TV blog: Winter Olympics

09 February 2018

The Winter Olympics begins in PyeongChang and new thriller, Collateral, kicks off.

Winter Olympics, BBC, every day until 25th February

Woo hoo! It’s Olympics time! This is the Winter Olympics, smaller and with a considerably diminished Australian contingent.

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Indeed, while the summer Olympics will always favour those countries with money to put into training and facilities, they can still reasonably claim to be a truly global sporting event. The winter version? Not so much. After all, anyone can run, or lift up heavy stuff, or have a bash at swimming. But finding an ice rink in the Okavango Delta is no easy task, and as for a bobsleigh track on the Queensland Coast? Forget it!

On the other hand, compared to the bloated and massively commercial enterprise that the summer games has become, the winter Olympics still has a bucolic charm about it. Set amidst wild icy peaks and forests of snow-dappled pines, it feels more amateur, more pure, more truly Olympian in its essence.

This year, Team GB is sending what it claims is its strongest team ever to PyeongChang. Mind you, don’t they always say that? You never get the team being packed off to the Olympic Village with the rousing rhetoric in their ears stating that “This is the fifth-best Olympic Team we have sent to represent us since the Second World War.” Besides, being the strongest ever British Winter Olympic team isn’t exactly a high bar (if you’ll excuse a distinctly summer Olympic analogy). For example, before Jenny Jones won a bronze medal at Sochi last time around, we had never won a single medal on snow. Our forte has always been on the ice, with particular success in figure skating, bobsleigh and skeleton – the latter presumably because you’ve got to be clinically insane to want to slide down an ice track at 90mph on a tea tray.

We’re sending 59 athletes, and there is more than a little optimism that we might actually break our record of four medals (set in 1924 and equalled in Sochi in 2014). Top of the list of medal prospects in Elise Christie, who won three world championship titles last year in the chaotic and brutal sport of short track skating, and will be looking to improve from three disqualifications at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Other contenders include Lizzie Yarnold, looking to retain her Skeleton title, Dave Ryding, who will be seeking to claim Britain’s first ever slalom medal, and the men’s and women’s curling teams (featuring three members of the Muirhead family). There are also a host of snowboarders and skiers who have chances in sports called things like snowboarding big air, and freestyle skiing slopestyle. Completing the medal chances are the four-man bob team, featuring Olympic Gold Medal relay winner Mark Lewis-Francis, and Britain’s only ever halfway decent cross country skier, Andrew Musgrave, who missed out on a medal in the 50km 2017 world championships by two seconds.

The BBC (natch) will be providing the coverage, with events going throughout the night (South Korea is, rather thoughtlessly, nine hours ahead of us, so most of the meaningful action will take place while we’re all tucked up in our jammies.) Much of the action, however, will be repeated throughout the day, and there will be a highlights programme on every night at 7pm.

Among the significant action in week one, Elise Christie goes in the 500m short track speed skating on Tuesday and Lizzy Yarniold begins the defence of her title on Friday. Less parochially, the Blue Riband event of the whole darned shooting match, the Men’s Downhill, is on Sunday (helpfully at 2am, but repeated at 11am). And, perhaps most significantly, certainly in a geopolitical context, North and South Korea will play together in a unified team in the Women’s Ice Hockey, with their first match on Saturday 10th.

Collateral, Monday 12th February, 9pm, BBC One

Whoever said you can’t be in two different places at once hadn’t banked on John Simm. This Monday at 9pm, the actor will be starring in a high-end, big budget, prime time TV drama on both BBC One and ITV. It’s a rare event to be on both the main channels at the same time, unless you happen to be the lead story on the news, which is almost always a bad thing.

I wonder which one Simm will watch. It’s a tricky dilemma. As a confirmed Simm fan myself, I would find it difficult to choose myself, but for two reasons. First, I have already seen one of them (which helps, if you’re about to write about it) and second, my wife will decide what we watch in any case. (In all relationships, by far the most important decision to be made is who has custody of the remote control, something I figured out too late).

