The ten best TV shows of the week

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What to watch over the next seven days

Time Out's critics steer you through the TV listings guide with reviews of the best shows over the next seven days, from big dramas and reality shows to cult comedies and documentaries. National talking point or hidden gem – we've got it covered. For full listings and five daily picks, cycle through the days by using the tabs on the grid at www.timeout.com/tv.

  • The Fear

    Rating: 4/5
    Mon Dec 3 10-11.05pm, C4

    It’s probably no surprise to see a Peter Mullan character losing control in a drama. And Richie Beckett does knock a few heads together in the course of this four-part thriller (running every night until Thursday). But Beckett is also struggling to cling on to his own identity, suffering as he is from Alzheimer’s. Bad timing, when you’re a gangster trying to go straight while foreigners are moving in on your turf. Brighton is a well-chosen setting for this dispatch from the dark side, shaking off the Graham Greene associations while retaining the same sense of a struggle for something fundamental. Mullan is superb and given able support from Harry Lloyd and Paul Nicholls as his bickering sons; while you won’t feel much sympathy for Richie, you won’t want to stop watching him either. Gabriel Tate

  • Why Poverty?: The Great Land Rush

    Rating: 4/5
    Tue Dec 4, 10-11pm, BBC4

    ‘You can take everything from the farmer, but not his land.’ Spoken by a Malian farmer, these words reflect the local resistance to a series of land-grabbing deals for a sugar plantation project. For such a multidimensional issue, this is an ambitious subject to cover in an hour. What this documentary achieves, however, is impressively thorough, despite the occasionally sluggish pace as we cut to yet another stuffy board meeting. More effective than all those put together are the individual accounts from both sides, putting their arguments forward without restraint. In particular, the women in the village provide a shocking insight into the corruption and human rights violations that took place as the project was being put together. That it ended in violence is no big surprise – the question is, has anything been learned in the process? Claire Winter

  • Why Poverty?: China's Ant People

    Rating: 4/5
    Wed Dec 3, 10.30-11.30pm, BBC4

    Huge debts. Insecure, badly paid jobs. No real prospects. There’s rarely been a worse time to be young. All of this could, of course, apply to any European economy. But this film suggests that China offers a troubling snapshot of where we might be heading if our education system continues to divide into two tiers and welcome the input of the private sector. The ‘ant people’ of the title are the graduates – forced to flog themselves to death, knowing that they hold none of the cards. Then there are the ‘private colleges’. In this film, a whistle blower reveals these enterprises for the scam they are. Clearly when education becomes just another commodity corners are cut, standards decline and the poorest suffer worst. The BBC’s ‘Why Poverty’ season continues to be grimly enlightening. Phil Harrison

  • The Town

    Rating: 3/5
    Wed Dec 3, 9-10pm, ITV1

    One thing you can say about Olivier-winning playwright Mike Bartlett’s first TV script, a three-parter, is that it’s unpredictable. Is it a crime thriller? A black comedy? A bathetic family drama? A dissection of small-town mores? That it appears to trying to be all four makes it an intriguing but very disjointed hour. A solid ensemble looks occasionally uncomfortable amid the clashing genres, as Mark (Andrew ‘Moriarty’ Scott with another performance of awkward ingratiation) returns home in response to a personal tragedy to find that friends and family have moved on in the intervening years, their responses to the incident proving bewilderingly diverse. Martin Clunes’s bumbling mayor (you can tell he likes a drop – his PA notes on entering his office that ‘it stinks of booze in here’), Douglas Hodge’s shady copper and Charlotte Riley, as Mark’s contented ex are among the characters with, we suspect, secrets to spill over the next couple of weeks. Gabriel Tate

  • Madeley Meets the Squatters

    Rating: 4/5
    Thur Dec 6, 9-10pm, ITV1

    It’s often been said that Richard Madeley’s closest broadcasting contemporary is Alan Partridge. But while we’re hopeful that Partridge will eventually get around to making a documentary about squatters, he has a hard act to follow. Richard sets his stall out early. ‘As someone lucky enough to own more than one home, I know nothing about squatters,’ he proclaims. This soon changes. Eventually, he’s sitting in on meetings, mediating in discussions between owners and uninvited occupiers and even going urban foraging at night (‘at last, we have something in common. I shop in Waitrose, you get food from their skips’). Richard is a very funny man but actually, this is a surprisingly even-handed film during which, we suspect, our host surprises himself with the empathy he begins to feel. Richard can’t go too long without letting himself down; someone should probably let him know that calling black people ‘man’ doesn’t neccesarily mean you’re ‘down’ with them. But, for all the wince-worthy moments, he’s very hard to dislike. Phil Harrison

