Pat Stacey has trawled the weekend TV schedules for the best picks so you don't have to...
Despite the sudden appearance of the Sony Christmas Movies channel on your EPG, ‘tis not the season to be jolly just yet. ‘Twill be soon enough, though. And ‘twill also be the season when celebrity autobiographies occupy an inordinate amount of space in bookshops.
The Graham Norton Show (BBC1, 10.35pm) features no less than three famous names, Lenny Henry, Louis Theroux and Andrew Ridgeley, all promoting their memoirs. You could safely bet your Christmas jumper on whose will hit the bargain bin by mid-January.
Renee Zellweger arriving for the Judy European premiere held at the Curzon Theatre, Mayfair, London (Ian West/PA)
The big Hollywood personality on the sofa is Renée Zellweger, resurgent thanks to her role as the tragic Judy Garland in the movie Judy.
If you’re not overly familiar with the supremely talented and often controversial Betty Davis: Godmother of Funk (BBC4, 10.30pm), it’s probably because she decided to drop off the radar in 1979, giving up music altogether and moving to Pittsburgh, where she still lives a quiet, almost reclusive life.
In a sense, she’s still steering clear of the limelight in Phil Cox’s feature-length documentary. Rather than being interviewed on screen, she talks in voiceover about her life, her career and the terrible toll it took on her mind and spirit.
A little earlier, a rather more high-profile African-American music legend is profiled in Stevie Wonder: A Musical History (BBC4, 9.30pm). First shown last year, it’s a whirlwind journey through the great man’s stellar career. If you’ve somehow managed to make it through life without discovering the wonder of Stevie, here’s the perfect primer.
It’s always a delight to see veteran actors Kenneth Cranham (74) and Stephanie Cole (77) on screen; it’s just a shame it has to be in creaky, old-fashioned rubbish like Scarborough (BBC1, 9.30pm).
History of the Emirates (National Geographic, 8pm) isn’t the most inviting of titles, but the first episode of this stunningly filmed new series, narrated by Jeremy Irons, transports us back to Jebel Faya 125,000 years ago, when sea levels were low enough to allow hunter-gatherers to cross the Red Sea from Africa to forge a new home.
Even allowing for the fact that the World Athletics Championships account for a huge chunk of the day’s schedules on BBC1 and 2 (check the listings pages for times), the terrestrial channels, Irish and British, barely lift a finger to beckon viewers today. Aside from the resident BBC and ITV talent shows, it’s all repeats and imports we’ve already seen elsewhere — or The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTE1, 9.50pm).
Still, it could be an opportunity to explore new territory. If you’ve never seen sketch show Key & Peele (Now TV/Sky Box Sets), written by and starring African-American duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (writer-director of Get Out and Us), now’s your chance to rectify this oversight.
It’s hilarious, with a particularly keen eye for racial politics and pop-culture spoofs. The ‘Magical Negro Fight’ sketch, sending up the Hollywood movie trope of the elderly, wise black man who dispenses homespun advice to the white hero, is pure genius.
Alternatively, you could lose yourself for days in 12 seasons of The Big Bang Theory (Netflix) and then prove to your mates how hip you are by claiming you didn’t laugh once.
World on Fire (BBC1, 9pm) got off to a hugely impressive start last week and the stakes are raised dramatically in this second episode. In devastated Warsaw, Kasia makes plans to flee with her grief-stricken mother Maria, but gets caught in a resistance cell’s attack on German soldiers.
Harry faces a difficult return to Manchester to face Lois, while in Berlin, Nancy is frustrated with the growing power of the censor. Classy and compelling drama.
Simon Reeve doesn’t really do frothy travelogues. Behind his sunny smile and the striking scenery, there’s invariably a darker story waiting to be told. In the opening instalment of five-parter The Americas (BBC2, 9pm), he sees the destructive effects of the greedy oil industry on the natural wilderness of Alaska, while in Canada, he hears the disturbing story of how hundreds of indigenous women and girls are going missing, presumed murdered.
Britain’s Greatest Generation (BBC4, 10pm) was first shown in 2015, but has gained extra poignancy in the intervening years as several of the elderly contributors, all either witnesses to, or participants in, the two wars that tore the world apart, are no longer alive.
Vera Price, aged 110 at the time of filming, recalls singing songs to wounded and dying soldiers in World War One, while Johnny Johnson, one of the Dambusters, remembers an exceptionally difficult childhood. One can only wonder how they’d feel about what’s currently happening to the country and society they gave so much to protect.
Former RTE reporter Damien Tiernan, now working for WLR FM in Waterford, ripped Room to Improve (RTE1, 9.30pm) to shreds on Twitter this week. He’s sure to love tonight’s edition, so, in which (it says here) Dermot Bannon’s transformation of a Tramore Bay cottage “pushes him to the limit”. You can bet he won’t be the only one.