Wild Australia with Ray Mears, Monday 25th April, 8pm, ITV
When they first started out on TV, people were comparing Ray Mears with Bear Grylls. Both were experts at surviving in the wild, see, and our culture is so childish and adversarial that we had to pit them against each other. Who was harder? (Grylls) Who was more authentic? (Mears) Who would we really prefer to be stranded in the Outback with? (Charlize Theron. Whaddaya mean she’s not an option, this is my blog!)
Anyway, fast forward a few years, and the comparison seems ludicrous. The two have gone in wildly different directions. It’s like comparing space travel to a chicken dinner. Bear Grylls has gone all Hollywood, with TV shows around the world, Wild Weekends with celebrity guests, his own clothing range, a tendency to disrobe at any given moment, and a burgeoning media empire. Mears, on the other hand, still just likes to pootle about in his unfashionable safari gear (shirt tucked into shorts) revelling in the joys of nature. Mears would no more drink his own wee than dance the tango in a leather catsuit. And you get the impression he’s happy with it that way.
He certainly seems pretty delighted with life in his new show – and why not? He’s spending this six-part series travelling around Australia in search of some of the most extraordinary wildlife on earth. “For anyone interested in nature, stepping onto Australian soil is like stepping into the shoes of an 18th-Century naturalist. Everything here is strange and different, and that’s because this continent has largely evolved in isolation.” (That explains a lot about Russell Crowe).
Tonight’s programme sees him visit the Great Barrier Reef – the largest living structure on the planet (though with my current cake consumption…) It’s one of the greatest assemblies of wildlife on the planet, with over 12,000 species of marine life spread across 2,500km of reef.
Harvey Bay, in north Queensland, is one of the world’s best places for spotting humpbacks, and there’s a charming sequence of a mother and her young calf swimming and playing together. He also has a close encounter with some wonderfully sedate and languid manta rays, one of the most intelligent forms of marine life (they have even put forward a team for the next series of Eggheads).
Mears is as gently genial as ever, and his unflashy and ego-free approach to presenting allows his subject matter to sit centre stage. That he’s evidently having the time of his life is an added bonus. I just hope someone remembered to tell him that pretty much everything in Australia is likely to try and kill him.
Related: Visit Australia with Saga
What Would Be Your Miracle?, Thursday 28th April, 9pm, ITV
I sometimes wonder if I am going through the andropause. Ha! Bet you hadn’t heard that word before! It's the male menopause, and scientists aren’t really sure if such a thing actually exists. But if it does, I’m going through it, no question. If it doesn’t, however, I’m just a bit unstable. My emotions are all over the place.
Related: Is it the male menopause?
Some days I can be a flint-hearted automaton, who could watch ET, Kramer Versus Kramer, The Champ and Love Story back-to-back and not feel even the slightest tear-ductal-twitch. On other days, I can find myself watching a documentary about cheese and weeping so hard I need to take out flood insurance for my house. Except I can’t reach the phone because I’m too dehydrated.
What Would Be Your Miracle most certainly caught me in my more lachrymose state of being. I had to go and replenish my body’s salts afterwards.
This new series from ITV sees Emma Willis following the inspirational stories of families whose lives are transformed by modern medicine. In each episode, she meets two people who are having operations in the hope of changing their lives forever.
Garin is a beautiful, sparky ten-year-old boy. When he was two, his parents discovered he had Cerebral Palsy. He gets about by using a wheelchair or a walker. But now, thanks to an operation from America (and you thought they were only good for enormous burgers and electing loonies) his life may be changed. Willis asks him gently what miracle he would choose. He’d like to be able to play football. So simple, and so heartbreaking.
Meanwhile, Andrea is a sparky, funny 54-year-old to whom fate has been profoundly unkind. Almost entirely deaf, she’s spent much of her life lip-reading. But – thanks very much, capricious Gods of chance – now she’s going blind as well. She’s looking at a life on the margins, without human contact, locked into her own dark, silent nightmare. She is, not unnaturally, terrified. But using cochlear implants, doctors may be able to give her her hearing back. It is, in many ways, an operation to save Andrea’s life.
