Brydon’s Now That’s What I Call Comic Relief- BBC Four, Thursday 10pm
It’s been a criminally long time since we’ve seen libidinous soul man Theophilus P. Wildebeest on our screens, so thank God almighty for this cheery clip show in which Lenny Henry’s skin-tight alter-ego is just one of the many musical highlights. Rob Brydon, no stranger to a charitable singsong himself, guides us through memorable Comic Relief performances from the likes of Elton John and George Michael. We’re also reminded of the time when Portuguese crooner Tony Ferrino (Steve Coogan) performed a romantic duet with Bjork (Bjork). And you will, of course, be treated to those incessant karaoke contributions from Peter Kay and his army of ‘80s light entertainment survivors.
Comic Relief 2021 – BBC1 and BBC2, Friday, 7pm
And here’s the really big shoe (copyright Ed Sullivan; there’s a reference for the swinging UK teenagers) itself. The Comic Relief telethon isn’t what it was in its late 1980s heyday, that exciting comedians-taking-over-the-airwaves anarchy is long gone. For nearly 30 years it’s been indistinguishable from cosy old Children in Need. Sir Lenworth is the last remaining link to that original epoch, and here he’s joined by guest hosts Alesha Dixon (a safe pair of hands who isn’t a comedian), Davina McCall (a vaguely tolerable presence who isn’t a comedian), David Tennant (a fine actor who isn’t a comedian) and Paddy McGuinness (a stagnant puddle of bin juice who has ‘comedian’ listed on his CV).