Scandimania (C4) | 4OD
Salamander (BBC4) | iPlayer
Royal Cousins at War: A House Divided (BBC2) | iPlayer
Culture Show: Hanif Kureishi – Writers Are Trouble (BBC2) | iPlayer
"The Sun Always Shines on TV" sang those Norwegian pop giants, A-ha, back in the 1980s. Well, not any more it doesn't. Not on Scandinavian TV.
The sun is to Scandinavian TV what topless darts is to Saudi TV: an intriguing concept but not something you ever expect to see. For a sunless sky is one of the aesthetic principles of Nordic noir such as The Bridge and The Killing, and Nordic noir is one of the cliches that fill a thick duvet of mythology obscuring our view of Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall set out to give that duvet a thorough shaking down in the three-part Scandimania, or, as he put it, to crack the "Norse code". It was a good idea, and an added bonus that HFW was branching out from the cooking show format. I like his confidential intelligence, the way he seems to be thinking out loud just to you, but I could happily live the rest of my life without watching another pinny-clad personality try to infuse meaning into chopping garlic.
Perhaps inevitably, though, he seemed less interested in getting to grips with reality in Sweden, the subject of the first instalment, than sampling the local food – in particular an elk's liver that he cooked shortly after the beast had been shot and gutted.
There was something a little indecent about the lip-smacking haste with which he tucked into the poor dear's viscera, but then the whole film moved at giddying speed. Here's Björn from Abba, here's a forest, here's a lake, here's Hugh in an outdoor tub, here's a government off-licence, here's a glamorous suburb, here's an alienated immigrant – that's the politics sorted.
The result of all the frenetic activity is that it wasn't clear if HFW was trying to challenge the cliches or simply reaffirm them. It was as if the producers lacked confidence that their foodie presenter could do a social travelogue and so they crammed so much in that he never had to do more than be charming and make a few semi-humorous observations.
But I suspect HFW has more going for him than an engaging manner, just as Sweden is more than a series of quirky snapshots. The Norse code remained securely encrypted, although we did learn one important lesson: the taste of elk's liver doesn't appear worth killing its owner for.Filip Peeters in Salamander: 'Belgium won't be winning any trophies for cop shows.' Photograph: Lies Willaert/BBC/Skyline Entertainment/Beta Film
With the second series of The Bridge over, the Saturday schedules had a vacancy for a European detective series. And as with national airlines and football teams, every European state has one, even Belgium. Actually, Belgium has a rather good national football side, but judging by Salamander, which filled the slot, it's not going to win any trophies for cop shows.
It started strongly with a near wordless bank heist but ran into trouble as soon as the characters started talking. Perhaps the dialogue was more textured in Flemish, but I'm not sure much was lost in translation. Certainly the translator's rendering of the word "fock" suggested a linguistic diligence that left nothing to the viewer's guesswork.
The detective Paul Gerardi (Filip Peeters) was a collection of well-worn tropes in a predictably crumpled outfit with a standard unshaved look and a familiar anti-authority attitude. He was warned by his seniors not to investigate the bank raid because it compromised powerful individuals. But did he listen?
Thus he found himself under secret service surveillance. Luckily, however, Belgium's security experts appeared ignorant of the fact that houses tend to come with back doors and our hero was free. And boy, was the public prosecutor cross! In a performance that showed courageous indifference to subtlety, he ranted and raved like Eugène Terre'Blanche on one of his angrier days.
Belgium is a country that is not entirely at home with its political system. Recently it operated for almost two years without a government, and it's never really recovered its trust in the criminal justice system after the debacle of the Marc Dutroux case. So it's ripe for a good conspiracy yarn, but a good conspiracy requires a slow build and a gradual reveal and this was more like a paranoiac's view of The Powers That Be. As one character put it: "There are limits. Even in this country."Cousins Tsar Nicholas II and King George V on the Isle of Wight, 1909: soon both their nations would be at war with Germany. Photograph: Topfoto/BBC/Blakeway Productions
I used to think that Belgium was the main battleground of the first world war but it turns out the real action was within the interlinked royal families of Europe. Royal Cousins at War told the story of our King George V, Tsar Nicolas II of Russia and Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II, who were grandchildren (or married to one in Nicolas's case) of Queen Victoria.
None of them was exactly an advert for interbreeding, but in a highly competitive field the kaiser edged it as the most damaged of the three. He was born with a paralysed arm and his ascent to power was like a Shakespearean tragedy rewritten by Freud. He had sexual fantasies about his mother and held a murderous hatred for his uncle (Edward VII), presented himself as a Wagnerian warrior but loved flower arranging and jewellery design.
While George V and Nicolas II were close, Wilhelm felt isolated and under-appreciated. It would be crass to suggest, as the documentary came close to doing, that this led to Germany's war with Britain and Russia. But he obviously did nothing to stem the growth of German militarism.
It seems extraordinary that 10 million soldiers went to their deaths fighting for nations with these clowns as their figureheads. A fitting epitaph to this extended nightmare of a family is that when Nicolas II was overthrown in the Russian revolution he was offered asylum in the UK. But his loving cousin intervened to prevent it. When the Romanovs were killed by the Bolsheviks, George V let Lloyd George take the blame.
Worse than having a royal for a cousin is having a writer for a son or a husband. That seemed to be Alan Yentob's contention in a Culture Show special on Hanif Kureishi. "Writers are trouble, Alan," Kureishi drawled. What the film never established was whether in his case the trouble was worth it. But perhaps Kureishi was the wrong person to ask.