Monday 18 January
Cornwall: This Fishing Life
BBC Two, 9pm
Cornwall’s sea dogs hop aboard for another round of trawling in this documentary series that takes a deep dive into the viability of fishing as a career in the county’s beauty spots. Shot last summer before the Brexit deal nearly got snagged on fishing rights, it concentrates on the effects of the lockdown on one-man operations, casting off in Newquay. The town’s north coast waters may be rich in shellfish and great for surfing, but the Atlantic that brings excellent waves also delivers harsh storms. The “south coast boys start crying in bad weather,” scoffs skipper Ben Eglinton. But the Newquay lot must brave the harsh south-westerlies for their catch of crayfish, crabs and lobster. The men confess that they’re only a few bad hauls away from financial calamity, although some have thrived: when his usual outlets closed, Buck Beckett started selling privately and found the locals mad for his Cornish catch. There’s a lesson in there somewhere about air miles and provenance, but that’s for another series – this is a love letter to the fishermen dedicated to an ancient practice. Also tonight, the pleasant Devon and Cornwall (Channel 4, 8pm) returns to celebrate those who live on the rugged coastline. VP
Rip Off Britain: Live
BBC One, 9.15am
After their series about holidays-gone-wrong, the trio of presenters returns for a week of live shows focusing on lockdown-related issues. Today they sniff out the swindlers preying on those awaiting Covid vaccines. VP
Bowls: World Indoor Bowls Championship
BBC Two, 3pm
With rugby union’s Champions Cup fixtures called off this week after a ban on games in France, what better surrogate than the high drama and muscular finesse of indoor bowls? The open pairs final is on Monday (3pm), before the singles tournaments heat up later in the week. VP
Panorama: I Can’t Breathe: Black and Dead in Custody
BBC One, 7.35pm; NI, 8.30pm
The killing of George Floyd led to an outcry about policing in America, but reporter Mark Daly argues that Britain also has a problem. He follows the family of Kevin Clarke, who died in police custody in 2018, as they seek justice. VP
Long Lost Family
The weepfest that reunites families torn asunder by adoption and estrangement returns for a 10th series with Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell at the helm. This opener features a harrowing tale that has echoes of Cathy Come Home. In 1974, unwed teenagers Phyllis and Kevin Haran ran away from Ireland to London to have their baby, but lost him after being made homeless. They’ve been trying to locate their son ever since. It’s a startling examination of the care system. VP
Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema: Pop Music Movies
BBC Four, 9pm
This instalment of his film series sees the critic introduce us to an array of clips featuring pop music, from dramas to concerts to biopics. There’s fun footage of Summer Holiday and Spinal Tap, but the movies don’t hang together as a genre, which results in an unfocused episode of what feels like a list of Kermode’s favourites. VP
Shut-Ins: Britain’s Fattest People
Channel 4, 10pm
This series returns for another sobering look at the extreme end of the UK’s obesity epidemic. It opens with the story of 23-year-old AJ from Airdrie, whose weight has almost stifled movement, and to whom a bariatric surgeon has refused treatment until AJ and mother Sharon undertake a lifestyle overhaul. VP
Yemen: Coronavirus in a War Zone
BBC Two, 11.30pm; N Ireland, midnight
As if Yemen hadn’t suffered enough, the country’s handling of the pandemic has heaped misery upon misery. Nawal Al-Maghafi’s film uncovers failures that have left the fearful public in the dark about the true extent of the virus. VP
Tuesday 18 January
Outbreak: The Virus that Shook the World
“The pandemic could have been avoided at the beginning if China was transparent about the outbreak and quick to provide the necessary information to the world.” So says a Taiwanese infectious-disease specialist at the outset of this hard-hitting film that blends expert global analysis with individual stories of heartbreak and loss to sum up the terrible “first” year of Covid-19. Made by the talented team behind last year’s Bafta and Emmy-winning Undercover: Inside China’s Digital Gulag, the film traces the devastation caused by the spread of the virus from the wet markets of Wuhan to the fashionable streets of Milan, and around the planet. Chinese doctors are covertly filmed admitting for the first time that human-to-human transmission of the virus was covered up for weeks, despite official denials. Key events such as Chinese New Year and the New Orleans Mardi Gras festival are identified as key super-spreader events that could have been prevented. The programme pulls no punches when comparing countries’ successes and failures in combatting the virus, but always with the emphasis on the human impact and tragedy of this truly global catastrophe.
