Weekend free-to-air TV
Melissa George stars in the spy thriller Hunted.
Saturday, December 1
Hunted, SBS One, 8.30pm
THE confusing narrative and overt obfuscation continue in the second episode of this HBO-BBC spy thriller. Melissa George pouts her way through with steely determination while the other characters are rendered one-dimensional, if they're lucky. Every conceivable stylistic and camera trick is used, every angle and artistic shot possible is used, ensuring that you will neither connect nor empathise with any of the characters. As a result of the detached grittiness of style, the show simply loses any suspense or dramatic integrity, leaving you perplexed, disengaged and, frankly, annoyed.
Young James Herriot, ABC1, 8.20pm
IN THIS first episode of Young James Herriot, the prequel to the much-loved series All Creatures Great and Small, we meet a young Herriot (Iain de Caestecker) on his first day at the dark and dingy Glasgow Veterinary College. Almost immediately James finds himself involved in high jinks and attending to a sick horse. We encounter all manner of other warm-blooded mammals as Herriot charts his way in this quirky, clever and charming show. It is set in 1930s Glasgow, which looks like a dastardly place to live, but James's new friends warm to him quickly and see to it that bitter-sweetness can be countenanced by good humour and good drink. The central female character, Whirly Tyson (Amy Manson), is a strong and forthright young woman forced to deal with issues some viewers may remember only too well - or still, unfortunately, have to put up with.
David Attenborough: The Life of Mammals, Channel Ten, 6.30pm
WHEN you hear the word rodent, the last thing you probably think of is a quirky, cute and cuddly little animal. But in tonight's episode of Life of Mammals, most of these sharp-toothed little critters are just that, such as the burrowing and ingenious kangaroo rat or the dextrous and utterly clever North American squirrel. The episode is titled ''Chisellers'', and it refers to the ability of these mammals to crack and chisel open, with their prominent incisors, the nuts and other difficult foodstuffs that other animals leave behind. This is a heartening documentary on a commonly maligned group of animals. Attenborough, as always, is personable and highly knowledgeable and the footage is equally good.
Real Humans, SBS One, 9.30pm
SPEAKING of all things chilly, immediately following Hunted is the new Scandinavian sci-fi series Real Humans. It is so incredibly cool it's almost subzero. As opposed to Hunted, however, this is substance and style with its minimalist aesthetic just right. In this surreal and sterile parallel present we find ''hubots'' - robots that are in effect human with a few key characteristics that belie their true nature, such as the occasional short-circuiting or need to power up. But apart from their doll-like appearances, they are very real indeed. Most of the robots appear to be benevolent to their masters, but for how long?
Sunday, December 2
Wallander: Before the Frost, ABC1, 8.30pm
THIS final film in the third series of the British adaptation of a Swedish crime series is something of a landmark episode - it's the first time we see Wallander, played by Kenneth Branagh, smile. Twice! OK, the first smile is a little subtle, but the final scene sees the bleak series' weary anti-hero positively beaming.
Fans of the series, based on Henning Mankell's best-selling novels, need not fear - Before the Frost is still a dark, atmospheric tale.
This is a reworked version of the novel written with Wallander's daughter, Linda, as the central character, when she begins working as a policewoman alongside her father (and marked the beginning of the Swedish TV series). In the BBC version, Linda (played by Jeany Spark) is featured, but Branagh's tortured Wallander is, as ever, the main focus of the story. The bones of the story are the same: Linda's childhood friend, Anna, goes missing, and it transpires she's linked to a murder Wallander and his team are already investigating, which leads them to a Danish cult. And this is no run-of-the-mill cult - these religious fundamentalists condemn immigration, abortion and homosexuality, and like to burn churches (particularly relevant in Scandinavia), and encourage their members to self-immolate for their sins.
The beautifully shot opening scene of a man setting fire to swans on the shore of a postcard-worthy lake (not quite as graphic as it might sound) sets the tone - violent but somehow poetic.
While even the most ardent fan will surely concede it can be jarring watching British actors with varying regional accents playing Swedish characters with Swedish names - it's not quite like watching a dubbed film but is occasionally odd, particularly when British characters casually read Swedish newspapers and criminal files - we must be thankful the series hasn't been transplanted to Britain. The sparse Swedish landscape is an integral part of the narrative - particularly this one, set in autumn before the frost - and the cinematic camera work, editing, and muted colour palette capture the encroaching winter, the impending doom of the cult, and Wallander's perpetual air of resignation. None of which would have worked in the British countryside.
The long, long shots of solitary trees in frosted fields, lingering shots of wind turbines, even Wallander's Volvo car chase (seriously), are beautiful.
As well as the cult's criminal elements, Before the Frost explores familial themes - skeletons in Anna's background and tensions around Wallander and his daughter's relationship.
That's right, existential soul-searching about fatherhood and self-immolation. Stylish Nordic noir is so hot right now (The Killing, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo); to think it wasn't that long ago that Scandinavian pop-cultural touchstones were Abba, saunas and Ikea.
Homeland, Channel Ten, 8.30pm
THERE'S been no shortage of twists, turns, jaw-dropping revelations and completely unexpected climaxes during this season of Homeland, but tonight's white-knuckle episode sets a new high-water mark. If the conspiracy around Abu Nazir's imminent attack on the US and the possible discovery of Brody working both sides of the plot aren't enough, another front opens tonight when questions are raised about intelligence analyst Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend). Cast your mind back to when the aggressive and prickly Quinn first joined the team and the reaction he provoked. One of the many joys of Homeland is the way tiny clues planted episodes earlier can become hugely significant, or the way one climactic wave distracts us from noticing an even bigger wave just behind it.
Crossfire Hurricane, ABC2, 8.30pm
HOW do you make an adequate film about one of the greatest monoliths of popular culture? How do you get enough distance to bring the Rolling Stones into focus? It's a tall order that Crossfire Hurricane pulls off, at least in part. This year is the band's 50th anniversary. For most of us, they have always been there (and the fact they are mostly still there is extraordinary in itself). What you get here is a well-arranged selection of Stones footage - live concerts, interviews, the mayhem of Altamont - combined with material from (sound-only) contemporary interviews with the boys. Some of the most revealing moments come when they are talking, with the benefit of mature hindsight, about the early years, when their younger selves became almost instant gods to an entire generation. There's also much fun to be had from starchy British and US interviewers trying to pin down obviously stoned Stones with their stultifyingly straight questions. In particular, Mick Jagger's glee as he stokes parental outrage with his answers is a joy to behold. Where the doco fails to satisfy is that it is all largely predictable - but then are there any major, new insights to be learnt about perhaps the most written-about, talked-about and filmed artists of their generation?
Love-Heart Baby, ABC2, 9.30pm
''I ALWAYS wanted to be a mother one day. I just never imagined it would get this complicated.'' With these words, Shalom Almond introduces this almost unbearably poignant and personal documentary. Almond carries the gene for retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that can cause blindness. She and her husband, Osker, are desperate to have a child, but face the 50-50 chance their baby will inherit the disease from Almond. They opt for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which screens embryos for the gene. However, it's a far-from-exact process and involves making some very uncomfortable decisions about whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy. Meanwhile, Almond's mother has an advanced form of the disease and desperately wants her grandchildren to be free of it. This is a portrait of an ordinary, young couple confronting huge moral and emotional issues as best they can, while desperately trying to stop their own relationship flying apart under the strain.