Inside No 9
10pm, BBC Two
This week is our last visit Inside No 9 for the time being, which is cause for great sadness (or, depending on your appetite for black humour, awkward situations and blood, cause for some relief). Ushered in with that pesky not-quite-a-theme-tune scuttle of strings, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s anthology has by now carved out its own special little dark oasis in the week, flickering there on a Tuesday in something like the way one of its models, Tales Of The Unexpected, used to own its Sunday night spot – a generation of kids ordered to bed as soon as the shadow lady started shimmying.
If we count the Christmas Special, this third series has delivered one of the programme’s most unforgettable episodes. Not only was it a technical triumph showcasing Inside No 9’s willingness to play with form (in tribute to the other studio-bound, shaky-set British 1970s anthologies that inspired them, like Beasts and Thriller, it was shot using vintage tape and cameras from that era, resulting in colours as garish as memory), it also delivered the ugliest twist ending they’ve attempted, a blunt, brutal sucker punch amid the tinsel.
On balance, though, this third series hasn’t reached the heights of the magnificent second series – the run that gave us the entirely unexpected, entirely unclassifiable “12 Days Of Christine.” But, then, that’s a high bar: that episode was probably the best use of 30 minutes on British television in a decade.
The one thing that can hamper Shearsmith and Pemberton is also one of their show’s biggest draws: the humour. Unlike the straight-faced 1970s series that haunt their memories, the pair sometimes get hampered by the search for gags and a more damaging need to wink and underline how kitschy-silly are the little bad taste parables they come up with. It can get in the way of them going all the way. If there was anything wrong with that Christmas special, it was that it was a little too arch in writing and performance, verging on parody – as “Christine” proved, these comedians are sometimes at their best when playing it straight.
But not always. Last week’s story about the single black shoe remains stuck in my mind partly because, for a long time, it was such a heroically sustained one-note joke about Shearsmith’s character’s mad, melancholy, semi-surreal obsession. The final switch to pathos and explanations didn’t ring true, but it was redeemed by the sleight of hand denouement: a not-great twist ending (he’d just killed a bloke) which acted as cover for the far more outrageous twist lurking unspoken beneath the surface (he’d just killed his own little daughter, too).
Even if – festive special aside – no single episode has really broken out this time around, however, Inside No 9 remains by a clear distance the most inventive, unpredictable and dependably devious delight on British TV today. Tonight’s finale might not rank among its greatest stories, but it’s yet another clever, fun, icky, thoroughly entertaining half hour, steeped in its creators’ fetishistic love for certain cults of 70s Brit horror.
The setting is a London basement art gallery, where a small, select audience has been invited to preview the last works by a recently deceased artist. A delicious cast lines up, including Felicity Kendall, Fiona Shaw, Morgana Robinson and Montserrat Lombard (…among others), a reminder that, among its other virtues, this is also the best guest-star show in town. If any of us get through it alive, the very good news is that a fourth series is already well underway.
Heimat: Home From Home – Chronicle Of A Vision
9pm, BBC Four
German director Edgar Reitz first mesmerised audiences with his modestly monumental series Heimat in 1984. One of television’s true landmarks, Reitz’s story painted a portrait of Germany by charting the life of one fictional rural town, following one family, the Simons, from 1919 to 1982. A 1960s-set sequel followed in 1991, and Heimat 3, covering 1989-2000, arrived in 2004. Made in 2013, Reitz’s latest (last?) two-part film is an entrancing prequel, looping back to the same farm town during the depressed years of the 1840s. Here we find young Jakob Simon, a dreamer set apart by his love of books and his desire to escape for South America. Shot (mostly) in sharp, dreamlike monochrome with astonishing attention to the details of everyday life, it exudes the uncanny air of actually having been filmed during the time it depicts: the bare landscapes hang between realism, fairy tale and mystery. You can watch it without having seen other Heimats. But, after it, you might want to see them all.
Storyville: The Lovers And The Despot – North Korea Kidnap
10pm, BBC Four
Cinema history has produced many bizarre stories behind the scenes, but the tale of South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his ex-wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, is arguably the strangest: a real-life nightmare with the ingredients of a paranoid sci-fi thriller. Across the 1950s and 60s, Shin was South Korean cinema’s towering figure, and Choi its brightest star. By the 1970s, however, the couple were divorced, careers flagging – then, in 1978, came the most grotesque renaissance: the pair were separately kidnapped and bundled to North Korea by the nation’s jealous and movie-mad leader Kim Jong-il, who, after holding Shin prisoner for years, put them into glamorous forced labour, making showpiece movies to boost his film industry. Eventually, the couple pulled off a daring escape in Vienna. Directors Robert Cannan and Ross Adam’s documentary benefits from an interview with Choi and amazing archive, including audio from secret recordings the couple made of Kim. The narrative sometimes gets frustratingly muddy, but it’s fascinating, and timely given the recent suspected activities of more North Korean agents.
