The story behind the construction of the Sydney Opera House is explored in Man Made Marvels. Photo: Fairfax Archives
FREE TO AIR
Man Made Marvels, 7Two, 7.45pm
PUTTING aside the fact this show desperately needs a hyphen in its title, this could be interesting if the producers had tried a little harder. Tonight's subject, the Sydney Opera House, has got it all: infighting, government interference, a tall Danish architect with the name Joern, engineering inspired by orange peel - but what it needs is a presenter. Instead, the narration is shouted by some unknown gravel-voiced gentleman offscreen with neither the ability nor the interest to add any depth to the subject. If only Kevin McCloud were striding across the Opera House forecourt enthusiastically retelling the history of the building that defines not only Sydney, but the whole country. It's worth it to see the historical shots of Bennelong Point pre-Toaster, but real design nerds are better off cracking open the Grand Designs DVD box set they got for Christmas than bothering with this.
Wild Vets, Channel Seven, 7pm
THESE wild vets from New Zealand are a far cry from Sydney's glamorous TV vet, Dr Chris Brown. With their sensible haircuts, sturdy boots and khaki outfits, these Kiwis are as low-key as they come. Tonight's episode has the vets looking after a wallaby who is suffering from the potentially fatal "lumpy jaw" syndrome, a yellow-eyed penguin who needs stitches after being attacked by a shark and tracking down baby kiwis to see if they have been infected by worms.
Monty Halls' Island Escape, SBS One, 7.30pm
LIVING on one of the southern islands of Scotland's outer Hebrides may not be everyone's cup of tea, aye, but it is Monty Halls' as he embarks on a six-month stint as a volunteer nature ranger. Halls is a less wild-eyed version of Britain's other outdoor adventureman Bear Grylls, and while they both have a military background, I can't see him drinking his own wee. He's too gentle and self-deprecating, with an upper middle-class plum in his voice that marks him out as a man with a passion for Land Rovers, cracking on and a deep love for his dog, the enormously silly Reuben.
Alphas, SF, 8.30pm
OF ALL the unlikely heroes in Alphas, it's the autistic Gary who is the most interesting and entertaining. Played by Ryan Cartwright (who also played Lane Pryce's assistant John Hooker in Mad Men), Gary has a tendency to take things literally, he's stubbornly logical and he's instinctively inflexible when it comes to doing anything for which he hasn't already allocated time in his daily routine. As exasperating as he can be for his fellow Alphas, he's an exceedingly sympathetic character. In any argument he's usually correct on at least one level (not necessarily the relevant one), and sometimes he's just plain right. Oh, and being an Alpha he has a handy superhuman power - the ability to tap into any form of electronic communication (the special effects that surround him are great; it's like the air in front of him is a 3D iPad as he swipes from one mode of transmission to the next). The danger with such a character is that it could turn out to be an inaccurate and unhelpful stereotype, but the makers of Alphas took the commendable step of having a cognitive neuroscientist who specialises in autism consult on each episode of the first season. Cartwright himself did plenty of research for the role, and his performances, like the scripts, have won praise from the autism community. Anyway, in the lobby of Alphas HQ tonight, Gary finds himself left holding a baby. The woman who foisted it on him and ran away claims that the kid is an Alpha who needs protecting from unnamed baddies. When the baby's parents eventually show up, Gary smells a rat and refuses to hand the kid over.
Monster Bug Wars, Animal Planet, 10.30am
Awesome footage of insects and arachnids fighting to the death, bizarrely tricked up with mammalian roars dubbed over the invertebrate action.
Eggheads, UKTV, 4.50pm
Pub trivia teams take on brainiac quiz-show champions. It hardly seems fair.
The Living Edens: Kakadu, Nat Geo Adventure, 8.30pm
A look at the landscape and wildlife of Kakadu.
West (2007), Channel Nine, 12.40am (Saturday)
SET in the outer-western suburbs of Sydney, Daniel Krige's debut feature is about two cousins, Pete (Khan Chittenden) and Jerry (Nathan Phillips), who share a room but spend most of their time in an artfully distressed stormwater drain that comes complete with a despairingly overturned shopping trolley. ''Still got no idea what I'll do this year,'' Jerry tells Pete, setting the tone for another tale of emotionally incoherent youth trapped by economic and social factors, and whose struggle to assert themselves can't help but come with dead ends and deprivation. We live in an era of low unemployment, and while there are parts of our country where poverty is ingrained, many working-class young men are defined by their sudden access to income and mobility, and the freedoms they invite. They are not hanging out in spillways. West is a period piece - a return to '80s grittiness and misplaced deification of the unemployed noble savage.
Live and Let Die (1973), Channel Seven, 8.30pm
WELCOME to the Roger Moore years, with a blaxploitation-infused James Bond adventure that traverses the Caribbean and America's south as 007 deflowers Jane Seymour and fights Yaphet Kotto's heroin empire.
Double Jeopardy (1999), Showtime Action (pay TV), 6.35pm
DOUBLE Jeopardy, directed by Australian Bruce Beresford with a resolute desire to inhabit the primal theme of matriarchal vengeance while not dwelling on the ludicrous plot, pitches Ashley Judd as a wife and mother framed by her husband for his faked murder. Once released, Judd's Libby Parsons sets out to find her child and the truth, believing she can't be tried for committing the crime for which she's already been falsely convicted. There's a wise but wary older male for Judd to spar with and ultimately win over, with Tommy Lee Jones as a parole officer who's a notch down from his US Marshal in The Fugitive. The movie traded on an unexpected toughness that Judd could bring to the screen (the same characteristic generally kept her away from romantic comedies). She had it in her to be an avenging angel, but she was uncertain about what to do with that quality and Judd never gave herself over to a filmmaker who could truly illuminate the notion.