Top five TV picks: Starr power for Banshee

Antony Starr plays a wayward town sheriff in Banshee. Photo / Supplied
Antony Starr plays a wayward town sheriff in Banshee. Photo / Supplied

Pick of the week: Banshee

It's got the wild small-town setting (a small Amish hamlet in Pennsylvania), and enough graphic violence and wanton sex to satisfy any True Blood fan. Except in Banshee, which is produced by Blood creator Alan Ball, there are no otherworldly beings - no vampires, werewolves, special powers, and not even a deathly, keening Irish spirit woman from which the place takes its name.

No, in this show the motley assortment of townsfolk are all human, and hard-working Kiwi actor Antony Starr is the wayward new town sheriff tasked with keeping them in line. Which sounds not dissimilar to the plot of Justified, except that Starr's character, Lucas Hood, is actually an ex-con who's just spent a 15-year stint in prison for robbing his former boss, and happens to witness the murder of the real new sheriff (who is yet to be seen by any Banshee townsfolk) and decides to take on his identity.

It means he can hang around the town where his former girlfriend, and a daughter who's possibly his, are living, and it helps to keep his ex-boss and other shady crims off his trail.

His rough and ready policing style earns him a reputation, though, and leaves his fellow officers less than impressed. As Starr told TimeOut last month: "Hood is a very tormented soul, someone who's been abused and had the rough end of the stick pretty much his whole life. He has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and is out to get what's his. But, like everyone, he also wants to belong to a family or community."

There's the evil leader of the criminal underworld to deal with, too - the wealthy, corrupt and sadistic Proctor, who runs a meatworks and several nefarious enterprises, and seems to have most local political and legal forces in his pocket.

In one grisly scene he removes a partially embedded tooth from his hand - the tooth of an employee who got a beating. Seems producer Ball can't resist having the odd stray fang. And with its hand-held camera style and grim, grey colouring, Banshee has a familiar tone for fans of his previous shows.

It also could be an international breakthrough role for Starr, too. Though he's been a busy man since playing Van and Jethro West in Outrageous Fortune three years ago, this HBO/Cinemax show puts him squarely in the spotlight, and gives him a wild introduction to American audiences.

When: Tuesday, 8.30pm
Where: SoHo
What: True Blood meets Justified

Ecology Pick: Kevin McCloud's Man Made Home

He's long smirked knowingly at the Grand Designs of others, but now the builder's toolbelt is on the other hip as presenter Kevin McCloud puts all that sustainable architectural theory he's long espoused into practice with his own hand-made woodland cabin.

The rules are that he can use timber only from a patch of Somerset Forest or recycled materials from someone else's rubbish - cue a couple of falling oaks. Then the real eco-fit-out adventures begin with McCloud attempting everything from making biodiesel from fat extracted from London sewers (ewwww ... ), a floor made of cheese (an old Viking trick apparently), and the tricky task of making his own glass windows out of sand.

When: Sunday 7.30pm
Where: TV One
What: Kev's cabin in the woods

Drama Pick: Appropriate Adult

Dominic West and Emily Watson won Baftas for their roles in this two-part drama about serial killer Fred West who, with wife Rosemary, killed at least 11 women, mostly in the 70s, but wasn't charged until 1994. Fred West hanged himself while on remand and Rosemary remains in prison. The programme, though, doesn't focus on the crimes but on the relationship that developed between Fred West (Dominic West) and trainee volunteer social worker Janet Leach, (Watson) who was assigned as a neutral observer "appropriate adult" to the killer as he is interviewed by police. As West reveals his crimes to detectives, he confesses more details to Leach. The Guardian described the production as a "shrewd way into the story, offering a point of view that gave natural restraint to prurience and an examination of the beast without the moral compromise of thrills".

When: Sunday, 8.30pm
Where: TV One
What: Portrait of a serial killer

Natural History Pick: Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice

This excursion into the frozen wild with a battery of self-propelled cameras may not tell you a whole lot new about life as a polar bear in Norway's Arctic Islands - its commentary is one of jaunty anthropomorphism rather than Attenborough-esque insight. But it still produces some remarkable footage, care of its video drones which go by names like "Snowballcam", "Blizzardcam"and "Driftcam", though a fair amount of screentime is spent showing the cameras filming each other as the curious bears get close enough to fog up those high-definition lenses. The various cams follow polar bear mothers and their cubs in their first summer, with one group heading on to drifting ice in search of seals, and the other becoming marooned on dry land with very little food.

When: Friday 8.35pm
When: Prime
What: The ice-cam cometh

Awards Pick: 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards

The Oscar nominations come out tomorrow, which makes this year's Golden Globes - the film and television awards voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association - less of a bellwether for the main event. But it should be still good for some laughs. If not for the patchiness of the television nominations - the largely unloved musical series Smash, The Newsroom and the second season of Episodes still has its fans among the HFPA it seems - there's always this year's new hosts. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler aren't just the double act replacing the reliably mocking Ricky Gervais, but are also rivals in the best performance by an actress in a television series - comedy or musical category. At least, they should have something funny to say if Zooey Deschanel, Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Lena Dunham waltz away with it instead.

When: Monday 2pm (live), 8.30pm (highlights)
Where: Vibe
What: Oscar's opening act

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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