Trying for laughs from Pooch Perfect to Black Comedy and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, our critics have your week of TV viewing sorted.
Survivor All Stars
Australian Survivor All Stars’ 13 remaining contestants.Credit:Nigel Wright
Normally, I am wary of anything the producers do to supposedly spice up the underlying Survivor format, but this ‘‘All Stars’’ season can now be confirmed as the best iteration the Australian arm of the franchise has yet aired.
It wasn’t always clear that the reality series – a sensation on debut in America in 2000 – was going to translate to Australia, with shonky early efforts on Nine and Seven in 2002 and 2006 respectively. But after a slow start when Ten took it up in 2016, the show has found its footing, with an initial Aussie reticence to play a cutthroat game whose motto is ‘‘Outwit, Outplay, Outlast’’ giving way to an enjoyable mix of strategic manoeuvres and physical endurance.
The All Stars remix has supercharged this, combining strong players of differing traits and letting them go at it from the very start; the first two contestants voted off were both former winners. Crucially, this is reality television that relies on the format to put players in watchable situations that might require duplicity or self-abasement – it’s never a matter of those onscreen lashing personal scorn or abject abuse to the narrative as a desperate gee-up (hello MKR).
The mix of people and personalities is diverse, with this season confirming a handful of telegenic adversaries, whether it’s veteran model David Genat, smiling personal assistant Shonee Fairfax, or recently evicted former rugby champion Mat Rogers. Australian fans of Survivor are relishing this season, but it’s also a terrific introduction to curious new viewers. Every episode so far has been smartly shaped and satisfying. –CM
The Good Doctor
The Good Doctor season 3’s Influence episode starring Freddie Highmore as Dr Shaun Murphy and his girlfriend Dr Carly Lever (Jasika Nikole).
Freddie Highmore continues to give a worthy weekly performance in this American network medical drama as Dr Shaun Murphy, the surgical resident who has autism and savant syndrome, but sometimes I worry that the writing tends to confuse the latter for the former.
The abiding social difficulties of autism are referenced from the first scene, where Shaun wakes girlfriend Carly (Jasika Nikole) and says, ‘‘I’d like to have sex’’. The starkness of his request, and the lack of comprehension as to how Carly might reply, are authentic, but Carly’s reaction is shaped by Shaun explaining how he chose the time to wake her by averaging out the length of their sexual encounters and subtracting that from the alarm time. ‘‘That’s very considerate,’’ she marvels, leaving underlying issues ignored.
The Good Doctor often strains at the limits of its concept but when it misses the mark, the failing is noticeable. That said, this episode does feature plenty of hospital-based soap and an old standard for Shaun to master: the patient whose symptoms have previously stumped every available specialist. –CM
NYT Presents: The Weekly
SBS Viceland, Tuesday, 11.10pm
NYT Presents: The Weekly follows the process by which the paper’s Editorial Board chooses one of the Democrat presidential candidates to endorse.
Unfortunately, this is an intriguing but poor episode of a fine show. This docuseries is at its best when it uses the collective insight of the New York Times newspaper to report and analyse a pressing subject. But this effort, which follows the process by which the paper’s Editorial Board chooses one of the Democrat presidential candidates to endorse, settles for anodyne insider access, simplistic reactions, and on the whole lacks genuine debate. Many hours of interviews are condensed into snippets, and perhaps the best insight is incidental: how a candidate such as Bernie Sanders enters the room. It’s mainly informative about the cloistered outlook of those who run the paper’s opinion pages. The Weekly needs to get back in the field, where it prospers. –CM
Michael Weatherly, centre, in Bull.
The first line Michael Weatherly’s titular trial consultant delivers in this stock standard new episode of the legal procedural begins with the legal whisperer saying: ‘If I may interject …’’ He could attach that to nearly everything he says, as the character’s appeal is tied to his clever interruptions, distracted reappraisals, and contrarian corrections. Bull is always right, even when he occasionally isn’t, and your tolerance of this steady American success (which some expected to be cancelled after parent network CBS sizeably settled a sexual harassment claim against Weatherly in 2019) will probably depend on how much you enjoy the triumphant eccentricity and casual wisdom of its central character. –CM
Will be missed: Black Comedy, season 4.
Every comedy sketch show alternates between hitting the target and ballooning a miss, but given the abiding mainstream structures and corrosive history that lurks behind the humour on the ABC’s half hour of Indigenous satire, the bullseyes here are particularly incisive.
