Celebrity travelogues abound this week as TV critic Paul Whitelaw enjoys a bittersweet trip down memory lane for Alan Cumming and Griff’s Rhys Jones’ Great New Zealand Adventure.
Miriam & Alan: Lost in Scotland – Tuesday, Channel 4, 9:15pm
This new series involves Miriam Margolyes – whose father was Glaswegian – and Alan Cumming driving around Scotland in a campervan. Sounds like fun? Well yes, for the most part it is, but episode one features a saddening sequence in which Cumming revisits his childhood home in rural Tayside. His father was an abusive tyrant; watching his otherwise sunny demeanour fade as the awful memories come flooding back feels like a private moment we perhaps shouldn’t be intruding upon. But I understand why Cumming felt the need to share it. Their encounter with old pal Bill Paterson in the beautiful village of Fordyce is also rather bittersweet. There are some amusing moments too, though, I assure you.
Dispatches: Did Brexit Work for Business? – Monday, Channel 4, 8:30pm
The latest epistle from Channel 4’s long-running current affairs strand examines Brexit’s impact so far on the fortunes of British businesses. Reporter Harry Wallop strikes an irritatingly arch tone, as if it’s all a big joke, but if you can ignore that – good luck – the programme makes a sobering stats-heavy point. It’s based on an exclusive survey and some independent analysis (which factored in the effects of the pandemic). 635 small and medium-sized businesses were polled. Nearly half of them declared that they’re now doing significantly less overseas trade than before. Some of them have stopped trading with the EU entirely. They’re wandering through a bureaucratic minefield, an import/export shambles. Who would’ve thought?
The Outlaws – Monday, BBC One,
Worlds continue to collide in the fourth episode of Stephen Merchant’s good-natured comedy drama. This week, the community service gang’s accidentally appropriated drug loot needs to be discreetly laundered, and hapless lawyer Greg (Merchant) is the very man for the job. This leads to an amusing scene in which he has to pretend he’s familiar with the Twilight saga (it all makes sense in context). The Outlaws is occasionally quite contrived, but it’s also sweet, funny and sincere. The characters are engaging, the storyline is solid, and I admire the confident way in which it balances comedy and drama without any whiplash shifts in tone. Ricky Gervais could learn a lot from his erstwhile comedy partner.
DIY SOS: The Big Build Children in Need Special – Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm
A Hull-based charity funded by Children in Need, the St Michael’s Youth Project provides social opportunities for thousands of local kids. An admirable endeavour. Its latest expansion plan involves a countryside campsite and adventure playground; so who better than the DIY SOS team to bring that dream to fruition? Regular host Nick Knowles was too busy with other work commitments to take part in this very special episode, but emergency guest presenter Rhod Gilbert is an amiable temp. A particularly compassionate and politically-pointed episode, it conveys an important message about poverty. No one should be starving in Britain today, but here we are. A shameful state of affairs. It’s a quietly forthright plea for change.
Between the Covers – Wednesday, BBC Two, 7:30pm
An informal weekly book club, Between the Covers is a pleasant distraction. Hosted by the ever-so-likeable Sara Cox – an entirely natural broadcaster who, one suspects, is just as they appear to be on screen – it polls the opinions of various fiction-steeped celebs. This week’s line-up: comic actor John Thomson, cheerfully sentient toffee apple and Saturday Kitchen booze expert Olly Smith, plus two excellent comedians, Fern Brady and Lou Sanders. Books under review include new releases The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald and The Coward by Jared McGinnis. Brady also recommends one of her favourites, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, while Smith waxes lyrical about the novelisation of Ghostbusters.
Children in Need 2021 – Friday, BBC One, 7pm
Highlights of this year’s charity telethon include: a special teddy bear-based instalment of The Repair Shop; BBC News and sport journalists playing a round or two of I Can See Your Voice; Team GB and Paralympics GB competing in a school sports day; and CBBC presenters Sam and Mark taking on Danny Dyer’s wonderfully ludicrous gameshow, The Wall. Dyer will hopefully pause proceedings to aggressively demand viewer donations: “Give the kiddies some readies, you muppets!” Your hosts for the evening are Ade Adepitan, Mel Giedroyc, Graham Norton, Chris Ramsey and Alex Scott. A charitable celeb-based edition of University Challenge unfolds on BBC Two at 10pm, and the benign ghost of Terry Wogan haunts proceedings throughout.
Griff’s Great New Zealand Adventure – Friday, STV, 8pm
The very definition of avuncular, Griff Rhys Jones is one of the imperial doyens of celebrity travelogues. Yes, it’s an overstocked market, but Griff is particularly good at This Sort of Thing. He’s funny, charming and inquisitive. In episode one of his latest odyssey, he surfs down some sand dunes, checks into New Zealand’s oldest hotel, bakes a haphazard kiwi pavlova, and marvels at some striking contemporary art dotted throughout a verdant private farm populated by giraffes. He also learns about some traditional Maori customs and, err, sings God Save the Queen with a sensational indigenous choir. That’s a slightly awkward moment, but clearly well-intentioned. It’s a culturally sensitive and respectful programme; a nice vicarious vacation.