March 2-8: Including Exile and 30 Rock's farewellby Fiona Rae
British brilliance with John Simm and Jim Broadbent, and goodbye to the show-within-a-show.
SATURDAY MARCH 2
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (Arts Channel, Sky 079, 7.30pm). A 12-hour series made by acclaimed documentary film-maker Ken Burns. The idea to create national parks that would be available to every American citizen arose in the 19th century, and Burns uses archive photographs, accounts of historical characters and interviews to tell the stories of the landscape and the people who created the parks system. They include James Mason Hutchings, a magazine publisher who was one of the first people to promote Yosemite, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who persuaded Congress that the Everglades in Florida should be set aside.
SUNDAY MARCH 3
Wildlife Patrol (Prime, 6.30pm). Humberside Police in Britain have a Wildlife Crime Unit? Who knew? Officers deal with such crimes as deer and hare coursing and badger baiting, as well as helping a stranded porpoise in the River Clyde.
Case Sensitive: The Point of Rescue (UKTV, Sky 006, 8.30pm). Another week, another paperback detective is given corporeality. DS Charlie Zailer, the invention of British author Sophie Hannah, is portrayed by the lovely Olivia Williams in this two-part adaptation of The Point of Rescue. The story starts with a mother and five-year-old daughter dead in a bathtub, and the “smoothly escalating tension” got a “cautious thumbs up” from the Independent, although the reviewer was annoyed with the literary references, which include a commanding officer named Proust and a criminologist who reads Freud.
Empire Falls (SoHo, Sky 010, 8.30pm). Richard Russo adapts his own Pulitzer Prize-winning novel for HBO, which is perhaps the problem. The two-part miniseries, made in 2005, is too reverent, too sprawling and too heavy-handed to be truly affecting. It should work – the cast includes Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and, in the lead role, Ed Harris. He plays an ordinary guy stuck in the rundown mill town of Empire Falls, Maine. The many characters and their many subplots take an achingly long time to come to resolution, and it’s difficult to believe the usually muscular Harris can be so downtrodden.
MONDAY MARCH 4
Iwi Anthems (Maori, 8.00pm). Ka Mate isn’t the only haka, you know. This new series looks at waiata and haka from all over Aotearoa and explores the meaning they have for tribes. The series begins with Tuhourangi-Ngati Wahiao in Rotorua.
Exile (UKTV, Sky 006, 8.30pm). This week’s brilliance from Britain is Exile, a family drama wrapped in a thriller wrapped in the deteriorating mind of an Alzheimer’s sufferer. It also features some of the best acting you’re going to see this year. The superlative John Simm and the incomparable Jim Broadbent are utterly compelling as a son and father wrestling with secrets that are both a key to the past and a way forward. Simm plays Tom Ronstadt, a journalist who returns to Lancashire after being chucked out of his lad’s mag job in London. He’s a mess and a jerk and not inclined to help his sister, Nancy (Olivia Colman), as she struggles to care for Sam, their father. Sam’s Alzheimer’s is at a stage of intermittent lucidity, and as Tom searches through his father’s office, he stumbles across a mystery that he tries to prise from his father’s failing memory before it’s too late. Exile is “not an Alzheimer’s piece”, Broadbent told British website digitalspy. “It’s a thriller involving a guy who can’t remember what happened and the other guy’s trying to get this story out of him.” However, Alzheimer’s is integral, not some tacked-on disease of the week, and he and writer Danny Brocklehurst wanted to get the depiction of the disease right. Broadbent’s mother had Alzheimer’s and he says Brocklehurst’s script “rang very true from my experience”.
“My mother had Alzheimer’s, so I knew a fair bit about it from her case. In the later stages she was in a nursing home, so I visited that a lot. I knew as much as you want to know, really.” Brocklehurst wrote the three-parter from an idea by Paul Abbott (State of Play, Shameless), so it has Abbott’s mix of humour and tension. Colman, in particular, provides lighter moments as the left-behind sister (her first words when she sees Tom are, “Jesus, you must be in the sh--”). Tom’s investigation begins with a serious confrontation with his father, but his walks down memory lane provide some laughs, 80s mix-tapes and all, and he can’t help getting into trouble with Mandy, the wife of his former best friend (from whom he then tries to hide in the supermarket). But the focus is on Sam and Tom – Brocklehurst admits he is “obsessed by father-son relationships” – and Exile is a two-hander that is his finest exploration yet.
