Foreign Correspondent: Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates, we generally assume, are a thing of the past, and when they rear their heads in the modern era it’s disappointing just how far from the romantic cliches of the Spanish Main they are – just look at Captain Phillips. This report from Foreign Correspondent‘s Andy Park reveals dark doings in the gorgeous surrounds of Trinidad and Tobago, where the waters once fictionally plied by impish rogues like Jack Sparrow are terrorised by brutal criminals.
Kidnapping, robbery, murder: it’s all here, and it’s all deeply disturbing. The episode was shot during the islands’ festival of Carnival, well-planned to showcase the juxtaposition of party atmosphere and high-seas marauding. Although even the party part is calculated to freak a newcomer out a little.
Filthy Rich & Homeless
Five prominent Australians swap their privileged lifestyles for 10 days sleeping rough on the streets. The premise feels like an uneasy mixture of reality-show stunt and earnest social-issues documentary, a concept that can easily slip into poverty porn. The question mark over the celeb-driven approach to social justice hangs heavy here: it’s easy for the likes of Dr Andrew Rochford and Ellie Gonsalves to forsake all their worldly goods for a week and a half, knowing full well they’re getting it all back.
Filthy Rich and Homeless never quite shakes off a feeling of self-consciously performative compassion, but that’s not to say there’s nothing of value here. Indira Naidoo was a wise choice for host, her credentials – both journalistic and charitable – impeccable, and the gravitas she brings vital. There’s also no doubting the sincerity of the temporarily homeless five, who are genuine, committed, and clearly moved by what they observe on the streets.
At its best, it shakes off its gimmicky origins to bring poignant insight to the plight of Australia’s homeless: at its worst it feels like homelessness tourism, not so much cutting off the participants’ privilege as highlighting it. Whether the show achieves its stated purpose – to drive change by shining a light and putting a human face on a growing crisis – remains to be seen.
Things are tough all over in the season of COVID-19, but it’s also provided new opportunities, not least for current affairs TV producers hungry for unique stories. In Melbourne, a suburban dad, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, is due to fly to Russia to undergo stem cell treatment when the pandemic throws a spanner in the works. At the same time, in Russia, another Australian who has just had the treatment is due to fly home, when the world suddenly starts locking down.
The difficulties of getting to where they need to be combine with the fact that the treatment compromises their immune system while a deadly virus is running rampant across the world. It’s a hell of a pickle to find oneself in, and there is a high likelihood your tear ducts will get a workout if you give it a squiz. The stories are compelling, by turns inspiring and heartbreaking, and the sober, anti-sensationalist telling of them only serves to heighten the emotions involved. Not for anyone looking to relax on a Tuesday night.
The Weekly with Charlie Pickering
Charlie Pickering is the smooth, handsome, articulate face of topical comedy in this country – or at least a reasonable stand-in between series of Mad as Hell. With a crack team of comedic correspondents including Tom Gleeson, Judith Lucy and Luke McGregor, it’s the kind of reasonably amusing news-gaggery that gives the ABC’s left-leaning audience a chuckle and a feeling of superiority while never risking making anyone uncomfortable. It’s satire at its safest, but at a time like this that’s a blessing not to be sneezed at.
There are those who scoff at the comedic stylings of Seth MacFarlane, and refuse to recognise his towering genius, but there’s no need to worry about them, because he’s got one show currently in its 19th season and another in its 15th and is presumably richer than God. The former is his original opus, Family Guy, and it’s as good as ever. In fact it’s much better than in its first few seasons, if perhaps not quite at the heights of three or four years back.
It remains a relentless blitz of pop-culture references, wilful surrealism and delightfully bad taste, and is so clever and so silly in equal measure that it achieves a kind of lunatic brilliance. This is one of the notorious “Meg episodes”, in which the Griffin family’s long-suffering daughter is wrongly presumed dead, giving her a shot at a new life. This means plenty of time showcasing the vocal talents of Mila Kunis, an impressive actress even when you can’t see her ridiculously perfect face.
The amazing thing about the western is that a genre of film and TV based on a narrow band of about 30 years of American history came to dominate the cultural landscape, and even today, creatives can’t stop finding new ways to adapt, subvert and update the form. And so to Tin Star, a modern western saga set in the Canadian Rockies, where Tim Roth’s British ex-detective brings his family for a peaceful life, only to find like so many western heroes before him that it’s up to him to clean up this stinking town. Violence, betrayal, murder and moral murk naturally follow: the second season begins with blood on the snow and things aren’t going to lighten up any time soon.
Tcheky Karyo’s Julien Baptiste, the battered but unbowed French police detective at the centre of missing child anthology series The Missing, gets his own spin-off courtesy of prolific thriller creators Harry and Jack Williams. Claiming to have changed after a health scare, Baptiste is seconded to a missing person’s investigation in Amsterdam, where the supporting cast of the European mystery includes the reliably unsettling Tom Hollander. As Friday night crime fare on the ABC goes, this is decidedly darker than normal. Death in Paradise never had near this much dismemberment.
The Graham Norton Show
Zoom meeting chat shows are a dicey proposition and it’s fair to say that one host who’s suffering from lockdown restrictions is Britain’s reigning talk and tease champ Graham Norton. While he can expertly draw out amusing isolation details from his famous guests the lack of group interaction on the studio couch inhibits Norton’s usual dynamic. This pre-lockdown highlights show – with the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Margot Robbie and Michael B. Jordan – is a reminder of what Norton would like to get back to. It’s a greatest hits package and a reminder of how he makes such a contrived format enjoyable viewing.
Alaska: The Last Frontier
If you can endure the overblown narrative and the jingoistic theme song, then there’s at least a facsimile of farming life in Alaska to enjoy in this typically American frontier reality series. Situated 300 kilometres south of Anchorage, the Kilcher clan are cattle farmers whose herd are at regular risk from damning winters and hungry bears. There are genuine challenges to be surmounted, which means that the producers don’t have to invent so many storylines. And even photographed quickly on the cheap, the vast and rugged landscape fills the screen nicely.
The social distancing age has caught up with MasterChef, with gloves, individual dishes, and no more rubbing shoulders the new norm in the reality show kitchen. Given that the show already survived Katy Perry’s freeform guest judging appearance, they should be fine. And emotionally at least, the rejigged series continues to lean in, with a connection between the new judges, the veteran contestants, and the heritage-laden food they make that has proven to be nourishing – even if the complexity of the dishes executed is high. With the top 10 now locked in, a street food challenge sets the tone for this episode. Let the tastiness continue.
Craig Mathieson is a TV, film and music writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.