TV Guide: 23 of the best shows to watch this week
Highlights include Gardening with Diarmuid Gavin, The Plot Against America and Once Upon a Time in Iraq
Giles Clark in Bears About the House, Wednesday on BBC2
Billie Jean King: Born to Lead
Sunday, BBC1, 5.05pm
As a tennis player, Billie Jean King won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 in singles, and is regarded by many in the sport as one of the greatest women’s players of all time. In 1973 she famously defeated Bobby Riggs in a match dubbed the Battle of Sexes, which played a significant role in developing greater respect and recognition for women athletes. In this programme, King talks to Sue Barker about her sexuality and life as an activist and advocate for gender equality, LGBT rights and social justice.
Romesh Ranganathan: Misadventures from My Sofa
Sunday, BBC2, 9pm
When one of your major income streams involves making a travel programme and you’re no longer able to travel freely, what do you do? In the case of Romesh Ranganathan, you sit at home and create a new three-part series featuring highlights from your previous adventures. Ranganathan also promises that each edition will feature previously unseen footage as well as anecdotes from fellow travelers about their experiences together. Expect to see clips from such far-flung places as Haiti, Ethiopia, Albania, the Arctic, Zimbabwe, Mongolia and many more.
Imagine: This House Is Full of Music
Sunday, BBC1, 6pm
In 2016, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason was named BBC Young Musician, and two years later he reached a whole new audience when he performed at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in front of a TV audience of two billion people worldwide. And he’s not the only talent in his family: his six siblings are also gifted musicians. The seven prodigies, who have been in lockdown together in the family home in Nottingham, here stage a remarkable concert and offer an insight into their family life, filmed using remote cameras.
Neil Young: Heart of Gold
Sunday, TG4, 11.05pm
Neil Young performs in Nashville in a concert film shot over two-nights in August 2005. Soon after completing his critically acclaimed album Prarie Wind, the rock legend took the Ryman Auditorium – the historic home of Nashville’s Grand Old Opry – by storm, blowing away the audience with heartfelt renditions of recent songs and classic hits. Young is also surrounded by a handpicked group of musical companions, including his wife Pegi Young and special guest vocalist Emmylou Harris.
Othello: Royal Shakespeare Company
Sunday, BBC4, 9.30pm
Iqbal Khan’s groundbreaking version of Shakespeare’s tragedy was the first by the RSC to cast a black actor, Lucian Msamati, as Iago. Othello (Hugh Quarshie) is the greatest general of his age. But he is also an outsider whose victories have created enemies of his own. As they plot in the shadows, Othello realises that the greatest danger lies not in the hatred of others, but his own fragile and destructive pride. Joanna Vanderham, David Ajao, Nadia Albina and Scarlett Brookes also star in this production, which opened at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in June 2015.
Once Upon a Time in Iraq
Monday, BBC2, 9pm
New documentary series examining the realities of war and life under Islamic State, with unique personal archives from civilians and soldiers on both sides of the conflict. As war began, many Iraqis were hopeful. Ahmed al-Bashir, now a renowned comedian, remembers practising his English with US troops before the realities of occupation became clear. Waleed Neysif was 18 when George W Bush gave Saddam Hussein just 48 hours to leave Iraq. He was, like many Iraqi teenagers at that time, infatuated by the West. But while many of his generation grew up enjoying songs by the Backstreet Boys, Waleed formed Iraq’s first heavy metal band. Narrated by Andy Serkis.
Monday, BBC2, 8.30pm
Students expecting to head off to university in September are wondering exactly what’s in store for them: hitting the bars and making new friends in freshers’ week while negotiating packed lecture halls, or social distancing and online learning? At least one academic tradition isn’t changing – the long-running University Challenge is back for a new series. The opening match sees a team from the University of Glasgow takes on Exeter University for a place in the second round. But the contestants’ biggest challenge might not be each other but impressing question master Jeremy Paxman, who usually makes it clear when he thinks they should have known an answer.
Monday, BBC4, 9pm
The second chapter of the documentary chronicling the great composer’s life looks at how Beethoven returned to the town of Heiligenstadt. The music he produced during this period – from the earth-shattering Eroica through to Symphony No 7 – represent one of the most extraordinary outpourings of creativity in the history of music. But Beethoven’s personal life takes a rather different trajectory. His repeated attempts to find love with the same type of woman will result in his letter to the Immortal Beloved, whose identity remains a mystery to this day.
Paramedics: Britain’s Lifesavers
Monday, Channel 4, 9pm
Filmed in April, when the pandemic was at its peak, this new series goes behind the scenes of the West Midlands Ambulance Service to find out how the crews coped with the biggest challenge they have ever faced. To get a scale of just what they were dealing with, on its busiest day, the 111 call centre experienced a 300 per cent increase in volume, with only 4 per cent of calls answered. Student Ollie and retired sales manager Jackie were among those trying to meet demand, but that meant squeezing five weeks of call-handler training into just a fortnight. Meanwhile, to get more ambulances on the front line, student paramedics were deployed, but Caitlyn (20) quickly develops symptoms.