BBC Two, 8pm
Chris Packham, Gillian Burke and Iolo Williams are back (team regular Michaela Strachan, who lives in Cape Town, had to pull out again due to Coronavirus restrictions) for two weeks of chilled nature watching. A highlight of this series is a focus on one of Britain’s most elusive birds of prey, the goshawk.
The Architecture the Railways Built
Tim Dunn returns with another enjoyable series exploring the world’s most glorious railway buildings. He begins with a true Victorian gem, Wemyss Bay Station in Inverclyde, before checking out the splendidly tiled São Bento rail hub in Portugal and the revamp of Blackfriars Station in London.
BBC One, 9pm
High drama suffuses the final episode of this gripping Scottish thriller as DI McKinven (Michael Nardone) warns Emma (Molly Windsor) that her mother’s murderer could be closer than she thinks.
Silenced: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain
BBC Two, 9pm
Viewed from more enlightened times, this history of prejudice (much of it far too recent for comfort) against disability in Britain makes for shocking viewing. Too often the “segregation and confinement of those who don’t fit” seems to have been the chief aim of social reformers.
’Til Kingdom Come: Trump, Faith and Money
BBC Four, 9pm
Fascinating and disturbing documentary revealing how, during Donald Trump’s presidency, the apocalyptic worldview of American evangelical Christians came to influence US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Channel 4, 10pm
Fred Sirieix launches a new venue in Manchester as the series returns, providing just the right ambience for lonely-hearts to meet a potentially perfect partner. Tonight, a parliamentary PA, a spa therapist and a café worker are among those looking for love.
BBC One, 10.45pm; NI, 11.15pm
Sketches, archive and augmented reality combine as Dane Baptiste and friends (including Toussaint Douglas and Thaniya Moore) take a satirical look at what it’s like to be black and famous, as regulated by the fictional NASBLAQ index of creativity. GO
The March Hare (1956) ★★★☆☆
Talking Pictures TV, 2.05pm
Terence Morgan stars in this racing comedy about a debt-laden Irish aristocrat on the brink of losing his family estate. When he meets and falls for Pat McGuire (Peggy Cummins), whose father is assuming the estate, he poses as a groom, hoping to impress Pat by turning the animal into a prize racer and winning back his fortune. It’s more of a relaxed canter than a gripping gallop, but it eases by.
Armageddon (1998) ★★★☆☆
Michael Bay’s fast-paced, entertaining action flick surpassed Steven Spielberg’s superior Saving Private Ryan as the year’s highest-grossing film and spawned that Aerosmith power ballad, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing (the band’s first and only number one). Liv Tyler (daughter of Aerosmith’s Steve) puts on her best pout as her father (Bruce Willis) and boyfriend (Ben Affleck) try to save the Earth from colliding with an approaching asteroid.
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) ★★★★★
Sony Movies Classic, 9pm
John Schlesinger’s tale of polyamorous love was a milestone in British film and a quintessential portrait of London in the early 1970s. It follows the love triangle between divorced job consultant Alex (Glenda Jackson), youthful sculptor Bob (Murray Head) and affluent doctor Daniel (Peter Finch). When friends go on holiday, Alex attempts to win Bob by playing happy families with their children for the weekend.
Wednesday 20 January
One of ITV’s better policiers of recent years, Daragh Carville’s Morecambe-set thriller returns with Morven Christie’s DC Lisa Armstrong reaping the consequences of the fling with a key suspect that nearly derailed the investigation at the heart of the first series. Demoted, fined and humiliated, her stretch as a community support officer is brought to an end by a new murder case: a barbecue is interrupted by an inexplicable contract killing that tears apart a respected local family law firm, whose key figures include James Cosmo’s retiring patriarch, Stephen Tompkinson’s self-effacing son-in-law and Steven Robertson’s flinty son. “No one had a bad word to say about him,” reckons one former colleague of the deceased; the truth of course proves altogether murkier. Trying to balance her professional instincts and natural gifts with avoiding treading on the toes of suspicious colleagues, Armstrong also has to deal with recalcitrant kids, the unwelcome return of a face from the past and surveillance from an anonymous, threatening figure with apparently malign intentions. The sense of shock is palpable and the occasional silliness of the first series is so far, thankfully, absent.
