Weekend free-to-air TV
Christopher Eccleston stars in Blackout.
Saturday, November 17
Blackout: season final, SBS One, 8.30pm
BLACKOUT is aptly named. It is, by any measure, bloody dark in there. A creepy morality tale of corruption in local government, it makes the shenanigans in Rats in the Ranks seem innocent and naive. And it's a long leap from the Tardis into the underworld for Christopher Eccleston, playing Daniel Demoys, the deeply compromised, recovering alcoholic mayor hoisted on the petard of his drunken past - much of which he cannot even remember - and blackmailed and bullied into the most uncomfortable of corners. In this, the final episode, the vultures all come home to roost, and every one of them has a lean and hungry look. Blackout is well crafted, the desperation palpable, and the tension builds relentlessly.
David Attenborough: The Life of Mammals, Channel Ten, 6.30pm
IF YOU had to eat hundreds of insects every day just to keep breathing, you would expect some kind of compensations in life, especially as ants are not that high in the nutrition stakes. So the payoff for the giant anteater of South America is that, in order to conserve energy, it sleeps 15 hours a day. They are cool animals - quite literally so. They avoid wasting heat energy by keeping their body temperature as low as that of any other mammal, at 32 degrees. They're mean critters when cornered, too. As ever, Attenborough is Attenborough - moderating his obvious enthusiasm for just about anything that walks, swims or flies by rattling off remarkable facts in a soft undercurrent of sound. Have you noticed he even whispers when talking in front of an orchid? The photography, of course, is stunning.
Kingdom, ABC1, 8.20pm
STEPHEN Fry's avuncular village solicitor, Peter Kingdom, finds himself in an exasperating battle with the forces of political correctness, in the form of regulations banning parents from taking pictures of children at a school concert. There are moments of deft comic timing and some great lines, and by and large the moral dilemmas and comedy sit well together.
Sinbad, ABC1, 9.05pm
THIS preposterous offering, allegedly based on the nautical story cycle of the Abbasid caliphate, would have had Sir Richard Burton in paroxysms of … of what? Fury? Hilarity? We will never know, but we can say with complete assurance that this ludicrous assemblage of groovy haircuts, sexy footwear, deranged plot and atrocious dialogue is bad children's television in exactly the wrong time slot.
Sunday, November 18
Highlight: Homeland, Channel Ten, 8.30pm
ANY lingering doubt that Homeland was a one-season wonder was comprehensively blown out of the water with last weekend's double episode.
The 15-minute interrogation scene, in which Brody (Damian Lewis) was - not for the first time - broken down and put back together, must surely go down as one of the most compelling and intense sequences in television history.
A nerve-shattering and dramatic roller-coaster, the scene was also a climactic game-changer as Brody, backed into a corner with the discovery of his suicide video and undone by Carrie's (Claire Danes) crushing declaration of love for him, realised he had no option but to become a double spy. Or, at least, to go along with the CIA's plan to use him as bait to Abu Nazir. It's the kind of ''twist'' that a more conventional drama might have warehoused for a season finale.
If the following episode seemed tame by comparison, that was only until the who-saw-that-coming turn of events in the shop of the tailor/bomb maker, which was stormed by gunmen retrieving a crate that predictably contains the necessary pieces to make a dirty bomb.
Suddenly, we were drawn back to Brody's question to the mysterious Roya (Zuleikha Robinson): ''Will they find anything?'' ''They might,'' she answered with chilling indifference.
According to Homeland's twisted, cloak-and-dagger shadow boxing, that (assuming she knows the CIA is listening in to its newly minted double agent) was Roya's way of setting up the ambush in the tailor's shop. Is there another mole feeding her information? What did Brody say to her in the moment that their conversation was drowned out?
But it was Carrie's line after she took over the interrogation from Quinn (Rupert Friend) that it's the lies that undo us that could well be the key to unlocking this second season.
And that's where Dana (Morgan Saylor) becomes one of the show's main figures. As well as the pivotal role she played in the season one finale, her current predicament - overwhelmed by guilt and remorse for the car accident she was party to, and equally disgusted by the callous responses of her newly befriended blue bloods - threatens to railroad the terror plot that set the series in motion.
What's proving to be doubly satisfying in Homeland is the way it can now mine its own history and narrative, which we see tonight when a long-forgotten minor character from season one, Aileen (Marin Ireland), reprises her role. As a side note, the episode is also notable for giving Mandy Patinkin's Saul a larger presence.
Hamish and Andy's Caravan of Courage: Australia v New Zealand, Channel Nine, 6.30pm
TONIGHT is the second and final instalment of Hamish and Andy's motor-home tour of New Zealand and Australia before declaring one of the countries the winner. Ultimately, this is most watchable for the pair's ability to torture themselves. The confined and surreal situations they land themselves in provide copious fuel for this free-wheeling fun.
Michael Palin's Brazil, ABC1, 7.30pm
MICHAEL Palin's travel tales are like having a beloved uncle tell us a story that happens to contain nuggets of history, geography and geopolitical current affairs. We don't need to understand or agree with everything he says - he gets away with the occasional patronising metaphor through humour and bonhomie. That's why Palin can skip seamlessly from swimming - well standing - with dolphins, to a cultural sidebar with the Amazon Philharmonic Orchestra in a beautiful classical opera house seemingly in the middle of the jungle, then to a history lesson at Fordlandia, the colony built out of the jungle by Henry Ford in the 1920s in an effort to realise a ''perfect America in Brazil'' that is now in ruins. We gladly take the journey with him, barely noticing how much we learn from this mesmerising man.
The Reef, ABC2, 10pm
OCCASIONALLY there comes a point at which an inspired artistic concept is drawn out one step too far to become a worthy overpriced home video. The Reef is that point, as it films the Australian Chamber Orchestra performing a live accompaniment to footage of the ocean and landscape of northern Western Australia, projected on to a screen in the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. From the opening, in which we watch the assembled audience shuffle into the auditorium to the doleful ding-dong of the five-minutes bell, this feels more like the permanent record of an event that may well have been magical to attend rather than a piece of magic in itself. The footage created by surf cinematographer Jon Frank and director Mick Sowry, blending surfing, community and landscape, is at times breathtaking, and the music may well have been powerful when performed live, but in this format the whole is distinctly lesser than the sum of its parts.
Wallander, ABC1, 8.30pm
KENNETH Branagh returns for a third series as Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander, the brooding genius whose dark and gloomy personality matches the landscape surrounding the house he has moved into with girlfriend Vanja. He is seeking refuge, but first a young pregnant girl lost at sea, then a body unearthed by his dog in his new garden, force the grim reality of his work life to once again consume him. Not only are the two crimes ultimately related, but they prove inseparable from his personal life for more than geographic reasons. Even in the context of the series this is a particularly bleak episode, culminating in a tragic moment of realisation for Wallander and Vanja. The power of the story and the performances, though, give this the force of a sledgehammer to the temple; crushing yet utterly compelling television.