Wednesday

Kiri

9pm, Channel 4

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It’s probably best to get it out of the way up front, but Sarah Lancashire is magnificent in Kiri. We are long past the stage where this is predictable behaviour from the woman, but Lancashire is one of the best examples we have of the real alchemy that can happen when her kind of great, unshowy skill and her particular brand of great, somehow reluctant star power come together.

After the huge success of Happy Valley, you might imagine it would take a moment to adjust to her as anyone other than Catherine Cawood. But from the moment we see her – getting up in the morning, fussing over her scruffy old farting dog, getting ready to stumble out and meet the day by fortifying her breakfast coffee with booze from her constant hip flask – the woman on screen is Miriam: a weary social worker in Bristol who has been in the job long enough to see through all the red tape that strangles it, and all the hate that gets thrown at it, to focus on why it matters. And she is about to have the worst days of her career, if not her life.

It begins as routine. Among other appointments, Miriam has to see one of her charges, little Kiri Akindele (Felicia Mukasa), a nine-year-old girl about to be adopted by her well-to-do foster family, the Warners. Kiri is black, the Warners are white, and Miriam has arranged to take the child for a visit with her birth grandfather, Tobi (Lucian Msamati), father of Kiri’s troubled dad Nate, who is not on the scene. It’s the first time she has left Kiri with Tobi and his wife for an unsupervised visit. Arranging to pick her up again in a few hours, Miriam trundles off to the next job. Then a message pings on her phone. Kiri is missing, seemingly abducted from Tobi’s house.

Written by Jack Thorne, the four-part drama is a thematic sequel to his brutal and mesmerising 2016 series National Treasure, in which Robbie Coltrane played Paul Finchley, a TV comedian facing historical accusations of rape. The topics and setting are very different, but clear parallels emerge. Most notably how, as the story of the abduction breaks, Miriam finds herself the centre of a scandal, under the glare of the media spotlight as a witch hunt mood builds, and her superiors scramble to cover their backs.

Once again, Thorne’s writing is intelligent and brave. He blatantly tackles “issues” – race, class, the pressures on social care, the way adoption works, the rush and hypocrisies of the media and the rest of us. But rather than pointing fingers and laying down messages, the script holds up its subjects and characters and turns them, so we consider it all from many angles. Where episode one is seen largely from Miriam’s point of view, episode two folds back time a little and takes a step back, so we begin to see events also from Tobi’s perspective, then the Warners’. As we learn more, so do they, to the point where, when Miriam begins to question her own motives and actions, audience and character are united in wondering.

There’s a terrific cast, including the infallible Lia Williams and Steven Mackintosh as the Warner parents, and fine direction from Euros Lyn, who surrounds Lancashire with the clutter of life. It’s only a moment, but look out for the scene when she takes her old dog to the vet in episode two. If there’s better acting to come on TV in 2018, we’re in for a good year.

Sunday

McMafia

9pm, BBC One

Three hours in, and it’s still not clear there was an eight-part TV drama screaming to be made here, or at least, not like this. Based on Misha Glenny’s non-fiction account of how international organised crime organises itself these days, McMafia is a blatant attempt to replicate the success of The Night Manager. But while it apes some of the formula (jet-setting locations, an atmosphere of money, a dull protagonist wearing suits), it conspicuously fails to deliver the thing that actually made the John Le Carré adaptation work: juicy, lively villains. By far the most interesting character/actor in this series got killed in episode one – Uncle Boris, whose murder sparked banker Alex (James Norton’s) slow mission of revenge. Still, between the padding shots of glamorous locales, there’s just enough of a thread of a story to cling to. Tonight, Alex discovers his activities have caught the attention of a mysterious figure who offers a deal – but only after they pose around in trunks in yet another holiday-brochure setting.

Monday

Next Of Kin

9pm, STV

Two good actors in search of something to do, Archie Panjabi and Jack Davenport, star in ITV’s new six-part thriller. Panjabi (finally being given a lead in a British drama series) plays Mona Harcourt, a GP in London, married to Guy (the undervalued Davenport), a political lobbyist. Their busy, glossy lives are derailed by the news that Mona’s brother Kareem (Navin Chowdhry), a doctor running a clinic in Pakistan, has been kidnapped. Meanwhile, as London is hit by a terrorist attack, the family come under scrutiny by the police, who suspect Kareem’s son, Danny, who has been missing from his university for weeks, might have been involved. As family secrets begin to emerge, the series perhaps strives a little too hard to be topical and full of timely messages, but the elements of the story exploring radicalisation do feel ripped from the headlines, and it all motors along, thanks a script co-written by Indian Summers’s Paul Rutman and his wife Natasha Narayan, and performances from Panjabi and Davenport.

Tuesday

Inside No.9

10pm, BBC Two

Following last week’s episode, with its ensemble cast, clever Shakespeare parody and broad, saucy-postcard farce, tonight’s is yet another sudden shift in technique and tone – and it’s one of the best things Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have conjured up yet. Stripped down to a two-hander, it’s the story of Tommy (Shearsmith) and Len (Pemberton), who were once almost famous as comedy duo Cheese & Crackers, a bottom-of-the-bill 1980s act, who haven’t worked together since they had a falling out three decades ago, during a bad night at Glasgow Pavilion. Thirty years on, however, fate has thrown up the prospect of a reunion gig, and so they meet again in a dusty church hall to try and rehearse their dusty old routines – but simmering old resentments and regrets keep bubbling up. It’s a tour de force from the pair, both as writers and performers. They have great fun with Cheese & Crackers’ howlingly cheesy, prop-heavy old gags, but the script just keeps pulling the rug out from under you. It’s a beauty.