Case in point, a number in this episode about an Aboriginal mother (Dalara Williams) on maternity leave visiting the advertising agency where she works, only to be presented with a gift for her baby of a golliwog. But that deeply inappropriate present isn’t the punchline, it’s the instigating moment, with the subversive humour stemming from what the supposedly progressive ad execs say to each other privately in a hurried kitchen confab. It’s an on-the-money sketch – unexpected and revelatory – for 2020, and a reminder that when this final season finishes, Black Comedy will be missed. –CM
Heavy on the puns: Rebel Wilson as host of Seven’s Pooch Perfect.
In the spirit of this canine grooming series, which has encouraged host Rebel Wilson to make every pun and double entendre possible, let me get a few obvious notes out of the way: Pooch Perfect isn’t quite a dog of a show, but it’s nothing to bark at.
Trying to duplicate the rural idyll that forms the backdrop to the beloved Great British Bake-Off, Seven’s new reality production searches for the sweet spot between specialised idiosyncrasy and public curiosity. But the concept itself is problematic, with a show about competitive dog grooming naturally tending to reduce the dogs themselves to objects that are obsessively fussed over, remade and rendered as prettified tokens. It’s the dog as luxury item, and it puts aside the many qualities – including companionship and comfort – that so many dog owners deeply value.
A good reality-TV show needs to connect to something intrinsic and recognisable, no matter how intricate the gameplay, and Pooch Perfect lacks that. It’s why Wilson is always ‘‘on’’, getting a mention of ‘‘Barbecue Shapes’’ into this episode’s shaping contest before Fonzi, a scampish Labradoodle, is besieged with heart shapes and a Groodle named Owen gets a teddy bear facial cut. In the elimination challenge for the lowest-rank contenders – decided by a pair of imported judges – where the dog’s size vary, Wilson naturally drops a ‘‘does size matter?’’ reference. This feels like a dead-end for reality TV, a last exhausted gasp. A show where every dog on parade looks like it belongs to Marie Antoinette. –CM
International comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, season 7, screens on SBS.
Andy Samberg’s face is one of the reliable wonders of the comedy world. Elastic, dude-ish and – sorry, Andy – slightly stupid, it’s a compelling reason behind the ongoing success of Brooklyn Nine-Nine as it enters its seventh year. Just like Samberg’s character Jake Peralta, who’s now grown up to the point he’s trying to have a baby with long-term partner Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), Brooklyn Nine-Nine has morphed into one of those reliable go-tos that doesn’t exactly upset the comedy applecart but has enough laughs at the expense of a well-developed cast of characters to keep things moving briskly. –LD
My Way on Channel Nine: Ryan Siacci (climber).
The search for meaning is as varied as humanity itself, and while this way lies the scourge of reality television and all who journey in its name, it also includes programs as unchallenging and comforting as My Way. Anyone currently losing the challenge of getting out of bed in the morning might find their hashtag-inspo among this week’s cast of four Australians dedicated to pursuing life to the fullest. There’s a world-renowned climber who, after leaving the army, decided to climb some more; an amateur astrologist who built his own observatory in his Byron Bay backyard; a group of don’t-call-them-murfers from the Gold Coast; and a woman who started a company based on selling produce deemed too ugly to sell in shops. Chances of finding something relatable: high. –LD
Great schtick: Ashley Jensen is Agatha Raisin.
It’s tempting to imagine there was an extra ingredient in the writers’ room tea when Agatha Raisin was conceived, except for the original source material being traced back to the M.C. Beaton novels. This week, James and Agatha’s love is not running smoothly thanks to a flirtatious woman and a dead body. Suspense is to Agatha Raisin as pineapple chunks are to space travel, but fans will lap up Ashley Jensen’s schtick. –LD
Kumi Taguchi hosts Compass.Credit:
Fake tan, big hair and leotards. What’s not to love? The return of Compass for 2020 brings a fun look at “Physie”, a cultish female-only sport introduced to Australia way back in the depths of the Victorian age by Danish immigrant Hans-Christian Bjelke-Petersen. Officially a type of Danish eurythmics, the dynamics of Physical Culture (its official, much less fun name) has seen it chart the changing times for Australian woman over the past 120-plus years. Invented to circumvent the opposition to women engaging in sport, it has evolved to the point it looks like a weird hybrid of jazz ballet, calisthenics and the underwater scenes from an Esther Williams film. In this Compass instalment, proud Physie adherents young and old share their stories. –LD
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