Monday, August 20

Free to air

Shelf Life, TVS, 8.30pm

Utter the word "book" on TV and you can almost hear the audience falling into a coma. So it's a testimony to the producers of this no-nonsense book show that it's now in its third season. Tonight, host Rachel Morley talks to Indira Naidoo, whose book The Edible Balcony explains how to grow fresh food in a small space.

Naidoo was trained by Al Gore in 2009 as a sustainability advocate. Yet she struggled to find a way to talk about climate change that wasn't inflammatory. The answer, as it turned out, was food; more specifically, growing your own.

GCB, Seven, 9pm

Following Desperate Housewives comes another comedy-drama where women with impeccable cheekbones plot, gossip and backstab, all the while peering from behind curtains and saying things such as, "Oh my goodness, look at what she's wearing!"

The difference? These woman are Christians and Republican, nasty right-wing friends of Jesus who have known each other since high school in Dallas. We have gym-bunny Cricket Caruth-Reilly (Miriam Shor), realtor Heather Cruz (Marisol Nichols) and plastic surgery casualty Carlene Cockburn (Kristin Chenoweth). They are the GCBs, the Good Christian Bitches, pious on the outside, pitiless on the inside.

When their glamorous former rival from high school, Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), washes back into Dallas after several years in California, the ladies smell an opportunity to get even with the one-time beauty queen, whose life has been turned upside down following the death of her husband. Sounds good, but don't be fooled. This is all hairspray and big accents.

Gordon Behind Bars, Nine, 9.30pm

Finally, TV's most overexposed cook ends up where he belongs - in jail. This new series sees the hard man of souffles enter Brixton prison, where he attempts to set up a food business staffed by the prisoners - "to cook on the inside," as he explains, "and sell on the outside". Ramsay may be egotistical but he certainly knows how to make TV. The prisoners are highly watchable - their accents alone are intriguing - and there's always the chance that Gordon will get shanked in the dunnies.

Tim Elliott

Pay TV

The Newsroom, SoHo, 8.30pm

Aaron Sorkin and HBO might sound like a match made in heaven but this new drama set in a cable-TV newsroom looks like being a crashing disappointment. There's plenty of Sorkin's trademark walk-and-talk and impassioned speechifying, but often the characters and the working of the newsroom don't ring true and the incongruous sitcom cliches are cringe-inducing. And Sorkin is sometimes surprisingly ham-fisted in making his points about media, politics and society - his characters even engage in the kind of false equivalence and historical myth-making that he wants them to detest.

That said, The Newsroom begins with a ripper of a scene, masterfully shot. Jaded news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is taking part in a debate in front of college students when a trite question about why the US is the greatest country in the world sends him off on a splendid tirade.

Back in the office after an enforced holiday, Will finds most of his staff has defected and his boss, Charlie (Sam Waterston), has hired a new producer, Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer), the woman who broke his heart years before. Then the Deepwater Horizon explodes and we learn that it's 2010. Improbably, Will's old producer, Don (Thomas Sadoski), refuses to believe it's a big story while young gun Jim (John Gallagher jnr) gets calls from perfectly placed sources spilling the beans on it all.

It's earnest in intent but unconvincing in execution. The female characters have the worst of it, being super-competent one moment then ditzy and hysterical the next. Why, Aaron, why?

Brad Newsome


The Family Stone (2005) Seven, noon

A romantic comedy with all the trimmings and most of the familiar Christmas cliches. The excruciating family dinner, the cringe of an ostensibly liberal New England family who rush to judgment over the suitability of their prodigal son's relationship with a woman they regard as not free-spirited enough. Having flunked her initial meeting with boyfriend Everett Stone's family, Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) seeks help from her freewheeling sister Julie (Claire Danes), who immediately attracts the lust of Everett's brother, not to mention Everett (Dermot Mulroney) himself. There's a gay brother and a partner who initiate Meredith's switcheroo, plus assorted manoeuvres that beggar belief. But, happily, there are a few changes from the stereotypes so often found among unconventional or eccentric domestics, waitresses, au pairs and nannies in films that seek to mix conservative, stuffy individuals with lovers capable of inducing liberation.

The Damned Rain (2009) SBS One, 1pm

Climate change, the monsoon and the Whole Damned Business. Water is life. Too much and we buckle, too little and we die. In India, a farmer's wife is concerned that drought will dry up her husband's resolve. If the rains fail and Kisna's crops wither, he will bear the weight of a terrible failure and, she suspects, kill himself. She co-opts her young son to accompany his father and to keep an eye on his behaviour. But what behaviour can stressed farmers be driven to when the life-giving rains they yearn for fail to arrive? Corruption is the bedfellow of need as the vulnerable succumb to exploitation by opportunists. This is what people smugglers did before they switched trades.

Idiot Love (2004) SBS Two, 11.25pm

Pere-Lluc seems intent on proving 30 is the new 50. He's in his mid-30s and nothing makes existential sense. Instinct and soft options rule over commonsense and regulated disciplines, yet Pere realises reckless abandon and hedonism don't take you anywhere - they just let you fall freely. Then whammerjammer! He meets Jordina, a married woman in advertising, and zing go the strings of his underpants. Reckless abandon takes hold as he pursues her and bugger the consequences. Suddenly, he's an obsessive-compulsive stalker lusting after a woman whose life is ruled by insincerity, flattery and delusional, sugar-coated Gruenism.

Doug Anderson

The story Monday, August 20 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide