Saturday, January 19
Seconds From Disaster, 7mate, 6.30pm
IT'S NOT exactly the most comforting of concepts - let's take a story from the news, something truly horrific, and go into excruciating detail about what happened. And then let's go back and examine it again. And again. And then a few more times with computer graphics, re-enactments and witness reports to discover whatever it was that went wrong to cause the disaster. But, strangely, despite the weirdness of it all, this is at times a truly fascinating series that shows how the tiniest flaw can have huge consequences. This week, for example, the accident in question is the blast that consumed the third-largest oil refinery in the US, the BP plant in Texas City. Before March 23, 2005, it produced 41.6 million litres of petrol a day, then, during a routine test of the distillation works, someone made one small but significant error. Liquid waste built up, the fumes ignited and 15 people were killed before it could be controlled. If nothing else, this will make you a lot more careful.
In Their Own Words: British Novelists, SBS One, 2.50pm
IF YOU'RE a lover of good novels, or just wonder about the people behind your favourites, this series is an absolute must, with the men and women who penned some of the best-known literature from the 1970s and '80s talking about their motivations and creations. It's a convoluted and often simplified justification of their works, with the upheavals of the time cited again and again, and a flood of stock footage to prove it - always fun to see Ronald Reagan juxtaposed with English football hooligans - but it's worth it to hear Salman Rushdie discuss Midnight's Children, the novel that won him the 1981 Booker Prize.
The Young Montalbano, SBS Two, 8.35pm
REMEMBER the series Inspector Montalbano? The one about the gruff Italian investigator who wandered the picturesque countryside of Sicily solving crimes? Well this is, in the grand tradition of wringing every possible morsel of entertainment from a concept, the prequel, looking at his early years.
Sunday, December 20
MasterChef: The Professionals, Channel Ten, Sun-Tues, 7.30pm
WE'VE had the amateurs, the kids and the celebrities and now (as the billboards have been telling us) it's time for the professionals to take over. And wow, they're a world away from what we've seen before. There's the usual reality TV backstories, but what sets these contestants apart is the fact they're all very, very good cooks who have survived in real kitchens for years. And it shows. Take the guy who slices mushrooms at light speed with his eyes closed, for example. Or the girl who plates up about 50 dishes in a row with the exact artful line of basil dressing on the lot. The food, when it appears, all looks incredible and the ''mistakes'' mentor Marco Pierre White and judge Matt Preston pick up on are very small. This time there's no jokey home chefs getting away with a crisp risotto - one grain out of place is enough to get you kicked off. And the look on Marco's face when he spots it? Priceless. If this is how withering he can be with a stare, the inevitable flare-ups, when they come, are going to be as unmissable as the food.
Upstairs Downstairs, ABC1, 8.30pm
NAZIS! Abortion! Lesbians! Unions! Calisthenics! My goodness, Upstairs Downstairs has positively got it all tonight. Let's start with the lesbians, shall we? If you haven't worked out Aunt Blanche's Sapphic leanings by now, then it's time to open your eyes. Although the word ''lesbian'' is barely used, Eaton Place is sent into a spin after it is revealed Blanche (Alex Kingston) is the subject of a racy novel about a ''torrid tale of unnatural female passion''. My goodness, lesbianism in 1939 Belgravia! It's all very progressive, as are the servants, who also take the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and demand better conditions, such as their own bed. Upstairs Downstairs appears to at least have a sense of fun, which Downton Abbey (the Dowager Countess notwithstanding) lost amid the suds and duds of season two. That's not to say Upstairs Downstairs is better, but at least it has one eye on the world and social issues, while at Downton you're lucky if they venture beyond the village.
Dirty Business: How Mining Made Australia, SBS One, 8.30pm
AND now for something completely different: mining and a potted history of indigenous land rights in Australia. I was prepared to be bored, but episode three of this series sheds a decent light on the historical shenanigans of mining companies in their efforts to twist politics and current events to their favour. The mineral resources rent tax is not yet a year old, but the battle to get it up and running was partly to blame for Kevin Rudd's demise as prime minister, as the mining companies waged a PR war against it. But as Dirty Business shows, the mining industry has been pushing these buttons for years.