Thursday 5 December 2019

From Dolly Parton to Freaks and Geeks: What to watch on TV this weekend (and what to avoid)

Dolly Parton's Heartstrings
Dolly Parton's Heartstrings

Pat Stacey

Pat Stacey has cast his eye over the weekend's TV so you don't have to...

FRIDAY

Country Music by Ken Burns (BBC4, 9.30pm and 10.20pm), the newest epic from the great documentary master, comes with an advisory: this is not the full, 16-hour version that was broadcast on PBS in the US and which has yet to be seen over here on PBS America.

As is always the case when Burns’s work is shown by the BBC, it’s a much shortened cut, clocking in at nine hour-long episodes. Does the Beeb not have faith in its audience to stay the course? Still, even in truncated form, it should be engrossing viewing.

The opening two episodes, showing back to back, take in the years 1933 to 1945 and cover how radio and phonograph recordings allowed so-called “hillbilly music” to reach a wider audience — in the process, making stars of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers — and charts the emergence of Nashville as the beating heart of the genre during the Great Depression and Second World War.

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As you’d expect from Burns, there’s a huge amount of rare archive photographs and footage, as well as interviews with more than 80 country stars, including Carlene Carter, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton...

... which brings us tidily to Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings (Netflix, from today), an eight-part drama anthology based on her songs. Apparently, all sorts of genres are covered, from Westerns and war tales to revenge stories and family sagas. Linking them all is Dolly herself, who plays a wisdom-dispensing bartender.

Frankly, the idea of Westlife and Christy Moore in my living room at the same time is terrifying. They’re among the guests on The Late Late Show (RTE1, 9.35pm). Luckily, so are Trevor McDonald, Mario Rosenstock and Joe Schmidt. That’s more like it.

A particularly disturbing Unreported World (Channel 4, 7.30pm) reveals how young social media influencers in Iraq are routinely subjected to death threats and kidnap attempts. Chilling stuff.

TOMORROW

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Michael McIntyre
 

Michael McIntyre’s Big Show (BBC1, 8.30pm), back for a new run, is a rarity: a genuine family show that harks back to the days when Saturday evening in front of the TV was an event. And yet, none of it feels old-fashioned. It’s easy too see why it was the most-watched show in Britain last Christmas Day.

For those who don’t have Netflix — and it’s easy to forget that’s still the majority of households — The Sinner (BBC4, 9.10pm and 9.55pm) makes a welcome return to terrestrial for a second season. No Jessica Biel (who’s also one of the executive producers) this time, but Bill Pullman is as rumpled as ever as maverick cop Harry Ambrose.

Here, he’s summoned back to his hometown by newly promoted detective Heather Novack (Natalie Paul), the daughter of one of his old colleagues, who’s having trouble getting to grips with a case. A familiar scenario, but it’s satisfyingly strange and unsettling, and Pullman is always excellent.

The third and final instalment of Novels That Shaped Our World (BBC2, 9.55pm) looks at the subject of class, a driving force behind so many classic British novels from Oliver Twist onwards. Hopefully, it will prompt viewers to discover (or rediscover) the likes of Keith Waterhouse’s brilliant Billy Liar, which gets a lot of attention here.

If you’re in the mood for an overlooked classic, check out Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks (All 4), which lasted just one season, but is rightly regarded as the best teen-centred comedy-drama of them all.

A glittering cast of soon-to-be-really-famous young actors includes Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogan, James Franco and Jason Segel.

SUNDAY

His Dark Materials (BBC1, 8pm) reaches the halfway point with a cracking episode. Enter, by hot-air balloon, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Han Solo-ish Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby, whose daemon is a female hare called Hester.

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Lyra with her daemon Pantalaimon in BBC series His Dark Materials

Also putting in an explosive first appearance is armoured bear Ion Byrnison. He’s missing his armour, having been tricked out of it, and is essentially enslaved. Not for long, though, after Lyra (Dafne Keen) and Lee persuade him to join their mission to the North to rescue the stolen children. The wonderful CGI effects are put to exhilarating use.

It won’t take marauding aliens to send viewers fleeing from The War of the Worlds (BBC1, 9pm); this dreary second episode, which is even worse than last week’s tepid opener, should be enough to do it. A right old mess they’ve made of the book.

Kill Your TV: Jim Moir’s Weird World of Video Art (BBC4, 9pm) sees the man sometimes known as Vic Reeves lead us on a jog through the history of video art.

He begins in the 1960s, when visual artists got their hands on portable video equipment, which up to then, had been in the hands of gigantic corporations, and went to town with it.

In the engaging Reggie in China (BBC2, 9pm), Reggie Yates learns about the country’s balancing act between communism and capitalism, and explores the Chinese social media platforms that have sprung up in the absence of banned Western sites.

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