Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, Sunday 18th September, 9pm, Channel 4
This new four-part series is in support of Channel 4’s laudable fundraising initiative, Stand Up to Cancer. The regular series of The Island is the broadcaster’s compelling show whereby a bunch of people you’ve never heard of are dumped on a desert island with no food or water and asked to fend for themselves in the wild. The celebrity version is identical in every way. The roll call for the series is thus: Dom Joly (comedian), Ollie Locke (Made in Chelsea star), Thom Evans (rugby player), Mark Jenkins (from the TV show The Hotel), Aston Merrygold (pop star formerly of band JLS), Dr Dawn Harper from Embarrassing Bodies, ‘selfie-queen’ Karen Danczuk, comedian Josie Long, TOWIE star Lydia Bright, and Zoe Salmon, who presented Blue Peter about 20 years ago. It’s not exactly the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party…
Not that it should put you off, because there is an absolute fascination with watching people being pushed to the very edge on this show. And, with this lot, it turns out the edge wasn’t very far away to begin with. Almost from the moment they arrive, they begin to fall apart. Denied life’s absolute fundamentals like food, water, shelter, champagne, and the opportunity to appear on the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame, the celebrities unravel quicker than a thing that unravels really fast.
As with the normal version of the show, the group have the ability to contact an emergency response team in the event of an absolute crisis. Even in this day and age, it seems that actually watching people die on a prime time entertainment show is frowned upon (unless you include some of the comedians on Live from the Apollo). It is generally used when all other options have failed, as a very last resort, and with huge reluctance. The celebrities, on the other hand, seem to see it as a sort of water-bound cross between Uber and Deliveroo. They call the team out halfway through their first full day on the island, and then again the next day. I suspect they’ll be asking for pizza and a back rub by episode two.
As for the celebrities, they fall into three categories:
1. The people who seem to find the whole thing uproariously funny (Dom Joly).
2. The people who are totally miserable (including Mark Jenkins, who announces that “I don’t really like people,” and Aston Merrygold, who declares day one to be “The worst day of my entire life. Nothing comes close.”)
3. The people who don’t really make an impression (everyone else). Actually, that’s not really fair on Ollie Locke, who seems to have come to face nature’s most hostile habitat in chinos and an immaculately pressed pink shirt, and whose fake tan alone I will carry with me till my dying day.
National Treasure, Tuesday 20th September, 9pm, Channel 4
With the Paralympics coming to an end, putting a full stop on a glorious summer of sport, Channel 4 has a lot of empty airtime to fill. As a result, this week they’re showing more new things than you’d find at the birthday party of an oligarch’s offspring.
New series starting this week include Celebrity Island, Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages, Grand Designs, Hunted, Travel Man, Gogglebox and The Lie Detective. It’s like waiting for a bus, and nothing arrives, and then twelve come along at once, only they’re not buses they’re TV shows, and there was actually already a bus there, and anyway you don’t exactly wait for TV programmes, and I’m not very good at analogies.
Of all of these new shows, nothing will make quite as much noise as the new four-part drama National Treasure. You can’t very well put on a show starring Robbie Coltrane, in his first TV role in five years, and Julie Walters, and expect it to slip quietly under the radar. Even less so when the subject matter is… well… a touch delicate.
The drama centres around the life and family of Paul Finchley (Coltrane), a hugely successful comedian now seeing out the autumn of his career presenting a quiz show. Until the day when there is a knock at the door, and he is arrested after a historical rape allegation. As his world begins to unravel, so too does that of his family. And then the press get wind of things…
This is a properly grown up drama, filled with moral complexity and gut-wrenching emotions. Jack Thorne’s script is so nuanced, and Coltrane’s performance so masterful, one minute you feel aching sympathy for him, the next a creeping loathing. Walters, as his loyal but embittered wife Marie, is a model of tight-lipped agony, while Andrea Riseborough’s depiction of their fractured daughter going through rehab is a thing of wonder.
In a nation still trying to come to terms with the grim truths circling Jimmy Savile and Operation Yewtree, this feels like an important, timely and relevant drama, handled with commendable restraint and intelligence by all involved.
The best… and the rest
Sunday 18th September
Paralympics 2016: Closing Ceremony Live, Channel 4, 10pm: On straight after Celebrity Island, this is a reminder of real heroism in the face of adversity. And, tonight at any rate, in the face of sequins, Salsa-pop and glitter cannons.
Monday 19th September
The Battle for the Labour Party: Channel 4 Dispatches, Channel 4, 7:30pm: The world sighs a relief as the end of a rancorous-yet-tedious campaign for both the leadership and soul of the Labour Party hoves belatedly into view.
Tuesday 20th September
Parking Wars, ITV, 9pm: People get more upset than is strictly necessary about parking.
It Was Alright in the 1970s, Channel 4, 10pm: Matt Lucas narrates this look back at TV from the 70s, this episode dealing with paranoia and the Cold War.
Wednesday 21st September
Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages, Channel 4, 8pm: The marvellous Keith visits some charming places and tells us all about them. It’s not rocket science, but it is utterly charming.
Grand Designs, Channel 4, 9pm: The brilliant Kevin McCloud meets more people looking for a 200ft piece of curved glass for their ‘feature atrium’ and other such whimsies.
Thursday 22nd September
George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, 8pm, Channel 4: The architect’s show that celebrates small and ingenious builds meets a couple turning an old army truck into a mobile holiday home.
Brexit: A Very British Coup, 9pm, BBC Two: A one-off documentary following the Leave team throughout the most controversial political campaign in a generation. Watch either with a glass of champagne or a brick to throw at the telly, depending on your persuasion.
Hunted, 9pm, Channel 4: A welcome second series for the riveting show wherein ten fugitives try to stay clear of their pursuers. How difficult is it to disappear in 21st Century Britain? (Answer: Not difficult – just ask the winners of The Voice).
Paranoid, 9pm, BBC One: A promising-looking eight-part drama series from the ever-dependable production company Red, with a strong cast led by Lesley Sharp and Robert Glenister. A GP is murdered in a playground in full view of several eyewitnesses. A relatively straightforward case, then? Sorry, have you ever watched a drama before???
Friday 23rd September
Travel Man, 8:30pm, Channel 4: One of my favourite shows, featuring the deadpan brilliance of Richard Ayoade as he and a comedian guest go on a new mini-break each week. Tonight, the delights of NYC with Katherine Ryan.
Gogglebox, 9pm, Channel 4: The show where millions of people watch other people watching other people on TV returns, as quirky and delightful as ever. Not all good ideas need to be complicated.
Strictly Come Dancing, 9pm, BBC One: The first six couples step on to the floor as the competition begins in earnest. Go, Ed, go! A shame that they’ve moved a show that families can watch together to a later slot…
The Lie Detective, 10pm, Channel 4: An intriguing premise sees an expert in detecting lies submit a series of couples, former couples, or potential couples, to some deeply searching questions.