Television: Of mice and men – how a cartoon drew Billy Connolly and Seamus Heaney together

The comedian and the poet join forces for an animated series of fables that also captures their camaraderie

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00

Shetland (BBC One, Tuesday) the BBC’s answer to the popularity of Scandi crime dramas, is back for a new run of three two-parters, with the first based on the novel Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. The central character of the series, which is set on a remote Shetland island, is Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall), the local sandy-haired, freckly detective inspector. “You don’t look Spanish,” says a teenager, the scriptwriter pre-empting the viewer’s bemusement.

The body of a teenage girl is found on a beach, being pecked at by a flock of black birds. (Or should that be a murder of crows? The symbolism in Shetland is a bit heavyhanded) For a moment it looks as though this new series will be more Gothic than Gothenburg. But soon the sombre scene-setting takes over, and so, in homage to The Killing , The Bridge and Wallander , everything is grey and washed out, and there’s a quietness about every interaction.

It’s midsummer, so several people comment on the permanent daylight – a Nordic nod too far, I think. The islanders’ conversation is spare and wary, and they’re more suspicious of Perez than he is of them.

The pervading mood captures why “insular” is shorthand for inward-looking and closed-minded. But strip away the photogenic moodiness and the sometimes impenetrable Scottish accents – Brian Cox as the crazy old recluse could be saying anything – and this police procedural is as challenging as Midsomer Murders .

It’s not all excitement and exploration for astronauts. There’s the business of getting the dinner on, hoovering every Saturday morning and putting out the rubbish (although the bins float themselves out if pointed in the right direction).

Astronauts: Living in Space (Wednesday), which kicks off Channel 4’s excellent Space series, is in part broadcast live from the International Space Station. This first programme shows what three astronauts, Rick Mastracchio, Koichi Wakata and Mike Hopkins, do during their six months in orbit. It’s amazing – this programme creates many layers of wonder – to see them brushing their teeth and know they’re floating 400km above you.

Dermot O’Leary anchors the series from ground control in Houston. (I’d prefer to see it presented by the other Brian Cox, professor of astronomy. O’Leary is a bit too X Factor .) The action focuses on the experiences of the men in space and the weird challenges of living at zero gravity.

The trio have neighbours, three Russians who work in another sector of the giant craft. They drop by on Thanksgiving for a meal of reconstituted food and some chat about the view. Australia is flat and boring-looking, says one Russian. Even more boring than Africa, chips in another.

My guess is that joking in front of camera and doing entertainingly impulsive things aren’t high on the job spec for astronauts, so the three are level-headed, deliberate and earnest – Bowie-strumming Cmdr Chris Hadfield, it seems, is a one-off. That works perfectly in the lab but is maybe less of a wow on TV.

Still, the programme captures the out-of-this-world wonder of what they consider just a job.

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