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Paul Whitelaw: This Is Going to Hurt is a timely transmission from the NHS front line

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Paul Whitelaw takes a look at the week ahead on our small screens and recommends Ben Whishaw in This Is Going to Hurt, Imagine with Marion Keyes and some heart-warming Valentine’s fun in First Dates.

This Is Going to Hurt – Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm

Based on Adam Kay’s bestselling memoir, this arresting comedy drama stars Ben Whishaw as a junior NHS doctor desperately overworking on an obstetrics and gynaecology ward. It begins with him waking up in his car following a gruelling twelve-hour shift. He’s then immediately dragged back into the never-ending thick of it. Adam is witty, sarcastic, a little bit full of himself, but fundamentally decent and dedicated. Whishaw, who resembles a sleep-deprived adolescent, is perfectly cast. This Is Going to Hurt exposes, in kinetic semi-real-time detail, the sheer amount of stress experienced by NHS hospital staff on a daily basis. The physical and psychological consequences are self-evident. It’s a timely transmission from the frontline.

No Return – Monday, STV, 9pm
Sheridan Smith as Kathy in No Return.

Does Sheridan Smith ever rest? Barely a week goes by without her starring in an angst-ridden TV drama. She’s an excellent actor, but overexposure will do her no favours: beware the Bradley Walsh effect. This time she plays the matriarch of a happy Manchester family on holiday in Turkey. One night her teenage son attends a beach party. The next day he’s arrested on a charge of sexual assault. A waking nightmare ensues. Written by Jimmy McGovern protégé Danny Brocklehurst, No Return clearly has its heart in the right place with regards to tackling homophobia and dodgy policing. But it does feel quite familiar, principally because we recently witnessed Smith playing an almost identical role in Four Lives.

60 Days with the Gypsies – Monday, Channel 4, 9pm
60 Days with the Travellers offers a sympathetic look at the travelling community.

Channel 4 have notoriously poor form when it comes to the traveling community; the sneering tone of their Big Fat Gypsy franchise will never be forgotten. But this new series is more insightful and sympathetic. It follows explorer Ed Stafford as he spends time with some travellers. Their entire culture is in danger of being wiped out by increasingly hard-line authoritarian measures. They’re constantly being evicted from their campsites, and have nowhere else to go. Fearful of reprisals, some of the travellers are reluctant to appear on camera. Stafford admits to having conflicted feelings at first, but through his first-hand experience he gains a greater understanding of this way of life. The programme confronts prejudice and challenges misconceptions.

Imagine… Marian Keyes: My (no so) Perfect Life – Monday, BBC One, 10:35pm
Marian Keyes talks about her life with typical wit and self-deprecation – (C) BBC Studios – Photographer: Tom Hayward

The work of Irish author Marian Keyes is quite rightly renowned for its darkly comic honesty and acute conversational prose. A recovering alcoholic, she writes about addiction and depression with disarming clarity. Her empathy is borne of experience. This enlightening profile confirms that the person on the page is the real confessional deal. She’s clever, funny and frank; a charming individual with no time for self-aggrandising or self-pitying manure. And Keyes is basically in charge here, which means she gets to narrate her own life story without too many buffoonish intrusions from Imagine editor Alan Yentob. Glory be. The programme also addresses her discomfort with the ‘chick lit’ tag. It’s a reductive, snobbish double-standard.

Cheaters – Tuesday, BBC One, 9:50pm
The stories of Cheaters unfold over 18 ten-minute episodes.

Spread over eighteen ten-minute episodes, this new comedy drama is a faintly depressing study of neurotic, unhappy, dysfunctional people. Dunno about you, but I get enough of that at home. It begins with a man and a woman cute-meeting in a Finnish airport. They both have partners at home in London, but one thing leads to another etc. Then a highly unlikely coincidence occurs, thus leading to all manner of domestic complications. How many stories about awkward middle-class people do we really need? Four at most. Fictional characters don’t have to be sympathetic necessarily, but they do have to be interesting in some way. We need to be invested in their situation. Cheaters is a struggle.

Storyville: President – Wednesday, BBC Four, 10pm
Nelson Chamisa at rally in Zimbabwe.  (C) Final Cut for Real – Photographer: Henrik Bohn Ipsen

The tyrannical dictator Robert Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years. In 2017 he was ousted by a military coup. The leaders of that coup then called a supposedly democratic election; opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, a former student activist who bravely staged a non-violent campaign against Mugabe’s regime, was the favourite to win. This despairing documentary follows his election campaign. Set against a backdrop of corruption and economic chaos, the film depicts Chamisa as an honourable man struggling to instil hope within a populace that’s been oppressed for decades. How can you have faith in rigged game? It’s a powerful meditation on the universal fight for basic human rights vs a system diametrically opposed to allowing such freedom.

First Dates: Valentine’s – Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm
Roisin And Saskia visit the First Dates Restaurant for a Valentine’s special.

Fred Sirieix must rotate like a fizzing Catherine Wheel whenever Valentine’s Day rolls around. It’s the ultimate time of year for his restaurant o’ love. I haven’t seen this episode, but as a fan I can offer a cast-iron guarantee: it will provide some mildly uplifting cheer. This week’s hopefuls include a man who’s been hit with divorce, redundancy and a heart attack, a set of 75-year-old twins with showbiz in their veins, and a woman who can’t resist an Irish accent. Her date ticks that box, but will they click? The First Dates formula will never wear out its welcome, because we all want to see people being happy. Sounds trite, I know, but it’s true.