What's on TV: February 18-24, 2017

by The Listener / 18 February, 2017
Your guide to the week's best television viewing with TV show picks by entertainment editor Fiona Rae and film favourites by Ryan Holder.

Films on TV

Saturday February 18

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Maori, 8.15pm). The Listener’s Fiona Rae calls it ­“confusing, heartbreaking, damning, uplifting”. Critic Roger Ebert said it was a “miraculous film”. And in the words of New York Times critic AO Scott, it’s “a blast of sheer, improbable joy”. Director Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature film Beasts of the ­Southern Wild stars first-time actors Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis as Wink and Hushpuppy. The story follows the lives of an impoverished, broken family in a southern Louisiana bayou – post-Hurricane Katrina? – as another storm threatens. At age nine, Wallis became the Academy Awards’ youngest nominee for best actress – she was six during the filming. Beasts is magical realism at its most magical. (2012) ••

Traitor (Choice TV, 8.30pm). Films like this will always seem a little opportunistic in the current climate. Sudanese-American Samir Horn (skilfully played by Don Cheadle) is a devout Muslim, bomb-maker and jihadist terrorist. He turns out to be on the payroll of US intelligence. The conundrum throughout is: who is he betraying? The movie spins a complex web of ideas, but doesn’t bother to disentangle them. How many people must die for the good guys to win? Is Islam a religion of peace or violence? What is the role of law enforcement (that is, US foreign policy) in all this? Traitor leaves those questions  unanswered. (2008) •½

Ted (TV3, 8.45pm). A movie that explores the enduring ­relationship between a live teddy bear (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) and his man-child owner (Mark ­Wahlberg), but it’s definitely not for children. Ted is adult-only in the same way that ­director MacFarlane’s animated ­tele­vision show Family Guy is not for children. The plot is packed with so much ­profanity that it gained an R-rating for “crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use”. I’d hate to imagine what lots of drug use looks like. (2012) •••½

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (TVNZ 2, 9.00pm). Before director Quentin Tarantino went a bit funny, he made films about a vengeful bride (Uma Thurman) who uses a samurai sword to slaughter her way through her enemies. It includes the famously bloody scene in which the bride lays waste to the Crazy 88 gang (commonly thought to have been filmed in black and white to pay homage to old-school kung fu movies, but actually to get around the Motion Picture Association of America rating system). It should come as no surprise, then, that more than 1700 litres of fake blood were spilt over the course of the two Kill Bill films, according to a special-effects team member. (2003) •••

Sunday February 19

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Maori, 8.30pm). You could be forgiven for initially overlooking a film billed as a feminist revenge vampire western. The debut feature by Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour – shot entirely in black and white – sees a chador-clad vampire stalk the streets of Bad City. But she has good reason to do so. (2014) •••½

Easy A (Sky Movies Greats, Sky 033, 8.30pm). Before Emma Stone became the darling of the Academy Awards, she played 17-year-old high-schooler Olive Penderghast. What starts with a little white lie about what she did on her long weekend eventually snowballs to the point where Olive stitches an “A” for adulterer (à la The Scarlet Letter) to her clothing. It’s all a ruse, though. She is only pretending to have slept with nerdy guys to help them out. Her sympathetic mother nevertheless warns, “You kind of look like a stripper.” Dad (Stanley Tucci) reassuringly adds, “A high-end stripper – for governors. Or athletes.” (2010) •••½

Monday February 20

National Security (TVNZ Duke, 8.30pm). National security: two words that immediately raise the blood pressure of anyone who’s been paying attention for the past three months. Fortunately for us, National Security has little to do with our imminent destruction; rather, it’s another buddy-cop action movie. It stars Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn as two deadbeat security guards who almost literally stumble into a warehouse heist – some comedy ensues. (2003) ½

Wednesday February 22

In Bruges (Sky Movies Greats, Sky 033, 8.30pm). Belgium: the home of beer, chocolate and, according to Nigel Farage, the “Brussels bureaucracy”. It also provides the idyllic setting for In Bruges, the darkly hilarious story of two contract killers and their failed attempt to lie low in the cobbled city. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) – burly and with a newfound appreciation for all things pre-Renaissance – reckons it’s “the best-preserved medieval city in Belgium!” Ray (Colin Farrell) – stroppy, very stroppy – won’t have a bar of it. Farrell proves once again that he can act in a comedy film. (2008) ••