Separating the fact from the Bond, Netflix’s latest documentary series is an enjoyably bombastic examination of espionage both modern and historical, a world where “the only limitation is the scope of the imagination”, with technology driving advances in lockstep with human ingenuity.
President Biden: the Inauguration
BBC One/ITV, 4pm
After the chaos of the past four years in general and the past four weeks in particular, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the USA. At 8.30pm, PBS America runs over his credentials.
The Truth About Improving Your Mental Health
BBC One, 9pm
Professor Tanya Byron and former England footballer Alex Scott discover how the latest science can help improve our mental well-being, including a probiotic that assists not just gut health but mental health.
Targeted: the Truth About Disability Hate Crime
BBC Two, 9pm
Powered as much by righteous anger as they are human curiosity, Richard Butchins’s documentaries challenge taboos and stir emotions. His latest is a profoundly shocking film addressing just a few of the 8,000 hate crimes against disabled people recorded last year, along with many dating back further, and the cases of harassment that go unreported. The psychological legacy endures.
Channel 4, 9pm
Kevin McCloud is on the Lincolnshire marshlands to observe another architectural folly waiting to happen, this one being a contemporary twist on a house inspired by a cathedral, offering a home for three generations of a family. The ensuing chaos must be seen to be disbelieved.
Sky Arts, 10pm
Ashley Walters’s directorial debut is a striking urban vignette starring Hector Abbott and Jude Chinchen as Noah and Lewis, two young east Londoners dispatched by the former’s prison-inmate brother to get hold of a series of items he needs inside. Written by newcomer Jerome Holder, it has a sure grasp of pace and place, and is a lean, tense half-hour. Less engaging is the third series of Nick Love’s Bulletproof: South Africa (Sky One, 9pm) reteaming Walters with Noel Clarke for more buddy cop antics as they take their brand of high-octane crimebusting to South Africa, where their break is interrupted by a kidnap. GT
Victoria & Abdul (2017) ★★★☆☆
BBC Four, 9pm
Stephen Frears’s uneven dramatisation of the extraordinary real-life friendship between the ageing Queen Victoria (a sensational performance by Judi Dench) and her young Indian Muslim attendant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), known as “the Munshi”, is all nostalgia and inertia – a tale ablaze with historical import and contemporary resonance, reduced to commemorative biscuit tin proportions. Eddie Izzard co-stars.
Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) ★★★★☆
Bruce Willis is back as the crisis-prone New York cop John McClane in the second Die Hard sequel. Samuel L Jackson is his reluctant sidekick, and Jeremy Irons plays the German-accented villain (“I vant to play a game”) who has the poor pair scampering around town and solving puzzles in a desperate attempt to save legions of Manhattanites from an explosive fate. This instalment is the favourite of many franchise fans.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) ★★★★★
Eight Oscars, seven Baftas and four Golden Globes cemented Danny Boyle’s energetic adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s novel Q & A as a triumph. The chaotic beauty of Mumbai is exuberantly brought to life to tell the story of an uneducated orphan (an endearing performance from Dev Patel) from the slums who is on the verge of winning a fortune on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Thursday 21 January
Channel 4, 10pm
It seems odd that the first series of Simon Blackwell’s enjoyably dark comedy of rivalry starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb aired back in 2017, particularly given that it both pulled in viewers and received good reviews. The delay, initially down to Blackwell’s workload (during this time he co-wrote The Personal History of David Copperfield with Armando Iannucci and created the Sky One parenting sitcom Breeders) was compounded by Webb’s diagnosis with a serious heart condition and the arrival of the pandemic. Thankfully, Webb recovered and the second series was not only completed, but turns out to be well worth the wait. Events pick up not long after Stephen’s (Mitchell) breakdown with him returning from a period of recovery to live with his mother (Penny Downie) and flaky sister Cass (Louise Brealey). Meanwhile, foster brother Andrew (Webb) is still managing the family’s pub, the John Barleycorn – but is his heart really in it? One of the great joys of Back has always been the way in which it lets even the smallest characters shine and so it proves with this tightly written opener, which sees everyone buzzing about a newly refurbished rival pub.
