TV Guide: 20 of the best shows to watch this week
A Suitable Boy, Our Baby: A Modern Miracle, Beyoncé’s Black Is King, Muppets Now
Robert Sheehan in The Umbrella Academy. The second series streams from Friday on Netflix.
Sunday, Channel 4, 8pm
Two German car manufacturers were ordered by the Nazis to build the most high-performance vehicles the world had ever seen. What developed was a rivalry that led to Grand Prix victories, international domination that was a propaganda coup, and global fame for drivers who smashed speed records that would stand for almost eight decades. This film examines the rise of the Third Reich’s Silver Arrow Grand Prix and speed record cars of the 1930s. Motor racing and second World War experts James Holland, Richard Williams, Eberhard Reuss and Chris Routledge add their thoughts on the story of the Nazi-funded Auto Union and Mercedes Benz “National Racing Cars”.
A Suitable Boy
Sunday, BBC1, 9pm
Vikram Seth’s sprawling masterpiece was a literary sensation. It’s also bloody long, so anyone tackling the job of adapting it for TV was in for a few late nights. It’s in good hands: Andrew Davies, who has previously adapted Pride & Prejudice, Sanditon and that other classic doorstopper, War and Peace. There have been grumblings that the producers should have hired an Indian screenwriter to do the job, but word is that Davies has once again shown his mastery of the medium, capturing Seth’s original vision with flair and fidelity. And it does have an all-Indian cast, is filmed on location, and is directed by Bafta-nominated Mira Nair. A Suitable Boy follows the fortunes of four very different families in a newly independent 1950s India. Central to the story is student Lata (Tanya Maniktala), who is striving for her own independence in a country where possibilities are suddenly opening up. Her mother is hoping to arrange a suitable suitor for Lata, but she has no interest in romance… that is, until she meets quietly smouldering fellow student Kabir (Danesh Razvi). So, Normal People, set in the subcontinent, with cricket instead of hurling. From this basic girl-meets-boy, parents-go-mad premise, the series expands into an epic saga that follows India’s inner turmoil at a time of huge political and social change. It’ll be worth watching to see how they managed to condense this sweeping story into just six episodes.
Beethoven’s Fidelio: The Royal Opera
Sunday, BBC4, 9.05pm
Antonio Pappano introduces a new production of Beethoven’s only opera, from the Royal Opera House. David Butt Philip plays the political prisoner Florestan and Lise Davidsen his wife Leonore (disguised as “Fidelio”) who daringly sets out to save him from certain death during the French revolution. Tobias Kratzer’s new staging brings together the dark reality of the revolutionary Terror and our own time to illuminate Fidelio’s inspiring message of shared humanity. The film has been commissioned as part of Beethoven Unleashed – a year-long pan-BBC season marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer.
Monday, BBC1, 8.30pm
Jimmy McGovern is one of the most talented British TV writers of his generation. Cracker and fact-based drama Hillsborough are just two of the many projects that back up the statement. Now McGovern turns his attention to another tragedy. Fifteen years ago, 18-year-old college student Anthony Walker was killed by two white men in an unprovoked racist attack in a Liverpool park. This drama imagines what life may have held for Anthony if the teenager had not been killed. The reverse chronology sees him realise his dreams and enjoy the life he had a right to before it was taken away. Toheeb Jimoh, Julia Brown and Rakie Ayola head the impressive cast of this feature-length drama.
Monday, RTÉ One, 9pm
If you haven’t watched much children’s TV over the past decade, then you may have missed out on the genius of Horrible Histories, an educational sketch show so good it could be argued it was wasted on kids. Luckily, the team behind it are branching out into more grown-up TV, as the original main troupe are reunited for this sitcom. Former Call the Midwife’s Charlotte Ritchie and Stath Lets Flats’ Kiell Smith-Bynoe also join in the fun as a couple who are thrilled to inherit a grand country house. What they don’t know though is that not only is the place falling apart, it’s also haunted by former inhabitants who don’t take kindly to the couple’s plans for their home. So, before you can say “Beetlejuice”, the ghosts are conspiring to scare them away. This originally ran on BBC1 in April 2019.
The Confessions of Thomas Quick
Monday, Channel 4, 10pm
In a high-security psychiatric clinic sits Thomas Quick, Sweden’s most notorious serial killer. A misfit loner who openly confessed to a range of crimes, including rape, murder and cannibalism, his story has shocked and haunted the Swedish nation for more than 20 years. However, new evidence – including testimony from the man himself – has taken this terrifying story in an even more disturbing direction. With full access to Quick, this is a chilling documentary of murder and lies.
