I Am Evel Knievel
SBS Viceland, 9.20pm
It will surprise no one to learn that the original daredevil (and the man who – among other things – was the model for The Fonz “jumping the shark”) spent his life surrounded by the kind of characters you couldn’t make up. Nor that he had persistent problems with the tax department. But what’s both revealing and enjoyable about this fond documentary is how many people held Evel Knievel in high regard, despite his behaviour often leaving something to be desired. Packed with great anecdotes, fun facts and larger-than-life personalities, I Am Evel Knievel is exactly the ride it should be.
You Can’t Ask That: Kids
Another season of You Can’t Ask That concludes tonight with kids under the spotlight, and while the under-15s may not immediately strike you as “marginalised and misrepresented”, when you think about it, they actually kind of are. Without giving too much away (hearing – and seeing – their frank responses is a big part of the fun) let’s just say that one of the distinguishing features of YCAT has always been the incredible diversity within any particular group. And that’s certainly the case here. Urban and rural, sophisticated and really not, mouthy and shy and everything in between, it’s a reminder that even quite small persons are still individual human beings – and deserve to be treated as such.
In some ways American Dad is just Family Guy through the looking glass: an alien instead of a baby, a goldfish instead of a dog. But – as befits its later timeslot – it’s also more adult. In a good way. There are fewer jokes about genitals and excrement. Instead, the episodes are often packed with really interesting ideas, and it’s aiming more to be entertaining than to provoke the LOLZ. (Although there is one straight-up gag tonight that’s a cracker.) Sometimes the plots are filtered through Stan’s work with the CIA. Sometimes, as is the case in this episode, they’re something else entirely. It all starts with Stan bringing home a giant mid-century television he finds in hard rubbish, and ends with him having to use a fondue set to escape an unfolding narrative worthy of The Twilight Zone.
Save Me (premiere)
Fabulous British thriller created, written by and starring the multi-talented Lennie James as drifter Nelly. The plot is the stuff of any parent’s nightmare: Nelly’s estranged daughter Jody goes missing and the police, quite naturally, suspect him. All that edge-of-the-seat stuff is beautifully handled but what makes this six-part series so compelling and so impressive is the quality of the writing and direction. James’ triumph here is to create a cast of characters who are not great human beings – from Jody’s self-involved mother (Suranne Jones, as wonderful as ever) to the losers and lowlifes that make up Nelly’s crew – but who are believable and empathetic. The twists and turns of the narrative are completely gripping, but it is as a study in human frailty that Save Me really shines.
Idris Elba: No Limits
You reach a certain level of stardom and doors open. If you’re not actually cast in a major Hollywood film, you just go off and make any kind of show that appeals to you. Downton Abbey‘s Matthew Goode set himself up in an Italian villa and spent two seasons drinking wine. Ewan McGregor jumped on his motorbike and circumnavigated the globe. Idris Elba decided to indulge his passion for speed. Vehicular speed, that is. Over four episodes he sets himself the goal of mastering four absurdly dangerous skills that all involve travelling very, very fast: rally driving, aerobatics, drifting and attempting to break a land speed record. There is a bit of woo-hoo blokey stuff but what’s most interesting about this series is the great seriousness with which Elba approaches each task, the technical detail included and the useful lesson he must learn over and over again, which is that you have to banish your inner hoon if you’re going to do this stuff well.
How the Victorians Built Britain
The triumphal soundtrack and overwrought narration are vaguely Pythonesque – as the introductory music reached its crescendo I half-expected a giant animated foot to descend and crush everything. Things quickly settle down, though, and it is remarkable to consider the incredible engineering and technological advances made over Queen Victoria’s almost 70-year reign. From bridges to sewage works, ships to looms, Victorian ingenuity transformed the country and this ends up being as much a sociological and political study as it is about building stuff. Those of you who feel SBS’ programming could be improved by more shows about trains will be delighted to learn this first episode of season two focuses on the explosion of Britain’s railway network in the mid 19th-century.
The Graham Norton Show
They’re trying. But perhaps inevitably for a production that thrives on host and guests playing to an appreciative studio audience, the lockdown versions of this bubbly talk show have been more subdued and fragmented. The shortened pandemic episodes, with the host alone in a studio talking to guests via monitors, have featured separate interviews with a range of his favourites, reliable regulars and proven performers such as Judi Dench and Patrick Stewart. Given the restrictions, the guests can interact with the host, but not with each other. Episodes still end with a red chair segment, but the tension of the flip-or-walk decision has been somewhat reduced as storytellers are instructed to get up off their couches and exit screen right.
American Gods (premiere)
SBS Viceland, 9.20pm
Visually striking, bloody, strange and brutal, this fantasy-drama based on a novel by Neil Gaiman makes a potent debut, aided considerably by its charismatic lead. Ricky Whittle plays Shadow Moon, who’s released from prison following some shattering news, and on his journey home encounters a mysterious figure called Mr Wednesday (a devilish Ian McShane), who knows a lot about him. Shadow is soon employed as Wednesday’s bodyguard, although precisely who he’s protecting his new boss from and why remain a mystery at this early stage. There are also some seriously weird and ominous figures lurking around, among them a tall leprechaun who’s very good at darts and an odd young man with an impressive cowlick who gets about in a limo and is hunting Wednesday.
The merrily crazy, colourful and cartoonish dance between former MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and assassin-for-hire Villanelle (Jodie Comer) has gained momentum as the third season of this darkly comic crime thriller has gone along. In addition to the push-pull fascination between the women, the early episodes have displayed the series’ signature flourishes: exotic locations, great clothes and bizarre contract killings. Loosely hinged on Eve’s investigation of the death of Kenny (Sean Delaney), her former colleague and the son of her ex-boss, the season has opened out to display the now-familiar tangle of characters and agendas. These include the powerful and mysterious group known as The Twelve, Geneva bank accounts, inscrutable Russian agent Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) and the wonderful MI6 veteran and Kenny’s cryptic mother, Carolyn (Fiona Shaw). The season has also been boosted by the addition of Villanelle’s onetime trainer and now handler, Dasha (Harriet Walter). Playful, violent and loaded with snappy dialogue. Yes, it’s still fun.
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