This is exhaustingly emotional stuff, by turns devastatingly sad and magnificently uplifting, so that by the end you feel you’ve been ten rounds with a robot who keeps injecting you with hormones. Willis is a sympathetic and unobtrusive host, and the families featured are so suffused with love you can’t help but have faith in humanity. And if you ever lacked faith in the medical profession, watch this and have your mind changed. These guys are superheroes.
Best of the rest on TV this week
Saturday 23rd April
Match of the Day Live, 4:50pm, BBC One: Everton take on Manchester United as two teams who have had underwhelming seasons fight it out for a place in the FA Cup Final. (For younger readers, the FA Cup is a football competition that used to mean something).
Shakespeare Live! From the RSC, 8:30pm, BBC Two: David Tennant assembles a wildly talented group of actors (Dench, McKellen, Mirren, Cumberbatch, you get the gist) to perform a load of stuff that I could recite by heart and still don’t understand.
Sunday 24th April
London Marathon, 8:30am, BBC One: You’ve got to be seriously deranged to do the marathon. Not only do they make you run the kind of distance I’d normally consider booking a flight for, they do it at dawn on a Sunday! It is, in its own way, inspirational and infinitely moving, long after the Nike-clad whippets have gone home with their winners’ medals.
The Mystery of the Crossrail Skulls, 8pm, Channel 4: “We apologise, the scheduled service is running a year late due to skulls found on the line”. What was the meaning of the haul of Roman skulls found by engineers when working under Liverpool Street station?
Louis Theroux – Drinking to Oblivion, 9pm, BBC Two: The filmmaker brings his sensitivity and keen analysis to bear as he meets the people attending the Liver Centre at Kings College Hospital, London, who are drinking themselves to death. A powerful examination of the agonies of alcoholism.
Monday 25th April
Horizon: How to Find Love Online, 9pm, BBC Two: It now appears to be impossible to get through a week without a van Tulleken twin appearing on TV. Did I miss some sort of media bylaw? Anyway, Xand van Tulleken is set up on a date by a maths expert, Dr Hannah Fry, who believes she has written a formula to find his ideal woman. Hmm.
Flowers, 10pm, Channel 4: This strange and bleak new sitcom, on every night this week, will certainly not be to everyone’s tastes. It stars Julian Barratt as a suicidal children’s writer, and Olivia Colman as his achingly lonely wife. To me, it is little short of a masterpiece, but it will almost certainly be watched by six arts students and a banker who fell asleep three hours previously.
Tuesday 26th April
Inside the Billionaire’s Wardrobe, 9pm, BBC Two: Reggie Yates looks at the market for exotic clothes made from animal skins, and at the route from animal to market. What’s wrong with a spot of nylon-cotton mix from BHS, eh?
My Mum’s Hotter than Me, 10pm, Channel 5: Well done, Channel 5. Seriously. Next!
Wednesday 27th April
Mary Beard’s Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit, 9pm, BBC Two: An epic look at the history of the Roman empire. Tonight, Beard travels around Italy, France and Greece, presumably thanking her stars she didn’t decide to investigate the much less picturesque Mongol Empire instead.
Thursday 28th April
Meet the Moose Family, 8pm, BBC Two: A beautifully shot film with a touching story of a mother trying to keep her young calf safe from predators in the Canadian Rockies. If you don’t want to be eaten, don’t call yourself a ruddy mousse.
Kirstie and Phil’s Love It or List It, 8pm, Channel 4: Kirstie! Phil! Property! Slightly forced banter!!!
The Extraordinary Case of Alex Lewis, 9pm, Channel 4: Two years ago, father-of-one Alex Lewis felt he was coming down with a cold. Days later, he was a quadruple amputee with severe facial disfigurement. This is his remarkable story.
The Secret Life of Puppies, 9pm, Channel 5: Awwwwwww!
Friday 29th April
The Secret, 9pm, ITV: Based on a true story, this four-part drama is a tale of infidelity, and how far it can drive people. The always-watchable James Nesbitt stars.