What’s on TV tonight: Inside Taiwan: Standing Up To China, The Apprentice final and more

Jane Corbin investigates how the Taiwan's government and young people are resisting China's attempts at reunification - AFP
Jane Corbin investigates how the Taiwan's government and young people are resisting China's attempts at reunification - AFP

Thursday 23 March

Inside Taiwan: Standing Up To China
BBC Two, 9pm
Jane Corbin presents this sobering overview of one of several potential flashpoints between China and the US; if Taiwan continues to resist China’s efforts to reunify it with the mainland, warns CCP spokesperson Victor Gao, it “may lead directly to Armageddon”. Corbin skilfully details how matters have come to a head, from Chiang Kai-shek’s flight from Mao’s forces in 1949 through to the present day, with Taiwan not only a tacit beachhead for Western democracy but also a technological hub where 90 per cent of the world’s advanced semiconductors are made. The repercussions of an invasion would be far-reaching, to say the least. And yet, China has left itself with few alternatives. Taiwan’s people have tired of the cyberwarfare, influx of fake news and failures of the proposed “one country, two systems” model as seen in Hong Kong. Away from those issues, there are also revealing segments on soft power, from pop music to a tug-of-war over a carving in the shape of a cabbage. Essential viewing, especially while the world’s attention is focused on Russia. GT

The Dry
Another fine series rather lost on BritBox and now, perhaps, poised to find a deserved audience, Nancy Harris’s eight-part tragicomedy follows recovering alcoholic Shiv Sheridan (Roisin Gallagher) as she flees the temptations of London life to return to the family bosom in Dublin, where her parents (Pom Boyd and Ciarán Hinds, both wonderful) and siblings are facing their own troubles. Dark and devastatingly funny. GT

The Night Agent
The latest of Netflix’s slightly anonymous crime thrillers slips out. The Night Agent is based on Matthew Quirk’s bestseller about a lowly FBI agent (Gabriel Basso) forced into actions far above his pay grade when he learns of a Russian mole in the White House. GT

The Apprentice
BBC One, 9pm
This 17th series has been something of a return to form, with the finalists as always being rejoined by former comrades and adversaries to launch their business. Branding, billboards, advertising and a metaverse must all be designed to win Lord Sugar’s coveted £250,000 cash injection. At 10pm, this year’s winner meets Tom Allen on The Apprentice: You’re Hired. GT

Cold Case Detectives
ITV1, 9pm
The final entry in this passable, occasionally prurient true-crime series focuses on Roland Long, whose DNA has been found on the skirt of a woman who was raped in Cardiff in 1980, plus the murder of Cardiff cabbie Jack Armstrong in 1979. Can the team gather enough extra evidence to charge Long and bring Armstrong’s killer to overdue justice? GT

Scandal: Jeffrey Archer & The Call-Girl
Channel 5, 9pm
The story of MP-turned-author Jeffrey Archer’s many exaggerations, indiscretions and disgraces has been raked over time and time before, and while this one includes some fairly dire reconstructions, it also balances commentary both serious and lightweight with some telling archive for a pretty entertaining documentary. GT

A Town Called Malice
Sky Max, 9pm
Nick Love’s deliriously bizarre crime romp continues to motor along nicely, with the south London Lord family arriving in Spain’s Costa del Sol and looking for answers as Gene (Jack Rowan) and girlfriend Cindy (Tahirah Sharif), while trying to avoid police suspicion, consider the fortune under their feet. GT

Victoria & Abdul (2017) ★★☆☆☆
BBC Four, 9pm  
Stephen Frears’s dramatisation of the real-life friendship between the ageing Queen Victoria (a sensational performance by Judi Dench) and her young Indian Muslim attendant, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), known as “the Munshi”, is all nostalgia and inertia – a tale ablaze with historical import and contemporary resonance, reduced to biscuit-tin proportions. It’s followed by Frears’s superior biopic Florence Foster Jenkins.

Halloween (2018) ★★★☆☆
BBC Three, 10pm  
Jamie Lee Curtis shrugged off her Hollywood typecasting as horror’s favourite damsel in distress last week when she scooped the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Everything Everywhere All at Once. This sequel to 1978’s original Halloween sees Curtis reprise her role as Laurie Strode, ready to spend 90 minutes running away from Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) all over again. It’s an effective, skin-crawling reimagining of a classic.

Pet Sematary (1989) ★★★☆☆
Sky Cinema Greats, 11.45pm  
Thursday’s horror theme continues with this underrated but terrifying adaptation of Stephen King’s story about things going horribly wrong after a family moves into a house near a pet graveyard. You might just find yourself worriedly glancing over at your pet pooch or kitten after watching; be warned. Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby and Miko Hughes star, and look out for a cameo from King. It was remade in 2019, but this version is better.

