Remote Control - documentaries round-up

Brian Donaldson uncovers some fine documentaries about faith, feminism and funny folk.


One of the stories of the year had to be the big whale that swam to London. So, the cryptically titled The Whale that Swam to London (Channel 4, Thu 21 Dec, 8pm) launches upon us dividing opinion between those who thought that it was a natural catastrophe for both humanity and the animal kingdom and the other lot who created spoof web news pages decrying the fuss that was being made with the media’s round the clock Whalewatch last January. While around 800 of these beasts get stranded every year, not all of them end up spouting off near the Houses of Parliament.

Melvyn Bragg must have spouted off in that building in his time but for his 2007 debut of The South Bank Show (STV, Mon 1 Jan, 11.15pm) he allows Damien Hirst (a man who would surely have been intrigued by the whale story, if only to imagine how well it would have pickled) the opportunity to let a few things off his chest. And boy can that guy natter. Perhaps his relative interview-shyness leads him to storing up the words so that they all come tumbling out in a Jackson Pollock splurge as he dots around from idea to theory to silly joke, chatting mainly about his savvy transference from BritArt wunderkind to millionaire dealer.

Posh, Baby, Scary, Sporty and Ginger all probably earned a mint or two during their period as more than just wannabes, but Spice Girls: Ten Years of Girl Power (Sky One, Sun 31 Dec, 9pm) is concerned with the lasting legacy of their oeuvre. And host Julie Burchill reckons that while they may have helped women believe they can be just as feisty as the fellows, it also led to a rash of 8 to 11-year-olds demanding to be clothed in crop tops and high heels. Which has to be a bad thing.

Ricky Gervais Meets . . . Garry Shandling (Channel 4, Tue 26 Dec, 11.15pm) is the third of his sit-downs with American comedy icons after last year’s Larry David chat and the Christmas Day get together with Christopher Guest. Here, the man behind the epic Larry Sanders Show seems almost annoyed to see Gervais mooching around in his kitchen and they never quite hit it off. Great clips though.

Channel 4 have cranked up their religious-based programming and Robert Beckford is officially ordained as the station’s face of faith with two excellent shows. God Gave Rock and Roll to You (Channel 4, Sat 23 Dec, 6.30pm) explores the hallowed path some musicians have followed, though it’s taken until Kanye West for a credible artist to fully embrace Jesus and get to number one. Unless you count Sir Cliff. And surely you can’t. In The Secret Family of Jesus (Channel 4, Mon 25 Dec, 8pm) Bobby delves into the conspiracy theory that Dan Brown missed by wondering whether Jesus had a bunch of siblings who have been airbrushed out of the Bible. If you really care about that kind of thing, you’ll probably be shellshocked.


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