Call My Agent!
The sharp and very funny French comedy, set in a Parisian talent agency and arguably television’s most delightful show, returns for a fourth series. Expect great cameos from stars appearing as themselves, over-the-top plots and some spectacular meltdowns from the combustible Andréa (Camille Cottin).
After a truncated fourth series, the ludicrous yet weirdly watchable high-school melodrama returns for a fifth series. Plots are tightly under wraps but the show’s creator, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, has said that the gang will get their graduation day before the show jumps forward seven years…
Inside Culture with Mary Beard
BBC Two, 7pm
A strong opening episode of the culture review show sees Mary Beard talking to Veep creator Armando Iannucci about whether satire is possible in the post-Trump world and to historian David Olusoga about transitions of power throughout history.
Natural History Museum: World of Wonder
Channel 5, 8pm
It’s amazing that this four-part series waited until the penultimate episode to haul out the big guns. Tonight rectifies that with a focus on all things T-Rex.
Leaders of WWII: The Early Years
PBS America, 8.35pm
This straight trot through the life and times of Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Charles de Gaulle begins with the notion that all three were formed by their experiences in the First World War before looking at how this shaped their Second World War policies.
The Chasers Road Trip: Trains, Brains and Automobiles
It might sound gimmicky, but this three-part series, which sees The Chase quiz masters Anne Hegerty, Mark Labbett and Shaun Wallace crossing the globe to pit their giant brains against animals, children and robots, is surprisingly endearing.
Hadrian’s Wall with Robson Green
Channel 5, 9pm
The engaging Robson Green continues his walk along Hadrian’s Wall, learning about the Roman cavalry, foraging for hedgerow plants and, of course, taking time out to do a spot of competitive fly fishing.
Basketball: NBA: Milwaukee Bucks v LA Lakers
Thursday, Sky Arena, 12.30am
LeBron James’s championship winning Lakers take on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks, with both teams tipped to make the play-offs. SH
Pork Chop Hill (1959, b/w) ★★★★☆
Paramount Network, noon
Lewis Milestone, the man responsible for the great anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front, directs this intelligent and largely forgotten drama based on the true story of a late battle of the Korean War. Gregory Peck stars as a gung-ho American lieutenant who leads a unit on the attack of the Chinese-held Pork Chop Hill, while Rip Torn is cheerfully professional as his brother-in-law. The film also marks the debut of Martin Landau.
Casino Royale (1967) ★★★☆☆
If you’re hoping to see Daniel Craig in his trunks you’ll be disappointed, because this is the fun Sixties spoof that gave Ian Fleming’s novel a comic spin. David Niven stars as an ageing James Bond, who comes out of retirement to take on the Soviet counter intelligence agency SMERSH. Ursula Andress and Orson Welles also star, while Burt Bacharach earned an Oscar nomination for his song The Look of Love.
Our Man in Havana (1959, b/w) ★★★★☆
Sony Movies Classic, 9pm
Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana, reluctantly agrees to spy for MI6 to fund the extravagances of his daughter, Milly, and ends up inventing reports when he can’t find anything interesting out. Carol Reed directs Alec Guinness, Maureen O’Hara and Noël Coward in this adaptation of Graham Greene’s farce, set against a backdrop of political instability, with Cuba teetering on the brink of Fidel Castro’s revolución.
