Jamie Durie helps American families conquer their out-of-control backyards inOutback Nation, a highlight on paid television this week.
Outback Nation with Jamie Durie
Monday, 9.30pm, Lifestyle Home (128)
The pitch for this new series presumably went something like this: Crocodile Dundee does backyard landscaping — and funnily enough, it works. Enter Jamie Durie, with a “that’s not a knife, this is a knife” machete on his hip, a didgeridoo playing in the background, here to help American families conquer their out-of-control backyards. In this first episode, Durie meets the Farleys of Florida, who have lost control of their 2000 square metre backyard, not least of which because alligators have taken up residence. (Thankfully, he refrains from wrestling them, and calls animal control.) But in a twist on the genre, Durie doesn’t merely complete the work, and chaperon the family though the finished product; he puts them to work. Not only that, but he also insists they camp in the backyard during the project too. The Farley family’s requirements are diverse, but Durie delivers a Lacrosse practice area, an artist’s studio, an alligator fence and a dock. He puts his body on the line, too. I’ve seen enough fake drama on reality shows to know he very nearly falls out of a tree in this first episode. Earlier this year, he catalogued his injuries from the series: “I’ve broken two fingers, a rib, dislocated a shoulder, drawn blood pretty much daily.” The subtext is just as much about American culture as it is gardens. “We didn’t just make over the Farley backyard, we made over the Farleys,” he says.
Tiny Haunted Houses
Saturday, 8.30pm, LifeStyle Home (128)
Tiny House Nation can be pretty scary at the best of times. The idea sounds reasonable enough: families downsize and move into custom designed houses of less than 40sq m (smaller than a studio apartment). In some cases it’s for environmental reasons; others want the freedom of being mortgage free. Each episode shows the design process, the construction and the delighted occupants moving in. The scary thought for me is imagining them a year down the track, accidentally up-ending a bowl of soup on their doona … again. Or stubbing their toe for the hundredth time. Or sending a child to a naughty corner — only 25cm away from everyone else: the horror! This special Halloween episode will feature a village of tiny houses in the woods of Maryland.
The World According to Dick Cheney
Sunday, 8.35pm, Showcase (115)
If you are looking for a contrite Dick Cheney you will not find him here. This is noFog of War, the documentary that featured the searing introspection of an elderly Robert McNamara, a US secretary of defence during the Vietnam war. Nor does it hold a candle to David Frost’s famous Nixon interviews, where the former president made several damning admissions. This documentary, which aired in the US a little more than 18 months ago, features a defiant former US vice-president. A key flaw in the format is that his statements are not cross-examined, nor is he made to respond to key accusations the documentary makes. On topics such as Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the waterboarding of terror suspects, Guantanamo Bay and the key errors in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, Cheney simply states that he was prepared to go to any lengths to protect Americans from another mass casualty attack. And further, he says: “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it in a minute.’’ Those who think him a patriot or a villain are unlikely to change their minds based on this otherwise very interesting documentary.
Bart Cummings: All The King’s Horses
Monday, 7.30pm, History (611)
With the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, this timely documentary celebrates the life and achievements of the peerless Australian horse trainer Bart Cummings who died in August this year. Beginning with his first Melbourne Cup winner in 1965, Light Fingers, it traces his 12 other Cup winners, as well as Derby and Cox Plate victories, plus those horses that captured the public’s imagination, such as Shaftsbury Avenue, Storm Queen, Campaign King, Beau Zam and So You Think. It includes stories from his family, journalists, breeders, jockeys, strappers, stable hands and foremen.
Great British Menu
Monday, 9.30pm, LifeStyle Food (127)
If ever there were a program to put paid to the stereotype of British food being bland and inedible, this is it. I have discerned a method for predicting who will win a given episode: the closer the chefs’ faces get to their food, and the more finely they manipulate their ingredients with their fingertips, the better their score. Here in episode 36 of season 10, chefs Pip Lacey, Richard Bainbridge and Jason Hodnett are preparing starters, in a contest to create a banquet menu to mark the centenary of the Women’s Institute. If, however, your tastes tend towards conflict over cuisine, check out Come Dine With Me Couples (Thursday, 8.30pm, Lifestyle Food): in this episode an ill-advised menu is based solely on a love of hummus.
Castles in the Sky
Tuesday, 9am, BBC First (117)
It seems banal to observe that Eddie Izzard is probably the world’s most famous transvestite. But it’s worth mentioning as at first you may not recognise him here as Robert Watson-Watt, a sartorially conventional fellow, but a scientific iconoclast. In 1935, Watson-Watt demonstrated that aircraft could be detected with radio waves, a discovery that proved crucial during the Battle of Britain. This drama follows Watson-Watt and his team of scientists, who worked tirelessly to see their invention deployed. Not an astonishing drama but pleasant viewing.
The Great Australian Bake Off
Tuesday, 8.30pm, LifeStyle Food (127)
I’ve always thought the lowest form of humour was not the pun or the callback (repeating a recent punchline) but the pie in the face. I’ll repeat: no publicists from this show have attempted to duchess me with cakes, though from this episode it seems they have enough lying around for Claire Hooper to smash one in Mel Buttle’s face. This week, the nine remaining bakers try their hands at pies, a blood orange and chocolate meringue pie, and a deep-dish fruit pie.
Gunpowder Plotters: In Their Own Words
Wednesday, 8.30pm, History (611)
If your knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is limited to the 2005 film V for Vendetta, check out this docudrama based on the conspiracy’s primary historical sources: the written accounts of the perpetrators and the accounts of the relentless interrogations of eight of the plotters.
Wednesday, 8.30pm, BBC First (117)
This is the sort of program the BBC continues to do so well. Set in 1974, and based on the espionage thriller by Alan Judd, it boasts a terrific cast including Charlie Cox (Daredevil), Andrew Scott (Jim Moriarty in TV’s Sherlock) and Romola Garai (The Hour, Atonement). Cox plays MI6 agent Charles Thoroughgood, who is sent to recruit an old college acquaintance, Viktor Koslov (Scott), now a Russian diplomat. But Viktor turns the tables, revealing that Thoroughgood’s father was a Russian asset. Gripping.
Thursday, 7.30pm, Fox 8 (108)
I can pinpoint the moment I fell off the superhero TV show bandwagon: the short-lived NBC series The Cape which, yes, featured a fellow who used a cape for a weapon. The pilot episodes of all these shows rip through the Joseph Campbell template at ludicrous speed: the call to adventure, refusal of the call, supernatural aid, crossing the threshold, and so on. I remember watching the slightly preposterous pilot for Arrow, based on the DC Comic character Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell). He is a billionaire playboy cum vigilante who learned to use a bow and arrow while shipwrecked on a mysterious island. Fox 8 plans to screen, along with The Flash, two more DC Comic adaptations, Supergirl in December and Legends of Tomorrownext year.
Ash vs Evil Dead
From Saturday, Stan (streamin service)
Director Sam Raimi has just blown the roof off the universe with this TV resurrection of his Evil Dead film franchise, the quintessential cult classic. (With the excellent Fargo on SBS right now, we seem to be in a purple patch for these adaptations.) Seeing Bruce Campbell reprising his role as Ash Williams in this horror-farce is quite simply joyful — the moment when he affixes his chainsaw to the stump where his recalcitrant hand used to be, and decapitates his demonically possessed elderly neighbour, is something to behold. His sidekicks are Ray Santiago as Pablo Simon Bolivar and Dana DeLorenzo as Kelly. Lucy Lawless also makes a cameo. It won’t appeal to everyone. But if you watch one horror-themed program this Halloween, make it this one.