Television previews: week beginning February 14

From a deliciously hilarious Aussie tale to an intriguing intellectual chase and disastrous liaisons, there's plenty to watch this week, writes Melinda Houston.



Tuesday, February 16, 8.30pm, Nine

I approached this new comedy with some trepidation. The hilarious tale of a Lebanese family moving into a rich, white neighbourhood? Visions of Love Thy Neighbour inevitably arose, and for a few seconds I was worried my worst fears were confirmed, but just as A Very Moody Christmas depicted an Aussie family that was an absurd exaggeration of a family everybody knows, the Habibs turn out to be deliciously recognisable. You would hope so, as this new venture is the brainchild of Rob Shehadie​, Tahir Bilgic​ and Matt Ryan-Garnsey, with a lot of help from Phil Lloyd as head writer, and Jungleboys as producers. It's a wonderfully multicultural mix behind the scenes that well and truly pays off in the finished product. The moment when the whiter-than-white O'Neills introduce themselves to their new neighbours is exquisitely played, with Jungleboys regular Darren Gilshenan​ doing a fine job. Sure, there are touches of Wogs Out of Work (via Fat Pizza), but this is cleverly pitched. There are plenty of broad gags to appeal to a mainstream audience, but there are also plenty of clever and sometimes very naughty touches that make this a whole lot more than predictable clash-of-cultures shtick. Having a great cast helps. Gilshenan is always good. Michael Denkha​ as patriarch Fou Fou is also terrific, staying just the right side of caricature, and the younger gang – the Habibs have two sons and a daughter, the O'Neills an only child – are uniformly good in their own way, with particularly nice chemistry between Madison (Georgia Flood) and Elias (Tyler De Nawi​). Along with some very funny moments, this also has something to say about race relations in Australia, presented in the most palatable way. It's always great to see this kind of stuff on the small screen, and even more satisfying to see it wrenched out of the SBS ghetto and dumped on Main Street.




It's just not a Showtime production unless it opens with a perverse sex scene. In this case, it's almost as if they feel obliged to say, "Don't worry! It may be about futures trading, but it's still sexy!" To be honest, Billions isn't sexy at all, but it is both intelligent and compelling. (Even that sex scene turns out to have an actual point.) Behind the scenes, three significant talents come together: Brian Koppelman​ and David Levien who, among other things, co-wrote Oceans Thirteen; and Andrew Ross Sorkin​, the finance journalist who wrote the book and film version of Too Big to Fail. The script is both detailed and taut, and although I'm not an expert on the subject, I'm sure those who understand the workings of the sharemarket won't be doing much nit-picking. In front of the camera the line-up is just as strong. Damian Lewis is Bobby "Axe" Axelrod, a bloke from the wrong side of the tracks who has nevertheless managed to amass the said billions as a hedge fund manager. Paul Giamatti​ is Chuck Rhoades​, an old-money blue blood and US attorney with a fierce sense of justice, who sniffs something rotten about Axe's way of doing business. Thus is set in play an intriguing intellectual chase with super-high stakes that's as insightful about human nature as it is the world of big money.



Thursday, February 18, 8pm, ABC

This observational documentary could not be more straightforward in its execution, yet not only does it embrace a variety of contemporary issues, but so far both episodes have reduced me to tears. Tonight two central events are being dealt with by the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages: a Swedish expatriate is changing her name from Tibor to Julia (something that's far more than a matter of paperwork), and one of the office staff is marrying her childhood sweetheart. Both matters are dealt with here in a way that's all the more moving for its simplicity.



Monday, February 15, 9.30pm, Lifestyle Home

How much will you pay for a "tiny house" in Sydney? A cool $1 million if it's in Bondi. It's the kind of statistic that leaves you equal parts revolted and despairing. On a more cheerful note, this series once again shows us not just some great, compact homes, but a range of architectural and design ideas that could usefully be incorporated into any renovation or new build. There's also something refreshing about the whole philosophy of less is more, even if it does sometimes come with a staggering price tag.




The times, they are a'changin', again. As Downton Abbey opens for its sixth and final season, we're in 1925 and hems are shorter, ladies are feistier, and the foundations of traditional society are shuddering. In terms of plot, Downton Abbey doesn't have many surprises left, but a big ensemble of likeable characters and Julian Fellowes' undeniable gift with words (there's some wonderful dialogue here) continue to make this period soap an easy pleasure.



Tuesday, February 16, 7.30pm, Discovery Science

Small issues of production make this series less enjoyable than it could be: the ticking clock that doesn't indicate any actual, useful time; likewise the physics equations flashing in the background. But if you can ignore those stylistic ticks, there's plenty of fascinating and impressive information here as we look at contemporary engineering wonders and the historical developments that made them possible. Tonight that means a new, massive class of aircraft carrier (all the better to bomb you with).


New series ★★★½

Tuesday, February 16, 10.30pm, SBS

Need more Scandinavian noir? You're in luck. This two-part Swedish mini-series reunites Noomi Rapace​ and Michael Nyqvist​ of the 2009 film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to excellent effect. That movie always felt as if it should have been one of those distinctive Scandinavian TV crime thrillers, and here, with three hours to play with and without the expectations of a Hollywood budget, Stieg Larsson's second novel is transformed into stylish and gripping television.


Series return ★★★

Sunday, February 14, 7.30pm, TLC

As if getting married wasn't fraught enough, the scenarios we follow here seem deliberately chosen for their capacity for disaster. All the subjects are US citizens who met their intended overseas. After becoming engaged, the beloved enters the country on a 90-day visa, by the end of which the couple must be married. So far, so dodgy. Add to the mix a 58-year-old man shipping in a 19-year-old bride from the Philippines, a sturdy 30-something single mum enamoured of a Jamaican lifesaver, and a sweet Mormon boy in thrall to a Russian go-go dancer, and catastrophe surely cannot be far away.