Critic’s choice: the week ahead in TV

Critic’s choice: the week ahead in TV

True Blood returns to the acerbic wit of days past.FREE TO AIR

WINNERS & LOSERSTuesday, 8.30pm, Channel Seven  ★★★☆

The cute ”Previously on …” that opened last week’s return episode summed up this series nicely. Pictures on an iPad, but framed to look like pictures on a corkboard. Modern yet suburban; contemporary yet old-fashioned. It’s exactly what a Channel Seven prime-time drama needs to be, and with Winners & Losers they’ve really hit the target. In a lot of ways this is a very simple show, in its structure and content not a mile away from Neighbours or Home and Away. It’s about family and friends with a way-too-intense connection to each other’s lives, an insatiable and often inappropriate urge to meddle in same, the kind of plot developments that only occur in TV soaps, all bedded down in a warm, loving, everything’s-OK milieu that unashamedly lards every episode with lots of hugging and learning. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Sure, this is big and broad and obvious, from its character (stereo)types to the plotting and the dialogue. It certainly regularly pushes the bounds of credibility, from its bedrock premise (four friends win the lottery) to its larger narrative arcs (newlyweds expecting a baby from the bride’s one-night stand). But there’s an attention to detail and an enormous feeling of goodwill that help us forgive all that and make Winners & Losers a reliable pleasure. Last week’s opening credits, and the promos that preceded season two’s premiere, were beautifully put together. Even for those only mildly interested, they really whetted the appetite. Overall the styling on this show is terrific: bright, cheerful, smart without being try-hard. The significant talents of Denise Scott and Francis Greenslade anchor a young, largely inexperienced cast, the members of which are clearly growing nicely into their roles. Melanie Vallejo and Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, in particular, were slightly wooden pretty faces last season; this time round they’re noticeably more relaxed and able to be, rather than act. Perhaps most importantly, you always feel as if everyone involved is having a really, really good time. I don’t know if this is a happy set to work on but it feels as though it is, and that pleasure is infectious. And despite those bold narrative strokes and the let-me-explain dialogue, Winners & Losers is still absolutely capable of hitting true emotional notes when the need arises.

ROCKWIZSaturday, 8.30pm, SBS One  ★★★☆

Who would’ve thought? Ten seasons on, RocKwiz is one of those little shows that could, a simple format made on a shoestring that has nevertheless captured Australian hearts and minds. The casting has been crucial from the get-go. There’s not just great chemistry between the show’s three ”tent poles” (Julia Zemiro, Brian Nankervis and the grizzled house band), all parties also bring a particular attitude to proceedings that has come to define the RocKwiz vibe. Despite its grungy patina, the series has always had a family feel. No one’s grandstanding. Everyone’s here to enjoy themselves, but in a low-key way. The biggest stars pull up a pew beside the mug punters and everyone mucks in together – an attitude crystallised in the duets that famously conclude each show. And like all good quiz shows (indeed, all good television), everyone at home feels just as involved. Feel-good TV comes in many guises and, beneath the tatts and the hair, that’s precisely what RocKwiz delivers.

CASTLE: FINALSunday, 9.45pm, Channel Seven  ★★★★

So often, finales – including Castle finales – aren’t really satisfying. There’s so much action you hardly know where to look and the whole things passes in a high-energy but uninvolving blur. Not tonight, though, as season four of this fun, clever series comes to an end. There’s certainly plenty of action: a murder cracks open Beckett’s investigation into her own shooting; Castle is once again contacted by Beckett’s mysterious protector; Ryan and Esposito are at odds over whether Beckett should be on the case at all; and on the home front, Alexis prepares for her high-school valedictory speech, and to put away childish things. For once, though, there’s some light and shade and a real sense of building momentum as these various elements play out and Castle finally – finally! – speaks his mind. Unresolved sexual tension (URST) is especially difficult to manage four seasons in but the writers here have tackled it intelligently, making the ongoing frisson between our protagonists completely believable. Best of all, there’s plenty set up to sustain us into season five, plus a real sense of resolution. Thoroughly satisfying all round.

