Weekend free-to-air TV

Saturday, October 20

Kingdom, ABC1, 8.20pm

FORGET the rapes and murders of big-city lawyering. Small-town solicitor Peter Kingdom (Stephen Fry), from the fictional Norfolk village of Market Shipborough, focuses on the goofier matters of country life - in tonight's episode, for instance, the legal intricacies of canal boating through private property. The quirky subject matter proves perfect fodder for a talented cast. Fry, a natural as the local hero, is surrounded by a cast of odd bods and off-the-wall weirdos, including his unhinged and oversexed sister, Beatrice (Hermione Norris), and his secretary, Gloria (Celia Imrie), who refuses to answer the phone. Tonight, Kingdom's apprentice, Lyle (Karl Davies), finds a potential client at the beach, while Gloria is forced to use some psychological trickery to handle a demanding father.

Stephen Fry's small-town solicitor takes the oddities of country life in his stride in <i>Kingdom</i>.
Stephen Fry's small-town solicitor takes the oddities of country life in his stride in Kingdom

The Bible - A History: Jesus, SBS Two, 7.30pm

THIS seven-part series is no objective, cool-headed look at the Bible and its significance. Instead, each episode takes a deeply personal approach by asking a public figure what the Bible means to them. Given Gerry Adams' support for the IRA throughout the years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland and his role in the subsequent peace process, it's hardly surprising the former Sinn Fein leader uses episode five to focus on the message of forgiveness. In the company of several experts, he travels to key biblical sites across the Middle East to discover the real, historical Jesus, canvassing a wide range of opinions along the way. It is an illuminating, if at times uncomfortable, journey, although the program assumes perhaps too much theological knowledge on the part of viewers, who may not be as religious as the documentary makers presume.

Prohibition, SBS One, 8.30pm

FOR today's tipplers, Prohibition conjures little more than images of the speakeasy era, a time of slipping a sly drink from your local bootlegger. But this top-class production by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick illustrates that life in that period wasn't all flappers and secret door knocks.

Sinbad, ABC1, 9.05pm

CAST adrift at sea until he atones for his sins, Sinbad (Elliot Knight) tonight returns to a beautiful, but besieged, Basra to rescue his grandmother, who has been captured by Lord Akbari (Naveen Andrews, looking a lot like former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi) and his wicked seductress, Taryn (Orla Brady). Armed with little more than good looks and smudged eyeliner, Sinbad falls into a trap set by the depraved duo. They summon some shadowy forces that mysteriously snap up innocents in seconds.

The whole thing gets a bit hokey at times, but at least Sinbad gets a chance at redemption, surrounded by a beguiling Persian fantasy land, no less.


Sunday, October 21

Jack Irish: Black Tide, ABC1, 8.30pm

THIS is the second of the long-form adaptations of Peter Temple's Jack Irish novels, with Guy Pearce in the lead role. Once again, the dishevelled criminal lawyer finds himself at the centre of a complex web of corruption, deceit and general naughtiness that involves a prodigious number of killings. With a roll-call of Australian acting talent, including Diana Glenn, Roy Billing, Shane Jacobson, Martin Sacks and Aaron Pedersen, the episode moves along nicely enough without ever being quite convincing.

Homeland, Channel Ten, 8.30pm

WE'RE only just into the second season of this award-winning program and it is back into the compelling groove of the first series, with Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) pressed to return to to service by the CIA despite her fragile mental state. Meanwhile, Brody continues moving closer to the centre of power as his real loyalties bubble dangerously near the surface. Claustrophobic tension, explosive action (the chase scene in this episode is heart-stopping) and uniformly fine performances combine to make Homeland one of the best things you're likely to see this year.

David Attenborough: Kingdom of Plants, ABC1, 7.30pm

IT'S A David Attenborough series, so it's going to be brilliant, of course. However, like me, you might be thinking his topic this time around is a little, well, dull. Plants hardly capture the imagination like, say, blue whales or grizzly bears. But fear not - sprinkled with a little Attenborough magic, the biology of plants turns into an exciting, surprising visual feast. The series is shot in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, an environment that allows Attenborough's producers to unleash the full box of photographic tricks. Speed up a bunch of plants in Kew's Palm House, for instance, and what appears to be just a bunch of passive greenery turns into a writhing, fighting mass of life. Attenborough also explores the many animal species that have evolved amazingly complex ways in which to interact with plants. Overall, however, what makes this intricate evolutionary tale such a delight is Attenborough's presence.

Smartest Machine on Earth, SBS One, 8.30pm

THE idea of creating a machine to out-human humans has been around since the earliest days of computers. Our primitive imaginings of stiff-legged robots cleaning the house and collecting the kids from school have given way to significantly more sophisticated concepts. Watson is the latest in a line of celebrity supercomputers developed by IBM. It's named after the company's founder, Thomas J. Watson, and its task is to compete and win on the venerable US game show Jeopardy! This is several orders of magnitude more complex than that faced by Deep Blue, Watson's best-known predecessor, which famously beat chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. Machines can assault a chess problem with sheer computational brute force, whereas decoding a Jeopardy! question, with all its nuances, puns and humour, requires much more. This doco in PBS's Nova series tracks the attempts by researchers to program Watson to the point where it can take on Jeopardy!'s human champions. The show does a good job of making complex concepts accessible, although the narrative necessarily leaves out many aspects of the history of artificial intelligence.