The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty
Tuesday, BBC2, 9pm
How do you top a series like Succession, which was loosely based on the publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch? Simple: just tell the story of Rupert Murdoch, and his rise to becoming one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in the world. There’s no shortage of plot material for this Machiavellian true-life drama. Murdoch wields so much political power that anyone who wants to be Britain’s prime minister has to first get him on their side. But, as Tony Blair discovered, courting Murdoch’s approval can come at a high price. Murdoch, who also owns Fox News, is credited with being the man who put Donald Trump in the White House (I thought that was Putin!). This three-part documentary attempts to get inside the workings of the Murdoch empire, to tease out the scandals and power struggles within the family, and to unravel the enigma of Murdoch himself. Good luck with that. The blockbuster supporting cast includes Hugh Grant, Steve Bannon, Max Mosley, Piers Morgan, Nigel Farage, Alastair Campbell and Alan Sugar.
The Plot Against America
Tuesday, Sky Atlantic & Now TV, 9pm
A raving anti-Semite becomes president of the United States, begins a persecution of the country’s Jews, and oversees America’s descent into hell? Jeez, TV plots are getting more outlandish every day. But this is what author Philip Roth dreamed up in his fevered imagination, and now his completely implausible 2004 novel has been turned into a major new drama series by David Simon, creator of The Wire. In this latest alt,history, set in the 1940s, aviator, all-American hero and xenophobic isolationist Charles Lindbergh ascends to the White House, where he immediately instigates an America-first policy. He signs a deal with Hitler not to interfere as the Nazis overrun Europe, gives Japan carte blanche to expand its empire, and turns the US towards fascism and anti-Semitism. Total fantasy. The story is told from the perspective of a working-class Jewish family in New Jersey, loosely based on Roth’s own family, and the series stars John Turturro, Winona Ryder and Zoe Kazan. Enjoy safe in the knowledge that this sort of thing couldn’t possibly happen in real life.
Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby
Tuesday, BBC2, 8pm
Giles Coren and Monica Galetti roll up their sleeves to work in more of the most extraordinary hotels across the globe. The first episode of the new series sees the duo travel to the self-governing Chinese city of Macau. Known as the gambling capital of the world, Macau welcomes millions visitors every year. Joining the 6,000 staff of a brand-new super hotel, the $3.4 billion MGM Cotai, Galetti gets special access to The Mansion – a secret VIP world of 27 ultra-luxury villas where even money can’t buy a stay.
Our Yorkshire Farm
Tuesday, Channel 5, 9pm
Return of the documentary following hill shepherds Amanda and Clive Owen and their nine children. This third series begins as the family bids farewell to Raven as she leaves for university. Four-year-old Clemmy is also about to start school – but is less keen on leaving the farm, especially since it means less time with her beloved pony Tony. The family all has to pull together when Clive goes into hospital for hip replacement surgery, preventing him from working on the farm as winter draws nearer.
Sporting Legends: Simone Biles
Wednesday, BBC2, 3.45pm
Team USA’s Simone Biles is just 4ft-8 inches tall, but she’s a giant in the world of gymnastics. She rose to fame in 2013 by winning two World Championship golds aged just 16, including the all-around title. She followed that with four more golds in 2014 and another four in 2015. By the time Rio 2016 – her first Olympics – rolled around, Biles was the hottest of hot favourites for the title. And she didn’t disappoint, winning gold in the all-around, team, vault and floor, and bronze on the beam. This short programme profiles a superstar who even has her own emojis called Simoji.
Bears About the House
Wednesday, BBC2, 8pm
The illegal wildlife trade has been under scrutiny since the outbreak of Covid-19, and this two-part documentary sees conservationist Giles Clark taking on a very dangerous species: bear poachers. He goes to Laos, where bears are hunted and killed and their body parts sold as restaurant delicacies or as ingredients in traditional Asian medicine. Those not killed are sold as trophy pets for the rich. Clark helps the chief executive of Free the Bears to build a new sanctuary and help nurse rescued bears back to health. His first charge is a sun bear named Mary, whose mother has been killed and who has been left weak and malnourished at the hands of her cruel captors.
Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs – Back in Business
Wednesday, ITV, 8pm
Back in March, the staff at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home realised that a lockdown was looming and that they would have to shut their doors to the public for the first time in 160 years. So, the pressure was on to find as many families and temporary foster carers as possibles. They had help from Paul O’Grady, who due to his own underlying health conditions was also preparing to go into self-isolation. But first he joined the staff onsite to learn about their plans. As this one-hour special shows, despite ahaving five dogs at home, O’Grady didn’t take too much persuading to foster another one – in fact, his biggest challenge was resisting the urge to take them all. But would he be equally tempted when he made a rare trip to see Battersea’s cats?
