Wednesday 11 December 2019

What to Watch: The best of television this week

The Insider Guide

The burning desire for tobacco is as strong as ever.
The burning desire for tobacco is as strong as ever.

Doug Whelan

A round-up of the best of the box for the week ahead.


Burning Desire: The seduction of smoking

Tonight, 9.30pm, BBC Two

There's something about smoking. Despite a lifetime of warnings, advertising restrictions and less "glamorous" smoking icons on film and in TV, the burning desire for tobacco is as strong as ever.

According to a February 2011 report, tobacco brings in over €1bn per year for the state (source: It's the same around the world. Every year, more than five million customers of the tobacco industry die of smoking related illnesses, making it the world's biggest cause of preventable death.

Yet, despite this knowledge, health warnings, decades of regulations, smoking bans and packaging requirements, thousands of people take up the habit every single day. In this new two-part documentary, award-winning journalist Peter Taylor sets out to understand the phenomenon that just won't go away. With rare access to one of the world's biggest tobacco companies, British American Tobacco, Taylor examines how powerful cigarette companies attract smokers while keeping governments onside with promises of action.

He talks to their executives and learns how BAT, now openly recognising that smoking kills, has set itself a new core strategy of 'harm reduction', developing a range of less harmful alternatives to conventional cigarettes. In Australia, the industry is locked in a battle to prevent plain packaging, in which glossy images are replaced with gruesome health warnings. And other countries are poised to follow suit, including Ireland.

But it's a tricky road: despite the benefits (however vague they may be) of plain packaging, there has been resistance to the government's plan on the basis that it violates companies' intellectual property rights.

This series should make for some fascinating viewing, not only because of the rare look inside the industry, but also the lifelong passion of its author. Peter Taylor was earlier this year awarded with a Royal Television Society Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to journalism.

In this two-part series he's returning to a subject that he first began investigating 30 years ago. In Smoke Ring: The Politics of Tobacco (1984) he revealed the denia of an industry that, at that time, flatly refused to acknowledge the truth about tobacco.

Now the truth is out, but the tobacco industry is as strong as ever. The question has become is there any likelihood of that burning desire for tobacco ever being extinguished?

Watch it

The World Cup's 50 Greatest Moments

Sunday, Time TBC, BBC Three

For all the non-football fans out there, your world is about to become all football all the time whether you like it or not so best to just dive right in - after all, it's only a few weeks every four years. It's less than two weeks until Brazil 2014 kicks off in Rio, and so what better time to turn back the clock with, ahem, Rio Ferdinand and Olly Murs, for a rundown of some of the greatest moments in international football history.

Maradona's 'Hand of God' in 1986, England's win in 1966, Ally's Tartan Army in 1978, Gazza's tears in 1990. And yes, Jack Charlton and the Republic of Ireland's 1990 heroics will make an appearance too. We'd be on the first plane to London to set Rio and Olly straight if it wasn't.

Record it

The Normal Heart

Sunday, 9pm, Sky Atlantic

Feature-length drama about the events surrounding the discovery and spread of HIV/Aids in New York in the early 1980s. Mark Ruffalo stars as writer Ned Weeks (based on controversial playwright and gay rights activist Larry Kramer) whose attention is piqued by a New York Times article that mentions a 'gay cancer' killing men in the city.

He seeks out the physician (none other than Julia Roberts) treating the early victims of what would eventually become known as AIDS, and together they set up an information and support network to try and fight the epidemic. But it's not long before they realise the politicians, the media and the public are somewhat reluctant to address the problem. But Ned Weeks demands to be heard. A strong cast and theme, addressing a debate that rages on 30 years later, make this one-off HBO drama based on Kramer's 1985 play well worth a look.

Stream It

Ray Donovan

Available on Sky On Demand from June 1

If you missed it first time around and you're looking for some shiny US-drama to keep you ticking over now that Mad Men has finished for the time being, look no further than Ray Donovan. As far as titles go, it doesn't exactly grab you but this crime series set among the glamour of the Los Angeles celebrity scene is a thriller right from the start. Liev Schreiber plays Ray Donovan, a fixer who can make any problem or incriminating situation disappear for the right price.

He's in high demand among the celebrities and sports stars of LA; shame he can't make his own problems disappear so easily. The one and only Jon Voight co-stars as Donovan's father and won a Golden Globe for his performance. Season 2 of Ray Donovan is on the way a little later in the year so get in on the ground floor, this one could have legs. Watch this space.

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent

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