Friday 24 March

Charlie Rawes, Greg Davies and Harriet Walter in The Cleaner - BBC
Charlie Rawes, Greg Davies and Harriet Walter in The Cleaner - BBC

The Cleaner
BBC One, 9.30pm
The second series of Greg Davies’s The Cleaner is just as delightfully dark and playful as the first. Based on German comedy Der Tatortreiniger, it stars Davies as Paul “Wicky” Wickstead, a droll crime-scene cleaner who specialises in getting blood out of carpets. In this opening episode, he is called to the aftermath of a grisly pub brawl, where one man stabbed another, leaving behind a right ol’ gory mess. If it wasn’t for his promise to his new girlfriend to lay off the booze, it would be his ideal office. Still, there’s a jukebox, and a severed ear to use as a microphone.

For a man so physically imposing (weaponised to great effect in shows such as Taskmaster and The Inbetweeners), there is a gentleness to the 6ft 8in Davies that makes him a perpetually endearing performer. His scenes here with landlady Lisa (Harriet Walter), a cynic who has lost her young lover in the fight, are as softly touching as they are hilarious – a highlight being Wicky’s tongue tying itself in knots while he tries to guess Lisa’s age. There is also the comically terrifying Cuddles (Charlie Rawes), a brawny barman who talks with the deep, menacing voice of a Rottweiler. Yet, like Wicky, he’s actually a big softie at heart. SK

Part survival epic, part psychological horror, Yellowjackets’ first series flicked back-and-forth between a group of American teens, stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash, and the ill-adjusted adults they become. Series two shines welcome attention on the ostensibly supernatural Lottie, now a cult leader played by Simone Kessell. SK

Locked Away: Our Autism Scandal: Dispatches
Channel 4, 7.30pm
Autistic filmmaker Richard Butchins explores what life is like for autistic people within the UK’s healthcare system. Secretly recorded videos from inpatients reveal mental health units that are unfit for purpose, while Butchins himself describes how he avoided medical help for fear of being locked up. SK

Beyond Paradise
BBC One, 8pm
Finally, a murder! A man has been discovered dead in a mysterious crop circle on a local farm, with reports of strange lights in the sky the night before. Kris Marshall’s detective can barely contain his excitement. Was the murderer extraterrestrial? And why the Dickens does the victim have a page of Great Expectations in his sock? The truth is out there… somewhere. SK

ITV1, 9pm
Redemption continues to burn slow, but Paula Malcomson’s steely performance as detective Colette keeps it ticking along. Tonight she heads to the hospital where her late daughter Stacey worked to find out more about why she was suspended. Meanwhile, she must also solve the grim case of a teenage boy who has been stabbed. SK

Amazing Railway Adventures with Nick Knowles
Channel 5, 9pm
This week Nick Knowles is in Vietnam. He starts in the striking misty mountain of Sapa, before heading south by train to the capital of Hanoi. Expect some light, cheesy puns: when Knowles tries to cross a street buzzing with speeding scooters, he deplores: “It is slightly Han-noying.” SK

Drift: Partners in Crime
Sky Atlantic, 9pm & 10pm
This slick German thriller is an action-packed treat. It follows ballsy detective Ali (Ken Duken), whose reputation is ruined when a prisoner transport goes wrong. To clear his name, he teams up with his estranged brother Leo (Fabian Busch), a fellow cop. It premieres tonight with two episodes of cinematic shoot-outs and car chases. SK

The Black Phone (2021) ★★★★☆
Sky Cinema Premiere, 8pm 
Scott Derrickson’s terrifying 1970s-set horror was a surprise box-office smash, taking $161.4 million globally. Based on Joe Hill’s (Stephen King’s son) short story of the same name, it centres on The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), a child killer who snatches teenage boys. When Finney (Mason Thames) becomes the next abductee, trapped in a soundproof basement, he begins to receive phone calls from The Grabber’s previous victims.

Shakespeare In Love (1998) ★★★★★
BBC One, 10.40pm  
Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow make a handsome couple in this John Madden-directed, Oscar-snaffling reimagining of the Bard’s life when he was writing Romeo and Juliet, written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. Packed with amusing theories about Shakespeare’s personal life, along with much of the Nineties’s British acting scene, this is a merry yarn. Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth co-star.

Identity Thief (2013) ★★☆☆☆
ITV1, 10.45pm  
Melissa McCarthy started out in TV’s Gilmore Girls, but gained notoriety with Bridesmaids. She’s now a mainstay of comedy films, and beneath her self-deprecating shtick, she’s a shrewd and subtle actor. But she does need the right showcase – and this isn’t it. McCarthy is deployed as Diana, a conniving nutcase up to her neck in credit-card fraud; Jason Bateman is her latest victim, who must chase her across the US to rectify the crime.

Eaten By Lions (2018) ★★★★☆
BBC Two, 11.35pm  
Jason Wingard’s sprightly comedy drama stars Antonio Aakeel (who also appeared in TV’s Bafta-winning Three Girls) as a teenage boy on a mission to find his biological father, accompanied by his half-brother, played by Jack Carroll. Their exotic destination? Blackpool – a deliciously seedy vision of seaside decline inhabited by tarot readers, mouthy cabbies and Johnny Vegas in a wig. It’s a likeable, multicultural delight.

Television previewers

Jack Taylor (JT), Veronica Lee (VL), Stephen Kelly (SK), Gerard O’Donovan (GO), Poppie Platt (PP) and Gabriel Tate (GT)