Rules of the Game – Tuesday and Wednesday, BBC One, 9pm
Maxine Peake stars in this timely new thriller about a workplace environment dominated by sleazy alpha males. She plays Sam, the manager of a successful family-run business. Sam initially comes across as cynical and assured, but it gradually transpires that she’s just as vulnerable as every other female employee. An intimidating culture of secrecy has formed around this toxic fiefdom, but that begins to unravel when a newly installed and highly capable HR director starts asking too many difficult questions. Writer Ruth Fowler lasers in on the ways in which powerful men can exploit their position to abuse women, especially when they think they’ll never be held to account. The results are necessarily uncomfortable.
Art on the BBC – Monday, BBC Four, 9pm
The latest episode of this delve into the BBC archives focuses on the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh. The de facto definition of the supremely gifted yet tortured artist, Van Gogh is an enduring source of fascination, hence why he’s inspired numerous BBC documentaries and dramas over the years. Art historian Kate Bryan highlights some of the more notable examples. It’s an effective way of separating fact from fiction – has any artist been mythologised and misrepresented more than poor old Vincent? – while also serving as a celebration of British television and the way in which it’s helped to democratise so-called high culture. Your archival guides include Sister Wendy Beckett, David Hockney and Simon Schama.
Couples Therapy – Monday, BBC Two, 10pm
At first glance, this new series from US network Showtime feels like a mockumentary. But no, apparently it’s real. It follows clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst Dr Orna Guralnik as she deals with various New York-based couples in need of relationship counselling. They’re disconcertingly earnest in that uniquely American way; everyone looks and sounds like an actor. We’ve finally reached a stage in human evolution where some people are so au fait with the rhythms and cadences of scripted dialogue, they can no longer communicate in a convincingly spontaneous manner. But once you get used to that, all you’re left with is a bunch of navel-gazers yammering on about their personal problems. It’s simultaneously boring and bizarre.
Party Island: Summer in Zante – Monday, Channel 4, 10pm
There was once a time, not so long ago, when the entire point of shows such as this was to sneer at the booze-addled youth of Britain as they make fools of themselves abroad. But this one takes a more sympathetic view; I’d even go so far as saying that it recognises the pathos of carefree kids labouring under the illusion that they’ll be friends forever. Set on the Greek island of Zante, it follows a gang of inoffensively bantering lads and some similarly bantz-tastic influencer girls hawking deluxe burgers on Instagram. They’re just a bunch of nice-enough kids having fun before the crushing weight of adulthood destroys their hopes and dreams forever. Good luck to ‘em.
The Adventure Show – Thursday, BBC Scotland, 8pm
This week, intrepid journalist and broadcaster Amy Irons scales a sheer sea cliff on the slippery southern edge of the Orkney mainland. As waves crash dramatically below her, she remains resolute in her daunting endeavour. Irons also makes the helpful point that, even if adrenalized adventuring isn’t for you (or me), there are a multitude of delights to savour in Orkney. It’s a rugged wonderland full of lighthouses, caves, puffins, seals, affordable hostels, picturesque bicycle routes and glorious sunsets. We also meet a marine scientist devoted to the welfare of stranded dolphins. Now in its seventeenth series, The Adventure Show is a stalwart source of rural Scottish comfort. Maybe it really is a wonderful world after all.
Iain Robertson Rambles – Thursday, BBC Scotland, 8:30pm
In which the affable River City actor continues his epic yomp along the Southern Upland Way. A reminder that you’re never more than three feet away from a celebrity filming a scenic walk, this immersive series cleaves to a winningly familiar formula: armed with a 360-degree camera, our tireless rambler provides an informal and ruminative assessment of their surroundings while exploring a little bit of local history. Robertson is a natural guide, his passion for rambling is palpable. “Just keep trudging on,” he advises, “one foot in front of the other, and the next thing you know that thing that was miles and miles away on the horizon, all of a sudden it’s within your grasp.”
Andy Warhol’s America – Thursday, BBC Two, 9pm
The inherent violence and chaos of American culture explodes to the forefront in chapter two of this vivid essay. Warhol presented himself in public as a blank canvas, but it’s clear from his work that he was engaged with the turbulent world around him: proof that irony and compassion aren’t mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, he wasn’t exactly a people person. This episode confirms what I’ve always felt: being part of Warhol’s Factory clique must’ve been pretty damn miserable. Living your life behind an affected facade of glib amphetamine cool isn’t healthy. No wonder there were so many casualties. Like all Warhol documentaries, this one is populated by silly people saying silly things. We’d feel short-changed if it didn’t.
FILM of THE WEEK
Carry On Spying – Friday, Film4, 3pm
One of the very best Carry On films, this gag-packed espionage caper from 1964 is the team’s irreverent answer to the early James Bond craze. But it also works as an all-purpose spy film spoof featuring nods to The Third Man and various Hitchcock classics. Kenneth Williams resurrects his popular Snide persona from Hancock’s Half Hour to play the most unlikely leader of a covert Secret Service unit tasked with infiltrating an all-powerful global crime syndicate (STENCH). His hapless teammates are Bernard Cribbins, Charles Hawtrey and, in her Carry On debut, Barbara Windsor. Everyone is clearly enjoying themselves: the climactic chase around a super-villain’s underground lair is particularly inspired. Great fun.
LAST WEEK’S TV
The Tourist – New Year’s Day and Sunday January 2, BBC One
Blatantly inspired by Hitchcock, Fargo and Steven Spielberg’s Duel, this entertaining thriller stars Jamie Dornan as an Irish tourist driving solo through the Australian Outback. When a menacing tanker truck forces him to crash, he wakes up in hospital with no memory of who he is. All he knows is that someone is trying to kill him. But why? Written by the prolific Harry and Jack Williams of The Missing and Baptiste renown, The Tourist milks its simple premise with the utmost élan. It’s easy to identify with Doran’s nameless protagonist, as he wanders around this scorched alien landscape in an increasing state of bewilderment, frustration and fear. A superior potboiler for these forbidding winter nights.
Four Lives – Monday January 3 to Wednesday January 5, BBC One
In 2014 and 2015, serial killer Stephen Port murdered four young gay men whom he met via dating and hook-up apps. This respectful dramatization focused on the victims and their loved ones. Written and produced by seasoned true-crime artisans Jeff Pope and Neil McKay, Four Lives was essentially a sensitive study of grief; a theme embodied by the excellent Sheridan Smith as the mother of Anthony Walgate, one of Port’s victims. It also served as an indictment of the police investigation, which was ill-informed by crass generalisations about gay people. Port himself was played by Stephen Merchant in his first dramatic role. It was a surprisingly effective performance; an understated distillation of the banality of evil.