SATURDAY JANUARY 5
Jennifer Saunders: Back in the Saddle (TV1, 7.30pm). Pre-Olympics TV schedules in the UK were no doubt stuffed full of sports-adjacent programming, but at least this two-parter has the lovely Jennifer Saunders from Ab Fab, who is “mischievous and funny”, according to the –Telegraph. She used to ride horses, too, but hadn’t been on the back of one for 40 years. The challenge is to get up to speed to compete in the Badminton Grassroots Championships, a tough event for amateurs, and there are a few interviews along the way, including with former Olympian Princess Anne. “The thing I think people always ought to remember with horses,” the princess says, “is that they have the potential to kill you, even when they are on your side.”
Silk (Prime, 8.35pm). The legal profession has never looked busier and more bustling than in Silk, a new drama series from barrister-turned-writer Peter Moffat. Another legal drama? Yes, but this one being British, it is not so much lawyers working out their personal issues in the form of a court case (Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, etc) as the gritty day-to-day of overcrowded courtrooms, tiny holding cells and harsh lighting. Moffat, who previously wrote for Kavanagh QC and devised and wrote the brilliant series Criminal Justice, says he wanted to make it very real, “full of politics and intrigue”, he told the Telegraph. “From my experience at the Bar, I felt life in chambers had all of those components, with big stories and lots of courtroom drama – but I wanted to make it as much about barristers and their life in chambers as about the trials.” Moffat’s lead bustler is the wonderful Maxine Peake, whose character Martha Costello moves through the courts’ corridors so swiftly she seems to be flapping rather than walking. That impression is aided by her lawyer’s robes – although what Martha and colleague Clive Reader (ladies, he is played by Rupert Penry-Jones from Spooks) really want is to wear the silk robes of a Queen’s Counsel. Hence the title, and the reason Martha and Clive are in competition. In the first episode, Martha has just got an accused off a murder charge, brilliantly of course, but there is no time to cool her heels – she is immediately handed two cases that are being heard within half an hour of each other. Off she flaps, yelling advice to her pupil, Nick (Tom Hughes), over her shoulder. There’s some clunky dialogue here and there: “Emotional detachment,” she tells Nick, “any barrister worth her salt has it.” Or the classic: “Innocent until proven guilty. Four words to live by.” But in general, Martha is a force of nature, “real and not obviously barristerial”, Moffat told BBC News. He wanted “somebody with a bit more normal life about them”. Everybody is under pressure in the legal world, says Moffat, which is why it is such fertile ground for drama: “I wanted to write about how often it is in chambers that you get a case very late in the day and how much pressure that puts on you. The stakes are very high. “It’s great drama because at the end there’s always a big moment. There’s a guilty or a not guilty.”
CSI: Miami (TV3, 9.25pm). Boom! A 70s sex symbol visits the set of CSI: Miami tonight: Raquel Welch, who is looking suspiciously good at 71. Reviews, however, praised her acting.
SUNDAY JANUARY 6
Storage Wars (Prime, 7.00pm). Hunting out collectibles and antique bargains has now become a television genre: Discovery has Auction Kings and Auction Hunters, and this A&E Network series is roughly the same thing. It features professional buyers who bid on storage units that are being auctioned off (this happens in the US if the rent has not been paid for three months). The buyers get five minutes to make an assessment, and there seems to be an 80-20 rule: they make 80% of their profit from 20% of the units they buy. Meanwhile, the rather more refined Antiques Roadshow (Prime, Saturday, 7.30pm) is this week visiting Winchester Cathedral.
Playhouse Presents (UKTV, Sky 006, 7.00pm). A series of short dramas that originates from the Sky Arts channel in the UK. Many of the great and good of British acting appear, including Emma Thompson, Brenda Blethyn, Richard E Grant, Eddie Marsan and Trevor Eve. Also, Tom Jones. It begins with Nellie & Melba, written by Paul O’Grady and Sandi Toksvig, about a 51-year-old and his mother (O’Grady and Sheila Hancock) who perform as a double act.
Hunted (SoHo, Sky 010, 8.30pm). Strike Back meets Spooks but with more pouting. Melissa George (most recently seen here in The Slap) is a sexy super-spy working for a private agency who dashes around on a series of high-stakes adventures. The opening episode is reportedly actiony as all get-out, hopping between Tangier, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Scotland and London. “The fake blood and stuntmen-falling-over bills must have been astronomical,” quipped the Telegraph. George’s character is double-crossed in the first episode, setting her on a path of revenge; all good fun, even if the LA Times thought it didn’t ring true … no, really. Also stars Game of Thrones’ Stephen Dillane, Indira Varma and Patrick Malahide.
