Paul picks his top choices for TV this week, including looks back at the events of 9/11 and a dramatisation of the Stephen Lawrence story. Turn to the charming Ghosts for some family-friendly light relief.
Stephen – Monday, STV, 9pm
On 22nd April 1993, teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered during a racially motivated attack. That crime remained officially unsolved until 2012, when two members of a white gang were found guilty. Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and his brother Joe, this absorbing, angry, compassionate three-part drama is a damning indictment of the corrupt, incompetent and institutionally racist Metropolitan Police. It also honours the determination of DCI Clive Driscoll (a solid turn from Steve Coogan), an unassuming man of integrity who realised that a terrible injustice had taken place. Driscoll led a unit largely devoted to investigating the police themselves, but his risk paid off. The story begins in 2006, when the Lawrence family were still being denied answers.
Ghosts – Monday, BBC One, 8:30pm
The arrival of corporeal Alison’s long-lost half-sister could potentially place her co-ownership of Button House in jeopardy, so she puts the Captain on the covert case. Meanwhile, Lady Fanny is acting giddily out of character. Could she be in love? Ghosts is currently the best British sitcom. Warm, funny and occasionally quite touching, it’s written and performed by a talented troupe of comics with an innate understanding of how to appeal to a family audience. They could easily tailor their skills towards a post-watershed slot if they wanted to, but where’s the fun in that? The restrictions they’ve placed upon themselves enhance the comedy. Ghosts is possessed of the utmost wit and charm.
Surviving 9/11 – Monday, BBC Two, 9pm
There are two feature-length BBC documentaries this week commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The first is a meditative study of grief and trauma. It features moving eye-witness accounts from some of the survivors, one of whom, Vanessa Lawrence, now lives and works as a painter in Ayrshire. Lawrence was the artist in residence at the Twin Towers in 2001; her studio was on the 91st floor of the North tower. We also hear from an Englishman, Matt Campbell, whose brother Geoff was killed that day. Campbell has never trusted the official report, although he’s aware that his investment in 9/11 conspiracy theories could be a subconscious method of channelling his pain.
9/11: Inside the President’s War Room – Tuesday, BBC One, 8:30pm
When the second hijacked plane hit the South tower at 9:03am on 9/11, President George W. Bush was sitting in front of a classroom full of young children. We’ve all seen the footage of him gradually trying to process the news. This gripping moment-by-moment account of 9/11 is told from the perspective of Bush and colleagues such as Condoleeza Rice. By allowing them to explain their actions, the film tacitly asks us to make our own judgements. Bush comes across as someone preoccupied with justifying his legacy. “I’m not much of a navel-gazer,” he smirks. “I guess you could say I’m a man of action… let’s just say I’m comfortable with the decisions I made.”
Back to Life – Tuesday, BBC One, 10:35pm
This dry-witted comedy-drama should, by rights, be as popular as Fleabag (it’s produced by the same team). Daisy Haggard, who writes the show alongside Laura Solon, stars as Miri, a woman struggling to readjust to life after spending eighteen years in prison for murdering one of her best friends. Miri is a most unlikely murderer, but that’s the point. She’s likeable, sympathetic, someone deserving of a second chance. As series two begins, she’s still trapped at home with her dysfunctional parents. But she’s got a new job stacking shelves in a supermarket, and her sweetly tentative romance with Billy (Adeel Akhtar from Four Lions) is still trundling along. Then the mother of her victim arrives in town…
Our Lives: Lambing Life – Wednesday, BBC One, 7:30pm
Chloe is a 24-year-old sheep farmer from the Peak District. This documentary follows her during lambing season, which for obvious reasons is a particularly busy time of the sheep-farming year. Chloe is great, she really gets stuck in. We witness her literally breathing life into recently birthed lambs, as well as various other specialist skills she hopes to pass on to the next generation of her family. She also writes poetry on the side and runs an alternative therapy business. Our Lives is a lovely series; it deserves a warm smattering of applause for shedding light upon the everyday activities of people from all walks of life. Positive by design, it’s a reassuring portrait of humankind.
Grantchester – Friday, STV, 9pm
Series six of this ecclesiastical sleuth caper kicks off with a hot priest case set in a holiday camp. For the uninitiated, Grantchester is set in the late 1950s/early 1960s (its exact time stamp is, a la Heartbeat, rather vague), so we’re talking full-on Hi-de-Hi! vibes here. In traditional style, the regular cast all go on holiday together. But their fun doesn’t last: death stalks them where e’er they go. As always, this episode fulfils its duties without any fuss. Grantchester belongs to British television’s very long line of cosy, undemanding murder mysteries: it doesn’t seek to challenge or provoke, it exists purely as a piece of slick escapism. And sometimes, occasionally, that’s all you require.