Anyway, Collateral looks jolly good. Not surprisingly, considering the pedigree involved. It’s written by David Hare, whose extensive back-catalogue includes The Hours and The Reader. As well as Simm, the cast includes Carey Mulligan, Billie Piper, Saskia Reeves, Hayley Squires and Ben Miles. Set over four days in London, the story follows DI Kip Glaspie (Mulligan) who is tasked with investigating the murder of a pizza delivery man. What seems like a random shooting ends up having unexpected ramifications as events spiral out of control.

Piper plays Karen, a single mother of two who orders the fateful pizza, and hears the gunshots ring out moments after she’s paid the poor delivery man. Her ex-husband David (Simm) is a local MP who is as disenchanted with the Labour Party as he is with his personal life. Nicola Walker (one of our finest actors, luminous in Last Tango in Halifax) plays Jane, a vicar whose relationship to God seems as troubled as her relationship to her partner, who is a drug-taking Chinese immigrant on an illegal visa. I don’t see Jane making Archbishop of Canterbury anytime soon. Meanwhile Laurie (Squires) is the pizza parlour manager who is struggling to explain why she took one driver off the job and gave it to another, just before said driver was shot dead. Did she know something?

Right from the off, everyone has their secrets and their demons. Everyone is hiding something, and it’s impossible not to suspect them all. It gives rise to an infectious paranoia, where you see guilt everywhere. In one scene, I’m sure I saw a pot plant acting suspiciously. Except – here’s a shock – we’re not even at the end of episode one, and the killer is revealed.

As ever, with a thriller, it’s difficult to know whether the story will hold together or collapse in a hopeless mess (as with The Replacement last year). But the plot has the right degree of excitement, some varied and intriguing characters, and a decent premise. The performances are uniformly outstanding, with Mulligan, cast very much against type as a no-nonsense policewoman, particularly strong. And, with the story already looking as though it will tackle issues from politics to immigration, this may be one of the more intelligent thrillers you’re likely to catch this year.

The best… and the rest

Monday 12th February

Trauma 1/3, 9pm, ITV: John Simm stars in this new three-part thriller, going up against Collateral at the same time on BBC One starring, um, John Simm. This one is a psychological thriller which sees him blaming Adrian Lester’s trauma surgeon for the death of his son. Trauma is on over three consecutive nights, so you won’t have to wait too long for a resolution.

The World’s Most Luxurious Airline, Channel 4, 9pm: The broadcaster who has a prurient interest in the very rich and the very poor enters the world of the former tonight, seeing how the other half (well, the other 0.5 per cent) live when flying first class on Singapore Airlines.

Tuesday 13th February

Shetland 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: Douglas Henshall stars in Britain’s equivalent of a Scandi-noir thriller – all huge, grey skies and angst-riddled people in knitwear. Tonight, Perez (Henshall) takes on a cold case (aren’t they all, in Shetland?) after a man is found innocent after 23 years behind bars.

Wednesday 14th February

Earth’s Natural Wonders 1/3, 9pm BBC One: How do people survive in some of the most extreme, hostile environments on Earth? No, we’re not still talking about Shetland, but the Arctic, the Himalayas, the Amazon basin and Siberia. This series follows people in each location as they eke out an existence in these heart-stoppingly beautiful places.

Generation Gifted, 9pm, BBC Two: What are your prospects like if you are a gifted child from a low-income family? This new series, set to take place over three years of filming, aims to find out.

The £1 Houses: Britain’s Cheapest Street, Channel 4, 9pm: This series takes a personal look at  fascinating scheme set up by Liverpool council, where a street of empty, run-down, council-owned houses were sold to buyers for £1-a-house, provided they had the means to repair and renovate the homes. Fascinating, and potentially hugely significant.

Thursday 15th February

Married at First Sight 1/4, 9pm, Channel 4: Complete strangers, picked for each other by experts, get married the first time they meet. Either an intriguing social experiment, or a sign that people will do virtually anything to get on telly.

The Job Interview, 10pm, Channel 4: Surprisingly entertaining series looking at real job interviews with real candidates. Some of whom are brilliant, and some of whom are gob-smackingly bad.

Friday 16th February

First Dates: Valentine’s Special, 9pm, Channel 4: It’s no longer Valentine’s Day, and there’s not much different about this from any other episode of First Dates. But if you’re looking for a bit of heart-warming romance in your life, look no further (provided your heart is warmed by watching people drink too much and have excruciating conversations).

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