Wednesday, October 14

The Principal continues to thrill.FREE TO AIR
Shanghai night field

The Principal, SBS, 8.30pm

We really are making television equal to anything in the world. The thriller aspect of The Principal moves up a gear tonight, and the tension is superb. So is the character development. The murder would have been half as interesting if we hadn’t already been so invested in Tarek (the remarkable Rahel Romahn) and now, as suspicion falls first this way then that, we not only want to find out whodunit, but we’re hoping it’s not one of the many figures we’ve grown attached to. (If it turns out to be the deputy principal, on the other hand, that would be just fine.) Every detail is attended to here: the score is terrific, the framing is beautiful and the dialogue expertly captures the milieu in which it all takes place, including flashes of mordant wit. It’s the complete package.

Madam Secretary, Ten, 8.40pm

One of the most intriguing aspects of the opening episode  of season two of Madam Secretary is the light in which is cast. Either showrunner Barbara Hall doesn’t have as good a grasp of Pacific politics as she does of the local scene, or she’s being mischievous. Whatever the case, it’s hard to resist a little cultural-cringy thrill atour mention. Elsewhere, things leap back into gear at a cracking pace and, if some of the plot turns stretch credibility, the great charm and conviction Tea Leoni brings to the central role easily papers over any cracks. Although the churlish part of me wishes the writers hadn’t given her husband, Henry (Tim Daly), his own, obtrusive storyline, it could add considerable interest as the season progresses.

The Ex-PM, ABC, 9.05pm

Shaun Micallef’s special magic is his ability to deliver excoriating satire without being unkind. It’s a rare gift he shares with the inimitable John Clarke who, in a double-whammy of bone-dry fun, co-stars with Micallef in this new comedy. As thetitle suggests, Micallef stars as Andrew Dugdale, until recently the leader of our beautiful country and now at a loose end. Distraction arrives in the form of a ghostwriter, Ellen (Lucy Honigman), there to help him complete his memoir. Everything we love about Micallef is here in spades: silliness, slapstick and broad comedy, but also quick repartee and a perfect barrage of clever observations. If you don’t already love Micallef, this is unlikely to convert you, but for his legion of fans, it’s a treat.Melinda Houston


The Company You Keep, (2012) SBS, 9.35pm 

In England, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party has given the press impetus to seek out from the past headline-grabbing quotes by Corbyn and his associates, such as praising IRA insurrection and violence, calling the collapse of Soviet communism “the end of humanity” and describing the death of Osama bin Laden as “a tragedy”. Of course, it is not just intemperate or Trotskyite opinions that can come back and haunt those with a political agenda; it can be anti-social acts and crimes. In Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep, for example, Jim Grant (Redford) is an Albany attorney, doing good works for the less fortunate, but with a secret: he is a former member of the Weather Underground, and wanted for a bank robbery and murder. He has been hiding under an assumed identity for decades. And when a young journalist (Shia LaBeouf) and his FBI girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) get the scent, the challenge for Jim is whether to sell out his former associates to help protect himself. The film works as well as it does because Redford is a star, an actor we have regularly seen as a moral force exposing the evils of the Nixon years in All the President’s Men and a secret FBI cabal in  Three Days of the Condor. We don’t want to believe his Jim Grant was responsible for anyone’s death, that his political acts were ever  less than pure. It makes for uncomfortable and tense  viewing. Where the film doesn’t work as well as perhaps it could is when it puts the interests of the thriller genre above the moral conundrums the plot offers up. Do we believe that people who have done and said horrible things in the past can change and become better people, or are those major errors good reason never to trust them again? We want to believe in Jim Grant, but should we?

The Seventh Victim, (1943) ABC, 1.55am (Thursday) 

One of the lesser-known but still major Val Lewton-produced RKO movies (see Bedlam, Tuesday) is The Seventh Victim, directed by Mark Robson. Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter) goes to New York to look for her missing sister, Jacqueline (Jean Brooks). Aided by Jacqueline’s husband (Hugh Beaumont), Mary discovers that her sister belonged to a satanic cult, but is on the run. Regarded as a precursor to Rosemary’s Baby but avoiding explicit shock effects and gore, this is a transcendent journey to the dark side of human endeavour. Scott Murray 

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