Free-to-air: Thursday, January 24
Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi), Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) and Hector Madden (Dominic West) in The Hour.
Highlight: The Hour, Thursday, ABC1, 9pm
IT'S impossible to watch The Hour without thinking, at least fleetingly, of Mad Men (for its period detail) and The Newsroom (for its setting and its unresolved sexual tension). But this BBC series from Kudos, the makers ofSpooks and Life on Mars, is in truth a very different beast.
With its late-1950s milieu suffused with lingering traces of post-war British austerity, it sits directly opposite the late-'60s American opulence of Mad Men.
And while the derailed desires of its main protagonists are played for laughs in The Newsroom like some cable-era spin on His Girl Friday, in The Hour they rest on an almost palpable emotional tension.
At the heart of it all is the fictional BBC weekly current-affairs program of the title, a show produced by the bright and beautiful Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) and hosted by the increasingly dissolute and debauched Hector Madden (Dominic West).
The real star, though, is Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), a gun reporter who is determined to delve deeper into every story in search of the truth, however unpalatable. In season one, that led him to a Soviet plot within the Beeb; this time around, it has taken him and his colleagues into the seedy centre of sin that was Soho back in the day.
It started with Hector being accused of bashing a showgirl (Hannah Tointon) with aspirations of being a movie star, and her false testimony showed she had the acting chops to make it.
By this week's episode, the trail appears to lead straight to London's police commander, Laurence Stern (Peter Sullivan), who happens to be a good mate and former war buddy of Hector's (for all the good it did him in his prison cell).
In season one, the cloak-and-dagger conspiracy plotline was a little too le Carre for some, despite the fact the Soviets really did infiltrate the upper echelons of British society during the Cold War, including the BBC.
This time around, we're in more immediately acceptable territory, perhaps; few viewers are going to find the idea of police links to organised crime a stretch. Still, I sometimes find the plotting a little predictable - Stern looked crooked from the get-go and a storyline involving the search for an adopted child was heralded by a klaxon call long before it arrived - but the emergence of some of the secondary characters in more meaningful roles is welcome.
It's great to see Oona Chaplin - as Hector's neglected wife, Marnie - having more to do, and her ascendance is a sort of rejoinder to the fate of Betty (January Jones) in Mad Men, which perhaps owes something to the fact that so many of the key creatives on The Hour are women. It's terrific, too, to see Peter Capaldi as the new director of news, but I'm struggling to banish the expectation of a foul-mouthed tirade from him, a la The Thick of It.
All in all, The Hour is well worth its 60 minutes. What was an enjoyable show the first time around has lifted to be something close to compelling.
This Is Jinsy, ABC2, 9.55pm
IT'S a little difficult to know where to begin with This Is Jinsy. Probably to acknowledge that it's very, very strange. But familiar strange. Strange in the way The League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Psychoville and evenMonty Python's Flying Circus are strange. Strange in a classic British surreal-comedy sort of way. Strange and unsettling. It's also funny, in fits and starts, in between those moments when you're simply staring at it bemusedly. Jinsy is a fictitious island ruled by skirt-jacket-and-tie-wearing Arbiter Maven (co-creator Justin Chubb) and peopled by a collection of creepy eccentrics who would have been right at home in any of the aforementioned comedies, and run along decidedly steampunk lines. Each week, Maven has some kind of adventure: discovering the island's ''wedding lottery'' is rigged, for instance, or tonight thwarting environmentalists out to derail his plan for an inter-island bridge in the shape of his nose. There's a core cast of characters and a plot that some find humorous. But, for me, the silly asides are the really funny stuff, the conversations between two birds sitting on the roof that punctuate each episode, or tonight's blink-and-you'll-miss-it gag about ''animal testing''. It's those flashes of absurd genius that keep me watching.
Nigellissima, ABC1, 8.30pm
I AM not one of the multitude with a massive crush on Ms Lawson. Too much with the fluttering eyelashes, the arch looks, the pouting, not to mention the lush verbiage. But I am a fan of her food, especially in this series in which she channels the flavours and the vibe of Italy into doable British home cooking. The dinner party tonight is a case in point. Simple roast lamb, roast eggplant with onion and an ice-cream cake so simple even I could make it. But it was the liquorice pudding that really had me drooling.
Tennis: Australian Open, Channel Seven, 10.30am
THERE'S so little else on this week on free-to-air besides the tennis that we felt it worthy of a second mention. Even if you have no interest in the actual tennis, there's no question this tournament is one of Australia's premier sporting events, and for that reason alone all of us end up watching some of it at some stage during the summer (and even, sometimes, find ourselves caring). It's certainly gratifyingly international: the best players in the world gather in Melbourne in January and regularly dish up some of the best matches of the year. And if, in some respects, it's somewhat lacking as pure televisual entertainment (only genuine fans truly enjoy watching that ball go back and forth for hours on end), in others it really hits the mark. There's the star-spotting court side, the colourful crowds around the ground, and those glorious sweeping shots of Melbourne across the parks and the river. (The city never looks as good as it does during the Open.) Today is a particularly good day on court, with the women's singles semi-finals in the afternoon and the men's singles semis in the evening. You know at least one of those matches is going to make headlines tomorrow.