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Paul Whitelaw: Freeze the Fear leaves our critic cold

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TV critic Paul Whitelaw welcomes the return of Inside No.9, continues to be hooked on the grimly compelling House of Maxwell but is uninspired by Freeze the Fear.

Inside No. 9 – Wednesday, BBC Two, 10pm

The latest series of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s exceptional anthology begins with something fans have long been waiting for: a reunion with their erstwhile League of Gentlemen cohort Mark Gatiss. They play old university friends meeting up for the first time in years. Lawrence (Shearsmith) has arranged an off-season (and highly symbolic) pedalo ride on a remote lake. Much to Lawrence’s chagrin, Darren (Pemberton) has brought his new girlfriend (Diane Morgan) along. She thinks they’re heading for a fun boat party. In fact, they’re going nowhere. You can never go back. Sometimes people just drift apart. A compact study of loss and nostalgia, but with jokes, the episode confounds expectations in typical Inside No. 9 style.

Yorkshire Midwives on Call – Monday and Tuesday, BBC Two, 8pm

Bradford-based midwives Gemma and Laura.

This gently uplifting factual series follows a team of homebirth midwives based in Bradford. On average they look after 160 women each year. Thoroughly nice people, these midwives are also great at what they do. The series grants insight into the practical details of their workaday activities, while examining the bittersweet emotional aspects. Naturally, they always form an attachment with their patients. But once a midwife’s work is done, she has to move on to another family. The series also spends time with some of the pregnant mothers who have decided to give birth at home. They all have their reasons. After watching this, younger viewers may feel inspired to add midwifery to their list of potential job options.

House of Maxwell – Monday, BBC Two, 9pm

This image of Ghislaine Maxwell formed part of her trial evidence.

If their accounts are to be believed, some of Ghislaine Maxwell’s closest friends were shocked by the revelation that she’d trafficked underage girls for the paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and his wealthy friends. The final episode of this grimly compelling series attempts to explain how Maxwell and Epstein got away with their crimes for so long. It features heartrending interviews with two of their many victims, both of whom describe the horrific ordeals they went through. We also hear from some of the lawyers who acted on behalf of the victims. Their anger is palpable: the system, the establishment, betrayed those vulnerable young women. Prince Andrew makes his presence felt in the final 20 minutes. He isn’t spared.

Freeze the Fear with Wim Hof – Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm

Wim Hof, a motivational guru also known as The Iceman.

Wim Hof, aka The Iceman, is a Dutch motivational guru renowned for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures. It’s a skill he attributes to a unique combination of breathing exercises, yoga and meditation. Hof is the benignly eccentric star of this otherwise drab and dubious reality series in which eight celebs face a series of extreme sub-zero challenges in the mountains of northern Italy. It’s basically I’m a Celebrity with a spiritual self-help angle, or The Apprentice hijacked by a hippie Alan Sugar. Which sounds amazing, I know. It’s not amazing. It’s a tiresomely formulaic piece of television. A snow-capped turkey, it has to be seen at least once. Just so you can prove that it happened.

Life After Life – Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm

Life After Life follows several possible life stories for Ursula, played by Isla Johnston.

Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Kate Atkinson, this is not your standard period drama. Structurally ambitious if nothing else, it explores various alternative possible lives for its protagonist. Ursula is born in 1910 to an upper middle-class English family. That’s the only fixed point in time. The splintered story then unfolds as a series of vignettes in which Ursula’s lives are beset by tragedy. I appreciate the stark philosophical ‘What if?’ message – life in all its permutations is cruel and unpredictable – but the overall effect is rather cold, calculated and alienating. It falls short of its profound ambitions. I haven’t read the book, but I gather it explores this premise in a far more affecting way.

Chivalry – Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm

Steve Coogan with Chivalry co-star Sarah Solemani.

Steve Coogan and Sarah Solemani write and star in this new comedy-drama inspired by the #MeToo movement. Highly sensitive territory, but it’s clear from recent interviews that Coogan and Solemani have thought deeply about how to handle this subject within a semi-comedic context. Whether they succeed remains to be seen. Set inside the A-List Hollywood film industry, it examines the tense professional relationship between a serious feminist auteur and a bigshot film producer with a reputation for dating much younger woman; an awkward dinosaur trying to navigate his way through a modern world he doesn’t quite understand. Episode one shows only vague promise, but I’m inclined to trust these writers. They obviously have something to say.

The Rising – Friday, Sky Showcase, 9pm

Supernatural drama The Rising gets off to a good start on Sky Showcase.

A young woman, Neve, has been murdered and dumped in a lake. The next day, she returns as an invisible, inaudible ghost. Neve can’t remember what happened, but she’s determined to track down her killer. And from thence does this new supernatural drama from Sky unfold. Episode one is quite arresting. It establishes the central mystery without any undue fuss: a no-filler thriller with hints of emotional depth. The ghostly premise and rural, gloomy lakeside community setting stir memories of the excellent French drama Les Revenants. While it may not live up to that comparison, it strikes me as something that could be worth sticking with. Unless you have an aversion to ghost stories, I daresay you’ll be intrigued.