Mid-lockdown with a wet weather forecast and the nights drawing in, this weekend could have been dark and dank, dour and depressing. However, TV is here to save the day with a bumper weekend which will provide shared moments and a welcome sense of togetherness.
It’s rather like the Christmas schedules but without the rubbish and repeats. In fact, I confidently predict the best weekend’s viewing of the year, with something to suit every taste.
The small screen smörgåsbord opens on Saturday with your weekly dose of sparkle, as Strictly Come Dancing continues to shake its hips on BBC One. With a raft of nines scored so far, hopes are high that this weekend will see the first perfect 10 of the series. But will it be for surprise favourite Bill Bailey?
Added intrigue comes from the Covid-enforced changes to this weekend’s ballroom line-up. The contest’s first ever same-sex couple, boxer Nicola Adams and her professional partner Katya Jones, have been forced to withdraw after Jones tested positive. Meanwhile, judge Motsi Mabuse is self-isolating after an urgent trip to Germany.
Happily, all this means that the beloved Anton Du Beke - Strictly’s only original pro and affectionately dubbed “the king of ballroom” - will be filling in on the panel. Fans have long lobbied for Anton to swap his dancing shoes for scoring paddles, so consider this his primetime audition. It should be fascinating and, knowing dear old Anton, highly amusing to watch.
If you prefer high culture to sequins, you’re also well-catered for. The English National Opera’s production of Mozart’s rousing Requiem, filmed at London’s Coliseum, airs on BBC Two at 7pm.
Sports fans can’t complain either, with US Masters golf, rugby union’s Autumn Nations Cup, Formula One’s Turkish Grand Prix and all manner of international football.
Even more televisual treats follow on what’s been dubbed “Super Sunday”. Netflix subscribers can well and truly get their teeth into the feverishly anticipated fourth season of The Crown on Netflix.
Peter Morgan’s majestic saga has now moved into the Eighties, meaning the arrival of two era-defining women: Margaret Thatcher (icily impersonated by Gillian Anderson) and Lady Diana Spencer (outstanding newcomer Emma Corrin). An irresistible blend of lavish historical sweep, soapy love triangles and court intrigue, it’s a return to form after a patchy third series and promises to be the talking point show of lockdown two.
Once you’ve binged on both royal drama and a Sunday roast, the evening’s razzle-dazzle begins with the Strictly results show, including the intrigue of Anton eliminating one of his fellow pros This is immediately followed by the spectacular second episode of Phillip Pullman’s magical His Dark Materials.
There’s then a clash of exciting new series at 9pm - and they’re contrasting enough to offer something for everyone. On BBC One, it’s the premiere of the eagerly awaited Small Axe from Turner Prize-winning artist turned Oscar-garlanded director Steve McQueen (no, not that one).
An anthology of five searing, cinematic and star-studded films set in London’s Caribbean community during the Seventies and Eighties, it opens with the story of the 1970 Mangrove Nine case. Telegraph film critic Robbie Collin gave it five stars upon its London Film Festival debut last month. Now TV viewers can see what the hype is about.
Over on ITV, it’s launch night for a unique series of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!. Unable to decamp to the Australian bush as usual, the survival contest is being staged in the UK for the first time. Rather than wearing khaki shorts in the jungle, this year’s intrepid contestants (who include Mo Farah and Victoria Derbyshire) will be donning thermals and bedding down in the distinctly draughty surroundings of Gwrych Castle on the North Wales coast. Yes, even spoilt showbiz types have been forced to take a 2020 staycation. It should all provide a shiver of schadenfreude, as well as make for compelling viewing.
The feast of fun doesn’t stop at TV either. Gamers have been eagerly looking forward to their first weekend getting hands-on with the new Xbox Series X console, which launched this week.
One word of warning here: broadband experts have warned that the surge in internet usage from online gaming and TV streaming could cause connections to falter. Pray that your modem and service provider can withstand the surge of excitement. And if not, blame the gamers. I know I will.
So snuggle up, hunker down, forget the outside world’s woes and escape into high-end home entertainment instead. Why, you could even bust open the Quality Street tin or uncork the port a month earlier than usual. After this annus horribilis, you’ve earned it.
Your sofa-friendly guide to the weekend
As the rain beats down you could do worse than immerse yourself in BBC Two’s unseasonal showing of the classical musical Easter Parade - even just to see Judy Garland’s splendid hat. It certainly beats Channel 5’s schmaltz fest A Christmas Love Story (from 4.25pm). Bah, humbug.
Strictly starts on BBC One, and it is the jewel of Saturday primetime (unless you happen to be a fan of The Voice which seems unlikely). Other decent offerings include the 2017 film adaptation of Sheriff’s First World War play, Journey’s End (9.30pm, BBC Two), and a welcome repeat of Blackadder II, the best of the series (9.30, BBC One).
Insomniacs rejoice with a trio of smart film offerings. You can catch a frankly terrifying Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada at this time; a nervy Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate (12.10am, BBC Two) and an out of control Rod Steiger in A Fistful of Dynamite (ITV4, 11.25pm).
The big one. Spend 10 hours watching The Crown which takes in Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, the relationship between Charles and Diana and an unwelcome visitor in the Queen’s bedroom.
On BBC One, following on from the Strictly results comes His Dark Materials, as close to the kind of Sunday night family show from the Seventies and Eighties as you’ll find these days. At 9pm there will be a fight over the remote control as the latest Welsh lockdown I’m a Celebrity on ITV battles it out with the start of Small Axe, Steve McQueen’s acclaimed series of films. If you’re seeking gentler thrills, head over to Channel 4 an hour earlier where Gyles Brandreth and Sheila Hancock tackle their first manual lock. Literally gripping.