10pm, Sky Atlantic
Without wanting to spoil things for Sky subscribers planning to catch-up later with this slow-burning Euro-mystery (all episodes are now available via Sky Box Sets), unexpected events have caused a shake-up in the team investigating the grotesque murders around the isolated Swedish mining community of Kiruna. Mild-mannered assistant prosecutor Anders has been forced to assume the lead, a development met with disdain from the town’s police – in part, because he’s fairly hapless, but also because of his link to the local indigenous Sami people, the butt of almost unconscious racism, including from Anders himself. Meanwhile, his French colleague, Kahina, is following up on the murder of her countryman, looking into connections with the mining operation. As endless daylight beats down, hints of conspiracy are in the air, and the case takes on a new dimension when enigmatic notes are found around town bearing only names and numbers looking very like a kill list. Soon, another gruesome crime scene is discovered, along with evidence of mysterious links with Sami culture.
Syria’s Disappeared: The Case Against Assad
10pm, Channel 4
Across 2011-2012, as Aleppo went from being the name of a town to an almost abstract word symbolising massacre, humanitarian catastrophe and the willingness of governments around the world to turn a blind eye, it became perversely easy to lose track of the reasons behind the conflict as the horrific images piled up. This grim but unflinching documentary by Sara Afshar, however, offers a stark reminder of the causes behind the Syrian war. In horrific detail, we hear some of the stories of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who have been disappeared by Assad’s regime and cast into a secret system of detention and torture centres. At the heart of the film are the personal testimonies of three survivors, whose stories of brutality are supported by shocking evidence smuggled out of Syria at enormous risk. The film also reports on family members campaigning for the release of the disappeared, and the work of the international war crimes investigators hoping, one day, to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Red Nose Day 2017
7pm, BBC One
Officially, the biggest deal in this year’s charity juggernaut is the 10-minute sequel to Love Actually, reuniting writer-director (and Comic Relief founder) Richard Curtis with a cast including Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Rowan Atkinson ... and more. But, if you’re one of the 50 per cent of humanity who kind of hated that movie, there are gems of a different order throughout the night, including Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer going at it live, a reunion for Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, a hint of Matt Berry, a bit of Peter Kay, and something from Alan Partridge, blessed be his name. Elsewhere, James Corden has Take That in his motor for Carpool Karaoke, and Johnny Vegas and Joe Lycett take over cooking at a pizza restaurant. In between, of course, come reminders of why this is all happening, with reports on projects helping people in need in Africa in the UK. To donate, call 03457 910 910, or visit bbc.co.uk/rednoseday.
LAST WEEK'S HIGHLIGHTS
It was deeply troubling this week to read confused dispatches from the frontline reporting that, under the stewardship of the indefatigable Davina McCall, ITV’s The Nightly Show was getting a bit better.
While keeping half an eye on its progress, I had been putting off properly watching the superfun chatshow for which, on the reasoning there’s not much happening in the news, ITV had decided to bump News At Ten. To begin, I’d avoided it because David Walliams was presenting the first week, and just seeing the trailers for all the programmes he does more than satisfies my Walliams TV needs for the year, much as one glimpse of the shark’s dead eye was plenty for Roy Scheider.
By the second week, though, during which, as far as I could tell – sound cannot travel in a vacuum – John Bishop just kept talking, the heady smell of decay was getting hard to resist. News had leaked that, having been poised to sign up, not only had Mel and Sue suddenly bailed out of hosting in the near future, they were claiming to have never heard of ITV, or know what television is, and, anyway, they hadn’t even met each other before.
It was at this point I began seriously planning when would be the best time to start tuning in regularly. Few things are more life affirming than watching a fatally-wounded superfun chatshow limping nightly toward extinction in the full awareness the axe is about to fall; when the researchers are sent scrabbling to find any willing guests left forgotten in the debris of the Loose Women green room; when the hosts try to keep their grins fixed and read the autocue while simultaneously attempting to chew through their own ankles to escape the chains of their contracts.
But, to get the most out of it, you have to time it right. You have to wait until even Twitter is bored with jumping on its skull. Until the last breath has rattled from the desiccated husk. Until silence falls. Until death is absolute.
By my calculations, this would happen Wednesday March 29, ie, Gordon Ramsay’s third night as host.
Then, though, came these alarming claims: with Davina in charge, things were looking up. Could this be true? Had I missed the point of peak turdage? Tuning in, it was difficult to tell. At one point, Davina faked an orgasm. At another, she interviewed Paddy McGuinness about a time he’d worn boxer shorts.
If this was getting better, how bad had it been when I wasn’t looking? Here, though, we get into difficult theoretical territory. Even at its poorest, is The Nightly Show really any worse than any other light entertainment show on ITV? Is Davina asking Paddy McGuinness about boxer shorts really harder to watch than Dawn French looking delighted at another kid dancing on Little Big Shots? Is Davina faking an orgasm measurably less interesting than Ant and Dec doing anything? These are questions to rank alongside the tree falling in the forest, puzzles best left to the philosophers, the quantum physicists, or perhaps the clergy. All I know is I still have faith in Gordon Ramsay’s ability to deliver what I need.
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