TV highlights, April 6-12: Including Back Benches and Doctor Who

by Fiona Rae / 06 April, 2013
The TVNZ 7 show is resurrected on Prime, and the Doctor does a Bond in London.


Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Saturday

Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway (TV2, 7.30pm). Funny thing about television; the more things change, the more they stay the same, and this is basically an old-fashioned variety show, even if the hosts look like schoolboys. Annoying Geordies Ant & Dec have become fodder for nearly every stand-up comedian in Britain, but they’re probably all just jealous. After it returned from a four-year break, Saturday Night Takeaway’s first episode had massive ratings, perhaps aided by celebs Robbie Williams and David Walliams.


Wizards vs Aliens (UKTV, Sky 006, 6.00pm). Cute kids’ series from the mind of Doctor Who rebooter Russell T Davies. It was cooked up to fill a gap in the production of The Sarah Jane Adventures while Elisabeth Sladen was ill. Sadly, Sladen did not recover, so Davies and co-creator Phil Ford continued with their “genre clash” series. It features a 16-year-old wizard (Scott Haran) and his scientist best friend (Percelle Ascott) who battle alien invaders the Nekross.

Renters (TV2, 7.00pm). New season, new disgusting flatties. The local series that follows seven property managers returns and a couple of them are working in Scarfie country: Jake and Gareth look after a number of Dunedin flats and tonight there’s one where a treehouse has been constructed, and another with a home-made skate park. But isn’t that the No 8 wire spirit we want to see in our students?

MasterChef New Zealand (TV1, 7.30pm). This week, the challenge that can make grown chefs weep like little girls: baking. And, it’s sponge cake.

Mike & Molly (TV2, 8.00pm). How does Melissa McCarthy do it? She’s the lead in this sitcom, she’s starring in two upcoming movies (Identity Thief and The Heat), and has a role in The Hangover Part III. Season three of Mike & Molly seems like small beer in comparison. It is one of the few sitcoms where the leads have been allowed to get together fairly quickly – as the season opens Mike and Molly are honeymooning in Paris, and their families and Mike’s cop partner, Carl, are coping in -different ways back home.

Spartacus: War of the Damned, Sunday

Spartacus: War of the Damned (The Box, Sky 005, 8.30pm). Goodbye to Spartacus and, more tragically, all those jobs in West Auckland that have gone the way of a Roman soldier at the point of Crixus’s sword. For better or worse, Spartacus owns the hack’n’slash cartoon buckets-of-blood style, and there’s more, much more, in what series creator Stephen S DeKnight describes as “by far the biggest season we’ve ever attempted”. It’s full-on war against Rome now for Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) and his rebels, and their big bogeyman is Roman general Marcus Crassus (his real name – there’s a bust in the Louvre – British actor Simon Merrells does the honours). A young Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance) is in the mix, and Anna Hutchison plays Laeta, a Roman who is taken captive by Spartacus.

DCI Banks (Prime, 9.35pm). Blame The Killing, again. Although to be fair, DCI Banks is based on the Inspector Banks novels that Peter Robinson has been writing since 1987. However, this television adaptation is as gloomy as The Killing when it rains, set in a dreary Yorkshire landscape – “More like the real Yorkshire,” wrote the Guardian’s reviewer, “rather than the chocolate-box Heartbeat Yorkshire you normally get on television.” Stephen Tompkinson sets his face on “pinched” to play the taciturn DCI Banks, a copper who ticks all the TV-copper boxes: messy personal life; fractious relationship with his boss; attractive junior officer (Andrea Lowe) who yearns a little bit after him. The usual, in other words. The first episode tonight is based on Robinson’s 2001 novel Aftermath.


Kai Time on the Road (Maori, 7.30pm). The charming Kai Time returns for an 11th season; chef Pete Peeti starts in Tauranga where the crab and corn can be made into a bisque. Whatever that is. Another returning favourite this week is Tangaroa with Pio (Maori, Tuesday, 7.30pm), in which Pio Terei explores all the piscine pleasures our fair land has to offer.

The Great British Bake Off (Prime, 8.30pm). The absurdly popular – in the UK, anyway – series in which amateur bakers, er, bake returns for a third series. The fearsome Mary Berry and her offsider Paul Hollywood return as judges, with arch narration from Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc.


