10 TV picks: TV that makes a difference

It’s World TV Day on Saturday 21 November, and this year celebrates how TV makes a difference to our lives.

With this in mind, we’ve chosen 10 TV picks that put a spotlight on the world around us, from drama to documentary, from racial divides to climate change, exploring the present, analysing the past, and imagining the future in this most unprecedented of years.

All these shows are available to watch right now.

Unsaid Stories - ITV

A series of short films inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Unsaid Stories is a collection of 15-minute dramas about being black and British.

‘Unique, fresh and engaging, about real people in completely real situations,’ ITV drama chief Polly Hill said she hoped ‘in some small way each of these films will bring about change’.

With a cast including Nicholas Pinnock, Joe Cole, Pippa Bennett-Warner and Paapa Essiedu, each drama confronts and explores issue of racism and prejudice in modern Britain.

What they say: ‘Powerful, moving and thought-provoking.’ iNews

Grayson Perry’s Big American Road Trip - Channel 4

Grayson Perry set off astride his Harley Davidson to travel across America in the hope of better understanding the country’s racial, cultural and class divides.

With the subsequent death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Movement, the social commentator and Turner prize-winning artist’s travelogue felt more relevant than ever.

Setting out to tell a ‘hopeful story about the American dream’ over its three episodes, Perry also found time to make art along the way.

What they say: ‘Perry has a knack of putting his finger on truths about the way America, like Britain, has divided into extremes … A terrific series.’ The Times

The Biggest Little Farm - Sky Documentaries

This extraordinary feature-length documentary follows the efforts of a part of amateur farmers to create an environmentally sustainable farm working with nature, not against it.

Molly and John Chester are the media types who give up the big city to create a bio-diverse farm north of Los Angeles. It’s a bit like Tom and Barbara Good in The Good Life, but on a grand scale (and with a bigger budget).

Filmed over nearly 10 years, The Biggest Little Farm is a wonderfully feelgood watch that manages to be inspirational, educational and entertaining.

What they say: ‘The film succeeds beautifully. The science is fascinating, the results thrilling, the message sober and empowering.’ Sydney Morning Herald

Before The Flood - National Geographic

Leonardo di Caprio produces and presents this heartfelt documentary about global warming and the measures we can take to prevent it.

The Hollywood star spent three years travelling the world to meet activists, scientists and world leaders in his quest to explore the impact of climate change.

The actor became passionate about the issue after meeting Al Gore, whose own An Inconvenient Truth documentary was followed by An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, three years ago.

What they say: ‘A serious, substantial piece of work.’ The Guardian

Lovecraft Country - Sky Atlantic

Lovecraft Country is a compelling mix of the supernatural and the real-life horrors of America’s racist past.

Starring Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors, it tells the story of an African-American family in still-segregated 1950s Chicago, drawn into a life-or-death struggle with evil occultists.

Matt Ruff, on whose novel the series is based, said he wanted to ‘combine paranormal terrors with the more mundane horrors of life in the US. Which is the bigger threat? The monster under the bed or the white policeman pulling you over on a road somewhere?’

What they say: ‘A thoroughly exhilarating hell-ride through the nightmare of the black experience of traveling and living in 1950s America, seen through the prism of sci-fi horror.’ The Age

Earth: The Nature of Our Planet - Eden

The perfect riposte for anyone who is tempted to take life on earth for granted, this fascinating three-part series explores our planet’s extraordinary natural history from the perspective of the elements.

Taking each of Air, Land and Water in turn, Earth: The Nature of Our Planet, shows how its beauty, its complexity - and its challenges - are inextricably bound to the elements.

Featuring stunning wildlife, geological marvels and spectacular weather, you’ll never take it for granted again.

What they say: ‘Looks at the importance of air, land and water for Earth’s survival.’ What’s On TV

Dispatches: Divided State of America - Channel 4

There has never been an American presidential election like it, from the coronavirus pandemic to the extraordinary aftermath of the results which (at the time of writing) Donald Trump continues to dispute.

Channel 4’s award-winning Dispatches went to the heart of the divided United States of America to try to make sense of what is happening now - and what might happen next.

How can the disjointed and increasingly polarised country recover, and what will the global superpower look like once the dust has settled?

What they say: ‘After a presidential campaign like no other, the programme assesses the result and asks what happens next for America and its people.’ Radio Times

The Great Plague - Channel 5

Not for the faint-hearted, this three-part examination of the bubonic plague that cost more than 200,000 lives in the 17th century was commissioned before Covid-19.

But there are striking parallels to be had with the current coronavirus pandemic.

The three-part documentary fronted by John Sergeant, Dr Xand van Tulleken and archaeologist Raksha Dave looks at the outbreak, the decimation and finally, the aftermath.

What they say: ‘Visiting the 1665 streets of London to examine the outbreak — and subsequent epidemic — of the bubonic plague feels eerily familiar … A powerful reminder of the strength of humanity.’ Radio Times

Occupied - Sky Atlantic

Occupied imagines a near future in which the Middle East is paralysed by war and the world is gripped by a fuel crisis.

Europe is dependent on Norway for its fuel and when its prime minister halts the country’s gas and oil production, it is occupied by Russia with the full support of the European Union.

The most expensive drama ever made by Norwegian TV,  the climate crisis thriller is deeply serious, hugely entertaining and never more relevant.

What they say: ‘This is a show that understands that we are marching toward a tipping point, and by the climactic end of the season a desperate, riven country is demanding that the world change its path at any cost.’ Vogue

Summer on the Farm - An Extraordinary Year - ITV

It was an extraordinary year in all manner of ways, and no less so for British farmers who battled record-breaking heatwaves, summer storms and a global pandemic.

They faced the critical few weeks of the harvest period at a time of unprecedented demand and a reduced workforce due to travel restrictions.

Alan Titchmarsh, Amanda Owen and Angelica Bell join British farmers on the agricultural front line to capture the monumental effort made by all concerned.

What they say: ‘How some of our best-loved foods found their way from field to fork in on of the most challenging years in decades for British farmers.’ Mail on Sunday

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