Thursday February 23

Men in Black 3 (TVNZ 2, 7.30pm). The third and final instalment of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ sci-fi shenanigans. Does the memory-erasing neuraliser exist yet? (2012) 

Hercules (TV3, 8.30pm). If a fantasy-actioner by Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand, Rush Hour) starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sounds like your idea of a good movie, then it probably is. Hercules doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t, although the balance of comedy and action is a little uneasy at times. John Hurt stars as the King of Thrace – one in his many ­oddball characters. (2014) ½

Tickled (Rialto, Sky 039, 8.30pm). David Farrier, New Zealand’s answer to Louis Theroux, has “made a career out of looking at the bizarre side of life”. In Tickled, the bizarre side gets dark and creepy as Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve dive deeper into the world of Competitive Endurance Tickling. When a friendly question returns a passive-aggressive and homophobic response from the shadowy organisers of CET videos, the hunt begins. The actions of the central figures of the “sport” do more to raise suspicion than anything the documentary-makers could have dreamt of. A donation from Stephen Fry helped get the Kickstarter campaign to make the documentary across the line. Tickled will leave you asking, as one YouTube commenter did, “Is this even real life?” (2016) ••

Television

Sunday February 19

Making New Zealand (Prime, 7.30pm). Prime’s four-part documentary series about the construction of our country gets another go-around; no matter, it’s an excellent potted history featuring fascinating archive footage. In the first episode, Roads, there are memorable scenes of the middle segment of the Auckland Harbour Bridge sitting on a ship waiting to be inserted. The episode also features the Milford Road and Homer Tunnel in Fiordland, built by relief workers during the Depression.

One of Us (TVNZ 1, 8.30pm). “Family noir”, they called it in the UK, as opposed to Scandi-noir – a dark tale of secrets and murder, set in a remote Highland village. It begins with the killing of a young couple, but when the murderer turns up one, er, dark and stormy night, will they take revenge? With Juliet Stevenson, Laura Fraser, Julie Graham and The Level’s Gary Lewis.

Monday February 20

My Floating Home (Choice TV, 6.00pm). From the “our people do the strangest things” file: according to this new British series, the next big thing in property is boats, although “boat” is a loose term in relation to some of the ­dwellings. Presenter Mark Evans discovers whole suburbs of floating houses in Oregon, and a community of 600 floating homes in Canada.

The Project (TV3, 7.00pm weekdays). Crikey, if the promo is anything to go by, The Project is somewhere between News­hub Live and an amdram production of South Pacific. In it, Jesse Mulligan, Kanoa Lloyd and Josh Thomson sing and dance their way through a magical farmers’ market in a Day-Glo urban park. John Campbell would never have done that. Producer Jon Bridges also promises that “it’s going to blow the pants off New Zealand”, perhaps so we may then don tights and tap shoes. We do know that The Project is based on the ­successful Australian format, a Logie Award-winning panel show that is a mix of news and comedy. We also know that comedy is one of the most difficult things to get right, so good luck, you dancing fools, you’re going to need it.

Billions (SoHo, Sky 010, 9.30pm). Like a Neil LaBute movie, it was never an easy watch – in fact, LaBute (In the Company of Men) and James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) both directed episodes of the first season of Billions, an alpha-male drama that circles around questions of business ethics like a sumo wrestler. It’s loosely based on the work of US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who has prosecuted executives, banks, hedge-fund managers and drug dealers, in particular billionaire hedge-fund manager Steven A Cohen. Heavyweights Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti take on those roles as Chuck Rhoades and Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, although the drama suffers somewhat by only occasionally putting them in the same room. As season two begins, they are still locked in this ­Captain Ahab-Moby-Dick struggle, but Chuck faces an internal investigation that could ruin him. Meanwhile, Chuck’s wife Wendy (the great Maggie Siff) is looking to detach herself from both men.