Attenborough – 60 Years in the Wild, Tuesday

Attenborough – 60 Years in the Wild (TV1, 8.30pm). The godfather of natural history documentaries has had 60 years behind the camera, so perhaps it’s time to learn more about him, although it seems that Attenborough – 60 Years in the Wild is more clip show than profile. It’s also about how attitudes have changed towards the conservation of animals in Sir David Attenborough’s lifetime. In the first episode, he describes his early work on Zoo Quest, a black-and-white series in which he had to describe the colours of the animals. It involved travelling from London Zoo to another country to capture an animal for the zoo’s collection, a perfectly respectable pursuit in those days, and he wasn’t immune to the excitement of the chase. His first assignment was to track down a rare bird in Sierra Leone, and he was determined to become the first European to get one. “It was very childish, really,” he told the Telegraph.
The second episode is about the scientific breakthroughs he has seen, from biologist Konrad Lorenz’s discoveries about goslings “imprinting”, to DNA fingerprinting. “We forget what we have learnt in the last 60 years,” he told the Guardian. “At university, I once asked one of my lecturers why he was not talking to us about continental drift and I was told, sneeringly, that if I could prove there was a force that could move continents, then he might think about it. The idea was moonshine, I was informed.”
Finally, the third episode is about the massive changes Attenborough has seen in the environment, especially the loss of coral reefs and the alarming decline in the numbers of amphibians, insects, otters and rhinoceroses. He discusses what inspired him to become a conservationist and remembers encounters with pioneers in the field.


Back Benches, Wednesday

Back Benches (Prime, 10.30pm). The New Zealand television business being what it is these days, we shouldn’t be surprised that a show that was once on a public broadcast platform has been rescued by a commercial network. Back Benches, the raucous political panel show filmed live in the Backbencher pub in Wellington, will still be made by TVNZ, but with a little help from NZ On Air, it is now on Sky’s free-to-air broadcaster Prime.
“I’m not sure it’s even been done before,” says presenter Wallace Chapman. “There was no room in the TVNZ schedule, and Prime said it would be great to have as part of their platform.” After TVNZ 7 was closed down in 2011, there was no guarantee the show would continue, and the feeling had been that it was a great four and a half years, says Chapman.

“But I thought, blimmin’ heck, this format and this style are quite unique and it would be a shame to see it drop from the landscape.” The show involves Chapman questioning a panel of MPs while co-host Damian Christie roams the increasingly lubricated crowd. It’s noisy and lively and a little bit dangerous – mostly for the politicians, who don’t have the filter of a press secretary or a careful interview set-up.
“It’s unedited and unguarded,” says Chapman. “It is in a pub, so you often get real responses from these back-bench MPs. Senior ministers have told me it’s quite a scary show to go on, because you don’t know what’s going to happen.” There are MPs who haven’t braved the madding crowd. “I’ve always wanted to have John Banks come on,” says Chapman. “As much as anything else, whether you like it or not, he’s a strong voice in Parliament. I think he would be a star on the show; Back Benches is crying out for John Banks!”
One thing that has changed is the pub, which had to be rebuilt after two fires. Some of its legendary puppets, made for the satirical 80s show Public Eye, were destroyed, but when it reopened in February, several new ones were unveiled, including a disco-dancing John Key and Metiria Turei in a camouflage dress. Chapman would like some puppets of people who aren’t “big names”; during the course of the series, a number of today’s ministers featured before they were famous. “I remember saying to the producer when Hekia Parata was first on the show, ‘She’s going to go far.’ Another one was Amy Adams; and another one David Shearer.”

Revolution (TV2, 10.45pm). The family-friendly apocalypse series returns after a mid-season hiatus – you know, the series where a pretty teenage girl saves the world after all the electricity disappears? Well, helped by her plucky band of survivors. The first part of the season was setting up the bad guys (the Militia) versus the good guys (the Rebels), and the second half looks as if it will be more actiony as Militia commander Monroe (David Lyons) has found some electricity lying about somewhere and can now control machines such as helicopters and tanks.


Doctor Who, Thursday

Doctor Who (Prime, 8.30pm). Stephen Moffat does what he does best as series seven of Doctor Who returns – turn something everyday into something menacing. In modern--day London, the Doctor (Matt Smith) battles monsters in the wi-fi in an episode that Moffat describes as “a proper London thriller, as close as you can get – given that Doctor Who is mad – to James Bond”. The Doctor is there to find Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), who has turned up twice now in different timelines, and whose presence baffles him. “It’s all new for the Doctor,” says Moffat. “This time the greatest mystery in the universe is standing right next to him.” Moffat promises new monsters the Spoonheads, the Whisper-men and the Vigil, plus old enemies the Cybermen. There’s a journey to the heart of the Tardis and an appearance by Diana Rigg and her daughter, Rachael Stirling, who haven’t been on screen together before.
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