Second Chance Summer: Tuscany, Wednesday 5th April, 9pm, BBC Two
La Banditaccia is an 18th Century farmhouse nestled in the middle of a 250 acre estate in the southern Tuscan hills. Its owner is selling it, and retiring. But before it goes on the market, he’s turning it over to ten British people who have never met, but are looking to change their lives. They will live there for two months, and at the end of their stay, if any of them want to stay there, they can club together and buy the place. A bit like splitting the bill after dinner, only with added zeros.
The series, from the makers of the indescribably brilliant Real Marigold Hotel, is an intriguing watch for a number of reasons. First, and most obviously, it is absurdly beautiful. Tuscany is simply breath-taking, all gorgeous medieval hilltop towns, plains scattered with olive groves and cypress trees, and vine-covered hillsides.
Secondly, there is a certain perverse delight in watching ten Brits turn up on a Tuscan farm and attempt to run the place. The plan is to harvest the grapes to make 30,000 bottles of wine, to harvest the olives for olive oil, and to turn the farm into a B&B-cum-restaurant. They also buy 20 chickens for fresh eggs, although between buying them and getting back to the farm they manage to lose two of them, so that’s going well. The responsibility for the wine falls to one of the team, Rob, because, um, he used to work in an off licence. It’s the equivalent of making someone the England manager because they used to sell burgers on the concourse at Wembley. Although come to think of it…
But what really makes the programme interesting is the people. Here are ten individuals, most of them over 50, who have decided to give life another crack. To turn their back on everything they know, to embrace a life they really, really don’t know (hence the hapless efforts at running a farm). They are a motley crew of the divorced, the widowed, the lonely, and the just plain adventurous. As Rob candidly puts it, “Everyone’s a broken toy.” But can Tuscany, and the company of others, fix them? The chaos on the farm, and the already-ominous internecine bickering, would suggest otherwise. But my money is on a few of them, at least, finding exactly what they’re looking for, in some cases after a lifetime of searching. And what could be a more rewarding watch than that?
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Me and My Dog: The Ultimate Contest, Wednesday 5th April, 8pm, BBC Two
Do you know the most competitive collection of people on earth? It’s not sports people, or city brokers, or even eight-year-old boys. It’s dog owners. Oh sure, they might all look friendly and harmless enough, pottering about with their ball-throwing catapults and their little poopie bags, pretending to enjoy the fresh air and the benevolent enquiries of other dog walkers. But inside, they’re comparing their dogs to all the others, and convincing themselves that theirs is the best behaved, best looking, fastest, most intelligent and lovable of the lot. They can convince themselves that their own, shabby-coated mongrel with a lazy eye and a fondness for rolling in fox poo, is the canine equivalent of Adonis himself.
So it was a matter of time before we ended up with a dog competition on our TV screens. Yes, I know we already have Crufts, but who really cares which pampered pedigree pooch with a quadruple-barrelled name is deemed to have the most lustrous coat by a collection of people who think it’s normal to pay £10,000 for a puppy. And yes, I know we also already saw a show in which dogs and people competed as pairs, but I choose to forget about the existence of Flockstars in the same way I’m happy to expunge Spam Thursday at my Primary School from my memory.
Anyway, this new four-part series, presented by Chris Packham, sees eight dogs and their owners competing in a series of physical and mental challenges that will stretch both parties. The tests themselves are a bit random (try and get your dog to go through a gate using only your eyes, anyone?) but the dogs are all rather lovely (I have an early fondness for a rescue dog called Benny) and the owners seem a jovial and friendly bunch. Although, underneath it all, we know there lurk eight steely, cold, competitive hearts.
The challenges are intercut with various bits of analysis from a clinical animal behaviourist (do you ever think we ran out of jobs after the decline of the manufacturing industry and just started making them up?) There are also regular visits to the show’s Science Yurt - nope, no idea - where we learn some actually rather fascinating information. Did you know, for example, that humans show emotion on the right side of their faces first, and that’s where dogs look?
In conclusion, then, it’s all rather fun, with the occasional mind-boggling fact-nugget, and the dogs are cute. What’s not to like? It just seems a shame, to me, that no-one thought to name the show The Great British Bark Off.
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The best… and the rest
Saturday 1st April
The Voice UK, 8:30pm, ITV: The talent show reaches its final weekend. A generally disinterested nation shrugs its collective shoulders.
Sunday 2nd April
The Boat Races, 4pm, BBC One: Clare Balding presents as a lot of annoyingly intelligent and tall people subject themselves to agony and exhaustion while a bemused world looks on, perplexed.
Spying on the Royals 1/2, 8pm, Channel 4: Declassified documents from secret surveillance of the royals give a new level of insight into the scandalous relationship of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
Monday 3rd April
Fake Britain 1/7, 7:30pm, BBC One: Return of the show that has more fake news than a social media site. Matt Allright reports on fake equipment sold to the NHS, cashmere containing rat fur(!) and bogus ice cream vans threatening the survival of a British classic.
Child of Our Time 1/2, 9pm, BBC One: Lord Winston and Dr Tanya Byron catch up with the kids in the latest instalment of this longstanding project. As the kids in question are now 16, expect lots of monosyllabic answers and eye-rolling.
Tuesday 4th April
Bake Off: Crème de la Crème 1/9, 8pm, BBC Two: The big show’s less glamorous sibling returns for a second series, now in a revamped knockout format, hosted by 1990s’ Angus Deayton. Tonight, the teams wrestle with Moka au Café slices, Napoleons, and a showpiece based on a Peach Melba.
One Born Every Minute, 9pm, Channel 4: The enchanting series returns, telling the stories from the maternity unit of Liverpool Women’s Hospital.
The Richard Dimbleby Lecture, 10:45pm, BBC One: Former CIA Director John O Brennan discusses the future security and stability of the world. Perhaps not one to watch if you’re hoping for a restful night’s sleep…
Wednesday 5th April
Me and My Dog: The Ultimate Contest 1/4, 8pm, BBC Two: Chris Packham presents a new series in which eight owners and their dogs compete in a series of unique challenges, whilst every week, judges dispense rrrruff justice. (Sorry).
Marilyn Monroe: Auction of a Lifetime, 9pm, Channel 4: The life story of one of the great 20th-Century icons is told through her possessions, including the most expensive dress in the world.
Thursday 6th April
Alone with the In-Laws, 8pm, BBC Two: Chris and Stacey are getting married. But first, they agree to spend a few days living alone with their partner’s parents, for a reason that someone from the producers of this documentary can presumably explain.
Kitchen 999: Emergency Chefs, 10pm, Channel 4: Documentary looking at relief chef agencies, who parachute in chefs to those restaurants suddenly and unexpectedly in need. They don’t literally parachute in. That would be weird.
ISIS: The Battle for Iraq, 11pm, Channel 4: Depressing but important documentary revealing the extent of torture, executions and sectarian cleansing in Iraq.
Friday 7th April
Natural World, 9pm, BBC Two: David Attenborough reveals the inside track on the giant armadillo, elusive resident of the Brazilian wetland region of Pantanal.
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