Tuesday February 21

Gaycation (Viceland, Sky 013, 8.30pm). It sounds like it’s a big ol’ heap of gay mardi-gras fun, but Ellen Page and Ian Daniel meet a lot of queer-as folk who are not necessarily in their happy place. Not everywhere is so accepting of the LGBT ­community, and in season two, the pair are in the Ukraine, India and the Deep South of the US, areas not known for their tolerance of difference.

How to Find Love Online (TVNZ 1, 9.30pm). Whoa, how to find a date – with science! You might not have thought that British TV doctor Xand van Tulleken would be short of offers, but here he is, desperate and dateless, meeting scientists who study online dating; learning how to write a profile and what pictures to use; and, ah, having an MRI scan of his brain. Meanwhile, mathematician Hannah Fry builds a website to test the algorithms used by dating sites. There are dates with real women, too, to see if science is a many-splendoured thing.

Gogglebox (Living, Sky 017, 9.30pm). When Gogglebox began in 2013, it seemed as if the moment had arrived that TV had finally, like a serpent eating its own tail, disappeared up its own fundament: a tele­vision show that watches people watching television. Turns out, it’s genius – like a real-life Royle Family and not really about watching telly at all. Brits are captured in their homes in all their humour and insight – “It can be romantic, moving, even profound” – said the Independent, and it is so popular, six seasons have been made, including a kids’ offshoot called Gogglesprogs.

Wednesday February 22

Skint (Prime, 8.30pm). Poverty porn or a revealing slice of social realism? There was controversy in Grimsby when this Benefits Street-style programme rolled into town, some of it caused by local MP Austin Mitchell, who called for Channel 4 to go away. Nevertheless, the production continues poking about in some of the UK’s most deprived areas – the next series goes to a former industrial powerhouse in the Welsh valleys. Grimsby, meanwhile, used to be the world’s largest fishing port, but with only four trawlers left, there is now a bounty of unemployed fishermen and dock workers.

Crashing (SoHo, Sky 010, 9.00pm). Just when you’re thinking “the world doesn’t need another self-aware, smart-arse comedy”, Crashing turns out to be a funny, bitter­sweet story about a guy who loses everything. The series is loosely based on comedian Pete Holmes’ experiences of couch surfing his way around New York after he discovered his wife was having an affair. His character here is a naive, Christian, wannabe stand-up who is pretty terrible, but nevertheless is supported by a succession of comics, including TJ Miller and Artie Lange.

Thursday February 23

Jono and Ben (TV3, 7.30pm). The pranksters return, but on a different day. We blame The Block Australia. TV3’s topical comedy panel show 7 Days is also back – it stays on Friday, but moves to the slightly earlier time of 9.00pm. As Jon Bridges is concerning himself with The Project, 7 Days has a new producer, Rob Brown, who has freshened up the titles, set and theme music, and says “we may have ­purchased a second-hand dunk tank”. Messy.

Rugby (Sky Sport 1, Sky 051, 9.30pm). It might be hot outside, but the 2017 Super Rugby season waits for no team, ­especially with 18 franchises in the tournament, including, since 2016, one each from Argentina and Japan. In the first game tonight, the Melbourne Rebels host the Blues at AAMI Park; there are two games tomorrow, Highlanders v Chiefs in Dunedin and Reds v Sharks in Brisbane.

Documentaries

The Viceland reportage style of getting up close is at its most visceral in Terror (Viceland, Sky 013, Wednesday, 8.30pm), a new series fronted by Vice magazine co-founder Suroosh Alvi. He investigates the origins of al Qaeda in Yemen, Al-Shabaab in ­Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan and Islamic State in Iraq, meeting victims, officials, soldiers and terrorists.

“Both sides of the war on terror see the universe as binary – good versus evil, us versus them – a view that’s endlessly self-reinforcing,” he says. “It’s been as bad for Islam as it has been for the world. The question I want to answer is, ‘How do we stop that cycle?’ I’m trying to understand the past 15 years – terrorism and the war on terror – and whether there’s any end in sight.”

In theory, Vienna: Empire, Dynasty and Dream (Choice TV, Monday, 8.30pm) should be more civilised, but this city has had its fair share of blood and gore, says historian Simon Sebag Montefiore. In the first episode, he looks at the Habsburgs’ rise to power and how Vienna was Europe’s frontline against the Ottomans and the Protestants.

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