Normal People, Monday 27th April, 9pm, BBC One
We have lost the TV remote control. No, don’t worry, it’s not an absolutely critical situation. It’s not our main TV. That would be an emergency of almost unparalleled seriousness in our household. No, it’s the kids’ TV. And, frankly, given their reluctance to come and walk the dog with me every day, the little blighters could do with occasionally hauling their backsides off the sofa to change channel. But it’s been interesting to see what an utterly alien concept standing up to switch over is to them. I explained to my son that in my youth TV remotes didn’t exist, and he looked at me like I had just told him I grew up eating mud.
It was a reminder of how much has changed, telly-wise, in a relatively short time. This applies as much to content as to hardware. In my youth, TV programmes came from two countries: Great Britain and America. TV from Britain was generally highbrow and intelligent, while TV from America was actually good.
A lot of TV from America is still brilliant, and the UK has upped its game considerably. But what’s really changed is the international flavour of what we watch. In the past, anything with subtitles would more than likely signify an arty, monochrome film shot through with existential angst that people with berets would absolutely love. Either that or something where a plumber with a luxuriant moustache would come round to fix a boiler for a woman whose clothes kept falling off.
Now, our favourite TV comes not just from the UK and the US, but from Scandinavia, New Zealand, France, Italy, Mexico, Japan, Australia, South Korea and beyond. And from Ireland. In recent years, series made in and about Ireland have proved hugely popular with audiences. Shows including The Virtues, Derry Girls, The Young Offenders, The Fall and My Left Nut have received both critical and popular acclaim. And there’s also been Mrs Brown’s Boys.
The BBC’s new 12-part drama Normal People, then, should be a sure-fire winner. Set in Ireland, it’s based on Sally Rooney’s phenomenally successful book of the same name. The book sold almost a million copies, and won pretty much every prize going. I’ve not read it myself, as I had just assumed it was some cheesy memoir from Wayne Rooney’s sister, which shows how up to speed I am on all things literary.
The drama stars Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal as Marianne and Connell, two high school students from a small West Ireland town. Marianne is wealthy, lonely, socially awkward, and very badly behaved. Connell is bright, good-looking, sporty, and popular. He’s basically exactly how I was at school. Except he is bright, good-looking, sporty and popular. The two form an unlikely friendship, and it doesn’t take long for the flames of romance to start licking around their ankles (sorry, that sounds more disgusting than I intended…)
The first episode (a mere half hour long, unusual for a drama) is a touching look at a fledgling romance. As I understand it, the series follows the two characters through their time at Trinity College, Dublin, and their on-off-on-again relationship. And the two leads are simply outstanding. Daisy Edgar-Jones, whose father Phil practically invented Big Brother 20 years ago, has been in Cold Feet before this, but is electrifying as the confused, miserable but spirited Marianne. And Paul Mescal, who is making his TV debut, is every bit her equal as the sensitive Jock-with-a-heart Connell, to whom there is more than first meets the eye.
The quality doesn’t end there, either. Rooney is a co-writer of the script, and one of the series director’s is Lenny Abrahamson, who was Oscar-nominated for the film Room. Filmed in Sligo, Dublin and Italy, this is a high-quality product with both a brain and a heart.
The Real Marigold Hotel 1/4, Thursday 30th April, 9pm, BBC One
Hurrah! Life might be a bit tricky right now, but if any programme was ever designed to lighten the soul, it is this joyous affair. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show – what HAVE you been doing? Your pre-lockdown life must have been far too chaotic – there really is no excuse for missing this feelgood delight.
Anyway, for those playing catch-up, the series sees eight famous faces, and indeed the rest of their bodies, living in India for six weeks, to sample life there and decide whether it would be a good place for them to retire to. The climate is warm all year round, the cost of living is cheap, you can basically live like a Maharaja on a reasonable pension.
Of course, it’s all academic. None of the 24 celebrities to have thus far taken the plunge in the three previous series have ended up turning round at the end of the shoot and saying “Actually, would you take this note back to my family, I think I’m going to settle down in Mumbai.” This is basically just a travelog, only without much travel. A log, then. Hang on, I don’t think I’m selling this very well.
Look, it’s lovely. Just see for yourselves. This series sees our eight intrepid (and not-so-intrepid) travellers upping sticks and settling down in Puducherry (also know as Pondicherry), a picturesque former French colonial town on the coast of southeast India. (Later in the series they’re also going to check out Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas).
Just getting to Puducherry is something of an ordeal. Britt Ekland (76), Chuckle Brother Paul Elliott (71) and Zandra Rhodes (78) are ferried from Chennai airport in a taxi, but the rest are forced to take public transport. This involves visiting the largest bus station in Asia, which is capable of servicing 200,000 passengers per day. That’s a tricky thing to negotiate at the best of times, without the fact that Duncan Bannatyne (70) wanders off to have a pee just as the bus is waiting to depart. Anyway, the journey is well worth it, as their residence is beyond paradisiacal. A Franco-Tamil haveli, it is all shaded rooms, leafy courtyards and hanging lanterns.
The first full day begins with former Corrie star Susie Blake (68) doing her Buddhist chanting, and Duncan getting on with his yoga. Henry Blofeld (79) and Britt need something a little more rocket-fuelled to start their day, so go off in search of good coffee. Meanwhile, Zandra, Susie and Barbara Dixon (71) are off to visit a farm. Zandra is wearing a hat that is roughly the circumference of Saturn’s ring. I think Tamil Nadu might be about to experience an unscheduled solar eclipse.
