Prime Suspect 1973, Thursday 2nd March, 9pm, ITV
Everyone has their shameful little secrets. Here are (just some of) mine: I’ve never read a Jane Austen book. Or one by the Brontes. I’ve never visited Rome. I don’t really enjoy watching Shakespeare. And I’ve never seen a single minute of Prime Suspect.
The latter may not appear to rank with the other squalid admissions, but as someone who writes about TV, to have not seen a single minute of what is considered one of the finest police procedural dramas in TV history is almost cause to have me slapped in handcuffs and thrown into chokey. It’s also a slight problem when watching Prime Suspect 1973, ITV’s brand new, six-part prequel series, as I may be missing all sorts of wry in-jokes and clever references to the future.
Instead, I just have to enjoy it on its own merits. Which, luckily, is not difficult. We join the action in 1973 (this should not come as too much of a shock, given the show’s title). Jane Tennyson (Stefanie Martini) is a young WPC who is on probation in the police force, and struggling to cut the mustard. Although, let’s be honest, there’s a good chance things will work out for her.
This being the 1970s, Tennyson’s primary role seems to be to man (woman?) the phones, bring tea and biscuits to the senior officers, do the washing up, and get ogled by colleagues sporting the type of unfortunate moustaches to which 44 years of hindsight are not kind.
On a local estate, a teenage girl has been strangled with her own bra. Tennyson escapes the confines of the office when she’s called out to help with door-to-door enquiries. At one house, a man answers wearing a pair of green y-fronts. Truly, the 70s were hell. He’s a wrong ‘un. The spooky music is a giveaway. Even probationary coppers should know that if a man in green pants stares you down while spooky music plays, he’s worth a further look. As unpalatable as the pants may make that seem.
Meanwhile, Alun Armstrong is in prison. The only reason I mention that is because, well, it’s Alun Armstrong, so even though he’s not in the first episode much, you can bet it’s significant. You don’t go hiring the Alun Armstrongs of this world to watch them do porridge in a brief and irrelevant cameo.
There is an enormous amount to enjoy here. The drama moves on at a decent, though not frenetic, pace, and the 1970s are beautifully recreated. Unusually for a drama set in that decade, not absolutely every scene is littered with people smoking furiously, but the other 1970s tropes are here: Great clothes, afros and really terrible cars. Also, the need to use Tipp-ex when you make a mistake while typing. For that, alone, I’m happy that time has moved on, but nipping back for an hour every week looks well worth the effort over the next patch.
The Replacement, Tuesday 28th February, 9pm, BBC One
On 2nd November 1936, the BBC broadcast television for the first time. The next day, it ran a trail for this brand new three-part psychological thriller. At least, it seems that way. This is one of the most heavily trailed programmes on the BBC in recent years, and they’re clearly very excited about it. On the basis of this opening episode, it’s not hard to see why.
Ellen (Morven Christie) has a charmed life. She’s just won a massive contract for her architecture firm, and been made an associate as a result. Everyone quaffs champagne, including her ludicrously nice bosses (played by Neve Mackintosh and Dougray Scott). The she returns to her gorgeous house in a picturesque mews in Glasgow where her delightful psychiatrist husband is waiting for her. Life couldn’t get much better. Oh, wait a minute – she’s pregnant. Ain’t that just the flake in the 99.
All of this, of course, means just one thing in Dramaland, as we all now know full well. Ellen’s life is about to take a pretty hefty nosedive.
And here it is, in the form of her maternity leave replacement, Paula (Vicky McClure). Paula’s great. She’s charming, confident, modest, unassuming, unflappable. Everyone loves her. Which, as we also now know full well, means that by the final scene of the final episode, she’ll probably be barbecuing Labrador puppies and firebombing Mother Theresa’s grave.
At first, the signs are small. She’s a bit over familiar. A bit eager to get her feet under Ellen’s desk, and win over her friends. And here’s another suspicious pointer: Ellen sees Paula shouting at her daughter in a car. Blimey, if shouting at your own kids in a car makes you a psychopath, I must be well on the way to a career as a prolific serial killer.
Joe Ahearne’s script, and McClure and Christie’s intelligent and delicately judged performances, brilliantly illustrate how Paula subtly undermines Ellen while convincing colleagues she’s the best thing since sandwich thins (so much better than sliced bread). It’s not long before Ellen’s life is in quite the nosedive.
And then things get much, much worse.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 25th February
Let it Shine: Live Final, 6:45pm, BBC One: The search for the cast of a new Take That-based musical ends. A nation breathes a sigh of relief.
Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, 7pm, ITV: The cheeky chappies return for series 3 billion of their cheerful light entertainment show, this week definitely not featuring an hour-long lecture on Dadaism from art critic Waldemar Januszczak.
Diana: Designing a Princess, 8pm, BBC Two: A look at Diana’s dresses. One strictly for my mother.
Sunday 26th February
Rivers with Jeremy Paxman, 8pm, Channel 4: The keen angler and inquisitor-in-chief presents a series looking life in and around the UK’s rivers. Tonight, he shouts angry and exasperated questions about the economy at the River Tweed.
Monday 27th February
The Kyle Files, 8pm, ITV: Our Jeremy brings his witless brand of badgering to the issue of extreme eating and the obesity crisis. First in a new series.
Broadchurch, 9pm, ITV: The third and final series of the drama starring David Tenant and Olivia Colman. Will it scale the heights of series one, or disappoint like series two?
Meet the Lords 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: New series looking at life in the Lords in all its traditional, anachronistic, intellectual and occasionally rebellious glory.
The 2,000,000 Calorie Buffet, 10pm, Channel 4: A look at the belt-popping world of all-you-can-eat restaurants, the secrets behind how they make money, and the big-bellied bargain hunters who are keen to get their money’s worth.
The Nightly Show, 10pm, ITV: This new show, on every week night for eight weeks, mixes topical material, games, celebrity guests and stand-up, with a new guest host each week. Week one: David Walliams. A brave and potentially interesting experiment.
Tuesday 28th February
The Secret Life of the Zoo, 8pm, Channel 4: Catch up with all the latest goings on at Chester Zoo where – hold the front page – Pedro the Giant Anteater is unwell.
The Secret Chef, 8pm, ITV: Britain’s worst cooks are whisked away in secret and given a crash course in the culinary arts before returning to astonish their friends.
1066: A year to Conquer England 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: Housewives’ favourite historian Dan Snow examines the behind-the-scenes story leading up to the Battle of Hastings.
Catastrophe, 10pm, Channel 4: Series three of the very funny but (be warned) crude sitcom about coupledom and parenthood.
Wednesday 1st March
Little Big Shots, 8pm, ITV: Dawn French hosts this new series showcasing Britain’s most talented kids.
Benidorm, 9pm, ITV: It’s series nine of the sitcom set in… um… I forget. Spain somewhere. Anyway, If you don’t know what to expect by now, you’re probably too late.
Thursday 2nd March
Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule, 8:30pm, ITV: Nope. Not a clue.
A Very British Hotel 1/3, 9pm, Channel 4: Phew. We’ve not had a documentary looking at life in a hotel for weeks. I was beginning to worry. This one comes from the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London.
Friday 3rd March
Lethal Weapon, 9pm, ITV: TV series spin-off of the hugely successful film franchise, with Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans replacing Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.