Thursday 30 March 2017

The definitive weekend TV guide - what to watch Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Adele, Bressie, and some Scandi noir...

Bressie's Ironmind RTE 2
Bressie's Ironmind RTE 2
The Bridge, BBC 4
Marcel Theroux (centre) reporting for Channel 4's Unreported World

Pat Stacey

Pat Stacey chooses the best of this weekend's TV so you don't have to trawl the listings all by yourself...

TONIGHT

Current affairs television in the UK wasn’t always at as low an ebb as it is now. There was a time when even ITV, which has become a byword for dumbed-down content aimed at the lowest common denominator audience, didn’t regard current affairs as a necessary evil that had to be grudgingly tolerated.

Programmes featuring serious investigative journalism weren’t banished to the margins or reluctantly squeezed into the gaps between sitcoms, soaps, game shows and talent contests as a token gesture to public service broadcasting.

Series like Thames Television’s This Week and Granada’s World in Action were important, highly valued elements of the old ITV network’s schedules. They were shown in prime time and watched by millions of viewers. Their brand of fearless campaigning journalism often rattled the establishment and frequently had a major impact on events of the day.

This Week’s most influential episode was probably its 1974 exposé of the National Front; its most controversial was certainly the hour-long documentary special Death on the Rock (1988), which questioned the official account of a military operation, in which the SAS shot dead three members of the Provisional IRA on Gibraltar.

World in Action produced innumerable superb episodes during its 35 years on air, but the most famous is probably its 1990 documentary drama Who Bombed Birmingham?, which re-enacted the 1975 Birmingham pub bombings, as well as key events in Chris Mullin’s campaign. It played a vital role in helping to prove the innocence of the Birmingham Six.

Both series have been off the air for a long time. This Week was cancelled in 1992; the axe fell on World in Action six years later. Their contemporary, the BBC’s Panorama, is still running.

These days, though, the one-time current affairs flagship is a faint shadow of its old self. The BBC effectively emasculated it some years ago by cutting its running time back from an hour to 30 minutes.

We’re lucky, so, that Unreported World (Channel 4, 7.30pm) is still flying, however modestly, the flag the above programmes hoisted all those years ago.

In the first of a new series, novelist Marcel Theroux, older brother of Louis, travels to South Korea, which spends less money on welfare than any other developed country, bar Mexico.

The result is that people with learning difficulties are being put at great risk of being exploited. Theroux learns that criminal gangs are targeting vulnerable adults in big cities by tricking them into running up large debts.

The only way they can clear them is by taking jobs on remote islands, where the main crops are salt and seaweed. The work is back-breaking and the hours are long.

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Elsewhere, your choices tonight are limited. Adele Live in London (RTE2, 8.30pm) — which is broadcast simultaneously on BBC1 but under a different title, Adele at the BBC — features the vanilla-flavoured songbird performing tracks from her new album 25 and being gently quizzed by an adoring Graham Norton.

Alternatively, you could stand in the middle of the road staring at the cat’s eyes for an hour. It’s basically the same thing.

SATURDAY

With Swedish, Danish and Norwegian drama producers gradually turning away from crime thrillers to focus on other genres, it looked worryingly like the golden age of Scandi noir was at an end.

BBC4’s most recent imports fell far short of the quality we’ve come to expect. Arne Dahl, which finished its current run last Saturday, was competent but nothing more.

Despite being based on a series of highly acclaimed novels by bestselling Swedish duo Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Beck, shown earlier in the year, was dull and unremarkable.

Luckily, still towering sturdily above the competition is The Bridge (BBC4, 9pm), back tonight for a third season and apparently showing no signs of losing its popularity in Sweden or Denmark, which augurs well for the future.

Frankly, the thought of no more Saturday nights spent in the company of singular Swedish detective Saga Noren, played by the incomparable Sofia Helin, would be too much to bear.

the bridge.jpg  

Changes have been rung, though. Saga will have to get by without her Danish counterpart/partner Martin Rhode, who was headed for prison at the end of the second season. Kim Bodnia, who played him, had been due to return for season three, but pulled out due to differences about how his character was being developed.

Sad to see him go, but there’s still plenty here to sink your teeth into. Saga and her new partner, Danish cop Henrik Saboethe (Thure Lindhardt), investigate a characteristically disturbing case. In an echo (accidental, I’m sure) of Channel 4’s import Witnesses, someone has arranged four figures — three mannequins and one dead body, all of them heavily made-up — in a grisly family tableau on a Malmo building site. Just the thing for a dark night.

SUNDAY

As a Dubliner who migrated to Wexford more than a decade ago, I’ll be watching the first episode of Ireland with Simon Reeve (BBC2, 8pm) with extra interest. In this first episode, Reeve learns that some Wexfordians still have a fractious view of the British, largely as a result of the county’s revolutionary past (1798 and all that).

He also takes the more conventional travelogue route by going surfing in Lahinch, climbing Croagh Patrick and popping across the border to visit Crom Castle.

Singer Bressie has been commendably frank about discussing his own mental health issues. In Bressie’s Ironmind (RTE2, 9.30pm), he shows the link between exercise and mental wellbeing, and trains four people battling their own mental health demons for a gruelling half-Ironman.

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