This week Courier TV critic Paul Whitelaw takes a look at The Syndicate, Coronation Street Legend Johnny Briggs and the return to Dragon’s Den.
The Syndicate – BBC1, Tuesday, 9pm
Kay Mellor is one of those TV dramatists whose work never fails to draw me in. A writer with a natural ear for dialogue, unforced humour and pathos, she knows how to spin a cracking yarn. In the latest series of The Syndicate, she introduces us to another set of sympathetic, cash-starved characters. The protagonist is a young working-class woman addicted to gambling apps and scratch cards. She’s in serious debt. And then, well, her fortunes improve. Mellor doesn’t patronise these fictional constructs, she’s invested in their desperation. A tacitly political writer, she smuggles compassionate themes into accessible mainstream fare. The Syndicate is a morality tale with heart.
Johnny Briggs: Coronation Street Legend – ITV, Monday, 8pm
Mike Baldwin, the cockney wideboy with a gazillion-watt smile, was one of the great Street characters – Weatherfield’s very own JR Ewing, the strutting silk-tied yin to Ken’s cardigan-wearing yang. Johnny Briggs, the charismatic actor who inhabited Mike for 30 years, sadly passed away last month. This programme pays tribute to him. He was, by all accounts, a lovely man who was perfectly content with playing the same character on a soap for decades. And who can blame him? A sweet gig, regular work, and viewers never tired of his performance. This tribute was still being edited at the time of writing, but it promises to include glowing eulogies from some of his friends and colleagues.
Britain’s Tiger Kings: On the Trail with Ross Kemp – ITV, Tuesday, 9pm
In the first few seconds of this new series, uncompromising documentary film-maker Ross Kemp makes a striking declaration – while you may have been appalled by the behaviour of Joe Exotic during the Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Britain is no better. He meets rather sad and troubled people who cage wild animals in their back gardens. Locals aren’t worried about being attacked by an escaped puma while putting the bins out. They’re just appalled by animal cruelty. Kemp, to his credit, gently confronts the “tiger kings” with inarguable facts – “a dog and a lion is a very different thing”. They disagree. It’s infuriating. How dare humans treat animals like this.
Being: BBC1, Tuesday, 11.25pm
In this warm new series, British people from a range of religious backgrounds talk about what their faith means to them. First up, Judaism. Evan is preparing for his bar mitzvah. He’s chosen to devote his big day to the memory of those who died in the Holocaust. It’s very touching. In episode two, which goes out at 12.05am, we meet some British Hindus as they mark births, marriages and deaths. The fundamental message of the series is this – people of faith may celebrate life’s major milestones in different ways, but we’re all united by love of family and friendship – a universal constant. Later on in the series we’ll be hearing from members of the Sikh, Christian and Muslim communities.
Dragons’ Den – BBC1, Thursday, 8pm
It may have found a new home on BBC1, but it’s – if you will – business as usual in the Den. A formulaic torrent of pantomime nonsense in which millionaires harass nervous entrepreneurs, it still features series stalwarts Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones (looking as ever like a self-satisfied bicycle thief), plus Sara Davies, Tej Lalvani and Don Estelle. Sorry, I mean Touker Suleyman. And then there’s host Evan Davis, who has spent approximately 97% of his adult life stalking around that converted attic set like a lonely ghost going through the motions. Products this week include a revolutionary range of flavoured teas for millennials, a special hand cream for NHS workers, and mindfulness art courses.
The Dog House – Channel 4, Thursday, 8pm
An irresistible series entirely lacking in cynicism, The Dog House pivots on a universal truth – when you’re at a low ebb, the companionship of a cat or dog will lift your spirits. They’re not an automatic cure, of course not, but they help. And we help them. If you haven’t seen it before, here’s the premise. Set inside a charitable institution for homeless dogs, each episode involves people meeting their new best pals. This week’s episode stars a little Jack Russell by the name of Rocco, who delights his new family. The Dog House is, as always, a quietly profound programme about the lasting significance of that connection between humans and those furry buffoons we foolishly presume to call friends.
Pandemic 2020 – BBC2, Thursday, 9pm
This major new series documents year one of the pandemic via the personal testimonies of people all around the world. Produced by the estimable team behind Once Upon a Time in Iraq, it follows a similar format. There is no narration, just interviewees placed front and centre. This, combined with the stark footage employed, helps to create a mood of heartbreaking intimacy. The series begins in January 2020, when no one could’ve predicted the severity of what was about to unfold. It captures the initial shock and confusion, followed by that terrible dawning realisation – this is really happening. While handled with the utmost sensitivity, it may prove upsetting for some viewers.