Saturday, May 26

Prime time 

The Graham Norton Show, Ten, 8.30pm

The talkshow format is as old as Gronk, a particularly chatty Neanderthal who would grunt inquisitively while sitting on a log around the campfire. Gronk's heirs include Michael Parkinson, David Letterman and Andrew Denton, and the good news is that a pair of fresh voices have emerged to freshen up the format. One is Sydney's Darren Sanders, a comic who has just finished filming 12 instalments of The Darren Sanders Show for TVS. The other is Graham Norton, an Irishman who blends a quick wit and an endearing empathy.

Graham Norton, host of <em>The Graham Norton Show</em>.
Graham Norton, host of The Graham Norton Show

The guests on Norton's show, which was poached from the ABC by Ten, may not always appeal to Australian viewers, but tonight's batch are suitably international: man in black Will Smith, crinkly warbler Tom Jones and ex-Take That crooner Gary Barlow.

What Is Beauty? SBS Two, 8.30pm

Art critic Matthew Collings has built a career on insight and affability.

By speaking plainly, the Brit illuminates art. This time, the topic is beauty.

''Hi, here's a beautiful artwork,'' Collings says, standing in front of a colourful abstract canvas. ''Nice, isn't it? Now think of something completely different,'' he continues, as the abstract is replaced by a Renaissance oil of a pensive, pregnant Madonna. ''Beauty, this vague word, describes a very real effect - the rush of pleasure we get … I'd like to look at this vagueness and see what goes into it, so it's not so vague any more.''

In his quest, Collings pores over 10 very different works, from 10 very different places and times. He begins not with a canvas, but a bridge: the Millau Viaduct in the south of France, designed by Norman Foster. It reveals, Collings says, the ineluctable interplay between art and nature.

Accompanied by moody music from bands such as Spiritualized, Collings moves easily from cave paintings to ultra-modern installations. You may not agree with his claims, but he's a tremendous guide.

The Body Farm, ABC1, 8.30pm

Can there be beauty in death? In decomposition? Undoubtedly.

Dr Eve Lockhart is a forensic pathologist who finds a blood-splattered bathroom in a council flat. She dictates her observations: ''A dense colony of flesh flies established and hatching on a carpet of decomposing carrion that covers the entirety of the walls, floor and ceiling …'' Just another family-friendly show perfect for dinner time, then.

A BBC spin-off from Waking the Dead, The Body Farm features Dr Eve (Tara Fitzgerald), whose promise to murder victims is that she will find their killers.

Unfortunately, like too many shows, The Body Farm wallows in guts and gore, delighting in bloody entrails and splattered brains. In years to come, when some future race is performing an autopsy on the corpse of our civilisation, they will conclude that our demise was largely self-inflicted, hastened by a devilish obsession with harm and horror. Stylish, visceral, disgusting.

Raw Comedy National Grand Final, ABC1, 9.30pm

Since 1996, the Raw Comedy competition has unearthed talented young stand-ups including Adam Spencer, Peter Helliar, Tim Minchin, Hannah Gadsby and Josh Thomas. Dave Thornton wasn't one of them. ''I didn't get through the first round,'' Thornton tells the crowd at the Melbourne Town Hall. ''So anyone here who entered and didn't get to the final, look at me - I'm a semi-successful loser.''

Hosted by Thornton and shot last month, this telecast features the 12 finalists who have won through from 1078 entrants. There's Andrew Wolfe, a gruff-voiced accountant from NSW; Hayman Kent, a self-effacing 21-year-old music student from Victoria; and Mitchell McCutcheon from Queensland, who opens his quirky routine with, ''Tonight I'm doing my presentation on people.''

The comedy ranges from traditional to absurd but the quality is surprisingly consistent and surprisingly good. These young wits do well.

Sacha Molitorisz

Pay TV

Gavin & Stacey, UKTV+2, 2.10pm

This award-winning British sitcom about the long-distance love affair between Gavin (Mathew Horne) in Essex and Stacey (Joanna Page) in Wales is effortlessly charming and features a witty, tight script.

America's Next Top Model: All Stars, Fox8, 7.30pm

The girls are split into two groups to test how well they come across in interviews. It's not quite as bad as the deer in the headlights moment when a Miss Universe contestant is asked: ''If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?'' but it comes close. Let's just say not many of the girls are likely to join the professional speaking circuit once the series ends. This episode focuses on how to suck every moment out of the reality television experience, and while some of these contestants might have what it takes to manufacture lucrative post-show careers, others will definitely embrace obscurity with their impossibly scrawny arms.

Panic at Rock Island, Universal Channel, 8.30pm

Any movie that begins with a fake news report delivered by Richard Wilkins doesn't bode well. This cliche-riddled telemovie about a level four biohazard outbreak during a rock concert in Sydney could have been so much better.

The cast, including Vince Colosimo, Damien Walshe-Howling and Grant Bowler, all try their hardest, but a lame script combined with lazy plotting turns what should have been a killer thriller into a predictable fizzer.

Frances Atkinson


The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) ABC2, 10.15pm

Robert Redford is aerial daredevil Waldo Pepper, a demobbed World War I fighter pilot reduced to working the barnstorming shows that toured rural America in the 1920s and '30s. The larrikinism of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is evident in George Roy Hill's approach to the story and so too is The Lost Squadron, Erich von Stroheim's tribute to World War I pilots. Pepper's rivalry with Axel Olsson (Bo Svenson) causes friction and, in due course, the death of sweetheart Mary Beth (Susan Sarandon) in a mishap. Deregistered and his career going nowhere, Waldo becomes a stunt pilot in Hollywood, where he confronts the truth about his own self-fabricated legend. The film precisely delineates nostalgia and sentimentality.

Westworld (1973) Nine, 11.40pm

One of the cardinal laws of robotics is that machines with artificial intelligence can never be programmed to hurt their creators or initiate violence. Close the pod bay doors, HAL! Sod off, Dave! Do you think I'd let a goose like you jeopardise the mission? Westworld is part of a futuristic amusement park where rich dudes engage in gladiatorial encounters with lifelike robots. A couple of executive types book a western-themed weekend to face down android gunslingers of the old Wild West. Nothing can go wrong - click! go wrong, click! go wrong, click! Director Michael Crichton gives his novel a melodramatic treatment but Yul Brynner, as the anarchic cyborg gunslinger, turns in a memorable performance - one oft-imitated by Charles Bronson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Any man, flesh or otherwise, desirous of pumping the wimpish Richard Benjamin full of holes deserves support, and while the film never realises its potential, it was an early offering in the genre speculating mankind's quest for vicarious experiences.

Roll Bounce (2005) Seven, 12.35am (Sun)

An excursion into the rollerskating milieu of the 1970s. When their Palisades rink shuts down, ghetto skaters cross town and make an appearance at the upmarket (white) Sweetwater rink, where they will be less than enthusiastically welcomed. Predictable racial and socio-economic rivalries ensue, plus the inevitable winner-takes-all skate-off with finger-snapping hip-hop moves. The skating is whacko and the coloured girls, on cue, go whoop da doop da whoop da doop. Tragically awful.

Doug Anderson