BINDI’S BOOT CAMPSaturday 5pm, ABC3  ★★★

Irwin jnr hosts this lively young people’s series and, while she’s certainly had plenty of experience, Bindi is not a natural in front of the camera. Maybe in time the over-exuberance she’s clearly inherited from her father will come to seem part of the package, just as it did with him, but for now she seems uncomfortably caught between the big-face antics of her nine-year-old self and an awkward teen. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy here, especially for its target audience, as three teams of two children race around the zoo following clues, solving quizzes and embarking on tests of skill and nerve. It’s certainly the kind of competition where every kid wins a prize (”You came third! Well done!”) but it’s fun, even if the narrator’s exclamation – ”Remember, there are no apps or GPS here!” – made me feel very, very old.PAY TV

TRUE BLOODSunday, 8.30pm, Showcase  ★★★★

Whether you were tiring of True Blood, have never watched it, or remain an ardent fan, this episode is bound to please. It feels a bit like the reset button has been pushed, returning us to so many of the things that made the first two seasons so compelling. For newbies, you don’t really need to worry about what’s gone on before. Just pay attention and hang on. For the rest of us, it’s satisfying on so many levels. For starters, any show is improved by the presence of Christopher Meloni, and here he’s wonderfully suave and sinister as Roman, the Guardian, determined to unite vampires with the general population. Indeed, one of the pleasures of season five is the return to the politics that were such an important bedrock to the early seasons: not the internecine squabbling among the undead, but the broader social picture. There’s also a return to the acerbic wit of days past. If you’re going to make a camp, raunchy drama about vampires, werewolves and fairies, please, keep the jokes coming. I’ll have plenty of Pam and her outrageous lips in any episode, thank you. Personally I think more people should treat Sookie with this kind of disdain, if only because she’s a) a fairy and b) called Sookie. It’s nice to get some more of Pam’s backstory, and this ep does an excellent job of tantalising us with origin stories for not just Pam, Bill and Eric but even Jason. We’re loving the budding bromance between Bill and Eric. And the icing on the cake? Bill, Eric and Roman all get their kit off.

60 MINUTE MAKEOVERThursday, 4.30pm, LifeStyle Home  ★★★

In this simple British series, which is like a cheap and cheerful Domestic Blitz, deserving sad cases put their hand up for a bit of lifestyle TLC provided by family members, a designer, a TV host and dozens and dozens of tradesmen. Stripping the rooms happens off the clock but from there we count down 60 minutes to the Cinderella transformation. It’s a high-energy format that provides a variety of decorating tips, with the added oomph of a teary reveal. First is a bereaved mother living with her husband and extant children in a poky two-up, two-down. Despite the frantic pace, it’s all very down-to-earth and sensible and, even if the finished result isn’t quite to my taste, it’s certainly an improvement – and mum Cherry couldn’t be more delighted.

WORLD’S TOUGHEST TRUCKERTuesday, 8.30pm, A&E  ★★★☆

You don’t have to be one of those blokes who have retained their boyish fascination with large bits of machinery, but it probably helps as truck drivers from throughout the English-speaking world compete to be named World’s Toughest Trucker. Certainly, such fellows will marvel at the trucks, the roads, the cargos and the techniques employed as three teams of two transport long, heavy loads along some of the worst roads in the world (tonight, in the backblocks of Brazil). Even for the amateur, though, there’s interest and even excitement in the contest, especially as one of the more endearing characters is an Aussie road-train driver from Perth who clings stubbornly to the unfashionable idea that slow and steady wins the race.

CONSPIRACY 365Saturday, 7pm, FMC  ★★★☆

In case you’ve kind of lost track of where we are in Cal’s labyrinthine adventures, FMC is running a catch-up week, screening all episodes so far from tonight at 7pm, culminating in July’s instalment on Saturday. If the curse conspiracy that is the Ormond Singularity doesn’t kill Cal, his crazy attempts to solve/evade it look like doing so. Still, there’s something undeniably thrilling about his daredevilry and something compelling about his resilience, self-reliance and dogged persistence. And despite 365’s broad strokes – and broader performances – this is also very cleverly made. The premise might be ridiculous but the tension it generates is absolutely authentic; I regularly find myself holding my breath.

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