This is one of those shows that works hard to position itself as inspirational tales of ordinary people following their bliss by having doctors do weird things to their faces to make them look slightly better, knowing how easily it could slip instead into the “look at these freaks” genre. But the line is terribly thin, and the big question is never addressed: in 10 years won’t they just be back where they started?
Joanna Lumley’s Hidden Caribbean
The fashion of posh white British celebrities travelling the world and exclaiming at how terribly fascinating it all is reaches its zenith in Joanna Lumley’s travelogues: no celeb is posher, whiter or more British than Patsy from AbFab. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth watching here: as with her sojourns to India and along the Silk Road, she’s amiable company and the scenery is gorgeous.
Where Are You Really From?
It’s all very warm and fuzzy in these portraits of multicultural Australia, presented by Michael Hing with a sweet dash of humour. The titular question, one that has long plagued countless Australians, is turned into a positive by exploring the backstories of migrant communities who have transformed and enriched their corner of the country. Moving, touching, thought-provoking: all that SBS jazz.
Season 31, episode 22, or to put it another way, the 683rd episode of the show that brings new meaning to the term “long-running”, not to mention the term “milking it”. In this latest extension of a lifespan nobody would’ve predicted back when it was just crude shorts on The Tracy Ullman Show, we dive deep into the history of the beloved Simpson greyhound, Santa’s Little Helper.
By this stage all the wells are ones we’ve drunk from before, and it’s no use pretending the show is anywhere near the level it was when it fully deserved the title of Best Show Ever. But it’s also no use pretending it’s still funnier than the vast majority of what’s on offer, and still, improbably, well worth watching.
Who Gets to Stay in Australia?
A more gut-wrenching look at multiculturalism, this series shows us the shudderingly intense moments when people get the most important news of their lives: whether they can stay in Australia, or if they’ll be deported. It can be heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure, with just a hint of unnerving exploitation thrown into the mix: as important as it is, you can’t help wondering whether we should really be watching.
Rosehaven (series return)
A curious little show, is Rosehaven. Often almost too gentle and low-key for its own good, it’s also almost too good-natured to resist. With no desire to challenge, provoke or do anything but provide a cosy half-hour in the company of delightful people, it’s not one to trigger booming guffaws but does a good trade in warm chuckles and sustained smiles.
The brainchild of Luke McGregor and Celia Pacquola, whose real-life friendship is endearingly echoed onscreen, the show sparkles when the central pair are bantering, and can falter a little when the focus broadens to the other denizens of the titular Taswegian hamlet. In the season four opener, Dan (McGregor) is in a funk lamenting his lost love, but in typical Rosehaven-style, it’s the far more trivial subplot of Pacquola’s quest to discover the contents of a mystery package that provides the episode’s high points.
War of the Worlds (premiere)
The year 2019 saw two television adaptations of H.G.Wells’ seminal alien invasion saga, to add to numerous previous TV shows, films, musical interpretations and the radio broadcast that made everyone crazy. Of the most recent attempts, this is the more liberal with the source material, and the more French.
A languid Gallic cool settles over the production, notwithstanding its jetsetting around Europe and the dominant presence of Gabriel Byrne’s Irish brogue at the centre of the action. It’s a grim-seeming world that the Martians come to conquer in the first episode, and it doesn’t get any less grim as things progress.
The series seems to owe as much to latter-day dystopias like The Walking Dead as it does to Wells, and it all feels a little familiar. Possessing the refreshing virtue of pessimism, but lacking any real inspiration, it’s more likely to bum out than excite.
SBS on Demand
The sixth and latest season of this adaptation of Michael Connelly’s book series following Los Angeles detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch confirms the show has found a worthwhile rhythm: there’s a sense of the city’s murky multitudes, terse dialogue exchanges, and an understanding that justice is an incomplete consolation. Titus Welliver’s Bosch is a stern anchor, and the plots derived from his cases and past wend their way through successive seasons, so that they rarely arrive or depart with neat satisfaction for those involved. It’s a top pick for fans of police procedurals, but be quick – Bosch seasons have a limited free lifespan on SBS on Demand before migrating to Amazon Prime Video.
The Children’s Hospital
Narrated by David Tennant and his unadorned Scottish accent, this factual series applies the now common hospital hurly-burly narrative to the busy Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, with the half-hour episodes pulling together the full gamut of young patients and emotions.
Beginning with an ophthalmologist operating on a three-year-old with cataracts in both eyes, it hits familiar beats with professional ease and a welcome Scottish sense of humour.
Life Drawing UK
So life drawing is now a TV reality genre. With viewers encouraged to participate and contribute, SBS has already aired Life Drawing Live, an unlikely artistic variant on event TV fronted by Rove McManus, and now it airs the BBC’s version of the televised masterclass. As with lengthy train journeys, it’s a reminder that slowing down a narrative to literally allow for the accumulation of detail appeals greatly to some viewers.
Murder in the Outback: The Falconio and Lees Mystery
The attack on British couple Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees on a Northern Territory highway in 2001, during which he was presumed murdered and she escaped, has generated widespread media coverage and fictionalised accounts, both before and after the 2005 conviction and life sentence for Bradley John Murdoch.
With dramatised recreations and witness interviews, this four-part news documentary attempts to offer fresh perspectives, background detail and contrary accounts. Murdoch is entitled to advocate for his innocence, as are those who cast doubts on his guilt, but the cold case intent of this show is called into question by the extensive presence of former defence lawyer Andrew Fraser, whose own crimes made for the 2009 series Killing Time. Whether playing the sage investigator or spinning his own downfall, Fraser is a gregarious character, but he diminishes the credibility of Murder in the Outback.
Craig Mathieson is a TV, film and music writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.