The Best of the Week
SATURDAY DECEMBER 1
The First Marathon (SoHo, Sky 010, 1.55pm). This year’s award for a drama masquerading as science fiction goes to The First, which is less about a manned mission to Mars and more about the emotional cost of such an endeavour and the grief suffered by Tom Hagerty (Sean Penn) and his daughter Denise (Anna Jacoby-Heron) after the suicide of wife and mum Diane (Melissa George). It’s slow and thoughtful – not a bad thing – and the flashiness lies in the future-tech virtual reality and holograms. Record and enjoy over a slow weekend.
QI (Prime, 9.00pm). Season M begins, Stephen Fry’s final season of QI. At least there are 16 episodes to go before the High Priest of Trivia exits, stage left, and Sandi Toksvig scampers in. Fry has been presenting since the series began in 2003 and, at its worst, episodes could be a half-hour of Stephen Talks to the Class. But at their best, especially with David Mitchell or Jo Brand on the panel, it was sublime. Toksvig appears as a panellist this season, along with Bill Bailey, Brand, Danny Bhoy, Sarah Millican, Noel Fielding and James Acaster.
SUNDAY DECEMBER 2
Travel Man: 48 Hours in … Christmas Special (Choice TV, 7.30pm). It’s a Christmas special for no other reason than it’s that time of year, as Richard Ayoade is in Hong Kong, where there does not appear to be anything remotely Christmas-adjacent happening. However, he’s there for a “yule that rules” with successful actor Jon Hamm, who is up for most things, including venomous-snake soup, cable-car rides, a brutal foot massage (Ayoade: “Oh, he’s just punching me now”), a suit made of velvet and open-air tai chi (Hamm is very good with a fan, by the way. An actual fan, not a Mad Men one).
MONDAY DECEMBER 3
9-1-1 (Three, 8.40pm). Is it our imagination, or is 9-1-1 becoming more ridiculous? The mid-season finale, as they say, features a stampede at a toy store, a mistletoe stunt gone wrong and a Christmas-lights showdown between neighbours. We miss you, Connie Britton.
Joanna Lumley’s Japan (Choice TV, 8.30pm). You may have already caught this series on Prime, but it is absolutely worth another look, or especially a first one. Lumley is, as always, the most charming travel companion as she journeys across Japan’s four main islands.
Little Dorrit (TVNZ OnDemand). TVNZ has been adding more and more back-catalogue fare to its on-demand platform (including Dawson’s Creek, ER, Freaks and Geeks, the original Queer as Folk and The Secret Life of Us), and we’d particularly like to point out this BBC adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel starring Claire Foy well before she was QEII in The Crown. It’s written by Andrew Davies and stars a revolving door of top British thespians, including Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Courtney,
Sue Johnston, Alun Armstrong, Maxine Peake, Harriet Walter, Amanda Redman, Eddie Marsan and Andy Serkis. Equally good, and also on demand from today, is 2005’s Bleak House, similarly adapted by Andrew Davies and starring Gillian Anderson, Timothy West, Anna Maxwell Martin
and Charles Dance as the lawyer Tulkinghorn who, said our reviewer Diana Wichtel, “carries family secrets like a concealed weapon”. But wait, there’s more on-demand Dickens, possibly too much more: Tony Jordan’s pastiche Dickensian is so stuffed full of characters it’s difficult to keep up. In the 20-part series, Bleak House’s Inspector Bucket (Stephen Rea) investigates the murder of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley.
Christabel & Sylvia (History, Sky 073, 9.30pm). While we were celebrating 125 years since New Zealand women gained voting rights, they were having a similar centenary celebration in the UK, tempered by the knowledge that only some women gained the right to vote in 1918 (it would be another 10 years before the franchise was extended to all women). This documentary looks at Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst who, led by their mother Emmeline, were at the forefront of the fight. However, despite facing a hostile establishment and suffering arrests and physical attacks together, the sisters argued about the direction of the suffrage movement. Sylvia was also opposed to the 1914 war, whereas her mother and
sister were eager supporters.
TUESDAY DECEMBER 4
The 2000s (Prime, 8.30pm). Remember when Facebook was a fun way to connect with friends and family, before Russian hackers used it to seed fake stories about Democrats and influence elections, before a political consulting firm used by the Trump campaign gained access to the personal data of millions of users, and before conspiracy theories and hate speech were allowed to run rampant through everyone’s news feed? Yeah, good times. The final of the series also covers the rise of Apple, Amazon, YouTube and Google.
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 5
Freedom Riders (Choice TV, 8.30pm). There aren’t too many travel shows that celebrate motorbike culture quite so much as this: veteran, some might say obsessed, biker Charley Boorman (who travelled from London to New York on a motorbike with his friend Ewan McGregor in Long Way Round, and then went from Scotland to South Africa in Long Way Down) arrives in six different Asian cities and seeks out the best biking experience. The gimmick is “one bike, one tank of petrol”; why, we don’t know.
THURSDAY DECEMBER 6
Babies: Their Wonderful World (Choice TV, 8.30pm). The BBC experiments on babies in this three-part series, which features research from babies and families around the world. In the first episode, it’s how babies develop language and their own interests and preferences, as well as temperament and self-control. Possibly the cutest science programme ever.
FRIDAY DECEMBER 7
Shakespeare Uncovered (Sky Arts, Sky 020, 9.15pm). Shakespeare isn’t just for British thesps, you know. The first episode of season three of Shakespeare Uncovered is Helen Hunt on Much Ado About Nothing, in which she once received rave reviews for her Beatrice. Similarly, F Murray Abraham starred as Shylock in a touring production of
The Merchant of Venice and has something to say about anti-semitism in 17th-century England. Romola Garai discusses Measure for Measure and vice and sexual corruption at the highest levels, and Brian Cox remarks on how easily a tyrant can corrupt a free republic, based on his study of Julius Caesar. There are also interviews with directors and scholars, clips from film and television adaptations and footage from the plays staged at the Globe Theatre in London.
Little Dorrit, Monday.
Christabel & Sylvia, Monday.
Shakespeare Uncovered, Friday.