The definitive weekend TV guide - what to watch Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Springsteen, Rudolph Nureyev, and, eh, Alan Partridge...
Pat Stacey chooses the best of this weekend's TV so you don't have to trawl the listings all by yourself...
With just seven more sleeps, or nightmares if you haven’t got the Christmas shopping sewn up yet, to go before the big day, it’s a fairly quiet weekend on the box as the channels gird their loins for the big seasonal splurge.
The feature-length drama Captain Webb (Drama, 8pm) is an isolated treat on an isolated channel most of us probably wouldn’t trouble too much on a regular Friday.
Warren Browne, currently to be seen in Luther, plays Captain Matthew Webb, who was once a British national hero (his face appeared on matchboxes for years), but has been largely forgotten.
In 1875, Webb was the first person to swim the English Channel without any artificial aids (an American swimmer had done it earlier, but using an inflatable suit). The feat took 22 hours. Webb didn’t just triumph over the odds — swimming in a zig-zag pattern for 39 miles to avoid jellyfish stings — but also over the distinctly odd.
His body was coated with protective porpoise oil and he wore a wire mesh bathing suit, which can’t have been comfortable. He was accompanied by three small boats, their crew keeping him supplied with roast beef sandwiches and slugs of beef tea and brandy.
The film ends on a high, but Webb later met his end at just 35, while trying to swim across the Whirlpool Rapids below Niagara Falls.
Unlike most Christmas specials, TFI Friday (Channel 4, 7.30pm) really is a bit special, in that Chris Evans acquires a co-host for the evening, none other than Norwich’s finest, Alan Partidge (Steve Coogan). Pity he can’t do it every week.
To celebrate the release of a certain low-budget science fiction movie, The Graham Norton Show (BBC1, 10.35pm, or 11.05pm if you’re watching the wretched BBC1 NI), has the reliably off-message Carrie Fisher as star guest. Which is interesting, because...
... The Jonathan Ross Show (UTV/ITV, 9.45pm) has its own Star Wars icon in the shape of Harrison Ford. Did the two hosts have to fight with lightsabers to decide who got first pick?
Ford can be famously grumpy and uncooperative in newspaper and magazine interviews, yet always seems to loosen up on TV chat shows (witness his hilarious appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live), so this could be a lot of fun.
You could count all the things I know about ballet on the fingers of one foot, but even philistines like me are familiar with the name Rudolf Nureyev, the most famous dancer of all time. Sorry to hurt your feelings, Michael Flatley; life can be tough like that.
The feature-length drama-documentary Rudolf Nureyev: Dance to Freedom (BBC2, 8.50pm) uses reconstructions and revelatory interviews with former dancers, KGB agents and the French friends of the late star to tell the crackingly tense story of his defection in Paris during the Kirov Ballet’s first ever tour of the West in 1961.
It was an event that reverberated far beyond the rarefied world of tutus, tights and jockstraps to become a propaganda victory. As one contributor here says: “It meant the West could say, ‘We won the Cold War’.”
It’s farewell to Saga and her new partner Henrik as the third series of The Bridge (BBC4, 9pm) comes to an end with the usual double bill of episodes.
Has this been the best one so far? It’s wiser to reserve judgement until it’s wrapped up completely, but it’s certainly been strikingly different from its predecessors in the way it’s gradually revealed the supposedly ice-cool, unflappable Saga as a tortured lost soul.
Huge credit is due to the marvellous Sofia Helin and the writers for making one of the most compelling characters in modern crime fiction, whether on TV or on the printed page, even more compelling.
The Christmas comedy line-up across the channels doesn’t exactly grab you by the throat (unless your idea of fun is multiple doses of Brendan O’Carroll). If you care to see how sitcom seasonal specials used to be done, tune in to Porridge (BBC2, 8.05pm).
First shown at Christmas 1976, this extended episode finds Fletcher (Ronnie Barker), Godber (Richard Beckinsale) and meek Mr Barrowclough (Brian Wilde) caught up in a siege situation when a disturbed prisoner (the excellent Dudley Sutton) takes the governor and his secretary hostage.
Sutton’s anecdote culminating in a punchline about sliding doors in a supermarket is worth the 45 minutes by itself. One of the finest ever examples of comedy scriptwriting that perfectly balances humour and pathos.
It’s as sure as night follows day that The Sound of Music will turn up at least once on television over Christmas, if it hasn’t done so already. Fans of the film have an extra treat this year, however.
The Sound of Music Live (UTV/ITV, 7.30pm) brings the acclaimed West End stage revival of the old warhorse into living rooms as it happens.
Kara Tointon from Mr Selfridge stars as singing nun Maria and Downton Abbey’s Julian Ovenden as Captain Von Trapp, the widowed father of a huge brood of all-singing, all-dancing children.
Katherine Kelly, also of Mr Selfridge and formerly of Coronation Street, plays Baroness Elsa von Schraeder, who covets the Captain for herself. Certainly not one of my favourite things, but millions will love it.
If you’re expecting the lavish, bells-and-whistles box-set special edition of Bruce Springsteen’s album The River as a present this Christmas (and you’ll need a hell of a big stocking), The Ties That Bind (BBC4, 11pm) is a tasty appetiser.
Thom Zimmy’s hour-long HBO documentary (which is included, by the way, in the box-set) features Bruce talking at length about how The River, his first double-album, marked a turning point in his songwriting, typified by numbers such as the haunting, piano-led Point Blank.
He gives acoustic renditions of a few classic tracks and the film is followed at 11.55pm by footage of his stomping 1980 Arizona concert, recorded when he took his ambitious new record on tour.