Motherly love: <i>Giant Pandas</i> follows efforts to save the endearing animals.

Motherly love: Giant Pandas follows efforts to save the endearing animals.

REALITY CHECK

3.5 stars

Wednesday 8.30pm, ABC

On the weird side: <i>Bates Motel</i> is a clever teen drama.

On the weird side: Bates Motel is a clever teen drama.

In the style of (if not identical format to) the Gruen series, this excellent new comedy/factual half-hour delivers exactly what it promised: a fond, funny, intelligent and non-judgmental exploration of how reality TV works, and why we love it. Tom Ballard does an excellent job of both guiding the conversation and bringing some laughs while the rotating panel of experts deliver mostly frank, always interesting and sometimes surprising insights into both their own work, and the reality TV highlights of the week.

IN HER SKIN

New series 3.5 stars

Sublimely silly: <i>In Her Skin</i> sets a cracking pace.

Sublimely silly: In Her Skin sets a cracking pace.

Sunday 10.30pm, SBS2

Well! Now I understand why telenovelas are so famous, and so addictive. After watching just the first episode of In Her Skin (En Otra Piel) I regaled friends for days with details of the insanely complicated and, frankly, insane plot, which crosses international borders, class divides and generations to set up what promises to be a sublimely silly narrative arc. The acting – and the sets – are certainly reminiscent of The Bold and The Beautiful, but whereas in B&B it can take months for any a single moment to resolve itself, here the pace is breakneck. Fabulous fun. 

BATES MOTEL

Main man: Don Cheadle plays a devious management consultant on  <i>House of Lies</i>.

Main man: Don Cheadle plays a devious management consultant on House of Lies.

New series 3.5 stars

Wednesday 11.30pm, Seven

This clever and sometimes confronting teen drama screened on pay TV a while ago, but if you haven't seen it – and you like your telly on the weird side – it is well worth checking out. The premise alone is pleasantly mind bending: it is a "prequel" to Psycho, featuring a teenage Norman Bates and his very-much-alive mother. But it is set in the present. Costumes and sets help blur the boundaries between now and then, giving everything a dreamlike/nightmarish quality. And fans of the movie will love the frequent sly references to the Hitchcock classic. 

Field trip: Chef Matt Moran is back for another series of <i>Paddock to Plate</i>.

Field trip: Chef Matt Moran is back for another series of Paddock to Plate.

PADDOCK TO PLATE

Series return 3.5 stars

Wednesday 8.30pm, Lifestyle

Get real: There's a general view in the community that the makers of reality TV are all cynical exploiters and the contestants naive cannon fodder.

Get real: There's a general view in the community that the makers of reality TV are all cynical exploiters and the contestants naive cannon fodder.

This is not quite as magnificent as River Cottage Australia, but there is still an awful lot of pleasure to be had in this picturesque and often surprising food/travelogue. Season two opens with Matt Moran on the wild and beautiful Eyre Peninsula. When you think of food plus South Australia, it is not the first destination that springs to mind, but Moran unearths a terrific range of local produce, from saltbush lamb to Coffin Bay oysters. And, as always, this is gorgeously shot, making it a feast for the eyes, as much as inspiration for your taste buds.

HOUSE OF LIES

3 stars

Wednesday 8.30pm, FX

There is an awful lot wrong with this raunchy Showtime comedy – and by wrong, we mean morally, ethically or philosophically suspect (and often not in a good way). But it is saved by some really interesting characterisation, and its cracking cast. Don Cheadle as our main man Marty Kaan is certainly a compelling presence. But the wonderful Kirsten Bell and our own Josh Lawson as his offsiders are both terrific in their very different ways, while Dawn Olivieri as Marty's ex is magnificent.

GIANT PANDAS

3 stars

Saturday 7.30pm, NatGeo Wild

This simple but ultimately intriguing documentary tracks the efforts of one of China's largest giant panda conservation groups to not just breed the notoriously problematic creatures but alsorelease them into the wild. Part of the problem is there is not much suitable "wild" left in China, so securing and preserving forest is part of the equation. Captive-bred cubs also have to be taught to survive in it, and the process of doing so is really interesting and, often, hilarious.