Tuesday, Sky One & Now TV, 9pm
For every serial killer who pops up on telly, there’s a cop who’s trying to get inside his mind. Blame it on The Silence of the Lambs, but the interior of a psychopath’s cranium has become the place to be. In this US drama, former FBI profiler Malcolm Bright doesn’t need to get inside serial killers’ heads: he’s already an expert in the workings of their twisted minds thanks to his dad, Dr Martin Whitly, who used to be a notorious serial killer himself, known as The Surgeon. Some guys can ask their dads how to fix a lawnmower, but Malcolm (who now helps the NYPD solve crimes) can call on his dad’s first-hand expertise in committing gruesome murders to help him catch killers. Problem is, like most dads, The Surgeon keeps badgering his son to put aside frivolous things and follow in his bloody footsteps, and Malcolm is terrified he may soon become like his father. Michael Sheen stars as the killer dad and Tom Payne the put-upon son, and Lou Diamond Philips (remember him?) as NYPD lieutenant Gil Arroyo.
Joanna Lumley’s Unseen Adventures
Tuesday, ITV, 9pm
Given the amount of glorious footage that has to be dropped from celeb travel shows for timing reasons, there’s little wonder TV bosses are always keen to package them in shows such as this. And when it comes to stars on their (working) hols, few folks do a better job than Joanna Lumley. The series kicks off with a look at her journey from Japan to Siberia, beginning on the frozen Japanese sea of Okhotsk. She also travels across China and Mongolia before arriving at Lake Baikal in Siberia, where the AbFab legend meets some amazing seals. As millions of us dream of jetting off to such places, ideally with Ms Lumley herself, this is the next best thing to being there.
Our Baby: A Modern Miracle
Tuesday, Channel 4, 10pm
Many new parents call their little darlings “miracles” when they arrive in the world. But what’s it like for new parents when you’re both transgender? In this documentary, cameras follow trans couple Hannah and Jake Graf as they seek to start a family. Jake is an award-winning director who appeared in The Danish Girl, while Hannah is a British army officer. Made over 12 months, Our Baby examines the story from their first meeting with a surrogate, through to their race to reach the birth of their child in the midst of lockdown. There’s also a look at their experiences of transitioning and the prejudice they’ve faced as they try to realise their dream of becoming parents.
Great Continental Railway Journeys
Wednesday, BBC Two, 8pm
Michael Portillo, fresh from analysing Britain’s attitude to Irish independence in Hawks and Doves, goes back to what he really loves best: jumping on a train and heading off for who-knows-where. The former Tory politician has travelled the world by train for his various great railway journeys series, and this is series seven in this strand, But hang on: is he even allowed on a train without a face mask? Presumably this new series was made before the pandemic struck, and if not, we can trust Portillo to observe all health and safety protocols (unlike the current Tory leadership). This series is personal to Portillo as he heads deep into the heartlands of Spain to find out more about his father, a left-wing professor who was forced into exile after the country was taken over by Franco’s fascist regime. So, Who Do You Think You Are on a train. Along the way, he learns to dance the Jota and meets George Orwell’s son, whose dad famously fought against Franco in the Spanish civil war. As with all Portillo’s programmes, this will be an enlightening journey through history as well as a chance to see what colourful sports jacket he’s wearing these days.
Anne: The Princess Royal at 70
Wednesday, ITV, 9pm
A highlight of series three of The Crown is Erin Doherty’s performance as Princess Anne. Whether giving Charles a matey slap or just being a great antidote to all the pomp, she stood out from the cast of characters because she was such a rebel. But what is the real princess royal like? This one-off documentary profiles the queen’s daughter as she enters her 70th year. Anne talks frankly about a family in which women tended to be seen as “honorary men”; about the challenges for younger royalty; about a kidnap attempt; and about refusing titles for her children, Peter and Zara. They discuss being raised by a royal Olympian, while husband Tim Laurence reveals the princess’s private side.
Tokyo 2020 – A Year to Go
Thursday, RTÉ One, 10.15pm
The pandemic has forced the postponement of many major sporting and cultural events, and probably the biggest casualty is the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which will now not take place until 2021 (although it will still be called Tokyo 2020). Here Evanne Ní Chuilinn and Peter Collins meet Irish athletes, coaches and organisers to find out how the delay of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games has impacted on their sporting plans as well as their personal lives. Does a year’s delay present an opportunity or a challenge? The guests will also choose their favourite sporting moments from Olympics history.
The Secret World of Your Rubbish
Thursday, Channel 5, 8pm
Where there’s muck there’s brass, as the old Yorkshire saying goes. That’s certainly the case for the makers of this show, which returns for a second run. Once more it meets people dedicated to keeping Britain tidy. In Wiltshire, Crapper & Sons run a landfill site for some 200 trucks full of waste per day. But with space running out, the father and son need to find new ways of keeping their rubbish empire alive. If you’re having your dinner, you might want to flip channels when cameras follow a couple of technicians at a sewage works in west London. Their job: remove the rubbish that gets flushed down people’s U-bends. We also meet a team of litter-collectors at Marylebone Station.
