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PAUL WHITELAW: Don’t miss Martin Freeman nailing a career-best performance in The Responder.

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From hard-hitting police drama The Responder to Katie Price’s Mucky Mansion, Paul Whitelaw reveals his TV highs and lows for the week ahead.

The Responder – Monday and Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm

Martin Freeman delivers a career-best performance in this queasy drama about an urgent response police officer struggling with mental health issues. Desperately overworked, he’s had enough. His beat on the mean streets of Liverpool feels futile. “I want to be normal,” he sighs to his therapist. But he’s somehow in the pocket of a local drug dealer (Ian Hart), and hopelessly trapped in a nocturnal odyssey of violence and death. Despite that sombre premise, The Responder is liberally peppered with amusing gallows humour. The tone is consistent. Written by former policeman Tony Schumacher, it’s unsentimental yet compassionate in the Jimmy McGovern vein. It feels painfully authentic, so much so that it won’t go down well in police recruitment circles.

Bradley & Barney Walsh: Breaking Dad – Monday, STV, 8pm
Barney and Bradley Walsh meet escapologist David Merlini in Budapest (C) Hungry Bear Productions.

I like Bradley Walsh, but he is now officially the most ubiquitous man on television. It’s ridiculous, he’ll probably be hosting Newsnight next. But I can’t deny the simple pleasures of this series, in which Walsh and his affable son roam the globe in their massive RV. This week they’re in Hungary. Naturally, Walsh does the “no thanks, I’ve had breakfast” dad joke; it would be disappointing if he didn’t. Highlights include a visit to a museum dedicated to one of Hungary’s most famous sons, Harry Houdini. Walsh actually re-enacts the great escapologist’s straitjacket stunt, which involves him hanging upside down from a slowly burning rope, 150 feet above the ground. I kid you not.

The Nilsen Files – Monday, BBC Two, 9pm
Hattie Llewellyn-Davies. (C) Wall to Wall.

In 1983, after dismembered human remains were discovered in his flat, the serial killer Dennis Nilsen confessed to claiming the lives of up to 16 young men. This sensitively handled series gives voice to his victims and their families. A stark document of early 1980s Britain, it reveals how those men weren’t just victims of Nilsen, but also of mass unemployment, rising homelessness, police indifference and systemic homophobia. They fell through the cracks of a society which, according to Thatcher, didn’t exist. Bolstered by impressive research, the programme features contributions from police officers, journalists and a homelessness outreach worker who knew one of the victims. Her kindness stands in sharp contrast to the shocking attitudes we encounter elsewhere.

I, Sniper: The Washington Killers – Monday, Channel 4, 10pm
Lee Malvo, one of the men behind the Washington sniper attacks, was just 17 at the time.

Twenty years ago, a random spate of sniper attacks occurred in the Washington D.C area. Ten people were killed and three were critically injured. The perpetrators were Lee Malvo, who was 17 at the time, and US Army veteran John Muhammad. This grimly absorbing series attempts to explain what motived them to commit such a heinous crime. Not that their motivations will ever make any kind of rational sense, but episode one presents Muhammad as a charismatic yet deeply disturbed individual who seemingly radicalised his vulnerable surrogate son. Audio recordings of Malvo being interviewed in prison offer some disquieting insight into his psyche. Other interviewees include two of Malvo’s relatives and some of the victims’ devastated family members.

Jay Blades: Learning to Read at 51 – Wednesday, BBC One, 9pm
 Jay Blades, who left school with no qualifications works to improve his literacy skills.

Jay Blades, the genial presenter of TV favourite The Repair Shop, left school without any qualifications. He’s been told by experts that he has the reading age of an 11-year-old. In this programme, he endeavours to improve his literacy skills with assistance from a charity who offer one-to-one coaching. Preview copies weren’t available in time, but this sounds like a worthwhile piece of television. It is reported that over eight million adults in the UK, including half of all prisoners, struggle with their reading. Blades meets up with people who share his difficulties, while revealing how he runs a successful upholstery business and presents television programmes without any recourse to the written word.

Katie Price’s Mucky Mansion – Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm
Katie Price at home in the aforementioned mucky mansion.

Time now to follow Katie Price as she renovates her dilapidated 19-room mansion in the Sussex countryside. Price has abandoned it, hence why it’s fallen into such a severe state of uninhabitable disrepair. The interior resembles the aftermath of a furious showdown between the Hulk and at least five werewolves. “I’d probably be better off knocking it down and starting again,” she sighs. Or making a television series about doing it up. There are always options. Renovating the mansion is, according to Price, a psychological process. Its sorry state is a symbolic manifestation of her turbulent private life. That’s the framing device anyway. I wish her nothing but the best, but this is hardly riveting television.

The Mind of Herbert Clunkerdunk – Wednesday, BBC Two, 10pm
The Mind of Herbert Clunkerdunk. (C) Tiger Aspect – Photographer: Ricky Darko

Surreal comedy is a difficult art to pull off. For every successful example such as Monty Python or Vic & Bob, there are a million pretenders who mistakenly think that throwing a load of ‘random’ ideas at the wall will suffice. Enter comedian Spencer Jones and his zany alter ego, Herbert Clunkerdunk. Spending time in his mind is like being trapped at an office joker’s power-point presentation. A relentless torrent of self-conscious whimsy and weirdness, it’s utterly exhausting. I admire the intent, at least he’s attempting to do something a bit different and unpredictable. He tries very, very hard to please. And that’s the problem, his eccentricity never feels organic. There’s nowt much worse than forced nonsense.

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