Breaking new ground

There is great significance to our architectural tweaks, Melinda Houston writes.

Building Australia
Tuesday, 8.30pm, History

I am loving the reach and scope of local factual programming in the past five years or so, from political and indigenous histories to things like this: Australia through its domestic architecture.

John Doyle, host of <em>Building Australia</em>.
John Doyle, host of Building Australia

Others have dabbled in this area but in this terrific new series hosted by the inimitable John Doyle, the focus is squarely on the homes themselves, and what they say about us. It's a story that's as educational as it is entertaining. He begins tonight with the terrace house, and the rows of homes that sprang up around The Rocks in Sydney's earliest days.

Unsurprisingly, they were almost identical to the homes the new settlers had just left - but with one significant difference. They had verandas, to keep the sun off.

Doyle talks us through the significance of the architectural tweaks that differentiated local row houses not just from those in the old country, but also from each other.

He also pushes the definition of the terrace to explore more unusual examples, as well as one of our first stand-alone Victorian private mansions, Ayers House in Adelaide. (Again, typically British but with a couple of delightful antipodean twists.) S

harp graphics and lovely cinematography; succinct talking heads; and Doyle's lovely turn of phrase all combine to make this a really engaging journey.

Ripper Street
Sunday, 8.30pm, Channel Ten

Channel Ten screening a BBC period drama? Well, yes. It's period drama, but not as we know it.

The amount of gore in the opening couple of minutes clues you in to the fact that this is not so much about swooning ladies rattling tea cups, and rather more of the hard-edged crime in which the Brits specialise, only with top hats and long skirts.

To be honest, those first few moments aren't especially captivating. But then our hero, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, cries "I need daylight!" and not only are we in complete agreement, things do indeed start to lighten and broaden in all kinds of interesting ways.

The central conceit here is not "Who is the Ripper?" but that our dedicated copper is determined to track down all crime using some pretty outlandish ideas and methods that these days we call "forensics". (And amazing new technology. Like the telegraph.)

And while the Ripper murders are both recent and unsolved in Reid's East End beat of Whitechapel, he's not investigating them. Not exactly. The murders are still gripping the imagination of the city and the first crime we see certainly looks like another "ripping" but our canny detective suspects it may be something different and rather more complicated.

And so it proves. He has help with his crime solving: a dissolute surgeon, former US soldier and Pinkerton man, Homer Jackson, who here fills the role of forensic pathologist. And a devoted offsider, Sergeant Drake, who at the moment seems mainly to provide the muscle.

With the arrival of daylight those three central characters quickly delineate themselves and capture our imagination. Indeed there's a bit of a feel of Sherlock Holmes about Reid, who certainly has a sharp eye for detail, with Jackson providing an engagingly warped take on Dr Watson.

Matthew Macfadyen is terrific in the lead role, both likeable and believable. And while this is not a comedy - or even a dramedy - it's certainly fun to see not just crime-solving methods, but contemporary crime itself, pictured in their infancy. The result? Everything you want in a contemporary cop show, but with just a bit more imagination, and some real surprises.

Monday, 4.30pm, 9.30pm, Showcase

We're almost halfway through the final season of Dexter, and it certainly has the rather sad but satisfying feel of an endgame. This is a story that always had to end - probably not well - and if this feels like the right time, the journey is also proving rather harrowing.

Like Dexter, I am not handling Deb's disintegration well. Casting Charlotte Rampling as psychopath expert Vogel was a stroke of genius but she makes me uneasy, too. (I suspect that's the point.) And while having our troubled hero track down psychopaths is precisely the big story arc this last hurrah deserves, man, it's creepy.

How I Met Your Mother: final
Tuesday, 9.30pm, Prime

I guess if you're a hardcore HIMYM fan, you'll probably already be all over who the "mother" is. For the rest of us fond part-timers, this is a big night. Not that the answer to that question has ever really been the point.

The pleasure has always been a collection of really nicely drawn characters that, over eight seasons, have been allowed to evolve without changing their essential natures.

That's a very clever bit of writing. The casting is also terrific. There's great chemistry between these five friends. We've felt from the outset that they really are best mates and their affection for each other never sugary or false.

All of which makes the closing moments of season final (including, yes, the big "reveal") utterly and completely satisfying.