TV critic Mike Ward enjoys the great indoors, this autumn

Posted October 26, 2012 - Blog Posts

SHALL I tell you the thing I love most about Autumnwatch? Or three things, to be strictly accurate.

First, well, it’s just rather splendid all round, is it not? I realise this isn’t the most penetrating observation you’ll read all week, but Autumnwatch is precisely the sort of series the BBC excels at. It entertains AND it teaches you stuff, like Blue Peter for grown-ups.

Second, the simple fact that it’s on means I know for sure it’s autumn. Seriously. I’m spectacularly thick when it comes to details such as when the seasons start and finish (aren’t seasons all the same these days, ie. mostly rain?), so Autumnwatch’s very presence provides me with the answer. Thanks, BBC.

And third, most important, it saves me having to go outdoors. All that nature, all that greenery (or brownery, I suppose), all that fresh air – Autumnwatch conveniently delivers it straight into my living room, sparing me the hell of having to venture into the cold and damp, or deal with the miserable fact that it’s pretty much dark by lunchtime. It’s the same effect, funnily enough, that Countryfile has on me. That, and Coast. Oh, and One Man And His Dog. Great outdoorsy programmes that miraculously leave me feeling as if I’ve inhaled genuine lungfuls of oxygen, even though I’m really just curled up on the sofa, supping PG Tips and munching Hob-Nobs.

Let’s be honest, autumn isn’t designed for going out in. Why do you think God invented lousy weather – it’s a hint, isn’t it? Autumn was made for great telly – dramas, documentaries, reality thingummies, you name it, they’re all at their best this time of year. Just look at the line-up for autumn 2012 if you don’t believe me.

BBC2’s The Hour, for example, the drama set in a TV newsroom in the 50s, is back for a second run. I seriously love this show. I’ve absolutely no idea how true-to-life it is, but who cares? A top-notch cast, including Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw, is supplemented this time by Peter Capaldi, best known as sweary Malcolm from The Thick Of It.

Also worth looking out for is BBC1’s Victorian police drama Ripper Street, with a cast including Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn. Macfadyen plays a copper who’s never got over the fact that Jack The Ripper outsmarted him.

If you prefer something spookier, there’s The Secret Of Crickley Hall, adapted from a James Herbert thriller and starring Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis. It’s about a family who move into this big house in Derbyshire, hoping to make a fresh start after a personal tragedy – but unaware of the horrors it’s about to serve up…

BBC1 also has Shetland, a two-part mystery featuring ex- Primeval dinosaur-chaser Douglas Henshall. Here he plays a native of the islands who returns to investigate a murder.

The Poison Tree, meanwhile, is another of those psychological thrillers that ITV do so well (did you catch The Scapegoat a few weeks back? How brilliantly bonkers was that?!). This one stars MyAnna Buring as a woman with a troubled past, the nature of which is revealed through a series of increasingly unsettling flashbacks, dating back to the 90s.

Also on ITV – who, I must say, have given us some of the year’s drama highlights, particularly Mrs Biggs andHomefront – there’s a brand new period drama centred on a department store. “Er, hang on,” I hear you cry, “haven’t we just had one of those?” Yes, we have indeed, well spotted – with BBC1’s The Paradise covering similar territory – but this one, Mr Selfridge, created by Andrew Davies, is based on the true story of the famous London store’s founder, Harry (played by Jeremy Piven). The cast includes Katherine Kelly, formerly Corrie’s Becky McDonald. (Rumours of a new costume-drama centred on B&Q, meanwhile, remain unconfirmed).

Elsewhere, Channel 4’s drama highlights include Everyday, starring John Simm and charting five years in the life of a prisoner and his family, plus  Secret State, a conspiracy thriller with Gabriel Byrne.

And over on Channel 5 there’s a critically acclaimed western, Hatfields And McCoys, that’s just underway. Starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, it centres on two feuding families. Sarah Parish plays Costner’s wife.

So, yes, be honest, I’m not wrong, am I? About this year’s autumn line-up, that is. But it’s not just great about drama.

Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor continue to be the best shows for gathering the whole family round, even if in the latter case it’s mostly to chuckle at Louis Walsh.
And going back to what I was saying earlier – you know, my pithy comment about shows the BBC excels at, don’t say you’ve forgotten already – there’s a fine example coming up in Attenborough: 60 Years In The Wild, where Sir David will reflect on his remarkable TV career. And I don’t use that word “remarkable” lightly. This is the man, remember, who created  Life On Earth. The TV series, I mean, not life itself. He’s clever, but he’s not that clever.

So how does this autumn’s line-up compare with last year’s? Well, keep this to yourself but the truth is I haven’t the foggiest; I’ve got a head like a sieve. Can’t remember a thing from one month to the next. But listen, I’ve looked up a memory-jogging online list of some of autumn 2011’s highlights – I find the internet a wonderful tool for disguising my ignorance – and, yep, I have to say this tops it. There was that series of  Downton Abbey, wasn’t there, where the Crawley family had to cope with the horrors of the First World War? That was really good (the series was, I mean, not the war). Oh, and 12 months on, I still miss Spooks so much, it physically hurts.

Finally for now, don’t forget Pudsey is back with Children In Need on November 16. This year the charity has even launched its own mobile app, iPud (be honest, that’s genius) – plus a new idea called Bearfaced, where you raise money by going without make-up for a day.

There you go, see. Another reason for me not to show my face outdoors…

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