Away from Country Saturday, 8.30pm, NITV
Back in 1995, Brendan Williams showed great potential as a rugby union fullback. He went on to represent Australia at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games and in 2001 signed with then Super 12s side the Waratahs. But his career took a dive because of drugs, alcohol and the death of his brother. That wasn’t the end of his story, though. As this inspirational profile shows, Williams moved to Italy, resurrected his career and once again became a star, playing centre, fullback and wing for Benetton Treviso. He retired aged 37 in May. Here Williams, who lives with his young family in Treviso, talks about his rocky past and bright future.
Italian Americans Sunday, 10.25pm, SBS
There’s a familiar ring to this documentary series, which traces the arrival in America of Italian immigrants. By the turn of the 20th century, more than four million people had landed with the hope of a prosperous new life. They faced a foreign culture and were not exactly welcomed with open arms. (Ring a bell?) This episode looks at the years 1930-45, when a second generation of Italian Americans enters politics, sport and entertainment. Fiorello LaGuardia becomes mayor of New York (LaGuardia Airport is named after him) and Joe DiMaggio becomes a baseball hero and marries the all-American Marilyn Monroe. But with the outbreak of war they are forced to choose which side they are on.
Drunk History Sunday, 9pm, SBS Two
This series is a bit weird but amusing, I guess. Three actors narrate their warped version of famous events in American history while supposedly four sheets to the wind. Then another three actors play the part of the main character in each story. Are you still with me? In this episode, San Francisco, Kristen Wiig plays kidnap victim Patty Hearst, Lisa Bonet is civil rights leader Mary Ellen Pleasant and Steve Little is the great American novelist Mark Twain.
Keating Monday, 11.30pm, ABC
OK, it’s been around the block a few times, but this four-part series is well worth watching if you haven’t caught it before. And it doesn’t hurt to catch it a second time if only for the quick wit of Paul Keating, a snapshot of political history, and to enjoy the work of Kerry O’Brien.
The First Interview Tuesday, 4.25am, ABC
Another repeat, but I missed it back in 2012. This is the world’s first media interview, shot in Paris in August 1886. The great photographer Felix Nadar interviews the famous scientist Michel Chevreul on his 100th birthday. Using 21stcentury technology, their lively conversation — recorded in shorthand and a sequence of still photographs — has been turned into this wonderful 35-minute film.
Who Do You Think You Are? Tuesday, 7.30pm SBS
Even Greig Pickhaver has difficulty stepping out of the role of HG Nelson, one half of the comedy duo Roy & HG. (Lots of people don’t realise HG is not a real person.) Here, Pickhaver fulfils a need “to plough up a couple of new paddocks to try to work out the drama which has preceded me and got [me] to this particular point.” His family never discussed their background so it comes as a surprise to learn his great-grandfather, Samuel Rinder, was a wealthy sheep trader who resorted to fraud when he fell on hard times. The “master criminal” went on the run, deserting his wife and seven children but, incredibly, taking his favourite racehorse with him. Then it gets really interesting. This series, now in its seventh season, is fascinating.
800 Words Tuesday, 8.40pm, Seven
One of the few new locally produced series, this Australian eight-part drama is a goodie. Widower George Turner (Erik Thomson) moves his teenage children Shay (Melina Vidler) and Arlo (Benson Jack Anthony) from Sydney to Weld in New Zealand to start a new life. A journalist, he writes a daily 800-word column for a Sydney paper. Unfortunately, here in episode one, he calls Weld a “dead-end town” in his first dispatch, word gets back and the whole town turns against the family. But it’s a gentle comedy that will make you smile.
Gruen Wednesday, 8.30pm, ABC
Nothing escapes host Wil Anderson and admen Todd Sampson and Russel Howcroft when it comes to spin. They dissect the week’s leading stories — how they were presented, interpreted and received — and pull apart marketing campaigns to reveal how they target consumers. It’s fast and funny and a terrific way of finding out how the ad industry works — from insiders. Back after a year’s absence (Anderson was working in the US in 2014), this is Gruen’s seventh season.
Fresh Blood From Thursday, ABC iView
Veronica Milsom and Steen Raskopoulos wrote
The Record, the first episode in this series of short comedy pilots designed to showcase upcoming young talent. They also perform the four main characters. Frank and Pim Belami are an Adelaide couple with 69 boys. They want to beat the Russian record for the world’s largest biological family and won’t stop till they have a girl. In Lancashire, England, Bob and Judy Lumley want to break the speed record for a pigeon returning home, but their neighbour has other ideas. We’re sure to see more of these talented people.
Gadget Man Thursday, 8pm, SBS Two
Actor Richard Ayoade presents this series on gadgets — from the sophisticated to the simple — that can make life easier. In Nine to Five, episode two in season four, he looks at gadgets that can take the daily grind out of turning up at work. While Ayoade checks out the gadgets that make working from home a cinch, comedian Dara O’Briain explores the time, energy and safety benefits of such accessories as the mobile teleconferencing robot, the robot arm for use in dangerous work, and the zero-gravity workstation that allows you to work lying down.
The Story of Film: An Odyssey Thursday, 12.05am, SBS Two
There have been several excellent documentaries on the history of film; this 15-part series, one of the most comprehensive, was shown on SBS in 2013. Although long (900 minutes in total), it’s a fascinating overview of the industry from silent movies to the digital age. Episode six covers the years 1953-57 when cinema was producing hits such as Rebel Without a Cause, Seven Samurai and On the Waterfront. Narrated by Irish film critic Mark Cousins, the series won a Peabody Award in 2013 “for its inclusive, uniquely annotated survey of world cinema history”.