Gospel According to Mica – The Story of Gospel Music in Six Songs
Friday, BBC4, 9pm
British soul singer Mica Paris was brought up on gospel music and sang in church from an early age. She was an international star in her teens, singing pop and soul and having worldwide hits. Now Mica has grown curious about the origins of the songs she sang as a child, and in this programme revisits her childhood church in Lewisham to start exploring the meaning and origins of these famous gospel songs. She sings with The Kingdom Choir, visits Fisk University in Tennessee, delves into the history of Sam Cooke and Thomas A Dorsey, and examines the music of current artists such as Stormzy.
Travel Man’s Greatest Trips: Out and About
Friday, Channel 4, 8pm
Richard Ayoade raids the Travel Man archive to look back on some of his greatest trips. In this episode he presides over a selection of the finest adventures from over 40 mini-breaks, beginning with a tour of Vienna in miniature hot rods with Chris O’Dowd, before jetting off to Dubai with comedian Johnny Vegas to scale the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. He also recalls canoeing around Helsinki’s 300 islands with Paul Rudd, rafting in Florence with Rebel Wilson, and sightseeing in Iceland with Jessica Hynes.
From Sunday, Netflix
Christina Hendricks may be one of the most memorable female stars of her generation, but even many die-hard fans missed the first two series of this comedy-crime drama. So here’s the chance to catch up and enjoy the third run. Series one centred on three suburban Michigan mothers having a hard time making ends meet. So naturally they planned a bank robbery. In series three, Beth, Ruby and Annie struggle with their new business venture following a key character’s death. Hendricks receives solid support from Retta and Mae Whitman. There’s only 11 episodes in this run because of Covid, but a fourth series is on the way.
Fear the Walking Dead
From Wednesday, Amazon Prime
Series five of this spin-off of The Walking Dead debuted at the tail end of last year, and in light of subsequent global events and you know what, the saga has never seemed more relevant as the sixth series it drops on Amazon Prime. And fans of the original will be keen to see Dwight (Austin Amelio) in this run, Neegan’s scarred second-in-command. After missing the last season, Rubén Blades, aka Daniel Salazar is back. The series kicks off with Alicia, Dorie, June, Morgan and Luciana involved in a plane crash, leaving the latter seriously injured.
The Umbrella Academy
From Friday, Netflix
They’re the most unusual family since the Addamses: six “siblings”, each with unique superpowers of their own, but each also with their own personality quirks, which sometimes cancels out the superpowers. Meet the Hargreeves as they embark on a new, apocalyptic adventure in this second series of Netflix’s hit show based on the comic book series by Gerard Way, former leader of uber-Emo band My Chemical Romance. For Irish subscribers, the big draw will be the return of former Love/Hate actor Robert Sheehan, channeling his inner Johnny Depp as flamboyant druggie Klaus, who can communicate with the dead and even bring them temporarily back to life. His fellow academicians also have unusual powers, such as the ability to control minds, superhuman strength, and, er, the ability to play the violin (well, you try playing one – not as easy as it looks). The first series ended with the total destruction of Earth, which doesn’t leave much room to move the plot forward. Never fear: one of the siblings can jump through space and time, so they all go back in time in order to head the apocalypse off at the pass. But the time-jump goes wrong, and everyone ends up scattered at various points in the early 1960s. And, because they messed up the timeline, there’s another apocalypse on the way. So that’s two doomsday scenarios they have to deal with. And as if that’s not enough to be getting on with, the Swedish assassins are still on their tail. Sounds like we’re in for another fun, phantasmagorical rollercoaster ride.
Black Is King
From Friday, Disney+
Beyoncé has so much power, she could probably get a series about a note to the milkman green-lit in 10 seconds. And when a project is linked to The Lion King, one of Disney’s most successful projects, little wonder those big cheeses in Mouseland jumped at the chance of getting this offering off the ground. Black Is King is a visual album by the Grammy Award-winner, reimagining the lessons of The Lion King for today’s youngsters in search of their own crowns. In typical LA corporate speak fashion, videos for My Power, Mood 4 Eva and Brown Skin Girl are described as “extravagances of elegance and soul”. Which, roughly translated, means it’s an unmissable treat for fans of one of the planet’s most gifted artists, and a few special guests.
From Friday, Disney+
For anyone growing up during the 1970s, The Muppet Show was must-see TV. Incredible scripts, wonderful characters and big-name guest stars paved the way for a string of movies, merchandise and theme part attractions. When Kermit & co returned with a couple of movies a few years ago, fans knew a new TV series was just a matter of time, and here it is. In the six-episode season, Scooter rushes to make his delivery deadlines and upload the new Muppet series for streaming. He’ll need to navigate whatever obstacles, distractions, and complications the rest of the gang throws at him. Naturally old favourite (Dr Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, Miss Piggy, a certain frog) are on hand to ensure Jim Henson’s beloved creations keep the next generation of fans grinning.