Stephen Lawrence: Has Britain Changed?
Thursday, ITV, 8pm
On April 22nd, 1993, black British teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racially motivated attack. The aftermath hit the headlines and sparked debate on institutional racism. Now, after the death of George Floyd and the global protests that followed, Lawrence is, understandably, back in our minds. Rageh Omaar and Anushka Asthana host a live debate in an effort to discover if, 27 years on, his death has had a lasting impact on racial equality in the UK. It’s followed immediately afterwards at 9pm by a screening of writer-director Paul Greengrass’s 1999 drama about the case, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star
Thursday, BBC2, 8pm
Stacey Dooley presents the return of the contest in which aspiring make-up artists battle it out. Their first assignment is an advertising campaign for sports fashion retailer JD. Guest judge Min Sandhu reminds the amateurs that the make-up needs to be perfect but cannot distract from the clothing. The creative brief sees the artists producing looks based on their own identity – leading to transformations ranging from a prosthetics-based alien look to a mythical phoenix. Only then do the judges decide which two will take on the first elimination face-off.
Gardening Together with Diarmuid Gavin
Friday, RTÉ One, 8pm
Many of us are spending more time in our gardens than ever before, thanks to a combination of lockdown and good weather. And some of us have surely looked around at our scrap of outdoor space and thought, this garden really needs a makeover. But where do you start? With gardening guru Diarmuid Gavin, who will help people put their patch of land to rights over the course of this new series. Gavin will be talking to people around the country about their gardening problems, and offering practical tips for making your green space even greener and more lush. All this will be done from his own place, which we imagine is somewhere close to a Garden of Eden (except Diarmuid won’t be wearing a fig leaf). He will, however, help one person each week to design their own garden, with help from plant expert Helen Dillon, whilie demonstrating such skills as making a sunken firepit and creating a comfy outdoor seating area.
Best of The Late Late Show Country Special
Friday, RTÉ One, 9.35pm
The Irish have endured many disappointments during the coronavirus crisis, with holidays, weddings, and cultural events cancelled. But the biggest blow was no doubt the postponement of this year’s Late Late Show country special. But don’t hang up your stetson just yet – RTÉ is airing a compilation of the best moments from the country specials over the past five years. Only problem is, there are so many moments to choose from. Who could forget that opening sequence from last year featuring Daniel O’Donnell, Nathan Carter, Cliona Hagan and a host of Irish country stars performing Dire Straits’ Walk of Life, complete with in-studio Cadillac? Or 2018’s uplifting tribute to the late, great Big Tom? You may not be a big fan of country’n’Irish (I’m more of a Gram Parsons man meself), but there’s no room for musical snobbery at this annual hoedown. And though there are sure to be a few cringy moments along the way, there’ll also be plenty of nuggets of entertainment gold.
London 2012: Opening Ceremony
Friday, BBC1, 10.45pm
Sadly, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been postponed until next year, but the BBC is making sure we still get into the spirit of the games by whisking us back in time to London 2012. It might not only be the sport we feel nostalgic for, as some people watching the Opening Ceremony might feel misty eyed about the days when we could gather together for mass public events and a time when Britain, which currently seems to be particularly divided, felt united. If you need your memory jogged, the event, which was masterminded by director Danny Boyle, celebrates everything from children’s literature to the NHS, and features guest appearances from some British icons, including the queen, James Bond, Paul McCartney and Mr Bean.
From Monday, Amazon Prime Video
Director Francis Amat spent four years working on this project, which explores the lives and experiences of some of the world’s most extraordinary female athletes. An array of No 1 ranked tennis players, such as Billie Jean King, Martina Hingis, Tracy Austin, Evonne Goolagong, Kim Clijsters, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova share their experiences. Theres is an uplifting story of determination, trials and tribulations and incredible achievements, with memories of starting at an age when they were barely big enough to pick up a racket; Evert, at five years old, felt “very resentful” of her sudden vocation. “I hated losing, so winning was the only option,” adds former No 1 tennis champ Clijsters, echoing many of her fellow players.
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals
From Friday, Disney+
Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Skylar Astin and Home and Away veteran Olivia Deeble star in this slick offering from the House of Mouse. It follows Sam, a rebellious teenage royal who develops superpowers from a genetic trait attributed only to second-borns of royal lineage. (Not a thing – we checked.) Second-in-line to the throne of the kingdom of Illyria, Sam continually questions what it means to be royal and wants to create her own legacy. Yes, it all sounds rather like The (Super) Princess Diaries, which is no bad thing. Teen lead Peyton Lee has already spent five years appearing in shows like Scandal and Shameless, so little wonder she seems so at home on screen. Kids: prepare to be hooked.