Pick of the week
The Spoils of Babylon,
Thursday, 9.30pm, ABC2 Hearken back to the 1980s, before cable, ondemand and binge watching, to a simpler time, when the miniseries reigned over the small screen. The Thorn Birds, Shogun — they almost always starred Richard Chamberlain — these were genuinely exciting events on the TV calendar. This six-episode series is an affectionate spoof of the format and the era, and follows the rise of the fictional Morehouse oil dynasty of Texas. Eric Jonrosh (played by Will Ferrell) is introduced as the author of The Spoils of Babylon. Ferrell’s cameos are truly his best work: from the pick-up artist in Wedding
Ross Kemp: Extreme World
Monday, 9.30pm, ABC2
Monday, 10.05pm, ABC2
Season four of Portlandia continues apace, When “extreme” is included in a show’s title, often it really means loud or content-lite. The third season of Ross Kemp’s documentary series, screening on Mondays, is the real deal. Kemp is checking out Rio de Janeiro ahead of the Soccer World Cup this year, and the Olympic Games in 2016. It is, he says, in the midst of a crack cocaine epidemic. He visits favelas (slums), open-air drug markets and the so-called “crack lands”, where hordes of people sit in the streets day and night, seeking their very fleeting highs. Alarmingly, heavily pregnant women and children wander around. But the saddest and most memorable scene is a mother stepping through the human debris to bring her junkie son a meal. It left Kemp in tears and, honestly, brought me pretty close. Crashers to his turn as The Architect from The Matrix at the MTV Movie Awards in 2003 (check it out on YouTube). Jonrosh is a bloated has-been, surrounded by obsolete filmmaking paraphernalia, vainly introducing “his masterpiece”. An outstanding cast has been assembled, with Tim Robbins as the family patriarch Jonas Morehouse, Kristen Wiig as his daughter Cynthia, and Tobey Maguire as his adopted son Devon. This week’s episode charts the dynasty’s beginnings in the hardscrabble oilfields of Texas. “God put me on earth for a reason, to extrapolate that oil,” says Jonas. Expect more famous faces in subsequent episodes: Haley Joel Osment, Carey Mulligan, Jessica Alba, Michael Sheen, Val Kilmer and (ahem) the shah of Iran. Highly amusing.
awkward prologue showing how the treatment of women has supposedly changed over the years, but Rogers brings a wonderful feisty energy to her role, and the scene when she dresses down her rich lover’s snobby family is the stuff of legend.
Australians have done well in superhero roles. Sam Worthington starred in James Cameron’s Avatar, for a while the highest-grossing film of all time, and Chris Hemsworth makes a splendidly confident Nordic warrior in Kenneth Branagh’s
(Sunday, 7.30pm, Ten). Banished from his home planet by his father (Anthony Hopkins) to live among humans as a punishment for his arrogance, Thor lands in a remote stretch of New Mexico to meet a beautiful young astrophysicist (Natalie Portman), and naturally they fall in love. The extraterrestrial sequences have a true gothic grandeur, but it’s Hemsworth’s picture. His weapon of choice is his magic hammer, the Mjollmir, which returns to him like a boomerang whenever he throws it. As I say, this is one for Aussie audiences. But for true blockbuster fans, nothing beats Peter Jackson’s
performing that vital task for society of identifying and satirising hipsters. Here, Carrie Brownstein has to declare social bankruptcy, unable to meet her social media obligations as and when they fall due. Pakistan-born comic and Portlandia regular Kumail Nanjiani serves as her bankruptcy officer. “What’s a library? Is that like a big Kindle?” he asks. And for the first time we see exactly how heritage tomatoes and kale became unlikely vegetable success stories. Steve Buscemi guest stars as the guy with the job of making celery popular, and bloody marys aren’t going to cut it. His mission takes on hues of the Michael Douglas film Indecent Proposal. If you (correctly) think Fred Armisen is funny now, check out his 1998 guide to South by Southwest — on again now in Austin, Texas — on YouTube. It launched his comic career.
Tuesday, 8.30pm, Ten The Atlantic magazine recently ran an article with the headline: “NCIS: TV’s Biggest Drama Gets No Respect”. It claimed that the stupendously
Never heard of “purity balls”? You would not be alone. At a formal dinner, young girls dressed in ball gowns pledge to their fathers to remain pure in body and spirit until marriage. In return, the fathers pledge to protect their daughters and help them keep their pledge. Jane Treays, a British documentary filmmaker, presents the lead up to one such event in Colorado Springs in the US. The theory, they say, is that fathers are responsible for making their daughters feel loved, beautiful and valued, to prevent them seeking affirmation in premarital sex. The documentary is — for the most part — quite balanced. These families are admirable for their commitment to their daughters’ welfare, however old-fashioned it may seem. Rather than simply rail against America’s hyper-sexualised culture, they have created an affirmative ritual. Though it must be noted that the purity ball movement has come in for a lot of criticism: for women’s virginity being treated like a male possession; for the guilt and shame when girls break their pledge; and the presumption that heterosexual marriage is the path for everyone. Treays puts her finger on the scale when she disingenuously asks a young black girl to name which of the Ten Commandments she has mistakenly referred to. Nonetheless, it is thought-provoking viewing.
The Wrong Mans
Wednesday, 10pm, ABC1 This is the second of a six-part BBC comedy thriller, billed as being about two friends who find themselves in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong skills. Sam (British Comedy Award winner Mathew Baynton) works for Berkshire County Council. Phil (BAFTA and Tony award-winner James Corden) is a 31-year-old mail distribution assistant who lives with his mum. Last week they found themselves caught in a deadly conspiracy when Sam answered an abandoned mobile phone after witnessing a car crash. This episode finds them tied up and frightened. Great production values and sufficient laughs. (Saturday, 9pm, Seven)(Not VIC, Tas or SA), a spectacular reworking of the legendary beautyand-the-beast story starring Jack Black and Naomi Watts, complete with wondrous special effects, an abundance of predatory monsters and some thrilling action sequences.
The British director Anthony Asquith made two memorable films from plays by Terence Rattigan, a master of the playwriting craft and a doyen of the British drawing-room theatre before it was taken over by angry young men in the 50s. Both films inspired remakes.
The Browning Version, with Michael Redgrave, was remade with Albert Finney;
(Sunday, 10.30am, Gem)(Not WA), with Robert Donat, was remade with Nigel Hawthorne.
All are worth seeing, but Asquith’s 1948 film with Donat remains a classic. It’s based on the true story of a boy accused of stealing a fiveshilling postal order while serving as a navy cadet; his father hires Britain’s leading barrister to defend his honour. Grand, literate, old-fashioned entertainment, with impeccable performances.