Thursday

Big Cats

8pm, BBC One

No matter how much they might like watching big cats, Doctor Foster fans will experience some difficulty settling into this new natural history show, because it’s narrated by the drama’s louse of a husband, Bertie Carvel, whose sleekit, slippery tones instantly make all the cats look suspicious. If you can get over that, though, there’s a ton of good catty stuff in this three-part series, which uses the latest in filming techniques to get closer than ever before to magnificent wild predators around the world. In this first episode, there come some stunning glimpses of African lions and Siberian tigers, a formidable sequence involving a jaguar taking out a crocodile, and a stunning section on a snow leopard (billed as “the world’s most lonesome cat”) looking for a mate on the sheer cliffs of the Himalayas. The undoubted star of the show, though, is the rusty spotted cat, the smallest feline on the planet, and one of the most rarely-glimpsed, captured going about its tiny, tiny business in the jungles of Sri Lanka. Tiny.

Friday

David Bowie Night

9pm, BBC Four

The man would have turned 71 this week, and I have no doubt that, if it really tried, BBC Four could put together a better David Bowie tribute night than this. Still, it’s the only David Bowie night on TV. The best comes first, with another screening of 2013’s entirely excellent Five Years documentary, which zooms in on the circumstances surrounding the albums Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Young Americans, Station To Station, Low, Heroes, Scary Monsters and Let’s Dance. There are contributions from Spiders Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey, Young Americans muse Ava Cherry, Brian Eno, Tony Visconti, Robert Fripp and Nile Rodgers. But it’s the fistfuls of evocative archive that really make it, including a spine-tingling sequence in the studio during the Young Americans sessions. It’s complemented by the Jarvis Cocker-narrated making of documentary, The Story Of Ziggy Stardust (10.30pm), and, disappointingly, the well-worn Glam Rock At The BBC compilation (11.30pm).

Saturday

Spiral

9pm, BBC Four

Aw, Laure and Gilou, eh? That can only end happily, surely? Leaving aside recent romantic developments in the most tortured and ill-advised will-they-won’t-they in the entire history of French policing, we’re at the mid-point of this terrific sixth series, and significant developments come thick and fast. First, there’s the discovery of another body, a young girl, found amid the rubble of the cleared squat. Laure and her team are convinced there’s a connection to their case, and links quickly emerge, alongside some horrendous discoveries at the dead girl’s school – but the body was found on another squad’s patch, and they’re not keen on sharing. Judge Robard might be able to help, but he has his own problems to contend with at the hospital. Meanwhile, as her court case reaches its conclusion, Josephine is barely managing to keep herself together. But her old antagonist Laure is rallying to her side. Everyone’s wounded, everyone’s hurt, everyone’s messed up, but everyone’s going on. How could you not love this thing?

THE BEST OF CATCH UP

Apologies but looking back over the preceding week at this time of year inevitably means employing the C-word – the nine-letter one, that ends in “mas,” which none of us really want to hear again for at least another 10 months. In the rush of C-word TV this time round, there was actually an unusually decent amount of stuff worth watching (more than two things), with the result I’ve still not finished one of the most significant, the fourth series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, which arrived on Netflix just before Hogmanay, and is still lurking like a sinister half-eaten selection box.

Being Netflix, all six episodes arrived at once, the better to binge on. But, as an anthology of self-contained tales in varying moods, Black Mirror is a different case to a serialised story like Stranger Things, and somehow anti-bingey. It’s the difference between reading chapters of a novel and a short story collection – rather than crashing straight on into the next, it’s better to take a pause between.

The other difference is that, because it’s a bunch of individual stories landing at once, you can decide in which order to watch them. The three I’ve clicked so far – the second “Arkangel,” the fifth, “Metalhead,” and the last “Black Museum” – exemplify this show’s variety, yet also its underlying uniformity. Brooker has a consistent method – he takes recent technological developments and directions, then draws them out to an insane/plausible future conclusion – and an enduring subject: our relationship with a technology evolving faster than our psychology.

“Metalhead,” a short, sharp, black-and-white blast, with the Manchester moors as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, is the most frenetic fun, and to be valued for casting Maxine Peake as the protagonist, all wits and speed as she’s being hunted by robotic killer dogs. “Arkangel,” directed by Jodie Foster, is the least stylised but most thought-provoking parable. The tale of a mother using a new chip physically inserted into her little daughter to track, watch over and (over) protect her, it strikes closest to home, both in paralleling types of filtering, parental control and GPS software that already exist, and in offering present-day parents a glimpse of insidious developments they might actually want, while asking if they should – a queasily seductive nightmare. (It’s also notable as a return to parent-child themes of Forster’s first, best, film as director, Little Man Tate.)

“Black Museum,” the longest episode, is a portmanteau piece: a young woman visits an isolated tech museum, and hears three separate grisly tales relating to exhibits on show, each of which featured in a crime. As the finale, it seems intended almost to sum up Black Mirror as a whole. There are heavy echoes of past stories, recurring ideas about privacy, identity, the creation of ghostly digital afterlives. Time and again the same abiding subject came up: the craving for feeling in a culture that, by perpetually racing to commoditise our most private needs and emotions, is stamping real feelings out.