Friday 22 January
It’s a Sin
Channel 4, 9pm
There’s little sign of anyone thinking anything’s a sin in the hugely entertaining first episode of Russell T Davies’s new drama series for Channel 4. Set largely in London (rather than the Manchester of his 1999 hit Queer as Folk), this is very much the laugh-out-loud (and very rude) scene-setter for darker drama to come, acidly etching out the stories of a group of young men whose journey from the provinces to the Big Smoke is one of joyful self-discovery in the capital’s early-Eighties gay scene. Ritchie (Olly Alexander), Roscoe (Omari Douglas) and Colin (Callum Scott Howells) are three diverse characters linked only by an eagerness to express their sexuality and a complete innocence that they’re doing so in the shadow of the rapidly approaching Aids epidemic. To begin with, Ritchie’s story is the most colourfully drawn – the contrast between his Isle of Wight background, parental difficulties and his new London exuberance offered as a template for the times. Still, it is trainee tailor Colin from Wales who bears the most involving storyline, hilarious in parts but soon touched by the sadness to come. This is a great opener with a terrific script well served by sparky performances.
Star Trek: Lower Decks
Funny isn’t something Star Trek often gets accused of but this wittily scripted new animation offers a fresh, amusing take on the sci-fi classic, exploring life among the lower-order support crew aboard a giant starship.
Not to be confused with ITV’s Finding Alice (see Sunday) this stylish and gripping new Israeli psychological thriller stars Ayelet Zurer as film director Alice who, feeling irrelevant since taking time out to raise a family, becomes emotionally entangled with a provocative young scriptwriter (Lihi Kornowski).
Fate: The Winx Saga
This enchanting young adult drama reimagines the Nickelodeon cartoon series Winx Club, following the coming-of-age journey of five supernaturally gifted young women attending a magical boarding school, where they learn to master their unearthly powers while navigating love, rivalries and a succession of inner and outer demons.
I Am Your Father
PBS America, 8.30pm
Made before his death last November, this profile of the bodybuilder and actor David Prowse, who played sci-fi’s greatest villain, Darth Vader, explores the dark side of why Star Wars producers never allowed him to show his face on screen, even when Vader was unmasked.
BBC Two, 9pm
Bizarre enough to give the darkest Scandi-noir series a run for its money, the real-life disappearance of journalist Kim Wall is the subject of this six-part Danish crime drama. Soren Malling (The Killing, Borgen) is quietly superb as the Copenhagen homicide chief who scents murder when a journalist is reported missing following her interview with an amateur submariner.
Neil Diamond at the BBC
BBC Four, 9pm
Three hours of archive marking Diamond’s 80th birthday begin with this compilation drawn from performances on the BBC over the years, featuring such hits as Sweet Caroline and Cracklin’ Rosie.
Sky Documentaries, 9pm
Not your standard flannelling sports-star biography, this excellent two-parter rakes through the ashes of golfer Tiger Woods’s fall from grace over a decade ago, arguing that many of the star’s problems can be laid directly at his late father Earl’s door. GO
Pixar Popcorn 2021
Shorts have been a Pixar signature since the studio’s inception, epitomising its dedication to the art of animation and the power of simple, principled storytelling – 2018’s Bao won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. This joyful-sounding collection of mini shorts features much loved Pixar characters – from Toy Story’s Woody (Tom Hanks) to Soul’s Joe (Jamie Foxx) – in all-new, bite-size stories. Let’s hope it’s not another soulless Disney money-spinner.
White Tiger (2021) ★★★★☆
This adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 Booker Prize-winning novel by Ramin Bahrani is a darkly comic thriller-parable of India’s breakneck economic rise. It stars talented newcomer Adarsh Gourav as Balram, a young man whose ambitions outstrip the humble peasant life his dusty village affords. The tale of his grubby ascent up the caste system is punchy and propulsive, remiscient of last year’s brilliant Oscar winner Parasite.
Interview with the Vampire (1994) ★★★☆☆
BBC One, 11.30pm
This gory American gothic horror film directed by Neil Jordan, based on Anne Rice’s 1976 novel of the same name, has a double dose of bloodsucking sexiness in the leads Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Born as an 18th-century lord, Louis (Pitt) is now a bicentennial vampire, telling the story of his chilling adventures with his former companion Lestat (Cruise) to an eager biographer (Christian Slater).
Sarah Hughes (SH), Gerard O’Donovan (GO), Vicki Power (VP) and Gabriel Tate (GT)