30 Rock (Four, 9.30pm). The ratings were never great, but the cachet it brought NBC was clearly worth it. However, after seven seasons, 30 Rock ends tonight with one last show-within-a-show. It seems a movie career beckons for the wonderful Tina Fey (“the funniest woman in the free world,” according to Entertainment Weekly) – Admission, with Paul Rudd, is coming out this year and she is appearing in the new Muppets movie – but she isn’t done with TV yet: she signed a four-year deal in September with NBC.
Grand Tours of Scotland (Choice TV, 9.30pm). It was Sir Walter Scott who kicked off the Scottish tourism industry, says historian Paul Murton, when he wrote The Lady of the Lake in 1810, causing a rush to Loch Katrine where the poem is set. In Grand Tours of Scotland, Murton (not to be confused with British comedian Paul Merton) uses a Scottish guide book first published in 1842 to travel around the country exploring areas that Victorian tourists visited and looking at the changes that have taken place.
TUESDAY MARCH 5
Africa: The Future (TV1, 8.30pm). But wait, there’s more. Apologies for indicating that last week’s Africa: Eye to Eye was the final; tonight’s episode is definitely the final, and it focuses on efforts to save two iconic African species, the rhino and the elephant. David Attenborough meets conservationists who are fighting the good fight (it’s estimated that two rhinos are killed in Africa every day), and he meets a baby rhino whose horn has been removed to protect him from poachers.
Dangerous Roads (TV1, 9.35pm). We’re sensing a formula: two British celebs, a man and a woman, are sent out to do something dangerous in cars. Kirsten O’Brien and Will Mellor had to learn to drive the world’s largest vehicles in The World’s Toughest Driving Tests (Prime, last year), and in this series, two Brit celebs are sent out to drive, well, dangerous roads. It begins with Charley Boorman (usually seen on a motorbike) and Sue Perkins (usually seen scoffing something disgusting in Supersizers Go …) travelling through Alaska.
WEDNESDAY MARCH 6
Global Radar (TV1, 8.00pm). Te Radar returns with another series of green do-gooding, from houses built out of rubbish to a Kiwi who powers his car with old kiwifruit. See our excellent and informative interview on page 10 for more details.
3rd Degree (TV3, 8.30pm). So long, 60 Minutes. Duncan Garner and Listener writer Guyon Espiner host TV3’s very own current affairs programme, and they’ve roped in reporters Melanie Reid, Phil Vine and Samantha Hayes.
Sons of Anarchy (TV3, 9.30pm). Walton Goggins is one of the most distinctive and brilliant actors working in television today – and we would all know this if Justified ever screens here again. However, his cameo in Sons is worth the ticket price alone, although you may not immediately recognise him because of the makeup and buttless pants.
THURSDAY MARCH 7
Agent Anna (TV1, 8.30pm). So long, Agent Anna, we hardly knew ye. It was a short but eventful series; let’s hope further funding is forthcoming because the surface of Robyn Malcolm’s new character has barely been scratched. In the finale tonight, Anna’s dastardly ex-husband (Greg Johnson) makes an appearance, and Anna wants some answers.
Once Upon a Time (TV2, 8.30pm). Captain Hook appears, and he’s sexy! Irish actor Colin O’Donoghue, who has a touch of the Colin Farrells about him, makes his first appearance in an episode appropriately called The Crocodile.
Strike Back (Prime, 8.30pm). The Cinemax action series that is only slightly less implausible than Hunted. That series stars Melissa George as a super-sexy secret spy engaged in industrial espionage; this series stars Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton as super-sexy special forces dudes engaged in government espionage. It’s a winning formula for cable channel Cinemax, which is not called “Skinemax” for nothing. (NB: Antony Starr’s Banshee is on Cinemax.) Stapleton gets his kit off roughly once an episode; also, there are many, many shoot-outs and explosions. In this series, they’re in pursuit of bad guys in Africa who are in possession of nuclear weapons. That one of the bad guys is Charles Dance makes it all the more exciting.
The Vampire Diaries (TV2, 10.30pm). Kiwi actor Daniel Gillies might have struggled in Hollywood for a while, but he’s on a roll now. His feature-film directing debut, Broken Kingdom, which he also wrote, has won awards and he has been starring in a new medical drama called Saving Hope. Then there’s his terrifically urbane turn in The Vampire Diaries as Elijah, one of the so-called “Original” vampires. He appears tonight in a flashback to 1100 (bad hair for everyone!), and there could be more work for him in the future: showrunner Julie Plec is developing a spin-off series about the Originals, and a -Diaries episode during this season will serve as a backdoor pilot.
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