EastEnders’ Nasty Nick, John Altman (67) accompanies Duncan to a yoga class on a rooftop overlooking the sea. Its glorious vista doesn’t stop John from spending most of the class lying on his mat looking like a grumpy seal. Back at the haveli, Zandra is cooking. I saw her on MasterChef, I’m not convinced this is a good idea.
The next day, Duncan, John, Zara and Barbara go for a swim in the sea, while Henry and Susie make an appointment to be seen by an ayurvedic doctor. Ayurvedic medicine involves treating the patient with herbs, spices and oils. Basically, turning them into a curry. The doctor examines Susie’s feet and diagnoses what he calls ‘anal growths’. I bet Susie is delighted to have that broadcast to the nation. Shortly afterwards, we see him vigorously massaging her area of pain. Oh, I should probably point out at this stage that she also has a sore knee. Meanwhile, back at home, Paul is lying on his bed, describing the effects of his dicky tummy in rather too much lurid detail. I told you Zandra’s cooking was iffy.
It’s all riotous fun. The celebs are an amiable bunch, who all seem to get on famously, and India, as ever, is a riot of colour and vibrancy and energy. Go ahead, treat yourselves.
The best… and the rest:
Becoming Matisse, Saturday 25th April, 9:15pm, BBC Two: Profile of the painter, the first avant-garde artist of the 20th Century, featuring his great-granddaughter Sophie Matisse.
Princess Anne: The Daughter Who Should Be Queen, 9:15pm, Channel 5: Channel 5 is increasingly becoming the Hello! magazine of the TV world, filled with royal puff pieces and celebrity gossip. This 90-minute documentary charts the life of the Queen’s only daughter, including the 1974 kidnap attempt and the 1976 Olympics.
Sunday 26th April
Reasons to Be Cheerful with Matt Lucas, 7:30pm, Channel 4: Written by Matt Lucas and Harry Hill, this (hopefully) uplifting series will be performed by Matt and a team of celebs including Tyson Fury, Kevin McCloud, Rachel Riley and Jon Snow.
Van der Valk, 8pm, ITV: After a 28-year hiatus, the Dutch detective is back. Marc Warren replaces the late Barry Foster in the title role. In tonight’s feature-length episode, two men are found murdered on the same day, in different parts of Amsterdam. Are their deaths linked?
When Will Lockdown End?, 8pm, Channel 4: Dr Xand van Tulleken looks at the facts behind the lockdown, asks when and how it may end, and what happens next.
Primates 1/3, 8:15pm. BBC One: This new series looks at all things simian, starting with tonight’s episode on how monkeys, apes and lemurs manage to survive in the most unexpected places.
Stacey Dooley: Costa Del Narcos, 9pm, BBC Two: Our Stace looks at how Southern Spain has become the drug-gateway into Europe, and goes on patrol with the force trying to stop the traffickers.
Monday 27th April
Grayson’s Art Club, 8pm, Channel 4: The award-winning artist hosts a masterclass from his studio, and attempts to bring out the nation’s artistic side, with contributions from other artists.
Coronavirus Q&A, 8pm, ITV: Nina Hossein puts viewers questions to a panel of experts. Hopefully including “Why does my nine-year-old burst into tears every time we try to do maths?”
Beat the Chasers, 9pm, ITV: Bradley Walsh hosts a spin-off of the hit quiz show The Chase for the next five nights. Members of the audience are plucked out to face two, three, four or even five of the show’s resident experts.
Tuesday 28th April
The Village, 8pm, ITV: New documentary series charting a year in the life of Portmerion, the picturesque Welsh village that was the setting for the weird 1960s drama The Prisoner.
How to Keep Your Dog, 8:30pm, ITV: Advice on how best to look after our canine chums during lockdown. Ben Fogle and Gaby Logan, plus their respective hounds, present.
Paul Hollywood Eats Japan, 9pm, Channel 4: New culinary travelogue from Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, who starts off in Tokyo, where he becomes involved in karaoke and karting.
Wednesday 29th April
Absolutely India: Mancs in Mumbai, 8pm, ITV: It seems Real Marigold isn’t the only celeb-led Indian travel odyssey this week, as actors Ryan, Adam and Scott Thomas trace their family roots in India, accompanied by their dad Dougie, who was born in Mumbai.
What’s It Like to Catch Coronavirus?, 9pm, Channel 4: Bloody horrible, I imagine. People who’ve had it discuss what it was like.
Thursday 30th April
Spring at Jimmy’s Farm, 8:05pm, Channel 4: A look at how Jimmy and the team are managing his animals., including some exotic beasts, during the current pandemic.
First Dates Hotel 1/6, 9pm, Channel 4: More hopeful singletons travel to the continent for a few days of sunshine, and hopefully a spot of romance. This episode includes a guest in her 70s hoping to find her own version of Sean Connery. Delightful escapism.
The World’s Most Scenic Railway Journeys 1/7, 9pm, Channel 5: Tonight’s journey begins in Inverness, and passes through the majestic beauty of the Highlands, before arriving in the historic city of Edinburgh.