What to watch: Television
Des Bishop: Breaking China
Tonight, 10.15pm, RTE One
Like him or loathe him, Des Bishop has done an admirable job throughout his stand-up career by, well, standing up. With much of his early work largely concerned with his status growing up as an outsider wherever he went, the American-born Irishman carved a TV career by keeping it that way with his unique style of TV. Be it minimum wage jobs (The Des Bishop Work Experience), learning to speak Irish (In the Name of the Fada), tackling social issues (Joy in the Hood ... does he have a natty line in series titles or what!) or mortality itself, Des dives right in there. He even made entire stand-up shows out of his own battle with testicular cancer and his father's with lung cancer, the latter of which even became a book, My Dad was Nearly James Bond. Bishop has never been fearful of throwing himself into lonely realms to forge his material in an open and honest manner. It's an interesting way to work. Most writing is of course done behind closed doors, honed, agonised over and eventually perfected over time before being presented to the audience. Des's TV is honest, confessional and almost gonzo in its immersiveness, and includes the audience in the process, whether they like it or not. Watch Des on his adventure, and then go see him make jokes about it.
If you follow Des on twitter (@desbishop) you'll know that he's upped sticks to go live in Beijing, to learn the language and (eventually) set up a Chinese-language comedy club. He didn't talk about being filmed while doing this online, but it didn't take a genius to figure out that there was another documentary series in the offing on the back of it, and here we have the result. Breaking China (get it?) offers an interesting look at Chinese life, with Des working on his elocution, learning his grammar and pronunciation while of course exploring the city and meeting its people, at first by interacting with the family he's moved in with (much to their entertainment).
This week in the show, Des's brother and fellow comic Aidan Bishop pays a visit to the club to perform on the opening night, while Des finds himself accosted by an army of Chinese grandmothers at something called a marriage market. You've got to hand it to Des, he's ambitious and adventurous, and now that he's achieved his lifelong dream of performing a full stand-up show in Irish, you can't help but wonder what he's got up his sleeve next.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Tuesday, 11pm, Sky Atlantic
Regular viewers of The Daily Show with John Stewart (weeknights on Comedy Central) will recall the outstanding job the British satirist did last summer when he stepped in to take the presenting reigns as Stewart made his directing debut. It seems Oliver did such a good job that the powers that be have given him his own desk, from behind which he'll lampoon news and current affairs in the USA and beyond. We've got high hopes for this one. Of course, it all hinges on whether the writing is as top-notch as The Daily Show, but Oliver's energetic delivery and inherent Britishness mean that they will surely be unafraid to come out swinging.
Saturday, 9.30pm, BBC Two
Another chance to catch this German World War II drama which went out on RTE last year with little fanfare but a lot of critical praise. In the summer of 1941, five young friends bid each other farewell before setting out to do their duty and fight for the glory of Nazi Germany. What follows is, if you'll pardon the TV write-up cliché, a German Band of Brothers, which illuminates the horrors of war except this time our heroes are the Nazis, who must balance their own morals not only with fighting the enemy, but the horrors being perpetrated by their own side. This is a thrilling and quite moving portrayal of war from a point of view we almost never get to see: the losing side.
Seasons 1 – 4 available on Netflix
Since the streaming revolution took the place of the DVD revolution, Netflix and its counterparts have given quality TV series a chance to come in under the radar and wait to be discovered. Archer is such a series, an animated comedy (definitely not for kids) set in the world of international espionage. Think 24 meets South Park by way of Pop Art. Sterling Archer is an arrogant and self-centered master spy with the International Secret Intelligence Service who has no trouble facing global security threats, but suffers a mutually manipulative relationship with his domineering mother, who also happens to be his boss. In the pilot episode, he finds himself facing tricky questions about an expense account and in the process uncovers a mole within the organisation. It's crude, exciting and very funny, so if you're stumped on the Netflix machine, give Archer a whirl.