Just for Play-Play: the best of catch-up TV

In Search of Science iPlayer (first episode available until 27 August)

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This Brian Cox fronted series was first shown but unfortunately missed back in 2013. Yes it’s all about scientific wonders, but as it deals with the history of British science pioneers there are fewer gorgeous desert sunsets and less opportunity for attractive lens flare than in most of his TV shows. The fascinating stories highlighted here show how science and public perception have often been at odds with each other. It was just Darwin and his monkeys offending public sensibility. The lesson here for all is the importance of proper public engagement – sharing knowledge and showing the benefits of new scientific breakthroughs to assuage any misgivings about strange and startling discoveries. Science needs good PR, and that’s just as true now with the outcry over GM crops as it was with Professor Giovanni Aldini whose research on corpses inspired Frankenstein.

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‘The Windsors’

BREAKING NEWS!

It’s not often I get to say that here in telly land, and I rarely get so excited I go all in and all caps. But this is it guys – this is the moment.

I get to announce the WEDDING OF THE YEAR!

The Windsors is hilarious and at this rate will never run out of material. Each episode makes me feel about 140% more patriotic. Long may they reign.

‘The Crown’

Missing your Downton Abbey Sunday evening fix? Fancy a posh period drama? They don’t come any posher than this. Dramatist Peter Morgan (who wrote the film The Queen from 2006) offers us a new biographical series about Queen Elizabeth II and her family, disappointingly not called Keeping Up With The Windsors. It’s one of the most lavish and expensive period dramas ever made, and everyone who watches this sort of telly was startled to find out it wasn’t going to be broadcast on the BBC, the go-to broadcaster for Grandma-friendly programming. New commissioning behemoth Netflix apparently paid £100 million for the first 20 episodes, so you can see why the Beeb might have said no, in a year where they couldn’t find enough change down the sofa to keep Mel, Sue and Mary in their big tent.

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‘The Last Kingdom’ – Seeing the Future

Exciting times for history fans! The Last Kingdom (BBC2)  starts this week (22 october at 9pm). Expect fighting frightening Vikings, blood and gore, and defending the shores of the British Isles. Expect important and resonant themes of immigration and colonisation. Expect rugged men looking rugged astride horses against rugged landscapes. And expect Bernard Cornwell’s books (this show is based on his series The Saxon Story) to be stacked sky-high in Waterstones.

But don’t expect dragons. Or magic. And it seems there’s slim chance of sex or nudity. If we’ve learned anything this week it’s been that writer Bernard Cornwell is not a fan of Game of Thrones. His work in based in history, so while the costumes, weapons and landscape look epic and lavish, there’s zero fantasy elements.

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‘Chewing Gum’ – On the Box

I took a risk last week on a new comedy. It sounded like something I might not really get, a life too far removed from mine, so I wondered would the jokes make sense to me? Documentaries are different – that’s information presented as learning. Comedy needs to sit on some mutual ground, a shared understanding, a reference we’re all in on – otherwise it’s a series of in-jokes interspersed by apologies “You had to be there”.

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‘Terry and Mason’s Great Food Trip’ – On the Box

Sir Terry Wogan is living the good life, and he knows it. He’s worked his way up the tv and radio schedules to the lofty status of national treasure and jolly decent chap. He’s the sort of presenter it’s absolutely categorically impossible to dislike, with his warm tones, his charming manner and his often repeated jokes. He’s perfect for happy little interviews with the general public and asking tradesmen and restauranteurs “What is it that you do?”. Over the years he’s perfected his jovial, warm, interested style. He’s happy for you to know he’s on easy street and in this series he doesn’t even have to worry about the driving. Mason McQueen (sadly not called June) is a London cabbie and adventurer, thanks to A Cabbie Abroad which was shown on BBC2 last year. He’s not afraid to leave the confines of the M25 and, like Terry, seems genuinely interested in meeting people and learning about their trade.

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