Fry’s Planet Word (BBC Knowledge, Sky 074, 8.30pm). Stephen Fry’s charming cogitation about “the core of our being” – language. He begins at the beginning – with its origins: how and why humans are the only species to have language, and then the five-part series roams through how people identify through language; the evolution of slang and profanity; written language; and storytelling and literature.
MONDAY JANUARY 7
Tennis (Sky Sport 3, Sky 032, noon). The ASB Classic winds up on Saturday (Sky Sport 3, Sky 032, noon), and the men glide in today for the Heineken Open. At the top of the field is Spaniard David Ferrer, followed by Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Tommy Haas. The field includes Pole Jerzy Janowicz, the Paris Masters qualifier who shocked everyone last October by beating five top-20 players (including Andy Murray) to make it to the final. It bounced him to a world ranking of 26, even though he was beaten by Ferrer. Rematch at the Heineken? Cool.
All About The Good Life (Prime, Monday, 8.30pm). Fewer and fewer of us remember The Good Life, that charming 70s sitcom in which Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal tried to go self-sufficient in Surbiton, much to their snobby neighbours’ dismay. This doco explains its appeal, with contributions from Briers, Penelope Keith, gardening expert Monty Don and comedy writer John O’Farrell.
The Syndicate (UKTV, Sky 006, 8.30pm). Old-fashioned telly the likes of which we hardly see any more – certainly not on TV1. This is a Kay Mellor-penned series about five supermarket workers who win the lottery: the actors include Mike Leigh favourite Timothy Spall, Joanna Page (Stacey from Gavin & Stacey) and Matthew Lewis, who was Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films. The series is a response to the financial crash and hard times in the UK: Mellor (who wrote Band of Gold and Fat Friends) told the Guardian she wondered “what it would be like if a group of people won the lottery. Ordinary, working-class people, in this present climate.”
Louis Theroux: America’s Most Dangerous Pets (TV1, 9.30pm). Another of America’s terrific freedoms, apart from the right to bear semi-automatic weapons, is the right, in some states, to keep wild animals as pets. They’ve made entire television series about what could go wrong with this idea, and now the master documentary-maker is having a go. The nervous Brit visits a bunch of exotic-animal owners in the US, including an Oklahoma man whose animal park houses more than 150 tigers, as well as lions and “ligers”. He says he rescues animals from people who have bought cubs and somehow didn’t realise they were going to grow up. There’s another cat owner who can barely control his Siberian tiger when he lets it out of its cage, despite the chain, and a woman whose chimpanzee shatters a window while Theroux’s camera crew is there. Theroux himself is subject to vigorous grooming by Tatiana the baboon. “Would you not think that a baboon needs to be a baboon?” he asks. “For what purpose?” replies Tatiana’s owner.
Damages (TV1, 11.30pm). The excellent and underrated Damages returns, thanks to satellite broadcaster DirecTV, which picked up the series after it was cancelled by FX. Glenn Close won Emmys in 2008 and 2009 for her role as manipulative litigator Patty Hewes, and the list of nominations and awards for the show and cast members is far too long to mention. Co-star Rose Byrne is among them, of course; she is equally good as Hewes’s protégée Ellen Parsons. The series tends to “ripped from the headlines” stories (last season was a Madoff-style investment scandal), and season four is about a private military contractor not unlike Blackwater. At its head is the marvellous John Goodman and other guest stars include Chris Messina, Judd Hirsch and Griffin Dunne.
TUESDAY JANUARY 8
Super Smart Animals (TV1, 8.30pm). A chimp that does maths, a problem-solving orang-utan, clever dolphins, smart birds. The BBC’s Liz Bonnin goes in search of the world’s canniest animals, although driving dogs do not appear.
Durham County (SoHo, Sky 010, 8.30pm). If you thought The Killing was dark, try this Canadian series about a Toronto homicide cop (Hugh Dillon) who takes his family back home. Always a bad idea, in television drama anyway, especially when there is, said the New York Times, a “menacing atmosphere darkened by a toxic environment and a hostile community”. Creepy.
THURSDAY JANUARY 10
Hamish and Andy’s Caravan of Courage: Australia vs New Zealand (TV3, 8.30pm). Hamish Blake and Andy Lee continue their spurious competition back in the Lucky Country, where there is camel racing, UFO spotting and a woman with 18 kangaroos in her house, sport. Better than New Zild? Yeah, right.