The definitive weekend TV guide - what to watch Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Election 2016, Comedy Playhouse, Trapped, The Late Late Show, Stag and more
Pat Stacey chooses the best of this weekend's TV so you don't have to trawl the listings all by yourself...
Between 1961 and 1975, the BBC broadcast 120 episodes of Comedy Playhouse, an anthology series of one-off unrelated sitcoms. While most of these are either long forgotten or were wiped from the archives — a regrettably common practice in the 1960s when videotape was considered too costly not to be re-used again and again — a select handful graduated to full series and became enormously popular.
Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, Up Pompeii!, Me Mammy (written by Hugh Leonard and starring Milo O’Shea) and The Liver Birds all began life as Comedy Playhouse episodes.
So, unfortunately, did Last of the Summer Wine, which went on to bore us stiff for 37 years, and the atrocious Are You Being Served?, which the BBC, believe it or not, is remaking.
After a brief revival in 2014, which yielded only corny Scottish Highlands sitcom Mountain Goats, the Beeb is giving Comedy Playhouse another go. First up is Hospital People (BBC1, 10.35pm; except NI, 11.05pm).
Comedian Tom Binns plays a large number of characters, including hopeless hospital DJ Ivan Brackenbury (see picture above), a creation he’s been dragging around the festival circuit for years. Binns tries hard but you have to wonder if yet another mockumentary — a format that’s practically been drained dry — is really the way forward.
With Graham Norton off our screens until autumn, The Late Late Show (RTE1, 9.35pm) has the chat-show field to itself tonight. Normally, this wouldn’t be of much consequence. Tonight, however, Ryan Tubridy’s big guest is none other than Richard Gere, who’ll be hotfooting it from the Savoy, where his new movie Time Out of Mind is showing as part of the Dublin International Film Festival.
Gere, who’s received rave reviews for his performance as a homeless man, will be talking to Ryan about the film, his lengthy career (he’s been an A-list star for almost 40 years), and his humanitarian and political activism. Now THAT’S what you call a guest!
Still on movie matters, stick around after the Late Late for Stutterer (RTE1, 11.55pm). Dublin writer/director Benjamin Cleary’s 12-minute film is in contention for Best Live Action Short at Sunday’s Oscars, to add to the 10 awards it’s picked up elsewhere.
The stag weekend that goes horribly wrong has been milked for laughs many times before, but behind-the-camera talent driving new three-part black comedy-drama Stag (BBC2, 9pm) suggests there could be some mileage in the idea still. It’s written by George Kay, who penned the excellent My Mad Fat Diary, and directed by Jim Field Smith, who made The Wrong Mans.
Timid teacher Ian (Jim Howick) is roped into joining his braying brother-in-law Johnner’s (Stephen Campbell Moore) deer-hunting stag weekend in the Scottish Highlands. It doesn’t take long for the gang to become lost in the wilderness in what threatens to turn into a full-on horror movie scenario.
Oddly, the Beeb is opting to compete with itself by scheduling Stag directly against its Icelandic import Trapped (BBC4, 9pm), which ramps up the tension with a double-bill that sees the beleaguered inhabitants enduring a blackout: just what you want when you’re snowed in with a killer on the loose.
Incidentally, RTE2 begins showing Trapped tomorrow night at 9.05pm. The first two episodes were put up on the RTE Player in advance. No excuse not to catch it, then.
If all this sounds like far too much excitement for you, Election 2016 (RTE1, from 10am) is on hand to take your pulse right down to stopping point. Bryan Dobson, Miriam O’Callaghan and David McCullagh will be settling down with their canteen coffees for 15 hours of coverage, interrupted only by news, weather, the Angelus and the occasional bathroom/make-up break.
If recent polls are anything to go by, a few members of the last government are going to be doing vanishing acts from the Dáil once the real numbers come in.
One man who knows a lot about how to make things disappear in an instant is Steven Frayne, aka Dynamo:
Magician Impossible (BBC1, 5.30pm), who’s magicked himself from a low-profile slot on the UKTV satellite channel Watch to a prime teatime one on the Beeb. In the opening show, he takes his unique brand of magic to the World Poker Tour in Venice and also attempts to read the mind of singer Labrinth.
Apart from all being fine actors, what do Richard Burton, Brendan Gleeson, Albert Finney, Timothy West and Timothy Spall have in common? They all played Winston Churchill.
Michael Gambon is the latest star to join that illustrious club when he pops the tank gun-sized cigar into his mouth for Churchill’s Secret (UTV/ITV, 8pm), a feature-length drama based on Jonathan Smith’s novel about a lesser-known chapter in the wartime leader’s life.
In 1953, young nurse Millie (Romola Garai) is summoned to treat the elderly PM, who’s suffered a stroke and appears to be on the brink of death. As politicians, press barons and Churchill’s inner circle initiate a cover-up to keep the news from the public, long-suppressed tensions within the Churchill family bubble up. A top-notch cast includes Lindsay Duncan (playing Churchill’s wife Clementine), Bill Paterson and Tara Fitzgerald.
In an excellent night for drama, part two of The Night Manager (BBC1, 9pm), which got off to a superb start last week, sees reluctant spy Pine (Tom Hiddleston) trying to infiltrate the inner circle of menacing arms dealer Roper (Hugh Laurie).
If you have access to the BBC iPlayer, there’s more new drama in Thirteen, available from noon on Sunday, which is the first fruit of BBC3’s move online. A dishevelled 26-year-old woman (Jodie Comer) comes running out of a house, claiming to police that she’s Ivy Moxon, who has been missing for 13 years. Powerful.