  • A Young Doctor's Notebook

    Rating: 3/5
    Thu Dec 6, 9-9.30pm, Sky Arts 1

    Jon Hamm, Daniel Radcliffe and Mikhail Bulgakov may sound like a mismatch on paper, and this adaptation of the Russian dissident’s semi-autobiographical short stories is oddly pitched as a knockabout near-sitcom. Radcliffe is anxious and amiable as the titular medic rapidly drifting out of his depth in a remote Russian hospital staffed by oddballs, visited by yokels and sitting in the shadow of his revered predecessor; Hamm is a touch more complex and sinister as his older, morphine addicted self. It’s a little too episodic and uneven, but there’s definitely promise here if the writers can seize on the innate darkness at the heart of the premise. And it’s wonderfully atmospheric, particularly given an obviously restrictive budget. Neither misfire nor triumph just yet, but ‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook’ is exactly the sort of skewed experimentation in which Sky Arts should be dabbling. A ten-part Russian adaptation of Bulgakov’;s masterpiece, ‘The Master and Margarita’, begins on Sky Arts 2 at 6pm. Gabriel Tate

  • 4 Funnies: Brian Gittins

    Rating: 3/5
    Dri Dec 7, 11.05-11.35pm, C4

    Character comedian David Earl has popped up in ‘Extras’, ‘Derek’ and ‘Cemetery Junction’, so it’s no surprise that Ricky Gervais acts as executive producer on his ‘4Funnies’ pilot. Earl plays Brian Gittins – an oddball, gravel-voiced minicab driver – who means well but is a little creepy. This Gittins is a toned-down version of a character who’s been a regular fixture on the live circuit (albeit as a café owner rather than cabbie) for Earl. We follow Gittins’s car journeys: awkward flirting with colleague Cheryl over the taxi’s radio, dating advice from his daughter and conversations with eccentric passengers. Earl’s performance is subtle and generous to his supporting cast. The set-ups can be a little clumsy – ‘Right Dad, I’m on Google,’ his daughter says to establish one scene, before slowly reading out exactly what she’s typing – and the half-hour’s more likely to induce giggles rather than belly laughs. But it has its moments, with Seb Cardinal’s cameo as an Irish passenger obsessed with the volume of dog mess abroad being a highlight: ‘My whole memory of Holland was a country jam-packed with dogshit.’ Ben Williams

  • The X Factor

    Sat Dec 8, 8-10pm, ITV1

    Are we falling out of love with ‘The X Factor’? It depends how you measure it. Certainly, viewing figures have been consistently down on previous years. And the show no longer holds the Christmas Number One slot in its iron grip. But then again, last week’s instalment was generating 48,000 tweets per minute at various points, which may be as good a yardstick of popularity as any these days. The self-consciously controversy-generating antics of the judges have been mildly tedious. But what of the contest itself? Will the Scouse block vote hold firm for glorified cruise ship belter Christopher Maloney? Will Jahmene justify the bookies’ faith? And might James Arthur find, like One Direction and JLS before him, that second really is the place to finish? You’ll know by now whether you care or not about any of this stuff – two contestants can look forward to an equally nerve-wracking day tomorrow when the whole interminable business finally concludes. Phil Harrison

  • The Killing III

    Rating: 4/5
    Sat Dec 8, 9-10pm, BBC4

    An election. Politicians who can’t keep track of their staff cars or their staff’s loyalties. Kids making inadvertently significant discoveries. A link between two cases, one current, one long-closed. A close shave with the perp. The following statement: ‘It’s Brix. What the hell’s going on?’ The parallels between ‘The Killing’ seasons one and three are mounting up; all we now need is a shifty removal man. But there’s still plenty to distinguish this valedictory series, not least in the character of Sarah Lund. Sophie Gråbøl’s copper is now a genuinely tragic figure, estranged from anything resembling a normal life: her love life shambolic, her son missing and his partner worryingly dependent on her. As the case unravels, her mind may just follow suit. Episode eight follows; it’s hard to see all this ending well next week. Gabriel Tate

  • The Trouble with Aid

    Rating: 4/5
    Sun Dec 9, 9-11pm, BBC4

    Did the beginnings of the humanitarian movement contain the seeds of its destruction? The famine which resulted from the Nigeria-Biafra war in the late ’60s shocked the world into action. But is intervention possible without taking sides? And can aid do more harm than good? In Biafra, the famine was turned into propaganda – it’s alleged that a camp full of starving children was maintained for publicity purposes during the conflict. But, as Ricardo Pollack’s perceptive, provocative and comprehensive film suggests, the problems didn’t end there. In Rwanda, aid fell into the wrong hands. In Kosovo, aid fed various political messiah complexes. In Ethiopia, aid was depoliticised – to buy a charity single was to absolve oneself of the responsibility to consider wider geopolitical issues. And so we end in Afghanistan, where aid and military activity have become so intertwined as to become indistinguishable. Many aspects of this film cry out to be debated and, handily, a panel of disaster relief specialists will be on hand afterwards to do exactly that. Superb. Phil Harrison


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